Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Rare snowstorm hits the Middle East"

JERUSALEM - A rare snowstorm swept the Middle East on Wednesday, blanketing parts of the Holy Land in white, shutting schools and sending excited children into the streets for snowball fights.

The weather in Jerusalem topped local newscasts, eclipsing a government report on Israel's 2006 war in Lebanon.

Men in long Arab robes pelted each other with snowballs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and the West Bank city of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian government, came to a standstill.

"I'm originally from Gaza where snow never falls," said Bothaina Smairi, 28, who was out in Ramallah taking photographs. "The white snow is covering the old world and I feel like I am in a new world where everything is white, clean, and beautiful."

Jerusalem's Old City was coated in white. A few ultra-Orthodox Jews, wearing plastic bags over their hats to keep them dry, prayed at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site.

Snow falls in Jerusalem once or twice each winter, but temperatures rarely drop low enough for it to stick. The Israeli weather service said up to 8 inches of snow fell in the city...

In Ramallah, residents were surprised to see snow when they awoke. For some, it was their first time.

"I am just astonished with the snow. When I saw the snow this morning, I felt happy, my heart was laughing," said Mary Zabaro, 17.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of Dogs and Gods

There was an article recently about a study headed by Nicholas Epley, a professor of human behaviour at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. The study suggests that people who are lonely are more likely to believe in supernatural beings like God(s) and/or to anthropomorphize their pets.

Recently there was a lady on Dr. Phil who insisted that her Chihuahua was her son. Her other dogs were dogs - but not her Chihuahua - she treated it like it was a person.

It sounds like in the study that the researchers attempted to create feelings of loneliness in some people and connectedness in others and then asked various questions - including beliefs in various things. So these were not long standing beliefs, but manipulated temporary ones.

1st part -
...the team recruited subjects online, gave them a personality test to determine how lonely they felt, and then explored how they perceived four objects...Those who described themselves as chronically lonely were much more likely to perceive one of these gadgets as having intentions, free will, consciousness and emotions.

2nd part -
They gave 99 individuals from the University of Chicago – half of them religious and half non-believers – a standard personality test, then randomly doled out "future life predictions" supposedly based on individual test results. The students were told either that they'd suffer from loneliness throughout their lives or would always have rewarding relationships.

Everyone in the lonely group reported more belief in God, the devil, ghosts, angels, miracles and curses. Most significantly, even those who had described themselves as non-believers before getting a prognosis of loneliness reported more religious belief than the non-believers in the not-lonely group.

3rd part (influenced by movies) -
The subjects were then asked to rate their belief in the same supernatural agents cited in the second study, and to describe their own pet or that of someone in their circle.

Again this time, says Epley, the lonely group reported stronger belief in "commonly anthropomorphized" supernatural entities like God and the devil. These lonely subjects were also more likely to describe pets as possessing human traits such as being thoughtful, considerate and sympathetic.

A lot of people use belief in God(s) to overcome addictions and such. That is the model of AA. And it's not surprising that dogs become surrogate children for people postponing (or avoiding altogether) child raising or for older people whose children are no longer at home.

It's interesting to have the two things linked - as two alternatives. Gods or dogs.

Though I'm sure that there are plenty of other alternatives such as sports teams, soap operas, video games, consumption, etc. that provide a sense of belonging to people - and which can also rely to some extent on some level of delusion.

"Poor Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt"

AP / It was lunchtime in one of Haiti's worst slums, and Charlene Dumas was eating mud. With food prices rising, Haiti's poorest can't afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies. Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt from the country's central plateau.

The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.

"When my mother does not cook anything, I have to eat them three times a day," Charlene said. Her baby, named Woodson, lay still across her lap, looking even thinner than the slim 6 pounds 3 ounces he weighed at birth.

Though she likes their buttery, salty taste, Charlene said the cookies also give her stomach pains. "When I nurse, the baby sometimes seems colicky too," she said.

Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.

The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places...

At the market in the La Saline slum, two cups of rice now sell for 60 cents, up 10 cents from December and 50 percent from a year ago. Beans, condensed milk and fruit have gone up at a similar rate, and even the price of the edible clay has risen over the past year by almost $1.50. Dirt to make 100 cookies now costs $5, the cookie makers say.

Still, at about 5 cents apiece, the cookies are a bargain compared to food staples. About 80 percent of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and a tiny elite controls the economy.

Merchants truck the dirt from the central town of Hinche to the La Saline market, a maze of tables of vegetables and meat swarming with flies. Women buy the dirt, then process it into mud cookies in places such as Fort Dimanche, a nearby shanty town.

Carrying buckets of dirt and water up ladders to the roof of the former prison for which the slum is named, they strain out rocks and clumps on a sheet, and stir in shortening and salt. Then they pat the mixture into mud cookies and leave them to dry under the scorching sun.

The finished cookies are carried in buckets to markets or sold on the streets.

A reporter sampling a cookie found that it had a smooth consistency and sucked all the moisture out of the mouth as soon as it touched the tongue. For hours, an unpleasant taste of dirt lingered.

Assessments of the health effects are mixed. Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases, said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition...

"Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler"

by Gary Kazanjian for the New York Times

A SEA change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store — something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn’t oil.

The two commodities share a great deal: Like oil, meat is subsidized by the federal government. Like oil, meat is subject to accelerating demand as nations become wealthier, and this, in turn, sends prices higher. Finally — like oil — meat is something people are encouraged to consume less of, as the toll exacted by industrial production increases, and becomes increasingly visible.

Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.

Just this week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the country’s rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles were lost.

The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a “relentless growth in livestock production.”

Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.

This will be inconvenient for citizens of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly. This diet made it possible to remove cattle from their natural environment and encourage the efficiency of mass confinement and slaughter. But it causes enough health problems that administration of antibiotics is routine, so much so that it can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten the usefulness of medicines that treat people.

Those grain-fed animals, in turn, are contributing to health problems among the world’s wealthier citizens — heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes. The argument that meat provides useful protein makes sense, if the quantities are small. But the “you gotta eat meat” claim collapses at American levels. Even if the amount of meat we eat weren’t harmful, it’s way more than enough...

“When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,” says Professor Eshel, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free... “The good of people’s bodies and the good of the planet are more or less perfectly aligned,” he said...

_Signing Statements_

It's easy to miss this stuff. From a New York Times Editorial....

...Over the last seven years, Mr. Bush has issued hundreds of these insidious documents declaring that he had no intention of obeying a law that he had just signed. This is not just constitutional theory. Remember the detainee treatment act, which Mr. Bush signed and then proceeded to ignore, as he told C.I.A. interrogators that they could go on mistreating detainees?

This week’s statement was attached to the military budget bill, which covers everything except the direct cost of the war. The bill included four important provisions that Mr. Bush decided he will enforce only if he wants to.

The president said they impinged on his constitutional powers. We asked the White House to explain that claim, but got no answer, so we’ll do our best to figure it out.

The first provision created a commission to determine how reliant the government is on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, how much waste, fraud and abuse has occurred and what has been done to hold accountable those who are responsible. Congress authorized the commission to compel government officials to testify.

Perhaps this violated Mr. Bush’s sense of his power to dole out contracts as he sees fit and to hold contractors harmless. The same theory applies to the second provision that Mr. Bush said he would not obey: a new law providing protection against reprisal to those who expose waste, fraud or abuse in wartime contracts.

The third measure Mr. Bush rejected requires intelligence officials to respond to a request for documents from the Armed Services Committees of Congress within 45 days, either by producing the documents or explaining why they are being withheld. Clearly, this violates the power that Mr. Bush has given himself to cover up an array of illegal and improper actions, like his decisions to spy on Americans without a warrant, to torture prisoners in violation of the Geneva Conventions and to fire United States attorneys apparently for political reasons.

It’s glaringly obvious why Mr. Bush rejected the fourth provision, which states that none of the money authorized for military purposes may be used to establish permanent military bases in Iraq.

It is more evidence, as if any were needed, that Mr. Bush never intended to end this war, and that he still views it as the prelude to an unceasing American military presence in Iraq.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Sea levels rising faster than predicted"

Rises in sea levels during the coming decades could be much higher than previously believed, say experts. A new report by a consortium of scientists from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, UK, and research centres in Germany and the US says that sea levels rose by an average of 1.6 m every hundred years when the Earth was last as warm as it is predicted to be by the end of the present century.

The report, published in the journal Nature Geoscience in December, suggests that current predictions of sea level rises may be too optimistic. In the last 20 years, the rising of sea levels has become one of the most ominous indications of climate change and one of the most frequent subjects for environmental debate.

In the last interglacial period (134 000 to 119 000 years ago), sea levels reached around 6 m above the present rate because of the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. The consortium’s results provide the first hard evidence of the sea’s rise to these levels.

Such new studies are providing proof that sea levels are rising higher than scientists had previously believed, and it is becoming clear that governments have to act faster to mitigate the effects of climate change. In the last century, the Earth experienced a warming of 0.7°C, and between 1993 and 2006 sea levels rose by 3.3 mm a year on average, whereas the 2001 IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report predicted an annual rise of less than 2 mm.

Professor Eelco Rohling of the University of Southampton’s School of Ocean and Earth Science, said: ‘There is currently much debate about how fast future sea-level rises might be. Several researchers have made strong theoretical cases that the rates of rise projected from models in the recent IPCC Fourth Assessment are too low. This is because the IPCC estimates mainly concern thermal expansion and surface ice melting, while not quantifying the impact of dynamic ice-sheet processes. Until now, there have been no data that sufficiently constrain the full rate of past sea-level rises above the present level.

'We have exploited a new method of sea level reconstruction which we have pioneered since 1998, to look at rates of rise during the last interglacial. At that time, Greenland was 3°C to 5°C warmer than today, similar to the warming expected 50 to 100 years from now. Our analysis suggests that accompanying rates of sea level rise due to ice volume loss on Greenland and Antarctica were very high indeed.'

The researchers found that the average rate of rise of 1.6 m per century is approximately twice as high as maximum estimates in the IPCC Fourth Assessment report. As larger areas of the polar ice sheets melt, a sea rise approaching 1 m would threaten vast tracts of low-lying land, including major world cities such as New York, London and Tokyo.

The new findings offer strong evidence that climate change is causing potentially catastrophic changes to the Earth. Worldwide governmental action on climate change is urgent, as is more research and a better understanding of ice sheet dynamics.

Calif. - Salmon Declines & Squid Increases

The squid have not been found to be eating the salmon - but the conditions that are reducing salmon and the conditions where squid are increasing seem linked. It could also be that the squid are eating the food sources of the salmon.

The number of chinook salmon returning to California's Central Valley has reached a near-record low, pointing to an "unprecedented collapse" that could lead to severe restrictions on West Coast salmon fishing this year, according to federal fishery regulators.

The sharp drop in chinook or "king" salmon returning from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the Sacramento River and its tributaries this past fall is part of broader decline in wild salmon runs in rivers across the West.

The population dropped more than 88 percent from its all-time high five years ago, according to an internal memo sent to members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council and obtained by The Associated Press.

Regulators are still trying to understand the reasons for the shrinking number of spawners; some scientists believe it could be related to changes in the ocean linked to global warming.

Only about 90,000 returning adult salmon were counted in the Central Valley in 2007, the second lowest number on record, the memo said. The population was at 277,000 in 2006 and 804,000 five years ago.

Fishermen face new, increasing threat from jumbo squid

Marine biologists have known for years that 100-pound squid have quietly made their way from the tropical regions of the Pacific to the cooler reaches of California.

With 10 arms, a sharp beak and a mythic reputation for hunting in packs and attacking everything from scuba divers to each other, the Humboldt squid, also known as the jumbo squid, is now a common sight for fishermen and a current fascination of ocean-gazers.

But how much of a nuisance the little-understood cephalopod could become has only recently become clear.

Researchers in Santa Cruz have found that the squid's favorite foods are some of the most popular catches of fishermen in the region -- meaning competition, and perhaps another threat to an industry that has long struggled in the Monterey Bay.

"It looks like the squid have eaten a lot of the fish that are commercially important," said John Field, a fishery biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration...

Zeidberg, who spends time at Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, has found that the squid population in California, now likely in the hundreds of thousands, has been on the rise since 2002. While the squid have come to California before, never have they been seen in these numbers and for this long.

Zeidberg, Field and others are still trying to explain why the squid's population is growing outside of its native tropics, a trend that has played out in the Southern Hemisphere as well. Some say it's a lack of predators. Others say it's how rising ocean temperatures have created new hunting opportunities for the squid. But there's little consensus.

"Snowstorms in China Kill at Least 24"

SHANGHAI — Severe snowstorms over broad swaths of eastern and central China have wreaked havoc on traffic throughout the country, creating gigantic passenger backups, spawning accidents and leaving at least 24 people dead, according to state news reports.

Train passengers in Guangzhou, China. Officials say 78 million have been affected by the snow.
In many areas, where snow has continued falling for several days, the accumulation has been described as the heaviest in as many as five decades. The impact of the severe weather was complicated by the timing of the storms, which arrived just before the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, when Chinese return to their family homes by the hundreds of millions.

On Monday, the government announced a severe weather warning for the days ahead, as forecasts suggested that the snowfall would continue in many areas, including Shanghai, which is unaccustomed to severe winter weather.

“Due to the rain, snow and frost, plus increased winter use of coal and electricity and the peak travel season, the job of ensuring coal, electricity and oil supplies and adequate transportation has become quite severe,” Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in a statement issued late Sunday.

“More heavy snow is expected,” Mr. Wen warned. “All government departments must prepare for this increasingly grim situation and urgently take action.”

The Ministry of Civil Affairs estimates the direct economic cost of the weather so far to be $3.2 billion and the number of people affected to be 78 million, including 827,000 emergency evacuees...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"2007 was the second warmest year"

(Except in Central Europe - where it was the warmest year on record).

A new report has indicated that 2007 has been the second warmest year on record since 1880, with a global average of 14.73 degrees Celsius (58.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

The report, issued by the Earth Policy Institute, has stated that the year 2007 fits into a pattern of steadily increasing global temperature, with the eight warmest years on record all occurring in the last decade.

In fact, by looking at the northern hemisphere alone, 2007 temperatures averaged 15.04 degrees Celsius (59.1 degrees Fahrenheit) - easily the hottest year in the northern half of the globe since the record began in 1880.

Although 2007 did not post a new record high, the year stands out as being extremely warm despite several factors that usually cool the planet.

For example, the bygone year saw the development of La Niña, which usually depresses global temperature. In addition, solar intensity in 2007 was slightly lower than average because the year was a minimum in the 11-year solar sunspot cycle.

But, despite the combination of these factors, 2007 was still one of the warmest years in human history.

This strongly suggests that the warming effect of increased greenhouse gas concentrations is now dwarfing other influences on the Earth's climate.

The impacts of the exceptional warmth of 2007 were seen around the world.

While summer sea-ice extent in the Arctic Ocean shrank dramatically to a new low, southeastern Europe suffered through temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius in a heat wave that killed up to 500 people. In Japan, the temperature reached 40.9 degrees Celsius, the highest temperature ever recorded in that country.

While some areas baked under intensive heat or drought conditions, others were flooded by record amounts of rain.

While England and Wales experienced widespread record flooding during May to July, in South Asia, some of the worst flooding in decades affected at least 25 million people and killed more than 2,500. Other countries that saw exceptional or record flooding in 2007 include China, Indonesia, Mexico, Uruguay, and fifteen countries across Africa.

According to the report, future warming on the scale projected by the IPCC will bring with it a multitude of outcomes that can only be described as disastrous, the report added.

"With the record for 2007 now complete, it is clear that temperatures around the world are continuing their upward climb", writes Frances Moore in the report.

Water in the Desert

Drying of the West

Every utility in the Southwest now preaches conservation and sustainability, sometimes very forcefully. Las Vegas has prohibited new front lawns, limited the size of back ones, and offers people two dollars a square foot to tear existing ones up and replace them with desert plants. Between 2002 and 2006, the Vegas metro area actually managed to reduce its total consumption of water by around 20 percent, even though its population had increased substantially. Albuquerque too has cut its water use. But every water manager also knows that, as one puts it, "at some point, growth is going to catch up to you."

Looking for new long-term sources of supply, many water managers turn their lonely eyes to the Pacific, or to deep, briny aquifers that had always seemed unusable. Last August, El Paso inaugurated a new desalination plant that will allow the city to tap one such aquifer. The same month, the Bureau of Reclamation opened a new research center devoted to desalination in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The cost of desalination has dropped dramatically—it's now around four dollars per thousand gallons, or as little as $1,200 per acre-foot—but that is still considerably more than the 50 cents per acre-foot that the Bureau of Reclamation charges municipal utilities for water from Lake Mead, or the zero dollars it charges irrigation districts. The environmental impacts of desalination are also uncertain—there is always a concentrated brine to be disposed of. Nevertheless, a large desalination plant is being planned in San Diego County. In Las Vegas, Mulroy envisions one day paying for such a plant on the coast of California or Mexico, in exchange for a portion of either's share of the water in Lake Mead. "The problem is, if there's nothing in Lake Mead, there's nothing to exchange," she says.

A more obvious solution for cities facing shortages is to buy irrigation water from farmers. In 2003 the Imperial Irrigation District was pressured into selling 200,000 of its three million acre-feet of Colorado water to San Diego, as part of an overall deal to get California to stop exceeding its allotment. San Diego paid nearly $300 per acre-foot for water that the farmers in the Imperial Valley get virtually for free. The government favors such market mechanisms, says the Bureau of Reclamation's Terry Fulp, "so people who really want the water get it." At that price, the irrigation water in the Imperial Valley is worth nearly as much as its entire agricultural revenue, which is around a billion dollars a year. But not everyone favors drying up farms so that more water will be available for subdivisions. The valley is one of the poorest regions in California, yet the richest farmers stand to benefit most from the sale. Many more people fear the loss of jobs and, ultimately, of a whole way of life.

Clock is Ticking on Las Vegas' Water Supply

"...Even if all of the water projects are finished and everything starts
working on time, the Southern Nevada Water Authority still predicts a

That means by 2010, the valley will be short 64-million gallons of water a

Las Vegas Water Supply Needs Alternative

"The news gets worse though. If nothing changes with the drought, Mulroy
says without a pipeline bringing drinking water from sources other than
Lake Mead, the equivalent of 256,000 people would not have water when
doing this in 2010.

By 2011, the gap in water use and water supply would affect 404,000
people. The problem rises to half a million people by 2012.

"Understand that we cannot conserve our way out of a drought -- totally,"
said Shari Buck, a Water Authority board member."



Calif. Farmers Want to Sell Water

With water becoming increasingly precious in California, a rising number of farmers figure they can make more money by selling their water than by actually growing something.

Because farmers get their water at subsidized rates, some of them see financial opportunity this year in selling their allotments to Los Angeles and other desperately thirsty cities across Southern California, as well as to other farms.

"It just makes dollars and sense right now," said Bruce Rolen, a third-generation farmer who grows rice, wheat and other crops in Northern California's lush Sacramento Valley.

Instead of sowing in April, Rolen plans to let 100 of his 250 acres of white rice lie fallow and sell his irrigation water on the open market, where it could fetch up to three times the normal price...

The farmers looking to buy water are generally farther south in the San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles area and grow such crops as pistachios, almonds and grapes. Because of the heavy capital investment they made in their trees and vines, these farmers cannot afford to stop irrigating their crops and let them die. In contrast, rice, melons and tomatoes are planted anew each year.

Individual farmers don't actually sell their water themselves. Instead, their local water districts represent them in negotiations with other water agencies...

Water from Northern California rivers irrigates central California's farm fields and keeps faucets flowing in the Los Angeles area. But it must be shipped south through a network of pumps, pipes and aqueducts, and that system recently developed a kink when a federal judge ordered new restrictions on pumping to save threatened fish.

At the same time, Southern California's other main source of water, the Colorado River, is in its eighth year of drought...

Water on California's open market typically sells for $50 per acre-foot in wet years. But now it is expected to go for as much as $200. Farmers, however, pay $30 to $60, rates that are set under state and federal policy. (An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre to a depth of one foot.)

Because of rising costs, the huge water agency for the Los Angeles metropolitan recently proposed a rate increase for next year of 10 to 20 percent on the water it sells to cities.

Some environmentalists are troubled by farmers' efforts to sell their water, and warn that such deals don't begin to address the long-term problem.

"Essentially these farmers are getting water for a subsidized price and selling it to taxpayers at an elevated rate," said Renee Sharp of the Environmental Working Group.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Brazil Amazon deforestation soars"

The Brazilian government has announced a huge rise in the rate of Amazon deforestation, months after celebrating its success in achieving a reduction.

In the last five months of 2007, 3,235 sq km (1,250 sq miles) were lost.

Gilberto Camara, of INPE, an institute that provides satellite imaging of the area, said the rate of loss was unprecedented for the time of year.

Officials say rising commodity prices are encouraging farmers to clear more land to plant crops such as soya...

The state of Mato Grosso was the worst affected, contributing more than half the total area of forest stripped, or 1,786 sq km (700 sq miles).

The states of Para and Rondonia were also badly affected, accounting for 17.8% and 16% of the total cleared respectively.

The situation may also be worse than reported, with the environment ministry saying the preliminary assessment of the amount of forest cleared could double as more detailed satellite images are analysed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Until All the Fish Are Gone"

Editorial from the The New York Times

Scientists have been warning for years that overfishing is degrading the health of the oceans and destroying the fish species on which much of humanity depends for jobs and food...

The industry... is organized to evade serious regulation. Big factory ships from places like Europe, China, Korea and Japan stay at sea for years at a time — fueling, changing crews, unloading their catch on refrigerated vessels. The catch then enters European markets through the Canary Islands and other ports where inspection is minimal. After that, retailers and consumers neither ask nor care where the fish came from, or whether, years from now, there will be any fish at all.

From time to time, international bodies try to do something to slow overfishing. The United Nations banned huge drift nets in the 1990s, and recently asked its members to halt bottom trawling, a particularly ruthless form of industrial fishing, on the high seas. Last fall, the European Union banned fishing for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, where bluefin have been decimated.

The institution with the most potential leverage is the World Trade Organization. Most of the world’s fishing fleets receive heavy government subsidies for boat building, equipment and fuel, America’s fleet less so than others. Without these subsidies, which amount to about $35 billion annually, fleets would shrink in size and many destructive practices like bottom trawling would become uneconomic.

The W.T.O. has never had a reputation for environmental zeal. But knowing that healthy fisheries are important to world trade and development, the group has begun negotiating new trade rules aimed at reducing subsidies. It produced a promising draft in late November, but there is no fixed schedule for a final agreement.

The world needs such an agreement, and soon. Many fish species may soon be so depleted that they will no longer be able to reproduce themselves. As 125 of the world’s most respected scientists warned in a letter to the W.T.O. last year, the world is at a crossroads. One road leads to tremendously diminished marine life. The other leads to oceans again teeming with abundance. The W.T.O. can help choose the right one.

Disappearing Dirt

The planet is getting skinned.

While many worry about the potential consequences of atmospheric warming, a few experts are trying to call attention to another global crisis quietly taking place under our feet.

Call it the thin brown line. Dirt. On average, the planet is covered with little more than 3 feet of topsoil -- the shallow skin of nutrient-rich matter that sustains most of our food and appears to play a critical role in supporting life on Earth.

"We're losing more and more of it every day," said David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington. "The estimate is that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture."

"It's just crazy," fumed John Aeschliman, a fifth-generation farmer who grows wheat and other grains on the Palouse near the tiny town of Almota, just west of Pullman.

"We're tearing up the soil and watching tons of it wash away every year," Aeschliman said. He's one of a growing number of farmers trying to persuade others to adopt "no-till" methods, which involve not tilling the land between plantings, leaving crop stubble to reduce erosion and planting new seeds between the stubble rows.

Montgomery has written a popular book, "Dirt," to call public attention to what he believes is a neglected environmental catastrophe. A geomorphologist who studies how landscapes form, Montgomery describes modern agricultural practices as "soil mining" to emphasize that we are rapidly outstripping the Earth's natural rate of restoring topsoil.

"Globally, it's clear we are eroding soils at a rate much faster than they can form," said John Reganold, a soils scientist at Washington State University. "It's hard to get people to pay much attention to this because, frankly, most of us take soil for granted."

The National Academy of Sciences has determined that cropland in the U.S. is being eroded at least 10 times faster than the time it takes for lost soil to be replaced.

The United Nations has warned of worldwide soil degradation -- especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where soil loss has contributed to the rapidly increasing number of malnourished people.

Healthy topsoil is a biological matrix, a housing complex for an incredibly diverse community of organisms -- billions of beneficial microbes per handful, nitrogen-fixing fungi, nutrients and earthworms whose digestive tracts transform the fine grains of sterile rock and plant detritus into the fertile excrement that gave rise to the word itself ("drit," in Old Norse).

As such, true living topsoil cannot be made overnight, Montgomery emphasized. Topsoil grows back at a rate of an inch or two over hundreds of years. Very slowly.

"Globally, it's pretty clear we're running out of dirt," Montgomery said....

Organic farming methods also can reduce soil loss, Reganold said. He cited his own research, which has shown a marked increase in soil health, water retention and regrowth when organic methods are used rather than the traditional methods.....

Energy Shortages

Energy shortage forces Central Asians to burn dung

With no heating and just three hours of electricity a day, Malokhat Atayeva is struggling to survive the coldest winter in three decades in her small town in western Tajikistan.

"It's so cold that water turns into ice in the kettle overnight," Atayeva, a mother of two, said by telephone from Tursunzade, as temperatures outside, normally above subzero, plunged to -20 degrees Celsius.

"We sleep fully clothed, wrapped in blankets. Children stopped going to school because it's too cold in the classroom."

Like Atayeva, millions of people across energy-rich Central Asia are scrambling to find refuge from one of the harshest winters in living memory.

Extreme cold is no surprise to the 60 million people scattered across a region wedged between Russia, China and Iran, but this year's winter has exposed the poor state of crumbling Soviet-era utilities and pipelines and sparked energy shortages.

Lying on some of the world's biggest energy reserves, Central Asia has attracted billions of dollars of foreign investment as the European Union and other powers seek energy deals in the region. But the cold snap caught impoverished Tajikistan off guard, forcing the government to resort to daily rations of electricity and gas. Central heating has all but stopped working across Tajikistan, its utilities ruined by a 1990s civil war.

Governments across Central Asia have pledged to carry out urgent repairs and build new electricity generators. But there were no signs of relief as the severe weather has entered a second month.

In a snow-covered China, entire regions are without electricity and gas

China is facing its worst energy shortage in many years, with heightened demand caused by the intense cold and the snow, and insufficient coal supplies unable to keep up. After an energy shortage that has struck at least 13 provinces and reached about 70 gigawatts, approximately equal to the entire capacity of Great Britain, the government has ordered that coal be supplied first of all to the power plants.

The imposition of price controls on coal and the closing of thousands of mines not in compliance with safety regulations have affected coal supplies. The heavy snowfall of recent days has blocked the roads, cut off supply routes, and downed power lines. In seven counties, the power circuits have been completely shut down, leaving 129,000 families without power, while bad weather is hampering repair efforts. In Hubei and Anhui alone, the provinces hardest hit by the snow, the energy shortage has affected 10 million people, and more than a million hectares of crops have been destroyed, at an estimated loss of 1.83 billion yuan. In Wuhan, the capital of Hubei located on the frozen Yangtze river, there have been intermittent blackouts all week, the worst since 1997. Coal fuels 78% of the country's power plants, and produced about 83% of the energy used in 2007.

According to experts, the current coal shortage is due above all to the imposition of price controls, as the sellers watch the price of coal rise rapidly in the world and wait for the government to permit higher prices in the next few months.

In many of the provinces, like Yunnan, Guizhou, and Hubei, drought has aggravated the situation by reducing the production of hydroelectric power.

China in power shortage warning

Thirteen regions have already started to ration power supplies, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

It said coal reserves were down to emergency levels and stockpiles were only high enough to generate power for the whole country for eight days.

China's economic boom has led to surging demand for electricity...

Dark days for African mining

Namibia has become the latest southern African country to freeze all major investment projects due to an energy crisis that threatens to overshadow the region’s growing FDI prospects.

The mining industry will be among the sectors worst hit, with Namibia’s state electricity utility NamPower placing a moratorium on all new mines, saying they would have to wait until at least 2009 to get power.

NamPower has also been forced to resort to load shedding and time-of-use tariffs for electricity usage at peak times as it grapples with the energy shortage across the southern African region.

Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe this week reported power outages caused by aging infrastructure and growing demand.
The situation has been exacerbated by South African energy utility Eskom’s announcement that it would be forced to stop exporting electricity to neighbouring countries as South Africa’s own energy crisis deepened.

Eskom has also asked the government to shelve any new big industrial projects at least until 2013, when the current electricity shortage should have eased.

The utility wants both foreign and local projects requiring 1,000MW or more to be held back, but said projects already under way would go ahead.

This decision has put potential mining expansions at risk, with South Africa’s ferrochrome and platinum industry already worst hit by the blackouts.

Now NamPower’s decision threatens to further hurt mining investments in the region.

The desert country has earmarked its burgeoning uranium mining industry as a key economic growth area with the recent discovery of a major uranium resource, which could end up being one of the world’s biggest uranium deposits.
In the meantime, power outages in Zimbabwe and Zambia have also hit the mining industry.

Outages caused by a major electrical fault on the power line linking the two countries, which engineers from both sides were trying to repair, resulted in 369 miners being trapped at Zambia’s Mopani Copper Mines (MCM) and Konkola Copper Mines (KCM).

The power outages also caused partial flooding at Chililabombwe copper mine, a unit of KCM, as water could not be pumped out.

KCM has since suspended mining operations in Zambia.

"High Mercury Levels Are Found in Tuna Sushi"

Recent laboratory tests found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sushi from 5 of the 20 places had mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market. The sushi was bought by The New York Times in October.

“No one should eat a meal of tuna with mercury levels like those found in the restaurant samples more than about once every three weeks," said Dr. Michael Gochfeld, professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J.

Dr. Gochfeld analyzed the sushi for The Times with Dr. Joanna Burger, professor of life sciences at Rutgers University. He is a former chairman of the New Jersey Mercury Task Force and also treats patients with mercury poisoning.

The owner of a restaurant whose tuna sushi had particularly high mercury concentrations said he was shocked by the findings. “I’m startled by this,” said the owner, Drew Nieporent, a managing partner of Nobu Next Door. “Anything that might endanger any customer of ours, we’d be inclined to take off the menu immediately and get to the bottom of it.”

Although the samples were gathered in New York City, experts believe similar results would be observed elsewhere...

No government agency regularly tests seafood for mercury.

Tuna samples from the Manhattan restaurants Nobu Next Door, Sushi Seki, Sushi of Gari and Blue Ribbon Sushi and the food store Gourmet Garage all had mercury above one part per million, the “action level” at which the F.D.A. can take food off the market. (The F.D.A. has rarely, if ever, taken any tuna off the market.) The highest mercury concentration, 1.4 parts per million, was found in tuna from Blue Ribbon Sushi. The lowest, 0.10, was bought at Fairway....

In general, tuna sushi from food stores was much lower in mercury. These findings reinforce results in other studies showing that more expensive tuna usually contains more mercury because it is more likely to come from a larger species, which accumulates mercury from the fish it eats. Mercury enters the environment as an industrial pollutant...

Some environmental groups have sounded the alarm. Environmental Defense, the advocacy group, says no one, no matter his or her age, should eat bluefin tuna...

"U.S. Given Poor Marks on the Environment"

A new international ranking of environmental performance puts the United States at the bottom of the Group of 8 industrialized nations and 39th among the 149 countries on the list.

European nations dominate the top places in the ranking, which evaluates sanitation, greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural policies, air pollution and 20 other measures to formulate an overall score, with 100 the best possible.

The top 10 countries, with scores of 87 or better, were led by Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Finland. The others at the top were Austria, France, Latvia, Costa Rica, Colombia and New Zealand, the leader in the 2006 version of the analysis, which is conducted by researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities.

“We are putting more weight on climate change,” said Daniel Esty, the report’s lead author, who is the director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. “Switzerland is the most greenhouse gas efficient economy in the developed world,” he said, in part because of its use of hydroelectric power and its transportation system, which relies more on trains than individual cars or trucks.

The United States, with a score of 81.0, he noted, “is slipping down,” both because of low scores on three different analyses of greenhouse gas emissions and a pervasive problem with smog. The country’s performance on a new indicator that measures regional smog, he said, “is at the bottom of the world right now.”

He added, “The U.S. continues to have a bottom-tier performance in greenhouse gas emissions.”

The list, which is to be released Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, is the fourth, and most refined, of a series of rankings first issued in 2002...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stars Eating/Giving Birth to New Planets

"Stars stay young by eating planets"

A new research has indicated that stars can slow down their aging process by consuming Jupiter-sized planets.

According to a report in New Scientist , most stars eventually become white dwarfs, but along the way expand into red giants, while their cores shrink and undergo a short but intense phase of helium fusion.

"Yet gobbling up a Jupiter-sized planet as they expand can affect that process," said Brad Hansen at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Calculations by Hansen suggest that if the planet is swallowed at the right moment, its gravity can peel off the star's outer layers.

Then, the star's exposed core never gets hot enough to fuse helium, so the resulting white dwarf is less massive and looks younger than it should for its age.

A group of white dwarfs with precisely those characteristics was observed three years ago in the star cluster NGC 6791.

The work was presented at the annual American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin, Texas last week.


"Amazing old stars give birth again"

Two old stars appear to be gearing up for a second generation of planet formation, a phenomenon astronomers say they have never seen before.
"This is a new class of stars, ones that display conditions now ripe for formation of a second generation of planets, long, long after the stars themselves formed," said UCLA astronomy graduate student Carl Melis, who reported the findings at a recent meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas.

The stars are BP Piscium in the constellation Pisces and TYCHO 4144 329 2, which resides in the constellation Ursa Major. The exact ages of the stars are unknown, but it is estimated they are at least hundreds of millions or possibly billions of years old, and might have already given birth to planets long ago.

"Most astronomers now believe that most stars are accompanied by first-generation planets of some sort, even if the planets are not massive enough to be picked up by the radial velocity [detection] technique," Melis said.

Second generation of planets

The unusual thing about these stars is that they appear to be giving birth to planets again.

"We currently understand planet formation to occur around stars when they are very young and enshrouded in dusty and gaseous disks, the material necessary to form planetary bodies," Melis told "This material is completely used up after a couple to ten million years after the star is born and is not replenished during the star's life. As such, we would never expect a star to undergo planet formation late in its life as the necessary conditions are not present."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Arctic Warming Update

From the RSOE Emergency and Disaster Information Service...

Giant fractures have been cracking open the ice in the Beaufort Sea in recent weeks creating extraordinary stretches of open water and giving researchers from around the world a first-hand look at the Arctic meltdown. "It's shocking to see," says David Barber, a climate specialist at the University of Manitoba. He is heading an international project, involving more than 200 researchers from 15 countries, on the Amundsen, a Canadian Coast Guard ship over-wintering in the Beaufort. "The fractures are huge," says Barber, who recently returned from the Amundsen and says some cracks are more than 100 kilometres across. "We drove our ship down of one of them and you couldn't see the sides of it." The Canadian Ice Service has posted a satellite image of one "massive fracture" on its website, along with an animation showing huge fissures opening and giant slabs of ice peeling away west and north of Banks Island over the last five weeks. Stretches of open water, known as leads, normally form in the Beaufort in winter as thick, old ice grinds past much thinner first-year ice. Barber says he has never such large fractures and so much open water in December and January. He says the phenomenon is tied to the loss of Arctic ice last summer, that "stunned" scientists as the ice retreated 40 per cent below normal, to the lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979.

There is now so little thick, multi-year ice left, that it is being blown around the Beaufort "like Styrofoam in a bathtub," says Barber. As the thick older ice moves it pulls away from the thin new ice creating fractures and large areas of open water. The $40-million research initiative on the Amundsen is part of the International Polar Year. Barber says the researchers could not have picked a more interesting winter to spend in the Beaufort, but says the changes they are documenting are "disturbing." Not only is the ice fracturing, but he says storm tracks are changing as weather systems are drawn in over the open water and fed by heat being released by the seawater. And thick multi-year ice, which the researchers are tracking with beacons, is moving at up to 30 nautical miles a day, much faster than normal. If the trend continues, he and other scientists predict the Arctic could be ice free in the summer months by 2020, plus or minus 10 years. That means Arctic summer ice, which has capped the planet for more than a million years, might be gone by 2010, says Barber.

The implications extend far beyond the Arctic, and the possibility of shipping routes opening in the North. Weather across the Northern Hemisphere is impacted by what happens in the Arctic and the northern ice plays a critical role in controlling Earth's thermostat. Arctic ice reflects close to the 95 per cent of solar radiation that hits it. Once the ice melts away, seawater absorbs the heat instead, later releasing it back to the atmosphere, a process that will speed global warming. The phenomenon is already at play in the Beaufort. Barber saysthe extra heat absorbed by the sea water last summer delayed the formation of new ice last fall by many weeks. And the heat is still being released as storms churn up open water, creating unusually balmy winter weather, he says, noting the temperatures off Banks Island hit -9 C when he was on the Amundsen in December. )

"Naples Waste Linked to Death and Disease"

Piles of trash building up in Naples have filled the air with a putrid stench and spoiled the view for tourists, but the city's waste crisis may also be killing its people...

Besides fouling the port city's image and adding to risks to the Mediterranean from from sewage and pollution, the waste is in some areas associated with higher death rates and certain types of cancer, studies have shown.

A government-appointed former police chief has been given army backup for a four-month quest to end a crisis which the Italian government declared a 'state of emergency' in 1994, but local people say years of illegal dumping is poisoning them...

Medical journal Lancet Oncology in 2004 dubbed part of the Campania region, of which Naples is the capital, "the triangle of death" because the air, soil and water are polluted by high levels of cancer-causing toxins believed to have come from waste.

Research released last year by Italy's National Research Council found that among people living closest to the least-regulated waste-disposal sites -- where trash is dumped in fields or burnt without any controls -- the mortality rate was 12 percent greater than the norm for women and 9 percent greater for men.

Fatal liver cancers were much more common -- up 29 percent for women and 19 percent for men in the most at-risk areas -- and there were huge increases in congenital malformations of the nervous and urinary systems...

Naples' failure to deal with its own household waste hit crisis point at the end of December when all refuse collection stopped as waste dumps had reached capacity, leaving people with no choice but to throw it onto the streets.

Political ineptitude, corruption and crime have conspired to stop the creation of a modern, safe disposal system. People despair of their politicians and are suspicious of government schemes -- like a new incinerator -- aimed at ending the crisis.

Like many in and around the 'triangle of death', those in Pianura say their council-run landfill was not properly managed and became a tipping site for hazardous waste.

But an even bigger source of pollution is the Camorra, the Naples mafia which runs a lucrative line in dumping and burning rubbish illegally.

More than domestic trash, the Camorra focuses on disposal of industrial waste which it brings to Campania from Italy's rich north -- one of a string of crimes against the environment earning the mafia an estimated 6 billion euros a year.

"The Camorra continues to control the cycle of industrial waste that comes from the north of Italy," said Michele Buonomo of Legambiente, a campaign group which closely monitors organised crime's assault on the environment.

"That's why practically every night in vast areas of Campania, waste arrives to be burned."

"China's Longest River at Lowest in 142 Years"

China is suffering its worst drought in a decade, which has left millions of people short of drinking water and has shrunk reservoirs and rivers.

Hardest hit are large swathes of the usually humid south, where water levels on several major rivers have plunged to historic lows in recent months.

On Jan. 8, the Yangtze water level at Hankou plunged to 13.98 metres (46 ft), the lowest since records began in 1866, the China Daily said on Thursday, quoting the Wuhan-based Changjiang Times.

"This year's drought is rare," Li Changmin, a farmer from central Hubei province, was quoted as saying. "Just days ago, I saw ship after ship running aground. I have never seen that before."

Since October, more than 40 ships have run aground in the main course of the Yangtze, the world's third longest river which stretches 6,300 km (3,900 miles) from west to east, the traditional dividing line between north and south China.

This year's dry season came a month earlier than usual and water levels fell sooner than expected, an official was quoted as saying.

"Also, large amounts of water were stored at the Three Gorges Dam last month, which caused the flow volume in the river to fall 50 percent. But the Yangtze River Water Resource Commission said the drought has nothing to do with the dam," the China Daily said.

The Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydroelectric project, is an engineering feat that seeks to tame the Yangtze.

Backers say the dam will end devastating floods downstream and generate clean electricity. Critics call it a reckless folly that has brought wrenching dislocation for many people.

Drought and floods are perennial problems in China but meteorologists have complained about the increased extreme weather, pointing to global climate change as a culprit.

Rising temperatures in California...

"...attributed to human activities."

Washington, Jan 20: A new research by scientists has shown that the temperatures in the state of California in US have risen by more than 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit between 1915 and 2000, largely because of human activities.

The research, which was conducted at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of California, Merced and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, used data from up to eight different observational records to come up with the findings.

According to the findings, the warming of the state, which has been fastest in late winter and early spring, is largely attributed to human activities.

"The trends in daily minimum and maximum temperatures over the last 50 and 85 years are inconsistent with current model-based estimates of natural internal climate variability," said lead researcher Céline Bonfils from Lawrence Livermore.

"It's pretty clear that natural causes alone just can't cut it and external factors such as greenhouse gases and urbanization come into play," he added.

"Our study represents a credible first step toward the identification of the effects of human activities on California climate," said Benjamin Santer, also part of the Livermore team...

"If human-induced climate change is occurring, societal impacts - such as impacts on our water supply - cannot be far behind," said Duffy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Solar-Powered MP3/Video Player"

From YahooTech:

The eMotion EM-SOL1GIG is pretty chunky as media players go: at five inches across, an inch thick, and a hefty 10 ounces, you won't be putting this sucker in your jeans pocket anytime soon. Open it up, however, and you'll find a pair of solar panels that'll charge the player's lithium-ion battery in about three or four hours (good for 17 hours of music playback). Even better, the player comes with a set of six connectors for charging laptops, cell phones, and other portable devices.

Specs-wise, the EM-SOL1GIG holds its own quite nicely. It can handle MP3, WMA, and WAV audio files, along with AVI and MPEG-4 video; the 3.5-inch, 320-by-240-pixel display was decent enough, if a little short of eye-popping. The player also has a photo viewer and a TXT file reader, along with a game emulator that'll run NES, GameBoy, and Sega game ROMs. Oh, and if you get lost in the woods, the built-in LED flashlight can help you find your way back to the tent.

Pretty nice, although the eMotion media player ($149, available now) falls down a bit in the storage department—it has only 1GB of internal flash memory (a 4GB version is also on tap in the $185 range), although the SD memory card slot can expand that total by another 2GB.


It will be nice to see more of these things.

"Antarctica ice loss accelerating....."

Global warming has caused annual ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet to surge by 75 percent in a decade, according to the most detailed survey ever made of the white continent's coastal glaciers.

In 2006, accelerating glaciers spewed an estimated 192 billion tonnes of Antarctic ice into the sea, scientists calculate.

The West Antarctica ice sheet lost some 132 billion tonnes, while the Antarctic Peninsula, the tongue of land that juts up towards South America, lost around 60 million tonnes.

But there was a "near-zero" loss in East Antarctica, the world's biggest icesheet, the paper says.

Investigators from five countries, led by Eric Rignot of NASA's fabled Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), used interferometry radar from four satellites to build a picture of the periphery of Antarctica.

They sought to measure the velocities of glaciers that shift ice to the coast from the massive sheets that cover Antarctica's bedrock.

They built up a picture of around 85 percent of Antarctica's coastline thanks to the data supplied by the European Space Agency's two Earth Remoting Sensing (ERS) satellites, the Canadian Radarsat-1 and Japan's Advanced Land Observing satellites.

"Over the time period of our survey, the ice sheet as a whole was certainly losing mass, and the mass loss increased by 75 percent in 10 years," according to the study, published online by the specialist journal Nature Geoscience .

"Most of the mass loss is from the Pine Island Bay sector of West Antarctica and the northern tip of the Peninsula, where it is driven by ongoing, pronounced glacier acceleration.

"In East Antarctica, the loss is near zero, but the thinning of its potentially unstable, but the thinning of its potentially unstable marine sectors calls for attention."

The loss of 192 billion tonnes is more than twice the annual flow of the River Nile when it reaches the sea, according to a calculation.

Seen by another yardstick, it is equivalent to an annual rise in global sea levels of about 0.5 mm (0.02 of an inch), if factors such as evaporation and effects on precipitation are not factored in.

By comparison, sea levels rose by between 10-20 centimetres (four to eight inches) from 1900 to 2006, the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported last year.

It forecast a rise of at least 18 cms (17.2 inches) by 2100, mainly as a result of thermal expansion, for water expands when it warms. The IPCC declined to set an upper figure to this estimate specifically because of uncertainty about ice-melt from Antarctica and Greenland.

"Europe Takes Africa’s Fish; Migrants Follow"

Ale Nodye, the son and grandson of fishermen in this northern Senegalese village, said that for the past six years he netted barely enough fish to buy fuel for his boat. So he jumped at the chance for a new beginning. He volunteered to captain a wooden canoe full of 87 Africans to the Canary Islands in the hopes of making their way illegally to Europe.

The 2006 voyage ended badly. He and his passengers were arrested and deported. His cousin died on a similar mission not long afterward.

Nonetheless, Mr. Nodye, 27, said he intended to try again.

“I could be a fisherman there,” he said. “Life is better there. There are no fish in the sea here anymore.”

Many scientists agree. A vast flotilla of industrial trawlers from the European Union, China, Russia and elsewhere, together with an abundance of local boats, have so thoroughly scoured northwest Africa’s ocean floor that major fish populations are collapsing.

That has crippled coastal economies and added to the surge of illegal migrants who brave the high seas in wooden pirogues hoping to reach Europe. While reasons for immigration are as varied as fish species, Europe’s lure has clearly intensified as northwest Africa’s fish population has dwindled.

Last year roughly 31,000 Africans tried to reach the Canary Islands, a prime transit point to Europe, in more than 900 boats. About 6,000 died or disappeared, according to one estimate cited by the United Nations.

The region’s governments bear much of the blame for their fisheries’ decline. Many have allowed a desire for money from foreign fleets to override concern about the long-term health of their fisheries. Illegal fishermen are notoriously common; efforts to control fishing, rare.

But in the view of West African fishermen, Europe is having its fish and eating them, too. Their own waters largely fished out, European nations have steered their heavily subsidized fleets to Africa.

“As Europe has sought to manage its fisheries and to limit its fishing, what we’ve done is to export the overfishing problem elsewhere, particularly to Africa,” said Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, a London-based research group...

Overfishing is hardly limited to African waters. Worldwide, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 75 percent of fish stocks are overfished or fished to their maximum. But in a poor region like northwest Africa, the consequences are particularly stark.

Fish are the main source of protein for much of the region, but some species are now so scarce that the poor can no longer afford them, said Pierre Failler, senior research fellow for the British Center for Economics and Management of Aquatic Resources...

“The sea is being emptied,” said Moctar Ba, a consultant who once led scientific research programs for Mauritania and West Africa...

Fishermen like Mr. Diouf argue that Africans should have first priority in their own waters — an idea enshrined in a 1994 United Nations treaty on the seas that acknowledges the right of local governments to sell foreigners fishing rights only to their surplus stocks.

But that rule has been repeatedly violated along northwest Africa’s nearly 2,000-mile coast.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"A first! Snow falls in Baghdad"

After weathering nearly five years of war, Baghdad residents thought they'd pretty much seen it all. But Friday morning, as muezzins were calling the faithful to prayer, the people here awoke to something certifiably new. For the first time in memory, snow fell across Baghdad.

Although the white flakes quickly dissolved into gray puddles, they brought an emotion rarely expressed in this desert capital snarled by army checkpoints, divided by concrete walls and ravaged by sectarian killings — delight.

"For the first time in my life I saw a snow-rain like this falling in Baghdad," said Mohammed Abdul-Hussein, a 63-year-old retiree from the New Baghdad area.

"When I was young, I heard from my father that such rain had fallen in the early '40s on the outskirts of northern Baghdad," Abdul-Hussein said, referring to snow as a type of rain. "But snow falling in Baghdad in such a magnificent scene was beyond my imagination."

Morning temperatures uncharacteristically hovered around freezing, and the Baghdad airport was closed because of poor visibility. Snow is common in the mountainous Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, but residents of the capital and surrounding areas could remember just hail.

"I asked my mother, who is 80, whether she'd ever seen snow in Iraq before, and her answer was no," said Fawzi Karim, a 40-year-old father of five who runs a small restaurant in Hawr Rajab, a village six miles southeast of Baghdad.

"This is so unusual, and I don't know whether or not it's a lesson from God," Karim said.

Some said they'd seen snow only in movies...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"Warm-winter cycles accelerating loss of Great Lakes water"

Lake Huron is in a fog, part of a gloomy cycle that's pushing water levels to record lows, scientists say.

Last week, a winter storm dropped more than a foot of snow over the Great Lakes. Over the weekend, warmer temperatures melted that snow, which evaporated into the air.

The cycle has been playing out for the last 30 years in the Great Lakes, said Cynthia Sellinger, co-author of a paper to be published Saturday in Environmental Science & Technology, a scientific journal.

Winters have been warmer. Snow doesn't build up, then seep into the ground and recharge the lakes in the spring.

Instead, warmer winter temperatures melt the snow after it falls, leaving the ground frozen and allowing the snow to evaporate.

"Since 1978, there's been a long-term decline in precipitation and a long-term increase in evaporation," said Sellinger, a hydrologist at the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"It's very subtle, extremely subtle, but it's there."

Lakes Huron and Michigan, which are connected by the Straits of Mackinac, are experiencing the lowest water levels in the Great Lakes this month.

Lake Huron is within 2 inches of its all-time low for January, according to data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The lake is 14 inches lower than it was at this time last year.

It's projected to dip another inch during the next month, as part of its seasonal decline.

Sellinger said it's possible that Lake Huron will break its record low for January, set in 1965, later this month...

Temperatures in the Bay City area were expected to reach 53 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday, topping a record of 50 degrees from 1989, according to the National Weather Service.

Since 1980, when NOAA temperature buoys were installed, the surface water temperature of Lakes Michigan and Huron has increased by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Jay Austin, a researcher at the Large Lakes Observatory, part of the University of Minnesota in Duluth.

"It's larger compared to what we've seen in the atmosphere," or about twice the rise in global air temperatures attributed to global warming, Austin said.

Lake Superior is only Great Lake seeing higher levels this January. It's 6 inches higher than at this time last year. The rest of the lakes are 11-16 lower than a year ago.

Part of the reason for Lake Superior's rise is about 10.5 inches of rainfall the basin saw in September and October, right at the lake's low point, said Keith Kompoltowicz, a meteorologist for the Army Corps in Detroit.


I went to my doctor the other day - it had been 2 weeks since I originally got a cold and I still had it. Or at that point it was sinusitis - a bacterial infection. The cold had the sore throat - but both shared the symptoms of low-grade fever, fatigue, and congestion along with the resulting headaches.

Outwardly I looked pretty normal - but inside I felt (and still feel) fairly lousy - sometimes more than other times.

So I get to the office (it was a new office) with my 1pm appointment. And here are 4 pharmaceutical reps all waiting to get in. I listened to their banter as I waited.

I asked the nurse what was up and she said that 4 reps are allowed in in the morning and 4 are allowed in in afternoon. They tend to get there as soon as they are allowed (for some reason). There are rules like they aren't allowed to approach the doctors - I guess the doctors have to approach them. They have a certain place for them to be.

It seems like a pretty stupid way for doctors to get info on new products.

As I'm in the exam room - I can hear the doctor talking to one of the reps. Then she comes in and I tell her about my symptoms.

She orders an anti-biotic and decongestants. She doesn't suggest anything else.

So later on I'm home and at first I'm just thinking that these medicines are going to do it.

And then I decide that I really needed to look into this - and I find that my condition could go on for weeks or even months. So it was time to get serious.

I looked up herbal remedies in my herb book - and it recommended eating leeks and garlic and taking a foot bath with dry mustard (soaked in water).

I recalled what my mother would have suggested - gargling salt water - and drinking lots of fluids.

It seemed that I drank pretty many fluids - but I got more serious and after reading various recommendations online - I dropped the coffee and wine and turned to teas exclusively (for the most part). And I try to keep them hot - warm when I drink them. Usually my hot drinks get pretty cold by the time I'm done with them - but no more. I developed a system where my teapot is resting over a candle - and it stays plenty warm that way.

Other recommendations including putting a warm, wet washcloth on ones face. But it doesn't stay warm very long - so I used one of my snakes (material sewn with rice inside) - heating it up in the microwave and it stays warm for quite a while.

I made leek soup for lunch and I'm making fairly hot chile for dinner - in case capsicum is helpful.

I've been inhaling lots of steam, and gargling, and I've also been trying to clean out my sinuses with a warm saline solution. I got pretty much gook out - but I still feel plenty congested.

This afternoon, I read online about Essential oils 'combat superbug'. I figure if they can help with the "superbug" - maybe they can help with whatever I've got. (I think it's rather ridiculous that they have a video entitled "Machine may kill MRSA microbes" - when it's really the essential oils dispersed by the machine that does it.) The authors of the articles are reluctant to reveal much (I don't see what it would harm) - but tea tree oil seems to be one. Others oils that people mention are Grapefruit seed extract, Eucalyptus, and Lavender. I'll have to look into it more - but I'm willing to try some of those. It can't hurt.

One thing that occurred to me that might be a contributing factor to my sinusitis is that the anti-depressant that I take seems to dry things up a bit. I think that part of the problem with my recovery was all of this stuff was too stuck in there. So the problem may have started with a pharmaceutical to begin with. I've had a suspicion that there would be complications from those pills that would not have been anticipated.

Meanwhile - all of the old time tested remedies need to be revived. Chinese Medicine is looking better all the time. The idea of low-tech practitioners who spend time with patients - with low-tech charges that regular people can afford (or at least that's supposed to be how it's worked in China).

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Record Highs in Indiana, 2Ft. Snow in Iran

Here in Indiana the past couple of days we've had temps in the 60's, almost 70. At the primaries today in New Hampshire it was in the high 50's, at least - instead of the average high of 31 (for Concord). If it got to 60 today - it would be a record. (Update) - Concord didn't set a record - but Nashua did - they had a 67 degree day yesterday - the previous record was 53 degrees).

There had been some great snow out east - I had been looking forward to cross-country skiing. The current system is supposed to blow through (there were intense tornadoes from Mississippi to Wisconsin) and the snow will return.

Meanwhile, Iran's heaviest snowstorm in decade kills 21

TEHRAN - The heaviest snowfall in more than a decade has left at least 21 people dead in Iran — some buried under avalanches, some frozen to death and others killed in traffic accidents, state media reported Monday.

As much as 22 inches of snow has fallen in areas of northern and central Iran since Saturday, said meteorologist Ali Abedini. The storm has forced schools and government offices to close, blocking major roads and leading to the cancellation of all domestic and international flights.

"At least 21 people have been killed and 88 others injured ... as a result of heavy snow," state-run radio reported. "Some died of the severe cold, some were buried under avalanches and others died after their cars overturned on snow-covered roads."

"400-Plus Coastal Zones Are Dying"


The world is getting familiar with the carbon cycle and how pumping carbon that's been buried for millions of years into the atmosphere causes some global problems. Well, get ready to learn about nitrogen.

Like carbon, the nitrogen cycle is all out of whack. In this case, the origins are similar. Instead of burning petroleum or coal, nitrogen comes from natural gas transformed into ammonia fertilizer and used to grow crops; what doesn't absorb into the soil runs off into streams, which flow into rivers, which flow to the ocean, where the nitrogen fuels "dead zones" – areas where nitrogen (and phosphorus) fertilizes so much algae growth that it absorbs enough oxygen to make the water inhospitable to fish and other marine life. Jellyfish are about the only thing that thrives in these conditions; corals certainly do not.

There are other causes of dead zones; human sewage, inadequately treated, is another, as is the fallout from burning fossil fuels and certain industrial processes. Dead zones, which start as "eutrophic" zones (that is, over-rich with fertilizers), and end up as "hypoxic" areas (that is, short of oxygen), often shrink and grow with the seasons.


The World Resources Institute recently mapped the world's dead zones and found a whopping 415 eutrophic zones, including 169 that are known to be hypoxic and another 169 that probably are. The researchers believe the number is much higher, since only the United States and the European Union do an adequate job of counting and reporting problem coastal areas. China and other fast-growing Asian economies are likely polluting their coasts, but the problem hasn't been documented, the researchers say.

As the map shows, a mere 13 eutrophic zones are in recovery – a particularly sorry tally considering scientists have long known the causes and have long since identified solutions to the problem. The Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico are two examples close to home of systems whose dead zones are well documented, but not greatly improved, even despite millions of taxpayer dollars being spent on the problem. (The Gulf of Mexico dead zone threatened to grow bigger than ever in 2007, as farmers buoyed by ethanol subsidies planted a near-record crop of corn, leading to a flood of fertilizer down the Mississippi.)

"Our findings highlight the dramatic growth of areas receiving the endflows of nitrogen and phosphorus created by agriculture, increasing industry, fossil fuel combustion, and population growth," Mindy Selman, one of the researchers, wrote. "More than 1,000 scientists estimated, in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, that, as a result of human activities over the past 50 years, the flux of nitrogen has doubled over natural values while the flux of phosphorus has tripled."

"Compressed Air Car Set for Take-Off in India"

What seemed like a pipe dream may soon become reality as Frenchman Guy Negre hopes versions of his compressed air car will be produced in India this year by Tata Motors Ltd after a 15 year quest for backers for his invention.

Negre believes the time is right for his design with oil prices at record highs and pressure on carmakers to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles.

"It is clear that with oil at US$100 a barrel this will force people to change their use of fuel and pollute less," Negre told Reuters in an interview at his firm Motor Development International (MDI), based near Nice in the south of France.

"My car is zero pollution in town and almost no pollution on the highways," he added, saying the vehicle could travel 100 kilometres at a cost of one euro in fuel.

The former Formula One motor racing engineer's invention depends on pressurised air to move the pistons, which in turn help to compress the air again in a reservoir. The engine also has an electric motor, which needs to be periodically recharged, to top up the air pressure.

The bottles of compressed air -- similar to those used by divers -- can be filled up at service stations in several minutes.


The latest versions of the cars -- MDI made an entire series of prototypes of engines and vehicles -- also include a fuel engine option to extend the car's range when not in reach of a special power plug or service station.

Tata, India's largest carmaker with revenue of US$7.2 billion in its last financial year, concluded a deal in 2007, investing 20 million euros (US$29.4 million). Pre-production in India is set for 2008, Negre said.

The vehicle, protected by some 50 patents, will cost some 3,500 to 4,000 euros. Using composite materials, it will weigh not more than 330 kilos (727.5 lb) and its maximum speed is 150 kilometres (93.21 miles) per hour.

"The lighter the vehicle, the less it consumes and the less its pollutes and the cheaper it is; it's simple," Negre said...

Negre said he aimed to set up mini factories in regions where the car is used. "No transport, no parts suppliers. Everything will be made at the place of sale in production units that can make one car per half hour," said Negre.

"That is more profitable, more ecological than the big factories of the large carmakers."

Monday, January 07, 2008

Foul Stench (and Giant Jellyfish)


From mountaintops to the seabed, the effects of China's headlong rush into modernity via smoke-belching factories are being felt across Japan.

On cold winter mornings, when biting winds blow off the Asian land mass and over the Sea of Japan, trees atop Mount Unzen-Fugendake in Nagasaki Prefecture are covered in a fine icy coating.

Residents of the normally warm southern prefecture traditionally refer to the seasonal white frost as hana-boro, or flowery little clusters of ice that dot the tree branches.

But, something is happening to the enchanting ice blossoms.

Hiromitsu Watanabe, 63, Unzen resident and a former high school teacher, has been studying the icy fog deposits since 1999.

"Look how dirty it is. It's almost like slush. This is evidence of transboundary air pollution," he said. Watanabe was displaying a small bottle containing black water. The water was melted ice fog deposit from Mount Unzen-Fugendake. The sample was taken Dec. 9.

The water's pH index was 3.2, making the liquid almost on par with vinegar. According to Watanabe, vehicle exhaust and the burning of coal are causing the change.

Mount Unzen-Fugendake's highest summit is 1,359 meters, which means it is exposed to vast wind currents.

According to research by the Nagasaki Prefectural Institute for Environmental Research and Public Health, whatever is turning hana-boro into slush is originating in China. More precisely, it's coming from the vicinity of Beijing, 1,500 kilometers northwest of the mountain.

The cold weather that produces hana-boro tends to occur when a typical winter atmospheric pressure pattern sets in, with northwestern seasonal winds blowing...

About 20 km west of central Beijing, a forest of chimney stacks spew white smoke into an already smoggy sky. The Shoudu Iron and Steel Works plant produces about 8 million tons of steel annually. It is the largest steel production center in Beijing.

"The smoke used to be reddish. Now it is pure white," Wu Jianxin, a Shoudu official, proudly proclaimed.

The Shoudu plant has been making capital equipment investments since the 1990s, installing desulphurization devices and other means to try and protect the environment.

Still, there is no getting around the fact that the plant remains a major pollution source that guzzles coal in huge volumes...

Underwater effects

Hiroshi Koshikawa, senior researcher at the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, said that when he was aboard a Fisheries Agency's research vessel in June 2007, he noticed the water had turned a dark tea color.

"We were far offshore but the sea had a fishy smell," Koshikawa said.

The boat was in the East China Sea, about 350 km from Shanghai.

Koshikawa expressed surprise to find the effects of the polluted Yangtze river, also known as the Chang Jiang, so far out.

At that time, Koshikawa also spotted a school of Echizen jellyfish, each measuring more than 20 centimeters, moving northward.

A few months later, Japan was once more inundated with huge Echizen jellyfish, which measured more than 1-meter across. The tentacled giants were first spotted in Japan's offshore waters in 2002.

Every winter, the high season for many fishing operations, the jellyfish cause extensive damage to nets and to hauls themselves.

The prevalent theory for the arrival of Echizen jellyfish along the Sea of Japan coastline is that Chinese waters, polluted by untreated effluent discharged by China's cities, are promoting the growth of microorganisms.

Overfishing, in turn, causes the number of fish that also feed on the microorganisms to plunge, thus providing a perfect environment for jellyfish to proliferate.

In November 2007, a three-nation scientific study council comprising researchers from Japan, China and South Korea met in Cheju, South Korea.

For the first time, a Chinese specialist revealed details of the jellyfish's emergence in China. Japanese researchers were shocked to hear that Echizen jellyfish have been showing up en masse in Jiangsu province, around the estuary of the Yangtze where it flows into the East China Sea, since 1997.

There was another surprise. Japanese scientists learned that hatchlings were also showing up in waters off Liaoning province in northeastern China.

Still, China does not want to admit that the troublesome jellyfish are indeed originating in its waters.

"There is no evidence that indicates any correlation between (the jellyfish) and China's economic growth. Maybe there are some that drift into the Sea of Japan, but they are limited in number," said Cheng Jiahua, of the East Sea Fisheries Research Institute...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

People Making a Difference

"50 people who could save the planet" ~ from The Guardian


"Americans Who Tell the Truth" ~ from Yes Magazine

Exs. from - "50 people who could save the planet":

Aubrey Meyer
Musician and activist

Can a 60-year-old South African violinist living in a flat in Willesden, north London, actually change the world? It's a serious question because the odds are increasing that over the next two years rich and poor countries will come round to Aubrey Meyer's way of thinking if they are to negotiate a half-decent global deal to reduce climate change emissions.

Nearly 20 years ago, Meyer devised what he believed was the only logical way through the political morass dividing rich and poor countries on climate change. After a letter from him was published in the Guardian, he gave up playing professional music to set up the tiny Global Commons Institute in his bedroom. There he developed the idea that not only did everyone on earth have an equal right to emit CO2, but that all countries should agree to an annual per capita ration or quota of greenhouse gases.

That was the easy bit. But then the musician, who had played with the LPO and had written for the Royal Ballet, went further. Meyer proposed that each country move progressively to the same allocation per inhabitant by an agreed date. This meant that rich countries would have steadily to cut back their emissions, while poor ones would be allowed steadily to grow theirs, with everyone eventually meeting in the middle at a point where science said the global maximum level of emissions should be set. He called it "contraction and convergence" (C&C).

Meyer is nothing if not determined. Since 1990, earning next to nothing and sometimes practically begging for money so he could lobby international meetings, he has pressed C&C at every level of global government. Early opposition came from British civil servants, who said it was akin to communism, and major environmental groups, which were ideologically opposed to any kind of trading emissions. For many years the US government had no interest in any such deal.

But the climate stakes have risen with every new scientific report, and the politicians and environment groups have moved on. As the urgency for a global agreement has grown, so C&C has emerged as one of the favourites to break the international impasse.

"Its advantage is that it is far simpler and fairer than the Kyoto agreement, which applied only to a few rich countries," Meyer says. It also allows science to set the optimum level of emissions; it gets round long-standing US objections that poor countries should be part of a global agreement; and it is inherently pro-business, because it encourages rich and poor countries to trade emissions between themselves.

The long years of single-minded lobbying mean that Meyer's idea now has some powerful backers, including, in Britain, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution; 180 MPs have supported it in an early day motion, and the government, equivocal so far, is moving towards a version of it. It has become official policy in India, China and most African countries. Germany and India are expected to run with it in UN meetings. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has backed C&C publicly.

The long years of single-minded lobbying mean that Meyer's idea now has some powerful backers, including, in Britain, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution; 180 MPs have supported it in an early day motion, and the government, equivocal so far, is moving towards a version of it. It has become official policy in India, China and most African countries. Germany and India are expected to run with it in UN meetings. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has backed C&C publicly.

Other proposals are emerging and it will take two more years to thrash out a system that will please everyone. But few have the elegance of C&C. "It's the least unfair of all the proposals that have been put forward," Meyer says. "It secures survival by correcting both fatal poverty and fatal climate change in the same arrangement."

Writing music and calculating emissions have a lot in common, he says. "Look at a sheet of music and you would not know what it was. But when you hear it played, then it's beautiful. Equally, when you read the calculations on countries' gases, they mean nothing. But when you work out how you can reduce them, it's clear that it's the best thing for humanity."

Meyer still plays the violin every day, but seldom with an orchestra. "I just did not realise that it would take quite so long to change the world," he says.

Ma Jun
Writer and activist

Ma Jun, 39, became an environmentalist in 1997 after hearing Chinese engineers boast that the Yellow River was a model of water management, even though he knew it was so over-dammed and exploited that it failed to reach the sea on more than 200 days each year. Now he is one of a growing number of people challenging the Chinese culture of official secrecy and saving face. His website names and shames companies and local governments that violate environmental standards, and the former journalist has called to account corporate executives and Communist party cadres with pollution maps. Ma Jun set up the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, which cooperates with the central government in a non-confrontational - but highly pragmatic - campaign strategy. Despite the tight controls imposed on independent organisations by the Communist party, there are now 3,000 registered green NGOs, up from fewer than 50 five years ago.

Peter Garrett

Peter Garrett, 54, is the former punk lead singer of the disbanded Australian rock group Midnight Oil, who continued his weird journey from radical muso to establishment politician when he was appointed Australia's environment minister in November. He began with gigs outside Exxon offices and protests at the Sydney Olympics about Aboriginal rights, and found himself labelled a turncoat by some at the election. However, he was nominated here by Jonathon Porritt, for being "instrumental in shaping the Australian Labour party's climate change and environment policies". Within days of his taking office, Australia signed up to the Kyoto climate change treaty, and has broken with the obstructivist policies of President Bush.


Exs. from "Americans Who Tell the Truth":

Medea Benjamin
Human Rights Advocate, Anti-War Activist, Author (1952 –)

Medea Benjamin was born Susan Benjamin but in college changed her name to that of the Greek mythological woman. She has a Master’s Degree in both Public Health and Economics, and has spent over twenty years advocating for human rights all over the world. Benjamin spent ten years in Latin America and Africa as an economist and nutritionist for such organizations as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, and lived for five years in Cuba. She is the author of eight books, including Bridging the Global Gap: A Handbook to Linking Citizens of the First and Third Worlds (1989), and Greening of the Revolution: Cuba’s Experiment with Organic Agriculture (1995).

Benjamin and her husband Kevin Danaher co-founded Global Exchange, an organization dedicated to promoting “fair trade” practices, where environmental concerns and fair wages for the production of goods take precedence over corporate profits. She has fought against sweatshops, particularly in the garment and shoe industries, and with Global Exchange persuaded corporate giant Nike to investigate and monitor its overseas factories to ensure safe working environments and living wages. Global Exchange was also a prominent, key factor in organizing the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in December 1999.

It was after the attacks on September 11, 2001, however, that Medea Benjamin’s activism took on a different tone and color – pink. She co-founded CODEPINK: Women for Peace in 2002. It’s a “women-run, women-led peace organization”, whose activities range from personal meetings with members of Congress to dressing in pink surgical scrubs handing out “prescriptions for peace.” Their approach is inventive, often playful, and always in pink, but their goal for peace is serious. Their acts of civil disobedience can be confrontational and often involve members being arrested, but this merely strengthens their resolve. Code Pink’s Members include prominent figures such as Ann Wright and Diane Wilson, but also “regular” women from all over the country, participating in at least 250 chapters. In 2006, Benjamin and Code Pink brought six Iraqi women (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd) to the US for International Women’s Day to travel and lobby to end the war. She is co-editor of Code Pink’s 2006 book, Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism. It’s a collection of essays from people such as Barbara Ehrenreich, Alice Walker, Helen Thomas, and Arianna Huffington.

Medea Benjamin has involved herself in the peace and justice process in a myriad of ways besides Global Exchange and Code Pink. In 2000, she ran for US Senate (for California) on the Green Party ticket. She helped to bring groups together to form the coalition United for Peace and Justice. She’s traveled to Iraq several times and assisted in establishing an occupation and watch center in Baghdad. In 2005, Benjamin was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the project, “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005”, a collective nomination representing women who work for peace and human rights everywhere.

Amy Goodman
Journalist, host of Democracy Now, 1957—

Amy Goodman has the perfect answer when asked who she represents: “Democracy Now.” As host of the only national radio/TV news show free of all corporate underwriting, she is able to present a range of independent voices not often heard on the airwaves. “Dissent,” she explains, “is what makes this country healthy.”

Goodman grew up on Long Island, the descendant of Hasidic rabbis and the daughter of radical parents. After graduating from Harvard in 1984 with a degree in anthropology, she spent 10 years as producer of the evening news show at WBAI, Pacifica Radio’s station in New York City. Democracy Now, which began in 1996, now airs on more than 225 stations across North America.

Goodman believes that media should be, in the title of the 2004 book she wrote with her brother David, The Exception to the Rulers. “The role of reporters,” she says, “is to go to where the silence is and say something.” For going to places like East Timor, Nigeria, Peru, and Haiti to report on stories ignored by the mainstream media, often as considerable risk, she has won many honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism, George Polk, and Overseas Press Club awards.

“She begins broadcasting at 7 a.m., and works until near midnight,” a reporter wrote in the Washington Post. Her fellow journalist Danny Schechter has said, about her, “She works hard and when she's not working, she works harder. She is earnest to a fault, with little patience for folks who may have a more nuanced stance on certain issues than she does. But she is informed, committed, passionate, thorough and very uncompromising.” Goodman is, Schechter says, “in a class of her own.”

Frances Moore Lappé
Writer, Activist 1944-

Frances Moore Lappe was born in Pendleton Oregon. A graduate of Earlham College in Indiana, she was a “26-year-old trusting her common sense” when she began the research that led to the publication of Diet for a Small Planet (1971), a book which sold over three million copies and changed forever the way people think about food. Her little book showed that human practices, not natural disasters, cause worldwide hunger. Food scarcity results when grain, rich in nutrients and capable of supporting vast populations, is fed to livestock to produce meat which yields only a fraction of those nutrients.

In Food First; Beyond the Myth of Scarcity (written with Joseph Collins, 1977) she went on to identify other causes of starvation: centralized control of farmland and economic pressures to produce “cash” crops rather than basic food products. The authors argued that western colonization of underdeveloped countries create the conditions for waste and poor distribution of food resources that allow whole populations to go hungry. Their vision for feeding the world is one of “food self-reliance,” in which communities produce the food they consume and manufacture the tools and fertilizers that they need.

A passion for the democratic process infuses her work as a co-founder of two national organizations: the Institute for Food and Development Policy based in California and the Center for Living Democracy, a ten-year initiative which encourages “regular citizens to contribute to problem-solving in all dimensions of public life.” In 1987 Lappe became the fourth American to receive the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes called the “Alternative Nobel,” for her “vision and work healing our planet and uplifting humanity.”

In 2002 Lappe and her daughter, Anna, published Hope’s Edge; The Next Diet for a Small Planet. Like other visionary leaders, Lappe sees hope as something to be lived not sought after: “A lot of people think we find hope by marshaling evidence and proving there is grounds for it. But hope isn’t what we find in evidence; it’s what we become in action.” It is not surprising, then, that her next book is called Choosing Courage in a Culture of Fear.

Bill McKibben
Author, Environmental Activist, 1960-

Bill McKibben is a writer and avid environmentalist. Currently a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont, he has written several books, and contributes regularly to publications such as The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Orion, and Mother Jones. He is on the board of Grist Magazine, for which he also writes articles.

McKibben’s books vary in nature; however, it was his first book that established him as an environmental writer. The End of Nature, published in 1989, spoke to the issue of climate change. Originally serialized in The New Yorker, it was considered the first public-oriented alarm about climate change. With tragedies like Hurricane Katrina finally bringing global warming into sharper focus for everyone (not only scientists and environmentalists), his writings have grown even more important. An active participant in the Methodist Church, he sees religion playing a vital role in protecting the future of Earth. A recent document called the Evangelical Climate Initiative led McKibben to write an article asserting that “even in the evangelical community, “right wing” and “Christian” are not synonyms…given that 85 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, and that we manage to emit 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide – well, the future of Christian environmentalism may have something significant to do with the future of the planet.”

Today, he examines the economy, the environment, and the overall happiness of the US. McKibben writes that formerly, it was accepted that growing the economy would make people wealthier, and therefore happier. Now, he says, “Growth is bumping up against physical limits so profound – like climate change and peak oil – that trying to keep expanding the economy may be not just impossible but also dangerous. And perhaps most surprisingly, growth no longer makes us happier.” McKibben’s latest book, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, states the need “to move beyond growth…begin pursuing prosperity in a more local direction, with cities, suburbs, and regions producing more of their own food, generating more of their own energy…”. This idea builds on his 2003 book, Enough, which imagines genetic engineering, progress, and growth taken too far, and wonders whether it is not better to be fully human than unnaturally perfect.

In 2006, McKibben led a five-day walk across Vermont, demanding legislation to slow US carbon emissions. In early 2007, he founded This unique idea called on people and local groups (including not-so-local groups such as the Sierra Club and the NWF), to organize their own rallies on April 14, 2007. The rallies ranged from a large group of people dressed in blue in Manhattan’s Battery Park, lining up approximately where the sea level would rise with continued glacial melting, to small groups viewing Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. All called for Congress to pass strict laws to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.