Friday, February 29, 2008

Kivalina Files Suit Re: Global Warming

From the New York Times

Flooded Village Files Suit, Citing Corporate Link to Climate Change

Lawyers for the Alaska Native coastal village of Kivalina, which is being forced to relocate because of flooding caused by the changing Arctic climate, filed suit in federal court here Tuesday arguing that 5 oil companies, 14 electric utilities and the country’s largest coal company were responsible for the village’s woes.

The suit is the latest effort to hold companies like BP America, Chevron, Peabody Energy, Duke Energy and the Southern Company responsible for the impact of global warming because they emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases, or, in the case of Peabody, mine and market carbon-laden coal that is burned by others. It accused the companies of creating a public nuisance.

In an unusual move, those five companies and three other defendants — the Exxon Mobil Corporation, American Electric Power and the Conoco Phillips Company — are also accused of conspiracy. “There has been a long campaign by power, coal and oil companies to mislead the public about the science of global warming,” the suit says. The campaign, it says, contributed “to the public nuisance of global warming by convincing the public at large and the victims of global warming that the process is not man-made when in fact it is.”

Kivalina, an Inupiat village of 400 people on a barrier reef between the Chukchi Sea and two rivers, is being buffeted by waves that, in colder times, were blocked by sea ice, the suit says. “The result of the increased storm damage is a massive erosion problem,” it says. “Houses and buildings are in imminent danger of falling into the sea.”

The estimated cost of relocating the village is up to $400 million, the suit says.

Some lawyers in the case participated in the long-running litigation against American tobacco companies in the 1990s, and some of the same legal theories echo through the complaint. But the hurdles may be greater than those in the tobacco wars. Global warming is a diffuse worldwide phenomenon; a successful public nuisance case requires that defendants’ behavior be directly linked to the harm.

“Public nuisance law has been used from time immemorial to address issues that have not been addressed by the political branches,” said Kirsten H. Engel, a law professor at the University of Arizona. But Professor Engel added, “It’s very difficult to get a court to jump in here and say that what these companies are doing, and have been doing for years, is unreasonable and creating a public nuisance.”

...Matt Pawa, a lawyer for Kivalina, said this case was different because it sought monetary damages for an injured party. “The kind of harms to property and public welfare caused by global warming are classic public nuisance injuries,” Mr. Pawa said.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Small Off-road Engines, Watercraft, etc.

I was looking into the pollution associated with lawn mowers, ie:

Gallon for gallon — or, given the size of lawnmower tanks, quart for quart — the 2006 lawn mower engines contribute 93 times more smog-forming emissions than 2006 cars, according to the California Air Resources Board. (New York Times)

(Lawn mowing causes app. 5% of the greenhouse gases created in the summer...)

...and ended up finding out about some other things along the way. Like Chain saws:
Using a commercial chain saw—powered by a two-stroke engine—for two hours produces the same amount of smogforming hydrocarbon emissions as driving ten 1995 cars about 250 miles each. (California Air Resources Board)

One thing I noticed was that recreational watercraft was about equal to lawn and garden equipment when it came to overall release of VOC - volatile organic compounds.

Of course the lawn and garden equipment manufacturers and the power boat dealers/manufacturers have been working against any regulations. California has been working on regulating all of these sorts of things for awhile, various regulations in the 90s, for instance.

This from the EPA about regs that were supposed to start in 2006:

You Can Make a Difference In Preventing Marine Engine Pollution

Over 10 million marine engines are operated in the United States. These marine engines are among the highest contributors of hydrocarbons (HC) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions in many areas of the country. HC and NOx produce ground-level ozone, which irritates the respiratory system causing chest pain and lung inflammation. Ozone can also aggravate existing respiratory conditions such as asthma. Boaters can join many others who are working to make a difference in preventing pollution from marine engines...

But the new proposed regulations may be taking it all more seriously...

I saw this posted at from last April - about the EPA's proposal ....Small Engine Rule to Bring Big Emissions Cuts

The US Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new, more stringent exhaust emissions rules for the small spark-ignition engines in lawn and garden equipment and small recreational watercraft.

The engines and vehicles covered by this proposal are significant sources of air pollution. They account for about 25% of mobile source hydrocarbon (HC) emissions and 30% of mobile source carbon monoxide (CO) emissions.

Americans spend more than three billion hours per year using lawn and garden equipment. Currently, a push mower emits as much hourly pollution as 11 cars and a riding mower emits as much as 34 cars.

To meet the new exhaust emission standards, manufacturers are expected to use catalytic converters for the first time ever in many types of small watercraft, lawn, and garden equipment. After rigorous analysis and extensive work with diverse stakeholders, EPA determined that such a strategy was feasible and safe.

These proposed rules also include the first ever:

Fuel evaporative standards for all the types of equipment and watercraft covered in the rulemaking;

Standards for vessels powered by sterndrive or inboard engines; and

Carbon monoxide standards for gasoline-powered engines used in recreational watercraft.

With these proposed rules, nonroad gasoline-powered engines, such as those used in lawn and garden equipment, would see an additional 35% reduction in HC and NOx emissions beyond a 60% reduction that finished phasing in last year under an earlier rulemaking. Those engines would also see a 45% reduction in fuel evaporative emissions.

Additionally, recreational watercraft can emit as much as 348 cars in an hour. By 2030, recreational watercraft powered by gasoline engines would see a 70% reduction in smog-forming HC and NOx, a 20% reduction in CO, and a 70% reduction in fuel evaporative emissions.

Recreational waste that includes power boats, over-fertilized golf courses and the like - could not wither and die soon enough, AFAIC. I expect it will come at great wailing and "misery" to some to give up recreational waste - but that seems like one of the easier ways to cut down on greenhouse gases. It's not as complicated as recreating our towns and cities so we could do without cars, for instance.

People will find their way back to more sustainable activities. Sailing, canoeing, hiking, gardening might seem like a hardship to some. To me - those are the activities I have always liked, anyway. Being around loud, smelly engines has always been something to suffer through.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Thousands of dead fish washed ashore in Taiwan"

Thousands of dead fish have been washed ashore along Taiwanese beaches, with local officials blaming the deaths on cold sea temperatures.

Roughly 45 tonnes of fish - some wild and some farmed - have been found dead on the Penghu archipelago over the past week, Reuters reported.

Local media have claimed that ten times as many dead fish were still in the waters off the coast of the islands, with environmental official Hsu Ching-fang telling the news agency that unseasonably cold temperatures led to the loss of life.

"Every beach in Penghu has been hit with fish in varying amounts," he commented. "This is something we haven't seen before."

The deaths come at the same time as the United Nations Environment Programme has published a new report highlighting the negative effect that changes in sea temperatures could have on global fish populations.

"The worst concentration of cumulative impacts of climate change with existing pressures of over-harvest, bottom trawling, invasive species infestations, coastal development and pollution appear to be concentrated in 10-15 per cent of the oceans," the report warned.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"As South American Rivers Dry Up, Miners Tap Ocean"

CERRO LINDO - Vast mines in Peru and Chile that supply the world with crucial metals have started to pump water from the Pacific Ocean high into the Andes Mountains because of chronic water shortages exacerbated by climate change.

Tapping seawater allows miners to avoid relying on unpredictable rivers, which may run dry as glaciers melt, and avert clashes with farmers who draw their water from creeks in poor mountain villages.

"Water always generates conflicts between mines and farmers, so this is a good alternative because the source is limitless," said German Arce, who runs Peru's newest big mine, Cerro Lindo, owned by Peruvian miner Milpo. Ocean water is free, except for transportation and treatment.

Cerro Lindo relies entirely on sea water, filtered in a desalination plant and sent 6,000 feet (1,800 m) into the barren Andes in a thick green hose to the mine; its zinc, copper and lead refinery; and 700 workers who live there.

In Chile, Antofagasta Minerals soon will open the $1.5 billion Esperanza gold and copper mine. Like Cerro Lindo in Peru, it will be the country's first mine totally dependent on the sea.

The Esperanza project, set in the Atacama, one of the world's driest deserts, will pump sea water through 90 miles (145 km) of pipe to an altitude of 7,545 feet (2,300 meters).

The average mine requires millions of gallons of water during the course of its life, some 40 years, making access to reliable water increasingly crucial as global warming looms and cities grow.

More mines near the desert coasts of Chile and Peru plan to install desalination plants soon. Costs of the elaborate filtration systems have fallen over the last decade, while lofty global metals prices, boosted by demand from fast-growing Asia, may keep profits high for years to come.

Blackout On Java Due To Coal Disruption

JAKARTA - Large parts of Indonesia's most crowded island, Java, and the resort haven of Bali are hit by severe blackouts as bad weather at ports hampered coal delivery to power plants, but mining operations are unaffected, officials said on Thursday.

The power crunch in Java and Bali, which started late on Wednesday, was the result of an electricity deficit of about 1,000 megawatts, an official at the state power monopoly said.
The outages are continuing into Thursday, even though the power deficit has been halved but the blackout could spread to other areas in Java if coal supplies do not pick up soon, said Mulyo Adji, PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara's (PLN) spokesman.

"Some power plants are running below capacity and some of them are going back to fuel oil. We have turned off supplies to several areas in Java as PLN has a power deficit," Adji said.

"Coal supplies to some power plants in Java have been stopped, as ships cannot go to ports because of big waves."

The coal disruptions add to problems faced by Indonesia's utility sector that is often hit by outages because of ageing power plant equipment and soaring demand due to its brisk economic growth. The last major blackout was in August 2005.

Officials say electricity demand is growing around 10 percent a year, outstripping power supply in a country of more than 220 million as investments in generating plants and transmission lines have lagged....

The disruptions in Indonesia, the world's largest thermal coal exporter, came as Asian prices have spiked by more than half over the past month after China slapped a two-month ban on exports due to a power crisis, heavy rain shut down Australian mines and port problems disrupted South African shipments...

Indonesia plans to step up power generation capacity to meet soaring demand by building new coal-fired and natural gas plants, but the projects need huge investments...

The government wants to add 24,000 MW of electricity by 2013 from projects estimated to cost $30 billion. This includes a plan to generate an additional 10,000 megawatts (MW) using coal as a source by 2010....

Despite the power shortage, operations of key miners in Java were unaffected as mining firms have their own power sources, while the impact on the capital, Jakarta, was minor and businesses had not been hit.

Mining activity at the Pongkor gold mine in West Java and smelting in precious metal refinery PT Logam Mulia in Jakarta -- both operated by state miner PT Aneka Tambang -- was normal, Bimo Budi Satriyo, Antam's corporate secretary, said.

Operations at Indonesian copper smelter PT Smelting in Gresik, East Java were also unaffected, as it has its own gas-fired power plant, said Dukut Imam Widodo, PT Smelting's general affairs manager.

More Food Shortages

The Independent-Bangladesh reports Worldwide shortage of rice shoots prices soaring:

As the price of rice climbs across South Asia, farmers and millers in Thailand are sitting on stocks and waiting for it to rise even further, said a top rice exporter in Bangkok.

The exporter, who requested anonymity, told The Straits Times: 'In my 25 years of trading, I have never seen such a bad position.' There is a rice shortage in Bangladesh and China too, among other countries, while there is a wheat shortage in Afghanistan.

In local markets in Pakistan, the price of rice has gone up over the past month by more than 60 per cent year on year. India recently contributed to soaring world prices when it imposed a ban on rice exports — relaxed only partially to allow some supplies to Madagascar, Mauritius, the Comoros Islands and cyclone-hit Bangladesh. China has banned rice exports to ensure enough is available for domestic demand.

From Kansas to Kabul, high rice and wheat prices are worrying officials and economists, and beginning to hit consumers — especially tens of millions of poor people — harder than many can remember. In Singapore, while rice importers and supermarkets have no problems getting the staple grain, prices have escalated.

In the past three months, prices have risen sharply by 30 per cent to 40 per cent, said a spokesman for rice importer Tong Seng Produce. FairPrice, which has diversified its rice import — with supplies coming from Australia, Thailand, Vietnam and India — has been able to secure its regular supply...

The causes of the shortages and high prices are diverse, and vary from country to country. They include natural disasters or adverse weather; high fuel prices, which add to transport costs; hoarding and smuggling of rice and wheat to take advantage of higher prices across national borders; and, in Pakistan, a shortage of electricity that is reportedly hampering mills from functioning at full capacity.

Only around 7 per cent of the world's rice supply is traded internationally, but it is a critical amount for any country facing a shortage because rice is also a political commodity. Worldwide, economists are worried that the diversion of agricultural land and certain crops to biofuel production is cutting into grain and cereal production for human consumption.

The prices of rice and wheat are linked. India's ban was not as much in response to a shortage of rice as to worries over the coming wheat harvest. Indian officials are waiting for the results of the March-April wheat harvest as well as the rice harvest from south India to gain a fuller picture of their stocks. In the United States, wheat futures in Kansas City, Chicago and Minneapolis have surged to record highs on forecasts of tighter supplies and continued strong demand at home and abroad.

Meanwhile - the Washington Post discusses a climate-related French Truffle shortage

At $560 a pound that problem is not going to affect me - I've never had them. Though someday I may try an Australian or Chinese variety truffle which go for less than $20 a pound.

...Daniel used to deal in big quantities. But for the past five years, drought has been parching the Var region of southeast France as well as truffle-producing regions in Italy and Spain _ and today he can fit his entire weekly harvest in a single plastic bag.

He's not the only one.

Organizers at the market in the Var village of Aups, where Daniel plies his wares, have had to suspend the weekly wholesale auction, where middlemen used to bid tens of thousands of dollars for mounds of truffles. The reason: these days there simply aren't enough of the fragrant fungi.

Now, foodies and tourists buying truffles by the piece have replaced the bulk-buying middlemen, and most transactions at the once-bustling market are measured in grams. At the Aups market, the black truffle's price has more than doubled over the past five years, to about $560 a pound.

Farmers say production is down by 50-75 percent this winter season and they blame global warming, warning that if thermometers keep rising _ as many scientists predict they could _ France's black truffle will one day be just a memory...

"Climate change has got the seasons out of whack, it's hotter than it used to be and it rains lots less," said Jean Montesano, 76, a trufficulteur for more than half a century. "I want my grandson to take over, but if things continue like this, who knows if there will be anything left."

Production in France has been in slow decline for 100 years _ from 1,000 tons a year to just 50 tons, according to the Agriculture Ministry _ under the march of urban sprawl into the fungus' forest habitat and the migration of farming folk to cities...

France imported 33 tons of fresh or frozen truffles from China in 2007, overtaking French production for the first time..."If Europe's catastrophic decline continues, it could well be that the Southern Hemisphere will overtake production in the north..."

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse

(photo from the NASA page)

Nice Lunar eclipse this evening. The light is just starting to come back now - nearing 11:00.

So many times I either forget or it's cloudy or something or other.

I especially enjoyed seeing how spherical it looked with being partially lit up. As well as the colors, etc.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pasta Shortage

A report from the trade magazine The Grocer says the looming pasta crisis is the result of Italian farmers increasingly growing durum wheat for biofuel production rather than food.

The report says the price of durum wheat is two-and-a-half-times higher than June last year as supplies have tightened, forcing some suppliers to cease pasta production because they are unable to pass on the soaring cost of raw materials to customers and stay viable.

Last week, chilled-foods manufacturer Bakkavör announced it was closing its pasta plant in Scunthorpe, with the loss of more than 100 jobs, because of rises in the cost of raw materials.

Nigel Singh, UK representative for pasta giant Pasta Lensi, told The Grocer that cost pressures were forcing manufacturers in Italy and the UK to cease production.

He said: "The price of durum wheat has leapt 250 per cent since June last year, but a 500g pack of pasta has only increased by 31p to 61p. That's 100 per cent. For farmers, manufacturers and retailers to make a fair income, a 500g pack should sell for 90p."

...A report from the trade magazine The Grocer says the looming pasta crisis is the result of Italian farmers increasingly growing durum wheat for biofuel production rather than food.

The report says the price of durum wheat is two-and-a-half-times higher than June last year as supplies have tightened, forcing some suppliers to cease pasta production because they are unable to pass on the soaring cost of raw materials to customers and stay viable.

Last week, chilled-foods manufacturer Bakkavör announced it was closing its pasta plant in Scunthorpe, with the loss of more than 100 jobs, because of rises in the cost of raw materials.

Nigel Singh, UK representative for pasta giant Pasta Lensi, told The Grocer that cost pressures were forcing manufacturers in Italy and the UK to cease production.

He said: "The price of durum wheat has leapt 250 per cent since June last year, but a 500g pack of pasta has only increased by 31p to 61p. That's 100 per cent. For farmers, manufacturers and retailers to make a fair income, a 500g pack should sell for 90p."

"Southern Ocean rise..."

(Reuters) - Rises in the sea level around Antarctica in the past decade are almost entirely due a warming ocean, not ice melting, an Australian scientist leading a major international research programme said.

The 15-year study of temperature and salinity changes in the Southern Ocean found average temperatures warmed by about three-tenths of a degree Celsius.

Satellites also measured a rise of about 2 cms (about an inch) in seas in the southern polar region over an area half the size of Australia, Rintoul told Reuters.

"The biggest contribution so far has been from warming of the oceans through expansion," said Steve Rintoul, Australian leader of an Australian-French-U.S. scientific programme.

Melting sea ice or Antarctic ice shelves jutting into the ocean do not directly add to sea level rises...

The research programme has been taking temperature and salinity readings for 15 years to a depth of 700 metres along the 2,700 km, six-day route between Hobart and the Antarctic.

This has produced the longest continuous record of temperature and salinity changes in the Southern Ocean for scientists studying how the ocean contributes to global climate...

The study showed that as waters warmed, some species of phytoplankton were extending further south, although more research was needed to determine the importance of this finding.

"What's significant is that we've detected changes in the physical environment and now we're also detecting changes in the biology in response to those physical changes.

"The next challenge is to figure out what these biological changes mean for carbon uptake and for higher levels of the food chain," he said.

Tiny phytoplankton are at the bottom of the food chain and are a crucial food source for a number of species.

Investigations by the L'Astrolabe in the world's largest ocean current between Tasmania and Antarctica had shown that deep streams of water were taking warming deep into the ocean. "The programme started as just measuring temperature and salinity. We've now recently begun a much more comprehensive chemistry and biology programme of measurements," Rintoul said.

"Snail loss catastrophic for food chain"

GLOBAL warming is threatening the future of a tiny marine snail which, if lost, could trigger a catastrophic collapse of Antarctica's food chain, experts say.

Pteropods have been dubbed the “potato chip” of the oceans because they provide food for so many different species.

But the lentil-sized snails - eaten by fish and other lower life forms, which are in turn eaten by species higher up the food chain - are highly sensitive to temperature and acidity, both of which are affected by climate change.

Carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere is expected to make the oceans more acidic. This could have dire consequences for pteropods, impairing their ability to make shells.

Gretchen Hoffmann, from the University of California at Santa Barbara, who has made a special study of pteropods, said: “These animals are not charismatic but they are talking to us just as much as penguins or polar bears.

“They are harbingers of change. It's possible by 2050 they may not be able to make a shell any more. If we lose these organisms, the impact on the food chain will be catastrophic.”

Dr Hoffmann said pteropods were an “incredibly important” fish food in parts of the Southern Ocean lacking shrimp-like krill, another vital food source.

See the Aragonite post for more about dissolving shells, etc.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Design based on the 'Randomness of Nature'

I just discovered images of the The Beijing National Stadium which is being built for the Olympic Games - being held this summer. I can relate to this as an artist- as it is one of my callings to try to capture the 'Randomness of Nature' in the work that I do. I like the bird's nest look:


The architects for the stadiums are Jaques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron who are based in Switzerland, they have also designed 'The Tate Modern' in London and the Ricola Marketing Building in Laufen, Switzerland among other groundbreaking buildings

more images here

The Greening of American Restaurants

It's good to hear how greener practices are catching on. I'm glad that Bloomington, IN has several places that buy local and that sort of thing - but there are many more things to be done. I don't see much solar, I still see a lot of styrafoam, etc.

Here are some highlights from: Going Out to Eat, but Staying Green

AT the Oko frozen yogurt shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the counter and walls are made from sunflower seeds and its awnings have solar panels.

Maury Rubin said that when he opens his third Birdbath organic bakery this spring, in Battery Park City, the roof will be planted with herbs to help air quality and insulate the store. Like the other Birdbaths in lower Manhattan, its furnishings will be made from recycled materials and wheat board. Stephen Hanson’s B. R. Guest Restaurants... there’s a sanitation expert to help with recycling, as well as paper takeout containers, and organic eggs and other ingredients

...At Del Posto, near the meatpacking district in Manhattan... biodiesel trucks fueled by its used cooking oil fetch ingredients from an upstate farm and return with the restaurant’s compost.

...José Duarte, the chef and owner of Taranta in Boston said that by composting he has cut down on garbage pickups, reducing his costs by about 45 percent. He said motion sensors in the bathrooms for the fans and lighting have helped cut energy costs by as much as $2,000 a year.

...To use less gasoline, restaurants, like Pizza Fusion in Fort Lauderdale and Deerfield Beach, Fla., make deliveries with hybrid cars. (Birdbirth uses bicycle-powered rickshaws.) Stage Left restaurant in New Brunswick, N.J., cans its own local tomatoes, and Cava Greens in Denver, which sells tossed salad to go, discounts takeout orders that can be filled in the customer’s own containers.

...The seal of approval for many environmentally concerned dining places around the country comes from the nonprofit Green Restaurant Association, founded by Michael Oshman in 1990, when, he said, there was no green business movement.

Now, his organization, based in Boston, has more than 350 members, which for an annual fee of $500 to $4,000, depending on their size, get a “Green Restaurant” seal for their windows once they replace all polystyrene foam products, agree to recycle as much as possible, and begin to phase in other environmental measures, including composting, conserving water, disposing of grease responsibly and using chlorine-free paper products.

To check on compliance, the association occasionally inspects restaurants, but more often it looks at invoices to confirm that they are buying nontoxic cleaning products, energy efficient light bulbs and the like.

“We have to make these certifications credible,” Mr. Oshman said. “We’ve had issues with some clients, like one who had a contract with a recycler but the recycling company reported that the bins were always empty.”

...Robert L. Garafola, New York City’s deputy parks commissioner for management and budget, said his department is encouraging restaurants and snack bars in the parks to follow Green Restaurant Association standards, and will consider how well concessionaires comply when granting future contracts.

Nuclear Waste

It's hard to imagine that there would be talk of building new nuclear reactors when the waste from over 20 - 30 years ago sits waiting for a solution.

This article in the New York Times discusses nuclear waste in the US and how it is not being disposed of in a reasonable manner.

Each circle entombs a nuclear waste canister near Aiken, S.C.
Forgotten but not gone, the waste from more than 100 nuclear reactors that the federal government was supposed to start accepting for burial 10 years ago is still at the reactor sites, at least 20 years behind schedule. But it is making itself felt in the federal budget.

With court orders and settlements, the federal government has already paid the utilities $342 million, but is virtually certain to pay a total of at least $7 billion in the next few years and probably over $11 billion, government officials said. The industry said the total could reach $35 billion....

The payments are due because the reactor owners were all required to sign contracts with the Energy Department in the early 1980s, with the government promising to dispose of the waste for a fee of a 10th of a cent per kilowatt-hour. It was supposed to begin taking away the fuel in the then far-off year of 1998....

Saturday, February 16, 2008


An article in the New York Times discusses the relatively new phenomena of EcoMoms that have meetings to encourage each other to live more sustainably. As far as I know, like other "home party" types of things (ie Tupperware/Pampered Chef) - there is no selling of stuff involved - so that's a good thing.

...preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a “locovore,” eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school (if one must drive)....

...installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, buying in bulk and using “smart” power strips that shut off electricity to the espresso machine, microwave, X-Box, VCR, coffee grinder, television and laptop when not in use...

At an EcoMom circle in Palo Alto, executive mothers whipped out spreadsheets to tally their goals, inspired by a 10-step program that urges using only nontoxic products for cleaning, bathing and make-up, as well as cutting down garbage by 10 percent.

“It’s like eating too many brownies one day and then jogging extra the next,” said Kimberly Danek Pinkson, 38, the founder of the EcoMom Alliance, speaking to the group of efforts to curb eco-guilt through carbon offsets for air travel...

One of the country’s wealthiest places, Marin County, is hardly a hub of voluntary simplicity; its global footprint, according to county statistics, is 27 acres per person, a measure of the estimated amount of land it takes to support each person’s lifestyle (24 is the American average).

Members of the EcoMom Alliance “are fighting a values battle,” said Tim Kasser, an associate professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and the author of “The High Price of Materialism.” “They are surrounded by materialism trying to figure out how to create a life more oriented toward intrinsic values.”

...At last year’s Step It Up rallies, a day of environmental demonstrations across the country, the largest group of organizers were “mothers concerned about the disintegrating environment for their children,” said Bill McKibben, a founder of the event and author of “The End of Nature.”

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Loving Our Coasts to Death"

From National Geographic:

...Surfers know the popular break as "North Garbage." Just a few miles down the beach, the Point Loma Water Treatment plant spews 180 million gallons (681 million liters) a day of partially treated sewage into a pipe that carries it 4.5 miles (7.2 kilometers) out into the ocean. Until it was extended in 1993, the 12-foot-diameter (3.7-meter-diameter) pipe was only two miles (3.2 kilometers) long, and its brown plume often ended up in the surf zone.

Storm drains flush car-drippings such as oil, gas, and brake dust, along with a raft of coffee cups, soda bottles, and pet excrement, straight into San Diego's surf breaks every time it rains. Frye and his fellow surfers now routinely suffer a laundry list of waterborne ailments, from sinus and ear infections to more serious illnesses like hepatitis.

"There will be a time when the sea's dead," says Frye, who once predicted San Diego's waves would be too toxic to surf by 2000. "We're kind of like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike."

And yet, still the masses come, lured by surf, sand, and laid-back lifestyles. Call it the Jimmy Buffett syndrome. Every week more than 3,300 new residents land in southern California, while another 4,800 hit Florida's shores. Every day 1,500 new homes rise along the U.S. coastline. More than half the nation's population now lives in coastal counties, which amount to only 17 percent of the land in the lower 48. In 2003 coastal watersheds generated over six trillion dollars, more than half the national economy, making them among our most valuable assets.

Yet two blue-ribbon bipartisan panels—the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, convened by the Pew Trusts and the U.S. Congress, respectively—recently issued disturbing reports that found the coasts are being battered by an array of pollution and population pressures. Former Secretary of Energy Adm. James D. Watkins—not exactly a wild-eyed environmentalist—chaired the U.S. commission and laid it out for Congress:

"Our failure to properly manage the human activities that affect the nation's oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes is compromising their ecological integrity…threatening human health, and putting our future at risk."...

No Pristine Oceans Left, New Map Shows

Every area of the oceans is feeling the effects of fishing, pollution, or human-caused global warming, the study says, and some regions are being affected by all of these factors and more...

The project revealed that more than 40 percent of the world's marine ecosystems are heavily affected.

Major hot spots include the North Sea off the northern coast of Europe and Asia's South China Sea and East China Sea.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Greenhouse Gas Up to 394 parts per million

Thats up 1.5 parts from a year ago.

Levels peak before Spring in the Northern Hemisphere and may rise some more before plants get to growing, soaking some of it up.

Consumption by people in "developed" countries by goods made primarily in China was considered to be the main culprit.


The average temperature has been 2.5 degrees warmer than normal in December, 2.2 degrees warmer than normal in January, and 5.7 degrees warmer than normal so far in February.

During those three months this year, there have been no sub-zero days — a highly unusual occurrence. But in January, there was a 68-degree day that came within 3 degrees of the all-time record high for that month — 71 degrees in 1950.

"Dirty Gold"

Jewelers say they won't buy Pebble prospect's 'dirty gold'

Companies call for protection of river drainages

Some businesses refuse to sell salmon from fish farms or "conflict diamonds" from war-torn countries.

Now, gold from Alaska's massive Pebble mineral deposit is apparently off the menu for some jewelers.

On Tuesday, two days before Valentine's Day, five major jewelers, including Tiffany & Co., announced they are against using "dirty gold" from Pebble, a large and controversial copper and gold prospect in Southwest Alaska, because of possible risks to the region's salmon fisheries.

Pebble is controversial due to its massive size and its location at the headwaters of two of the five major river drainages that feed Bristol Bay's world-class salmon fisheries. If developed, it could be the largest gold-copper mine in the world, providing hundreds of jobs in a region where jobs are scarce, according to the mining companies involved. However, the companies have not yet finished exploring the deposit, north of Iliamna, and they haven't submitted any plans to state officials to develop a mine.

"This is the first time that we've seen jewelers take a stance ... against a particular mine," said Steve D'Esposito, president of Earthworks, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that endorses environmental and social criteria for global mining companies. His group unveiled the anti-Pebble pledge on Tuesday.

In the pledge, the jewelers requested permanent protection of five major river drainages in Bristol Bay from "large-scale" metal mining.

Opposition to Pebble has been brewing in Alaska over the past few years, bringing together unlikely allies such as some nearby Native villages and Native corporations, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen and hunters, subsistence users, Bristol Bay lodge owners and national environmental groups....

Last winter, an anti-Pebble coalition placed full-page ads in National Jeweler magazine, urging U.S. jewelry retailers to boycott gold from Pebble.

The ad campaign apparently worked. Joining Tiffany and Ben Bridge, four other jewelers pledged their opposition to Pebble and mining in the Bristol Bay region: Missouri-based Helzberg Diamonds, New York-based Fortunoff, Illinois-based Leber Jewelers and Robb Blake, of Blake's Fine Jewelry in Eagle River.

Pebble's developers point out that less than 5 percent of Pebble's potential output would be gold. "About 95 percent of the metal that Pebble would produce is copper," Magee said.

The gold would be a byproduct of Pebble's copper concentrate, he explained.

Still, Pebble's gold resource is potentially huge. Northern Dynasty estimates that Pebble contains up to 81.7 million ounces of gold, worth $73.5 billion at recent prices.

more info here


I was looking up Aragonite - (following a search about iridescence) -
The Mineral ARAGONITE - Chemistry: CaCO3, Calcium Carbonate

...Most bivalve animals and corals secrete aragonite for their shells and pearls are composed of mostly aragonite. The pearlization and iridescent colors in sea shells such as abalone are made possible by several minute layers of aragonite. Other environments of formation include hot springs deposits, cavities in volcanic rocks, caves and mines.

And also found this:Coral Reefs Unlikely to Survive in Acid Oceans.

"About a third of the carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere is absorbed by the oceans," says Caldeira, "which helps slow greenhouse warming, but is a major pollutant of the oceans." The researchers say the absorbed CO2 produces carbonic acid - the same acid that gives soft drinks their fizz - making certain minerals called carbonate minerals dissolve more readily in seawater. This is especially true for aragonite, the mineral used by corals and many other marine organisms to grow their skeletons.

"Before the industrial revolution, over 98% of warm water coral reefs were bathed with open ocean waters 3.5 times supersaturated with aragonite, meaning that corals could easily extract it to build reefs," says Cao. "But if atmospheric CO2 stabilizes at 550 ppm -- and even that would take concerted international effort to achieve -- no existing coral reef will remain in such an environment." The chemical changes will impact some regions sooner than others. At greatest risk are the Great Barrier Reef and the Caribbean Sea....

"These changes come at a time when reefs are already stressed by climate change, overfishing, and other types of pollution," says Caldeira, "so unless we take action soon there is a very real possibility that coral reefs - and everything that depends on them -will not survive this century."

I knew about ocean acidification and problems to coral reefs - my first post was based on a LA TImes article - On "A Primeval Tide of Toxins" and the "Rise of Slime" (including the rise of jellyfish) - but somehow I missed the threat to (natural) pearls.

These days, most pearls are "fresh water pearls" - mostly made in China.

From The Culture of Freshwater Pearls:

The first cultured freshwater pearls originated in Japan. Quite soon after their initial success with cultured saltwater pearls, Japanese pearl farmers experimented with freshwater mussels in Lake Biwa, a large lake near Kyoto. Initial commercial freshwater pearl crops appeared in the 1930s. The all-nacre Biwa pearls formed in colors unseen in saltwater pearls. Almost instantly appealing, their lustre and luminescent depth rivaled naturals because they, too, were pearls throughout.

When I first visited Lake Biwa in 1973, freshwater pearl production still thrived. But, although the lake supplied most of the world's freshwater pearls, there were warning signs as development pressed toward its shores. On a return trip in 1984, I observed that Biwa's pearl farms were barely surviving, because of pollutants washing in from farms, resorts, and industries around the lake.

As Biwa production diminished, China filled the vacuum. China has all the resources that Japan lacks: a huge land mass; countless available lakes, rivers, and irrigation ditches; a limitless and pliable work force that earns less than a dollar a day; and an almost desperate need for hard currency. In 1968, with no recent history in pearling, China startled the gem world with prodigious amounts of ridiculously inexpensive pearls.

Unfortunately for China's reputation as a producer and for the impression left with the public, the initial Chinese offering, what I call the First Chinese Pearl Wave, in the 1970s and 1980s, appeared trivial. Immediately dubbed "Rice Krispies," the oddly shaped material with a crinkly surface dyed any number of "pop" colors could in no way compete with the best from Lake Biwa... Between 1984 and 1991, China learned fast and well, mastering techniques and producing better shapes and colors. Buying expertise from Japan and the U.S., the Chinese continued experimenting.

Now China is in what I call its Third Pearl Wave. Starting in the 1990s, China surprised the market with products that are revolutionizing pearling. The shapes, luster, and colors of the new Chinese production often match original Biwa quality and sometime even surpass it... China already sells round white pearls up to 7mm for perhaps a tenth the price of Japanese cultured saltwater pearls...

Once again the Chinese have radically altered freshwater culturing, making saltwater and freshwater techniques indistinguishable. They have also introduced a new type of culturing, nucleating with small tissue-nucleated pearls. Some of China's new pearls are all-nacre, some have nacre-coated nuclei, all are unmarked. After one experimenter used small off-round naturals as nuclei, he sent the resulting freshwater pearls to a gem lab and received a report identifying them as "naturals." If pearl farmers can grow cultured pearls that test as naturals, the market may be in for a wild ride.

The word "pearl" had historically meant something rare and special. They aren't so rare, now. But I still like them. And the iridescence which is part of some of the paints I use are crushed up scraps from the pearl making process.

But sea life, such as that which becomes beautiful shells washed up on the beach, will continue to have problems (if they can live at at all) without the right conditions for aragonite.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Global Changes

While I see much written about global warming - most of it seems to assume that everything will be bad - as if we have to avoid it or we are doomed, etc. (maybe we will be...) I had noticed that there is a group in Siberia that is in favor of global warming.

The author of this non-scientific article, Global Warming: Who Loses—and Who Wins?, from last April's Atlantic muses about possible consequences (notice that he is mostly concerned with economic consequences):

....nearly all the added land-value benefits of a warming world might accrue to Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, and Scandinavia.

This raises the possibility that an artificial greenhouse effect could harm nations that are already hard pressed and benefit nations that are already affluent. If Alaska turned temperate, it would drive conservationists to distraction, but it would also open for development an area more than twice the size of Texas. Rising world temperatures might throw Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and other low-latitude nations into generations of misery, while causing Canada, Greenland, and Scandinavia to experience a rip-roarin’ economic boom. Many Greenlanders are already cheering the retreat of glaciers, since this melting stands to make their vast island far more valuable. Last July, The Wall Street Journal reported that the growing season in the portion of Greenland open to cultivation is already two weeks longer than it was in the 1970s.

And Russia! For generations poets have bemoaned this realm as cursed by enormous, foreboding, harsh Siberia. What if the region in question were instead enormous, temperate, inviting Siberia? Climate change could place Russia in possession of the largest new region of pristine, exploitable land since the sailing ships of Europe first spied the shores of what would be called North America....

Even the most optimistic scenario for reform envisions decades of additional greenhouse-gas accumulation in the atmosphere, and that in turn means a warming world. The warming may be manageable, but it is probably unstoppable in the short term. This suggests that a major investment sector of the near future will be climate-change adaptation. Crops that grow in high temperatures, homes and buildings designed to stay cool during heat waves, vehicles that run on far less fuel, waterfront structures that can resist stronger storms—the list of needed adaptations will be long, and all involve producing, buying, and selling. Environmentalists don’t like talk of adaptation, as it implies making our peace with a warmer world. That peace, though, must be made—and the sooner businesses, investors, and entrepreneurs get to work, the better.

Why, ultimately, should nations act to control greenhouse gases, rather than just letting climate turmoil happen and seeing who profits? One reason is that the cost of controls is likely to be much lower than the cost of rebuilding the world. Coastal cities could be abandoned and rebuilt inland, for instance, but improving energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in order to stave off rising sea levels should be far more cost-effective. Reforms that prevent major economic and social disruption from climate change are likely to be less expensive, across the board, than reacting to the change. The history of antipollution programs shows that it is always cheaper to prevent emissions than to reverse any damage they cause.

Um....environmentalist have been encouraging "adaptation", ie. passive solar, public transit, urban-friendly neighborhoods for 30+ years. This environmentalist thinks that we should make peace with the world - and the sooner the better. There will be problems. Environmentalists get that. But environmentalists also get that people need to be making changes in housing, transportation, diets, and a whole slew of things.

Adaptation doesn't mean exploitation. Those who are focused on economics seem to ignore the problems of tearing down rainforests for a little natural gas. I see huge problems with the political and economic system that encourage consumption, waste, greed, and pollution - and that don't bother with alternative energies. With oil companies that get huge subsidies.

The oceans may be doomed - regardless. The greenhouse gases being absorbed into the oceans will mean the death of much sea life that had adapted to the ocean as it was. As someone said, "our children will tell their children to eat their jellyfish".

Many of problems that are related to "global warming" have become "living on the planet" problems. The mentality that disposable is better, that more is better - the creation of more things adds to global warming and it adds to pollution. The economics of greed that leads to factory farms, to industrial fishing adds to global warming, to pollution and the destruction of habitats, of water supplies. Such farms are created by people who are divorced from or who never lived in a rural community. The people who fish all of the fish off of the African coasts have no concern for the people's livelihoods that they are stealing or for the ecosystem that they are destroying.

In another article on global warming, Waterworld, the author quotes Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies.:

Here is how global warming indirectly feeds Islamic extremism. As rural Bangladeshis flee a countryside ravaged by salinity in the south and drought in the northwest, they are migrating to cities at a rate of 3 to 4 percent a year. Swept into the vast anonymity of sprawling slum encampments, they lose their local and extended-family links, becoming more susceptible to a form of Islam with a sharper ideological edge. “We will not have anarchy at the village level, where society is healthy,” warns Atiq Rahman. “But we can have it in the ever-enlarging urban areas.”

This problem of an un-healthy society (that Atiq says drives Islamic extremism) - may be the same thing that drives corporate economic hedonism. When people are not concerned for those of their community - I expect that it's easier to exploit, to justify tearing off mountain tops, to destroy ecosystems for fish or oil or gas. And the entire world (as well as our bodies) has become a trash-pit because of a lack of awareness or simple apathy to the global consequences.

Many people seem more concerned about the Dow than the Dao - the way of nature. People have not been adapting - corporations (and the people who run them) have been decimating/destroying/polluting as they fill their bank accounts.

It takes effort and will to become part of a community in this day and age. What with people moving as much as we do. It's not automatic. Lack of community attachment is no more an excuse for exploiting/polluting than it is for terrorizing.

Build It Solar

On line site of Solar / Passive Solar Home Plans /Zero Energy Homes

Lots of companies to compare and choose from. Cool site of the day.

A Greener Greensburg, A Solar Marburg

There's no place like a green demo home

Greensburg GreenTown, a nonprofit organization charged with leading the town's green initiatives, has announced a major step in the effort toward making Greensburg an ecotourism destination: the building of a dozen "green" demonstration homes that will double as a living science museum and lodging for residents and visitors.

The homes - the first of which are slated to be completed by spring - will be constructed using a variety of "green" methods, such as insulated concrete forms, solar energy, wind-generated power and more.

"This is a unique project," said GreenTown executive director Daniel Wallach. "Nothing like this exists in the world that we are aware of. This has peaked a lot of interest all over the world - and that's what we were hoping for."

...A few months ago, Greensburg made history by being the first city to require all city buildings to be built to LEED Platinum standards - the highest level of certification available from the U.S. Green Building Council...

The first of the 12 homes will be built by Topeka-based Ogden Publications, which publishes Mother Earth News and Natural Home magazines. It will feature cutting-edge solar panels and will use a super energy-efficient wall and roof system of structural insulated panels, or SIPs.

The home will be built on a lot donated by residents Ki and Kim Gamble and will serve as the offices, library and resource center for Greensburg GreenTown....

Germany’s First “Solar-Powered City”

Marburg in Hessen has become the first city in Germany to require all new buildings to install a solar energy heating system.
House owners in Marburg, with a total population of 78,000, must install a solar energy facility when they build new houses or renovate existing ones. The cost of installation begins at 5,000 euros (6.9 million won) at the minimum and the facility must be replaced once every 10 to 15 years.

Anyone who fails to fulfill the city’s new requirement has to pay a penalty of 15,000 euros (20.9 million won). House builders have the obligation to report their installation to relevant authorities after it is complete.

Currently, Marburg’s municipal assembly and government are dominated by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party, whose combined number of seats accounts for 30 out of 59. The latest legislation came as a strong reflection of the Green Party’s emphasis on protecting the environment.

House builders are required to put in place a solar energy facility not only when they expand existing buildings or replace roofs but also when they replace old heating systems. Since the requirement applies to a broad range of construction activities, it would only be a matter of time before all Marburg’s buildings are equipped with solar energy facilities.

The solar energy facility here would mean a system which can heat the building and provide hot water. This requires a solar energy panel at least one square meter wide per every 20 square meters of the building. Residential house needs a solar panel at least four square meters wide.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

"EPA's mercury rule struck down"

"Court says agency violated the Clean Air Act when it exempted coal-burning power plants"

A federal appeals court struck down an Environmental Protection Agency regulation on mercury emissions Friday that environmentalists had criticized as weak and illegal.

The decision marked a victory for 14 states, environmental groups and American Indian tribes that had challenged the EPA's Clean Air Mercury Rule. But it did not guarantee the deep cuts in mercury emissions those groups seek.

Coal-burning power plants are the single largest domestic source of mercury emissions. Nearly 500 plants supply about half the nation's electricity.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the EPA violated the Clean Air Act in 2005 when it exempted coal-burning power plants from the act's most stringent requirements for cleaning up hazardous pollutants.

Friday's decision means the EPA must start over in crafting a regulation to cut mercury emissions.

The judges also invalidated the agency's plan to adopt a "cap and trade" program to cut mercury emissions from power plants.

The program would have allowed power plants to buy and sell mercury pollution credits...

Environmental groups welcomed the court's decision and called on the EPA to enact a more aggressive regulation.

"We are looking forward to working on rules that reflect the most stringent controls achievable for this industry, as the Clean Air Act requires," said Ann Weeks, attorney for the Clean Air Task Force.


I don't know why it took 3 years - whether it reflects weakening of BushCOs power grip - or if it normally takes that long. There seem to be a lot of Bush Admin sorts of things being reversed recently. Of course in the meantime they are successful at not getting anything positive accomplished - and preventing others from doing so.

At one time - one would have expected that if the EPA proposed something that it would be a positive thing for the environment. Not these days.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Auctioning Off Peru's Rainforest

I heard on BBC's radio newshour this morning about an Auction going on among US Oil and Gas companies - selling off parts of Peru's rainforest. There were indigenous people there from Peru protesting - saying that their land is not for sale.

I did a google search and came up with some old stories that are related...

From 2002: Texas Firms Line Up U.S. Aid in Peru

Two Texas energy companies, both closely tied to the Bush White House, are lining up administration support for nearly $900 million in public financing for a Peruvian natural gas project that will cut through one of the world's most pristine tropical rain forests.

A top priority of Peruvian officials, who view it as key to energy independence, the Camisea project has encountered fierce opposition. Worldwide environmental groups and some members of Congress argue that the massive extraction and pipeline project will destroy the rain forest and the lifestyle of its indigenous people.

The project backers' quest for financial support from U.S. development banks will test the political pull of the Texas companies, Hunt Oil Co. and Halliburton Co., which have longstanding ties to the Bush-Cheney administration and the Republican Party. Next month, Hunt Vice President Steve Suellentrop is set to accompany Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans on a trade mission to Peru, where President Bush traveled in March to promote Andean trade.

International consortia, led by Dallas-based Hunt, Argentina's Pluspetrol and Peru's Tecgas, began work earlier this year on the $1.6 billion project in the southeastern part of Peru's Amazon basin. Hunt brought in Halliburton's Kellogg Brown & Root unit to engineer a proposed next phase, a $1 billion plant from which Hunt hopes to export liquid natural gas to the United States by 2006...

President Alejandro Toledo, during a recent U.S. trip, called the gas project "vital" to the financial rehabilitation of Peru, which has more than $30 billion in foreign debt. Officials say it will cut energy costs, replace dirtier fuels, provide jobs and boost tax revenue....

From a year ago: Peru's Amazon oil deals denounced
Environmental and human rights group in Peru have denounced the government's campaign to auction off large swathes of the Amazon to oil and gas companies.

They say the amount of Peruvian Amazon territory open to exploration has risen from 13% to 70% in two years.

They say this is putting at risk the biodiversity of the Amazon and the lives of indigenous people.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia has said the plans are part of his investment programme to tackle widespread poverty.

At a time when scientists have emphasised the importance of the Amazon as the vanguard against catastrophic climate change, the government of Peru is selling off its tropical forest to oil companies at an exponential rate.

Environmental and human rights groups in Peru say this will devastate large tracts of pristine rainforest and the native communities that live there.

And 2 months ago: Banks to Vote on Funding for Huge Project in Peru's Rainforest
On December 19, the Board of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) plans to vote on $400 million in direct loans and up to $500 million in "B" loans for the largest investment in the history of Peru: Hunt Oil’s massive and controversial liquefied natural gas (LNG) project known as Camisea II, or “Peru LNG.” It has raised serious environmental and social concerns, particularly for its effect on indigenous peoples living in the region.

The project, expected to be funded jointly by the IDB, World Bank Group and U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), connects to a natural gas pipeline that runs from Peru’s Camisea gas fields, currently being developed in an environmentally sensitive area of the Amazon rainforest.

A recent economic analysis shows that Camisea II is very likely to make Peru worse off economically. The analysis is from Harvard economist Glenn Jenkins.

Jenkins's initial analysis concludes that when the country's current and future needs are considered, having to import additional petroleum in the future will cost the country more than it is likely to benefit from LNG exports. Peru would need much greater gas reserves for LNG exports to be economically beneficial for the country, and unless these additional reserves are proven, exporting liquefied natural gas is likely to make Peru worse off.

Despite the negative economic, social and environmental impacts that this project will cause in Peru, the World Bank/IFC, IDB and Ex-Im are slated to give over $1 billion in publicly backed resources (mostly development aid money) to the project, beginning with the IDB vote this Wednesday....

"The Love of Nature and the End of the World" (Book)

Written by Shierry Weber Nicholsen

I read this book recently. It's from the viewpoint of eco-psychology / environmental philosophy.

I googled the author and up came a blog -Ecotherapy News (by Linda Buzzell-Saltzman - founder of the International Association for Ecotherapy (IAE). "The Love of Nature and the End of the World" was the "Book of the Month" - in October 2005.

From there I found the International Community for Ecophsychology, Centre for Human Ecology, and the Danish Centre for Ecotherapy. There are also sites related to Art and Ecopsychology, Art Therapy and Ecotherapy.

There is a review of the book by Louise Chawla at the Environmental and Architectural Phenomenology Newsletter website:

This book has its starting point in a persistent question: How can the public mind relegate matters of the environment, which is the ground of our whole lives, to the periphery of concern, as though they were the private interest of a group called “environmentalists”? At the same time, I have never met anyone who did not value and appreciate some part of the environment. How can we be so split in our thinking.

This opening question guides this book by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, a psychotherapist in private practice in Seattle, who for many years taught environmental philosophy and psychology in Antioch University’s Program on Environment and Community (in Seattle).

By the “public mind,” she does not mean politicians and the voters they mobilize: at least, not only actors in formal political processes. If this were the case, her question would be relatively easy to answer, because there is no shortage of reports that document how big money influences politics by attributing concern for the environment to “special interest” groups of environmentalists.

Instead, Nicholsen explores a much more difficult and less charted territory by extending the public mind to include people in their spheres of everyday life. As she uses the word “mind,” it includes perceptual experience and emotion. To answer this question, she assembles the insights of aesthetics and psychoanalysis. (more)

I was especially interested in Nicholsen's discussion of the unspoken. She often refers to art and expression of nature through painting. And she is a fan of Cezanne.

A lot of the problem seems to be coming to terms with guilt and despair - even as we love nature and life - in the face of what is going on with our planet. How do psychologists "fix" such as that?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

"Death toll rises to 57 in U.S. tornadoes"

(Reuters) - Communities across the U.S. South grieved for the dead and tried to pick up their lives on Thursday after the deadliest round of tornadoes in nearly a quarter century killed 57 people....

Two additional deaths were confirmed on Thursday, one each in Tennessee and Alabama. Tennessee counted 32 dead, Arkansas 13, Kentucky seven and Alabama five. There were many injuries, with some survivors reported in critical condition.

Some storms in Tuesday night's onslaught packed hurricane-force winds. The U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said at least two tornadoes had wind speeds from 165 to 200 miles (265 to 321 km) per hour.

There were also many long-track tornadoes that hugged the ground for long periods, instead of skipping about as twisters often do, according to center metrologist Greg Carbin.

It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in the United States since the mid-1980s.

In Tennessee the storms were the worst in terms of deaths since 1974 when storms took 47 lives, the Nashville Tennessean newspaper reported...

"We actually had four tornadoes in the state and one massive, killer storm that stayed on the ground for over an hour," said Tommy Jackson, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management. The department was to begin damage assessments on Thursday.

In Kentucky the storm was so massive that all the state's 120 counties suffered damage, said emergency management spokesman Buddy Rogers.

"For February, it's an historical event," Rogers said. "We're subject to tornadoes in each month of the year, but the number of tornadoes -- 14 touched down in 11 counties -- that number from one event is an historical number."


There was also a tornado that touched down in the county south of me in Indiana. Bloomfield had a tornado go through town that same night. No fatalities - but a lot of damage.

"Growers stung over drastic loss of bees"

BOB KOEHNEN, a beekeeper and farmer in the small Sacramento Valley town of Glenn, has a big worry.

Koehnen normally puts his 15,000 beehives to work in his orchards, pollinating 3,000 acres of walnuts and almonds. This year he faces the prospect of hiring beekeepers whose prices will jump because of a nationwide decline in honeybees.

Many adult bees have mysteriously disappeared — leaving only the queen and the young brood bees — and researchers don't yet know exactly why. But Koehnen hopes they figure it out soon.

"As a grower, you want a healthy beekeeping industry, he said. "Almonds are dependent on pollinators."

Of the 2.4 million bee colonies in the United States, the almond crop in California alone requires more than half of them, according to federal farm officials. Amid this need, what's called CCD — Colony Collapse Disorder — has resulted in a loss of 50 to 90 percent of beehives in the United States.

Koehnen and about 1,500 farmers and beekeepers from around the nation were in Sacramento this month for the first National Beekeeping Conference. The priority of almost everyone at the conference is hearing from scientists the latest clues in the CCD mystery.

At the forefront of everyone's mind this week is the "health of bees," said Jackie Park-Burris, a queen bee breeder from Palo Cedro and president of the California State Beekeepers Association.

The evidence today is pointing to the effects of a complex chain of factors: pesticides, viruses and fungi and parasites such as mites...

The stakes are high, but a year after colony collapse appeared, there are still more questions than answers. For example: Why now, after years of exposure to farm chemicals, mites and diseases, are bees now succumbing in big numbers?

...In 2007 Davis experts, university and government researchers and beekeepers nationwide collected samples of affected hives. Initial studies found that most of the collapsed colonies were also hit by Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus...

Now they're injecting that virus into healthy bees to see the result.

But the virus is not the only possible culprit. Researchers last week said it is most likely an interplay of different viruses with mites and pesticides.

But all that still doesn't explain where the tiny bee corpses have gone.

One clue: Pesticides can work at a "sub-lethal" level that don't cause death but other serious problems, said Maryann Frazier, an entomologist at Penn State University.

A new class of pesticides called neonicotinoids are neurotoxins that can affect the bee's immune system and ability to navigate, she said....

Brothers Chris and Bryan Hiatt of Hiatt Honey saw half their bee colonies die off from a mite outbreak in 2004. They now use a curious pesticide mix to control mites.

Chris Hiatt said he rotates use of two chemicals — a conventional pesticide and an organic alternative. This prevents mites from building resistance to one chemical, Hiatt said.

"It's organic and leaves no residue in the (bees) wax," Hiatt said.

Bryan said it comes down to bees needing more care and attention these days.

"It used to be you could close the lid in October and open it in June," he said. "Now, they'd be dead."...

Honeybees are used throughout the country to pollinate hundreds of crops, from apples and almonds to soybeans and strawberries. According the USDA, about $15 billion in crops are pollinated by honeybees...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"Sonar waiver for Navy is ruled invalid by judge"

A federal judge yesterday said White House officials cannot override her order requiring the Navy to take special precautions to protect whales and dolphins from sonar used during its training off Southern California.

In her 36-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper in Los Angeles rejected arguments made by the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. The panel had said the military's need to conduct sonar exercises constituted an emergency that warranted an exemption from the National Environmental Policy Act.

Cooper concluded “there is no emergency” and therefore no legal basis for the White House to approve “emergency alternative arrangements.”

“The Council on Environmental Quality's action is beyond the scope of the regulation and is invalid,” Cooper said.

If allowed to stand, the waiver would have exempted the Navy drills from Cooper's restrictions. Among other steps, the judge ordered the Navy last month to not transmit sonar within 12 miles of California's coastline and to shut down the sonar whenever marine mammals are spotted within 2,200 yards.

“We're aware of the court's decision, and we're studying it,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

Navy commanders said they follow 29 safeguards for marine mammals during training with midfrequency active sonar. This type of sonar has been linked to the deaths of beaked whales and dolphins.

Last year, a coalition of environmentalists led by the Natural Resources Defense Council sued to stop the sonar exercises off Southern California unless the Navy adopted stronger protections.

In August, Cooper prohibited the the Navy from conducting sonar training off California. The Navy appealed that decision, and a federal appeals court lifted the ban but allowed Cooper to impose safeguards.

Cooper issued her restrictions Jan. 3. Her move prompted the White House environmental council to grant the Navy an exemption from the National Environmental Policy Act.

The Natural Resources Defense Council went back to Cooper to have the waiver overturned.

“The court has affirmed that we do not live under an imperial presidency,” Joel Reynolds, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said yesterday. “The Navy doesn't need to harm whales to train effectively with sonar.” ...

"Georgia Loses Federal Case in a Dispute About Water"

It's interesting to see how this is going to play out. Especially with the drought the Atlanta area has had recently. When I was in Florida in the Apalachicola area - before the drought - it was already an issue because Atlanta was using water they needed to have come down the river for their oysters that have lived there for probably thousands of years.
Apalachicola's "entire economy is dependent" on Apalachicola Bay remaining healthy, Mayor Van Johnson said. The reduced flows of fresh water already have damaged the area's oyster and commercial fishing industry, which brings in $30 million to the Panhandle economy and affects more than 1,000 families.

From the New York Times

Georgia lost a major court fight in the Southern battle over water rights on Tuesday when a federal appellate-court panel said the state could not withdraw as much water as it had planned from an Atlanta-area reservoir.

The victory went to Alabama and Florida, which had contended that Georgia’s plan would siphon off water that should flow downstream to their consumers. The two states had brought the appellate suit to undo an agreement between Georgia and the Army Corps of Engineers that would have given Georgia rights to use nearly a quarter of the water in Lake Sidney Lanier, which supplies drinking water to much of northern Georgia.

In the ruling, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the agreement was void because the two parties had not first obtained Congressional approval. Under federal law, the corps must obtain such approval before making “major structural or operational” changes to the management of its federal reservoirs.

“I simply do not see how we can conclude this is not a major change,” Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote for the panel.

Under the 2003 pact with the Army Corps, Georgia was allowed to increase its share of the reservoir allocated for water storage to 22.9 percent from 13.9 percent.

Florida and Alabama have been in contentious negotiations with Georgia over the right to use water from Lake Lanier for almost two decades...

Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama hailed the decision as “the most consequential legal ruling in the 18-year history of the water war, and one of the most important in the history of the State of Alabama.”

He said the ruling “invalidates the massive water grab that Georgia tried to pull off.”

Alabama and Florida, which depend on water from Lake Lanier for power generation, industry, recreation and commercial fishing, argued Georgia had no legal right to the reservoir, which was originally built for hydropower...

Though the fast-growing Atlanta area relies on the reservoir, the other states have argued that Georgia has done little water planning over the decades and has not tied growth and development to water resources.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"Oceans at greatest risk from greenhouse emissions"

By Brian Maffly /The Salt Lake Tribune

CO will saturate seas first, kill plant life that supplies oxygen...

Greenhouse emissions' warming effect on the atmosphere is bad enough, but their bigger threat is the ecological chaos they are causing as the world's oceans become more acidic, according to a marine scientist.

Oceans are absorbing the glut of atmospheric carbon dioxide - stemming from two centuries of rampant burning of fossil fuels - at the rate of 1 million metric tons an hour.

Reacting with seawater, the absorbed carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid and throws marine chemistry out of whack. Without a major effort to curb emissions, massive die-off will occur in coral reefs, the shells of crucial mollusk species will dissolve and key marine plant life, which produces half the world's atmospheric oxygen, will disappear, Marcia McNutt, a geophysicist who heads California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, said at the University of Utah as part of the Frontiers of Science lecture series.

"The decisions you make, even though you live 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean, impact the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the Earth's surface," McNutt said.

Climate change has a far greater impact on the oceans than the atmosphere because oceans have absorbed 30 times more anthropogenic heat than have the skies, disrupting circulation patterns and the oceans' ability to moderate the weather, she said. Thermal expansion accounts for a far greater portion of rising sea levels than melting ice...

"The Monterey Bay is the best-observed piece of seafloor in the world," she said. One of the disturbing trends the institute has detected is the disappearance of Pacific whiting, or hake, once the most important commercial finfish in the area.
"As the hake numbers started to plummet, there was a perfect correlation in the increase in jumbo squid. He grows to my size in one year . . . by eating everything in sight, including hake," she said.

Oceanic warming off California not only invited in the squid, but drove away its predators, such as the orca. But more disturbing to McNutt is the decline in diatoms, a keystone unicellular plant species that had been dominant in the ocean.

"Suddenly in 2003, dinoflagellate took over," McNutt said, referring to a competing species of plankton that has a much weaker ability to consume carbon dioxide. "The last time these guys were dominant was 55 million years ago for a period of 225,000 years, a time of massive extinctions."

"Floating rubbish dump... 'bigger than US'"

It has been described as the world's largest rubbish dump, or the Pacific plastic soup, and it is starting to alarm scientists. It is a vast area of floating plastic debris.

It is a vast area of plastic debris and other flotsam drifting in the northern Pacific Ocean, held there by swirling ocean currents.

Discovered in 1997 by American sailor Charles Moore, what is also called the great Pacific garbage patch is now alarming some with its ever-growing size and possible impact on human health.

The "patch" is in fact two huge, linked areas of circulating rubbish, says Dr Marcus Eriksen, research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, founded by Moore.

Although the boundaries change, it stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the coast of California, across the northern Pacific to near the coast of Japan.

The islands of Hawaii are placed almost in the middle, so piles of plastic regularly wash up on some beaches there.

"The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup," Dr Eriksen says.

"It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States," he says.

The concentration of floating plastic debris just beneath the ocean's surface is the product of underwater currents, which conspire to bring together all the junk that accumulates in the Pacific Ocean.

Moore, an oceanographer who has made the study of the patch his full-time occupation, believes there is about 100 million tonnes of plastic circulating in the northern Pacific - or about 2.5 per cent of all plastic items made since 1950.

About 20 per cent of the junk is thought to come from marine craft, while the rest originates from countries around the Pacific like Mexico and China...

Historically, flotsam in the gyres has biodegraded. But modern plastics do not break down like other oceanic debris, meaning objects half a century old have been found in the North Pacific Gyre.

Instead the plastic slowly photodegrades, becoming brittle and disintegrating into smaller and smaller pieces which enter the food chain and end up in the stomachs of birds and other animals.

Because the plastic is translucent and lies just beneath the surface, it is apparently undetectable by satellite photos.

If the waste is to be controlled people must stop using unnecessary disposable plastics, otherwise it is set to double in size during the next 10 years, Moore warns.

Dr Eriksen said the small plastic particles acted like a sponge to trap many dangerous man-made chemicals that found their way into the ocean, like hydrocarbons and DDT.

"What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate, It is that simple," Dr Eriksen said.

Decline in Nature Recreation

From the The Nature Conservancy

Nature recreation worldwide — from camping, hunting and fishing to park visitation — has declined sharply since the 1980s, and the negative consequences for nature and conservation could soon be profound, says a new study sponsored by The Nature Conservancy.

The study examines data from the United States, Japan and Spain on everything from backpacking to duck hunting. It builds upon earlier Conservancy-funded studies by Oliver Pergams of the University of Illinois-Chicago and Patricia Zaradic of the Environmental Leadership Program that correlated a decline in visits to U.S. National Parks with an increase in television, video game and Internet use....

Oliver Pergams and Patricia Zaradic: The decline in some nature use seems to be accelerating, such as U.S. state park and national forest visits, as well as fishing. Others show a more steady decline, such as U.S. and Japanese national park visits and U.S. Bureau of Public Lands visits.

Most reliable long-term per capita visitation measures of nature recreation peaked between 1981 and 1991. They've declined about 1.2 percent per year since then, and have declined a total of between 18 percent and 25 percent...

The average person went from hiking once every 12½ years to hiking once every 10 years.

On the other hand, the average U.S. person visits a state park two or three times every single year. The large decreases in more popular activities like state park visits far outweigh the small increase in hiking...

Other research shows that the time children spend in nature — particularly the activities we looked at in this study — determines their environmental awareness as adults.

We recently wrote a review paper looking at this phenomenon as well as at the effects of videophilia on childhood development. These effects are substantial and include obesity, attentional disorders, lack of socialization and poor academic performance. By the way, this and our other papers are available at

"China Battles "Coldest Winter in 100 Years"

CHENZHOU, China - Millions remained stranded in China on Monday ahead of the biggest holiday of the year as parts of the country suffered their coldest winter in a century.

Freezing weather has killed scores of people and left travellers stranded before the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival -- the only opportunity many people have for a holiday all year.

It has also brought China unwanted negative publicity six months before the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

President Hu Jintao chaired an emergency Politburo meeting on Sunday for the second time in a week to discuss rescue efforts.

"We have to be clear-minded that the inclement weather and severe disaster will continue to plague certain regions in the south," said a statement issued after Sunday's meeting. "Relief work will continue to face challenges, posing a tough task."

The China Meteorological Administration said the weather was the coldest in 100 years in central Hubei and Hunan provinces, going by the total number of consecutive days of average temperature less than 1 degree Celsius (33.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

But it expected brighter weather ahead, though fog could become a problem and temperatures at night would likely still be below freezing, slowing the thaw.

"It is still necessary to remain alert for possible low temperatures, frozen rain, snow, freezing and heavy fog," said administration head Zheng Guoguang.

He added the cold snap had caught the country off guard, in an area unprepared for such heavy snow. But climate change could see more extremes in weather in China, Zheng warned.

Four people died after a snow-laden roof collapsed at a fuel station in the eastern city of Nanjing on Sunday, Xinhua news agency said. One person was killed in a stampede at Guangzhou railway station in the south as people rushed to board trains.

Roads and railways, some of which have been blocked for days, have started to move again, and fewer flights were being cancelled, state media said, offering a glimmer of hope.

"Dutch Gas Guzzler Tax Hammers Exclusive Cars"

AMSTERDAM - Buying a Hummer just became 19,000 euros (US$28,000) more expensive in the Netherlands.

A new "guzzle tax" came into force on Friday, penalising cars that exceed a limit on emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as the Netherlands seeks to reduce its contribution to global warming.

Dick Braakhekke, spokesman for General Motors Corp's Cadillac, Corvette and Hummer in Europe, said that of the usual annual volumes of Hummer H2 vehicles sold in the Netherlands, some 60 to 70 percent had already been sold before Feb. 1 as buyers sought to avoid the guzzle tax.

Mercedes-Benz said some of its high-end AMG sports cars would also be hit.

"It varies a bit, but if you take the high-end V8 vehicles, it will easily go up by up to 10,000 euros," Mercedes-Benz Netherlands spokesman Hubert Dubbelman said.

But the companies said drivers might continue buying gas guzzlers anyway.

"It is not clear if a customer who is willing to pay 160,000 euros for such a car is affected by the fact that he has to pay 10,000 more," Dubbelman said.

Braakhekke said: "Corvette and Hummer are such specific brands that we don't expect an enormous sales decline."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

"Rain forests fall at 'alarming' rate"

ABO EBAM, Nigeria - (AP) In the gloomy shade deep in Africa's rain forest, the noontime silence was pierced by the whine of a far-off chain saw. It was the sound of destruction, echoed from wood to wood, continent to continent, in the tropical belt that circles the globe.

From Brazil to central Africa to once-lush islands in Asia's archipelagos, human encroachment is shrinking the world's rain forests.

The alarm was sounded decades ago by environmentalists — and was little heeded. The picture, meanwhile, has changed: Africa is now a leader in destructiveness. The numbers have changed: U.N. specialists estimate 60 acres of tropical forest are felled worldwide every minute, up from 50 a generation back. And the fears have changed.

Experts still warn of extinction of animal and plant life, of the loss of forest peoples' livelihoods, of soil erosion and other damage. But scientists today worry urgently about something else: the fateful feedback link of trees and climate.

Global warming is expected to dry up and kill off vast tracts of rain forest, and dying forests will feed global warming.

"If we lose forests, we lose the fight against climate change," declared more than 300 scientists, conservation groups, religious leaders and others in an appeal for action at December's climate conference in Bali, Indonesia.

The burning or rotting of trees that comes with deforestation — at the hands of ranchers, farmers, timbermen — sends more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the world's planes, trains, trucks and automobiles. Forest destruction accounts for about 20 percent of manmade emissions, second only to burning of fossil fuels for electricity and heat. Conversely, healthy forests absorb carbon dioxide and store carbon...

"It's not easy building green"

There is going to need to be more public pressure and/or laws against "Homeowner's Associations" that prevent people from being environmentally friendly. It is some kind of twisted peer pressure that creates these things to begin with - the idea that the rules they put in place make a more desirable mini-world for themselves. Arrgggghhh.

Nora and Richard Parkman thought their plan to use the rays of the sun to heat the water for their Plainfield home would be would be approved long before winter arrived.

They figured wrong.

"We spoke with them several times, but our homeowners association still hasn't let us put up the system," said Nora, who said she first met with the homeowners association last May.

The Parkmans' application to the Caton Ridge Homeowners Association to install solar panels on the roof of the south side, which is also the front, of their house -- to maximize solar energy collection -- was rejected because the group didn't like the way the panels looked.

"They told us to put them on the north side of the house, which is like telling somebody they can put up a satellite dish, but have to point it at the ground," said Nora.

An official of the Caton Ridge association declined to comment for this story.

On top of it, legislation that would prevent associations from blocking solar panels for aesthetic reasons passed the Illinois State Senate in 2007, but still must clear the House.

Frustrating? Absolutely. Hopeless? Not quite.

"We're pretty tenacious," said Nora.

Tenacity is a good quality when it comes to greening Chicago-area homes. While Chicago has made great strides with its Green Permit Program and Green Homes Program, it still has a long way to go, according to environmental experts. The suburbs are much further behind.

Five years ago when the Parkmans built their house, they did it with energy efficiency as a priority, making the building envelope tight and appliances highly efficient. "Now, the things we're trying to add to make our house even more efficient and less dependent on fossil fuels are the way this country is moving. It's just a matter of persisting until people understand the processes and change rules and codes to permit them," she said. "We're thinking about going door to door with a petition."

Homeowner associations afflicted with what online magazine The Daily Green calls "green fear" -- or, fear of unfamiliar green technologies -- is just one of many problems stemming from a lack of education.

George Sullivan, of Chicago's Eco Smart Building, believes that homeowners' slow move to energy conservation "is the biggest obstacle to green." Part of the issue here: Although the general public has been bombarded with the message that reducing home energy use is a good idea, step-by-step how-tos and access to experts who can help have been slower to arrive...

Friday, February 01, 2008

"...the Greed of the Rich"

By George Monbiot

Some blame the poor for growing pressure on the world's resources, but the wealthy West takes the lion's share.

...Population growth has always been politically charged, and always the fault of someone else...

The Optimum Population Trust (OPT) cites some shocking figures, produced by the UN. They show that if the global population keeps growing at its current rate, it will reach 134 trillion by 2300. But this is plainly absurd: no one expects it to happen. In 2005, the UN estimated that the world's population will more or less stabilize in 2200 at 10 billion. But a paper published in Nature last week suggests that there is an 88 percent chance that global population growth will end during this century.

In other words, if we accept the UN's projection, the global population will grow by roughly 50 percent and then stop. This means it will become 50 percent harder to stop runaway climate change, 50 percent harder to feed the world, 50 percent harder to prevent the overuse of resources. But compare this rate of increase with the rate of economic growth.

Many economists predict that, occasional recessions notwithstanding, the global economy will grow by about 3 percent a year this century. Governments will do all they can to prove them right. A steady growth rate of 3 percent means a doubling of economic activity every 23 years. By 2100, in other words, global consumption will increase by about 1,600 percent. As the equations produced by Professor Roderick Smith of Imperial College have shown, this means that in the 21st century we will have used 16 times as many economic resources as human beings have consumed since we came down from the trees.

So economic growth this century could be 32 times as big an environmental issue as population growth. And if governments, banks and businesses have their way, it never stops. By 2115, the cumulative total rises to 3,200 percent, by 2138 to 6,400 percent. As resources are finite, this is of course impossible, but it is not hard to see that rising economic activity -- not human numbers -- is the immediate and overwhelming threat...

Surely there is one respect in which the growing human population constitutes the primary threat? The amount of food the world eats bears a direct relationship to the number of mouths. After years of glut, the storerooms are suddenly empty and grain prices are rocketing. How will another 3 billion be fed?

Even here, however, population growth is not the most immediate issue: another sector is expanding much faster. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization expects that global meat production will double by 2050 - growing, in other words, at two and a half times the rate of human numbers. The supply of meat has already trebled since 1980: farm animals now take up 70 percent of all agricultural land and eat one third of the world's grain. In the rich nations we consume three times as much meat and four times as much milk per capita as the people of the poor world. While human population growth is one of the factors that could contribute to a global food deficit, it is not the most urgent.

None of this means that we should forget about it. Even if there were no environmental pressures caused by population growth, we should still support the measures required to tackle it: universal sex education, universal access to contraceptives, better schooling and opportunities for poor women. Stabilizing or even reducing the human population would ameliorate almost all environmental impacts. But to suggest, as many of my correspondents do, that population growth is largely responsible for the ecological crisis is to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich.