Sunday, August 31, 2008

Colorful Sunrises/Sunsets

I get up most mornings around the sunrise. So today I was outside ahead of the the sun rising and I noticed the sky was more colorful than usual. Very intense orangey/magenta. Nice.

But I didn't think that much more about it until I got an email from and it turns out that people all over the US and Europe have been seeing more colorful Sunrises/Sunsets because of the August 7th eruption of the Kasatochi volcano in Alaska.

The volcano hurled a massive cloud of ash and sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere; high winds have since carried the aerosols over parts of the USA and Europe.

Gustav - heading for New Oleans/Gulf

Satellite photo of Gustav and Hanna on Sept. 1, 2008.

Update: The hurricane was disrupted enough from going over Cuba that it didn't gain the strength that was predicted. It turned and went west along the coast of Louisiana before going into Louisiana and losing power.
Gustav on the left, Katrina on the right - 3 years ago 8/29/08 ________________________________________________

The hurricane Gustav has hit Jamaica, hit Cuba, theCayman Islands and now it is churning through the Gulf on it's way toward New Orleans and the Gulf Coast - on schedule to hit tomorrow. People in New Orleans have been evacuating on cars, buses, trains, etc.

It's looking like it could be another Katrina type of disaster - 3 years after. Some forcasters say it could be worse.

It is expected to be a slow moving, flood-inducing storm. "Gustav is expected to affect areas up to 70 miles from the eye, spawining tornadoes in Florida, lashing many areas with rain and causing landslides."

"Tortured, but Not Silenced"


This is too horrible.

An early test of the next president’s moral courage will come as he decides how to engage two Sudanese people named Bashir.

One is President Omar al-Bashir, who faces indictment for genocide by the International Criminal Court. The other is Dr. Halima Bashir, a young Darfuri woman whom the Sudanese authorities have tried to silence by beatings and gang-rape.

In 10 days, Halima’s extraordinary memoir will be published in the United States, at considerable risk to herself. She writes in “Tears of the Desert” of growing up in a placid village in rural Darfur, of her wonder at seeing white people for the first time, of her brilliant performance in school.

Eventually Halima became a doctor, just as the genocide against black African tribes like her own began in 2003. Halima soon found herself treating heartbreaking cases, like that of a 6-year-old boy who suffered horrendous burns when the state-sponsored janjaweed militia threw him into a burning hut.

One day she gave an interview in which she delicately hinted that the Darfur reality was more complicated than the Sudanese government version. The authorities detained her, threatened her, warned her to keep silent and transferred her to a remote clinic where there were no journalists around to interview her.

Then the janjaweed attacked a girls’ school near Halima’s new clinic and raped dozens of the girls, aged 7 to 13. The first patient Halima tended to was 8 years old. Her face was bashed in and her insides torn apart. The girl was emitting a haunting sound: “a keening, empty wail kept coming from somewhere deep within her throat — over and over again,” she recalls in the book.

Sudan’s government dispatches rapists the way other governments dispatch the police, the better to terrorize black African tribes and break their spirit. What sometimes isn’t noted is that many young Darfuri girls undergo an extreme form of genital cutting called infibulation, in which the vagina is stitched closed until marriage; that makes such rapes of schoolgirls particularly violent and bloody, increasing the risk of AIDS transmission.

Halima found herself treating the girls with tears streaming down her own face. All she had to offer the girls for their pain was half a pill each of acetaminophen: “At no stage in my years of study had I been taught how to deal with 8-year-old victims of gang rape in a rural clinic without enough sutures to go around.”

Soon afterward, two United Nations officials showed up at the clinic to gather information about the attack. Halima told them the truth.

A few days later, the secret police kidnapped her. “You speak to the foreigners!” one man screamed at her. They told her that she had talked of rape but knew nothing about it — yet. For days they beat her, gang-raped her, cut her with knives, burned her with cigarettes, mocked her with racial epithets. One told her, “Now you know what rape is, you black dog.”

Upon her release, a shattered Halima fled back to her native village, but it was soon attacked and burned — and her beloved father killed. Halima still doesn’t know what happened to her mother or brothers. Eventually she made her way to Britain, where she is seeking asylum, and even there Sudanese agents are trying to track her whereabouts.

It is difficult to verify some of Halima’s story, and she has modified her own name and some place names to protect family members from retribution. But what can be checked out does check out and suggests no exaggeration.

For example, Halima says in her book that she does not know how many girls were raped at the school but that 40 were brought to the clinic. I’ve found independent accounts of the same attack that describe as many as 110 girls and teachers raped and dozens more kidnapped; the United Nations also has photos of the school after the attack.

I asked Halima if she regrets telling the U.N. officials about the rape of the schoolgirls, considering what it cost her. She sighed and said no.

“What happened to me happened to so many other Darfur women,” she said. “If I didn’t tell, all the other people don’t get the chance — and I have the chance. I am a well-educated woman, so I can speak up and send a message to the world.”

Halima’s bravery contrasts with the world’s fecklessness and failures on Darfur. She is applying for a travel document and a visa to come to the United States to talk about her book, but it seems unlikely that they will arrive in time for its release. I hope President Bush accelerates the process and invites her to the White House, to show the world which of the two Bashirs America stands behind.

Activists in Minneapolis being arrested in advance of RNC Convention

What kind of Totalitarian nightmare is this - when people are arrested for meeting and planning civil disobedience?

Update:Matt Rourke, AP photographer doing his job, Amy Goodman asking why a couple of her colleagues were arrested and later400 others arrested on the last day of the RNC convention. (After the police had arrested and disrupted a video crew that had filmed a lot of the arrests done at the RNC convention in NYC while resulted in the dismissals or acquittals of those arrested - I-Witness Video Collective Forced Out of Living Space After Second Raid by St. Paul Police in Five Days).

Meanwhile there were people apparently plotting to kill Obama at the DNC convention and the The Rove-connected Colorado US Attorny, Troy Aid, has refused to bring such charges...

At previous Republican/Bush events - people with signs have been kept far away from events - in so-called "Free Speech Zones". The more that people are squashed down, the less people are listened to - the more drastic measures they are likely to come up with. So now - people in the planning stages have had their laptops, journals, signs, anything that could possibly be used to coordinate or used to disrupt have been confiscated. Not much of a democracy. Not much Free Speech.

There is a group called that RNC welcoming committee that is an organization of dozens of activist groups (according to news articles) that has been planning this for a year or more. Some police groups have been infiltrating and monitoring the groups.

I agree with the person who said that the police actions in advance of the convention will more than likely attract more protesters. And give the people even more to protest against.


Police raids enrage activists, alarm others
...From Friday night through Saturday afternoon, officers surrounded houses, broke down doors, handcuffed scores of people and confiscated suspected tools of civil disobedience.

The show of force was led by the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office in collaboration with the FBI, Minneapolis and St. Paul police, the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and other agencies.

5 arrested, dozens detained in pre-RNC raids

"...I think (Friday night's raid) was a scare tactic to not go to the big demonstration Monday," said Monica Trinidad, a 22-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago student who was handcuffed outside the center Friday night as she was returning to see what was going on. "But I don't think it's going to work."

Hal Muskat, a 61-year-old San Franciscan and member of Veterans for Peace, said the arrests might attract even more protesters.

"It was a tactic to try and take out the leaders," he said. "I know some people don't like to go out in the streets. But when anybody within a 12-hour drive hears about what's going on here, they're going to want to be here with us on Monday."

Protesters arrested in St. Paul
...Four people were arrested at two Minneapolis homes and booked on probable cause of conspiracy to commit a riot, said Gina Berglund, an attorney for protesters. There were no arrests at a third home targeted. Later, Ramsey County deputies arrested a fifth person.

Police target protesters at RNC convention
...Dave Thune, a St. Paul city councilman whose district includes the theater building used as a hub for the protesters, denounced the raid, saying people had a legal right to assemble there.

"We spent so much time trying to welcome people to the city and now this is the way we start out," he said. "It pretty much sucks."

Totalitarianism - Totalitarian regimes or movements maintain themselves in political power by means of an official all-embracing ideology and propaganda disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that controls the state, personality cults, central state-controlled economy, regulation and restriction of free discussion and criticism, the use of mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror tactics.

That pretty much sums up what Bush & Co. have been doing.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"Scientists expect new record low of Arctic ice coverage"

Ice is on it's way to melting more than last year.

From Tigervision Media:

Nortwest Passage (top) and Amundsen Northwest Passage

Sea-ice coverage levels in the Arctic are approaching the record low of September 2007. Since the melting season has not reached its end yet, scientists of the European Space Agency are expecting to see a record low in 2008 and two passages being completely ice free by mid-September...

The trend of shrinking sea-ice coverage will continue this year, according to Heinrich Miller from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven, Germany. Analyzing data collected by the Envisat satellite between early June and mid-August 2008 showed that current ice coverage has already reached the second absolute minimum since observations from space began 30 years ago and a new record low could be achieved by mid-September, when the ice coverage is expected to be increasing again...

The direct route through the Northwest Passage is currently almost free of ice, Miller said. The indirect route, called the Amundsen Northwest Passage, has been passable for almost a month. The scientists confirmed the satellite data by sending their ice breaking vessel “Polarstern” from Iceland to the Canadian Basin through the Northwest Passage this year.

Pentagon Won't Clean Up Toxic Military Bases - Overseas

From The Christian Science Monitor

An Alaskan Air National Guard C-130 lands to refuel at Thule Air Base, Greenland, on its way home from Afghanistan.

The former Sondrestrom US Air Force Base is now a busy community of 500, a midsized town by Greenland standards.

Runways built for heavy bombers and transports now accommodate wide- bodied jetliners, which disgorge passengers connecting to Greenland’s many small airstrips. Tourists head out on musk ox safaris or join cruise ships at the base’s old supply dock, while locals enjoy Greenland’s only indoor swimming pool, originally built for US troops.

Greenland is dotted with former US military installations – and one active one – a reminder of its importance as a steppingstone in the fight against Nazi Germany and as a cold-war surveillance and missile-detection base.

Some facilities, like Sondrestrom, have become important economic assets to the 56,000 inhabitants of Greenland, a self-governing territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. But environmental contamination at other former military sites has bred serious tensions among leaders of Greenland’s ethnic Inuit population, their old colonial masters in Denmark, and the Pentagon.

“The US and Denmark together have a lot to clean up,” says Aleqa Hammond, foreign minister for Greenland’s home rule government. “It’s not even halfway done. The East Coast and icecap areas have thousands of abandoned barrels, and the failure to clean up the [Thule] air base is something that is very heavy in our hearts.”

Unsightly barrels and rubbish heaps mar the stunning landscapes near many former military sites, including former Distant Early Warning (DEW) stations the United States built to detect incoming Soviet nuclear missiles. Two DEW stations built atop the mile-thick ice cap that covers interior Greenland were abandoned on short notice, leaving everything from soldiers’ personal effects and paperwork to electrical equipment contaminated with PCBs.

The fjord near Thule Air Base has elevated radiation levels, the result of the 1968 crash of a B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs. Danish workers who helped clean up from the crash weren’t given protective equipment, and some claim medical problems as a result. One of the H-bombs was apparently never recovered, a fact that provoked anger here in 2000, when it became public.

But in recent years, the most contentious issue has been the US refusal to clean up dump sites and other contamination on the Dundas Peninsula, which was turned over to Greenlandic control in 2003, 50 years after being incorporated into the adjacent Thule Air Base, 950 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

It’s a particularly emotional issue for Greenlanders, as an entire village was forced from their Dundas homes in May 1953 to make way for Thule’s expansion. Given little notice and scant support, dozens suffered for three months in tents before homes for them were completed.

For decades, former villagers say, Danish authorities claimed the inhabitants had consented to the relocation and covered up the actual circumstances.

“That land is rightfully theirs,” says Aqqaluk Lynge of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and author of “The Right of Return,” a book about the relocation. “It should be returned in the same condition as when they hunted there.”

The US agreed to release the Dundas area – part of which had been a missile launch site – but not to clean it up first, a position that surprised Svend Auken, who was Denmark’s minister of environment during the negotiations. “There was strong pressure on the Americans that they should clean up after themselves, but they wouldn’t budge,” Mr. Auken says. “They said, ‘If you push us, we won’t give you an inch of it.’ ”

He adds: “They said if they were to clean up after themselves at Thule, then they would be met by similar demands in the Philippines, Japan, and elsewhere in the world. They didn’t want to set that precedent.”

Mikaela Engell, an official at the Danish Foreign Ministry, says the US position stands in stark contrast to that held when Sonderstrom and the DEW stations were returned. In 1991, the US agreed to remove the most serious environmental hazards, though barrels, rubbish, and other less dangerous materials were often left behind.

“There was a total reversion of the American position on the environment between 1991 and 2003,” Ms. Engell says. “There was a new administration and different political headwinds.” ...

"Strange Clouds at the Edge of Space"

From NASA:

Last month, astronauts on board the International Space Station (ISS) witnessed a beautiful display of noctilucent or "night-shining" clouds. The station was located about 340 km over western Mongolia on July 22nd when the crew snapped this picture:


Atmospheric scientist Gary Thomas of the University of Colorado has seen thousands of noctilucent cloud (NLC) photos, and he ranks this one among the best. "It's lovely," he says. "And it shows just how high these clouds really are--at the very edge of space."

He estimates the electric-blue band was 83 km above Earth's surface, higher than 99.999% of our planet's atmosphere. The sky at that altitude is space-black. It is the realm of meteors, high-energy auroras and decaying satellites.

What are clouds doing up there? "That's what we're trying to find out," says Thomas.
People first noticed NLCs at the end of the 19th century after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. The Indonesian supervolcano hurled plumes of ash more than 50 km high in Earth's atmosphere. This produced spectacular sunsets and, for a while, turned twilight sky watching into a worldwide pastime. One evening in July 1885, Robert Leslie of Southampton, England, saw wispy blue filaments in the darkening sky. He published his observations in the journal Nature and is now credited with the discovery of noctilucent clouds.

Scientists of the 19th century figured the clouds were some curious manifestation of volcanic ash. Yet long after Krakatoa's ash settled, NLCs remained...

"Noctilucent clouds have not only persisted, but also spread." In the beginning, the clouds were confined to latitudes above 50o; you had to go to places like Scandinavia, Siberia and Scotland to see them. In recent years, however, they have been sighted from mid-latitudes such as Washington, Oregon, Turkey and Iran...

The genesis and spread of these clouds is an ongoing mystery. Could they be signs of climate change? "The first sightings do coincide with the Industrial Revolution," notes Thomas. "But the connection is controversial."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Lake Ontario coastal water under siege"

From the Democrat & Chronicle:

After the Great Lakes cleanup of the 1970s, pollution levels plummeted, fish began to thrive and algae receded to a minor annoyance.

But three decades after that massive, multibillion-dollar cleanup, the waters of four of the five Great Lakes are once again plagued by smelly, slimy algae.

Lake Ontario's shoreline has become distinctly murky. Some describe it as a bathtub with a dirty ring around it.

The stringy green algae known as cladophora is once again washing up on shore — fouling boat propellers, shutting down an upstate nuclear power plant and closing beaches.

Cladophora-related closures at Rochester's Ontario Beach have increased fourfold in recent years.

Health officials are concerned that decomposing cladophora provides a breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria. And some U.S. scientists worry about the increase of cyanobacteria, which can produce dangerous, even deadly, toxins.

The new growth of these algae and bacteria, scientists say, is driven by an abundance of phosphorus in some near-shore areas and connected bays and ponds, particularly around Rochester and points west.

Concern about algae and weed growth has made phosphorus a hot topic throughout North America and spurred new government controls on phosphorus discharges. But New York state is lagging.

A dozen states in recent years have adopted or considered legislation to address phosphate content in dishwashing detergent. Dozens of Great Lakes cities and counties, and some entire states, also have banned phosphorus in lawn fertilizer in the last few years.

Neither of these tactics has taken root in New York state.

Phosphorus was the main target of the 1970s cleanup. Improving sewage treatment and banning phosphates in laundry detergent proved effective — in the deep waters in the middle of the lake.

But water near the shore now has high levels of the pollutant. Discovering the cause and the remedy for this problem is a key goal of research being conducted by academic and government scientists....

Phosphorus, a highly reactive element obtained by mining phosphate rock, was named a pollutant of concern by the U.S. and Canada in their 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. An ingredient of fertilizer and cleaning compounds, phosphorus was discharged into the lakes in large quantities. The agreement called on the two nations to tighten control of phosphorus at sewage treatment plants and reduce phosphate additives to laundry soaps.

Those steps and more were taken. For example, New York was among several Great Lakes states that had essentially banned phosphates in laundry soap by the mid-1970s....

As phosphorus tapered off, so did algae....

But in the late 1990s, citizen complaints about fouling of beaches and shorelines began to recur. When Howell surveyed the lake bottom in 2000, "there was scads of the stuff there," he said, and complaints became even more frequent after that.

No systematic survey has been made in U.S. waters, but there is no doubt that the algae is running wild again....

In the 15 years from 1978 to 1992, the beach averaged fewer than two days a season when algae sent swimmers home. In the 15 full years since then, the average has been almost eight algae closures per year.

"This is a newer problem — it's a problem we actually haven't seen for many years now," Makarewicz said of the algal buildup at the shoreline. "Lots of places are problem spots. This stuff is so thick in some places you can't move a boat through it."

The Fitzpatrick nuclear power plant in Oswego County had to shut down unexpectedly three times last September and October because cladophora overwhelmed protective screens and clogged water intakes, reducing the flow available to cool the reactor, according to reports submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The algae coats sand or rocks with a slippery scum. As it rots, algae emits an odor so foul that shoreline residents must shut their windows in mid-summer.

But it's not just aesthetic concerns that prompt officials to shut down beaches, said Charles Knauf, an environmental health project analyst for the Monroe County Health Department. Mats of cladophora and other algae appear to provide a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Organisms such as E.coli that come from the digestive tracts of mammals have been found at the beach during algae events, Knauf said.

"The concern now is they can reproduce in these algal mats," he said. "The thought is that it's an 'artificial gut' inside these mats, or in the sand."....

Another part is to sample at pre-determined spots on the U.S. and Canadian shorelines in an effort to learn how much new phosphorus is flowing into the lake from various sources, including sewage treatment plants, stormwater overflows into creeks and rivers, leaking septic tanks, and runoff from fertilized grass and farm fields laden with nutrients. Typical lawn and garden fertilizer contains phosphorus, as do some farm fertilizers.

Although phosphorus has been largely eliminated from laundry detergents, phosphates still are added to dishwasher soap and other cleaners...

Phosphates in dishwasher detergent have been banned by law in some U.S. states, and the federal government in Canada just proposed new regulations to eliminate phosphates from all household cleaning products.

Various locations around the Great Lakes have implemented restrictions on phosphorus in lawn fertilizers.

Such things have been discussed informally in New York, but not adopted, Zelazney said.

The DEC applies a more stringent, holistic approach to regulating pollution in some smaller water bodies, including two small bays connected to Lake Ontario. But the program hasn't been used to address phosphorus in Lake Ontario.

Huge Greenland Glacier Disintegrating

From National Geographic:

Greenland's glaciers are breaking up at a worrisome pace, new satellite images show.

A gigantic, 11-square-mile (29-square-kilometer) chunk of the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland broke off between July 10 and July 24.

The collapsed section is comparable in size to half of Manhattan Island (see the breakup in three images above).

Petermann covers 500 square miles (1,295 square kilometers). (See a Greenland map.)

The broken chunk has led scientists to predict a section of Petermann, the Northern Hemisphere's longest-floating glacier, will disappear by 2009.

(See a photo of an ice shelf collapse in Antarctica.)

But the most alarming sign, according to Jason Box of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University, is a huge 7-mile (11.3 kilometer) crack, seen above in the center right of the July 25 image, that has appeared farther back on the margin of the glacier.

The groove could create an imminent and even bigger breakup—up to a third of the ice field, he said in a statement.

"The pictures speak for themselves," Box told the Associated Press. "This crack is moving, and moving closer and closer to the front. It's just a matter of time till a much larger piece is going to break off … "

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Purdue LED Breakthrough

by Michael Graham Richard

Five Times As Efficient, Way Cheaper

Better, Cheaper LEDs
The incandescent lightbulb that wastes 90% of the electricity as heat is dying, we all know that. But a new breakthrough in solid state lighting might also kill compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) faster than some expected. Scientists at Purdue University have figured out how to manufacture LED solid-state lights on regular metal-coated silicon wafers (more details below). What this means is: much lower costs.

10% Reduction in Total Electricity Use
And since about 1/3 of U.S. electricity is used to produce light, this is major. "If you replaced existing lighting with solid-state lighting, following some reasonable estimates for the penetration of that technology based on economics and other factors, it could reduce the amount of energy we consume for lighting by about one-third. That represents a 10 percent reduction of electricity consumption and a comparable reduction of related carbon emissions," said Timothy D. Sands, professor of Materials Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering states at Purdue.

Old LEDs vs. New LEDs
What makes traditional LEDs so expensive is that the light-emitting layer of an LED light is a gallium nitride crystal and it needs to be treated in various ways with expensive materials.


In sapphire based LEDs, used for green or blue lighting, mirror-like reflectors are need to reflect and resend emitted light, increasing the efficiency. Typically, this layer is extremely expensive to produce, part of the reason the current generation of LED lighting costs so much, costing at least 20 times more than conventional incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. Also, the LEDs are built on sapphire crystals, which provide the color, but are extremely expensive.
But the new LEDs can be made using standard silicon wafers and already existing, less expensive, processes. This would make them competitive with incandescent and CFLs.

The new techniques yield a crystalline structure aligned to the crystalline silicon. This means that the LEDs are less prone to defects and will perform more efficiently [...] silicon dissipates heat more effectively than sapphires. This will reduce damage during operation and lead to longer lifetimes and more reliability..
We might soon have to get used to changing lightbulbs every other decade.

LEDs that are currently available convert electricity to light with an efficiency of 47 to 64%. It is predicted that LED produced with Purdue's process would have an efficiency in the high-end of that range, compared to about 10% for incandescent.

"Dead Zone Diet"

By KERRY TRUEMAN / Huffingtonpost

Steak or salmon? Millions of menu-mulling diners ask themselves this question every day. Enjoy your dithering while you can, folks, because the day is coming when you may not have the luxury of choosing the lobster over the London broil. For those with a more populist palate, I've got some bad news, too; a future with no more fried clam strips or canned tuna, for you.

Why? Because fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture and fossil-fuel use are causing catastrophic "dead zones" in our oceans, "killing large swaths of sea life and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage," according to Scientific American.

It's Agribiz vs. Aquabiz, and at the moment, the farmers are beating the waders off of the fishermen. Scientific American notes that "there are now 405 identified dead zones worldwide, up from 49 in the 1960s." And once a marine habitat falls victim to hypoxia, i.e. oxygen deficiency, the outlook is grim:

Only a few dead zones have ever recovered, such as the Black Sea, which rebounded quickly in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a massive reduction in fertilizer runoff from fields in Russia and Ukraine. Fertilizer contains large amounts of nitrogen, and it runs off of agricultural fields in water and into rivers, and eventually into oceans.

This fertilizer runoff, instead of contributing to more corn or wheat, feeds massive algae blooms in the coastal oceans. This algae, in turn, dies and sinks to the bottom where it is consumed by microbes, which consume oxygen in the process. More algae means more oxygen-burning, and thereby less oxygen in the water, resulting in a massive flight by those fish, crustaceans and other ocean-dwellers able to relocate as well as the mass death of immobile creatures, such as clams or other bottom-dwellers. And that's when the microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments take over, forming vast bacterial mats that produce hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas.

How fitting! More toxic gas from the same chemical companies who gave the world Agent Orange. Except that in this case, it's an unwelcome by-product. Oops! Sorry 'bout that!

But don't worry, Monsanto and DuPont are on the job. They've come up with a great new biotech solution to the mess they've made of our oceans; "NUE" crops, as in "nitrogen use efficiency." These NUE crops are engineered to have roots that absorb more nitrogen, reportedly allowing farmers to "produce the same yield with half as much fertilizer."

I've got a better idea. Why don't we stop looking to the same corporations who have screwed up our environment to fix things? As Prince Charles told the Telegraph the other day, the multinational companies promoting the use of GM crops are conducting a "gigantic experiment I think with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong." Charles has predictably been labeled a luddite for daring to challenge "a system that is fundamentally flawed," as Grist puts it. But it's the Better-Living-Through-Biotech crowd who's just too blinkered to see the Big Picture -- you know, the one where all their brilliant breakthroughs come back to bite us on the ass.

There's the Roundup-resistant strain of super weeds Monsanto's helped create, for example, and let's not forget another great Monsanto innovation, Posilac, aka rBST, the bovine growth hormone designed to wring more milk out of our dairy cows. Unfortunately for Monsanto, cows are not sponges but, in fact, living, breathing creatures whose bodies aren't equipped to cope with the stepped-up production induced by artificial hormones.

Consumer rejection of rBST-tainted dairy products finally forced Monsanto to admit that it's looking to dump Posilac, but you can bet they've got any number of equally ill-conceived "breakthroughs" in the pipeline that promise to solve all the world's food crises. In fact, the Agribiz apologists will tell you that industrial agriculture is our only hope.

But as Frances Moore Lappé wrote on Huffington Post last week, the notion that we should be looking to Agribiz to feed the world is pernicious propaganda spread with the aid -- sometimes unwitting -- of a lazy and uninformed media. The story that's not getting out is the fact that farmers all over the world are finding new ways -- and reviving old ones -- to produce food without destroying our soil and water. As Lappé notes:

On every continent one can find empowered rural communities developing GM-free, agro-ecological farming systems. They're succeeding: The largest overview study, looking at farmers transitioning to sustainable practices in 57 countries, involving almost 13 million small farmers on almost 100 million acres, found after four years that average yields were up 79 percent.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bush/EPA air pollution rule is illegal

AP-A Bush administration rule barring states and local governments from requiring more air pollution monitoring is illegal, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out a two-year-old rule that may have allowed some refineries, power plants and factories to exceed pollution limits because the Environmental Protection Agency "failed to fix inadequate monitoring requirements ... and prohibited states and local authorities from doing so."

Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has required permits granted to facilities releasing more than 100 tons of any pollutant a year to include enough monitoring to ensure the company is meeting its emissions targets. Approximately 15,000 to 16,000 permits have been issued under the program, mostly by state and local pollution agencies.

"We can't have strong enforcement of our clean air laws unless we know what polluters are putting into the air," said Keri Powell, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, who sued the EPA on behalf of four environmental groups...

"Jellyfish and Chips"

From Independent.UK

...Professor Graeme Hays, the head of Environmental and Molecular Biosciences at Swansea University, is leading the project. He is an expert on sea turtles, which hunt jellyfish as their principal prey. "There is actually very little known about jellyfish despite the fact that jellyfish blooms may be increasing because of overfishing and climate change, which could have huge socio-economic impacts," he said.

Overfishing in particular allowed jellyfish to get a hold in an ecosystem and take it over, he said. This had been seen off the coast of Namibia and in the Black Sea, where fisheries had collapsed as jellyfish became more numerous than the fish themselves.

"This is a serious threat," Professor Hays said. "In 20 years' time we may be looking at jellyfish and chips, rather than fish and chips." The threat to swimmers was also growing. The stings of some species of jellyfish found in British waters, such as those of the lion's mane jellyfish, were capable of causing death. The project would allow a broad-scale assessment of the role of jellyfish in the Irish Sea ecosystem, he added.

Professor Hays and his Irish counterpart, Professor Tom Doyle, will attach data loggers – small devices which record information such as water temperature and depth – to the biggest species that is found in British waters, the barrel jellyfish, which can measure three feet across.

Once the animals die, it is hoped that the data loggers will be washed ashore and found by members of the public. Tests have shown that the idea is workable in practice.

The scientists hope that they may be able to work out management strategies for fish farms to avoid jellyfish problems, but they will look as well at the possibility of harvesting some jellyfish species as food. This is increasingly happening in Asia. They will also be assembling all the information necessary to treat incidents of stinging from different species.

*Barrel or rootmouth jellyfish

Rhizostoma octopus
The biggest jellyfish commonly found in British waters, up to a metre in diameter. Robust, with a spherical, solid, rubbery and largely white bell, fringed with purple. The bell lacks tentacles but eight thick, frilled arms hang down from the manubrium (the mouth and arms, underside and centre of bell). Harmless.

*Blue jellyfish

Cyanea lamarckii
Up to 30cm. Similar shape to the lion's mane, but smaller with a blue bell through which radial lines can be seen. Mild sting.

*Moon jellyfish

Aurelia aurita
Up to 40cm in diameter. Transparent, umbrella-shaped bell edged with short, hair-like tentacles. Recognised by the four distinct pale purple gonad rings in the bell. Manubrium bears four short, frilled arms. Mild sting.

*Compass jellyfish

Chrysaora hysoscella
Typically up to 30cm. Colour variable, but usually has pale umbrella-shaped bell with diagnostic brownish V-shaped markings, 32 marginal lobes and 24 long, thin tentacles. Four thick, frilled arms hang from the manubrium. Mild sting.

*Mauve stinger

Pelagia noctiluca
Up to 10cm. Has a deep bell with pink or mauve warts, 16 marginal lobes and eight marginal, hair-like tentacles. Manubrium bears four longer frilled arms with tiny pink spots. More serious sting.

*Lion's mane jellyfish

Cyanea capillata
Large, usually 50cm but can reach two metres in diameter. Large, reddish brown, umbrella-shaped bell with mass of long, thin hair-like tentacles as well as four short, thick, frilled and folded arms. Very virulent sting, capable of causing cardiac arrest.


Velella velella
Not a true jellyfish, but a floating hydranth. Up to 10cm long and blue-purple in colour. Upright sail and chitinous float are diagnostic, with a mass of small tentacles surrounding the mouth on the underside. Found in swarms. Harmless to humans.

*Portuguese Man-of-War

Physalia physalia
Not a true jellyfish, but a floating colony of hydrozoans. Oval-shaped, transparent float with crest. Blue-purple, with many hanging fishing polyps below that may be tens of metres long. Extremely dangerous. Rare in the UK but if found in numbers they should be reported.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Denmark's Energy Smarts

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN / New York Times

(I don't ususally think that much of what Friedman writes - but this was good - about how Denmark has adapted it's use of energy since 1973).

"Flush With Energy"

The Arctic Hotel in Ilulissat, Greenland, is a charming little place on the West Coast, but no one would ever confuse it for a Four Seasons — maybe a One Seasons. But when my wife and I walked back to our room after dinner the other night and turned down our dim hallway, the hall light went on. It was triggered by an energy-saving motion detector. Our toilet even had two different flushing powers depending on — how do I say this delicately — what exactly you’re flushing. A two-gear toilet! I’ve never found any of this at an American hotel. Oh, if only we could be as energy efficient as Greenland!

A day later, I flew back to Denmark. After appointments here in Copenhagen, I was riding in a car back to my hotel at the 6 p.m. rush hour. And boy, you knew it was rush hour because 50 percent of the traffic in every intersection was bicycles. That is roughly the percentage of Danes who use two-wheelers to go to and from work or school every day here. If I lived in a city that had dedicated bike lanes everywhere, including one to the airport, I’d go to work that way, too. It means less traffic, less pollution and less obesity.

What was most impressive about this day, though, was that it was raining. No matter. The Danes simply donned rain jackets and pants for biking. If only we could be as energy smart as Denmark!

Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than us and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

And did Danes suffer from their government shaping the market with energy taxes to stimulate innovations in clean power? In one word, said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s minister of climate and energy: “No.” It just forced them to innovate more — like the way Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills here.)

There is little whining here about Denmark having $10-a-gallon gasoline because of high energy taxes. The shaping of the market with high energy standards and taxes on fossil fuels by the Danish government has actually had “a positive impact on job creation,” added Hedegaard. “For example, the wind industry — it was nothing in the 1970s. Today, one-third of all terrestrial wind turbines in the world come from Denmark.” In the last 10 years, Denmark’s exports of energy efficiency products have tripled. Energy technology exports rose 8 percent in 2007 to more than $10.5 billion in 2006, compared with a 2 percent rise in 2007 for Danish exports as a whole.

“It is one of our fastest-growing export areas,” said Hedegaard. It is one reason that unemployment in Denmark today is 1.6 percent. In 1973, said Hedegaard, “we got 99 percent of our energy from the Middle East. Today it is zero.”

Frankly, when you compare how America has responded to the 1973 oil shock and how Denmark has responded, we look pathetic.

“I have observed that in all other countries, including in America, people are complaining about how prices of [gasoline] are going up,” Denmark’s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, told me. “The cure is not to reduce the price, but, on the contrary, to raise it even higher to break our addiction to oil. We are going to introduce a new tax reform in the direction of even higher taxation on energy and the revenue generated on that will be used to cut taxes on personal income — so we will improve incentives to work and improve incentives to save energy and develop renewable energy.”

Because it was smart taxes and incentives that spurred Danish energy companies to innovate, Ditlev Engel, the president of Vestas — Denmark’s and the world’s biggest wind turbine company — told me that he simply can’t understand how the U.S. Congress could have just failed to extend the production tax credits for wind development in America.

Why should you care?

“We’ve had 35 new competitors coming out of China in the last 18 months,” said Engel, “and not one out of the U.S.”

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Smog could postpone some Olympic events

From the Vancouver Sun

BEIJING -- The admission, the one the Chinese did not want to hear, finally came on Saturday.

The smog hanging over Beijing is getting so bad that the International Olympic Committee may have to consider postponing or shifting events.

That point hasn't been reached yet, but Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said Saturday that Beijing is "struggling at the moment to keep within the range of the weather conditions that they have committed for the quality for the athletes."

He said Beijing needs the luck of some wind and rain over the next few days to clear the inversion of bad air that is stuck over the city.

"A little bit of wind, a little bit of rain, can change the numbers significantly," he said.

"And I hope that bit of luck will also be part of the next few days."

No rain is forecast until Monday. By late Saturday afternoon, there was a slight breeze but not much of one.

"At the moment, the International Olympic Committee, (the Beijing organizing committee), and the whole Olympic movement are clearly watching the numbers," said Steiner.

"As you know, there has been a lot of talk about WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines, and about national standards. At the moment . . . the pollution levels have been increasing over the last few days but likely to stabilize.

"At this moment in time, the IOC is in charge of determining at what point an event might have to postponed or shifted."...

Energy pipeline... threatened by Russian/Georgia conflict/war

Robin Pagnamenta @ TimesUK

The conflict that has erupted in the Caucasus has set alarm bells ringing because of Georgia's pivotal role in the global energy market.

Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves of its own but it is a key transit point for oil from the Caspian and central Asia destined for Europe and the US.

Crucially, it is the only practical route from this increasingly important producer region that avoids both Russia and Iran.

The 1,770km (1,100 miles) Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which entered service only last year, pumps up to 1 million barrels of oil per day from Baku in Azerbaijan to Yumurtalik, Turkey, where it is loaded on to supertankers for delivery to Europe and the US. Around 249km of the route passes through Georgia, with parts running only 55km from South Ossetia.

The security of the BTC pipeline, depicted in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough, has been a primary concern since before its construction.

The first major attack on the pipeline took place only last week - not in Georgia but in Turkey where part of it was destroyed by PKK separatist rebels.

Output from the pipeline, which is 30 per cent owned by BP and carries more than 1 per cent of the world's supply, is likely to be on hold for several weeks while the fire is extinguished and the damage repaired.

But the threat of another attack by separatists in Georgia itself is very real.

Only a few days before the Turkish explosion, Georgian separatists threatened to sabotage the pipeline if hostilities continued.

The latest eruption of violence could easily spur fresh attacks. The BTC pipeline, which is buried throughout most of its length to make sabotage more difficult, was a politically highly charged project. It was firmly opposed by Russia, which views the Caucasus as its own sphere of influence and wants central Asian oil to be exported via its own territory.

Russia also backs the South Ossetian and Abkhazian separatists in Georgia and relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have curdled into outright hostility in recent months.

The BTC pipeline, which cost $3 billion to build, is a key plank of US foreign policy because it reduces Western reliance on oil from both the Middle East and Russia.

...Ethanol for $1 a Gallon, and Without Corn


A biofuel startup in Illinois can make ethanol from just about anything organic for less than $1 per gallon, and it wouldn't interfere with food supplies, company officials said.

Coskata, which is backed by General Motors and other investors, uses bacteria to convert almost any organic material, from corn husks (but not the corn itself) to municipal trash, into ethanol.

"It's not five years away, it's not 10 years away. It's affordable, and it's now," said Wes Bolsen, the company's vice president of business development.

The discovery underscores the rapid innovation under way in the race to make cellulosic ethanol cheaply. With the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requiring an almost five-fold increase in ethanol production to 36 billion gallons annually by 2022, scientists are working quickly to reach that breakthrough.

"It signals just how hot the competition is right now," said David Friedman, research director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "There are a lot of people diving into this right now, trying to figure out how to crack the nut. This increases my confidence that someone will do it."

Besides cutting production costs to fire sale prices, the process avoids some key drawbacks of making ethanol from corn, company officials said. It wouldn't impact the food supply, and its net energy balance is high because the technique works almost anywhere using almost anything with great efficiency. The end result will be E85 sold at the pump for about a dollar cheaper per gallon than gasoline, according to the company.

Coskata won't have a pilot plant running until this time next year, and it will produce just 40,000 gallons a year. Still, several experts said Coskata shows enough promise to leave them cautiously optimistic...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Leatherback Turtles Following Jellyfish to New England

The site Turtle Protection, Leatherbacks have a range up to the Arctic Circle, and "nest on the tropical beaches of the western Atlantic from the Caribbean northwards". Perhaps these were nesting females and that's the difference. They apparently don't usually come near the shore in that area. Jellyfish are their primary food.


University of New Hampshire researchers have tagged one male and two female leatherback turtles off Cape Cod. They are the first free-swimming leatherbacks ever tagged in New England.

The 700 - 800-pound leatherback turtles, an endangered species, were tagged July 17, 26 and 29 with GPS-linked satellite tags that transmit nearly real-time tracking data, allowing scientists to better understand these elusive, highly migratory giants to enhance their survivability.

"We investigators spent 20 years attempting to learn about these animals on the high seas and temperate ocean waters, with only slow progress," says UNH research associate professor Molly Lutcavage, director of UNH's Large Pelagics Research Center...

And, says Kara Dodge, the UNH Ph.D. student leading the tagging effort, the turtles are cooperating. "It's leatherback craziness this year," she says, noting that warmer water temperatures have brought an abundance of jellyfish, the primary food source for leatherbacks.

The $5,000 GPS-linked satellite tags Dodge and her colleagues, including Andy Myers, a postdoctoral researcher in the Large Pelagics Research Center (LPRC), are attaching to the leatherbacks aim to fill the knowledge gap on these elusive swimmers.

The tags transmit depth, water temperature and location information daily via satellite, allowing researchers to gain much-needed insight into the movement patterns of the sea turtles. Dodge is also analyzing the data as it relates to oceanographic conditions and jellyfish distribution...

Dodge has tracked the male, who was tagged July 17 about eight miles offshore in Nantucket Sound, to south of an area called the Canyons, off the continental shelf. He has traveled about 1100 kilometers in less than two weeks. "He just took off," she says. "I think it's a speed record."

The females, tagged July 26 and 29 in Vineyard Sound just eight miles southwest of Woods Hole, are swimming at a more leisurely pace; the first female is about 250 kilometers from where she was tagged and the second female swam about 65 kilometers between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Leatherback turtles, which can weigh up to 2000 pounds and are warm-bodied, like bluefin tuna, are the largest living reptiles in the world. The most migratory sea turtle species, they travel great distances through a wide range of water temperatures and to great depths.

In the western Atlantic, leatherbacks travel from their nesting grounds in the Caribbean, northern South America, and southeast Florida to the productive foraging ground of Atlantic Canada. Leatherbacks typically come to the waters off Cape Cod from July through October although, says Dodge, "we've never known whether they're coming to forage or just passing through."

Previous tagging efforts by Dodge, Myers and Lutcavage have focused on leatherbacks that have been entangled in buoy lines of fishing gear...

Off shore and away from their nesting areas, leatherback turtles have no natural predators except sharks and killer whales; entanglement in fishing gear, ingestion of marine debris and injuries from boat propellers are the major threats to their survival.

"Understanding where they travel and how they use the water column will help us mitigate these human interactions," says Dodge. Emerging research indicates that climate change likely has a large impact on the leatherback population, as well...

The tagging effort will continue off Cape Cod through September; Dodge hopes to tag nine more leatherbacks. In addition to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, this work is supported by the National Marine Fisheries Service Northeast Regional Office and the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Supermarket Chains Going Local

This is good news:

From the New York Times...

ONE of the biggest brand names in food this summer doesn’t carry a trademark. It’s the word “local,” which has entered the language as a powerful symbol of high quality and goodness.

Supermarkets are beginning to catch on that stocking corn and tomatoes grown nearby is not enough for customers. Now they are competing with farm stands and farmers’ markets for a wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

It’s been a boon for local farmers. Ten years ago local produce was devalued at the wholesale Hunts Point market, said Lyle Wells, whose family has been farming on Long Island since 1660. “Now you can’t get enough of the stuff.”

Last month Wal-Mart announced that it plans to spend $400 million this year on locally grown produce, making it the largest player in that market.

“When Wal-Mart makes a major effort to reach out to local food systems, it’s a major signal,” said Gus Schumacher Jr., a consultant to the nonprofit Kellogg Foundation and a former Massachusetts commissioner of food and agriculture, who has worked to introduce farmers to restaurateurs and retailers since the 1980s.

Some independently owned, small-to-medium-size chains have been selling extensive lines of local seasonal fruits and vegetables for years, lines they are now expanding.

For the largest supermarket chains, though, where for decades produce has meant truckloads transported primarily from the West Coast, it’s not always easy to switch to the farmer down the road.

But soaring transportation costs, not to mention the cachet customers attach to local food, have made it more attractive not just to supermarkets but to the agribusiness companies that supply them.

Growers like Dole and Nunes have contracted with farmers in the East to grow products like broccoli and leafy greens that they used to ship from the West Coast. Because of fuel costs, in some instances the cost of freight is more than the cost of the products.

“There is a huge shift,” said Brian Nicholson, an owner of Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, N.Y., who has also become a distributor for local farmers. “Wholesalers and retailers no longer say, I can get it cheaper from out West.”...

But not all chains are there yet. “The whole commercial value of local is just now being appreciated by retail,” said Bill Bishop, chairman of Willard Bishop, retail marketing consultants in Barrington, Ill. “It’s a little bit behind the curve.”...

Will Wedge, director of produce for the chain (Hannaford Brothers), said that in company surveys, “82 percent of all customers told us loud and clear, locally grown produce tastes better. We have over 200 farmers selling over 50 different commodities, primarily from June through September.”

Wegmans Food Markets, a 71-store chain based in New York with locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, has been buying from local farmers for the last 20 years. Today it has 800 farmers and has also experienced a 20 percent increase in sales of local produce over the past year. “There’s a real emotional connection with local,” said Dave Corsi, vice president for produce.

Mr. Corsi said that in order to buy from local farms, the chain had to stop acting like a chain. “We don’t control these relationships centrally — the produce manager in each store does this directly,” he said. “We only guide the stores.”

...Despite the difficulties, many in the food industry believe the demand for local food is here to stay. “It’s going to be a way of life,” said Matt Seeley, vice president for marketing of the Nunes Company, which sells Foxy brand vegetables. “I don’t think there is any turning back.”

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Stinging Tentacles Offer Hint of Oceans’ Decline"

From the New York Times

Blue patrol boats crisscross the swimming areas of beaches here with their huge nets skimming the water’s surface. The yellow flags that urge caution and the red flags that prohibit swimming because of risky currents are sometimes topped now with blue ones warning of a new danger: swarms of jellyfish.

In a period of hours during a day a couple of weeks ago, 300 people on Barcelona’s bustling beaches were treated for stings, and 11 were taken to hospitals.

From Spain to New York, to Australia, Japan and Hawaii, jellyfish are becoming more numerous and more widespread, and they are showing up in places where they have rarely been seen before, scientists say. The faceless marauders are stinging children blithely bathing on summer vacations, forcing beaches to close and clogging fishing nets.

But while jellyfish invasions are a nuisance to tourists and a hardship to fishermen, for scientists they are a source of more profound alarm, a signal of the declining health of the world’s oceans.

“These jellyfish near shore are a message the sea is sending us saying, ‘Look how badly you are treating me,’ ” said Dr. Josep-María Gili, a leading jellyfish expert, who has studied them at the Institute of Marine Sciences of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona for more than 20 years.

The explosion of jellyfish populations, scientists say, reflects a combination of severe overfishing of natural predators, like tuna, sharks and swordfish; rising sea temperatures caused in part by global warming; and pollution that has depleted oxygen levels in coastal shallows.

These problems are pronounced in the Mediterranean, a sea bounded by more than a dozen countries that rely on it for business and pleasure. Left unchecked in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, these problems could make the swarms of jellyfish menacing coastlines a grim vision of seas to come.

“The problem on the beach is a social problem,” said Dr. Gili, who talks with admiration of the “beauty” of the globular jellyfish. “We need to take care of it for our tourism industry. But the big problem is not on the beach. It’s what’s happening in the seas.”...

Within the past year, there have been beach closings because of jellyfish swarms on the Côte d’Azur in France, the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, and at Waikiki and Virginia Beach in the United States.

In Australia, more than 30,000 people were treated for stings last year, double the number in 2005. The rare but deadly Irukandji jellyfish is expanding its range in Australia’s warming waters, marine scientists say.

While no good global database exists on jellyfish populations, the increasing reports from around the world have convinced scientists that the trend is real, serious and climate-related, although they caution that jellyfish populations in any one place undergo year-to-year variation.

“Human-caused stresses, including global warming and overfishing, are encouraging jellyfish surpluses in many tourist destinations and productive fisheries,” according to the National Science Foundation, which is issuing a report on the phenomenon this fall and lists as problem areas Australia, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, the Black Sea, Namibia, Britain, the Mediterranean, the Sea of Japan and the Yangtze estuary.

In Barcelona, one of Spain’s most vibrant tourist destinations, city officials and the Catalan Water Agency have started fighting back, trying desperately to ensure that it is safe for swimmers to go back in the water.

Each morning, with the help of Dr. Gili’s team, boats monitor offshore jellyfish swarms, winds and currents to see if beaches are threatened and if closings are needed. They also check if jellyfish collection in the waters near the beaches is needed. Nearly 100 boats stand ready to help in an emergency, said Xavier Duran of the water agency. The constant squeal of Dr. Gili’s cellphone reflected his de facto role as Spain’s jellyfish control and command center. Calls came from all over....

In previous decades there were jellyfish problems for only a couple of days every few years; now the threat of jellyfish is a daily headache for local officials and is featured on the evening news. “In the past few years the dynamic has changed completely — the temperature is a little warmer,” Dr. Gili said.

Though the stuff of horror B- movies, jellyfish are hardly aggressors. They float haplessly with the currents. They discharge their venom automatically when they bump into something warm — a human body, for example — from poison-containing stingers on mantles, arms or long, threadlike tendrils, which can grow to be yards long.

Some, like the Portuguese man-of-war or the giant box jellyfish, can be deadly on contact. Pelagia noctiluca, common in the Mediterranean, delivers a painful sting producing a wound that lasts weeks, months or years, depending on the person and the amount of contact.

In the Mediterranean, overfishing of both large and small fish has left jellyfish with little competition for plankton, their food, and fewer predators. Unlike in Asia, where some jellyfish are eaten by people, here they have no economic or epicurean value.

The warmer seas and drier climate caused by global warming work to the jellyfish’s advantage, since nearly all jellyfish breed better and faster in warmer waters, according to Dr. Jennifer Purcell, a jellyfish expert at the Shannon Point Marine Center of Western Washington University.

Global warming has also reduced rainfall in temperate zones, researchers say, allowing the jellyfish to better approach the beaches. Rain runoff from land would normally slightly decrease the salinity of coastal waters, “creating a natural barrier that keeps the jellies from the coast,” Dr. Gili said.

Then there is pollution, which reduces oxygen levels and visibility in coastal waters. While other fish die in or avoid waters with low oxygen levels, many jellyfish can thrive in them. And while most fish have to see to catch their food, jellyfish, which filter food passively from the water, can dine in total darkness, according to Dr. Purcell’s research...

Francisco Antonio Padrós, a 77-year-old fisherman, swore mightily as he unloaded his catch one morning last weekend, pulling off dozens of jellyfish clinging to his nets and tossing them onto a dock. Removing a few shrimp, he said his nets were often “filled with more jellyfish than fish.”

By the end of the exercise his calloused hands were bright red and swollen to twice their normal size. “Right now I can’t tell if I have hands or not — they hurt, they’re numb, they itch,” he said.

Dr. Santiago Nogué, head of the toxicology unit at the largest hospital here, said that although 90 percent of stings healed in a week or two, many people’s still hurt and itched for months. He said he was now seeing 20 patients a year whose symptoms did not respond to any treatment at all, sometimes requiring surgery to remove the affected area.

The sea, however, has long been central to life in Barcelona, and that is unlikely to change. Recently when the beaches were closed, children on a breakwater collected jellyfish in a bucket. The next day, Antonio López, a diver, emerged from the water. “There are more every year — we saw hundreds offshore today,” he said. “You just have to learn how to handle the stings.”

Friday, August 01, 2008

"Small farming is the future"

From the Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer in Wonewoc and a policy fellow for the Food and Society Fellows Program.

....Have we finally hit the wall with our never-ending desire for "bigness"?

I decided years ago that I didn't want my farming operation to get bigger. I liked milking 45 cows, raising their feed and doing a little direct marketing. I liked being small.

"Hopelessly behind the times," I was told. Local cheese makers were giving up, local meat processing was a thing of the past.

Small farming was dead. The developing world couldn't feed itself and needed industrial farming systems.

Who could argue with the Green Revolution? Until the current food crisis. It's not so much a shortage of food, but a shortage of cheap food. The poor can't afford to eat and the middle class feels the pinch. Why wasn't industrial agriculture, farming fence row to fence row, feeding the world?

There's the rub -- feeding the world was never the intention. Back in the '70s well-meaning researchers and eager graduate students, myself included, were convinced we could eliminate hunger in our lifetime. We had good intentions, but the big picture was always about making a profit.

Farmers, using cheap fuel, fertilizer and plenty of chemicals, could plant more acres, produce enough volume and generally make a profit. This, of course, benefited the seed and chemical companies, which long ago figured out that small farmers saving their own seed and tending small acreages didn't spend much money.

The big meat packers and dairy processors anticipated the end of local processing. Their market share increased and they grew larger. By breaking the labor unions, they could pay lower wages, bring in immigrant workers, increase profits and grow even larger.

It was a grand plan. Agribusiness corporations were increasing profit margins quarter after quarter. The bigger they grew, the better it worked. Prices paid for animals, milk and grain fell as farms grew larger and produced more. Small farmers couldn't compete as per unit profit margins fell and only the larger producers could survive.

Oil prices went up and farmers were urged to grow more corn for ethanol. More land went into corn production, wheat acreage fell, speculation pushed prices up and food prices soared. The International Monetary Fund estimates that 50 percent of the increase in food price was due to ethanol production. Instead of feeding the world, industrial agriculture starves it.
While oil companies banked huge profits, people lost their homes, jobs and farms. We have become too dependent on globalization and the big corporations that control it.

Small is the future. We know indigenous farmers can produce more food using traditional farming methods. They have no need of genetically modified seed or chemicals. All they need is an end to wars and, as Frances Moore Lappe would say, "more democracy." The World Bank and the G-8 need to let them make their own decisions and feed themselves.

Western countries need to take a step back. We cannot continue to feed grass-eating animals a diet of grain, nor can we continue to fill our fuel tanks with grain. We cannot continue to encourage and subsidize industrial agriculture at the expense of small local producers.

What we can do is return to local and regional food production. We can allow the rest of the world to feed themselves by reining in the influence of multinational grain and chemical companies. We can redevelop local communities and keep local dollars local, rather than filling the coffers of offshore corporate bank accounts.

Accepting the value of "smallness" and living more locally is the solution. Embracing small and local addresses the failure of systems -- whether it is the failure of the globalized food system to embrace food sovereignty, the failure of capitalism and its penchant to move more wealth to those who already have more than enough, or the failure of an entire society that has based its existence on oil.

... We need to reclaim our sense of local and realize the necessity of being small and interdependent. We need to end thousands of years of thinking bigger is always better.