Wednesday, October 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 25, 2008

'Maude Barlow: The Al Gore of H2O"

by Erin Anderssen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In deep water

1.1 billion people have no access to clean drinking water.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Scientists confirm oceans acidifying at unprecedented speed"


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methane and Nitrogen Trifluoride on the Rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

EPA weakens new lead rule (Bush Admin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Forgotten Experiment May Explain Origins of Life"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Chinese Company Unveils Solar-Powered Car"

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 16, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Independent/UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bush Ad. Memos- on the ESA & Global Waming

Memos tell wildlife officials to ignore global-warming impact

WASHINGTON - New legal memos by top Bush administration officials say that the Endangered Species Act can't be used to protect animals and their habitats from climate change by regulating specific sources of greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of global warming.
The assessment, outlined in memos sent earlier this month and leaked Tuesday, provides the official legal justification for limiting protections under the Endangered Species Act.

One of the memos, from the Interior Department's top lawyer, concluded that emissions of greenhouse gases from any proposed project can't be proved to have an impact on species or habitat, so it isn't necessary for federal agencies to consult with government wildlife experts about the impact of such gases on species as stipulated under the Endangered Species Act.

The legal opinions about the Endangered Species Act come as the Bush administration seeks to change regulations to reduce the role that government wildlife experts have in protecting animals from the effects of climate change.

The administration proposed the changes in August. Tuesday was the last day for public comment. Public opposition was massive.

The August proposed changes would allow federal agencies to decide for themselves whether timber sales, dam building or other projects harm wildlife, in many cases without consulting with the agencies charged with administering the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Endangered Species Act prohibits any federal actions that would jeopardize the existence of a listed species or "adversely modify" critical habitats. The 1973 law has helped save species such as the bald eagle, the grizzly bear and the manatee.

"They are reinterpreting the law in ways many believe are unlawful," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, who was the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service during the Clinton administration and now is the executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife, a group that works to protect and restore wild animals and plants in their natural habitats.

Clark said career people weren't consulted... Clark said many federal agencies lacked the biological expertise to determine whether their projects harmed wildlife, but that the bigger issue was conflict of interest.

"When you have the Forest Service or the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or the Defense Department or whoever, they have a different primary mission," she said. The two wildlife services have knowledge about the species protected under the act and "they become the check and balance for the Forest Service in assessing the impacts of their timber cuts and so on."

John Kostyack of the National Wildlife Federation said the consultations were a cornerstone of the law. "Allowing federal agencies to forgo this process would put America's treasured plants, fish and wildlife at risk."

Thousands of Humbolt Squid in Westport, WA

In a "rare phenomenon" thousands of squid - some alive, many dead - washed up in Washington State. Usually living in waters off of Mexico and California - the 30-40 lb. squid probably road a warm current and got too cold up north.

Many fisherman caught them to use as bait. A few people caught live ones that they ate - fresh calimari.

Humbolt Squid - more victims of global warming.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Krugman wins Nobel prize for economics

The one economist I actually read on a regular basis.... yea for him!!!

The following seems to suggest that Krugman was biased against Paulson - as if the British handled things the exact same way. I suspect that there were differences - like the way Paulson wanted unlimited power with trillions of dollars...

From the Financial Times/UK:

The Nobel economics prize was awarded on Monday to Paul Krugman, one of the great popularisers of economic ideas and a trenchant critic of the Bush administration. However, the prize was awarded for work done almost three decades ago in developing what is known as “new trade theory” and “new economic geography”.

Earlier trade theories suggested that a country would trade with partners that were different – rich would trade with poor, and capital-intensive would trade with labour-intensive. In practice, rich countries tend to trade with other rich countries. Mr Krugman’s analysis showed why this was to be expected: many products were most efficiently produced by large companies, but consumers wanted variety and would buy products from foreign giants as well as the dominant domestic corporations.

Mr Krugman’s ideas on the importance of economies of scale could be traced back to Adam Smith, but the new ingredient was a usable mathematical description of what was going on.

Economic geography uses much the same mathematics to explain the location of jobs and businesses. Mr Krugman showed that the forces of globalisation, far from creating a “flat world”, could enhance the power of global cities such as New York and London, because those cities could increasingly do business with a global market.

Mr Krugman, a professor at Princeton University and a prominent columnist for the New York Times, has long been seen as a future Nobel laureate. He won the John Bates Clark medal for young economists in 1991.

Yet if the choice is not surprising, the timing – just before the US presidential election – might be. Mr Krugman is an influential and partisan political commentator. His columns, first in Slate magazine and then the New York Times, were at first clever refutations of popular misconceptions about trade protection or the “new economy”, but they have become far more notable for their stinging attacks on the Bush administration. He has recently criticised Hank Paulson, the US Treasury secretary, for mishandling the credit crisis, while praising the British government for being “willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions”. He also warned of the US housing bubble in 2005....

Among professional economists, Mr Krugman is admired for his work on currency crises as well as the work on trade that won the prize. Avinash Dixit, a Princeton colleague, once described Krugman’s methods: “He spots an important economic issue months or years before anyone else. Then he constructs a model of it, which offers new and unexpected insight. Soon the issue reaches general attention, and Krugman’s model is waiting for other economists to catch up.”

The 11th Hour

I saw the film The 11th Hour, last night at a showing in Bloomington.

I liked that it emphasized that people (esp. "Western" cultures) need to stop being at war with nature and think of ourselves as a part of it. (I think An Inconvenient Truth is more fact based about global warming - but this movie featured a lot of people who have been involved with the issues for a long time.) The movie showed/discussed lots of horrible things and then tried to empower people to do something about it.

It was interesting though - that one point of view is that the earth will go on - people may or may not. I think that there is comfort in that. If you think that the earth was put here for people to do whatever, "Be God's Image" - to dominate, etc. (some people's "Biblical" ideas) - they probably wouldn't like it. But if you love nature - I think it's somewhat comforting to figure that people are not the be all/end all of life. The way the ecosystems fit together seems like the real thing. If more people saw it like that - then maybe we wouldn't be destroying so many of them.

The 11th Hour Action Site

"Quote of the Week"

From the Energy Bulletin - Peak oil review - Oct 13

“Tightening credit and equity markets will slow the pace of investment [in expanded oil production] with smaller, independent producers and, potentially, several Russian operators seen as particularly at risk.”

Being the skeptic about our government that I am - I was wondering if there was something like this (and more) behind the financial crisis and bailout. If it was a problem with people not having money to pay their mortgages - then job programs and help for the people with the loans (refinance/better interest rates) would seem like the obvious fix. But I never figured that that was what it was about. That it would help the big oil companies is not a surprise.

Oh, and what do you know - many of the Wall Street type people think that all this means that we are supposed to put global warming on the back burner (as if that would cool it down).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Brooksley Born


The Woman Greenspan, Rubin & Summers Silenced

"Break the Glass" was the code-name high-level Treasury Department figures gave the $700 billion bailout; it was to be used only as a last- resort measure.

Now millions have been sprayed and damaged by broken glass.

But more than a decade ago, a woman you're likely never to have heard of, Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission-- a federal agency that regulates options and futures trading--was the oracle whose warnings about the dangerous boom in derivatives trading just might have averted the calamitous bust now engulfing the US and global markets. Instead she was met with scorn, condescension and outright anger by former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and his deputy Lawrence Summers. In fact, Greenspan, the man some affectionately called "The Oracle," spent his political capital cheerleading these disastrous financial instruments.

On Thursday, the New York Times ran a masterful and revealing front page article exposing the culpability of Greenspan, Rubin and Summers for the era of dangerous turbulence we live in.

What these "three marketeers" --as they were called in a 1999 Time magazine cover story--were adept at was peddling the timebombs at the heart of this complex crisis: exotic and opaque financial instruments known as derivatives--contracts intended to hedge against risk and whose values are derived from underlying assets. To cut to the quick, Greenspan, Rubin and Summers opposed regulating them. "Proposals to bring even minimalist regulation were basically rebuffed by Greenspan and various people in the Treasury," recalls Alan Blinder, a former Federal Reserve board member and economist at Princeton University, in the Times article.

In 1997, Brooksley Born warned in congressional testimony that unregulated trading in derivatives could "threaten our regulated markets or, indeed, our economy without any federal agency knowing about it." Born called for greater transparency--disclosure of trades and reserves as a buffer against losses.

Instead of heeding this oracle's warnings, Greenspan, Rubin & Summers rushed to silence her. As the Times story reveals, Born's wise warnings "incited fierce opposition" from Greenspan and Rubin who "concluded that merely discussing new rules threatened the derivatives market." Greenspan deployed condescension and told Born she didn't know what she doing and she'd cause a financial crisis. (A senior Commission director who worked with Born suggests that Greenspan and the guys didn't like her independence. " Brooksley was this woman who was not playing tennis with these guys and not having lunch with these guys. There was a little bit of the feeling that this woman was not of Wall Street.")

In early 1998, according to the Times story, one of the guys, Larry Summers, called Born to "chastise her for taking steps he said would lead to a financial crisis. But Born kept at it, unwilling to let arrogant men undermine her good judgment. But it got tougher out there. In June 1998, Greenspan, Rubin and the then head of the SEC, Arthur Levitt, Jr., called on Congress "to prevent Ms. Born from acting until more senior regulators developed their own recommendations." (Levitt now says he regrets that decision.) Months later, the huge hedge fund Long Term Capital Management nearly collapsed--confirming some of Born's warnings. (Bets on derivatives were a key reason.)

...If there is any accountability left in our system, Greenspan, Rubin and Summers should not be telling anyone how to run anything. Instead, Barack Obama might do well to bring back Brooksley Born and promote to his team economists who haven't contributed to the ugly mess we're in.

Quoting Emerson

From the New York Times...

IN the spring of 1837, a great depression afflicted the northeastern United States. All the banks in New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore suspended cash payments, as did many in Boston. Of the 850 banks in the United States, nearly half closed or partly failed. If the crisis of 2008 was caused by poor lending, the Panic of 1837, too, featured speculation and inflation.

The bank failures of 1837 were followed by high unemployment that lasted into 1843. Foreign over-investment (chiefly British) had augmented the bubble, which burst when the wily English pulled their money out. President Martin Van Buren, a Jacksonian Democrat, refused any government involvement in a bailout, and so was widely blamed for the panic. Van Buren was defeated in his re-election bid in 1840 by his Whig opponent, William Henry Harrison.

The similarities between the crashes of 1837 and 1929 are evident again today. I am not an economist or a political scientist, but having been born in 1930, I retain poignant early memories of the impact of the Great Depression upon my father, a working man who struggled to maintain a family with five children in a very hard time. I am a scholar of literature and religion, and would advise whoever becomes president to turn to Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose influential vision of America was deeply informed by the crisis of 1837:
I see a good in such emphatic and universal calamity as the times bring, that they dissatisfy me with society. Under common burdens we say there is much virtue in the world, and what evil co-exists is inevitable. I am not aroused to say, “I have sinned: I am in a gall of bitterness, and a bond of iniquity”; but when these full measures come, it then stands confessed — society has played out its last stake; it is checkmated. Young men have no hope. Adults stand like day laborers, idle on the streets. None calleth us to labor. The old wear no crown of warm life on their gray hairs. The present generation is bankrupt of principles and hope, as of property. I see man is not what man should be. He is the treadle of a wheel. He is a tassel at the apron string of society. He is a money chest. He is the servant of his belly. This is the causal bankruptcy, this is the cruel oppression, that the ideal should serve the actual, that the head should serve the feet. Then first, I am forced to inquire if the ideal might not also be tried. Is it to be taken for granted that it is impracticable? Behold the boasted world has come to nothing. Prudence itself is at her wits’ end.

Pride, and Thrift, and Expediency, who jeered and chirped and were so well pleased with themselves, and made merry with the dream, as they termed it, of Philosophy and Love, — behold they are all flat, and here is the Soul erect and unconquered still. What answer is it now to say, “It has always been so?” I acknowledge that, as far back as I can see the widening procession of humanity, the marchers are lame and blind and deaf; but to the soul that whole past is but one finite series in its infinite scope. Deteriorating ever and now desperate. Let me begin anew. Let me teach the finite to know its master. Let me ascend above my fate and work down upon my world.

...Emerson was electrified by financial storms. The depression beginning in 1837 spurred his famous oration at Harvard, “The American Scholar”:
The literature of the poor, the feelings of the child, the philosophy of the street, the meaning of the household life, are the topics of the time. It is a great stride. It is a sign — is it not? — of new vigor, when the extremities are made active, when currents of warm life run into the hands and feet .... Let me see every trifle bristling with the polarity that ranges it instantly on an eternal law; and the shop, the plow and the ledger referred to the like cause by which light undulates and poets sing.

That American cultural nationalism should have been stimulated by a banking disaster is a wholly Emersonian paradox. Another enigma is the direct link between the lingering financial crisis and Emerson’s formulation of his mature religious stance, crucially in his essay, “Self-Reliance,” of 1839-40:

Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim .... Why then do we prate of self-reliance? Inasmuch as the soul is present there will be power not confident but agent. To talk of reliance is a poor external way of speaking. Speak rather of that which relies because it works and it is. Who has more obedience than I masters me, though he should not raise his finger. Round him I must revolve by the gravitation of spirits. We fancy it rhetoric when we speak of eminent value. We do not yet see that virtue is height, and that a man or a company of men, plastic and permeable to principles, by the law of nature must overpower and ride all cities, nations, kings, rich men, poets, who are not.

By “self-reliance” Emerson meant the recognition of the god within us, rather than the worship of the Christian godhead (a deity that some Americans cannot always distinguish from themselves)...

As Emerson knew in his glory and sorrow, both of himself and all Americans:
“The wealth of the universe is for me. Every thing is explicable and practical for me .... I am defeated all the time; yet to victory I am born.”

Friday, October 10, 2008

Weeds likely to thrive.

WASHINGTON AP - If you can't stand global warming, get out of the tropics. While the most significant harm from climate change so far has been in the polar regions, tropical plants and animals may face an even greater threat, say scientists who studied conditions in Costa Rica.

"Many lowland tropical species could be in trouble," the team of researchers, led by Robert K. Colwell of the University of Connecticut, warns in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

"The tropics, in the popular view, are already hot, so how could global warming harm tropical species? We hope to put this concern on the conservation agenda," Colwell said.

That's because some tropical species, insects are an example, are living near their maximum temperatures already and warmer conditions could cause them to decline, Colwell explained.

"We chose the word 'attrition' to emphasize slow deterioration," he said. "How soon that will be evident enough for a consensus is difficult to say."

But the researchers estimated that a temperature increase of 5.8 degrees Fahrenheit (3.2 Celsius) over a century would make 53 percent of the 1,902 lowland tropical species they studied subject to attrition.

That doesn't mean today's jungles will one day be barren, however.

"'Tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Some species will thrive," Colwell said. "But they are likely to be those already adapted to stressful conditions," such as weeds.

What of the others?

There are few nearby cooler locations for tropical plants and animals fleeing rising temperatures.

In the tropics in particular, going up rather than out may be an answer.

That's because tropical species with small ranges would have to shift thousands of kilometers north or south to maintain their current climatic conditions. "Instead," Colwell said, "the most likely escape route in the tropics is to follow temperature zone shifts upward in elevation on tropical mountainsides."

For example, moving uphill, the researchers said, temperature declines between 9.4 degrees Fahrenheit (5.2 C) and 11.7 degrees (6.5 C) for every 3,280 feet (1,000 meters). To get a similar reduction moving north or south, species would have to travel more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers).

Of course moving won't work for everyone; species already living on mountaintops will have no place to climb....

"Ultraviolet radiation warning on unshaded eco lightbulbs"

Don't sit too close....

Health officials issued a warning over energy-saving lightbulbs yesterday after research showed that some types could potentially harm the skin and even raise the risk of cancer.

A study by the Health Protection Agency found that some unencapsulated fluorescent lightbulbs, which have a coil that is visible, emitted ultraviolet (UV) radiation above the recognised safety limits.

The agency urged people who work close to lamps to avoid spending more than an hour at a time within a foot (30cm) of such energy-saving bulbs. The warning was directed at those using desk lamps for long periods, such as jewellery makers, and others who might have lights close to their face, such as car mechanics.

John O'Hagan, a scientist at the HPA's Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, began tests on the lightbulbs after patient groups - including some people with the photosensitivity skin disease lupus - raised concerns about them.

Tests found high levels of UV-C radiation in nine of 53 unencapsulated lamps. But 20 encapsulated lamps - those having a cover hiding the bulb's coil - had emissions well within the guideline limits. The highest levels of UV radiation, at 2cm away from the bulbs, were equivalent to exposure in direct summer sunlight, the agency said. The research is to be published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry.

UV-C radiation is much more damaging to DNA than the more common UV-A or UV-B radiation. High-energy UV-C lamps are used in hospitals to kill bugs. "If a lamp produces UV-C even in small amounts it will cause DNA damage like a germicidal lamp," said Anthony Carr, director of the genome study centre at Sussex University.

The most immediate risk from the lightbulbs was a reddening of the skin similar to sunburn, but there was "also a small increased risk of skin cancer associated with this", the HPA said. It added that as only a small area of skin would be affected the risk was proportionately less than that carried by sunbathing....

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"Glowing Jellyfish Earns Nobel"

Yea for Aequorea Victoria! :)

Aequorea victoria, the jellyfish from which green fluorescent protein is derived. Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien won the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for taking the ability of the jellyfish to glow green and transforming it into a tool of molecular biology to watch the dance of living cells and the proteins within them. (photo from the NYT)
Research into the mysterious green glow of a jellyfish earned three scientists this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the Nobel Foundation announced Wednesday.

Osamu Shimomura of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Martin Chalfie of Columbia University; and Roger Tsien of the University of California at San Diego won for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein GFP.

Each will take a third of the prize.

GFP was first observed in 1962, in the crystal jellyfish which drifts with the currents off the west coast of North America.

Since then, the protein has become one of the most important tools in contemporary bioscience, the foundation said. Using GFP, researchers have developed ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, like the development of nerve cells or how cancer cells spread.

Osamu Shimomura, a Japanese citizen, was the first to isolate GFP from the crystal jellyfish, discovering that the protein glowed bright green under ultraviolet light.

American scientist Martin Chalfie demonstrated GFP's value as a luminous genetic tag in nature. One of Chalfie's first experiments, the foundation said, involved using GFP to color individual cells in a transparent roundworm.

Roger Tsien, also an American, extended the color palette beyond green. Researchers can now give various proteins and cells different colors, enabling them to follow different biological processes at the same time, the foundation said.

By using DNA technology, researchers can now connect GFP to other proteins that were previously invisible, or to various cells, the Nobel Foundation said. The glowing marker allows them to watch the movements, positions and interactions of whatever carries the glowing tag.

The Nobel Foundation said GFP can help with researching nerve cell damage during Alzheimer's disease or insulin-producing beta cells created in the pancreas of a growing embryo. In one spectacular experiment, researchers succeeded in tagging different nerve cells with "a kaleidoscope of colors" in the brain of a mouse, the foundation said.

_______________ A "Brainbow"

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Hidden Symmetries Between Elementary Particles

(NYT) An American and two Japanese physicists on Tuesday won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work exploring the hidden symmetries between elementary particles that are the deepest constituents of nature.

Yoichiro Nambu, of the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute, will receive half of the 10 million kroner prize (about $1.3 million) awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Makoto Kobayashi, of the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK) Tsukuba, Japan, and Toshihide Maskawa, of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics (YITP), Kyoto University, will each receive a quarter of the prize.

Ever since Galileo, physicists have been guided in their quest for the ultimate laws of nature by the search for symmetries, or properties of nature that appear the same under different circumstances.

However, in the 1960s, Dr. Nambu, who was born in Tokyo in 1921, suggested that some symmetries in the laws of nature might be hidden or “broken” in actual practice.

A pencil standing on its end, for example, is symmetrical but unstable and will wind up on the table pointing in only one direction or the other. The principle is now embedded in all of modern particle physics.

“You have to look for symmetries even when you can’t see them,” explained Michael Turner of the University of Chicago, who described his colleague as “the most humble man of all time.”

In 1972, Dr. Kobayashi and Dr. Maskawa, extending earlier work by the Italian physicist Nicola Cabibbo, showed that if there were three generations of the elementary particles called quarks, the constituents of protons and neutrons, this principle of symmetry breaking would explain a puzzling asymmetry known as CP violation. This was discovered in 1964 by the American physicists James Cronin and Val Fitch - a discovery that also won a Nobel prize.

C and P stand respectively for charge and parity, or “handedness.” Until then, physicists had naively assumed that if you exchanged positive for negative and left-handed and right-handed in the equations of elementary particles, you would get the same answer.

The fact that nature operates otherwise, physicists hope, is a step on the way to explaining why the universe is made of matter and not antimatter, one of the questions that the Large Hadron Collider, the new particle accelerator now preparing for operation, is designed to explore.

"Study: Insecticide decimates tadpoles"

(UPI) A U.S. study suggests the common insecticide malathion can decimate tadpole populations, killing them indirectly at doses too small to kill them directly.

University of Pittsburgh researchers wanted to determine the environmental impact of the use of malathion -- the most popular insecticide in the United States.

The scientists discovered gradual amounts of malathion that were too small to directly kill developing leopard frog tadpoles instead sparked a biological chain of events that deprived them of their primary food source -- bottom dwelling algae, or periphyton, which tadpoles eat.

"As a result, nearly half the tadpoles in the experiment did not reach maturity and would have died in nature," the researchers said.

The results of the National Science Foundation-funded research builds on a nine-year effort by Associate Professor Rick Relyea to determine whether there is a link between pesticides and the global decline in amphibians. Relyea said amphibians are considered an environmental indicator species because of their sensitivity to pollutants and their deaths might foreshadow the poisoning of other, less environmentally sensitive species -- including humans.

Relyea and study co-author Nicole Diecks report their research in the journal Ecological Applications.