Friday, January 30, 2009

"Exxon Mobil - Record Profits"

(AP) Exxon Mobil Corp. on Friday reported a profit of $45.2 billion for 2008, breaking its own record for a U.S. company, even as its fourth-quarter earnings fell 33 percent from a year ago.

The previous record for annual profit was $40.6 billion, which the world's largest publicly traded oil company set in 2007.

The extraordinary full-year profit wasn't a surprise given crude's triple-digit price for much of 2008, peaking near an unheard of $150 a barrel in July. Since then, however, prices have fallen roughly 70 percent amid a deepening global economic crisis.

In the fourth quarter alone crude tumbled 60 percent, prompting spending and job cuts in an industry that was reporting robust, often record, profits as recently as last summer....

The nation's second largest oil company, Chevron Corp., reported profits of $4.9 billion for the fourth quarter, though revenues slid 26 percent with oil prices in sharp decline.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Western US - Dying forests and lack of water for crops

Study: Western forests dying at increasing rate

(AP) Trees in old growth forests across the West are dying at a small, but increasing rate that scientists conclude is probably caused by longer and hotter summers from a changing climate.

While not noticeable to someone walking through the forests, the death rate is doubling every 17 to 29 years, according to a 52-year study published in the Friday edition of the journal Science. The trend was apparent in trees of all ages, species, and locations.

"If current trends continue, forests will become sparser over time," said lead author Phillip J. van Mantgem of the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Ecological Research Center.

"Eventually this will lead to decreasing tree size," he said. "This is important because it indicates future forests might store less carbon than present."

Old growth forests, particularly those in the Northwest, store large amounts of carbon, making them a resource in combatting global warming, said Jerry Franklin, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Washington. But as trees die, they decompose and give off carbon dioxide, contributing to the amount of greenhouse gases. Young forests store very little carbon, and it takes hundreds of years to replace old growth, he said.

The researchers considered several other possible causes for the higher death rate — air pollution, overcrowding of young trees, the effects of logging, large trees falling on small ones, and a lack of forest fires, which keep forests healthy. But the data showed the trend affected trees young and old, in polluted and clean air, in crowded and sparse stands and at different elevations.

The likely cause, they concluded, was warmer average temperature across the West, about 1 degree over the study period, said co-author Nathan L. Stephenson, also of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. That results in greater stress on the trees from lack of water, leaving them vulnerable to disease and insects.

Stephenson said the rising death rate could also produce a cascading decline in forests that leads to less habitat for fish and wildlife, an increased risk of wildfires, and a vulnerability to sudden forest die-offs.

Meanwhile: Calif. farmers slash planting to cope with drought

(AP) Some of the nation's largest farms plan to cut back on planting this spring over concerns that federal water supplies will dry up as officials deal with the drought plaguing California.

Farmers in the Central Valley said Thursday they would forego planting thousands of acres of water-thirsty canning tomatoes and already have started slashing acreage for lettuce and melons.

As growers in Fresno and Kings counties prepared to sow their dry fields with tomato seeds this week, the giant water district that supplies the irrigation for their sprinklers warned them to think again.

Computer models of the state's parched reservoirs and this year's patchy snowfall showed shortages so extreme that federal officials could slash supplies down to zero, managers at the Westlands Water District told their members in an emergency conference call.

"We thought it was important to talk to our growers so they can make important planting decisions," said Sarah Woolf, a spokeswoman for Westlands, the coalition of giant agribusinesses in the state's fertile interior.

Officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Water Resources plan to announce next month how much water they'll speed to farms and cities.

But farmers say that's too late, since they need to decide what to plant now, as they negotiate with banks for crop loans. Growers who are struggling to revive shriveled vines and dying trees say they're panicked at the thought of having to solely rely on well water of dubious quality.

"It's ugly," said Shawn Coburn, who grows 1,000 acres of almonds in Fresno County. "I've heard from probably eight to 10 guys whose lines of credit are frozen until they can show they have water."

Living Without (central) Heat (in Japan)

I thought it was worth noting these posts about Japanese kotatsus.

I saw at Adapting In Place a reference to kotatsus that Sean Sakamoto from I'd Rather Be...In Japan describes at the No Impact Man blog.

...It's been four months, now, and we're in the dead of winter. We live in a rural village. Our apartment is concrete with no insulation. My breath clouds the air; it condenses on the windows and turns into a sheet of ice. I wear a wool cap to bed, to breakfast, and everywhere else. I've always thought that it's just not supposed to be cold inside, but as far as the Japanese are concerned, I thought wrong.

Like the fish for breakfast, I've adapted to the situation much faster than I expected. As is usual for me with most things I used to dread, I've even come to see some great benefits my new situation. There is an upside to having a freezing cold home. The best part about it is a something called a kotatsu.

The kotatsu is a low table with a small electric heater underneath. There's at least one in every home (that's my wife and little boy sitting at one in the photo). The top of the table lifts off, and a quilt goes over the legs. Then you put the top back on. Everyone sits around the table with the quilt over their laps, and the heat keeps your lower body warm. It's cozy, like sitting by the fire.

Because the rest of the house is freezing, the kotatsu gets a lot of action. It's the first place I go in the morning, and the last place I leave at night. We eat at the kotatsu. We enjoy nabe, long family meals with a pot of boiling water on a portable burner. We dip meat, veggies, and noodles into the pot and then scoop them onto bowls of rice. The boiling water heats the room, and the hot meat and veggies taste great.

When we're not eating, we play board games around the kotatsu, or just sit quietly and listen to music...

We're not alone. Part of what makes this situation bearable is that everyone does it. We're not making some sacrifice that everyone else forgoes. I have no one nearby to envy. At the high school where I teach English, all the students and teachers have a kotatsu at home, they each bring a hot water bottle to bed, and they all wake up to the same freezing cold air. We're all in it together, and I'm the only person who even knows anything different.

There's another reason I appreciate this new experience, too. It is what the Japanese call "Gaman." It means "endure," or "tolerate" but there's more to it than that. It ascribes value to enduring something difficult. To Gaman is a principle, its a virtue. It's a cross between hanging in there and fighting the good fight.

There are times when gaman is a pain. Sometimes enduring hardship as a virtue when the situation could just as easily be made more comfortable seems nuts. But as a cultural value, doing your best and enduring hardship is refreshing. I won't speak for other Americans, but my experience has often leaned too far the other way when it comes to putting up with difficulty without complaint.

I would find this hard to adjust to. Of course we might all be doing such adjustments whether we like it or not.

It is so interesting to me because everyone I know takes heating our homes so much for granted. At least to 60 or so. I go around with a blanket around me most of the time as it is - what with it being 10 degrees (F.) outside or so.

I think that time spent in the bathroom would be the most difficult. At least with cooking - one might have a fire on. Sleeping can be cozy enough with blankets piled on.

Actually - much of the waking time we are home is spent sitting around either doing something or other on a computer, watching TV, reading or eating. All which could be done around a kotatsu.

No Impact Man mentions, the greenhouse gas emissions per Japanese citizen is only 40% of the average American's.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"A billion frogs on world's plates"

From the BBC:

Up to one billion frogs are taken from the wild for human consumption each year, according to a new study.

Researchers arrived at this conclusion by analysing UN trade data, although they acknowledge there is a lot of uncertainty in the figure.

France and the US are the two biggest importers, with significant consumption in several East Asian nations.

About one-third of all amphibians are listed as threatened species, with habitat loss the biggest factor.

But hunting is acknowledged as another important driver for some species, along with climate change, pollution and disease - notably the fungal condition chytridiomycosis which has brought rapid extinctions to some amphibians.

The new research, to be published in a forthcoming edition of the journal Conservation Biology, suggests that the global trade in wild frogs has been underestimated in the past.

"Frogs legs are on the menu at school cafeterias in Europe, market stalls and dinner tables across Asia to high end restaurants throughout the world," said Corey Bradshaw from Adelaide University in Australia.

"Amphibians are already the most threatened animal group yet assessed because of disease, habitat loss and climate change - man's massive appetite for their legs is not helping."

Amphibians are farmed for food in some countries but these animals are not included in the new analysis.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In with the new

Yesterday felt more like a new beginning than New Year's Day. Just having Bush out of office (I had to keep reminding myself that he really was out) was great. Having Obama in (someone who could unite at least the sensible people in this country / make positive change) was wonderful. (People who believe the right-wing lies won't be on board).

As for myself - I went dancing. It was fun to dress up and to see lots of people I know (and lots that I don't know) out there celebrating. We had our own inaugural ball.

I don't expect everything to be perfect - but there is a lot more hope than we've had for a long time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

"Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Some quotes:

"There is also purpose in life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man's attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces." p.106

"A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how." p.127

"The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected." p.157

"Logotherapy...considers man as a being whose main concern consists in fulfilling a meaning and in actualizing values, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts." p.164

"What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him." p.166

"What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment." p.171

This book, which has been around for awhile, seems like something I would have read. But no. I listened to it recently while driving and I was very impressed with the ideas. I agree with the essential premise - that people need something in life to look forward to - some kind of goal. It helps if a person thinks that it matters whether one continues to live or not. Whether it be because of contributions to the world of some kind or as a help to family or others or both.

I don't know if heaven is that for some people (the future goal that they need). Heaven is too abstract and unknowable for me. I prefer to have goals here on earth.

The idea that the earth is going downhill - that it is deteriorating due to humanity's (esp. 'well off' humanity) consumption can make the idea of the future problematic. I think it helps to be organic gardening and working on positive things. To have hope that enough people want to improve the situation.

I agree with Frankl about the attitude thing as well. He talks about how much a difference one point of view makes. I don't think he would think that people should ignore problems - but he did have various examples of how the way people think about a certain things can create meaning as opposed to despair.

Much of the book discusses his time in German Concentration Camps. He had a book that he wanted to publish. And he had family that he hoped were still alive (most of them were not). Those things helped him get through.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

United Arab Emirates Working on Clean Energy

This is nice to hear about.

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL in the New York Times

With one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world, these oil-rich emirates would seem an unlikely place for a green revolution.

Gasoline sells for 45 cents a gallon. There is little public transportation and no recycling. Residents drive between air-conditioned apartments and air-conditioned malls, which are lighted 24/7.

Still, the region’s leaders know energy and money, having built their wealth on oil. They understand that oil is a finite resource, vulnerable to competition from new energy sources.

So even as President-elect Barack Obama talks about promoting green jobs as America’s route out of recession, gulf states, including the emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are making a concerted push to become the Silicon Valley of alternative energy.

They are aggressively pouring billions of dollars made in the oil fields into new green technologies. They are establishing billion-dollar clean-technology investment funds. And they are putting millions of dollars behind research projects at universities from California to Boston to London, and setting up green research parks at home.

“Abu Dhabi is an oil-exporting country, and we want to become an energy-exporting country, and to do that we need to excel at the newer forms of energy,” said Khaled Awad, a director of Masdar, a futuristic zero-carbon city and a research park that has an affiliation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that is rising from the desert on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.

These are long-term investments in an alternative energy future that neither falling oil prices nor the global downturn seems likely to reverse. Even as the local real estate market is foundering, leaders in politics, business and research from across the globe will flock to this distant kingdom for three days starting Monday for the second World Future Energy Summit, which just one year after its inception here has become something of a Davos gathering on renewable energy.

This year’s guest list includes a former British prime minister, Tony Blair, and the European Union energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, as well as the oil and gas ministers of Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. In attendance will also be executives representing hundreds of companies, large and small, from BP and Credit Suisse to dozens of start-up companies from Europe and the United States....

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The "Shock Doctine" by Naomi Klein

I've been reading the Shock Doctrine lately. I had read parts earlier - but I finally got around to buying it over break (I had gotten a Christian Self-Help book in a blind gift exchange and I was able to exchange it for the book I wanted at Barnes and Nobles.)

I had seen where several people had said that it was the most important book that they had read. I had read "Confessions of an Economic Hitman" which covered some of the stuff with the CIA, but Klein's book lays out especially how people in the W. Bush Administration had been involved with forcing Friedman's "free market" ideas on various countries since the seventies.

Klein matter of factly describes how the "free market" is freedom for the rich and the multinationals to exploit resources and labor in various countries. And that it doesn't work where people can vote for their interests - because the system that is put in place is not in the interests of the majority of people in the countries.

Various Latin American countries, like Chile and Argentina, have been "shocked" into accepting the "free market". Generally people who would lead others to insist on their rights are tortured and/or killed. Klein also mentions Indonesia under Sudharto and the transitions that occurred in Poland and Russia.

I'm now reading about Iraq. I think what a lot of people (in the US) don't get about the people in Iraq fighting for their country against the US is that the US was and is trying to do their best to get the oil into the hands of American and British Oil companies. What had worked in the past - going in and traumatising a country didn't work in Iraq - perhaps because they were already traumatized. The Iraqis were probably resistant to it - what with Saddam plus living under sanctions.

Putting so many Iraqis out of work - out of their State sponsored jobs - freed them up to fight. The torture and killing strengthened their resolve instead of incapacitating them.

The so called "free trade" mentality, besides violating human rights is also in direct opposition to the environment. The only vision is for the multinationals - the executives and stock holders to make huge profits. Which means more and more people consuming whatever it is they are making. Which means more resources being used, more pollution being created. Regulations- environmental or otherwise - are taboos of their "religion".

There is certainly no concern for sustainability - or of making lasting products. The more disposable the better. And the toxic by-products and waste when the old things are replaced goes into the oceans (where the so-called Pirates are doing what they can to save their waters), or shipped to Africa - to create toxic landfills.

It's not a happy thing to be part of a country that has been doing this. There is the hope that with Obama will come improvements. He has appointed people into positions that matter who oppose torture- so there won't be lawyers making lame excuses for it, anymore. It will remain to be seen if he will give Iraq back to the Iraqis. And whether he ends up using the CIA and/or military to force "free trade" on anyone.

Meanwhile Israel has been bombing Gaza and seem more determined than usual. They seem to be taking advantage of this time before Obama is inaugurated -while Bush is doing nothing (not that he did much good, anyway - but perhaps there is the mentality that nothing is expected).

Thursday, January 08, 2009

"Crops absorb livestock antibiotics"

By Matthew Cimitile
Environmental Health News

For half a century, meat producers have fed antibiotics to farm animals to increase their growth and stave off infections. Now scientists have discovered that those drugs are sprouting up in unexpected places.

Vegetables such as corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when grown in soil fertilized with livestock manure, according to tests conducted at the University of Minnesota.

Today, close to 70 percent of the total antibiotics and related drugs produced in the United States are fed to cattle, pigs and poultry, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Although this practice sustains a growing demand for meat, it also generates public health fears associated with the expanding presence of antibiotics in the food chain.

People have long been exposed to antibiotics in meat and milk. Now, the new research shows that they also may be ingesting them from vegetables, perhaps even ones grown on organic farms.

The Minnesota researchers planted corn, green onion and cabbage in manure-treated soil in 2005 to evaluate the environmental impacts of feeding antibiotics to livestock. Six weeks later, the crops were analyzed and found to absorb chlortetracycline, a drug widely used to treat diseases in livestock. In another study in 2007, corn, lettuce and potato were planted in soil treated with liquid hog manure. They, too, accumulated concentrations of an antibiotic, named Sulfamethazine, also commonly used in livestock.

As the amount of antibiotics in the soil increased, so too did the levels taken up by the corn, potatoes and other plants.
“Around 90 percent of these drugs that are administered to animals end up being excreted either as urine or manure,” said Holly Dolliver, a member of the Minnesota research team and now a professor of crop and soil sciences at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. “A vast majority of that manure is then used as an important input for 9.2 million hectares of (U.S.) agricultural land.”

Manure, widely used as a substitute for chemical fertilizer, adds nutrients that help plants grow. It is often used in organic farming.

The scientists found that although their crops were only propagated in greenhouses for six weeks--far less than a normal growing season--antibiotics were absorbed readily into their leaves. If grown for a full season, drugs most likely would find their way into parts of plants that humans eat, said Dolliver.

Less than 0.1 percent of antibiotics applied to soil were absorbed into the corn, lettuce and other plants. Though a tiny amount, health implications for people consuming such small, cumulative doses are largely unknown.

“The antibiotic accumulation in plants is just another negative consequence of our animal agriculture industry and not surprising given the quantity fed to livestock,” said Steve Roach, public health program director for the non-profit Food Animal Concerns Trust.

For highly processed plants such as corn, the drugs would most likely be removed, added Dolliver. But many food crops such as spinach and lettuce are not processed, only washed, allowing antibiotics to remain.

“Nobody particularly eats corn or soybean directly,” said Satish Gupta, a University of Minnesota professor of soil science and study leader. “But there are crops I am much more worried about, like cabbage and lettuce, because these are leaves we eat directly and consume raw.”

One finding that particularly worries food scientists is the accumulation of antibiotics within potato tubers. Tubers are an enlarged, underground stem that uptake and store nutrients from the soil. In crops like potatoes, carrots and radishes, it is the part humans eat.

“Since these tubers and root crops are in direct contact with the soil they may show a greater propensity for (antibiotic) uptake,” said Gupta.

Health officials fear that eating vegetables and meat laced with drugs meant to treat infections can promote resistant strains of bacteria in food and the environment.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Pacific Ocean National Monuments

While environmentalists appreciate it - I don't know how altruistic Bush's intent was... the military angle may have been his main objective.

Bush said the benefits of the monuments reached beyond nature.
"The monuments will preserve sites of cultural and spiritual significance to native peoples," he said.
"They will ensure full freedom of navigation, and include measures to uphold training missions and other military operations."

President Bush on Tuesday established three new national monuments in the Pacific Ocean, setting aside for permanent protection pristine coral reefs, the world's deepest underwater canyon and marine environments teeming with tropical fish, sea turtles, manta rays and giant clams.

Ranging from the seven-mile-deep Mariana Trench near Guam to the tiny Palmyra Atoll 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, the new monuments are spread out across the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the California coast.
But despite their remoteness, they have close links with Bay Area marine scientists, who cheered the news...

The move follows a similar action by Bush in 2006 to establish a new monument in the northern Hawaiian islands...

Bush established the three monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, a law that allows presidents to set aside areas without approval from Congress. Commercial fishing, oil drilling, mining and waste dumping will now be prohibited there...

The three monuments are:

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, near Guam, which includes the world's deepest point, at 36,201 feet deep, and its surrounding undersea volcanoes and thermal vents.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which is made up of seven areas to the south and west of Hawaii: Palmyra Atoll, Wake Island, Kingman Reef, and Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands, along with Johnston Atoll, a key habitat for Hawaiian monk seals, and famous for nuclear weapons tests in early 1960s.

The Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, a diamond-shaped island east of American Samoa that includes rare species of nesting petrels, shearwaters and terns, along with giant clams, reef sharks and rose-colored corals.

The United States has jurisdiction over fishing and other commercial rules in the areas because all the islands are U.S. territories.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

More About Somalia

This sounds like another Bush/CIA Shock Therapy project (read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine for more about that).

From the

In 2006, the Bush administration supported an alliance of Somali warlords known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that established a base of operations in the western city of Baidoa. With the help of the Ethiopian army, western mercenaries, US Navy warships, and AC-130 gunships; the TFG captured Mogadishu and forced the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) to retreat to the south. Since then the resistance has coalesced into a tenacious guerrilla army that has recaptured most of the country.

The Bush administration invoked the war on terror to justify its involvement in Somalia, but their case was weak and full of inconsistencies. The ICU is not an Al Qaida affiliate or a terrorist organization despite the claims of the State Department. In fact, the ICU brought a high level of peace and stability to Somalia that hadn't been seen for more than sixteen years.

Political analyst James Petras summed it up like this:

“The ICU was a relatively honest administration, which ended warlord corruption and extortion. Personal safety and property were protected, ending arbitrary seizures and kidnappings by warlords and their armed thugs. The ICU is a broad multi-tendency movement that includes moderates and radical Islamists, civilian politicians and armed fighters, liberals and populists, electoralists and authoritarians. Most important, the Courts succeeded in unifying the country and creating some semblance of nationhood, overcoming clan fragmentation.”

The Bush administration is mainly interested in oil and geopolitics. According to most estimates 30 per cent of America's oil will come from Africa within the next ten years. That means the Pentagon will have to extend its tentacles across the continent. Washington's allies in the TFG promised to pass oil laws that would allow foreign oil companies to return to Somalia, but now all of that is uncertain. It is impossible to know what type of government will emerge from the present conflict. Many pundits expect Somalia to descend into terrorist-breeding, failed state for years to come.

The latest round of fighting has created a humanitarian disaster. 1.3 million people have been forced from their homes with nothing more than what they can carry on their backs. Over 3.5 million people are now huddled in tent cities in the south with little food, clean water or medical supplies.

According to the UN News Center: "Nearly half the population is in crisis or need of assistance....Continuing instability, coupled with drought, high food prices and the collapse of the local currency have only worsened the dire humanitarian situation in recent months. The UN estimates that 40 per cent of the population, are in need of assistance. In addition, one in six children under the age of five in southern and central Somalia is currently acutely malnourished." (UN News Center)

Toxic Dumping & (So-called) Pirates

Even the Jellyfish won't survive this sort of thing. Radioactive waste, etc.

The main media only talks of pirates - not that the people are trying to stop toxic dumping.

Apparently, European, US and Asian shipping firms made some kind of agreement in the early 1990s with Somalia's politicians and militia leaders. So they figure it is their dumping ground. The citizens of Somalia don't see it that way.

While the hijackings have been described as the work of criminals, (UN) officials admit the problem of waste dumped off the coast of Somalia may be a reason why ships have been commandeered.

In September, a Ukrainian freighter with Russian tanks on board, anti-aircraft guns and heavy weaponry was seized by Somali pirates and ransom negotiations are ongoing.

From the BBC:

...You know, our problem is not piracy. It is illegal dumping.

These problems have been going for sometime and the world knows about it. The Americans have been here in the region for a long time now - they know about the pollution.

Instead, no, the world is only talking about the pirates and the money involved.

Meanwhile, there has been something else going on and it has been going on for years. There are many dumpings made in our sea, so much rubbish.

It is dumped in our seas and it washes up on our coastline and spreads into our area.

A few nights ago, some tanks came out from the high sea and they cracked it seems and now they are leaking into the water and into the air.

The first people fell ill yesterday afternoon. People are reporting mysterious illnesses; they are talking about it as though it were chicken pox - but it is not exactly like that either. Their skin is bad. They are sneezing, coughing and vomiting.

This is the first time it has been like this; that people have such very, very bad sickness.

The people who have these symptoms are the ones who wake early, before it is light, and herd their livestock to the shore to graze. The animals are sick from drinking the water and the people who washed in the water are now suffering.

From BSN

The escapades of Somali pirates made headlines last week. But the media has ignored the injustice behind the phenomenon.

When the Asian tsunami of Christmas 2005 washed ashore on the east coast of Africa, it uncovered a great scandal.

Tons of radioactive waste and toxic chemicals drifted onto the beaches after the giant wave dislodged them from the sea bed off Somalia. Tens of thousands of Somalis fell ill after coming into contact with this cocktail. They complained to the United Nations (UN), which began an investigation. "There are reports from villagers of a wide range of medical problems such as mouth bleeds, abdominal hemorrhages, unusual skin disorders and breathing difficulties," the UN noted.

Some 300 people are believed to have died from the poisonous chemicals. Many European, US and Asian shipping firms – notably Switzerland’s Achair Partners and Italy’s Progresso – signed dumping deals in the early 1990s with Somalia’s politicians and militia leaders.

This meant they could use the coast as a toxic dumping ground. This practice became widespread as the country descended into civil war. Nick Nuttall of the UN Environment Program said, "European companies found it was very cheap to get rid of the waste.

"It cost as little as £1.70 a ton, whereas waste disposal costs in Europe was something like £670 a ton. "And the waste is of many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, hospital wastes, chemical wastes – you name it."

But despite the evidence uncovered by the tsunami, an investigation into the practice of toxic dumping was dropped. There was no compensation and no clean up. In 2006 Somali fishermen complained to the UN that foreign fishing fleets were using the breakdown of the state to plunder their fish stocks. These foreign fleets often recruited Somali militias to intimidate local fishermen.

Despite repeated requests, the UN refused to act. Meanwhile the warships of global powers that patrol the strategically important Gulf of Aden did not sink or seize any vessels dumping toxic chemicals off the coast.

So angry Somalis, whose waters were being poisoned and whose livelihoods were threatened, took matters into their own hands. Fishermen began to arm themselves and attempted to act as unofficial coastguards. They began to seize ships in late 2005. These were released after a ransom was paid. Among them were cargo vessels, luxury cruise liners and tuna fishing boats.

Januna Ali Jama, a Somali pirate leader, explained that their actions were motivated by attempts to stop the toxic dumping. He said that the £5.4 million ransom they demanded for the return of a Ukrainian ship would go towards cleaning up the mess.

Ali Jama said the pirates were "reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years. "The Somali coastline has been destroyed. We believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

"Slowdown of coral growth extremely worrying"

Coral growth across the Great Barrier Reef has suffered a "severe and sudden" slowdown since 1990 that is unprecedented in the last four centuries, according to scientists.

The researchers analysed the growth rates of 328 coral colonies on 69 individual reefs that make up the 1,250 mile-long Great Barrier Reef, off north-east Australia. They found that the rate at which the corals were laying down calcium in their skeletons dropped by 14.2% between 1990 and 2005.

Corals around the world are severely threatened by coastal pollution, warming seas and over-exploitation, but the most probable explanation for the drop in the growth rate of the corals' calcium carbonate skeletons is acidification of the water due to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. More acid water makes it more difficult for the coral polyps to grab the minerals they need to build their skeletons from the sea water.

"Our data shows that growth and calcification of massive Porites in the GBR [Great Barrier Reef] are already declining and are doing so at a rate unprecedented in coral records reaching back 400 years," wrote Dr Glenn De'ath from the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, Queensland, and his colleagues in the journal Science. "Verification of the causes of this decline should be made a high priority."

Porites corals can be centuries old and grow into 6m tall mounds. Rather like a tree ring, each year's growth is visible as a band, so by drilling into the corals the scientists could examine the extent of growth in specific years. The team used x-rays and a technique called gamma densitometry to measure annual growth and skeletal density, which then allowed them to calculate the amount of calcification annually. They found that the calcification rate rose 5.4% between 1900 and 1970, but this dropped by 14.2% between 1990 and 2005. The drop was mainly due to a growth slowdown from 1.43cm a year to 1.24cm. The researchers measured the same effect in both nearshore and offshore reefs, suggesting it is not due to pollution from the land.

"Climate Change Forcing Penguins North?"

Warm ocean currents may have confused some 2,500 penguins from Argentina's Patagonia region that washed up -- dead and alive -- on Brazil's northern coast.

About half the penguins that were found on Brazilian beaches in October were dead, and the others were starving and in very bad shape, said Valeria Ruoppolo, an emergency veterinarian with the International Federation for Animal Welfare (IFAW), in Sao Paulo, who coordinated the rescue of many of the penguins.

"Of the live ones, about 50 percent survived," Ruoppolo told Tierramérica.

Magellan penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) live in relatively warmer climates than other penguin species, and breed and nest in burrows in the southern hemisphere spring and summer, from October to February, in southern Chile and Argentina, in a temperate and dry climate.

They travel out to sea during the winter, from March to September, to follow anchovies, their favourite food, in order to fatten up.

Juveniles also migrate north. This year, about 2,500 disoriented juvenile penguins traveled more than 2,500 kilometres beyond the normal point, coming ashore in Salvador, in Bahia state, 1,400 kilometres north of Sao Paulo, to the amazement of beachgoers. The penguins were rescued by IFAW and the Centre for Marine Animal Recovery, with help from other organisations and Brazilian environmental authorities.

After months of care and feeding, the 372 surviving penguins were banded and loaded onto a C-130 Hercules military plane and transported to Cassino Beach, in Pelotas, in southern Brazil.

After an overnight rest, they were released into the South Atlantic ocean, along with a few other rescued adult penguins, with the hope that they would guide the younger ones safely home to Patagonia.

About 200 people cheered them on as they waded into the surf. It was the largest penguin rescue on record, a success for animal welfare experts -- but a terrible omen for the penguin population.

"We always have a few strandings here and there. In 1994 and 2000 we had big strandings. But not like this year. More than 2,000 penguins is unheard of," Ruoppolo said.

Magellans are one of 17 species of penguins, which all live in the southern hemisphere, including the Antarctic. Magellans are among the largest, weighing just over four kilograms, with striking colouring: a white chest and a white band around a black back and black head.

The Magellan penguin population is fragile, as their numbers have plummeted by about 20 percent, with about one million breeding pairs today, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. The penguins are at risk due to the effects of climate change, tourism, oil leaks from tankers and shrimp nets.