Friday, February 27, 2009

Global Cooling (34,000,000 years ago)

From ScienceDaily:

Carbon Dioxide Drop And Global Cooling Caused Antarctic Glacier To Form

Global climate rapidly shifted from a relatively ice-free world to one with massive ice sheets on Antarctica about 34 million years ago. What happened? What changed? A team of scientists led by Yale geologists offers a new perspective on the nature of changing climatic conditions across this greenhouse-to-icehouse transition — one that refutes earlier theories and has important implications for predicting future climate changes.

Detailed in the February 27 issue of Science, their data disproves a long-held idea that massive ice growth in the Antarctic was accompanied by little to no global temperature change.

This report shows that before the Southern Hemisphere ice expansion, high-latitude temperatures were at least 10°C (about 18˚F) warmer than previously estimated and that there was a 5˚C - 10˚C drop in surface-water temperature during the climate transition.

"Previous reconstructions gave no evidence of high-latitude cooling," according to senior author Mark Pagani, professor of geology and geophysics at Yale. "Our data demonstrate a clear temperature drop in both hemispheres during this time."

Their conclusions are based on sea-surface "temperature proxies" – calculations of temperature based on the distribution of specific organic molecules from ancient plankton that only lived at certain temperatures and were later preserved in ocean sediments. These molecules were assayed in ocean cores collected by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) and earlier marine programs that study Earth history by coring deep-ocean sediments and crust around the world...

The ice formed over Antarctica in about 100,000 years, which is an "overnight" shift in geological terms. "Just over thirty-five million years ago, 'poof,' there was an ice sheet where there had been subtropical temperatures before," said co-author Matthew Huber of Purdue University.

"China wheat harvest withers in drought"

From the International Herald Tribune:

Northern China is dry in the best of times. But this long rainless stretch has underscored the urgency of water problems in a region that grows three-fifths of China's crops and houses more than two-fifths of its people.

Water supplies have been drying up for decades, the result of pervasive overuse and waste. Underground aquifers have been so depleted that, in some farming regions, wells probe more than 800 meters deep before striking water.

The latest drought is crippling not only the country's best wheat farmland but also the wells that provide clean water to industry and to millions of people.

Before light showers and snow arrived this week, much of the region had not seen rain since October.

Although the showers reduced the hardest-hit drought area by half, more than 46,600 square kilometers, or 18,000 square miles, of farmland remained critically endangered, the Chinese Agriculture Ministry said Friday. About 4.7 million people and 2.5 million livestock were said last week to lack adequate drinking water.

For the Chinese government, already grappling with the fallout from a global economic crisis, this drought is inauspicious. Winter wheat is the nation's second-largest crop, behind rice, and a water shortage could not only drive up world wheat prices, but also raise irrigation costs and cut income for farmers.

The drought is peaking as millions of migrant workers rendered jobless by factory closings and construction shutdowns are returning to rural areas where farming is the main source of income. Government officials are clearly concerned by the prospect of rising unrest among jobless migrants, and failed crops and water shortages only heighten those worries...

The authorities have opened dam sluices, draining reservoirs like Luhan to irrigate dry fields; dispatched water trucks to thousands of villages with dry wells; and bored hundreds of new wells. Newspapers have breathlessly reported the launching of thousands of rocket shells filled with cigarette-size capsules of silver iodide, purportedly to seduce balky clouds into producing rain.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"Antarctic glaciers slipping swiftly seaward"

(AP) GENEVA – Antarctic glaciers are melting faster than previously thought, which could lead to an unprecedented rise in sea levels, scientists said Wednesday.

A report by thousands of scientists for the 2007-2008 International Polar Year concluded that the western part of the continent is warming up, not just the Antarctic Peninsula.

Previously most of the warming was thought to occur on the narrow stretch pointing toward South America, said Colin Summerhayes, executive director of the Britain-based Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and a member of International Polar Year's steering committee.

Satellite data and automated weather stations indicate that "the warming we see in the peninsula also extends all the way down to what is called west Antarctica," he told The Associated Press. "That's unusual and unexpected."

During the International Polar Year, thousands of scientists from more than 60 countries engaged in intense Arctic and Antarctic research over the past two southern summer seasons — on the ice, at sea, and via icebreaker, submarine and surveillance satellite.

The biggest western Antarctic glacier, the Pine Island Glacier, is moving 40 percent faster than it was in the 1970s, discharging water and ice more rapidly into the ocean, Summerhayes said.

The Smith Glacier, also in western Antarctica, is moving 83 percent faster than it did in 1992, he said.
All the glaciers in the area together lose a total of around 114 billion tons per year because the discharge is much greater than the new snowfall, Summerhayes said...

Antarctica's average annual temperature has increased by about 1 degree Fahrenheit since 1957, but is still 50 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, according to a recent study by Eric Steig of the University of Washington.

Summerhayes said the glaciers were slipping into the sea faster because the floating ice shelf that would stop them — usually 656 to 984 feet thick — is melting...

"If the west Antarctica sheet collapses, then we're looking at a sea level rise of between 1 meter and 1.5 meters (approximately 3 to 5 feet)," Summerhayes said.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Cosmetics With Banned and Unsafe Ingredients"


It's good to review this list from time to time.

Many mainstream products are on this list, including Pond's Clear Solutions Blemish Reducers (not safe for skin), as well as many products by Clairol, Cover Girl, Dove, Pantene, Neutrogena and others.

Another list has cosmetics that are Banned in other countries.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Green is the New Noir" ('Ethical' Clothes)

From the Guardian:

London on parade to show that ethical clothes can cut it on the catwalk

...The ethical initiative, now in its sixth season, has gained such standing that it has won government backing. Yesterday, Defra chose the event to launch its Sustainable Clothing Action Plan - Scap as it is rather unglamorously known.

Drawn up by leading names in fashion manufacturing and retail, Scap outlines commitments to make fashion more sustainable throughout its lifecycle - from design, to manufacture, to retail, to disposal. Many of the actions pledged by those involved are already underway and aim to have a marked effect on the environmental impact of throwaway fashion which sees two million tonnes of clothing end up in landfill every year.

As part of the deal:

• Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury's have pledged to increase their ranges of Fairtrade and organic clothing, and support fabrics which can be recycled more easily.

• Tesco is banning cotton from countries which use child labour.

• Oxfam and other charities will open more sustainable clothing boutiques featuring high quality second-hand clothing and new designs made from recycled garments.

• The Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion will be resourced to provide practical support to the clothing sector.

• The Fairtrade Foundation will aim for at least 10% of cotton clothing in the UK to be Fairtrade material by 2012.

...Estethica aims to bring together like-minded ethical designer labels. It was founded by the fashion council three years ago to raise the profile of eco-sustainable fashion, making its image more cutting-edge and less worthy. The 37 designers in the showcase must adhere to at least one of Estethica's three principles: organic, fair trade or recycled.

Peter Ingwersen, the founder of Esthetica's most high-end label, Noir, said: "We all look to inspire the industry and consumers that sexiness, luxury, fashion, corporate social responsibility and ethics can work in harmony together without compromising style."


estethica labels must adhere to an evolving set of criteria:

Ethical Trade - By ensuring that farmers and producers get a guaranteed fair price for their labour, investment is returned

Slow Clothes - Fashion that is not time based, but is about producing, designing and consuming better

Eco Fabrics - Consideration of the environmental footprint of fabrics

Organic - Man made, natural and sustainable fibres

Recycling- Using only pre-existing materials

There is also - Buy LOCAL. I bought a couple of hand-painted scarves yesterday ($10/ea. - what a deal) from a local craftsperson. And I love them. I'm looking forward to wearing them.

Hand-crafted, , re-crafted, out of recycled clothes seems so "hippie-ish". Perhaps that's because some people in 60's/70's were onto some of the same concepts (buying local, handmade)... and then many forgot - when they went to work for corporations (some may not have realized there was anything but the drugs). These are not the ideas that advertisers have been advocating.

"Ms. Jackson Makes a Change" (EPA)

From the New York Times:

Less than a month into the job, and with only a skeleton staff, Lisa Jackson, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has already engineered an astonishing turnaround.

She has pledged to reverse or review three Bush administration directives that had slowed the government’s response to global warming and has brought a new sense of urgency to an issue that President Bush treated indifferently. She has also boosted morale at an agency badly demoralized after eight years of political meddling.

This sea change would not have been possible, of course, without White House backing. Indeed, it was President Obama who announced the first big change in Bush policy. This was a decision to reconsider (and almost certainly approve) California’s request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, which the Bush administration had denied.

Ms. Jackson moved quickly to carry out that directive, meanwhile forecasting further policy shifts. In a memo to her employees last month, and later in an interview with The Times, she indicated that it was only a matter of time before she complied with the Supreme Court’s nearly two-year-old decision ordering the E.P.A. to address the effects of greenhouse gases from vehicles and regulate them if necessary. The Bush administration had dodged that one, too.

Then, last week, Ms. Jackson said she would reconsider a Bush administration declaration that the law did not allow it to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new coal power plants. Just as obeying the Supreme Court decision could lead to the first nationwide limits on carbon dioxide from vehicles, this latest decision could lead to the first greenhouse gas limits on utilities.

These would be major changes in regulatory policy affecting, all told, more than half the greenhouse gas emissions emitted in this country.

No single agency, E.P.A. included, can hope to address climate change in all its complexity. Regulation can carry the ball only so far. Congress will eventually have to take command of the issue by making big investments and putting a price on carbon.

But smart rules can at least get things moving again after so many years of inertia. They are also a measure of Mr. Obama’s seriousness, and a goad for Congress to act.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Bringing Wind Turbines to Ordinary Rooftops"

From the New York Times

WIND turbines typically spin from tall towers on hills and plains. But in these green times, some companies hope smaller turbines will soon rise above a more domestic spot: homes and garages.

The rooftop turbines send the electricity they generate straight on to the home’s circuit box. Then owners in a suitably wind-swept location can watch the needle on their electricity meter turn backward instead of forward, reducing their utility bills while using a renewable resource.

One new model, the Swift Wind Turbine, is designed to do its job quietly, said Dave Anderson, co-director of Renewable Devices in Edinburgh, which has partnered with Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids, Mich., to offer the turbine in the United States.

“The noisiest it gets is 35 decibels,” roughly the sound of a quiet conversation, he said of the whir of the blades. The turbine, which looks like a large wagon wheel, has a ring around its blades designed to diffuse noise and limit vibration. “The air is steered toward the diffuser ring and dispersed, rather than leaving the blades with a ripping noise,” Dr. Anderson said.

The turbine costs $10,000 to $12,000 including installation, said Michael Ford, manager of the renewable energy business unit at Cascade Engineering. When the wind is blowing briskly at 30 miles an hour or more, it will generate 1.5 kilowatts of electrical power, he said. Enough, for instance, to run fifteen 100-watt light bulbs.

“You need a strong average wind speed,” he said, recommending that prospective customers make careful measurements before they buy. “Don’t trust your memories about the wind power around your house,” he said. “People always remember when it’s windy,” but forget about the lulls.

Residents may measure wind speed with an anemometer, often available for rent, as well as by entering their address at the Swift Web site, which has listings of average wind speeds for localities.

The Swift turbine starts contributing electricity when the wind blows at eight miles an hour; as the wind speed increases, so does turbine output, said Mr. Ford. Over a year, the energy output in windy locations should be roughly 2,000 kilowatt hours, he said, so that for homes that use 11,000 kilowatt hours in a year, for instance, electricity costs would be reduced by about 18 percent.

Kenneth Benefiel of Conklin, Mich., bought a Swift turbine last fall, and had it installed on his 150-year-old post-and-beam barn, now a garage and workroom, in time for Christmas. “I had already switched to energy efficient appliances,” he said, reducing electricity usage by a third by buying a more efficient freezer and refrigerator and changing to fluorescent light bulbs. “The turbine was the next step.”

Mr. Benefiel, who is a retired carpenter, said that in the first five weeks after its installation, the turbine produced about 60 kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power his house for about three days. The machine is quiet, but the old building to which it is mounted does its share of groaning in a stiff wind, he said.

So far, he is satisfied with his purchase. “The turbine will conserve energy,” he said. “It’s making us more self-sufficient, and we’re doing our part to cut consumption. You have to think not only about saving money, but about saving resources.”

Turbines must be placed well above the roof to benefit from wind energy, said Sander Mertens in Voorburg, the Netherlands, who is a consultant in wind energy and author of “Wind Energy in the Built Environment.”

For a two-story building, for instance, the turbine should be at least 15 feet above the roof. “Put it lower, and you will suffer from small wind speeds and a lot of turbulence,” he said. Dr. Mertens offers a spreadsheet at his Internet site,, that can be downloaded by people who want to do their own calculations for optimum turbine placement.

The American Wind Energy Association, a trade group in Washington, recommends placing the turbine at least 30 feet above anything in a 500-foot radius, said Ron Stimmel, a specialist in small wind turbines at the trade group American Wind Energy Association, in Washington. “That way the wind can stretch its legs a bit.” For these taller towers, homeowners should be aware that they may have to deal with local rules prohibiting structures higher than 30 feet or so.

State and federal incentives will whittle down the price tag for many prospective buyers. For instance, about half the states have some sort of incentive, Mr. Stimmel said. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, for instance, covers up to half of the homeowner’s initial cost for a wind turbine.

Another small wind turbine for residences is the Energy Ball, to be sold in the United States by Home Energy Americas, in McKinney, Tex. Robert Thompson, its chief executive, said he hoped to have the turbines on the market shortly. The Energy Ball is shaped like an eggbeater placed sideways, so that its blades turn around a horizontal axis. One model, the V100, will cost $10,000 to $11,000 installed, he said, and will provide a maximum of 500 watts. One way to mount it might be on a cupola, Mr. Thompson said, “just like you would mount a weathervane.”

"Coal-fired power stations are death factories. Close them"

By James Hansen (from the Guardian.UK)

A year ago, I wrote to Gordon Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other leaders. The reason is this - coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet.

The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As the tundra melts, methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.

The public, buffeted by weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time to analyse decadal changes. How can people be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from those pushing special interests? How can people distinguish between top-notch science and pseudo-science?

Those who lead us have no excuse - they are elected to guide, to protect the public and its best interests. They have at their disposal the best scientific organisations in the world, such as the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences. Only in the past few years did the science crystallise, revealing the urgency. Our planet is in peril. If we do not change course, we'll hand our children a situation that is out of their control. One ecological collapse will lead to another, in amplifying feedbacks.

The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has already risen to a dangerous level. The pre-industrial carbon dioxide amount was 280 parts per million (ppm). Humans, by burning coal, oil and gas, have increased this to 385 ppm; it continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.

Earth, with its four-kilometre-deep oceans, responds only slowly to changes of carbon dioxide. So the climate will continue to change, even if we make maximum effort to slow the growth of carbon dioxide. Arctic sea ice will melt away in the summer season within the next few decades. Mountain glaciers, providing fresh water for rivers that supply hundreds of millions of people, will disappear - practically all of the glaciers could be gone within 50 years - if carbon dioxide continues to increase at current rates. Coral reefs, harbouring a quarter of ocean species, are threatened.

The greatest danger hanging over our children and grandchildren is initiation of changes that will be irreversible on any time scale that humans can imagine. If coastal ice shelves buttressing the west Antarctic ice sheet continue to disintegrate, the sheet could disgorge into the ocean, raising sea levels by several metres in a century. Such rates of sea level change have occurred many times in Earth's history in response to global warming rates no higher than those of the past 30 years. Almost half of the world's great cities are located on coastlines.

The most threatening change, from my perspective, is extermination of species. Several times in Earth's history, rapid global warming occurred, apparently spurred by amplifying feedbacks. In each case, more than half of plant and animal species became extinct. New species came into being over tens and hundreds of thousands of years. But these are time scales and generations that we cannot imagine. If we drive our fellow species to extinction, we will leave a far more desolate planet for our descendants than the world we inherited from our elders.

Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with sea level 75 metres higher. Climatic disasters would occur continually. The tragedy of the situation, if we do not wake up in time, is that the changes that must be made to stabilise the atmosphere and climate make sense for other reasons. They would produce a healthier atmosphere, improved agricultural productivity, clean water and an ocean providing fish that are safe to eat.

Fossil-fuel reservoirs will dictate the actions needed to solve the problem. Oil, of which half the readily accessible reserves have already been burnt, is used in vehicles, so it's impractical to capture the carbon dioxide. This is likely to drive carbon dioxide levels to at least 400 ppm. But if we cut off the largest source of carbon dioxide - coal - it will be practical to bring carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm, lower still if we improve agricultural and forestry practices, increasing carbon storage in trees and soil.

Coal is not only the largest fossil fuel reservoir of carbon dioxide, it is the dirtiest fuel. Coal is polluting the world's oceans and streams with mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals. The dirtiest trick that governments play on their citizens is the pretence that they are working on "clean coal" or that they will build power plants that are "capture-ready" in case technology is ever developed to capture all pollutants.

The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death. When I testified against the proposed Kingsnorth power plant, I estimated that in its lifetime it would be responsible for the extermination of about 400 species - its proportionate contribution to the number that would be committed to extinction if carbon dioxide rose another 100 ppm.

The German and Australian governments pretend to be green. When I show German officials the evidence that the coal source must be cut off, they say they will tighten the "carbon cap". But a cap only slows the use of a fuel - it does not leave it in the ground. When I point out that their new coal plants require that they convince Russia to leave its oil in the ground, they are silent. The Australian government was elected on a platform of solving the climate problem, but then, with the help of industry, it set emission targets so high as to guarantee untold disasters for the young, let alone the unborn. These governments are not green. They are black - coal black.

The three countries most responsible, per capita, for filling the air with carbon dioxide from fossil fuels are the UK, the US and Germany, in that order. Politicians here have asked me why am I speaking to them. Surely the US must lead? But coal interests have great power in the US; the essential moratorium and phase-out of coal requires a growing public demand and a political will yet to be demonstrated.

"Mass media ‘screwing up’ global warming reporting"


Stanford scientist and climate-specialist Stephen Schneider has called out media organizations for the quality of reporting on climate change and other scientific issues.

"Business managers of media organizations,” he said, “you are screwing up your responsibility by firing science and environment reporters who are frankly the only ones competent to do this."

Schneider points to CNN, which in December fired all of its science and technology reporters. "Why didn't they fire their economics team or their sports team?" asks Schneider. "Why don't they send their general assignment reporters out to cover the Superbowl?"

CNN stated that environmental issues would largely be covered by their TV series Planet in Peril, a program that is produced occassionally, with two film-length episodes airing since 2007.

Two of the employees let go by CNN were well-respected science producer, Peter Dykstra, and science reporter Miles O’Brien who spent 16 years at CNN. Schneider believes that coverage lacking scientifically-trained reporters and producers lose credibility and insightfulness.

"Science is not politics. You can't just get two opposing viewpoints and think you've done due diligence. You've got to cover the multiple views and the relative credibility of each view," said Schneider. "But that is not usually the problem of the well-trained reporters, who understand what is credible.”

Schneider’s frustration doesn’t stop at the media. He believes scientists are not living up to their responsibility to actively participate in scientific discussions with the mainstream media.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"Britain should prepare for massive loss of landmass"

It likely there will be searise problems before 2250 - esp. the way the CO2 is rising. But it's good they are thinking ahead, at any rate.

UK should change building design, transport and energy infrastructure ahead of climate change and high sea levels warn engineers.

Ministers should prepare the British people to "adapt" in the longer term to a landscape devastated by climate change, including the possible abandonment of parts of London and East Anglia, a leading industry body warns today .

Action to curb carbon emissions is failing, so the UK should immediately change the way it designs buildings, transport and energy infrastructure in preparation for aworld potentially characterised by extreme heat and high sea levels, argues the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in a new report.

The institute said it wanted its latest research to provoke serious action for future planning "not just for the sake of our planet but also for the human race. Yes, we need to mitigate [emissions] – but the evidence shows this is not working alone."

Even with significant global commitment to avert climate change it could be many centuries before average temperatures can be stabilised, says the document, Climate Change: Adapting to the Inevitable?, which was described by environmentalists as a "wake-up call" for government.

IMechE said that sea levels are predicted to rise by 2m by 2250 and 7m by the end of that century.

"A seven-metre rise in sea levels would impact on vast areas of the UK, including parts of London which border the Thames,[such as] Canary Wharf, Chelsea and Westminster, all of which would need to be abandoned," the report argues.

The climate change modelling used in the IMechE report was developed by the University of East Anglia and was in line with current international thinking, Fox said, claiming that politicians and others tended to be more focused on short-term actions without considering longer term consequences and solutions.

The British canal systems, the Forth Road Bridge and further afield the Panama Canal were projects that were constructed to last up to 250 years and it was time that government considered what kind of infrastructure would be needed post-2100 especially as the Kyoto Protocol against climate change had produced no reduction in carbon output, he added.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"CO2 hits new peaks"

OSLO (Reuters) - Atmospheric levels of the main greenhouse gas are hitting new highs, with no sign yet that the world economic downturn is curbing industrial emissions, a leading scientist said on Thursday.

"The rise is in line with the long-term trend," Kim Holmen, research director at the Norwegian Polar Institute, said of the measurements taken by a Stockholm University project on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard off north Norway.

Levels of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities, rose to 392 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere in Svalbard in December, a rise of 2-3 ppm from the same time a year earlier, he told Reuters.

Carbon dioxide concentrations are likely to have risen further in 2009, he said. They usually peak just before the start of spring in the northern hemisphere, where most of the world's industry, cities and vegetation are concentrated...

800,000-YEAR PEAKS

Levels of carbon dioxide are around the highest in at least 800,000 years, and up by about a third since the Industrial Revolution.

The increase is caused by "mainly fossil fuel burning and to some extent land use change, where you have forests being replaced by agricultural land," Holmen said.

The U.N. Climate Panel says rising greenhouse gas concentrations are stoking warming likely to cause floods, droughts, heatwaves, rising seas and extinctions...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Birds shifting north; global warming cited"

(AP) — When it comes to global warming, the canary in the coal mine isn't a canary at all. It's a purple finch.
As the temperature across the U.S. has gotten warmer, the purple finch has been spending its winters more than 400 miles farther north than it used to.

And it's not alone.

An Audubon Society study to be released Tuesday found that more than half of 305 birds species in North America, a hodgepodge that includes robins, gulls, chickadees and owls, are spending the winter about 35 miles farther north than they did 40 years ago.

The purple finch was the biggest northward mover. Its wintering grounds are now more along the latitude of Milwaukee, Wis., instead of Springfield, Mo.

Bird ranges can expand and shift for many reasons, among them urban sprawl, deforestation and the supplemental diet provided by backyard feeders. But researchers say the only explanation for why so many birds over such a broad area are wintering in more northern locales is global warming.

Over the 40 years covered by the study, the average January temperature in the United States climbed by about 5 degrees Fahrenheit. That warming was most pronounced in northern states, which have already recorded an influx of more southern species and could see some northern species retreat into Canada as ranges shift.

"This is as close as science at this scale gets to proof," said Greg Butcher, the lead scientist on the study and the director of bird conservation at the Audubon Society. "It is not what each of these individual birds did. It is the wide diversity of birds that suggests it has something to do with temperature, rather than ecology."

The study provides compelling evidence for what many birders across the country have long recognized — that many birds are responding to climate change by shifting farther north.

Friday, February 06, 2009

"In the future, economists will return to Earth"

From Greenpeace:

The year 2009 will witness a tsunami of economic appeals to fix, as disgraced Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan put it, the 'flaw' in their thinking. Most will get it wrong.

The proposals for bailouts, regulations, and government spending sprees all share one tragic flaw: They assume no physical or biological limits to human growth. Most economists cling to an 18th century mechanical universe that conjured an 'invisible hand' of God, which would allegedly convert private greed into public utopia.

Indeed, a few got rich but the meek inherit an Earth featuring child slavery, sweatshops, a billion starving people, toxic garbage heaps, dead rivers, exhausted aquifers, disappearing forests, depleted energy stores, lopped-off mountain tops, acid seas, melting glaciers, and an atmosphere heating up like a flambé.

Meanwhile, a rigorous sub-culture of scientists and economists have been working to free economics from its eighteenth century quagmire by reconciling human enterprise with the laws of physics, biology, and ecology....

Dr. Albert Bartlett, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Colorado University, urges economists to learn the laws of nature. Non-material values - creativity, dreams, love - may expand without limit, but materials and energy in the real world remain subject to the requirements of thermodynamics and biology. "Growth in population or rates of consumption cannot be sustained. Smart growth is better than dumb growth," says Bartlett, "but both destroy the environment."

What about technology? Some economists imagine that computer chips or nanotechnology will save us from the laws of nature, but every technical efficiency in history has resulted in more consumption of energy and resources, not less. Remember when computers were going to save paper? That never happened. Computers increased paper consumption from about 50 million tonnes annually in 1950 to 250 million tonnes today. Meanwhile, we lost 600 million hectares of forest.

Nor is the internet a celestial realm where ideas are exchanged for 'free'. Computers require copper, silicon, oil, toxic chemicals, massive energy for server networks, and garbage heaps for techno-trash. In every industrialised nation, energy and material consumption is increasing, not decreasing. Technology is not energy. It costs energy....

In the 1970s, World Bank economist Herman Daly wrote Steady-State Economics to outline the future of ecological economics. Daly makes a distinction between 'sustainable growth', which is 'impossible', and 'sustainable development', which is natural. "The larger system is the biosphere and the subsystem is the human economy," says Daly. "We can develop qualitatively, but we cannot grow beyond the biosphere's limits."...

"We are dying of consumption," says Peter Dauvergne, sustainability advisor at UBC and author of The Shadows of Consumption. "The unequal globalisation of the costs of consumption is putting ecosystems and billions of people at risk."

To honestly achieve a "sustainable" economy, humanity must step through a paradigm shift, as profound as the transition in the sixteenth century when Copernicus showed that the Earth is not the centre of the universe. Likewise, ecology teaches us that humanity is not the centre of life on the planet. Just as the Pope's henchmen refused to look through Galileo's telescope, some economists avoid looking out the window to see what keeps humanity alive: photosynthesis, precious materials, and concentrated energy.

"Sooner or later," as ecologist David Abram puts it, "technological civilisation must accept the invitation of gravity and settle back … into the rhythms of a more-than-human Earth."

"French, German Leaders Call for "Moralization" of Capitalism"

From Deutsche Welle:

The destruction of capitalism would be catastrophic, but the system had to undergo an overhaul to stay viable, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in Paris at the opening of the economic symposium "New World, New Capitalism," which he established as a response to the economic crisis.

He said modern-day capitalism based on speculation had been "perverted" and was "an immoral system". He said a new role should be created for governments and moral values.

"Either we re-found capitalism or we destroy it," Sarkozy said as he called for an economic system based on the value of work rather than finance.

"Purely financial capitalism has perverted the logic of capitalism," the French president said. "Financial capitalism is a system of irresponsibility and ... is amoral. It is a system where the logic of the market excuses everything."

The French leader said the structure of a new system of regulation should be agreed on before April's G20 summit in London.

Sarkozy: US dominance at an end

World leaders are hopeful Obama will come to the table
Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel collectively used the summit to urge the US not to stand in the way of tighter controls on world financial markets.

"I've always in my political life been a supporter of a close alliance with the United States but let's be clear: in the 21st century, a single nation can no longer say what we must do or what we must think," Sarkozy said.

Good News (undoing Bush)

What with torture being stopped, Guantanamo scheduled to be closed, Family Planning info and funding being released, etc..... the Obama administration is off to a good start.

This Bush idea - drilling up some of the best landscapes - was completely ridiculous.

From the New York Times

Drilling Leases Scrapped in Utah

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Wednesday canceled leases to drill for gas and oil on 77 parcels of public land in Utah.

The leases, which cover more than 100,000 acres, including lands near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, were auctioned in the last weeks of the Bush administration. They were among 11th-hour actions taken by the Bush Interior Department that have been criticized by environmental groups and are being reviewed by Obama officials.

In a news conference, Mr. Salazar said that after a review of the leases he concluded that the Bush administration had “rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our greatest national icons, some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes” without proper scientific review or consultation.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

"'Titanic' boa fossils provide clues to past tropical climate."

A vertebra of a modern Anaconda (left) and (right) a vertebra from the Titanoboa.

This snake could have been 2500+ lbs. and as long as a city bus.

From Nature:

Researchers have found fossils of the biggest known snake in the world, a discovery that could shed light on the climate of the tropics in the past.

The scientists estimate the snake lived 58 to 60 million years ago and was around 13 metres long. The giant, found in northeastern Colombia, dwarfs modern pythons and anacondas which usually don't exceed 6-6.5 metres and are thought to be the largest living snakes.

Since snakes are poikilotherms that, unlike humans, need heat from their environment to power their metabolism, the researchers suggest that at the time the region would have had to be 30 to 34 degrees Celsius for the snake to have survived. Most large snakes alive today live in the South American and southeast Asian tropics, where the high temperatures allow them to grow to impressive sizes.

"We've taken the snake and turned it into a giant thermometer," says lead author and vertebrate palaeontologist Jason Head of the University of Toronto in Canada, who says he "just about screamed" when he first saw the size of the fossils....

Using models1 based on the largest modern-day snakes and their estimate of the Titanoboa's size, the team calculated how hot the tropics must have been 58 to 60 million years ago, a period known as the Palaeocene. The mean annual temperature would need to be at least 30-34 degrees Celsius to support the snake's metabolism, the researchers report in Nature2. This range matches previous estimates from Palaeocene climate models that assume high atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations3.

The results support the idea that the temperature difference between the Palaeocene tropics and higher-latitude regions was as large as it is today, even though the higher latitudes were much warmer during that time. This counters the so-called 'thermostat' hypothesis, which predicts that tropical temperatures would stay fairly stable even as other parts of the world heated up.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Peanut Butter Recalls

From The Oregonian:

FDA releases tidal wave of fresh recalls

Federal officials have released a tidal wave of fresh recalls in the past 24 hours as they connect the dots in the supply chain of tainted peanut-related products.

The latest recalls by 25 companies listing dozens of items include Walgreen's chocolate candy with peanuts, Best Brands peanut butter cookie dough and Hain Celestial's frozen pad Thai dinners, including one made for Trader Joe's.

On Saturday, Harry and David of Medford joined the recall, pulling Olympia Delight Trail Mix products, and Berkeley, Ca.-based Clif Bar and Co. pulled eight more of its protein bars.

The recall has reached a fever pitch since it was expanded to include all products - from roasted peanuts to peanut butter -- from Peanut Corporation of America's plant at Blakely, Ga., where Food and Drug Administration investigators found two strains of salmonella and evidence that on 12 occasions in 2007 and 2008 the company sold food even after it had tested positive for salmonella.

In a startling revelation on Saturday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution said the president of Peanut Corp., Stewart Parnell, serves on an industry advisory board that helps the U.S. Department of Agriculture set quality standards for peanuts.

Parnell has expressed dismay at the outbreak, saying his Lynchburg, Va.-based company is cooperating fully with federal investigators.

Although Peanut Corp. sold items to about 77 companies in the U.S., many of them in turn resold shipments, reaching about 1,000 distributors and manufacturers all together.

As the drumbeat of recalls continues, health departments across the country have confirmed new cases of salmonella poisoning. More than 530 people have been sickened, with nearly 30 new cases popping up in the past week. In Oregon, 11 people have been sickened, with about half of those cases in January.

The deaths of eight people - all over 59 - are linked to the outbreak.

To check the latest recall releases, go to the FDA site at

High fructose corn syrup & mercury

High fructose corn syrup is bad anyway - and the way some people consume it - trace amounts of mercury could add up to something significant...

From Tom Philpott @ Grist

Some heavy metal with that sweet roll?
The FDA sat on evidence of mercury-tainted high-fructose corn syrup

....So how does mercury work its way into our the food industry's favorite sweetener? It finds its way into Pop Tarts and the like through the stunning array chemicals required to transform corn into a cane sugar substitute. (As you read the following list, marvel that the FDA recently ruled that manufacturers can label HFCS-sweetened foods "natural.") According the the EH study:

Several chemicals are required to make HFCS, including caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, alpha-amylase, gluco-amylase, isomerase, ilter aid, powdered carbon, calcium chloride, and magnesium sulfate.
Two of those charming-sounding chemicals -- caustic soda and hydrochloric acid -- can contain traces of mercury.

Caustic soda and hydrochloric acid are made through the same processes that produce chlorine. It can be done in one of two ways. The first involves pumping saltwater through a vat of mercury. The stuff produced this way is known as "mercury grade."

The second process involves no mercury. The industry is shifting to the second process, but the mercury style has by no means been phased out. According to IATP, "Today, the chlorine industry remains the largest intentional consumer (end user) of mercury."

So you've got this "mercury grade" caustic soda and hydrochloric acid floating around. Guess who's using it? According to the EH study, "mercury grade caustic soda and hydrochloric acid are primarily used by the high fructose corn syrup industry."

Not only did the FDA fail to inform the public of HFCS's mercury problem; food manufacturers that use HFCS may have been in the dark, IATP reports.

There is one hopeful tidbit from the highly disturbing Environmental Health and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy studies. Several years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama introduced legislation that would have forced the chlorine industry to phase out mercury.

That bill failed. I hope the new Congress revives it. And I hope the Obama FDA investigates precisely why the agency sat on information that could have saved consumers from mercury exposure. The officials who made that decision -- as well as the HFCS industry, led by Archer Daniels Midland -- must be held to account.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

"China birth defects 'up sharply'"

From the BBC:

A senior family planning official in China has noted an alarming rise in the number of babies with birth defects, a Chinese media report says.

Jiang Fan, from China's National Population and Family Planning Commission, said environmental pollution was a cause of the increase.

The coal-mining heartland of Shanxi province had the biggest problem.

China has reported the trend before, and it was not clear if Mr Jiang was commenting on new or old statistics.

A 2007 commission report said the rate of defects had risen 40% since 2001, from 104.9 per 10,000 births to 145.5 in 2006.

Officials blame emissions from Shanxi's large coal and chemical industry for the problems there.

"The problem of birth defects is related to environmental pollution, especially in eight main coal zones," said An Huanxiao, the director of Shanxi provincial family planning agency.

Mr Jiang said a child was born with physical defects every 30 seconds because of the degrading environment.

"Acid oceans 'need urgent action'"

From the BBC:

The world's marine ecosystems risk being severely damaged by ocean acidification unless there are dramatic cuts in CO2 emissions, warn scientists.

More than 150 top marine researchers have voiced their concerns through the "Monaco Declaration", which warns that changes in acidity are accelerating.

The declaration, supported by Prince Albert II of Monaco, builds on findings from an earlier international summit.
It says pH levels are changing 100 times faster than natural variability.

Based on the research priorities identified at The Ocean in a High CO2 World symposium, held in October 2008, the declaration states:
"We scientists who met in Monaco to review what is known about ocean acidification declare that we are deeply concerned by recent, rapid changes in ocean chemistry and their potential, within decades, to severely affect marine organisms, food webs, biodiversity and fisheries."

•The oceans are thought to have absorbed about half of the extra CO2 put into the atmosphere in the industrial age
•This has lowered its pH by 0.1
•pH is the measure of acidity and alkalinity
•The vast majority of liquids lie between pH 0 (very acidic) and pH 14 (very alkaline); 7 is neutral
•Seawater is mildly alkaline with a "natural" pH of about 8.2
•The IPCC forecasts that ocean pH will fall by "between 0.14 and 0.35 units over the 21st Century, adding to the present decrease of 0.1 units since pre-industrial times"

Natural lab shows sea's acid path (previous article):

...Globally, the seas now have an average pH of about 8.1 - down about 0.1 since the dawn of the industrial age.

Around the vents, it fell as low as 7.4 in some places. But even at 7.8 to 7.9, the number of species present was 30% down compared with neighbouring areas.

Coral was absent, and species of algae that use calcium carbonate were displaced in favour of species that do not use it.

Snails were seen with their shells dissolving. There were no snails at all in zones with a pH of 7.4.

Meanwhile, seagrasses thrived, perhaps because they benefit from the extra carbon in the water.

...Last month (May08), scientists reported that water with CO2 levels high enough to be "corrosive" to marine life was rising up off the western US coast.

Bottom water naturally contains more CO2 than at shallower depths. This scientific team argues that human emissions have pushed these levels even higher, contributing to pH values as low 7.5 in waters heavily used by US fishermen.

"If [pH 7.8] is a universal 'tipping point', then it indicates that sections of the western coast waters off North America may have passed this threshold during periods when this upwelling of waters high in CO2 occurs," commented Carol Turley from Plymouth Marine Laboratory

Australia - another "worst heat wave"

Parched: Australia faces collapse as climate change kicks in

From the Independent.UK:

Leaves are falling off trees in the height of summer, railway tracks are buckling, and people are retiring to their beds with deep-frozen hot-water bottles, as much of Australia swelters in its worst-ever heatwave.

On Friday, Melbourne thermometers topped 43C (109.4F) on a third successive day for the first time on record, while even normally mild Tasmania suffered its second-hottest day in a row, as temperatures reached 42.2C. Two days before, Adelaide hit a staggering 45.6C. After a weekend respite, more records are expected to be broken this week.

Ministers are blaming the heat – which follows a record drought – on global warming. Experts worry that Australia, which emits more carbon dioxide per head than any nation on earth, may also be the first to implode under the impact of climate change.

At times last week it seemed as if that was happening already. Chaos ruled in Melbourne on Friday after an electricity substation exploded, shutting down the city's entire train service, trapping people in lifts, and blocking roads as traffic lights failed. Half a million homes and businesses were blacked out, and patients were turned away from hospitals.

More than 20 people have died from the heat, mainly in Adelaide. Trees in Melbourne's parks are dropping leaves to survive, and residents at one of the city's nursing homes have started putting their clothes in the freezer.

"All of this is consistent with climate change, and with what scientists told us would happen," said climate change minister Penny Wong.

Australia, the driest inhabited continent on earth, is regarded as highly vulnerable. A study by the country's blue-chip Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation identified its ecosystems as "potentially the most fragile" on earth in the face of the threat.

Many factors put Australia especially at risk. Its climate is already hot, dry and variable. Its vulnerable agriculture plays an unusually important part in the economy. And most people and industry are concentrated on the coast, making it vulnerable to the rising seas and ferocious storms that come with a warmer world.

Most of the south of the country is gripped by unprecedented 12-year drought. The Australian Alps have had their driest three years ever, and the water from the vast Murray-Darling river system now fails to reach the sea 40 per cent of the time. Harvests have fallen sharply.

It will get worse as global warming increases. Even modest temperature rises, now seen as unavoidable, are expected to increase drought by 70 per cent in New South Wales, cut Melbourne's water supplies by more than a third, and dry up the Murray-Darling system by another 25 per cent.