Sunday, June 28, 2009

"It’s Time to Learn From Frogs"

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF - the New York Times

Some of the first eerie signs of a potential health catastrophe came as bizarre deformities in water animals, often in their sexual organs.

Frogs, salamanders and other amphibians began to sprout extra legs. In heavily polluted Lake Apopka, one of the largest lakes in Florida, male alligators developed stunted genitals.

In the Potomac watershed near Washington, male smallmouth bass have rapidly transformed into “intersex fish” that display female characteristics. This was discovered only in 2003, but the latest survey found that more than 80 percent of the male smallmouth bass in the Potomac are producing eggs.

Now scientists are connecting the dots with evidence of increasing abnormalities among humans, particularly large increases in numbers of genital deformities among newborn boys. For example, up to 7 percent of boys are now born with undescended testicles, although this often self-corrects over time. And up to 1 percent of boys in the United States are now born with hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the penis improperly, such as at the base rather than the tip.

Apprehension is growing among many scientists that the cause of all this may be a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are very widely used in agriculture, industry and consumer products. Some also enter the water supply when estrogens in human urine — compounded when a woman is on the pill — pass through sewage systems and then through water treatment plants.

These endocrine disruptors have complex effects on the human body, particularly during fetal development of males.

“A lot of these compounds act as weak estrogen, so that’s why developing males — whether smallmouth bass or humans — tend to be more sensitive,” said Robert Lawrence, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s scary, very scary.”

The scientific case is still far from proven, as chemical companies emphasize, and the uncertainties for humans are vast. But there is accumulating evidence that male sperm count is dropping and that genital abnormalities in newborn boys are increasing. Some studies show correlations between these abnormalities and mothers who have greater exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy, through everything from hair spray to the water they drink.

Endocrine disruptors also affect females. It is now well established that DES, a synthetic estrogen given to many pregnant women from the 1930s to the 1970s to prevent miscarriages, caused abnormalities in the children. They seemed fine at birth, but girls born to those women have been more likely to develop misshaped sexual organs and cancer.

Among some scientists, there is real apprehension at the new findings — nothing is more terrifying than reading The Journal of Pediatric Urology — but there hasn’t been much public notice or government action.

This month, the Endocrine Society, an organization of scientists specializing in this field, issued a landmark 50-page statement. It should be a wake-up call.

“We present the evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology,” the society declared.

“The rise in the incidence in obesity,” it added, “matches the rise in the use and distribution of industrial chemicals that may be playing a role in generation of obesity.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is moving toward screening endocrine disrupting chemicals, but at a glacial pace. For now, these chemicals continue to be widely used in agricultural pesticides and industrial compounds. Everybody is exposed...

Friday, June 26, 2009



Experts say southern Italy faces severe risk of drying up.

Rome, June 25 - The Sahara Desert is crossing the Mediterranean, according to Italian environmental protection group Legambiente which warns that the livelihoods of 6.5 million people living along its shores could be at risk.

''Desertification isn't limited to Africa,'' said Legambiente Vice President Sebastiano Venneri.

''Without a serious change of direction in economic and environmental policies, the risk will become concrete and irreversible.'' A recent report by Legambiente estimated that 74 million acres of fertile land along the Mediterranean were turning to desert as the result of overexploited land and water resources.

Legambiente said that southern Italy was at severe risk in addition to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia where 11% of all arable land showed signs of drying up. ''Semi-arid coastal regions like southern Italy are prone to the effects of desertification due to farmers' dependence on water from underground aquifers instead of rainfall,'' said Legambiente spokesman Giorgio Zampetti. According to Zampetti, pumping too much fresh water out of these underground deposits can result in seawater leaking in to replace it, effectively poisoning the groundwater.

As an example of the long-term consequences, Legambiente pointed to Egypt where it said brackish groundwater had compromised half the country's farmland.

''The south of Italy isn't the only part of the country at risk,'' added Zampetti. ''Aquifers around the Po Delta in northern Italy have also begun showing signs of saltwater contamination.'' Experts said that the Po River, which is Italy's longest waterway and nearly dries up in parts when industrial consumption peaks, is one of the most visible examples of desertifying climate change in Italy. Italy is not the only country in Europe losing fertile land.

Legambiente estimated that desertification affects more than a fifth of the Iberian Peninsula with early indicators also present along the French Riviera.

Across the Mediterranean, Legambiente said that countries like Libya, Tunisia and Morocco were losing 1,000 square kilometers of fertile land every year.

Legambiente experts predict that between 1997 and 2020, desertification will have forced over 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa to leave their homes, many of whom will head north to Europe.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome ranks desertification among the chief causes of worldwide famine.

''In addition to destroying the biodiversity of ecosystems and exacerbating the problems related to global warming,'' said Sebastiano Venneri, ''desertification causes people to migrate, perpetuating a vicious cycle of social strife and overpopulation that has placed mankind's survival at risk.'' To turn back the tide on desertification, Legambiente is calling for drastic water conservation measures, particularly with regard to agriculture where it says flood irrigation is a chief culprit behind the exhaustion of local reservoirs.

Simple measures like collecting rainwater for use during drier periods could make the difference in protecting water resources, according to Legambiente...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears"

From the New York Times:

BASEL, Switzerland — Markus O. Häring, a former oilman, was a hero in this city of medieval cathedrals and intense environmental passion three years ago, all because he had drilled a hole three miles deep near the corner of Neuhaus Street and Shafer Lane.

He was prospecting for a vast source of clean, renewable energy that seemed straight out of a Jules Verne novel: the heat simmering within the earth’s bedrock.

All seemed to be going well — until Dec. 8, 2006, when the project set off an earthquake, shaking and damaging buildings and terrifying many in a city that, as every schoolchild here learns, had been devastated exactly 650 years before by a quake that sent two steeples of the Münster Cathedral tumbling into the Rhine.

Hastily shut down, Mr. Häring’s project was soon forgotten by nearly everyone outside Switzerland. As early as this week, though, an American start-up company, AltaRock Energy, will begin using nearly the same method to drill deep into ground laced with fault lines in an area two hours’ drive north of San Francisco.

Residents of the region, which straddles Lake and Sonoma Counties, have already been protesting swarms of smaller earthquakes set off by a less geologically invasive set of energy projects there. AltaRock officials said that they chose the spot in part because the history of mostly small quakes reassured them that the risks were limited.

Like the effort in Basel, the new project will tap geothermal energy by fracturing hard rock more than two miles deep to extract its heat. AltaRock, founded by Susan Petty, a veteran geothermal researcher, has secured more than $36 million from the Energy Department, several large venture-capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Google. AltaRock maintains that it will steer clear of large faults and that it can operate safely.

But in a report on seismic impact that AltaRock was required to file, the company failed to mention that the Basel program was shut down because of the earthquake it caused. AltaRock claimed it was uncertain that the project had caused the quake, even though Swiss government seismologists and officials on the Basel project agreed that it did. Nor did AltaRock mention the thousands of smaller earthquakes induced by the Basel project that continued for months after it shut down.

The California project is the first of dozens that could be operating in the United States in the next several years, driven by a push to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases and the Obama administration’s support for renewable energy.

Some geothermal advocates believe the method used in Basel, and to be tried in California, could be that breakthrough. But because large earthquakes tend to originate at great depths, breaking rock that far down carries more serious risk, seismologists say. Seismologists have long known that human activities can trigger quakes, but they say the science is not developed enough to say for certain what will or will not set off a major temblor.

Even so, there is no shortage of money for testing the idea. Mr. Reicher has overseen a $6.25 million investment by Google in AltaRock, and with more than $200 million in new federal money for geothermal, the Energy Department has already approved financing for related projects in Idaho by the University of Utah; in Nevada by Ormat Technologies; and in California by Calpine, just a few miles from AltaRock’s project....

By the time people were getting off work amid rain squalls in Basel on Dec. 8, 2006, Mr. Häring’s problems had already begun. His incision into the ground was setting off small earthquakes that people were starting to feel around the city.

Mr. Häring knew that by its very nature, the technique created earthquakes because it requires injecting water at great pressure down drilled holes to fracture the deep bedrock. The opening of each fracture is, literally, a tiny earthquake in which subterranean stresses rip apart a weak vein, crack or fault in the rock. The high-pressure water can be thought of loosely as a lubricant that makes it easier for those forces to slide the earth along the weak points, creating a web or network of fractures.

Mr. Häring was rushed to police headquarters in a squad car so he could explain what had happened. By the time word slipped out that the project had set off the earthquake, Mr. Loser said, outrage was sweeping the city. The earthquakes, including three more above magnitude 3, rattled on for about a year — more than 3,500 in all, according to the company’s sensors.

Although no serious injuries were reported, Geothermal Explorers’ insurance company ultimately paid more than $8 million in mostly minor damage claims to the owners of thousands of houses in Switzerland and in neighboring Germany and France....

There was a time when Anderson Springs, about two miles from the project site, had few earthquakes — no more than anywhere else in the hills of Northern California. Over cookies and tea in the cabin his family has owned since 1958, Tom Grant and his sister Cynthia Lora reminisced with their spouses over visiting the town, once famous for its mineral baths, in the 1940s and ’50s. “I never felt an earthquake up here,” Mr. Grant said .

Then came a frenzy of drilling for underground steam just to the west at The Geysers, a roughly 30-square-mile patch of wooded hills threaded with huge, curving tubes and squat power plants. The Geysers is the nation’s largest producer of traditional geothermal energy. Government seismologists confirm that earthquakes were far less frequent in the past and that the geothermal project produces as many as 1,000 small earthquakes a year as the ground expands and contracts like an enormous sponge with the extraction of steam and the injection of water to replace it.

These days, Anderson Springs is a mixed community of working class and retired residents, affluent professionals and a smattering of artists. Everyone has a story about earthquakes. There are cats that suddenly leap in terror, guests who have to be warned about tremors, thousands of dollars of repairs to walls and cabinets that just do not want to stay together.

Residents have been fighting for years with California power companies over the earthquakes, occasionally winning modest financial compensation. But the obscure nature of earthquakes always gives the companies an out, says Douglas Bartlett, who works in marketing at Bay Area Rapid Transit in San Francisco, and with his wife, Susan, owns a bungalow in town.

“If they were creating tornadoes, they would be shut down immediately,” Mr. Bartlett said. “But because it’s under the ground, where you can’t see it, and somewhat conjectural, they keep doing it.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Start with the easy bits: war toys"

By George Monbiot / theGuardian

What would we be doing now if we took climate change seriously? Last week the government released a report on the likely temperature changes in the UK. It shows that life at the end of this century will bear no relationship to life at the beginning. It should have dominated the news for days. But it was too far away, too remote from current problems, too big to see.

Over the past few months Lord Giddens, one of the architects of New Labour, has been touting the hypothesis that people are reluctant to act on climate change until it becomes visible to them, by which time it will be too late...

So environmentalists seek to persuade us that we'll love the green transition. Downshifting, voluntary simplicity, alternative hedonism – whatever they call it, it's presented as a change for the better. A new green deal will save the planet, the workforce and the economy. Energy efficiency will protect the bottom line as well as the biosphere. A less frantic life will allow us to enjoy the small wonders that surround us.

There is both exaggeration and truth in all this, but effective action also involves a change for the worse: regulation, rationing, austerity, state spending. "Little by little," the Roman historian Livy wrote 2,000 years ago, "we have been brought into the present condition in which we are able neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the remedies we need to cure them."

Everything we need to do has been made harder by debt. Net state debt now exceeds £700bn. The RBS and Lloyds shambles will add between £1 trillion and 1.5tn. National debt is likely to reach 150% of GDP next year: well beyond the point at which the IMF declares developing countries basket cases.

This introduces two environmental problems. The first is that there is no money left with which to fund a green new deal. The second is that we'll be able to pay off these debts only by resuming economic growth. Greenhouse gases grow because the economy grows. The UK's liabilities make the transition to a steady state economy, let alone a managed contraction, much harder to achieve. They appear to commit us to either growth or default for at least a generation. The debt crisis is an environmental disaster...

At the end of 2003, the Ministry of Defence observed that "there are currently no major conventional military threats to the UK or Nato … it is now clear that we no longer need to retain a capability against the re-emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat". So why is most of this ministry's budget spent on retaining a capability against the emergence of a direct conventional strategic threat?

To read the MoD's spending stats is to read the accounts of a lost world: a faraway land where threats and funds are unlimited. Its private finance initiative service charges (£1.3bn) exceed the entire budget of the ­department of energy and climate change. The department for international development could be funded twice over from the MoD's budget for capital charges and depreciation (£9.6bn). Property management sucks up £1.5bn a year, consultants and lawyers £470m, bullets, bombs and the like, £650m.

What does it give us? Our wars make us less safe. We would be better protected from terrorism and global instability if the UK's armed forces stopped going abroad to make trouble. No one in office can produce a coherent account of why this money is needed: the ministry's budget is sustained by the greed of contractors and nostalgia for imperium long passed. We could cut defence spending by 90% and suffer no loss to our national security. Instead, the MoD has just dropped its spending on climate change research. This accounted for a quarter of the Met Office's climate programme.

The last time we faced a crisis on the scale of the global climate crash, the rational solution was to build tanks. Now the rational, least painful solution is to stop building tanks, and use the money to address a real threat.
And the US spends astronomically more on defense.... not only would it free up money - war toys suck up and spew vast amounts of oil/carbon dioxide, etc.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Art at the Schönbrunn zoo in Vienna

"The artist-duo Steinbrener/Dempf have set up six installations in several enclosures at Schönbrunn zoo - from a sunken car wreck in the rhino pen, railroad tracks in the bison enclosure to toxic waste in the aquarium. The installations are designed to interfere with our notions of idyllic wildlife and question the authenticity of places like zoos which recreate 'natural' environments for animals that are increasingly endangered".

As seen in the Guardian.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"GOP Goes off the Deep End, Proposes 100 New Nuclear Reactors in the U.S."

By Harvey Wasserman, AlterNet

As the prospective price of new reactors continues to soar, and as the first "new generation" construction projects sink in French and Finnish soil, Republicans are introducing a bill to Congress demanding 100 new nuclear reactors in the U.S. within 20 years. It explicitly welcomes "alternatives" such as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and "clean coal." Although it endorses some renewables, such as solar and wind power, it calls for no cap on carbon emissions.

According to the New York Times, this is the defining GOP alternative to a Democratic energy plan headed for a House vote later this month.

But niggling questions like who will pay for these reactors, who will insure them, where will the fuel come from, where will waste go and who will protect them from terrorists are not on the agenda. Given recent certain-to-prove-optimistic estimates of approximately $10 billion per reactor, the plan envisions a trillion-plus-dollar commitment to a newly nuke-centered nation.

With this proposed legislation, the GOP makes atomic energy the centerpiece of its strategy to deal with climate change.

Nuclear power requires energy-intensive activities such as uranium mining, milling, fuel enrichment, plus other carbon expenditures for plant construction, waste management and more.

Reactors also convert buried uranium ore into huge quantities of heat, much of which becomes hot water and steam emitted into the environment. Reactors in France and elsewhere have been forced to shut because adjacent rivers have been taken to 90 degrees Fahrenheit by hot water dumped from reactor cooling systems.

None of this troubled GOP hearings this week on the future of atomic energy. There were no answers to how new reactors would be insured. Since 1957, the federal treasury has been the underwriter of last resort for potential reactor disasters. Renewed in the 2005 Bush energy plan, the commitment applies to all new reactors.

So reactors licensed to operate through 2057 -- as would be virtually certain under the GOP plan -- would extend to a full century the atomic industry's inability to cover its own risks. Neither the Obama administration nor the GOP has presented detailed plans for dealing with such disasters, or explained how they would be paid for.

Despite the GOP's endless focus on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, no significant structural upgrades have been made to protect the currently licensed 104 U.S. reactors from an air attack. The new reactors will be required to demonstrate an ability to resist a jet crash, but testing that requirement remains an open issue.

The ability to fuel this new fleet of reactors remains questionable. Reprocessing used fuel into reusable mixed oxide rods has proved dirty, expensive and dangerous...


From the Las Vegas Sun:
GOP plan would increase nuclear waste destined for Yucca

By Mary Manning

A new energy plan unveiled today by House Republicans streamlines expanding nuclear power plants and the amount of spent nuclear fuel destined for a proposed Yucca Mountain repository.

The bill calls for building 100 nuclear power plants within the United States in the next 20 years and combines higher limits on nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain with plans for more repositories and reprocessing.

The Nevada congressional delegation, which has opposed a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, reacted negatively to the American Energy Act, another plan introduced by Republicans within a month.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that President Barack Obama has already approved a blue ribbon task force to find alternative solutions without a Yucca Mountain repository. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has already started the research into alternatives.

"It's unfortunate that the House Republicans did not come up with real solutions to the nation's energy problems," Reid said.

"It's just not going to happen," said Reid's spokesman Jon Summers of the Yucca Mountain repository approved by President George W. Bush and a Republican-led Congress.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she would continue to highlight both the cost and the danger that Yucca Mountain poses in hopes of building opposition in the House. A Democratic energy-climate change package underway does not include any language that would double the capacity of the dump, she said.

"House Republicans just cannot help themselves when it comes to their support for Yucca Mountain and its $100 billion price tag," Berkley said. "Now they have renewed efforts to 'supersize' Yucca Mountain as part of their energy package, a move that would more than double the amount of deadly radioactive garbage to be dumped in Nevada."

Berkley also said that the GOP bill would be financed by a monthly tax on power bills...

On what would happen to increasing nuclear waste, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said that reprocessing* as well as further construction of nuclear waste dumping sites, such as Yucca Mountain, would be necessary...

Statements on Reprocessing:
*Union of Concerned Scientists

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Future***

Thinking about Chris Martenson's "Crash Course" and my niece's skepticism that there is an overpopulation problem.
She thinks that there is plenty of room for more people. I think the planet already has too many people.

One of the things is that the population has grown exponentially along with oil production and with a collapse in oil production - it seems very likely that there will be a collapse in population. While people will try to maintain the status quo with natural gas, coal (removing mountains), solar, wind, and probably nuclear- it seems unlikely that this will be enough for people to continue on the track that we are on. I would rather see people do more to limit population so that fewer die miserably later on - but that's not the way things work, I guess.

I think that it is beyond sad that people don't take conservation seriously even as we are removing mountains- such as businesses that air-condition open air areas (ie. Louisville in their 4th street "Live" area that used to be an enclosed mall). I also expect that industries, etc. are not nearly as frugal with their energy as they could be. And some people continue to build unnecessarily large homes.

I'm afraid that with the exponential effect - one of these days energy will become so rare and expensive that people won't know what hit them. A few people are prepared - the living off the grid people. But most of us are not.

I wonder - if people were to see this coming - would people channel resources into the most important projects for sustainable living? for humanities future? This is happening to some extent now - with more attention being paid to renewables. The government can offer incentives and such. But I don't see it as a serious priority - where people really want to make the most of what oil is available - like what are the really important uses instead of turning it into useless crap. But that's capitalism for you. In centuries ahead - perhaps people will go through the landfills looking for plastic to recycle into things that are actually needed.

Under Bush the rich were hoarding as much as they could of cash and treasures - an attempt was made to get control of Iraq's oil - and the same group would like to get control of Iran's.

Resources of all sorts are plummeting as the human population rises - these are the sorts of things that I keep track of on my blog. Fish, soil, water, animals of all sorts - the loss of habitats, the poisoned habitats - there may be the appearance of space some places - but space, such as in Montana, does not equal food, clean air and water. The pollutants are worldwide. Global warming, a result of all of this energy use is also resulting in a depletion of resources - through floods, droughts, and devastating storms.

People probably will turn to nuclear power more as oil, coal and gas run out. The toxic waste will become another more problematic pollutant (unless it really could be reused - which I doubt). The population will continue to grow - there will be more and more health problems for people and wildlife. People will learn to like to eat jellyfish (or at least tolerate it).

If people are smart (or have no choice) - more will made and grown locally, people will travel less, bicycle more. The cost of health care will become more out of reach for most Americans - so more will probably die at a younger age. There will be more resistant diseases, more cancers, more epidemics.

It's all about adapting and doing what can be done with what we've got. Many of us on the left see that places like Scandinavia with their more equitable society and even Cuba which has healthcare for everyone exhibit a more positive mentality than what the US does. Some of us had hope that more would change with Obama - but unfortunately he is holding to the status quo and using that as justification to keep things unequal.

A cooperative mentality is much more positive than an competitive one. I would rather see many people living adequately well with basic healthcare than a few people who expect the best (ie. the top 300,000) while the rest of us serve their needs and get crumbs for the privilege.

And where does art fit in? I can see where some people could see it as an unnecessary frivolity - but I would like for my art to serve the function of helping to process societies emotions. I read more all the time about how dreams alleviate anxiety by processing people's emotions, that people lose the ability to find calm if they are under too much stress when they are young.
REM sleep, he (Matthew Walker, director of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at the University of California, Berkeley) says, "tries to ameliorate the sharp emotional chips and dents that life gives you along the way."
The ideal would probably be for everyone to make art - but since I know many people who are busy managing one thing or another (the shipping of cellphones, the effectiveness of advertising, better computer modeling for our government) and who do not have the time to absorb the beauty of the day as well as the possible challenges to our future - I consider that to be my job.

Bangladesh Soil Fertility Compromised

From the New Nation:

Land fertility in Rangpur region comprising Kurigram, Gaibandha, Nilphamari and Lalmonirhat districts is falling alarmingly due to shortage of green manure, sulphur and zinc in the soil.

Unrestricted use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides were also contributed in reducing fertility of lands, agricultural experts here said.

They said green and animal elements are required at least by 3 percent, but now 1.5 to 2 per cent elements are available. Only 10 to 15 years ago, the soil of the region had contained six percent of such elements. Cow dung, Khesari, wastages, rotten straw are not at all used now a days.

Dried cow dung were widely used as fuel in the rural areas and one kilogram of Khesari pulse is sold at Taka 50 to 60 in the village market. Dhoincha plants are not also used in the soil to increase fertility of land as these sold valuable fuel to replace wood in the winter. Agricultural experts said five tonnes of cow-dung are necessary to keep normal fertility of one hectare of land, but cow-dung is not at all used in soil in the region.

Unrestricted use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has been affecting public health. Tubewell water and vegetables contain the remains of pesticides. After rainfall the wastages of chemical fertilizers aand pesticides pollut the tanks and water bodies affecting normal production of fishes.

On the other hand, Bangladesh Water Development Board sources said nitrate found in the water of Rangpur region is more than the acceptable rate which is harmful to public health.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"Will jellyfish take over the world?"

From Mongabay:

A ‘monoculture of jellyfish’ threatens the oceans as we know them.

It could be a plot of a (bad) science-fiction film: a man-made disaster creates spawns of millions upon millions of jellyfish which rapidly take over the ocean. Humans, starving for mahi-mahi and Chilean seabass, turn to jellyfish, which becomes the new tuna (after the tuna fishery has collapsed, of course). Fish sticks become jelly-sticks, and fish-and-chips becomes jelly-and-chips. The sci-fi film could end with the ominous image of a jellyfish evolving terrestrial limbs and pulling itself onto land—readying itself for a new conquest.

While this scenario sounds ridiculous, all of it—except the last sentence, of course—could conceivably come to pass. Dr. Anthony Richardson calls this the ‘jellyfish joyride’ and it is already happening in parts of the ocean: diverse fish populations are being replaced by jellyfish.

"Dense jellyfish aggregations can be a natural feature of healthy ocean ecosystems, but a clear picture is now emerging of more severe and frequent jellyfish outbreaks worldwide,” Richardson, from the University of Queensland and CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship, explains. "In recent years, jellyfish blooms have been recorded in the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Black and Caspian Seas, the Northeast US coast, and particularly in Far East coastal waters.”

Once jellyfish gain a foothold, Richardson says that if conditions are right they can establish a massive population at the expense of other ocean life: “the problem is that jellyfish might form an alternative ‘stable state’. What this means is that parts of the ocean might switch from being dominated by fish to being dominated by jellyfish.”

In a new study appearing in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Richardson and colleagues explore the causes behind the jellyfish infestation and the need for swift, decisive action to stem the jellyfish take-over. Jellyfish explosions are linked directly to human actions, including over-fishing, the input of fertilizer and sewage into the ocean, and climate change.

Overfishing has removed fish from marine ecosystems at astounding rates. According to Richardson this has opened the door for jellyfish to take their place: “this is because small fish (e.g. anchovy, sardine, herring) appear to keep jellyfish in check by predation (on jellyfish when they are very small) and competition (for the same zooplankton food). So, once we remove fish, jellyfish can proliferate.”

As an example Richardson points to Namibia where "intense fishing has decimated sardine stocks and jellyfish have replaced them as the dominant species.”

Eutrophication is another human-caused change in the ocean that has likely contributed to jellyfish explosions. Eutrophication is an increase of nitrogen and phosphorous in the ocean, largely caused by fertilizer and waste runoff seeping into the oceans. This leads to algae blooms, which lower oxygen in the marine ecosystem creating so-called ‘dead zones’, which have been increasing dramatically around the world.

According to Richardson, these low-oxygen waters give jellyfish the advantage: “fish avoid low oxygen water but jellyfish, having lower oxygen demands, not only survive but can thrive in these conditions as there is less predation and competition from fish.”

Furthermore, Richardson and his colleague speculate that climate change may expand the traditional ranges of jellyfish at the expense of other marine species. “As water warms, tropical species are moving towards the Poles. This has been documented on land and in the sea. Many venomous jellyfish species are tropical (e.g. box jellyfish and irukandji) and…could move south into more densely populated subtropical and temperate regions,” Richardson says.

As an example the paper points to box jellyfish and the incredibly small irukandi in Australia. These fatal species often cause beach closures in their native northeast Australia, and there is a concern that as the water warms they will make their way to more populous southern Australia.

Once jellyfish appear en masse in an ecosystem they can make it very difficult for fish to stage a come-back. By feeding on fish eggs and larvae in addition to competing with fish population for zooplankton, the jellyfish successfully “suppress fish from returning to their normal population numbers,” says Richardson. “One can thus think of two alternate states with each being stable: one dominated by fish and the other by jellyfish. Unfortunately, when there is a jellyfish dominated state then this does not support the higher trophic levels of other fish, marine mammals, and seabirds.” In other words an ecosystem that loses fish also loses the species that depend on fish for survival.

The study describes this state as a “monoculture of jellyfish”: an apt analogy since the situation shares similarities with other monocultures. When the rich biodiversity of tropical forests is replaced by a plantation growing a single species of tree, an area of rich variety becomes a desert in terms of biodiversity, as do ocean ecosystems when jellyfish become the dominant species...

Certainly all of these recommendations would aid marine biodiversity and ocean productivity in other ways in addition to stemming the jellyfish take-over. If not tackled, a future ocean of jellyfish could have dire economic, social, and, of course, ecological repercussions.

While jellyfish are edible, it is doubtful that they could serve as rich—or as diverse—a food source as marine fish. Richardson, who has tried jellyfish says “the best types are slightly crunchy. Not a strong taste and usually had with a sauce. Excellent diet food, as it has virtually no calories!”

"Arctic meltdown is a threat to humanity"


I AM shocked, truly shocked," says Katey Walter, an ecologist at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. "I was in Siberia a few weeks ago, and I am now just back in from the field in Alaska. The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling up out of them."

The permafrost is melting fast all over the Arctic, lakes are forming everywhere and methane is bubbling out of them
Back in 2006, in a paper in Nature, Walter warned that as the permafrost in Siberia melted, growing methane emissions could accelerate climate change. But even she was not expecting such a rapid change. "Lakes in Siberia are five times bigger than when I measured them in 2006. It's unprecedented. This is a global event now, and the inertia for more permafrost melt is increasing."...

Positive feedbacks

Most of this is the result of positive feedbacks (see illustration) from lost ocean ice, says David Lawrence of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. His modelling studies show that during periods of rapid sea-ice loss, warming extends some 1500 kilometres inland from the ice itself. "If sea-ice continues to contract rapidly over the next several years, Arctic land warming and permafrost thaw are likely to accelerate," he says.

Changes in wind patterns may accelerate the warming even further. "Loss of summer sea ice means more heat is absorbed in the ocean, which is given back to the atmosphere in early winter, which changes the wind patterns, which favours additional sea ice loss," says James Overland, an oceanographer at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. "The potential big deal is that we now may be having a positive feedback between atmospheric wind patterns and continued loss of sea ice."

Incidentally, the changing winds might also be to blame for some of the cold and snowy weather in North America and China in recent winters, Overland says. Unusual poleward flows of warm air over Siberia have displaced cold air southwards on either side.

Going global

The rapid warming in the Arctic means that a global temperature rise of 3 °C, likely this century, could translate into a 10 °C warming in the far north. Permafrost hundreds of metres deep will be at risk of thawing out.

This is where things go global. The Arctic is not just a reflective mirror that is cracking up. It is also a massive store of carbon and methane, locked into the frozen soils and buried in icy structures beneath the ocean bed.

A quarter of the land surface of the northern hemisphere contains permafrost, permanently frozen soil, water and rock. In places, deep permafrost that formed during the last ice age, when the sea level was much lower, extends far out under the ocean, beneath the seabed. Large areas of permafrost are already starting to melt, resulting in rapid erosion, buckled highways and pipelines, collapsing buildings and "drunken" forests.

"Maldives’ disappearing coast prompts appeal to UN space agency"

The Maldives, one of the nations most threatened by global warming, is appealing to the United Nations space agency to help the island country plan its defenses against rising sea levels.

“Beach erosion is the No. 1 problem for our country right now,” Environment Minister Abdulla Shahid said over the weekend in an interview in Vienna. The Indian Ocean nation of 385,000 people has had to relocate the populations of two of its 200 islands because of eroding beaches, he said.

The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs is meeting this week in the Austrian capital to help poorer nations get access to satellite imagery that can help them plan for environmental disasters and climate change.

Commercial photos from space, which normally cost $4,000 each, can be obtained through the UN for free, Shahid said.

The Maldives wants the images to plan sea walls and future population centers.

“The storm surges have become extreme, much worse than anything our people have seen in their lifetimes,” Shahid said.

One island lost a 1,200-foot (366-meter) long, 160-foot deep stretch of beach in the last two weeks, he said.

The Maldives is among a group of 43 low-lying nations demanding in international climate talks that developed countries slash their emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels to avert the worst effects of warming.

The Maldives lies 3 meters above sea level at its highest and is among the countries most threatened by rising sea levels caused by global warming. The government has already set up a sovereign wealth fund in case it needs to buy land abroad to resettle its civilians, President Mohamed Nasheed said on April 7.

Shahid said it would cost between $25 billion and $30 billion to build a sea wall around the island nation to mitigate against storm surges and rising sea levels.

Living Like Kings/Queens***

And how much ‘work’ is embodied in a gallon of gasoline, our most favorite substance of them all? Well, if you put a single gallon in a car, drove it until it ran out, and then turned around and pushed the car home, you’d find out. It turns out that a gallon of gas has the equivalent energy of 500 hours of hard human labor, or 12-1/2 forty-hour work weeks.

So how much is a gallon of gas worth? $4? $10? If you wanted to pay this poor man $15 an hour to push your car home, then we might value a gallon of gas at $7,500.

Here’s another example. It has been calculated that the amount of food that average North America citizen consumes in year requires the equivalent of 400 gallons of petroleum to produce and ship.

At $4/gallon, that works out to $1600 of your yearly food bill spent on fuel, which doesn’t sound too extreme. However, when we consider that those 400 gallons represent the energy equivalent of 100 humans working year round at 40 hours a week, then it takes on an entirely different meaning. This puts your diet well out of the reach of most kings of times past. Just to put this in context, as it is currently configured, food production and distribution use fully two-thirds of our domestic oil production. This is one reason why a cessation of imports would be, shall we say, disruptive.

This is from Chris Martensons "Crash Course" about Energy & the Economy. He briefly mentions the Environment - but it's not a big thing about what he talks about. For him the big thing is the society collapsing - which I admit would have catestrophic impacts - but so does global warming, habitat destruction, the over-fishing, soil depletion/poisoning, the poisoning of the planet in general, and overpopulation. All of which are being caused by the same things he discusses - the temporary abundance of oil - with little concern to the effects of our actions. He does make some interesting points and connects many dots.

One good thing I saw on my drive home from the east coast were several wind turbine wings being transported on trucks.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jellyfish - Akron Zoo

I've been away. One of the places I visited on my way home was the the Akron Zoo.

It's billed as a "Children's Zoo" - but they have a good jellyfish exhibit. There were something like 8 or more varieties - several of which were new to me. One was rainbow-like and looked to have an electrical charge moving through it. It is some sort of comb jelly.

There were also Sea Nettles and Moon Jellies - including baby moon jellies.

Monday, June 15, 2009

"UN (official) calls for global ban on plastic bags"

From Mongabay:

The UN’s top environmental official called for a global ban on plastic bags yesterday. "Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program.

Steiner’s call comes after the U.N. Environment Program released a comprehensive report on litter in the world’s ocean, which identified plastic as the most common form of ocean litter. When plastic enters the marine food -chain it can devastate marine life and even affect humans when they consume seafood that have eaten plastic debris.

The plastic problem is so bad that a floating island of plastic debris has been discovered in the northern Pacific which is double the size of the United States.

China and Bangladesh have both banned plastic bags, while Ireland has reduced plastic bag consumption by 90 percent by levying a fee on each bag. Such measures have only just reached the United States: San Francisco is the only city to ban plastic bags, although Los Angeles will have a ban in place next year. New York City rejected such a fee on bags last year, but Washington D.C. is considering a 5-cent-fee this week.

I noticed plastic bags and pop bottles floating done the Ohio river when I was in Louisville last weekend.