Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Chinese banks to fund $1.5B Texas wind farm"

From AP/Yahoo:

China took a big leap into the U.S. renewable energy market Thursday, putting up $1.5 billion for a 36,000-acre wind farm in Texas with the power to light up 180,000 homes.

The project is a joint venture with U.S. Renewable Energy Group, a private equity firm, Austin, Texas-based Cielo Wind Power LP and Shenyang Power Group of China.

The announcement Thursday shows how much China's own wind industry has burgeoned and comes two days after U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told lawmakers that the U.S. was falling behind China and others in alternative energy investment.

"With a long track record for building some of the world's biggest wind farms, the U.S. is a real ideal target for foreign alternative energy investment," said Jinxiang Lu, Shenyang Power Group's chairman and chief executive.

Executives would only say that the project will be located in West Texas and built within several counties.

Chinese wind turbine manufacturer A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd. will begin shipping the 2.5-megawatt turbines in March 2010, built in the company's plant in the city of Shenyang.

A-Power uses technology developed by Germany-based Fuhrlander AG and Erie, Pa.-based GE Drivetrain Technologies.

The joint venture also plans to tap into U.S. stimulus funding for alternative energy, said Cappy McGarr, managing partner of U.S. Renewable Energy.

There are growing signs that the wind industry has weathered the worst of the recession, though credit markets remain very tight.

The economic slowdown has led to the demise of some wind projects...

Over the summer, energy baron T. Boone Pickens said he was backing off plans to erect 687 giant wind turbines over four counties in the Texas Panhandle, and is now looking to sell them off.

Rob Gramlich, the wind energy association's senior vice president public policy, said China has put in place aggressive renewable energy targets and is rapidly building up its manufacturing base. He said wind development potential is attracting investors from both within in the U.S. and from overseas...

Yang Yazhou, vice mayor of Shenyang where the turbines are manufactured, said the project would demonstrate for the first time Chinese capital and manufacturing and engineering expertise exported to the United States.

Shenyang, a diverse manufacturing city with companies in the aviation, automobile and heavy equipment industries, has been working on entering the U.S. market for a long time and the wind farm project "was just meant to be," Yazhou said.

"Eels Slip Away From Europe's Dishes"


For three generations, An Pauwels's family restaurant has been dishing up paling in t'groen -- a much-cherished Belgian specialty that combines thumb-size chunks of eel with an emerald-tinted hodgepodge of herbs. It translates as "eel in the green."

The flat, damp lands of Flanders -- crisscrossed with streams, ditches and canals -- are ideal eel territory, making paling in t'groen a rival to mussels with fries or beef stewed in beer as the national dish. In the erstwhile fishing village of Mariekerke, a few kilometers upriver from Ms. Pauwels's De Groenendijk restaurant, an annual festival sees aficionados get through 8,000 kilos during a three-day binge of eel eating.

They may be slimy, snakelike and a distinct turn-off for many people, but eels have formed an integral part of European cuisine since the time of the ancient Greeks. Yet without urgent action, scientists fear this mysterious beast could disappear from the continent's waterways and dinner tables for good.

European eel stocks have fallen to below 10% of 1970s levels, according to the International Council for the Exploitation of the Sea in Copenhagen. In parts of the Baltic and Mediterranean 99% of the stocks are believed to have vanished.

The eel's precipitous decline has been blamed on river pollution, hydro-electric dams, global warming, changes in ocean currents and deadly parasitic worms, but many experts say overfishing is the biggest problem...

Pollution in the Scheldt means any eels that survive are unfit for human consumption, and commercial fishing has been banned for decades. These days, Belgians are forced to import their eels, mostly from Denmark, Sweden or Ireland.

The decline in eel is threatening eel dishes across Europe, where they are deeply rooted in traditional cuisine and are consumed in a bewildering manner of styles from the Atlantic coast to the Aegean.

In the pintxo (or snack) bars of the Basque country, spaghetti-thin baby eels used to be tossed with garlic, olive oil and guindilla chili and piled high on slices of baguette. Plucked from the lagoons of Portugal's central coast, pencil-size adolescent eels are deep-fried whole in a light batter then crunched as finger food, pointy head, bones and all. At the other end of the continent, the Zemaiciai restaurant in Vilnius, Lithuania, promises eels measuring half a meter from tail to toothy grin as part of a muscular appetizer menu that includes smoked pig's ear, snout and tongue. (Chilled vodka and a glass of their home-brewed beer help wash them down.)

Poles take their eels roasted with carrots, parsnips and mustard sauce; smoked eel is a street snack served from pavement fish stalls around the Netherlands.

In Hamburg, aalsuppe is a rich, sweet-sour chowder that aligns eel with a bewildering variety of vegetables and dried fruits; Venetians also sweeten eels from the Po delta, adding sultanas and brandy to enrich anguilla all'uvetta...

From 1995 to 2005, the European Union estimates an average of half a billion live baby eels were exported every year to East Asia. As their numbers shrank, the price rose almost tenfold during the decade, reaching over €700 per kilo in 2005, according to EU statistics. In 2007, the European eel was classified as a protected species by Cites, the international convention governing trade in wildlife. Exporters must now apply for government authorization to sell eels abroad. The Dutch government wants to go further, urging the EU to ban exports. But France and Spain especially are unwilling to cut off a trade that was worth around €30 million last year for hard-pressed fishermen around the Bay of Biscay.

"There is very big money in that business, really big money and the French and Spanish just keep selling to the Chinese," says Belgian eel importer Frans Borremans. "I hope it will change and governments will say it must come to an end and that we keep our eels in Europe."

There has been a heavy cost for Spanish consumers. The price of baby eels, or angulas, there has soared as numbers have fallen, making them a rare luxury nibble in posh restaurants rather than popular tapas fare. At the opening of the season last November in the northern port of Ribadesella, one restaurant was reported to have paid €2,075 per kilo, although the price later settled down to €450. With the real thing beyond most people's price range, Spanish tapas bars now serve a fishy eel substitute made from surimi fish mush.

To ensure the eel doesn't slip slide away, the EU is introducing a recovery plan to limit catches. Even if they are successful, EU experts acknowledge it could still take more than 20 years before stocks recover.

"Zero Carbon home unveiled in Kent"

From the Guardian.UK:

The UK government has a target for all new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016.

The term "eco home" is now so used and abused that it barely retains any trace of meaning. So when we learn that Channel 4's Grand Designs is to feature yet another eco home this week it's tempting to pre-emptively reach for the remote. (Incidentally, my favourite featured home was Ben Law's Woodsman Cottage in Sussex, but it was hardly a viable solution to all our housing needs.)

But I must admit that I am slightly intrigued by this week's offering simply because it claims to draw on centuries-old ideas, such as timbrel vaulting. It has often struck me when talking about how we might green up our housing stock just how often the solutions can be found by thumbing through the history books. Much of what is prescribed – insulation, insulation, and a bit more insulation – isn't exactly rocket science.

Our ancestors realised all this long ago, but as fuel becomes ever more available and affordable we largely lost the need to care about wasting energy in our homes. However, things are fast changing and we need to urgently rethink how we use and save energy at home. After all, households account for 27% of the UK's carbon emissions.

The programme this week will feature a home called Crossway located near Staplehurst in Kent. Its owner, architect Richard Hawkes, says it is one of the first "zero-carbon" (another overused term) homes in the UK. What sets it apart is its structural reliance on a large vaulted roof which spans 20m. Much of the house is covered in earth to aid insulation and help it to blend into its rural setting. The earliest known example of "Catalan vaulting" – the forebear of timbrel vaulting – is a building in Valencia dating back to 1382 and it is a very resource-efficient way of creating a strong, expansive roof.

"The vaulting gives the house plenty of structural strength but obviates the need for embodied-energy intensive materials such as reinforced concrete," says Dr Michael Ramage, who helped to design the home. He is an architectural designer based at the University of Cambridge's Department of Architecture with expertise in structural design and construction technology. "It also provides it with great thermal mass, enabling the building to retain heat, absorb fluctuations in temperature and reducing the need for central heating or cooling systems," adds Ramage.

The UK's first example of a combination photovoltaic and thermal heating system has been installed alongside an 11kW biomass boiler to provide the home's heating and power needs.

I fully support such innovation and am intrigued to see how it all works and performs, but I'm always distracted by one thought: what about our existing housing stock? Surely, the greater task ahead of us is not how we improve the energy efficiency of new housing – ever-tighter building regulations and planning laws should make that a given – but how we go about overhauling the 20-plus million homes already standing across the UK, most of which leak heat for fun.

"To Protect Penguins, Protect Krill"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - To protect penguins on the rapidly warming Antarctic peninsula, regulators need to ensure the survival of shrimp-like krill, the base of the food chain at the bottom of the world, marine experts said on Wednesday.

Whales and seals also depend on krill for food, the experts said in a telephone news briefing.

The numbers of Chinstrap and Adelie penguins are declining steeply along the Antarctic peninsula, the part of the southern continent that stretches northward toward South America.

This is the most dramatically warming place on the planet and a location where huge miles-wide swarms of krill historically congregated, according to Wayne Trivelpiece, a penguin expert at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Krill need winter ice to survive but because of rising temperatures on the peninsula and in the waters that surround it, the area is ice-free for about four months each year, Trivelpiece said. Probably as a result, he said, winter stocks of krill have declined 80 percent in the past 20 years.

Prized as a component of fish food and nutritional supplements for people, krill are commercially harvested by factory trawlers, and the annual catch of this species rose in 2008 to 150,000 tons, from about 100,000 tons in 2007, according to the Pew Environmental Group.

To protect krill and the Antarctic sea creatures that depend on them, the Pew Environmental Group urged regulators now meeting in Tasmania to require fishing vessels to spread out geographically and over time in the southern ocean.

"This would prevent the concentration of the fisher from significantly reducing the amount of krill available for key predators, including whales, penguins and seals," the group said in a statement.

The Antarctic krill fishery is regulated by the Commission of the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, a group of 25 countries now meeting in Hobart, Tasmania.

The commission already has recognized that the current catch limits will not protect krill or its marine animal predators because the limits cover large swaths of ocean and do little to guard against concentrated krill fishing in small areas, the Pew statement said.

"Trouble at Sea" - The Mnemiopsis Jellyfish Invasion

From TIME:

The jellyfish in the photos didn't look like they'd pose a danger to swimmers. Thinly veined and translucent, they didn't have stinging tentacles trailing behind them or dramatic colors signaling danger. But Ferdinando Boero, a professor of zoology at the University of Salento in Italy, knew that they meant trouble nonetheless.

The pictures, sent by a biologist in the northern Italian town of Lerici in July, marked the first time the species Mnemiopsis leidyi, a thumb-size jellyfish known as the sea walnut, had been documented in the western Mediterranean Sea. Native to the Atlantic coast of the U.S., Mnemiopsis was introduced to the Black Sea in the 1980s — most likely from the ballast water of oil tankers — and played an instrumental role in the collapse of the region's fisheries. "Now the question is, Will it do in the Mediterranean the same thing it did in the Black Sea?" Boero says. "It's harmless for [humans], but it can be deadly for the fish."

The ominous discovery — the result of Boero's request that all Italians report their jellyfish sightings — came during a series of unusually prolific jellyfish seasons 
 over the past five years. This summer, jellyfish outbreaks forced numerous resorts along the Mediterranean coast to shut their beaches. In Corsica and Tuscany, several swimmers were wounded by Portuguese man-of-wars, jellyfish-like creatures with a potentially fatal sting. In Tunisia, a swarm of jellyfish engulfed a fish farm, killing the year's production of sea bass and sea bream.

Off the coast of Israel, where tropical species have moved in through the Suez Canal, jellyfish floated in swarms more than 100 km long and 2 km wide. Blooms of Mnemiopsis, first documented off Israel last winter, clogged the filters of a desalination plant that supplies coastal communities with 100 million liters of water a day. At the height of the outbreak, water production at the plant dropped by more than a third as desperate workers tried to clear the filters.

The reasons for the recent explosion in jellyfish numbers are many. The problems in the Black Sea occurred because Mnemiopsis had been introduced to an ecosystem that had already been severely overfished. In a healthy ecosystem, small fish keep the jellyfish population in check by eating their young. But when the fish population plummets, the tables are turned. By preying on the eggs and larvae of the few surviving fish, the jellyfish prevent them from replenishing their numbers and quickly take their place. "We're shifting from a fish to a jellyfish ocean," says Boero. "We're removing most of the fish, and nature doesn't like a vacuum."

But overfishing is not solely to blame. The nutrients from fertilizer runoff and sewage suck oxygen from the lower layers of the ocean, creating an environment in which fish struggle but jellyfish thrive. Since 2000, there's been such an increase in numbers of Australian jellyfish in the oxygen-depleted waters of the Gulf of Mexico that shrimpers have been forced to hang up their nets during the swarm season in the summer. In the nutrient-rich waters off the coast of Japan, where jellyfish can grow to the size of refrigerators, a nuclear power plant was forced to lower production in 2006 when a mass of the creatures clogged its cooling system.

Climate change, too, is likely playing a role. As ocean temperatures rise, jellyfish are reproducing faster, and tropical species are beginning to extend their range.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New Orleans Can No Longer Be Protected From Storm Surges

From the Guardian.UK:

New Orleans can no longer be protected from hurricane storm surges, according to the US army general in charge of the city's defences.

General Robert Van Antwerp, chief of the US Army Corps of Engineers, said his team was in "persistent conflict" with the Mississippi river.

"If you ask can I protect the city, the answer is no. Can I reduce the risk? Yes.

"We can develop better early warning systems, better evacuation plans, better levees to hold back most of the water, but we cannot stop levees being overtopped and the city flooded."

He declined to say whether this meant the city should be abandoned altogether and relocated inland. "That is outside my brief," he said.

Four years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and caused a political crisis for President George Bush, a religion, science and environment conference in the city was told that half of Louisiana will be lost by the end of the century.

The vast Mississippi delta is sinking a centimetre a year. Sea levels are rising at an accelerating rate, and will be two metres higher by the year 2100. Much of the delta is less than a metre above sea level, so most communities will be submerged.

The oil and gas industry's massive canal and pipeline network, which provides 35% of the country's gas and oil, cuts through the state's freshwater swamps and marshes, allowing vast quantities of sea water from the Gulf to wash into the delta and kill many of the trees and plants that protect the land from storm surges.

Chris Macaluso, in charge of the newly created Office of Coastal Protection, says 2,300 square miles of marsh and swamp have been lost because of salt-water intrusion in 50 years.

In the four-month hurricane season, land disappears at the rate of an acre every six minutes or 25 to 40 square miles a year.

His office is reconstructing some of the barrier islands along the Gulf to protect the remaining wetlands from wave action, but what used to be marshland behind them is now open water dotted with oil wells. Most of the once vibrant cypress forests, which could stop the storm surges, are reduced to dead stumps sticking out of the water.

"We have broken the ecosystem. What we are doing to restore it is a drop in the ocean of what is needed," Macaluso said.

His office is spending $1.5bn (about £915m) over four years on wetland restoration. Another $14.3bn is being spent on new levees and defences for New Orleans.

It is estimated that to save the delta's wetlands and its settlements from sinking by diverting the Mississippi would cost $200bn.

Prof Gerald Galloway, from the department of civil engineering at the University of Maryland, said: "We are facing catastrophe. The challenge now is to see if anybody will do anything about it."

Dr Peter Bridgewater, chairman of the UK's Joint Nature Conservation Committee, asked if he would advocate evacuation of the city, said: "New Orleans is not a place to invest in real estate.

"There needs to be dramatic changes in policy and attitude, but time is running out."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Two myths that keep the world poor"

By Vandana Shiva - From Ode:

From rock singer Bob Geldof to UK politician Gordon Brown, the world suddenly seems to be full of high-profile people with their own plans to end poverty. Jeffrey Sachs, however, is not a simply a do-gooder but one of the world’s leading economists, head of the Earth Institute and in charge of a UN panel set up to promote rapid development. So when he launched his book The End of Poverty, people everywhere took notice. Time magazine even made it into a cover story.

But, there is a problem with Sachs’ how-to-end poverty prescriptions. He simply doesn’t understand where poverty comes from. He seems to view it as the original sin. “A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,” he writes, then adding: “The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.”

This is a totally false history of poverty. The poor are not those who have been “left behind”; they are the ones who have been robbed. The wealth accumulated by Europe and North America are largely based on riches taken from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India’s rich textile industry, without the takeover of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without African slavery, the Industrial Revolution would not have resulted in new riches for Europe or North America. It was this violent takeover of Third World resources and markets that created wealth in the North and poverty in the South.

Two of the great economic myths of our time allow people to deny this intimate link, and spread misconceptions about what poverty is.

First, the destruction of nature and of people’s ability to look after themselves are blamed not on industrial growth and economic colonialism, but on poor people themselves. Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction. The disease is then offered as a cure: further economic growth is supposed to solve the very problems of poverty and ecological decline that it gave rise to in the first place. This is the message at the heart of Sachs’ analysis.

The second myth is an assumption that if you consume what you produce, you do not really produce, at least not economically speaking. If I grow my own food, and do not sell it, then it doesn’t contribute to GDP, and therefore does not contribute towards “growth”.

People are perceived as “poor” if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics.

Yet sustenance living, which the wealthy West perceives as poverty, does not necessarily mean a low quality of life. On the contrary, by their very nature economies based on sustenance ensure a high quality of life—when measured in terms of access to good food and water, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, robust social and cultural identity, and a sense of meaning in people’s lives . Because these poor don’t share in the perceived benefits of economic growth, however, they are portrayed as those “left behind”.

This false distinction between the factors that create affluence and those that create poverty is at the core of Sachs’ analysis. And because of this, his prescriptions will aggravate and deepen poverty instead of ending it. Modern concepts of economic development, which Sachs sees as the “cure” for poverty, have been in place for only a tiny portion of human history. For centuries, the principles of sustenance allowed societies all over the planet to survive and even thrive. Limits in nature were respected in these societies and guided the limits of human consumption. When society’s relationship with nature is based on sustenance, nature exists as a form of common wealth. It is redefined as a “resource” only when profit becomes the organising principle of society and sets off a financial imperative for the development and destruction of these resources for the market.

However much we choose to forget or deny it, all people in all societies still depend on nature. Without clean water, fertile soils and genetic diversity, human survival is not possible. Today, economic development is destroying these onetime commons, resulting in the creation of a new contradiction: development deprives the very people it professes to help of their traditional land and means of sustenance, forcing them to survive in an increasingly eroded natural world.

A system like the economic growth model we know today creates trillions of dollars of super profits for corporations while condemning billions of people to poverty. Poverty is not, as Sachs suggests, an initial state of human progress from which to escape. It is a final state people fall into when one-sided development destroys the ecological and social systems that have maintained the life, health and sustenance of people and the planet for ages. The reality is that people do not die for lack of income. They die for lack of access to the wealth of the commons. Here, too, Sachs is wrong when he says: “In a world of plenty, 1 billion people are so poor their lives are in danger.” The indigenous people in the Amazon, the mountain communities in the Himalayas, peasants anywhere whose land has not been appropriated and whose water and biodiversity have not been destroyed by debt-creating industrial agriculture are ecologically rich, even though they earn less than a dollar a day.

On the other hand, people are poor if they have to purchase their basic needs at high prices no matter how much income they make. Take the case of India. Because of cheap food and fibre being dumped by developed nations and lessened trade protections enacted by the government, farm prices in India are tumbling, which means that the country’s peasants are losing $26 billion U.S. each year. Unable to survive under these new economic conditions, many peasants are now poverty-stricken and thousands commit suicide each year. Elsewhere in the world, drinking water is privatised so that corporations can now profit to the tune of $1 trillion U.S. a year by selling an essential resource to the poor that was once free. And the $50 billion U.S. of “aid” trickling North to South is but a tenth of the $500 billion being sucked in the other direction due to interest payments and other unjust mechanisms in the global economy imposed by the World Bank and the IMF.

If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the systems that create poverty by robbing the poor of their common wealth, livelihoods and incomes. Before we can make poverty history, we need to get the history of poverty right. It’s not about how much wealthy nations can give, so much as how much less they can take.

"Researchers see the light on a new generation of LED lamps"

From the Guardian.UK:

Professor Colin Humphreys of the University of Cambridge has seen the light. By growing gallium nitride LEDs on silicon wafers rather than expensive sapphire, he's planning to put compact fluorescent lamps into the shade. A next-generation LED production technology will eventually see today's compact fluorescents going the same way as Thomas Edison's incandescent bulbs.

Humphreys's interest in gallium nitride (GaN) goes back to the mid-90s when he first investigated the man-made material with an electron microscope. As well as emitting a brilliant light, it is an important semiconducting material for high-power transistors.

Now, through the Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride and backed by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funding, cutting edge research is showing what GaN is really capable of.

Working with GaN-based light emitting diodes requires highly specialist equipment capable of growing the semiconductor crystals. "Something like 90% of commercial LEDs are grown on two-inch diameter sapphire wafers," says Humphreys. "To grow gallium nitride you have to grow it at about 1,000°C." Indium is added for a brilliant visible light – 10% for a blue light, 20% for green – with a phosphor coating on the LED changing this to white.

But why use sapphire in the first place? It's an unreactive base material stable at the high gas temperatures used to form the GaN crystals. Humphreys says that a two-inch sapphire wafer costs $50 with an industry standard six-inch silicon wafer costing $15.

If you try and deposit GaN onto a silicon wafer to save money, differential thermal expansions between the materials result in a bent wafer with numerous defects in the neat rows of 1mm2 LEDs. But by using an additional "compressive" layer of aluminium gallium nitride and other techniques, Humphreys has successfully overcome these problems.

The maths now starts to work in his favour even though, at 58%, the LED internal quantum efficiency currently lags behind the 70% of the sapphire-based equivalents. "Effectively, you get at least as 10 times as many useful LEDs from a six-inch wafer as from a two-inch wafer." He also reckons the production costs for a finished LED lightbulb may fall by a factor of five.

LEDs offer three times the efficiency of compact fluorescent lamps and 12 times that of incandescents. They also switch on instantly, are dimmable, and last for 100,000 hours. "We think we can mimic the visible spectrum of sunlight and get natural lighting," adds Humphreys. "If we can get the cost down, they'll just be everywhere in the world."

"Foam from ocean algae bloom killing thousands of birds"


A slimy foam churning up from the ocean has killed thousands seabirds and washed many others ashore, stripped of their waterproofing and struggling for life.

The birds have been clobbered by an unusual algae bloom stretching from the northern Oregon coast to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

"This is huge," said Julia Parrish, a marine biologist and professor at the University of Washington who leads a seabird monitoring group. "It's the largest mortality event of its kind on the West Coast that we know of."

The culprit is a single-cell algae or phytoplankton called Akashiwo sanguinea. Though the algae has multiplied off the coast of California before, killing hundreds of seabirds, the phenomenon has not been seen in Oregon and Washington and has never occurred on the West Coast to this extent, Parrish said.

"We're getting counts of up to a million cells per liter of water," she said. "Think about that. That's pretty dense."

Marine biologists said it is not clear why the algae are multiplying, though they do flourish in warm weather. Recent storms could have contributed to the problem, with crashing waves breaking them up.

The algae get whipped by the surf into something akin to a sticky soap which looks like the top of a root beer float. The foam can be deadly to seabirds because it washes off the natural oils that keep them waterproofed.

Without that protection, they get cold, wet, eventually dying of hypothermia.

When they wash ashore, they are covered in foam.

"It looks like they're lying in a sea of bubble bath," said Greg Schirato, regional wildlife program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He said thousands had died.

This algal bloom, unlike the toxins produced by blue-green algae, poses no threat to humans or pets. But the bloom could kill fish by clogging their gills, said Zachary Forster, phytoplankton specialist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We haven't seen any instances of that," Forster said.

The first seabird die-off in the Northwest occurred in mid-September, with swarms of dead and dying birds washing up on beaches around Kalaloch on the Olympic Peninsula.

At least a thousand scoters or sea ducks, were killed, Parrish said.

"Then it subsided and we thought it was over, but it started up again," she said.

This time Oregon was hit as well.

On Tuesday, birds flooded ashore on the Long Beach peninsula and on beaches as far south as Cannon Beach, prompting an outpouring of calls to the Wildlife Center of the North Coast near Astoria.

The center, the only wildlife rehabilitation facility serving the northern Oregon and Washington coasts, is working around the clock treating more than 500 birds.

"We're in an emergency crisis mode," said Dr. Virginia Huang, president of the center's board.

Friday, October 23, 2009

To Cut Global Warming, Swedes Study Their Plates

From the New York Times:

STOCKHOLM — Shopping for oatmeal, Helena Bergstrom, 37, admitted that she was flummoxed by the label on the blue box reading, “Climate declared: .87 kg CO2 per kg of product.”

“Right now, I don’t know what this means,” said Ms. Bergstrom, a pharmaceutical company employee.

But if a new experiment here succeeds, she and millions of other Swedes will soon find out. New labels listing the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of foods, from whole wheat pasta to fast food burgers, are appearing on some grocery items and restaurant menus around the country.

People who live to eat might dismiss this as silly. But changing one’s diet can be as effective in reducing emissions of climate-changing gases as changing the car one drives or doing away with the clothes dryer, scientific experts say.

“We’re the first to do it, and it’s a new way of thinking for us,” said Ulf Bohman, head of the Nutrition Department at the Swedish National Food Administration, which was given the task last year of creating new food guidelines giving equal weight to climate and health. “We’re used to thinking about safety and nutrition as one thing and environmental as another.”

Some of the proposed new dietary guidelines, released over the summer, may seem startling to the uninitiated. They recommend that Swedes favor carrots over cucumbers and tomatoes, for example. (Unlike carrots, the latter two must be grown in heated greenhouses here, consuming energy.)

They are not counseled to eat more fish, despite the health benefits, because Europe’s stocks are depleted.

And somewhat less surprisingly, they are advised to substitute beans or chicken for red meat, in view of the heavy greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cattle.

“For consumers, it’s hard,” Mr. Bohman acknowledged. “You are getting environmental advice that you have to coordinate with, ‘How can I eat healthier?’ ”

...if the new food guidelines were religiously heeded, some experts say, Sweden could cut its emissions from food production by 20 to 50 percent. An estimated 25 percent of the emissions produced by people in industrialized nations can be traced to the food they eat, according to recent research here. And foods vary enormously in the emissions released in their production.

While today’s American or European shoppers may be well versed in checking for nutrients, calories or fat content, they often have little idea of whether eating tomatoes, chicken or rice is good or bad for the climate.

Complicating matters, the emissions impact of, say, a carrot, can vary by a factor of 10, depending how and where it is grown.

Earlier studies of food emissions focused on the high environmental costs of transporting food and raising cattle. But more nuanced research shows that the emissions depend on many factors, including the type of soil used to grow the food and whether a dairy farmer uses local rapeseed or imported soy for cattle feed.

...Consumers who pay attention may learn that emissions generated by growing the nation’s most popular grain, rice, are two to three times those of little-used barley, for example.

Some producers argue that the new programs are overly complex and threaten profits. The dietary recommendations, which are being circulated for comment not just in Sweden but across the European Union, have been attacked by the Continent’s meat industry, Norwegian salmon farmers and Malaysian palm oil growers, to name a few.

...The Swedish effort grew out of a 2005 study by Sweden’s national environmental agency on how personal consumption generates emissions. Researchers found that 25 percent of national per capita emissions — two metric tons per year — was attributable to eating.

The government realized that encouraging a diet that tilted more toward chicken or vegetables and educating farmers on lowering emissions generally could have an enormous impact.

Sweden has been a world leader in finding new ways to reduce emissions. It has vowed to eliminate the use of fossil fuel for electricity by 2020 and cars that run on gasoline by 2030.

To arrive at numbers for their company’s first carbon dioxide labels, scientists at Lantmannen analyzed life cycles of 20 products. These take into account emissions generated by fertilizer, fuel for harvesting machinery, packaging and transport.

"World carbon emissions, by country: new data released"

There is also a table - Carbon emissions from consumption of energy - by country - per capita emission in 2007 in million of tons

Some selected countries:

****** North America - 15.9******

US - 19.9

Canada - 17.9

Mexico - 4.2

******Central and South America - 2.6******

Brazil - 2.1

The Bahamas - 16.8

Cuba - 2.2

Netherlands Antilles - 55.7

Peru - 1.1

Puerto Rico - 9.3

Saint Lucia 2.4

Trinidad and Tobago 38.1

Venezuela 6.6

Virgin Islands US - 150.0

Virgin Islands British 4.4

******Europe - 7.9******

Austria - 8.9

Belgium - 13.9

Czech Republic - 10.1

Denmark - 10.4

France 6.4

Gibralter - 159.1

Iceland 11.6

Italy - 7.9

Luxembourg - 25.4

Netherlands 15.8

Sweden - 6.3

UK - 9.3


Armenia - 3.8

Estonia -16.2

Russia - 11.8

Tajikistan - 1.0

******Middle East - 8.0******

Bahrain - 41.0

Iran - 7.5

Iraq - 3.5

Israel - 9.8

Kuwait - 31.3

Palestine - 0.8

Qater - 70.6

Saudi Arabia - 15.7

****** Africa - 1.2******

Benin - 0.4

Barundi - 0.0

Egypt - 2.1

Libya - 8.9

Somalia - 0.1

South Africa - 9.4

****** Asia & Oceania - 3.2******

Afghanistan - 0.0

Australia - 22.0

Bangladesh - 0.3

Brunei - 27.2

Guam - 11.9

India - 1.2

Japan - 9.9

New Zealand - 9.5

Pakistan - 0.8

Singapore - 33.9

Vanuatu - 0.9

******World - 4.5******

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"EPA moves to block largest strip mine in W.Va. history"

From the Charleston Gazette-mail:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers processes about 80,000 Clean Water Act permits every year, but the EPA has used its veto power only 12 times since 1972 -- and has never used it to block a coal-mining permit.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration moved a step closer on Friday to cancelling a Clean Water Act permit for the largest mountaintop-removal mine in West Virginia history.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials cited their "very serious concerns regarding the scale and extent of significant environmental and water-quality impacts" from Arch Coal Inc.'s proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County.

In a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA regional administrator William E. Early formally warned that his agency was prepared to block the Spruce Mine permit unless its impacts are further reduced.

"While we recognize that the project has been modified to reduce projected impacts . . . there is the potential for its associated discharges to cause further stream degradation," Early wrote.

Early said EPA experts remain concerned that the 2,300-acre Spruce Mine will damage downstream water quality and add to cumulative environmental damage in a heavily mined area. The EPA also said the permit does not contain adequate measures to mitigate environmental damage or spell out what steps would be taken should water-quality impacts occur.

"EPA has worked hard to assess the effects of surface coal mining on water quality in streams below mining activities," Early wrote. "What we have learned is compelling and further substantiates the scientific literature that points to a high potential for downstream water quality excursions under current mining and valley fill practices."

Early's letter gives the corps and Arch Coal subsidiary Mingo Logan 15 days to respond before the EPA issues a notice that would kick off a public-comment period, the next step in the legal process for the EPA to overrule the corps' decision to grant the Spruce Mine permit.

Under the Clean Water Act, the corps generally processes "dredge-and-fill" permits that allow coal operators to bury streams with waste rock and dirt, but, Congress gave the EPA broad authority to overrule the corps if it believes serious water-quality damage could be avoided.

Before it can formally veto the Spruce Mine permit, the EPA would need to accept public comment and give the corps and the company at least two more chances to fix the permit's problems.

Although the corps processes about 80,000 Clean Water Act permits every year, the EPA has used its veto power only 12 times since 1972 -- and has never used it to block a coal-mining permit.

In his letter, Early told the corps that the veto threat on the Spruce Mine "reflects the magnitude of anticipated direct, indirect and cumulative adverse environmental impacts associated with this mountaintop removal operation...

EPA Document

Wilkins Ice Shelf breaking up

(Reuters) - An area of an Antarctic ice shelf almost the size of New York City has broken into icebergs this month after the collapse of an ice bridge widely blamed on global warming, a scientist said Tuesday.

"The northern ice front of the Wilkins Ice Shelf has become unstable and the first icebergs have been released," Angelika Humbert, glaciologist at the University of Muenster in Germany, said of European Space Agency satellite images of the shelf.

Humbert told Reuters about 700 sq km (270.3 sq mile) of ice -- bigger than Singapore or Bahrain and almost the size of New York City -- has broken off the Wilkins this month and shattered into a mass of icebergs.

She said 370 sq kms of ice had cracked up in recent days from the Shelf, the latest of about 10 shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula to retreat in a trend linked by the U.N. Climate Panel to global warming.

The new icebergs added to 330 sq kms of ice that broke up earlier this month with the shattering of an ice bridge apparently pinning the Wilkins in place between Charcot island and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Nine other shelves -- ice floating on the sea and linked to the coast -- have receded or collapsed around the Antarctic peninsula in the past 50 years, often abruptly like the Larsen A in 1995 or the Larsen B in 2002.

The trend is widely blamed on climate change caused by heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels, according to David Vaughan, a British Antarctic Survey scientist who landed by plane on the Wilkins ice bridge with two Reuters reporters in January.

Humbert said by telephone her estimates were that the Wilkins could lose a total of 800 to 3,000 sq kms of area after the ice bridge shattered.

The Wilkins shelf has already shrunk by about a third from its original 16,000 sq kms when first spotted decades ago, its ice so thick would take at least hundreds of years to form.

Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have warmed by up to 3 Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) this century, Vaughan said, a trend climate scientists blame on global warming from burning fossil fuels in cars, factories and power plants... The Arctic Council, grouping nations with territory in the Arctic, is due to meet in Tromsoe, north Norway, Wednesday to debate the impact of melting ice in the north.

"U.S. Army to build 500 MW solar power plant"


* Project's first phase to be 500 megawatts, could be 1 GW

* ACCIONA Solar, Clark Energy to develop plant over 13 yrs

* Developers to fund project in exchange for land lease

LOS ANGELES - The U.S. military is tackling a new mission in the field of alternative energy, moving to power up a 500-megawatt solar facility at Fort Irwin's sprawling desert complex in California.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tapped ACCIONA Solar Power, a unit of Spain's Acciona SA (ANA.MC), and Clark Energy Group to develop the project, which launched its first phase on Thursday.

The project, located at the Army's largest training range in California's Mojave Desert, could grow as large as 1 gigawatt in the future.

The companies will finance and build the plant in exchange for leasing of the military land. The project, planned for five sites over 13 years, could cost $2 billion.

The solar power plant is part of the Army's mission to meet a federal mandate that calls for it to cut its energy use by nearly a third by 2015 and get a quarter of its energy needs from renewable resources by 2025.

The facility at Fort Irwin will surpass the 14-MW solar plant at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada as the U.S. Department of Defense's largest solar power plant.

The new plant will have both photovoltaic solar panels and mirrors and turbines for concentrated solar power.

That approach takes advantage of solar thermal's low-cost and solar panels' fast installation, Laurence Greene, who directs development at ACCIONA Solar Power, told a conference call.

"We can tailor individual site development to the needs of the marketplace," Greene added.

Greene said they will be working with other companies on the project, but had not chosen any yet.

At most the military complex uses 28 MW of electricity, said Jerry Hansen, the Army's senior energy executive, leaving nearly 475 MW for developers to sell to regional utilities.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Last Time Carbon Dioxide Levels Were This High: 15 Million Years Ago

From Science Daily:

You would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon dioxide levels on Earth as high as they are today, a UCLA scientist and colleagues report Oct. 8 in the online edition of the journal Science.

"The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland," said the paper's lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

"Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas, and geological observations that we now have for the last 20 million years lend strong support to the idea that carbon dioxide is an important agent for driving climate change throughout Earth's history," she said.

By analyzing the chemistry of bubbles of ancient air trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists have been able to determine the composition of Earth's atmosphere going back as far as 800,000 years, and they have developed a good understanding of how carbon dioxide levels have varied in the atmosphere since that time. But there has been little agreement before this study on how to reconstruct carbon dioxide levels prior to 800,000 years ago.

Tripati, before joining UCLA's faculty, was part of a research team at England’s University of Cambridge that developed a new technique to assess carbon dioxide levels in the much more distant past — by studying the ratio of the chemical element boron to calcium in the shells of ancient single-celled marine algae. Tripati has now used this method to determine the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere as far back as 20 million years ago.

"We are able, for the first time, to accurately reproduce the ice-core record for the last 800,000 years — the record of atmospheric C02 based on measurements of carbon dioxide in gas bubbles in ice," Tripati said. "This suggests that the technique we are using is valid.

"We then applied this technique to study the history of carbon dioxide from 800,000 years ago to 20 million years ago," she said. "We report evidence for a very close coupling between carbon dioxide levels and climate. When there is evidence for the growth of a large ice sheet on Antarctica or on Greenland or the growth of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, we see evidence for a dramatic change in carbon dioxide levels over the last 20 million years.

"A slightly shocking finding," Tripati said, "is that the only time in the last 20 million years that we find evidence for carbon dioxide levels similar to the modern level of 387 parts per million was 15 to 20 million years ago, when the planet was dramatically different."

Levels of carbon dioxide have varied only between 180 and 300 parts per million over the last 800,000 years — until recent decades, said Tripati, who is also a member of UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. It has been known that modern-day levels of carbon dioxide are unprecedented over the last 800,000 years, but the finding that modern levels have not been reached in the last 15 million years is new.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the carbon dioxide level was about 280 parts per million, Tripati said. That figure had changed very little over the previous 1,000 years. But since the Industrial Revolution, the carbon dioxide level has been rising and is likely to soar unless action is taken to reverse the trend, Tripati said...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"Once-mighty caribou herds dwindle, global warming blamed"


ON THE PORCUPINE RIVER TUNDRA, Yukon Territory (AP) — Here on the endlessly rolling and tussocky terrain of northwest Canada, where man has hunted caribou since the Stone Age, the vast antlered herds are fast growing thin. And it’s not just here.

Across the tundra 1,500 kilometers (1,000 miles) to the east, Canada’s Beverly herd, numbering more than 200,000 a decade ago, can barely be found today.

Halfway around the world in Siberia, the biggest aggregation of these migratory animals, of the dun-colored herds whose sweep across the Arctic’s white canvas is one of nature’s matchless wonders, has shrunk by hundreds of thousands in a few short years.

From wildlife spectacle to wildlife mystery, the decline of the caribou — called reindeer in the Eurasian Arctic — has biologists searching for clues, and finding them.

They believe the insidious impact of climate change, its tipping of natural balances and disruption of feeding habits, is decimating a species that has long numbered in the millions and supported human life in Earth’s most inhuman climate.

Many herds have lost more than half their number from the maximums of recent decades, a global survey finds. They "hover on the precipice of a major decline," it says.

The "People of the Caribou," the native Gwich’in of the Yukon and Alaska, were among the first to sense trouble, in the late 1990s, as their Porcupine herd dwindled. From 178,000 in 1989, the herd — named for the river crossing its range — is now estimated to number 100,000.

"They used to come through by the hundreds," James Firth, 56, of the Gwich’in Renewable Resources Board said as he guided two Associated Press journalists across the tundra.

Off toward distant horizons this summer afternoon, only small groups of a dozen or fewer migrating caribou could be seen grazing southward across the spongy landscape, green with a layer of grasses, mosses and lichen over the Arctic permafrost.

"I’ve never seen it like this before," Firth said of the sparse numbers....

Drawing on scores of other studies, government databases, wildlife management boards and other sources, the biologists found that 34 of 43 herds being monitored worldwide are in decline. The average falloff in numbers was 57 percent from earlier maximums, they said.

Siberia’s Taimyr herd has declined from 1 million in 2000 to an estimated 750,000, as reported in the 2008 "Arctic Report Card" of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Taimyr is the world’s largest herd, but Canada and Alaska have more caribou, and the Alberta study reported that 22 of 34 North American herds are shrinking. Data were insufficient to make a judgment on seven others....

In neighboring Northwest Territories, the territorial government on Sept. 24 reported results of its aerial survey of the Bathurst herd: Its population has dropped to about 32,000, from 128,000 in 2006....

"The numbers are not getting better. There’s no good news, no indication of recovery," J. Michael Miltenberger, the environment and natural resources minister, said by telephone from Yellowknife, the capital.

He said "there’s a huge issue" with the Beverly herd, which numbered 276,000 in 1994, ranging over the Canadian tundra 1,500 kilometers (1,000 miles) due north of North Dakota.

"We’ve been flying north to south, east to west," Miltenberger said. "By our count, with the Beverly herd, they’ve all but disappeared."

Climate change is piling problem upon problem on the caribou, he said, including bogging them down in thawing permafrost and lengthening the wildfire season, burning up their food.

"The cumulative impact is bringing enormous pressure on the caribou," he said....

"Peak Oil: The End Of the Oil Age is Near, Deutsche Bank Says"

From WSJ blogs:

By Keith Johnson

Here’s an intriguing thought: Global oil supplies are indeed set to peak within a few years, and no, that is not bullish for oil. Quite the contrary—it will spell the end of the “oil age.”

That’s the take from Deutsche Bank’s new report, “The Peak Oil Market.” In a nutshell: The oil industry chronically under invests in finding new supplies, exemplified both by Big Oil’s recent love of share buybacks and under-investment by big oil-producing nations. That spells a looming supply crunch.

That will send oil to $175 a barrel by 2016—and will simultaneously put the final nail in oil’s coffin and send prices plummeting back to $70 by 2030. That’s because there’s an even more important “peak” moment on the horizon: A global peak in oil demand. That has already begun in the world’s biggest oil-consuming nation, Deutsche Bank notes:

US demand is the key. It is the last market-priced, oil inefficient, major oil consumer. We believe Obama’s environmental agenda, the bankruptcy of the US auto industry, the war in Iraq, and global oil supply challenges have dovetailed to spell the end of the oil era.

The big driver? The coming-of-age of electric and hybrid vehicles, which promise massive fuel-economy gains for short-hop commuting but which so far have not been economic.

Deutsche Bank expects the electric car to become a truly “disruptive technology” which takes off around the world, sending demand for gasoline into an “inexorable and accelerating decline.”

In 2020, the bank expects electric and hybrid vehicles to account for 25% of new car sales—in both the U.S. and China. “We expect [electric propulsion] will reverse the dynamics of world oil demand, and spell the end of the oil age,” the bank writes.

But won’t cheaper oil in the future just lead to a revival in oil demand? That’s what’s happened in every other cycle. Au contraire, says the bank: Just as the explosion of digital cameras made the cost of film irrelevant, the growth of electric cars will make the price of oil (and gasoline) all but irrelevant for transportation.

"UN warns of 70 percent desertification by 2025"

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) — Drought could parch close to 70 percent of the planet's soil by 2025 unless countries implement policies to slow desertification, a senior United Nations official has warned.

"If we cannot find a solution to this problem... in 2025, close to 70 percent could be affected," Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said Friday.

Drought currently affects at least 41 percent of the planet and environmental degradation has caused it to spike by 15 to 25 percent since 1990, according to a global climate report.

"There will not be global security without food security" in dry regions, Gnacadja said at the start of the ninth UN conference on the convention in the Argentine capital.

"A green deal is necessary" for developing countries working to combat drought, he stressed.

The next meeting on the convention is scheduled to take place in South Korea in 2010.

Conservapedia - Building a More "Conservative" Bible


It looks like Conservapedia, the conservative alternative to Wikipedia founded by Andy Schlafly, son of the Eagle Forum's Phyllis Schlafly, has undertaken a new project - making a more conservative Bible [including]:

• Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias

• Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story

• Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning

Also - the word Pharisees will be replaced by the word Intellectuals.

A quick definition search of the word Pharisee includes:

A Jewish political party and school of thought that flourished during the Second Temple Era (536 BCE–70 CE)

pharisee - a self-righteous or sanctimonious person
pharisee - a member of an ancient Jewish sect noted for strict obedience to Jewish traditions

a religious group in Judaism at the time of Jesus which stood in high esteem as scribes. Due to their negative representation in the New Testament became an expression for pedantry and bigotry. [From the Golden Chalice - Barrabas]

"Holy ones" - developed a complex oral tradition of interpretations of the Law. (42): More popular sect. ...

The Pharisee were members of a strict traditionalist Jewish sect that was determined to uphold Hebrew law and ritual in everyday life. The name is Hebrew for 'interpreter'.

Whereas Intellectual means:

An intellectual (from the adjective meaning "involving thought and reason") is a person who uses his or her intelligence and analytical thinking, either in a profession capacity, or for personal reasons.

of or associated with or requiring the use of the mind; "intellectual problems"; "the triumph of the rational over the animal side of man"
a person who uses the mind creatively
cerebral: involving intelligence rather than emotions or instinct; "a cerebral approach to the problem"; "cerebral drama"

The conservatives responsible for these actions are not intellectuals (being motivated by negative emotions and not reason) - and unfortunately they don't understand that it would be an asset for them if they were.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

"News World news Arctic Arctic seas turn to acid, putting vital food chain at risk"

From the Guardian:

Carbon-dioxide emissions are turning the waters of the Arctic Ocean into acid at an unprecedented rate, scientists have discovered. Research carried out in the archipelago of Svalbard has shown in many regions around the north pole seawater is likely to reach corrosive levels within 10 years. The water will then start to dissolve the shells of mussels and other shellfish and cause major disruption to the food chain. By the end of the century, the entire Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic.

"This is extremely worrying," Professor Jean-Pierre Gattuso, of France's Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, told an international oceanography conference last week. "We knew that the seas were getting more acidic and this would disrupt the ability of shellfish – like mussels – to grow their shells. But now we realise the situation is much worse. The water will become so acidic it will actually dissolve the shells of living shellfish."

Just as an acid descaler breaks apart limescale inside a kettle, so the shells that protect molluscs and other creatures will be dissolved. "This will affect the whole food chain, including the North Atlantic salmon, which feeds on molluscs," said Gattuso, speaking at a European commission conference, Oceans of Tomorrow, in Barcelona last week. The oceanographer told delegates that the problem of ocean acidification was worse in high latitudes, in the Arctic and around Antarctica, than it was nearer the equator.

"More carbon dioxide can dissolve in cold water than warm," he said. "Hence the problem of acidification is worse in the Arctic than in the tropics, though we have only recently got round to studying the problem in detail."

About a quarter of the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by factories, power stations and cars now ends up being absorbed by the oceans. That represents more than six million tonnes of carbon a day.

This carbon dioxide dissolves and is turned into carbonic acid, causing the oceans to become more acidic. "We knew the Arctic would be particularly badly affected when we started our studies but I did not anticipate the extent of the problem," said Gattuso.

His research suggests that 10% of the Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic by 2018; 50% by 2050; and 100% ocean by 2100. "Over the whole planet, there will be a threefold increase in the average acidity of the oceans, which is unprecedented during the past 20 million years. That level of acidification will cause immense damage to the ecosystem and the food chain, particularly in the Arctic," he added.

....A litre of seawater contains between 1bn and 10bn single-celled organisms called prokaryotes, between 10bn and 100bn viruses and a vast number of more complex, microscopic creatures known as zooplankton, said Chris Bowler, a marine biologist on Tara.

"People think they are just swimming in water when they go for a dip in the sea," he said. "In fact, they are bathing in a plankton soup."

That plankton soup is of crucial importance to the planet, he added. "As much carbon dioxide is absorbed by plankton as is absorbed by tropical rainforests. Its health is therefore of crucial importance to us all."

"Vanishing Arctic ice shows no sign of returning"

By Yereth Rosen:

ON BOARD COAST GUARD FLIGHT ABOVE BEAUFORT SEA, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Out in the Arctic Ocean, about 200 miles (322 km ) north of the nearest human settlement, the future of the world's climate is written in the patterns of ice patches on the water's surface.

Old, "multiyear" ice -- the glue that holds the polar ice cap together and forms the Arctic's defense against encroaching warming -- is slowly disintegrating, a process that is plain to see from the air.

Thick ice floes used to be kilometers (miles) wide just over a decade ago, said Jim Overland, a sea-ice expert with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who has been surveying the site since the 1990s.

Now the narrow floes -- with bright-white tops and a blue underwater glow -- are just meters (yards) wide, observed Overland as he studied the patterns from the window of a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft.

The dense, high-quality ice is not coming back, Overland said.

"That's a one-way street," he said "We have the same amount of multiyear ice this year as last year, even though we have a little more ice overall."

Overland said while there was broad awareness of the harmful effect of sea-ice loss on polar bears and other Arctic animals, its impact on weather elsewhere in the northern hemisphere and the rest of the world was potentially more critical.

A warmed Arctic Ocean emits heat into the atmosphere that drastically alters weather patterns, he said.

"That's the big question: Who cares about the Arctic? Well, it's going to change the whole heat engine of the planet," he said.

Scientists have voiced concern for years about the alarming decline in the size of the Arctic ice cap, which functions as a giant air conditioner for the planet's climate system as it reflects sunlight back into space.

As a greater portion of the ice melts, larger expanses of darker sea water are exposed, absorbing more sunlight and adding to the global warming effect attributed to rising levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere by human activity.

Arctic ice cover this year was 23 percent greater than the record-low levels of 2007, according to the latest data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, which has been keeping records for 30 years. But it was the third-lowest coverage on record, after 2007 and 2008.

The one-year ice that accounts for the increase over 2007 and 2008 -- pancake-flat pieces with finger-like surface ridges etched by movements of the water -- is no substitute for the thick multiyear ice, Overland said.

"It's thinner. It's more broken up. And it moves faster," he said. "And all of that contributes to melting earlier in the season."

...In the Beaufort Sea, winter is already encroaching just days after the autumnal equinox. Evidence is in the thin film of new ice appearing between existing multiyear and single-year chunks. But the seasonal build-up will be slower than in the past, Overland predicted.

There was "no indication of freezing whatsoever" in the open water next to the grouped ice, he said as the C-130 flew south to land at Barrow, Alaska. "In contrast to previous years, there's absolutely no freezing outside that cluster."

"Illegal toxic waste spotted from space"

From New Scientist:

MOVE over Erin Brockovich. Today's environmental detectives can use radar, helicopters and even satellite images to help them spot illegal toxic waste dumps and help catch those responsible.

Ironically, the tightening of restrictions on waste disposal and the enforcement of new recycling laws have made illegal dumping more likely, turning it into big business for the criminals involved.

The trouble is digging up suspect dumps to investigate their contents can release toxins into local water supplies. But with new remote-sensing techniques, such as ground-penetrating radar (GPR), you can find toxic trash without disturbing the soil. Instead, you bounce microwaves off buried materials and the strength of returning signals provides clues to what they are.

Alastair Ruffell, a forensic geologist at Queen's University, Belfast in the UK, has used GPR in 17 cases for the environment agencies of Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Most are ongoing, however three have resulted in the culprits being jailed and fined.

Ruffell's latest research shows that geophysical techniques can be used to characterise the waste (Environmental Forensics, DOI: 10.1080/15275920903130230). GPR surveys suggested the presence of a highly conductive waste such as farmyard slurry in a peat bog in Northern Ireland, simply because the suspect pocket in the bog reflected no microwaves.

"Soft, diggable, scented peat bogs make an attractive place to bury waste, but geophysical surveys can see right through them," Ruffell says. His method requires investigators to walk over the ground above the suspect site, but landowners can refuse to grant them access.

Sonia Silvestri of the Italian construction firm consortium, Consorzio Venezia Nuova in Venice, has used the transient electromagnetic method to get around such difficulties. TEM is a form of GPR in which electric and magnetic fields are induced in the ground by an electric current pulsing through a coil. It can be carried out from a helicopter hovering 10 metres above the ground. Silvestri recently used the method to identify pollution leaking from a large landfill into groundwater to the north of Padua in north-east Italy. She will present her TEM results at the Twelfth International Waste Management and Landfill Symposium in Sardinia next week.

Her research has also shown that it is possible to detect waste from space using satellite images (International Journal of Geographical Information Science, DOI: 10.1080/13658810802112128).

As illegally buried waste sites tend to be located near industrial sites, landfills and roads, she drew up a map of potential illegal waste sites in a region of north-east Italy. Her team narrowed down the search by scrutinising IKONOS satellite images for patches of disturbed vegetation.

Of 34 sites identified from space as potential illegal dumps, chemical analyses have shown contamination at 17. Police investigations to track down those responsible have begun.

"Trail of E. Coli Shows Flaws in Inspection of Ground Beef"

From the New York Times:

Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor, thought she had a stomach virus. The aches and cramping were tolerable that first day, and she finished her classes.

Then her diarrhea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed.

Ms. Smith, 22, was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.

“I ask myself every day, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why from a hamburger?’ ”Ms. Smith said. In the simplest terms, she ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance whose rules and risks are not widely known.

Meat companies and grocers have been barred from selling ground beef tainted by the virulent strain of E. coli known as O157:H7 since 1994, after an outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants left four children dead. Yet tens of thousands of people are still sickened annually by this pathogen, federal health officials estimate, with hamburger being the biggest culprit. Ground beef has been blamed for 16 outbreaks in the last three years alone, including the one that left Ms. Smith paralyzed from the waist down. This summer, contamination led to the recall of beef from nearly 3,000 grocers in 41 states.

Ms. Smith’s reaction to the virulent strain of E. coli was extreme, but tracing the story of her burger, through interviews and government and corporate records obtained by The New York Times, shows why eating ground beef is still a gamble. Neither the system meant to make the meat safe, nor the meat itself, is what consumers have been led to believe.

Ground beef is usually not simply a chunk of meat run through a grinder. Instead, records and interviews show, a single portion of hamburger meat is often an amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows and even from different slaughterhouses. These cuts of meat are particularly vulnerable to E. coli contamination, food experts and officials say. Despite this, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen.

The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.” Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

Using a combination of sources — a practice followed by most large producers of fresh and packaged hamburger — allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat.

Those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with feces, which carries E. coli, industry research shows. Yet Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on its suppliers to check for the bacteria and does its own testing only after the ingredients are ground together. The United States Department of Agriculture, which allows grinders to devise their own safety plans, has encouraged them to test ingredients first as a way of increasing the chance of finding contamination.

Unwritten agreements between some companies appear to stand in the way of ingredient testing. Many big slaughterhouses will sell only to grinders who agree not to test their shipments for E. coli, according to officials at two large grinding companies. Slaughterhouses fear that one grinder’s discovery of E. coli will set off a recall of ingredients they sold to others.

“Ground beef is not a completely safe product,” said Dr. Jeffrey Bender, a food safety expert at the University of Minnesota who helped develop systems for tracing E. coli contamination. He said that while outbreaks had been on the decline, “unfortunately it looks like we are going a bit in the opposite direction.”

Food scientists have registered increasing concern about the virulence of this pathogen since only a few stray cells can make someone sick, and they warn that federal guidance to cook meat thoroughly and to wash up afterward is not sufficient. A test by The Times found that the safe handling instructions are not enough to prevent the bacteria from spreading in the kitchen.

Cargill, whose $116.6 billion in revenues last year made it the country’s largest private company, declined requests to interview company officials or visit its facilities. “Cargill is not in a position to answer your specific questions, other than to state that we are committed to continuous improvement in the area of food safety,” the company said, citing continuing litigation.

The meat industry treats much of its practices and the ingredients in ground beef as trade secrets. While the Department of Agriculture has inspectors posted in plants and has access to production records, it also guards those secrets. Federal records released by the department through the Freedom of Information Act blacked out details of Cargill’s grinding operation that could be learned only through copies of the documents obtained from other sources. Those documents illustrate the restrained approach to enforcement by a department whose missions include ensuring meat safety and promoting agriculture markets.

Within weeks of the Cargill outbreak in 2007, U.S.D.A. officials swept across the country, conducting spot checks at 224 meat plants to assess their efforts to combat E. coli. Although inspectors had been monitoring these plants all along, officials found serious problems at 55 that were failing to follow their own safety plans.

“Every time we look, we find out that things are not what we hoped they would be,” said Loren D. Lange, an executive associate in the Agriculture Department’s food safety division.

In the weeks before Ms. Smith’s patty was made, federal inspectors had repeatedly found that Cargill was violating its own safety procedures in handling ground beef, but they imposed no fines or sanctions, records show. After the outbreak, the department threatened to withhold the seal of approval that declares “U.S. Inspected and Passed by the Department of Agriculture.”

In the end, though, the agency accepted Cargill’s proposal to increase its scrutiny of suppliers. That agreement came early last year after contentious negotiations, records show. When Cargill defended its safety system and initially resisted making some changes, an agency official wrote back: “How is food safety not the ultimate issue?”

...With seven million pounds produced each week, the company’s product is widely used in hamburger meat sold by grocers and fast-food restaurants and served in the federal school lunch program. Ten percent of Ms. Smith’s burger came from Beef Products, which charged Cargill about $1.20 per pound, or 20 cents less than the lean trimmings in the burger, billing records show.

An Iowa State University study financed by Beef Products found that ammonia reduces E. coli to levels that cannot be detected. The Department of Agriculture accepted the research as proof that the treatment was effective and safe. And Cargill told the agency after the outbreak that it had ruled out Beef Products as the possible source of contamination.

But federal school lunch officials found E. coli in Beef Products material in 2006 and 2008 and again in August, and stopped it from going to schools, according to Agriculture Department records and interviews. A Beef Products official, Richard Jochum, said that last year’s contamination stemmed from a “minor change in our process,” which the company adjusted. The company did not respond to questions about the latest finding.

In combining the ingredients, Cargill was following a common industry practice of mixing trim from various suppliers to hit the desired fat content for the least money, industry officials said.

In all, the ingredients for Ms. Smith’s burger cost Cargill about $1 a pound, company records show, or about 30 cents less than industry experts say it would cost for ground beef made from whole cuts of meat.

Ground beef sold by most grocers is made from a blend of ingredients, industry officials said. Agriculture Department regulations also allow hamburger meat labeled ground chuck or sirloin to contain trimmings from those parts of the cow. At a chain like Publix Super Markets, customers who want hamburger made from whole cuts of meat have to buy a steak and have it specially ground, said a Publix spokeswoman, Maria Brous, or buy a product like Bubba Burgers, which boasts on its labeling, “100% whole muscle means no trimmings.”

To finish off the Smiths’ ground beef, Cargill added bread crumbs and spices, fashioned it into patties, froze them and packed them 18 to a carton.

The listed ingredients revealed little of how the meat was made. There was just one meat product listed: “Beef.”

...The retail giant Costco is one of the few big producers that tests trimmings for E. coli before grinding, a practice it adopted after a New York woman was sickened in 1998 by its hamburger meat, prompting a recall.

Craig Wilson, Costco’s food safety director, said the company decided it could not rely on its suppliers alone. “It’s incumbent upon us,” he said. “If you say, ‘Craig, this is what we’ve done,’ I should be able to go, ‘Cool, I believe you.’ But I’m going to check.”

Costco said it had found E. coli in foreign and domestic beef trimmings and pressured suppliers to fix the problem. But even Costco, with its huge buying power, said it had met resistance from some big slaughterhouses. “Tyson will not supply us,” Mr. Wilson said. “They don’t want us to test.”

....Ms. Smith’s illness was linked to the hamburger only by chance. Her aunt still had some of the frozen patties, and state health officials found that they were contaminated with a powerful strain of E. coli that was genetically identical to the pathogen that had sickened other Minnesotans.

Dr. Kirk Smith, who runs the state’s food-borne illness outbreak group and is not related to Ms. Smith, was quick to finger the source. A 4-year-old had fallen ill three weeks earlier, followed by her year-old brother and two more children, state records show. Like Ms. Smith, the others had eaten Cargill patties bought at Sam’s Club, a division of Wal-Mart.

....In the wake of the outbreak, the U.S.D.A. reminded consumers on its Web site that hamburgers had to be cooked to 160 degrees to be sure any E. coli is killed and urged them to use a thermometer to check the temperature. This reinforced Sharon Smith’s concern that she had sickened her daughter by not cooking the hamburger thoroughly.

But the pathogen is so powerful that her illness could have started with just a few cells left on a counter. “In a warm kitchen, E. coli cells will double every 45 minutes,” said Dr. Mansour Samadpour, a microbiologist who runs IEH Laboratories in Seattle, one of the meat industry’s largest testing firms.

With help from his laboratories, The Times prepared three pounds of ground beef dosed with a strain of E. coli that is nonharmful but acts in many ways like O157:H7. Although the safety instructions on the package were followed, E. coli remained on the cutting board even after it was washed with soap. A towel picked up large amounts of bacteria from the meat.

Dr. James Marsden, a meat safety expert at Kansas State University and senior science adviser for the North American Meat Processors Association, said the Department of Agriculture needed to issue better guidance on avoiding cross-contamination, like urging people to use bleach to sterilize cutting boards. “Even if you are a scientist, much less a housewife with a child, it’s very difficult,” Dr. Marsden said.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

"The United States is... climate illiterate"

OXFORD (Reuters) U.S. wavering on climate commitment could undermine action to save the planet, the director of Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said on the sidelines of a conference on Monday.

Preserving the Greenland ice cap was the defining action needed to prevent several meters of sea level rise and warming which would threaten the world's food and water supplies, Hans Schellnhuber told reporters.

The doubts of many Republican U.S. senators over the practicality of a draft, domestic carbon-cutting law undermined the chances of strong global action soon, he said.

"It's a deeper problem in the United States, if you look at global polls about what the public knows about climate change, even in Brazil, China you have more people who know the problem, who think that deep cuts in emissions are needed," he said.

"The United States is in a sense climate illiterate still. If you look at what people in the Republican party think about this problem it's very unlikely you come up with something."

Democrat senators are due to unveil on September 30 a new draft climate bill for the Senate to vote on.

Most analysts doubt Congress will back that bill before countries meet in Copenhagen in December to try to clinch a new global climate pact.

Schellnhuber described that as "the most important meeting in the history of the human species." "We're simply talking about the very life support system of this planet."

The United States is the world's biggest contributor to climate change and many other countries demand it takes a big step before they follow in cutting emissions.

A U.N. panel of climate experts in 2007 outlined cuts of between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 -- compared with 1990 levels -- required by rich nations to avoid the worst climate effects...

"Philippines raises alert for new super typhoon"

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines placed soldiers and civilian emergency teams on the main island of Luzon on alert on Thursday as a powerful typhoon moved closer, less than a week after an earlier storm killed 277 people in and around Manila.

Parma, a category 4 typhoon, packing winds of 175 kph (108 mph), was 520 km (320 miles) east of the central Philippine island of Samar on Thursday, said chief weather forecaster Nathaniel Cruz.

It was expected to make landfall near northeastern Quirino and Isabela provinces on Luzon by Saturday unless it changed direction.

"It's gathering strength into a category 5 typhoon," Cruz told Reuters, adding it could be the one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country since November 2006 when Typhoon Durian left death and destruction in the central Philippines.

"By Saturday afternoon, Parma could be packing center winds of more than 200 kph and could be weakened once it slams into the Cordillera mountain region in the north."

Gilberto Teodoro, head of the defense and disaster agencies, ordered troops to evacuate coastal and low-lying areas as well as landslide-prone areas in the northern Philippines.