Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fox News Trusted :(

According to the Guardian (UK), FOX news IS the most trusted news station is the US, and Glenn Beck is the "second favorite TV personality in the annual Harris Poll, behind only Oprah Winfrey".

This is bad news for our country. FOX has a toxic attitude - I hate to think of people adopting their mode of thought, their promotion of selfish "values"- sexism, racism, entitlement (for the well off).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"A voice in the wilderness"

From San Diego By Bill Manson

....I’ve come to see Oechel because he’s a legend in green circles. Long before most, he was studying the tundra in Alaska and Iceland for signs that it was about to begin defrosting. He’s also known for resisting corporate pressures to play ball and stay quiet. He’s authored pioneering papers detailing how a few degrees’ warming is causing the Arctic tundra to change from a reliable frozen carbon sink to a potential carbon bomb, releasing thousands of years’ worth of stored carbon in short order. After he published that, he says, the Department of Energy cut $500,000 from his research grant in 1992. Two years later, when he published a paper demonstrating that higher CO2 levels don’t stimulate ecosystems long-term, a second $500,000 was taken away. The last $300,000 of his D.O.E. grant was withdrawn after another paper on carbon and global warming came out.

But he has hung in there, all the while training another generation of ecophysiologists like himself.

“The poles are the radiators for the planet,” Oechel says. “They radiate energy to outer space because of the reflections from snow, the clear sky, the low humidity. They’re net exporters of energy to space, while the mid-latitudes and the equator are net importers of energy. The Arctic has become our canary in the coal mine.”

But his contribution to the Copenhagen debate boils down to one word: population.

“I’m unaware of anyone dealing with this double-edged sword of an increasing population and an increasing resource use.” We are approaching the Perfect Storm, he says: Just as Earth reaches her limits of tolerance for carbon emissions, the developing world is about to explode in fossil-fuel-driven consumerism, led by China and India. “Over the 30 years I’ve been involved in climate-change research, China has gone from a per capita CO2 emission of 1/32 of that of America to about 1/3. I’m not picking on China. Most of the developing world wants to develop, and if the developing world reaches just 1/3 the U.S.’s resource use — and if you apply that to the current population of almost 7 billion, let alone a likely future population of 13 billion or more — it just explodes in terms of CO2 emissions and resource use.”

Oechel is part of the first generation of eco-academics who’ve had to muscle their way into an academe (along with their corporate backers) not ready for them.

“My formal training is as an ecophysiologist,” he says. “Since the late ’70s, the focus of my research has been on the impact of increasing atmospheric CO2 on natural ecosystems. For instance, the new estimates for the Arctic now are that there may be 1.7 thousand gigatons of carbon in the upper three meters of soil. If any significant fraction of that came out as CO2 and methane, it would have a huge perturbation on existing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Because the total atmospheric CO2 now is less than 800 gigatons. So there’s a huge potential impact of that organic matter being oxidized and released to the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.”

Oechel believes we’re doing “more poorly than the worst emissions scenario we could imagine. It doesn’t take much math to say, ‘We’ve got an increasing population and an increasing per capita consumption.’ It just doesn’t pencil out. If we started draconian reduction scenarios now, we would still see 600 to 700 ppm [of CO2] in the atmosphere or more [up from 380 ppm now]. So, it really is misleading and cynical to talk about switching out lightbulbs and carpooling. Somebody’s got to step back and say, ‘Look, we’ve got a problem which goes well beyond these issues on the surface.’ And it’s not that we couldn’t do something. It’s just that there appears to be no political will to do it and very little education and information, so people don’t even realize where we are and where we’re headed.”

Oechel once met with Al Gore for a couple of hours, long before Al released his movie. “In the lecture, he had nothing on [the effect of a burgeoning world] population and nothing on increasing global consumption. I talked with him — argued with him — for a couple of hours, and with his staff. He really thought technology was going to solve everything. I was astonished, someone as intelligent as Al Gore missing the big picture.”

So what should San Diego do? “In addition to the things on the table at Copenhagen, I think we need a big analysis like the IPCC [the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] but to include population and economic growth as well as analysis of the best available and emerging technologies. So far, people steer clear of anything that looks like population control. I believe that can’t continue. For instance, I haven’t seen anyone calculate the thermal output of humans. I think every person puts out heat the equivalent of a 75-watt incandescent lightbulb. So you take 7 billion people, you’ve got 525 billion watts in heat. That’s not trivial [when you’re calculating]. Just from human metabolism.

“Let’s say San Diego adopted the [San Diego Foundation Regional Focus] 2050 report, and we reduced our carbon output by half, and that’s doable. It would make San Diegans feel good, but then what? It would only be of use if it became a model for other communities and governments to pick up.”

...They say it would require five-plus Earths to sustain us if the whole world wanted to live at Western standards. It’s physically not doable. So we have to decide: do we want fewer people, educated and living in a fairly appropriate manner, with enough to eat and shelter? Or do we want 14 billion living like cockroaches? Right now, we’re going for the 14 billion cockroaches.”...

Friday, January 29, 2010

"State Farm won't renew thousands of Fla. policies"

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - AP – Thousands of State Farm Florida property insurance customers will be seeing notices in their mailboxes next week saying their policies will not be renewed, a company spokesman said Thursday.

The first wave of notices will be mailed Monday to a selected number of the company's policyholders who were set to renew Aug. 1, spokesman Chris Neal said.

It's part of an agreement reached with the Office of Insurance Regulation in December. The company is cutting 125,000 policies in the next 18 months to reduce its liability in hurricane-prone Florida, where State Farm insures nearly 714,000 homeowners.

State Farm, which quit writing new homeowners policies in Florida two years ago, will send its final notices early next year for policies that would be otherwise renewed in the last week of July 2011. Most of the policies not being renewed are in high-risk coastal areas.

The Florida company is a subsidiary of the Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm Insurance, one of the world's best capitalized insurers...

The company said last January it would stop writing property insurance in Florida after Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty rejected a 47.1 percent rate increase. State Farm officials said they needed the big increase to remain financially viable.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Eastern Syria grapples with drought, poverty"

From Reuters:

DAMASCUS - Syrian officials addressing a rare public forum have revealed the full impact of a drought that ravaged the 2008 wheat crop and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the country.

The officials recommended diversifying the eastern Syrian economy and finding alternatives to subsidized cash crops, whose cultivation has severely depleted water resources, mainly in the eastern region along the River Euphrates.

The officials, speaking at a forum that is a rare reminder of the "Damascus Spring" democracy movement snuffed out in 2001, recognized they faced a huge challenge, tackling high levels of poverty, unemployment and illiteracy, and low investment.

Rainfall in eastern Syria fell to 30 percent of the annual average in 2008 -- the worst drought for 40 years -- and al-Khabour, a main tributary of the River Euphrates, dried up, they told the meeting on Tuesday.

The region's wheat crop fell by about half to 1.3 million tonnes that year, and the number of people displaced is estimated at between 300,000 and one million, though there are no official figures.

"We must plan an overhaul that includes an integrated economy, health and education, not just agricultural production," said Hassan Katana, head of statistics and planning at the agriculture ministry.

Poverty levels stand at 80 percent and the region's investment budget is only $17.4 million, according to Khader al-Muhaisen of the government-backed Peasants Union.

Infrastructure in the east, which accounts for the bulk of Syria's grain and cotton output, has fallen into disrepair.

Illiteracy is rising because the education system has been neglected, and many of those displaced by the drought have moved to Damascus, Aleppo and Hamah where they live as squatters.

Syria was an important Middle East wheat exporter before the drought began in 2007, while the water table had already been depleted by the thousands of illegal wells sunk to irrigate subsidized wheat.

Official figures put national wheat output at 2.1 million tonnes in 2008 against 4.1 million in 2007, rising to 3.8 million last year.

The state controls the production and marketing of wheat and cotton, part of the command economy imposed by the Baath Party when it took power in 1963, banned all opposition and imposed emergency laws that are still in force.

Katana said the government had already reduced the area allocated for cotton production because of the lack of water, but he did not expect cash-strapped farmers to obey the order.

"All our agricultural resources have been used up. The real challenge is to develop strategies and know-how to provide for new economic activity in this region," Katana said.

Poverty is widespread in the east, although it produces all of Syria's 375,000 barrels per day of oil and contains some of the world's most important sites of antiquity, such as the Greco -Roman city of Dura Europos, called the "Pompeii of the desert."

The region is also home to a substantial Kurdish minority, tens of thousands of whom have been effectively shut out of mainstream society since the 1960s when they were excluded from a national census.

Atieh al-Hindi, head of the National Agriculture Policy Center, said the government subsidies policy had helped to improve living standards in the east but had contributed to its water shortage...

NASA's Prophet [May] Give You Nightmares

Book Review (Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity) from Slate:

...Professor Hansen has been driven into a strange situation, and produced a strange book. For one-third of a century now, this cantankerous scientist has been more accurate in his predictions about global warming than anyone else alive. He saw these disastrous changes coming long before others did, and the U.S. government has tried to censor or sack him for his prescience. Now he has written a whistle-blower's account while still at the top: a story of how our political system is so wilfully, deliberately blind to environmental realities that we have no choice now but for American citizens to take direct physical action against the polluters. It's hardly what you expect to hear from the upper echelons of NASA: not a call to the stars, but a call to the streets. Toss a thousand scientific papers into a blender along with All the President's Men and Mahatma Gandhi, and you've got this riveting, disorienting book.

How did such an implausible American story come to pass? Hansen was born into a dirt-poor family in Iowa, to a farmer who left school in the eighth grade. But he was whip-smart and rose through university science departments, where he spent a decade studying the atmosphere of Venus. But then he noticed a more interesting story was happening right in front of him: "The composition of the atmosphere of our home planet was changing before our eyes, and it was changing more and more rapidly." Yes, we had known for more than a century that human beings were releasing warming gases into the atmosphere. Every time we burn a lump of coal or a barrel of oil, we unleash in one sudden burst greenhouse gases that took millennia to accumulate. But Hansen believed the effects were now becoming plain—and could be dangerous.

After studying the evidence, in 1981 he made a number of predictions for what a warmer world would look like by the early 21st century. He said that the Arctic ice would be retreating dramatically and the fabled "North-West Passage" would open up, making it possible to sail through the Arctic. It has happened. I have seen it. Yet he was derided at the time as "alarmist" by the political class, and the Reagan Energy Department responded by slashing his research budget.

This set the pattern for his career: Hansen makes scientific warnings that are correct and need to be known by the public, and he is punished for it. In 1988, he famously testified before a Senate committee, offering the first major statements to capture the public imagination on the climate crisis. His written testimony was immediately altered by the White House to make his conclusions appear uncertain, and the first President Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu, tried to get him fired. There was no improvement under Bill Clinton. Hansen received "the most political interference" then, when the administration tried to block an entire scientific paper.

Then, notoriously, the second Bush administration started to appoint former employees of Big Coal to run NASA's communications. They blocked press releases warning about global warming and tried to stop Hansen from giving interviews. One of the appointees explained his job was to "make the President look good." When Hansen argued back, they cut his research budget by 20 percent. Hansen said he had a duty to speak out because the first line of NASA's mission statement is a pledge "to understand and protect our home planet"—so the Bush appointees deleted the commitment. Yes: They erased the commitment to protect planet Earth. (An independent investigation by the Inspector General later confirmed all this.)

Most scientists would have backed down or given up. Hansen didn't—and from his prickly prose, you can tell why. He is irritable and aggressive, in part because he knows the stakes are so high. Unlike many scientists, he is not afraid to talk the language of morality. He knows it would be immoral—deeply immoral—to discover that we are trashing our climate, and stay in the lab, mumbling to yourself. This genius from an Iowa farm ain't going to be bossed around by any oil-stained prep-boys who want to bury his hard facts....

So it is sobering to hear Hansen say—based on large numbers of scientific studies—that "a disintegration of the ice sheets has begun." Now we need to concentrate on forestalling a tipping point at which they would begin to internally collapse. Once that has happened, we will be powerless to stop a disaster. It will be too late to cut our emissions: They would still fall. Every rock of coal and every ton of carbon we use makes it more likely we will cross the tipping point. Every ton we get instead from low-carbon sources makes it less likely.

This is only one of a dozen effects of global warming that are just as terrifying. If we burn all the world's remaining fossil fuels, there is only one precedent in the climate record for the warming that will occur. It happened at the end of the Permian period 251 million years ago, when the world warmed by 6 degrees. The result? Almost everything on Earth died. A solitary pig-sized creature, the Lystrosaurus, had the land to itself for another 30 million years. Hansen's is the only nonfiction book to ever give me nightmares...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Shrimp's Dirty Secrets"

(Eat the small ones)

From AlterNet:

Americans love their shrimp. It's the most popular seafood in the country, but unfortunately much of the shrimp we eat are a cocktail of chemicals, harvested at the expense of one of the world's productive ecosystems. Worse, guidelines for finding some kind of "sustainable shrimp" are so far nonexistent.

In his book, Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, Taras Grescoe paints a repulsive picture of how shrimp are farmed in one region of India. The shrimp pond preparation begins with urea, superphosphate, and diesel, then progresses to the use of piscicides (fish-killing chemicals like chlorine and rotenone), pesticides and antibiotics (including some that are banned in the U.S.), and ends by treating the shrimp with sodium tripolyphosphate (a suspected neurotoxicant), Borax, and occasionally caustic soda.

Upon arrival in the U.S., few if any, are inspected by the FDA, and when researchers have examined imported ready-to-eat shrimp, they found 162 separate species of bacteria with resistance to 10 different antibiotics. And yet, as of 2008, Americans are eating 4.1 pounds of shrimp apiece each year -- significantly more than the 2.8 pounds per year we each ate of the second most popular seafood, canned tuna. But what are we actually eating without knowing it? And is it worth the price -- both to our health and the environment?

Understanding the shrimp that supplies our nation's voracious appetite is quite complex. Overall, the shrimp industry represents a dismantling of the marine ecosystem, piece by piece. Farming methods range from those described above to some that are more benign. Problems with irresponsible methods of farming don't end at the "yuck," factor as shrimp farming is credited with destroying 38 percent of the world's mangroves, some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Mangroves sequester vast amounts of carbon and serve as valuable buffers against hurricanes and tsunamis. Some compare shrimp farming methods that demolish mangroves to slash-and-burn agriculture. A shrimp farmer will clear a section of mangroves and close it off to ensure that the shrimp cannot escape. Then the farmer relies on the tides to refresh the water, carrying shrimp excrement and disease out to sea. In this scenario, the entire mangrove ecosystem is destroyed and turned into a small dead zone for short-term gain. Even after the shrimp farm leaves, the mangroves do not come back.

A more responsible farming system involves closed, inland ponds that use their wastewater for agricultural irrigation instead of allowing it to pollute oceans or other waterways. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, when a farm has good disease management protocols, it does not need to use so many antibiotics or other chemicals.

One more consideration, even in these cleaner systems, is the wild fish used to feed farmed shrimp. An estimated average of 1.4 pounds of wild fish are used to produce every pound of farmed shrimp. Sometimes the wild fish used is bycatch -- fish that would be dumped into the ocean to rot if they weren't fed to shrimp -- but other times farmed shrimp dine on species like anchovies, herring, sardines and menhaden. These fish are important foods for seabirds, big commercial fish and whales, so removing them from the ecosystem to feed farmed shrimp is problematic.

Additionally, some shrimp are wild-caught, and while they aren't raised in a chemical cocktail, the vast majority is caught using trawling, a highly destructive fishing method. Football field-sized nets are dragged along the ocean floor, scooping up and killing several pounds of marine life for every pound of shrimp they catch and demolishing the ocean floor ecosystem as they go. Where they don't clear-cut coral reefs or other rich ocean floor habitats, they drag their nets through the mud, leaving plumes of sediment so large they are visible from outer space.

After trawling destroys an ocean floor, the ecosystem often cannot recover for decades, if not centuries or millennia. This is particularly significant because 98 percent of ocean life lives on or around the seabed. Depending on the fishery, the amount of bycatch (the term used for unwanted species scooped up and killed by trawlers) ranges from five to 20 pounds per pound of shrimp. These include sharks, rays, starfish, juvenile red snapper, sea turtles and more. While shrimp trawl fisheries only represent 2 percent of the global fish catch, they are responsible for over one-third of the world's bycatch. Trawling is comparable to bulldozing an entire section of rainforest in order to catch one species of bird.

Given this disturbing picture, how can an American know how to find responsibly farmed or fished shrimp? Currently, it's near impossible. Only 15 percent of our total shrimp consumption comes from the U.S. (both farmed and wild sources). The U.S. has good regulations on shrimp farming, so purchasing shrimp farmed in the U.S. is not a bad way to go. Wild shrimp, with a few exceptions, is typically obtained via trawling and should be avoided. The notable exceptions are spot prawns from British Columbia, caught in traps similar to those used for catching lobster, and the small salad shrimp like the Northern shrimp from the East Coast or pink shrimp from Oregon, both of which are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. However, neither are true substitutes for the large white and tiger shrimp American consumers are used to...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Global Warming Brings Foreign Sea Creatures To Chile's Coast"

.......From the Santiago Times:

“I felt a rush and a little fear when I saw it,” said Chilean surf champion Diego Medina after spotting what appeared to be a shark off the beaches of La Serena (Region IV). In reality, the creature was one of the large swordfish species that recently migrated to Chile's shores as a consequence of warming water currents.

The swordfish is just one of several species that have migrated from afar to Chile due to global climate change. Spanish marine experts have been tracking the sudden southward migration of swordfish from tropical seas since June 2009.

This summer has seen an unusually high number of unfamiliar wildlife sightings at many of Chile's beaches. Scientists blame El Nino, the environmental phenomenon that increases sea temperatures and consequently alters the sea’s ecosystems.

Due to climate changes, “cold-inclined sea animals are arriving to our shores from waters that at one time were much cooler,” said marine biologist Carlos Gaymer.

There is also an alarming case of jellyfish proliferation that has affected northern, central, and parts of southern Chile, added Gaymer. Earlier this month, swarms of jellyfish in Region X forced the closure of several Osorno beaches (ST, Jan. 6).

A large population of sea turtles that normally do not inhabit Chile’s coastline have also been making an appearance. “It's common to see an influx new species from distant areas when their previous environment is no longer habitable because of temperature increases,” warned Universidad de Antofagasta marine researcher Carlos Guerra.

The oceans' warming is also taking its toll on local marine plant life. In some areas of Region V, biologists reported an overgrowth of “luche verde” algae, which has rendered many beaches dirty and foul-smelling.

Another explanation for the seaweed's proliferation is excessive industrial activity along Chile's coast, which creates more space for the growth of invasive species, said Andres Bello University aquaculture engineer Ana Maria Mora.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

And May the !Rich! Man Win... (re: the Supreme Court)

It's hard for me to imagine what people are thinking who would give corporations the same rights as individuals (the point being to allow corporations to influence elections.) People who think that for-profit corporations are working for our interests - or that for-profit corporations know what is good for us - but we, the people don't. (Well some of people certainly don't know what's good for them - the ones who support this decision don't.)

This is a good decision for the wealthiest of companies (the people who profit the most from them) - bad for the rest of us - bad for the planet (and ultimately bad for everyone whether everyone knows it or not).


[January 21, 2010]
in part and dissenting in part.
The real issue in this case concerns how, not if, the appellant may finance its electioneering. Citizens United is a wealthy nonprofit corporation that runs a political action committee (PAC) with millions of dollars in assets. Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), it could have used those assets to televise and promote Hillary: The Movie wherever and whenever it wanted to. It also could have spent unrestricted sums to broadcast Hillary at any time other than the 30 daysbefore the last primary election. Neither Citizens United’s nor any other corporation’s speech has been “banned,” ante, at 1. All that the parties dispute is whether CitizensUnited had a right to use the funds in its general treasury to pay for broadcasts during the 30-day period. The notion that the First Amendment dictates an affirmative answer to that question is, in my judgment, profoundly misguided. Even more misguided is the notion that the Court must rewrite the law relating to campaign expenditures by for-profit corporations and unions to decide this case.

The basic premise underlying the Court’s ruling is itsiteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker’s identity, including its “identity” as a corporation.
While that glittering generality has rhetoricalappeal, it is not a correct statement of the law. Nor does it tell us when a corporation may engage in electioneering that some of its shareholders oppose. It does not even resolve the specific question whether Citizens United maybe required to finance some of its messages with the money in its PAC. The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the politicalsphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.

In the context of election to public office, the distinctionbetween corporate and human speakers is significant.Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests mayconflict in fundamental respects with the interests ofeligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure,and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate
concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate
spending in local and national races.

The majority’s approach to corporate electioneeringmarks a dramatic break from our past. Congress hasplaced special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907, ch. 420, 34 Stat. 864. We have unanimously concluded that this “reflects a permissible assessment of the dangers posed by those entities to the electoral process,” FEC v. National Right to Work Comm., 459 U. S. 197, 209 (1982) (NRWC), and have accepted the “legislative judgment that the special characteristics of the corporate structure require particularly careful regulation,” id., at 209–210. The Cite as: 558 U. S. ____ (2010) 3

Court today rejects a century of history when it treats thedistinction between corporate and individual campaignspending as an invidious novelty born of Austin v. Michi-gan Chamber of Commerce, 494 U. S. 652 (1990). Relyinglargely on individual dissenting opinions, the majority blazes through our precedents, overruling or disavowing a body of case law including FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U. S. 449 (2007) (WRTL), McConnell v. FEC, 540
U. S. 93 (2003), FEC v. Beaumont, 539 U. S. 146 (2003), FEC v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc., 479 U. S. 238 (1986) (MCFL), NRWC, 459 U. S. 197, and California Medical Assn. v. FEC, 453 U. S. 182 (1981).
In his landmark concurrence in Ashwander v. TVA, 297
U. S. 288, 346 (1936), Justice Brandeis stressed the importance of adhering to rules the Court has “developed . . . for its own governance” when deciding constitutional questions....

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"JPMorgan Chase Cashes in on Destroying the Appalachian Mountains"

From AlterNet:

In light of last week's EPA ruling giving the go ahead to another mountaintop removal coal mine, and the subsequent report from a group of eminent scientists saying, in essence, that no remediation is ever enough to repair the damage mountaintop mining causes, it's worth reminding people that it's not just coal companies that stand to profit from the practice. Banks like JPMorgan Chase also are making a pretty penny from destroying Appalachia, as Gloria Reuben points out in an op-ed for Huffington Post:

Environmental & Social Destruction Funded

In the past two decades alone, mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed roughly 470 mountains in the region. The debris from these blasts is dumped into surrounding valleys, destroying what were once serene and lush hollows. Or it's dumped into local rivers and streams, literally burying 1,200 miles of waterways.
Communities are decimated, as poverty has driven families out, leaving ghost towns where there used to be thriving homes, schools and businesses. Many who refuse to leave, because their families have been there for generations--or who are stuck in the vicious cycle of accepting very little, because they've been left with nothing--lead lives that are filled with high rates of cancer, asthma and other life-threatening illnesses. And they are witness to friends and loved ones who succumb to premature death.

So how does JPMorgan Chase profit from this? By funding six of the eight companies responsible for mountaintop removal coal mining, including $1 billion to Massey Energy, the largest MTR mining company.

Chase's Rhetoric Better Than Actions
Bank of America and Wells Fargo have severed ties with Massey, so why not Chase?

After all, Chase touts including environmental practices into their sustainable business model, but apparently fails to see the disconnect between that and funding practices and companies which continually destroy mountains and pollute rivers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Monarch butterfly count at a record low"

......From Globe & Mail:

The number of monarch butterflies in the Mexican colonies where the colourful orange and black migratory insects spend their winters has declined to the lowest on record.

The colony size totals only 1.92 hectares this winter, the equivalent of about 2½ soccer fields, compared with the previous low in 2004 of 2.19 hectares, according to the latest Mexican census.

Although the slippage between the two years is slight and is being attributed mainly to weather-related factors last year, biologists and butterfly watchers have been alarmed by the trend to significantly smaller colonies. In the 1990s, monarchs occupied an average of about nine hectares of forests each winter, but for the 10 years ended in 2009 the size had fallen to less than five hectares, according to figures issued by researchers at the University of Kansas.

"The trend has been downward for the last quite a number of years," observed Donald Davis, an Ontario-based board member of Monarch Butterfly Fund, a conservation advocacy group.

The main factor behind the decline in 2009 was the weather, with a mixture of drought and excessively high and low temperatures undermining the butterflies across the vast North American territory where they breed and migrate.

Spring temperatures in Texas, for instance, were very high last year, harming populations on the first leg of their migration north. But summer in Canada and elsewhere in the U.S. was too cold for the insects. It is rare for the butterflies to face adverse conditions across almost their entire range in a single season; in most years, poor breeding success in some regions is offset by better results elsewhere.

The latest census was conducted by WWF Mexico, a conservation advocacy group, and posted on its website...

Although weather can affect population numbers from year to year, Dr. Taylor said, the monarchs have been suffering from a loss of habitat. One problem is the massive expansion in the amount of genetically modified corn and soybeans planted by farmers. These crops have led to an increase in herbicide use, which has eliminated milkweed plants that the butterfly larvae depend on for food.

Rural land is also being converted to urban development, and once-idled farmland that may have hosted milkweed plants is being returning to production to take advantage of the demand for corn and soybean biofuels. Because of the key role of milkweed as food for the species, Dr. Taylor has been urging landowners to plant some of it to help the butterflies.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Global Cooling? Tell It to the Jellyfish"

From Common Dreams - by Michael Winship

There are certain newspaper headlines that catch your eye and stop you in your tracks. Like the New York Post's famous "Headless Body in Topless Bar." Or such tabloid greats as "Evil Cows Ate My Garden," "Double Decker Bus Found on Moon," and my personal favorite, "Proof of Reincarnation: Baby Born with Wooden Leg."

Along similar lines, I was startled this week when London's Daily Mail published an article headlined, "Could we be in for 30 years of global COOLING?" Triggered by the unusual cold and snow in the United Kingdom over the last few weeks, the article began, "Britain's big freeze is the start of a worldwide trend towards colder weather that seriously challenges global warming theories, eminent scientists claimed yesterday."

The story went on to reference various researchers and their institutions, including the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, which reported, according to the Mail, that, "The warming of the Earth since 1900 is due to natural oceanic cycles, and not man-made greenhouse gases."

This was followed by an article on the Fox News Web site with the headline, "30 Years of Global Cooling Are Coming, Leading Scientist Says."

There are only two small problems, as was pointed out by Steve Benen on Washington Monthly magazine's "Political Animal" blog: "First, the National Snow and Ice Data Center said no such thing. The director of the NSIDC said, 'This is completely false. NSIDC has never made such a statement and we were never contacted by anyone from the Daily Mail.'" (Subsequently, both Fox and the Mail removed the reference to the NSIDC in their articles.)

Second, as proof of global cooling, both stories cited research conducted by Mojib Latif, a prominent climate modeler with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Latif's response to their reporting? "I don't know what to do," he said. "They just make these things up."

Latif's work on climatology is complex and often difficult to understand, which is why the Fox and Daily Mail reporters may have his story mixed up -- it wouldn't be the first time journalists have been confused by his findings. But as cogently interpreted by the physicist and climate expert Dr. Joseph Romm of the liberal Center for American Progress, "Latif has NOT predicted a cooling trend -- or a 'decades-long deep freeze' -- but rather a short-time span where human-caused warming might be partly offset by ocean cycles, staying at current record levels, but then followed by 'accelerated' warming where you catch up to the long-term human-caused trend. He does NOT forecast 2 or 3 decades of cooling."

In fact, as Latif told the British newspaper the Guardian, "I believe in manmade global warming... There is no doubt within the scientific community that we are affecting the climate, that the climate is changing and responding to our emissions of greenhouse gases."

And if you don't believe him, ask the jellyfish.

Jellyfish don't lie. Well, sometimes they lie -- deceased and desiccated along the beach, which from strolling along various Eastern Seaboard shores is about the extent of my knowledge of them. That, and that Ogden Nash couplet, the one that goes, "Who wants my jellyfish? I am not sellyfish!"

But according to the Associated Press, the jellyfish population is rising. The news service reports, "Scientists believe climate change -- the warming of oceans -- has allowed some of the almost 2,000 jellyfish species to expand their ranges, appear earlier in the year and increase overall numbers, much as warming has helped ticks, bark beetles and other pests to spread to new latitudes."
(Scrippsia pacifica)
This has led to all manner of consequences, some you would expect, others not. A 2008 National Science Foundation study found populations growing along the East Coast -- in the Chesapeake Bay area, people are stung about half a million times a year. In the Middle East and Africa, swarms have jammed hydroelectric and desalination plants, forcing them to shut down. In Japan, the fishing industry is losing up to $332 million a year because jellyfish swarms fill the nets, crowding out mackerel, sea bass and other fish.

The AP reports that in October, off the eastern coast of Japan, "Jelly-filled nets capsized a 10-ton trawler as its crew tried to pull them up. The three fishermen were rescued." I know this all sounds like something out of a Godzilla movie, but it's serious stuff.

And speaking of jellyfish, here's a headline you may not see anytime soon: "Senate Passes Sweeping Climate Bill."

Although in a January 14 speech to the Energy Finance Forum, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "Taking on the clean-energy challenge... may be the most important policy we will ever pass. And we cannot afford to wait any longer to act," the cap-and-trade climate bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives back in June malingers in the purgatory of the Senate.

And next week, Senator Reid will allow a vote on an amendment to the legislation lifting the Federal debt ceiling. Proposed by Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, it would block the enforcement funding of the Environmental Protection Agency, giving free rein to the coal industry and other big polluters to ignore the Clean Air Act.

The activist group Credo Action, part of the company Working Assets, warns, "You would think this would be easy to stop, but the vote is predicted to be close with many Democrats considering voting for the bill... The coal industry has been working furiously to close deals with senators across the political spectrum, including those who say they want to protect the environment."


"Drought drives Middle Eastern pepper farmers out of business..."

From Grist:

Most Turks live on the water’s edge in the far western reaches of their vast country. But many of the spices that perfume the air in Turkey’s famous urban bazaars come from the nation’s southeastern farming areas of Sanliurfa and Kahramanmaras. In fact, spices from this region rank among the most highly prized condiments and herbs you can find in any spice emporium anywhere.

As I wandered through the Misir Carsisi Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, and the Kemeralti Bazaar at the western terminus of the Silk Road in Izmir, I could see the chile powders, pastes and dried fruits from Sanliurfa and Kahramanmaras proudly and prominently displayed.

Urfa and Maras peppers from Turkey have the same international fame that Aleppo (Halaby) peppers do from Syria, Tabascos do from Louisiana, or Habaneros do from the Yucatan. But their prices are soaring and supplies are becoming scarce—not merely because of international demand, but because of drought and agricultural water scarcity triggered by global climate change.

The same climate-driven pressures are affecting the survival of the Halaby pepper and its traditional farmers near Aleppo, Syria. In the past three years, 160 Syrian farming villages have been abandoned near Aleppo as crop failures have forced over 200,000 rural Syrians to leave for the cities. This news is distressing enough, but when put into a long-term perspective, its implications are staggering: many of these villages have been continuously farmed for 8000 years. As one expert puts it, this may be the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago.

The thousands of tourists and residents who purchase Urfa and Maras chiles in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar may not yet realize it, but their access to these world class spices is being disrupted by climate change. Since 2007, rains in some forty Turkish provinces, northern Syria and eastern Iraq have been 30 percent to 40 percent of their normal levels. The drought in southeastern Anatolia has reduced harvests by 80 percent. In Syria, 60 percent of the agricultural lands have been affected by these droughts.

In Iraq, 2 million rural residents have been left without water. Many irrigation canals remain dry, as the only water reaching rivers like the Euphrates is being usurped by cities upstream. Downstream on the Tigris-Euphrates delta, saltwater intrusion is making domestic water unpotable. Between the three countries, perhaps five million people have been directly affected...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

On the Melting of Antartica (NASA)

Is Antarctica Melting?

There has been lots of talk lately about Antarctica and whether or not the continent's giant ice sheet is melting. One new paper 1, which states there’s less surface melting recently than in past years, has been cited as "proof" that there’s no global warming. Other evidence that the amount of sea ice around Antarctica seems to be increasing slightly 2-4 is being used in the same way. But both of these data points are misleading. Gravity data collected from space using NASA's Grace satellite show that Antarctica has been losing more than a hundred cubic kilometers (24 cubic miles) of ice each year since 2002. The latest data reveal that Antarctica is losing ice at an accelerating rate, too. How is it possible for surface melting to decrease, but for the continent to lose mass anyway? The answer boils down to the fact that ice can flow without melting.

Two-thirds of Antarctica is a high, cold desert. Known as East Antarctica, this section has an average altitude of about 2 kilometer (1.2 miles), higher than the American Colorado Plateau. There is a continent about the size of Australia underneath all this ice; the ice sheet sitting on top averages at a little over 2 kilometer (1.2 miles) thick. If all of this ice melted, it would raise global sea level by about 60 meter (197 feet). But little, if any, surface warming is occurring over East Antarctica. Radar and laser-based satellite data show a little mass loss at the edges of East Antarctica, which is being partly offset by accumulation of snow in the interior, although a very recent result from the NASA/German Aerospace Center's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) suggests that since 2006 there has been more ice loss from East Antarctica than previously thought. Overall, not much is going on in East Antarctica -- yet.

A Frozen Hawaii

West Antarctica is very different. Instead of a single continent, it is a series of islands covered by ice -- think of it as a frozen Hawaii, with penguins. Because it's a group of islands, much of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS, in the jargon) is actually sitting on the floor of the Southern Ocean, not on dry land. Parts of it are more than 1.7 kilometer (1 mile) below sea level. Pine Island is the largest of these islands and the largest ice stream in West Antarctica is called Pine Island Glacier. The WAIS, if it melted completely, would raise sea level by 5 to 7 meter (16 to 23 feet). And the Pine Island Glacier would contribute about 10 percent of that.

Since the early 1990s, European and Canadian satellites have been collecting radar data from West Antarctica. These radar data can reveal ice motion and, by the late 1990s, there was enough data for scientists to measure the annual motion of the Pine Island Glacier. Using radar information collected between 1992 and 1996, oceanographer Eric Rignot, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), found that the Pine Island Glacier's "grounding line" -- the line between the glacier's floating section and the part of the glacier that rests on the sea floor -- had retreated rapidly towards the land. That meant that the glacier was losing mass. He attributed the retreat to the warming waters around West Antarctica 6. But with only a few years of data, he couldn't say whether the retreat was a temporary, natural anomaly or a longer-term trend from global warming.

Rignot's paper surprised many people. JPL scientist Ron Kwok saw it as demonstrating that "the old idea that glaciers move really slowly isn't true any more." One result was that a lot more people started to use the radar data to examine much more of Antarctica. A major review published in 2009 found that Rignot's Pine Island Glacier finding hadn't been a fluke 7: a large majority of the marine glaciers of the Antarctic Peninsula were retreating, and their retreat was speeding up. This summer, a British group revisited the Pine Island Glacier finding and found that its rate of retreat had quadrupled between 1995 and 2006.

The retreat of West Antarctica's glaciers is being accelerated by ice shelf collapse. Ice shelves are the part of a glacier that extends past the grounding line towards the ocean they are the most vulnerable to warming seas. A longstanding theory in glaciology is that these ice shelves tend to buttress (support the end wall of) glaciers, with their mass slowing the ice movement towards the sea, and this was confirmed by the spectacular collapse of the Rhode Island-sized Larsen B shelf along the Eastern edge of the Antarctic Peninsula in 2002. The disintegration, which was caught on camera by NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) imaging instruments on board its Terra and Aqua satellites, was dramatic: it took just three weeks to crumble a 12,000-year old ice shelf. Over the next few years, satellite radar data showed that some of the ice streams flowing behind Larsen B had accelerated significantly, while others, still supported by smaller ice shelves, had not 9. This dynamic process of ice flowing downhill to the sea is what enables Antarctica to continue losing mass even as surface melting declines.

Michael Schodlok, a JPL scientist who models the way ice shelves and the ocean interact, says melting of the underside of the shelf is a pre-requisite to these collapses. Thinning of the ice shelf reduces its buttressing effect on the glacier behind it, allowing glacier flow to speed up. The thinner shelf is also more likely to crack. In the summer, meltwater ponds on the surface can drain into the cracks. Since liquid water is denser than solid ice, enough meltwater on the surface can open the cracks up deeper down into the ice, leading to disintegration of the shelf. The oceans surrounding Antarctica have been warming 10, so Schodlok doesn't doubt that the ice shelves are being undermined by warmer water being brought up from the depths. But he admits that it hasn't been proven rigorously, because satellites can’t measure underneath the ice.

Glaciologist Robert Bindschadler of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center intends to show just that. He's leading an expedition scheduled to start in 2011 to drill through the Pine Island Glacier and place an automated buoy into the water below it. According to Bindschadler, Pine Island Glacier "is the place to go because that is where the changes are the largest. If we want to understand how the ocean is impacting the ice sheet, go to where it's hitting the ice sheet with a sledgehammer, not with a little tack hammer."

Meanwhile, measurements from the Grace satellites confirm that Antarctica is losing mass...

For more information about this topic, visit NASA's Global Climate Change website.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"US cult of greed..."

From the Guardian:

The average American consumes more than his or her weight in products each day, fuelling a global culture of excess that is emerging as the biggest threat to the planet, according to a report published today. In its annual report, Worldwatch Institute says the cult of consumption and greed could wipe out any gains from government action on climate change or a shift to a clean energy economy.

Erik Assadourian, the project director who led a team of 35 behind the report, said: "Until we recognise that our environmental problems, from climate change to deforestation to species loss, are driven by unsustainable habits, we will not be able to solve the ecological crises that threaten to wash over civilisation."

The world's population is burning through the planet's resources at a reckless rate, the US thinktank said. In the last decade, consumption of goods and services rose 28% to $30.5tn (£18.8bn).

The consumer culture is no longer a mostly American habit but is spreading across the planet. Over the last 50 years, excess has been adopted as a symbol of success in developing countries from Brazil to India to China, the report said. China this week overtook the US as the world's top car market. It is already the biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

Such trends were not a natural consequence of economic growth, the report said, but the result of deliberate efforts by businesses to win over consumers. Products such as the hamburger – dismissed as an unwholesome food for the poor at the beginning of the 20th century – and bottled water are now commonplace.

The average western family spends more on their pet than is spent by a human in Bangladesh.

The report did note encouraging signs of a shift away from the high spend culture. It said school meals programmes marked greater efforts to encourage healthier eating habits among children. The younger generation was also more aware of their impact on the environment.

There has to be a wholesale transformation of values and attitudes, the report said. At current rates of consumption, the world needs to erect 24 wind turbines an hour to produce enough energy to replace fossil fuel.

"We've seen some encouraging efforts to combat the world's climate crisis in the past few years," said Assadourian. "But making policy and technology changes while keeping cultures centred on consumerism and growth can only go so far.

"If we don't shift our very culture there will be new crises we have to face. Ultimately, consumerism is not going to be viable as the world population grows by 2bn and as more countries grow in economic power."

In the preface to the report, Worldwatch Institute's president, Christopher Flavin, writes: "As the world struggles to recover from the most serious global economic crisis since the Great Depression, we have an unprecedented opportunity to turn away from consumerism. In the end, the human instinct for survival must triumph over the urge to consume at any cost."

"Impact Of Unsettled Summer Weather On UK Marine Life"

From who got it from NOCS (National Oceanography Centre, Southampton):

A recent scientific conference has provided new evidence for the effects of unseasonal summer storms on a variety of spectacular marine life, including deadly jellyfish, basking sharks and oceanic seabirds.

The third annual 'South West Marine Ecosystems' meeting, held in Plymouth in December 2009, brought together 40 representatives from the scientific, conservation, fishing and eco-tourism sectors. The aim was to discuss impacts of environmental change and conservation measures on marine life off southwest England.

A common theme was the influence of a third successive summer dominated by wet and windy weather, with southwest England particularly affected by a series of Atlantic storms. This led to an unprecedented mid-summer influx of the deadly Portuguese man-o-war jellyfish onto Cornish beaches, leading to temporary closure of some popular tourist hotspots such as Sennen Cove.

The stormy conditions also blew in record numbers of the Wilson's storm petrel, a tiny oceanic seabird that breeds in the southern Atlantic Ocean and is traditionally a very rare visitor to UK coasts. Several sightings of the spectacular black-browed albatross were also made during the summer and autumn, including the first in Cornwall for over 20 years.

Meeting organiser, Dr Russell Wynn of National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) said: "The effect of these mid-summer storms on our marine life has been dramatic. If recent summers are an indication of future trends, then we might expect to see more exotic visitors around our coasts in the years to come."

However, the unsettled weather was bad news for basking sharks, which were only seen in very low numbers off southwest UK through the summer and autumn. During stormy conditions, their plankton prey is widely scattered, and it is believed that the sharks move further north and west in search of more productive waters at these times. In addition, the RSPB reported that the wet, cold conditions could be contributing to low productivity of breeding seabirds such as kittiwakes.

Helen Booker of RSPB said "Mid-summer storms are a particular problem for our breeding kittiwakes, which nest on exposed cliffs and headlands. The adult birds have difficulty finding food in very rough seas, while the chicks are vulnerable to chilling in persistently cold, damp conditions."

Conservation topics discussed at the meeting included a study on threatened seahorses in Studland Bay, Dorset, the establishment of a network of Marine Conservation Zones around our coasts, and ongoing efforts to reduce dolphin strandings and bycatch in southwest England.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

"Seaweed chokes Australia's Great Barrier Reef"

SYDNEY (AFP) — Australian natural wonder the Great Barrier Reef is overgrown in places by seaweed in what could be a worrying indication of the health of the coral structure, scientists said on Wednesday.

Surveys of the World Heritage-listed reef, already at risk from global warming, found that more than 40 percent of areas closest to shore were dominated by green weed, Professor David Bellwood said.

"We knew there would be some weed there, we were just surprised how much," Bellwood, a marine biologist from James Cook University, told AFP.

"We are concerned about it because it does look like a lot of weed and in other places in the world, weed is an indication of decline."

Bellwood said the offshore reefs, those at least 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) from Australia's eastern coast, were largely untouched by the algae but that some of those closer to shore were choking with weed.

While the reason for the build-up of greenery was not known, Bellwood said he suspected it was because algae-eating fish have died out in those areas.

"The question is, does this mean the Barrier Reef is in real trouble? That the reef is rotting from the inside out? Or does it mean to say that that amount of weed is natural? And the answer is: it's hard to say," he said.

Bellwood, from the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said the best defence for the reef would be clean water and the existence of herbivorous fish which could graze on the weeds.

"The Great Barrier Reef is in the best condition of any reef in the world," he said.

"However, it is suffering. And it has suffered significant declines in coral cover in the last few years. The presence of that weed is just another little red light."

Scientists have already warned that the 345,000-square kilometre (133,000-square mile) attraction is in serious jeopardy as global warming and chemical runoff threaten to kill marine species and cause disease outbreaks.

Bellwood said the seaweed could be just the latest problem for the reef.

"It's just that when you combine run-off and fertiliser and pesticides and climate change and human interaction and coastal erosion and coastal development and fishing and overfishing... these things are all starting to accumulate," he said.

New Hubble Photos

This recent photo provided by NASA and the European Space Agency, and captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, shows the deepest image of the universe ever taken in near-infrared light. The faintest and reddest objects in the image are galaxies that formed 600 million years after the Big Bang. No galaxies have been seen before at such early times. The new deep view also provides insights into how galaxies grew in their formative years early in the universe's history.

This image provided by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope Tuesday Dec. 15, 2009 shows hundreds of brilliant blue stars wreathed by warm, glowing clouds. The festive portrait is the most detailed view of the largest stellar nursery in our local galactic neighborhood. The massive, young stellar grouping, called R136, is only a few million years old and resides in the 30 Doradus Nebula, a turbulent star-birth region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of our Milky Way. There is no known star-forming region in our galaxy as large or as prolific as 30 Doradus.

From Hubble:

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has broken the distance limit for galaxies and uncovered a primordial population of compact and ultra-blue galaxies that have never been seen before. The deeper Hubble looks into space, the farther back in time it looks, because light takes billions of years to cross the observable universe. This makes Hubble a powerful "time machine" that allows astronomers to see galaxies as they were 13 billion years ago, just 600 million to 800 million years after the Big Bang.

The data from Hubble's new infrared camera, the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), on the Ultra Deep Field (taken in August 2009) have been analyzed by no less than five international teams of astronomers. A total of 15 papers have been submitted to date by astronomers worldwide. Some of these early results are being presented by various team members on Jan. 6, 2010, at the 215th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.


What needs to happen to help the planet is for the dominant countries to all agree upon and enforce environmental protections/standards. All corporations would be required to put those standards ahead of profits. Much more severe penalties (a percentage of gross profits - even shutdown of aggressors) would have to be imposed to enforce those standards and protections. Unfortunately - the corporations have too much power over governments.

Richard Heinberg figures it's up to people at the local level - to do what we can.

Some snips from MuseLetter #212 / January 2010 by Richard Heinberg

The main points of the Copenhagen Accord are easy to summarize:

• Industrial countries must list their individual emissions reductions targets, and less-industrialized countries must list the actions they will take to cut emissions by specific amounts.
• All countries must accept a transparent system for monitoring their emissions.

• Poor countries will be paid to prevent deforestation.

• Wealthy nations will establish a fund (growing from 30 billion dollars per year to $100 billion per year by 2020) to help poor and vulnerable nations adapt to climate change.

• Signatory nations accept a goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

• The Accord creates a Technology Mechanism to accelerate development of low-carbon technology, but supplies no details.

...the Accord’s implementation could turn out to be a joke. The document says nothing about how voluntary targets are to be achieved—whether through carbon taxes, cap-and-trade, or other mechanisms. And, as climate scientist James Hansen has pointed out tirelessly during the past few months, cap-and-trade programs, unless set up and managed flawlessly, can easily be “gamed” by fossil fuel producers by buying phony offsets while continuing to increase total emissions.

In summary, the discussions in Denmark took place in a conceptual fantasy world in which climate change is the only global crisis that matters much; in which rapid economic growth is still an option; in which fossil fuels are practically limitless; in which a western middle class staring at the prospect of penury can be persuaded voluntarily to transfer a significant portion of its rapidly evaporating wealth to other nations; in which subsistence farmers in poor nations should all aspire to become middle-class urbanites; and in which the subject of human overpopulation can barely be mentioned.

Once again: it’s no wonder more wasn’t achieved in Copenhagen.

...If all of this sounds shamefully self-interested and corrupt, just put yourself in the shoes of a high-level politician. No would-be leader who fails to promise economic growth is taken seriously to begin with, so the only politicians we have are ones committed to producing growth. Those who succeed at this are rewarded; those who fail are sidelined and forgotten.

...The same could be said for other crises mentioned above. It’s not enough that national governments can’t get together to solve climate change. They can’t solve economic meltdown, peak oil, water scarcity, soil erosion, or overpopulation either. Yes, there are individual nations like Tuvalu that can muster a decent policy on one issue or another. Denmark is probably the shining example among industrial nations: it has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent since 1990 while maintaining constant energy consumption and growing its GDP by more than 40 percent. But these are the rare exceptions, and apparently destined to stay that way. We have no global means of dealing with the toxic debt that is strangling the world economy. We have no agreements in place to prevent the death of the oceans. There is no global policy to avert economic impacts from fossil fuel depletion. There is no worldwide protocol to protect the precious layer of living topsoil that is all that separates us from famine. There is no effective global convention on fresh water conservation.

This is not to say there is nothing that can be done about these problems. In fact, there are organizations and communities in many nations doing path-breaking work to address each and every one of them. Some examples:

• Agronomists at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, led by Wes Jackson, have for years been patiently developing perennial grain crops capable of feeding billions without destroying topsoil.

• The city of Zurich has decided through popular vote to become a 2000-Watt society. This means cutting energy consumption from the current 6000 Watts per person to one-third that amount over the next three or four decades. This was evidently a response both to climate change and the problem of energy security.

• Here in Sonoma County, California, a Go Local Co-op has formed; it’s an extension of the national organization, Business Alliance for a Living Local Economy (BALLE). One of its projects is “Sustaining Capital”—a community cooperative capital formation model that, if successful and replicated widely, could end local economies’ dependence on Wall Street banks.

• At Sunga in Madhyapur Thimi, Nepal, a community-supported project has built a water treatment plant based on reed-bed constructed wetlands that also serves as the main source of irrigation for farmers in the region.

These are just a few items out of hundreds, maybe thousands that could be cited. But, in aggregate, are they enough? Obviously not—even in the estimation of the folks who are doing this admirable work.

To summarize: three factors—the need for resilience, the lack of effective policy at national and global levels, and the tendency of the best responses to emerge regionally and at a small scale—argue for dealing with the crushing crises of the new century locally, even though there is still undeniable need for larger-scale, global solutions.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

"Europe unites to build renewable energy grid"

From the Ecologist:

Europe's first electricity grid dedicated to renewable power will become a political reality this month, as nine countries formally draw up plans to link their clean energy projects around the North Sea

It would connect turbines off the wind-lashed north coast of Scotland with Germany's vast arrays of solar panels, and join the power of waves crashing on to the Belgian and Danish coasts with the hydro-electric dams nestled in Norway's fjords.

The network, made up of thousands of kilometres of highly efficient undersea cables that could cost up to €30bn (£26.5bn), would solve one of the biggest criticisms faced by renewable power – that unpredictable weather means it is unreliable.

With a renewables supergrid, electricity can be supplied across the continent from wherever the wind is blowing, the sun is shining or the waves are crashing.

Connecting to Africa

Connected to Norway's many hydro-electric power stations, it could act as a giant 30GW battery for Europe's clean energy, storing electricity when demand is low and be a major step towards a continent-wide supergrid that could link into the vast potential of solar power farms in North Africa.

By autumn, the nine governments involved – Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland and the UK – hope to have a plan to begin building a high-voltage direct current network within the next decade. It will be an important step in achieving the European Union's pledge that, by 2020, 20% of its energy will come from renewable sources.

'We recognise that the North Sea has huge resources, we are exploiting those in the UK quite intensively at the moment,' said the UK's energy and climate change minister, Lord Hunt.

'But there are projects where it might make sense to join up with other countries, so this comes at a very good time for us.'...

EU plans

The European Commission has also been studying proposals for a renewable-electricity grid in the North Sea. A working group in the EC's energy department, led by Georg Wilhelm Adamowitsch, will produce a plan by the end of 2010.

He has warned that without additional transmission infrastructure, the EU will not be able to meet its ambitious targets. Hunt said the EC working group's findings would be fed into the nine-country grid plan.

The cost of a North Sea grid has not yet been calculated, but a study by Greenpeace in 2008 put the price of building a similar grid by 2025 at €15bn-€20bn. This would provide more than 6,000km of cable around the region.

The EWEA's 2009 study suggested the costs of connecting the proposed 100GW wind farms and building interconnectors, into which further wind and wave power farms could be plugged in future, would probably push the bill closer to €30bn.

The technical, planning, legal and environmental issues will be discussed at the meeting of the nine this month.

'The first thing we're aiming for is a common vision,' said Hunt. 'We will hopefully sign a memorandum of understanding in the autumn with ministers setting out what we're trying to do and how we plan to do it.'

All those involved also have an eye on the future, said Wilkes.

'The North Sea grid would be the backbone of the future European electricity supergrid,' he said.


This supergrid, which has support from scientists at the commission's Institute for Energy (IE), and political backing from both the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Gordon Brown, would link huge solar farms in southern Europe – producing electricity either through photovoltaic cells, or by concentrating the sun's heat to boil water and drive turbines – with marine, geothermal and wind projects elsewhere on the continent.

Scientists at the IE have estimated it would require the capture of just 0.3% of the light falling on the Sahara and the deserts of the Middle East to meet all Europe's energy needs.

In this grid, electricity would be transmitted along high voltage direct current cables. These are more expensive than traditional alternating-current cables, but they lose less energy over long distances.

Hunt agreed that the European supergrid was a long-term dream, but one worth making a reality. The UK, like other countries, faced 'huge challenges with our renewables targets,' he said.

'The 2020 target is just the beginning and then we've got to aim for 2050 with a decarbonised electricity supply – so we need all the renewables we can get.'...

"Dubai's Tower of Debt"

by Laura Flanders

New year, new symbol? Dubai's new tower fits. The $1.5 billion building unveiled in downtown Dubai Monday is the world's new tallest tower. More than half a mile high, more than two Empire State buildings tall, the Dubai tower boasts 169 stories, the world's highest swimming pool, the world's highest place of worship, and the world's tallest mountain of denial.
History repeats. Like the Empire State building before it, the Dubai tower was built in a global depression when cheap labor was plentiful, as were the dreams of the ambitious and affluent.

The engineering marvel was constructed in the desert heat by low paid immigrant workers, mostly Indians and Pakistanis, paid 5-20 dollar a day. (It's a state secret how many lost their lives in the process.) While the state-owned construction operation suppressed worker demands and banned unions from the site, it catered to consumer fantasy with equal extravagance. The tower features 144 apartments and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani, the Italian designer. In the super scraper, the super-affluent can live and vacation without leaving the brand, or the building.

On Monday, Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed and his Chicago-based architects hailed their building as a symbol of future good all things great. There's just one glitch. According to the Sunday Times, that future involves melting the equivalent of 28 million pounds of ice a day for air conditioning, and the consumption of billions of gallons of desalinated water in a city-state that already has the world's highest per-capita carbon footprint.

The climate actually changes as you ride the elevator. It's way, way hotter at the bottom. The engineers are doing everything in their power to counter physics and so far so good. But rising heat of a far less metaphorical sense already struck in the form of economics.

In last minute switch at its inauguration Monday night, the Burj Dubai ("Dubai Tower") was renamed the Burj Khalifa. It was a rather ignominious concession to reality. Sheikh Khalifa, the head of Abu Dhabi, Dubai's oil rich neighbor, has repeatedly saved Dubai from financial collapse during the construction of the tower most recently, just three weeks back when devastating defaults beckoned.

It's hardly a win for the hot people at the bottom, but it's a big hit for Dubai's would-be cool and competitive leaders. Theirs is a tower of debt. How perfect. Welcome to the decade.

"The science behind the cold weather"

Here in the Midwest US - we have been affected by an air mass coming in from the Northeast - which is unusual. We usually get it from the Northwest and/or the South. It sounds like the UK is being similarly affected from air from their Northeast instead of the warmer air from their west - ocean currents.

From the Guardian:

Although it may be hard to believe, many parts of the northern hemisphere are considerably warmer than usual at the moment. Alaska and much of northern Canada is unseasonably warm for instance, with temperatures 5C to 10C warmer than expected. That still leaves the air a biting –30C (–22F) or so though. Hardly a barbecue winter.

North Africa and the Mediterranean basin are warmer than average also, by up to 10C. Elsewhere, such as across northern Europe, temperatures are coming in 5C or so colder than average. It may be called a freak cold snap, but it's actually a fairly routine distribution of winter weather, the Met Office insists.

The reason? Something called the warm-ocean cold-land phenomenon. Cold places are kept cold because there is little wind. Warm places are kept warm because of local winds coming off the warmer sea.

Like most weather systems, the cause can be traced to blocks of high air pressure, which tend to dictate wind direction.

"High pressure blocks act like heavy rocks in a stream, in the way that water has to flow around them," a Met Office spokesman explained.

Such a stubborn block across eastern Europe and Siberia has halted the prevailing westerly wind across Britain, which usually brings soggy warm air from the Atlantic. Instead, what wind there is comes down from the frozen north. With it come the freezing conditions that have seen temperatures in parts of Scotland plunge. Temperatures across many regions have failed to climb above zero during the day, while the mercury at the Met Office's Eskdalemuir observatory in Dumfries and Galloway hit –14C on Sunday, the coldest since December 1995.

The offending high pressure block seems in no hurry to move on. "There is no wind round there for thousands of miles," the spokesman said, which means the Arctic conditions over the UK look set to continue well into next week. When the weather does break, it could bring renewed chaos.

"It all depends how quickly the warmer and wetter air comes back from the west. If it charges in and meets the cold surface air then we could have 3ft of snow or we could be skating across freezing rain."

Record snow hits China and South Korea

Police stand guard at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Temperatures are expected to fall to -18C in the Chinese capital by tomorrow night.
From the Guardian:

British commuters may have shivered, cursed and slid as they headed back to work after the Christmas break today, but the UK has been spared the worst of the cold weather that is gripping much of the northern hemisphere, bringing freezing temperatures and record snowfalls to parts of north Asia, Europe and the US.

The punishing winter weather has brought transport chaos to China and South Korea and claimed at least 60 lives in northern and eastern India.

Reports suggest that the states of Punjab, Bihar, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have borne the brunt of the freezing temperatures in India. "We are looking into the deaths and in the meantime have asked local authorities to arrange bonfires in the evening for the homeless," said a government official in Bihar, who added that all schools had been closed.

A heavy blanket of fog in New Delhi forced airport authorities to cancel or delay dozens of flights from the capital and train services were also disrupted.

In China more than 2.2 million pupils in Beijing and nearby Tianjin enjoyed a day off as officials took the rare step of closing thousands of schools. Temperatures in the Chinese capital are expected to fall to –18C on Tuesday night, with predictions they could reach –32C in the northernmost parts of the country by Wednesday morning.

In Beijing authorities mobilised more than 300,000 people to clear the streets after Sunday's blizzard dumped 8cm (3in)of snow – the most in the capital in a single day in January since 1951...

Officials will also be concerned about the strain the cold weather will place on China's gas and oil supplies. There have been gas shortages in the last two months as demand has risen in the unusually cold weather. More snow is expected this week.

In Seoul a blizzard dumped more than 25cm of snow today – the heaviest snowfall since Korea began conducting meteorological surveys in 1937, the state weather agency said.

In Switzerland police said three people were still missing after two successive avalanches hit the Bernese Oberland.

They declined to give the victims' nationalities, saying only that three people had died in the first avalanche, while the doctor sent to help them had become engulfed by the second and had died later in hospital. Eight people were rescued, some seriously injured.

The US is also experiencing an unusually chilly winter, with cold and windy weather along the east coast and record low temperatures in southern states such as Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

"C.I.A. Is Sharing Data With Climate Scientists"

From the New York Times:

The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis.

The trove of images is “really useful,” said Norbert Untersteiner, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in polar ice and is a member of the team of spies and scientists behind the effort.

Scientists, Dr. Untersteiner said, “have no way to send out 500 people” across the top of the world to match the intelligence gains, adding that the new understandings might one day result in ice forecasts...

Secrecy cloaks the monitoring effort, as well as the nation’s intelligence work, because the United States wants to keep foes and potential enemies in the dark about the abilities of its spy satellites and other sensors. The images that the scientific group has had declassified, for instance, have had their sharpness reduced to hide the abilities of the reconnaissance satellites...

About 60 scientists — mainly from academia but including some from industry and federal agencies — run the effort’s scientific side. All have secret clearances. They obtain guidance from the National Academy of Sciences, an elite body that advises the federal government.

Dr. Cicerone said the monitoring effort offered an opportunity to gather environmental data that would otherwise be impossible to obtain, and to do so with the kind of regularity that can reveal the dynamics of environmental change...

The program resurrects a scientific group that from 1992 to 2001 advised the federal government on environmental surveillance. Known as Medea, for Measurements of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis, the group sought to discover if intelligence archives and assets could shed light on issues of environmental stewardship.

It is unclear why Medea died in the early days of the Bush administration, but President George W. Bush developed a reputation for opposing many kinds of environmental initiatives. Officials said the new body was taking on the same mandate and activities, as well as the name...

In July, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released a report that praised the monitoring.

“There are no other data available that show the melting and freezing processes,” the report said. “Their release will have a major impact on understanding effects of climate change.”...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Known Universe by AMNH (American Museum of Natural History)

Click HERE

The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. The new film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan through May 2010.

For more information visit

Recent Global Warming Findings

From the Times of India:

* Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels in 2008 were 40 percent higher than in 1990. The recent Copenhagen Accord said warming should be contained within two degrees, but every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding the two-degree warming mark.

Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas (GHG) warming the atmosphere.

* To keep within the two-degree limit, global GHG emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. To stabilise climate, near-zero emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived GHG should be reached well within this century.

More specifically, the average annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink to well under one tonne carbon dioxide by 2050. This is 80-95 percent below the per-capita emissions in developed nations in 2000.

* Over the past 25 years temperatures have increased at a rate of 0.19 degree Celsius per decade. The trend has continued over the last 10 years despite a decrease in radiation from the sun.

* The studies show extreme hot temperature events have increased, extreme cold temperature events have decreased, heavy rain or snow has become heavier, while there has been increase in drought as well.

They also show that the intensity of cyclones has increased in the past three decades in line with rising tropical ocean temperatures.

* Satellites show recent global average sea level rise (3.4 mm/year over the past 15 years) to be about 80 percent above IPCC predictions. This acceleration is consistent with a doubling in contribution from melting of glaciers, ice caps, and the Greenland and West-Antarctic ice sheets.

New estimates of ocean heat uptake are 50 percent higher than previous calculations. Global ocean surface temperature reached the warmest ever recorded in June, July and August 2009. Ocean acidification and ocean de-oxygenation due to global warming have been identified as potentially devastating for large parts of the marine ecosystem.

* By 2100, global sea level is likely to rise at least twice as much as projected by the IPCC in 2007; if emissions are unmitigated the rise may well exceed one metre.

The sea level will continue to rise for centuries after global temperatures have been stabilised, and several metres of sea level rise must be expected over the next few centuries.

* A wide array of satellite and ice measurements demonstrate that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are melting at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and ice-caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990.

The contribution of glaciers and ice-caps to global sea level rise has increased from 0.8 mm per year in the 1990s to 1.2 mm per year today. The adjustment of glaciers and ice caps to present climate alone is expected to raise sea level by about 18 cm. Under warming conditions they may contribute as much as around 55 cm by 2100.

The net loss of ice from the Greenland ice sheet has accelerated since the mid-1990s and is now contributing 0.7 mm per year to sea level rise due to both increased melting and accelerated ice flow. Antarctica is also losing ice mass at an increasing rate, mostly from the West Antarctic ice sheet due to increased ice flow. Antarctica is currently contributing to sea level rise at a rate nearly equal to Greenland.

* Summer-time melting of Arctic sea-ice has accelerated far beyond the expectations of climate models. The area of summertime sea-ice 2007-09 was about 40 percent less than the average prediction from IPCC climate models in the 2007 report.

* The studies say avoiding tropical deforestation could prevent up to 20 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

* New ice-core records confirm the importance of GHG for temperatures on earth, and show that carbon dioxide levels are higher now than they have been during the last 800,000 years.