Sunday, February 28, 2010

(Japanese) " Bill stipulates 25% CO2 cuts"


The government will set a midterm target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 if all major emitters agree with a fair, effective framework, according to the outline of the bill to tackle global warming.

The outline, announced by the Environment Ministry on Friday, also stipulates that until such an agreement is reached, the government will instead focus on its long-term target to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The bill includes the government's basic environmental measures such as:

-- Creating an emissions quota trading system, under which ceilings for greenhouse gas emissions from large private firms are set by the government, and firms that fail to keep their emissions below the set caps can purchase emission quotas from companies that succeed in controlling their emissions.

-- Considering the introduction of an environment tax to combat global warming, under which the government would levy tax on fossil fuels, from fiscal 2011.

-- Establishing a system under which electric companies purchase electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as solar power at high prices.

The bill also sets a target of increasing domestic energy supply from renewable sources by 10 percent by 2020.

The bill will be approved by the Cabinet as early as this coming Friday, and then be submitted to the Diet.

However, the bill had been discussed at closed-door meetings of senior vice ministers from relevant ministries and others, prompting concerns from some organizations.

The Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), the Democratic Party of Japan's power base, said the introduction of such basic measures would require a national debate, while three top business organizations including the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) said the government should carefully examine the effects and impact of the measures as a whole.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ice Losses in Antarctica Move South



Data show ice shelves are now disappearing all along the Antarctic Peninsula, including the southern, colder part.
The loss of the ice shelves could uncork the glaciers, drain ice from the land and increase sea levels.
The trend could conceivably extend to the rest of Antarctica, but researchers are still studying that.

A new report of ice shelf changes along the southern, colder part of the Antarctic Peninsula reveal some dramatic losses of ice over the last 63 years that the researchers attribute to global warming.

The report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) compiles a wide variety of maps, aerial photos and satellite imagery to create a record of how the disappearance of floating ice shelves is increasing in the south of the peninsula, just as has happened in the north.

It's important, say the researchers, because as the ice shelves disappear, they uncork glaciers along the coast, which then pour more ice from the interior into the sea. That, in turn, contributes to sea levels rising, which threatens coasts worldwide.

"We have seen that the (disappearing ice shelves) effect has migrated south," said USGS's Jane Ferrigno, whose team included members of the British Antarctic Survey the Scott Polar Research Institute and Germany's Federal Agency for Cartography and Geodesy.

"The most noticeable and dramatic changes that can be seen on the Palmer Land area map are the retreat of the George VI, Wilkins, Bach and northern Stange Ice Shelves."

The Wilkin's Ice Shelf made news last year when a long, tenuous remaining bridge of ice connecting Charcot Island to the mainland finally gave way after shrinking for decades.

"That had been in place since ever since people have been going down there," Ferrigno told Discovery News. "Once that ice bridge was broken it makes the whole ice shelf vulnerable."

What's more, considering that the ice shelf flows in a direction that does not add ice to this area, there is little chance of the shelf recovering, she said.

The cause of the trend is not mysterious, says Antarctic ice researcher Eric Rignot of the University of California at Irvine.

"It's something that's very consistent with with the changing air temperatures," said Rignot...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bisphenol A update

Science Update: A Dangerous Disruption
Read full coverage of the 2010 Annual Meeting from and Science.

There's more troubling news about bisphenol A:

The chemical compound is used in the production of some plastics--look for those with recycling symbol #7. In an interview with Science Update, AAAS's 60-second radio show, neuroendocrinologist Heather Patisaul of North Carolina State University says bisphenol A exposure disrupts reproductive development in both rats and humans.

"What happens with our rats is they go through puberty too early," Patisaul said, "and this mirrors what we’re seeing in girls in the U.S., where the age of puberty is getting lower."

Patisaul spoke at a symposium Saturday at the AAAS Annual Meeting on the consequences of endocrine disupting agents.

In a separate symposium, researchers explored the link between bisphenol A and other synthetic chemicals with breast cancer.

The researchers are examining "critical windows" of breast tissue development, to find out when and how chemicals might prompt the development of cancer. Breast cancer "can take years to develop," said Suzanne Fenton, a researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health, which may mean that some cancers have their roots in early toxic exposures.

At the same time, scientists need to know more about exactly which chemicals have the potential to be toxic for breast cells. Some agents that mimic the actions of estrogen are known to cause cancer, according to California Environmental Protection Agency scientist Lauren Zeise. But she warned that there are many other chemically-driven pathways to cancer, and it can be difficult to test for these pathways when "we are exposed to any particular agent in a sea of chemicals."

Recent regulatory changes in the European Union, which require the chemical industry to disclose more of the properties and hazards of their products, could result in a flood of new data to help solve some of these problems, the panelists agreed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Firms Cause $2.2 Trillion of Environmental Damage"

by Juliette Jowit

Report for the UN into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest companies estimates one-third of profits would be lost if firms were forced to pay for use, loss and damage of environment

The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world's biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found.

The report comes amid growing concern that no one is made to pay for most of the use, loss and damage of the environment, which is reaching crisis proportions in the form of pollution and the rapid loss of freshwater, fisheries and fertile soils.

Later this year, another huge UN study - dubbed the "Stern for nature" after the influential report on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern - will attempt to put a price on such global environmental damage, and suggest ways to prevent it. The report, led by economist Pavan Sukhdev, is likely to argue for abolition of billions of dollars of subsidies to harmful industries like agriculture, energy and transport, tougher regulations and more taxes on companies that cause the damage.

Ahead of changes which would have a profound effect - not just on companies' profits but also their customers and pension funds and other investors - the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment initiative and the United Nations Environment Programme jointly ordered a report into the activities of the 3,000 biggest public companies in the world, which includes household names from the UK's FTSE 100 and other major stockmarkets.

The study, conducted by London-based consultancy Trucost and due to be published this summer, found the estimated combined damage was worth US$2.2 trillion (£1.4tn) in 2008 - a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.

The figure equates to 6-7% of the companies' combined turnover, or an average of one-third of their profits, though some businesses would be much harder hit than others.

"What we're talking about is a completely new paradigm," said Richard Mattison, Trucost's chief operating officer and leader of the report team. "Externalities of this scale and nature pose a major risk to the global economy and markets are not fully aware of these risks, nor do they know how to deal with them."

The biggest single impact on the $2.2tn estimate, accounting for more than half of the total, was emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Other major "costs" were local air pollution such as particulates, and the damage caused by the over-use and pollution of freshwater.

The true figure is likely to be even higher because the $2.2tn does not include damage caused by household and government consumption of goods and services, such as energy used to power appliances or waste; the "social impacts" such as the migration of people driven out of affected areas, or the long-term effects of any damage other than that from climate change. The final report will also include a higher total estimate which includes those long-term effects of problems such as toxic waste.

Trucost did not want to comment before the final report on which sectors incurred the highest "costs" of environmental damage, but they are likely to include power companies and heavy energy users like aluminium producers because of the greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels. Heavy water users like food, drink and clothing companies are also likely to feature high up on the list.

Sukhdev said the heads of the major companies at this year's annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, were increasingly concerned about the impact on their business if they were stopped or forced to pay for the damage...

Another major concern is the risk that companies simply run out of resources they need to operate, said Andrea Moffat, of the US-based investor lobby group Ceres, whose members include more than 80 funds with assets worth more than US$8tn. An example was the estimated loss of 20,000 jobs and $1bn last year for agricultural companies because of water shortages in California, said Moffat.

"What Do Empires Do?"

by Michael Parenti:

When I wrote my book Against Empire in 1995, as might be expected, some of my U.S. compatriots thought it was wrong of me to call the United States an empire. It was widely believed that U.S. rulers did not pursue empire; they intervened abroad only out of self-defense or for humanitarian rescue operations or to overthrow tyranny, fight terrorism, and propagate democracy.

But by the year 2000, everyone started talking about the United States as an empire and writing books with titles like Sorrows of Empire, Follies of Empire, Twilight of Empire, or Empire of Illusions--- all referring to the United States when they spoke of empire.

Even conservatives started using the word. Amazing. One could hear right-wing pundits announcing on U.S. television, "We're an empire, with all the responsibilities and opportunities of empire and we better get used to it"; and "We are the strongest nation in the world and have every right to act as such"---as if having the power gives U.S. leaders an inherent entitlement to exercise it upon others as they might wish.

"What is going on here?" I asked myself at the time. How is it that so many people feel free to talk about empire when they mean a United States empire? The ideological orthodoxy had always been that, unlike other countries, the USA did not indulge in colonization and conquest.

The answer, I realized, is that the word has been divested of its full meaning. "Empire" seems nowadays to mean simply dominion and control. Empire---for most of these late-coming critics--- is concerned almost exclusively with power and prestige. What is usually missing from the public discourse is the process of empire and its politico-economic content. In other words, while we hear a lot about empire, we hear very little about imperialism.

Now that is strange, for imperialism is what empires are all about. Imperialism is what empires do. And by imperialism I do not mean the process of extending power and dominion without regard to material and financial interests. Indeed "imperialism" has been used by some authors in the same empty way that they use the word "empire," to simply denote dominion and control with little attention given to political economic realities.

But I define imperialism as follows: the process whereby the dominant investor interests in one country bring to bear their economic and military power upon another nation or region in order to expropriate its land, labor, natural resources, capital, and markets-in such a manner as to enrich the investor interests. In a word, empires do not just pursue "power for power's sake." There are real and enormous material interests at stake, fortunes to be made many times over.

So for centuries the ruling interests of Western Europe and later on North America and Japan went forth with their financiers---and when necessary their armies---to lay claim to most of planet Earth, including the labor of indigenous peoples, their markets, their incomes (through colonial taxation or debt control or other means), and the abundant treasures of their lands: their gold, silver, diamonds, copper, rum, molasses, hemp, flax, ebony, timber, sugar, tobacco, ivory, iron, tin, nickel, coal, cotton, corn, and more recently: uranium, manganese, titanium, bauxite, oil, and--say it again--oil. (Hardly a complete listing.)

Empires are enormously profitable for the dominant economic interests of the imperial nation but enormously costly to the people of the colonized country. In addition to suffering the pillage of their lands and natural resources, the people of these targeted countries are frequently killed in large numbers by the intruders.

This is another thing that empires do which too often goes unmentioned in the historical and political literature of countries like the United States, Britain, and France. Empires impoverish whole populations and kill lots and lots of innocent people. As I write this, President Obama and the national security state for which he works are waging two and a half wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, and northern Pakistan), and leveling military threats against Yemen, Iran, and, on a slow day, North Korea. Instead of sending medical and rescue aid to Haiti, Our Bomber sent in the Marines, the same Marines who engaged in years of mass murder in Haiti decades ago and supported more recent massacres by proxy forces.

The purpose of all this killing is to prevent alternative, independent, self-defining nations from emerging. So the empire uses its state power to gather private wealth for its investor class. And it uses its public wealth to shore up its state power and prevent other nations from self-developing.

Sooner or later this arrangement begins to wilt under the weight of its own contradictions. As the empire grows more menacing and more murderous toward others, it grows sick and impoverished within itself.

From ancient times to today, empires have always been involved in the bloody accumulation of wealth. If you don't think this is true of the United States then stop calling it "Empire." And when you write a book about how it wraps its arms around the planet, entitle it "Global Bully" or "Bossy Busybody," but be aware that you're not telling us much about imperialism.

Pollyanna and Judy Moskowitz

I listened to Judy Moskowitz's lecture on UCTV yesterday. She is a researcher at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.

One of the main points of her talk was that people who could find even little things to be happy about - esp. in the face of difficult problems (like having AIDS, or caring for those with AIDS) - would have less stress and therefore better health - and may live longer.

From an article on the web from when she talked about this on Fresh Air:

"The idea of positive thinking has been a part of pop psychology for a long time," Moskowitz explains. "But I wanted to examine it from an empirical perspective." She got this idea while part of a team studying the coping of those under severe stress, each week visiting study subjects and asking them a prescribed set of questions about their stress. But the subjects of the study challenged her research team by asking, "Why don't you ever ask us the good things that happened?"

That may have surprised the researchers, since their subjects were under severe emotional stress, caring for dying loved ones. But the team rose to the challenge, changed the protocol to include collecting positive data, and thereafter observed that those people who were able to pay attention to positive events during difficulties seemed to cope better.

"So we hypothesized," Moskowitz explains, "that it was this positive emotion that helped them to cope." From that evolved the present study in which individuals under severe stress are taught a range of positive practices, from mindfulness exercises to gratitude journals, as a means of improving their ability to cope. "It's not a magical list and not all the skills are attractive to all people," Moskowitz says. "It's a buffet. You don't have to try them all."

What seemed funny to me was how she stressed that this was not some sort of Pollyanna kind of thing. While I didn't read the book, Pollyanna, the sorts of things that Moskowitz suggested people do is exactly the kind of thing that Pollyanna recommeded in the Disney movie. Pollyanna noticed that various people in her world only saw the negative side of life - so she encouraged them in various ways to appreciate little things. Like hanging the crystals in the window and seeing the rainbow effects. And basically finding whatever sort of thing a person could be grateful for.

Especially with this being supported by research - it's odd to me that people insist that "Pollyanna" is a negative thing.

Word Origin & History

"one who finds cause for gladness in the most difficult situations," 1921, in allusion to Pollyanna Whittier, child heroine of U.S. novelist Eleanor Hodgman Porter's "Pollyanna" (1913) and "Pollyanna Grows Up" (1915), noted for keeping her chin up during disasters.

Got to meaning:
Pol·ly·an·na   [pol-ee-an-uh]
an excessively or blindly optimistic person.
(often lowercase) Also, Pol·ly·an·na·ish. unreasonably or illogically optimistic: some pollyanna notions about world peace.

I think some people need to watch the movie again.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jellyfish and Antarctica

A Gentoo penguin feeding her young krill
From Telegraph.UK:

The results of the largest ever survey of Antarctic marine life reveal melting sea ice is decimating krill populations, which form an integral part of penguins' diets.

The six-inch-long invertebrates, also eaten by other higher Southern Ocean predators such as whales and seals, are being replaced by smaller crustaceans known as copepods.

These miniscule copepods, measuring just half a millimetre long, are too small for penguins but ideal for jellyfish and other similarly tentacled predators.

Huw Griffiths, a marine biologist, said the shifting food web, coupled with shrinking ice sheet breeding grounds, could seriously affect the world's favourite Antarctic animal.

Mr Griffiths, of British Antarctic Survey (BAS), said: ''Marine animals spent millions of years adapting to the freezing, stable conditions of the Antarctic waters and they are highly sensitive to change.

''The polar oceans are rich in biodiversity. But if species are unable to move or adapt to new conditions they could ultimately die out.

''Copepods are 120 times smaller than krill, which is inevitably going to affect all the things that feed in that area.

''Penguins, sea birds, whales are all used to catching large items of prey. But creatures with tentacles - like jellyfish are going to have more food value out of smaller prey.

''This kind of predator will do better in this warmer environment.

''We already have huge numbers of amazing looking jellyfish. They are not quite invading but numbers will go up to the point where they become the dominant group.

''And if the waters continue to warm there will not only be a shift between species that are already there, but new species will be able to come into the area.''

...Mr Griffith's research is based ON the Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) and he presented his findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego on Thursday.

The census began in 2005 and will provide the benchmark for future studies on how the diverse sea-floor creatures living in Antarctica's waters will respond to predicted climate change.

More than 6,000 different species living on the sea-floor have been identified so far and more than half of these can only be found on the icy continent.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Progress on Solar Solutions

From IBM:

Made in IBM Labs: IBM Sets World Record by Creating High-Efficiency Solar Cell Made from Earth-Abundant Materials
Breakthrough holds potential to deliver more energy at a fraction of the cost

ARMONK, N.Y. - 11 Feb 2010: IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced it has built a solar cell -- where the key layer that absorbs most of the light for conversion into electricity, is made entirely of readily-available elements -- that set a new world record for efficiency and holds potential for enabling solar cell technology to produce more energy at a lower cost. Comprised of copper (Cu), tin (Sn), zinc (Zn), sulfur (S), and/or selenium (Se), the cell's power conversion demonstrates an efficiency of 9.6 percent -- 40 percent higher than the value previously attained for this set of materials. In order to achieve progress in solar cell research, IBM is leveraging its world-class expertise in microprocessor technology, materials and manufacturing.

"In a given hour, more energy from sunlight strikes the earth than the entire planet consumes in a year, but solar cells currently contribute less than 0.1 percent of electricity supply -- primarily as a result of cost," said Dr. David Mitzi, who leads the team at IBM Research that developed the solar cell. "The quest to develop a solar technology that can compare on a cost per watt basis with the conventional electricity generation, and also offer the ability to deploy at the terawatt level, has become a major challenge that our research is moving us closer to overcoming."

The IBM researchers describe their achievement of the thin-film photovoltaic technology in a paper published in Advanced Materials this week, highlighting the solar cell's potential to accomplish the goal of producing low-cost energy that can be used widely and commercially.

The solar cell development also sets itself apart from its predecessors as it was created using a combination of solution and nanoparticle-based approaches, rather than the popular, but expensive vacuum-based technique. The production change is expected to enable much lower fabrication costs, as it is consistent with high-throughput and high materials utilization based deposition techniques including printing, dip and spray coating and slit casting.

Currently available thin film solar cell modules based upon compound semiconductors operate at 9 to 11 percent efficiency levels, and are primarily made from two costly compounds -- copper indium gallium selenide or cadmium telluride. Attempts to create affordable, earth abundant solar cells from related compounds that are free of indium, gallium or cadmium have not exceeded 6.7 percent, compared to IBM's new 9.6 efficiency rating.

Over the past several years, IBM researchers have pioneered several breakthroughs related to creating inexpensive, efficient solar cells. IBM does not plan to manufacture solar technologies, but is open to partnering with solar cell manufacturers to demonstrate the technology.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"If It’s That Warm, How Come It’s So Darned Cold?"

by James Hansen, Reto Ruedy, Makiko Sato, Ken Lo

An Essay on Regional Cold Anomalies within Near-Record Global Temperature

Overview. Public skepticism about global warming was reinforced by the extreme cold
of December 2009 in the contiguous 48 United States and in much of Eurasia. The summer of
2009 was also unusually cool in the United States. But when a cold spell hits, we need to ask:

* Cold compared to what. Our memory of the past few winters? Winters of our
childhood? Winters earlier in the 20th century?
* Cold where and for how long? Regional cold snaps are expected even with large
global warming. Weather fluctuations can be 10, 20 or 30 degrees, much larger than average
global warming.
* The reality of seasons. As the plot of Earth we live on turns away from the sun, in
winter or at night, it cools off. That’s true even with global warming, albeit not quite so much.

Our data show that 2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the 130 years of near-global
instrumental measurements – and the Southern Hemisphere had its warmest year in that entire period.
Before discussing these data, and their reconciliation with regional cold anomalies, we must consider
the time frame of comparison.

If we look back a century, we find cold anomalies that dwarf current ones. Figure 1 shows
photos of people walking on Niagara Falls in 1911. Such an extreme cold snap is unimaginable today.
About a decade earlier, in February 1899, temperature fell to -2°F in Tallahassee, Florida, -9°F in Atlanta,
Georgia -30°F in Erasmus, Tennessee, -47°F in Camp Clark, Nebraska, and -61°F in Fort Logan, Montana.

The Mississippi River froze all the way to New Orleans, discharging ice into the Gulf of Mexico.

As we will show, climate is changing, especially during the past 30 years. The changes are
perceptible, even though average temperature change is smaller than weather fluctuations. The answer
to the simple question: “How come it’s so damned cold” turns out to be simple: “Because it’s winter.”...

"Mongolian animal herds are being wiped out by bitter cold and deep snow."


What's dzud you ask? Well, it's the Mongolian word for the sort of weather they are now experiencing. Roughly translated by Shambala Sun, it's an unusually dry summer where there isn't enough grass growth to allow herd animals to grow strong, followed by an unusually cold winter (we're talking -55°F at times) with higher than normal snow. It causes huge numbers of cattle to die and brings misery and hardship to the families who herd them.

This is the worst winter Mongolia has experienced in 30 years. Some 2 million domestic animals have been killed so far. The last time dzud conditions set in, 10-12 million animals died--and by all accounts this time things are much worse. Hence, predictions have been made that up to half of Mongolia's 40 million cattle may die by the time more temperature conditions take hold, in May.

Here's how the UN has assessed the situation's severity:
Compared with the same period during the last dzud in 2000-2001, dzud 2010 is much more severe in terms of the impact of the disaster on people and livestock, which comprise the backbone of the rural economy. The country's snow coverage is 90%, ranging from 20 cm to 50 cm, reaching 120 cm in the most affected areas. More snow can be expected. Over 70% of the country's territory was affected by drought last summer of 2009, which affected preparation of winter hay. The stocks of hay in the state emergency reserves are inadequate.

Three Quarters of a Million Mongolians Are Herders
Shambala Sun describes the human suffering,
Scattered across a country as big as Western Europe, some 750,000 Mongolians' livelihoods derive almost entirely from herd animals. A devastating dzud plunges tens of thousands under subsistence level, themselves risking starvation and illness. As in the last dzud, many families will migrate as economic refugees to the already grossly overcrowded capital. With no skills to apply to survival in an urban environment, desperation drives people to barely exist by picking through trash, begging (including even the smallest children, some of whom live on the streets even in winter), and prostitution. This degrading situation is often made even worse by domestically produced vodka that's cheaper than milk.

"The worst heatwave to hit Rio de Janeiro in 50 years...

Just in time for Mardi Gras :(


RIO DE JANEIRO — The worst heatwave to hit Rio de Janeiro in 50 years turned the city into a pre-Carnival furnace Wednesday, and killed 32 elderly people further south, officials said.

According to the Inmet national weather service, recorded temperatures in Rio were well above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees) -- and felt more like above 50 degrees.

"The heatwave in Rio is seen as historic. February right now is the hottest month for the past 50 years," meteorologist Giovanni Dolif told the O Globo daily.

On Monday and Tuesday, the scalding conditions proved deadly for 32 elderly residents in Santos, a city close to Sao Paulo and 350 kilometers (220 miles) south of Rio.

Half of them succumbed in their homes and the other half died as they sought help in clinics, a spokeswoman for the city's health service told AFP.

The heatwave made Rio the hottest place on the planet on Tuesday, save for Ada, a town in eastern Ghana, according to data from the World Meteorological Organization.

Rio's recorded temperature that day was 46.3 degrees Celsius...

Dolif said being in Rio was worse than being in a dry desert because seaside humidity gave the temperature a suffocating boost, making it feel much higher.

El Nino, the phenomenon in which unusually hot Pacific Ocean waters disrupt weather patterns, was blamed for the heatwave by preventing the formation of clouds.

Rio's heatwave was forecast to continue into the weekend, when the city's famous four-day Carnival starts.

Sapped residents in the city have taken to going to the beaches at night to seek a respite from the heat.

Doctors were recommending cold showers and lots of liquids to mitigate the risks of heat exhaustion and dehydration.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Food, Inc.

I got around to watching Food, Inc. yesterday. The movie did a good job of showing the problems with cattle and the factory farmed system where the meat can get ecoli into it. And how the USA's food system -what with food subsidies for corn - worsens this. The cows are much more likely to have ecoli problems with being fed corn instead of eating grass as they evolved to do. They don't digest the corn properly.

Other problems essentially the fault of the government is that they have stopped regulating and inspecting meat processing plants and that they have restricted speech on problems associated with food. Speech needs to be freed and inspectors need to get serious. Also - the revolving door whereby industry people, such as Monsanto execs, getting the jobs that inhibit inspections, free speech, and subsidies.

The movie showed how chicken farmers get into massive debt what with investing in the chicken houses and then can't get out of the deal, farm the way they want - because they have to maintain their contract to maintain their income.

Some of the examples of problems included young people dying from eating hamburgers (and ecoli spreading to spinach and other vegetables from the factory farms), and MERSA infecting people who work at factory farms - what with the antibiotic resistance and such.

While the movie suggested the solution of voting with your dollars and food choices - it seems a lot of people won't make the change from buying pop (empty calories) to buying organic milk from grass-fed cows and from buying processed meals to locally raised meat.

"Warmer air carries more moisture"

Right wing nuts like Drudge and Limbaugh think they have an argument against global warming because Washington, DC and much of the East Coast is being drowned in snow (2 feet followed by another 18 inches).

People who are really thinking about Global Warming and problems that can be associated with this can see that the huge snowfall is part of the scenario - "warmer air carries more moisture". Nobody said that we were going to have hot, drought conditions everywhere in the world 12 months a year.

People should expect more extreme weather. More events like this. Exactly like this.
A federal government report issued last year, intended to be the authoritative statement of known climate trends in the United States, pointed to the likelihood of more frequent snowstorms in the Northeast and less frequent snow in the South and Southeast as a result of long-term temperature and precipitation patterns. The Climate Impacts report, from the multiagency United States Global Change Research Program, also projected more intense drought in the Southwest and more powerful Gulf Coast hurricanes because of warming.

In other words, if the government scientists are correct, look for more snow.

The weather channel this morning noted that 48 states in the US had snow on the ground, today. Louisiana & Mississippi were getting it... If the above statement was wrong about anything - it was about predicting how widespread the snows may be.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

"Globalization Is Killing the Globe: Return to Local Economies

by Thom Hartmann

Globalization is killing Europe, just as it's already wiped out much of the American middle class.

Spain and Greece are facing immediate crises that many other European nations see on the near horizon: aging boomer workers are retiring with healthy benefit packages, but the younger workers who are paying for those benefits aren't making anything close to the income (or, therefore, paying the taxes) that their parents did.

Globalists/corporatists/conservative "free market" and "flat earth" advocates say this is a great opportunity to cut benefits for the old folks (and for the young folks in the future), thus bringing the countries budgets back into balance, and this story is the main corporate media storyline.

But it overlooks the real issue (and the real solution): how globalization is killing these nations' economies and what can be done about it.

From the days of Adam Smith, classical economics pointed out that manufacturing and extraction are the only two ways to "create wealth."

"Wealth" is different from "income." Wealth is value, which endures at least for some time. Income is simply compensation for work. If you wash my car for $10 and I mow your lawn for $10, we have a GDP of $20 and it looks like we both have income and economic activity. But no wealth has been created, just income.

On the other hand, if I build your car, I'm creating something of value. And if you turn my lawn into a small farm that produces food we can all eat, you're creating something of value. Not only do we have an "economy" with a "GDP," we also have created wealth.

A stick on the ground has no commercial value, but if you add labor to it by carving it into an axe handle -- a thing of commercial value -- you have "created wealth." Similarly, metals in the ground have no commercial value, but when you add labor to them by extracting, refining, and forming them into products, you "create wealth." Even turning seeds and dirt and cows into hamburgers is a form of manufacturing and creates wealth.

This is the "Wealth of Nations" that titled Adam Smith's famous 1776 book.

On the other hand, when a trader at Goldman Sachs makes a "profit" trading stocks, bonds, or currencies, no wealth whatsoever is created. In fact, to the extent that that trader takes millions in commissions, pay, and bonuses, he's actually depleting the wealth of the nation (particularly to the extent that he moves his money offshore to save or invest, as many do).

To use the United States as an example, in the late 1940s and early 1950s manufacturing accounted for a high of 28 percent of our total gross domestic product (and much of the rest of the economy like agriculture that, in a classical sense is "manufacturing" wasn't even included in those numbers), and when Reagan came into office it was at a strong 20 percent. Today it's about ten percent of our GDP.

What this means is that we're creating less wealth here, because we're not making much anymore. (And the biggest growth in American manufacturing has been in the military sector, where goods are made that are then destroyed when they explode over foreign cities, causing even more of our wealth to vanish.)

The main effect of the globalism fad of the past 30 yearrs -- lowering the protective barriers to trade that countries for centuries have used to make sure their own local economies are self-sufficient -- has been to ship manufacturing (the creation of wealth) from developed nations to developing nations. Transnational corporations love this, because in countries with lower labor costs and few environmental and safety regulations, it's more profitable to manufacture products. They then sell those products in the "mature" countries -- the places that used to manufacture -- and people burn through the wealth they'd accumulated in the earlier manufacturing days (home equity, principally, along with savings and lines of credit) to buy these foreign-manufactured goods.

At first, it looks like a good deal to consumers in developed nations. Goods are cheaper! But over a decade or two or three, as the creation of real wealth is reduced and the residue of the old wealth is spent, the developed nations become progressively poorer and poorer. At the same time, the "developing" nations become wealthier -- because those are the places that are producing real wealth.

Which brings us to Spain and Greece -- and the problem of all developed nations including the USA. So long as globalism continues apace, the transnational corporations and their CEOs will continue to become fabulously wealthy. But, more importantly, they also acquire the political power that comes with that control of economies.

So they tell us that instead of putting back into place tariffs, domestic content laws, and other "protectionist" policies that built America from the time the were first proposed by Alexander Hamilton in 1791 (and largely adopted by Congress in 1793) until they were dismantled by Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush, we should instead simple "accept the reality" that we're "living beyond our means" and we have to "cut back our wages and social programs."

In other words, they get richer, our nations become poorer, and national sovereignty is reduced.

Nations -- and in large countries like the USA, even states -- must again rebuild their manufacturing base and become locally self-sufficient, so their own consumers are buying products manufactured by their own workers.

"But won't that make Wal-Mart's stuff more expensive?" whine the flat-earthers.

Yes, it will. But most Americans (and Greeks and Spaniards) would gladly pay 10 percent more for the goods in their stores if their paychecks were 20 percent higher. And manufacturing paychecks have always been higher, because manufacturing is where "true wealth" is generated (thus the basis for most union movements, which further guarantee healthy worker income and benefits).

The transnational corporations benefiting from globalization are also, in most cases, the transnational corporations that own our media, so even the word globalization is rarely heard in reports on economic crises around the world.

But globalization is the villain here, and one that needs to be taken in hand and brought under control quickly if we don't want to see virtually the nations of the world end up subservient to corporate control, a new form of an ancient economic system known as feudalism.


My note- So the CEOs and execs have the wealth made overseas - having people doing the creating very cheaply. The CEOs, etc. reap the profits of selling those goods to us who have a different economic system (we can buy the stuff at a much greater price than the people making the stuff could pay) - and the rest of us are service providers for the CEOs and for each other.

Those of us who are service providers have very little clout, it seems. Esp. as so many services can be offshored. And those that can be done here are not seeing much of a rise in wages. The computer service providers do okay - most of the liberal arts and other service providers that keep a community going do not.

I don't really see it changing - the process of having people creating things cheaply overseas. If those countries where these things are made realized that they didn't need us - and they could create and distribute cheap good just fine on their own- that would be a problem for our system. In China - the minimum wage was recently raised to $140/month - about 1/8 of ours. But there are still other countries where things may be made cheaper than that - Vietnam, etc.

I think our system would be better if those who are making tremendous profits were taxed more heavily with the money going to health care and other services. It would inject some of the extra money that is produced by this system into the economy and allow for more jobs and services - and higher wages.

Meanwhile- there is getting to be a movement for local food. As the food is perceived as better (organic vegetables, grass-fed beef - less problems with pesticides, with antibiotics, ethics), as more people choose to buy things closer to home to avoid extra pollution involved in shipments - it could be a growing movement. It may be the way to reinvigorate local economies. If however, there is only a small segment of the population that feels they can afford it - it won't be widespread.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

"Baby boom" for deadly irukandji jellyfish

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Potentially deadly marine stingers may be blooming in unprecedented numbers off the Queensland coast, as far south as Moreton Bay.

But a request by a world-leading expert to study the jellyfish phenomenon has been denied by the Australian Research Council, despite mounting evidence overseas and a series of recent stingings involving the species, including the feared irukandji.

A ship worker on board a bulk carrier became the latest victim, when he was stung 25 metres above sea level on Sunday.

The man had been fishing off the deck of the bulk carrier while waiting to collect coal off Abbott Point, north of Bowen, when it is believed he was splashed with water carrying the irukandji jellyfish.

In December, the notorious box jellyfish stung a 10-year-old girl swimming in a river 23 kilometres inland, north of Gladstone, while Brisbane holidaymaker Clinton Scott dived face first into the tenticles of an irukandji in the Whitsundays.

The winner of Tourism Queensland's "Best Job in the World" contest, Ben Southall, was also stung by a fingernail-size irukandji jellyfish while jetskiing off Hamilton Island on December 30.

Dr Lisa Gershwin, touted as the world's only jellyfish taxonomist, or species classifier, said the prevalence of marine stingers was the result of an expected cyclical jellyfish bloom.

However, she said there was no quantitative data in Australia to confirm long-held suspicions that jellyfish - known as the cockroaches of the sea - were breeding in exceptional numbers in Queensland waters.

"We're definitely having an irukandji bloom right now, there's no question. We've had at least 15 irukandji stings this season so far, starting December," Dr Gershwin, the director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services, said.

"Whether they are actually on the increase in Australia, we don't know."

"Overseas there is a lot of data that demonstrates that jellyfish are on the increase globally. Overseas ecosystems, one by one, are flipping to jellyfish dominated ecosystems...

She said there was no doubt the number of irukandji stings had increased off the Queensland coast in the last decade, although that could be attributed to better reporting methods.

However, the Australian Research Council rejected Dr Gershwin's request for a grant to research the trend.

"They said I had failed to demonstrate that there was any link; that just because it was happening overseas they (did not) see any reason why it might happen here."...

Dr Gershwin said an increase in jellyfish numbers in Queensland waters was not unlikely, as the translucent sea creatures - usually no more than 2.5 centimetres in diameter - are capable of thriving off their neighbours' misfortunes.

She has referred to the phenomenon as the "jellyfish joyride".

"Jellyfish can survive any perturbation, which can unbalance the (ecosystem)," she said.

Chemical imbalances in the water from urban run-off, thermal water changes, pollution, over-fishing or the introduction of new aquatic species, which could drive other species to extinction, do not bother the jellyfish.

"Jellyfish are basically the last man left standing. You see a very bad situation - like a domino effect - where you get a little bit of a wobble in the system, and jellyfish get a bit of a toe-hold, and they can out-compete other species for food and they can actually prey on other species, or the larvae of other species."...

Irukandji stings cause severe abdominal, limb and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, sweating and agitation, although their effects may not be felt until 30 minutes after a victim is first stung.

Dr Gershwin said vinegar remained the best treatment for marine stings, as it neutralised the venom.

"Arctic ice melt worst than 'most pessimistic' models"

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Climate change is transforming the Arctic environment faster than expected and accelerating the disappearance of sea ice, scientists said on Friday in giving their early findings from the biggest-ever study of Canada's changing north.

The research project involved more than 370 scientists from 27 countries who collectively spent 15 months, starting in June 2007, aboard a research vessel above the Arctic Circle. It marked the first time a ship has stayed mobile in Canada's high Arctic for an entire winter.

"(Climate change) is happening much faster than our most pessimistic models expected," said David Barber, a professor at the University of Manitoba and the study's lead investigator, at a news conference in Winnipeg.

Models predicted only a few years ago that the Arctic would be ice-free in summer by the year 2100, but the increasing pace of climate change now suggests it could happen between 2013 and 2030, Barber said.

Scientists link higher Arctic temperatures and melting sea ice to the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

The Arctic is considered a type of early-warning system of climate change for the rest of the world.

"We know we're losing sea ice -- the world is all aware of that," Barber said. "What you're not aware of is that it has impacts on everything else that goes on in this system."

The loss of the sea ice is taking away areas for the region's mammals to reproduce, find food and elude predators, said Steve Ferguson, a scientist with the Canadian government who took part in the study.

Whale species previously not found in the Arctic are moving into the region because there is less sea ice to restrict their movements.

Climate change is also bringing more cyclones into the Arctic, dumping snow on the sea ice, which limits how thick it can get, and bringing winds that break up the ice, Barber said...

"Think-tanks take oil money and use it to fund climate deniers"

I recently read that more people in the UK were questioning the science of global warming...

From The Independent - UK:

An orchestrated campaign is being waged against climate change science to undermine public acceptance of man-made global warming, environment experts claimed last night.

The attack against scientists supportive of the idea of man-made climate change has grown in ferocity since the leak of thousands of documents on the subject from the University of East Anglia (UEA) on the eve of the Copenhagen climate summit last December.

Free-market, anti-climate change think-tanks such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in the US and the International Policy Network in the UK have received grants totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds from the multinational energy company ExxonMobil. Both organisations have funded international seminars pulling together climate change deniers from across the globe.

Many of these critics have broadcast material from the leaked UEA emails to undermine climate change predictions and to highlight errors in claims that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. Last week climate sceptic bloggers broadcast stories casting doubts on scientific data predicting dramatic loss of the Amazon rainforest. All three stories, picked up by mainstream media, questioned the credibility of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and queried the way it does its work. A new attack on climate science, already dubbed "Seagate" by sceptics, relating to claims that more than half the Netherlands is in danger of being submerged under rising sea levels, is likely to be at the centre of the newest skirmish in coming weeks.

The controversies have shaken the IPCC, whose chair, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, was last week subjected to a series of personal attacks on his reputation and lifestyle.

A poll this weekend confirmed that public confidence in the climate change consensus has been shaken: one in four Britons – 25 per cent – now says they do not believe in global warming; previously this figure stood at 15 per cent.

Professor Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and former chair of the IPCC, said yesterday that the backlash is the result of a campaign: "It does appear that there's a concerted effort by a number of sceptics to undermine the credibility of the evidence behind human-induced climate change." He added: "I am sure there are some sceptics who may well be funded by the private sector to try and cast uncertainty."

A complicated web of relationships revolves around a number of right-wing think-tanks around the world that dispute the threats of climate change.

ExxonMobil is a key player behind the scenes, having donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few years to climate change sceptics...

Atlas has supported more than 30 other foreign think-tanks that espouse climate change scepticism, and co-sponsored a meeting of the world's leading climate sceptics in New York last March. Called "Global Warming: Was It Ever Really a Crisis?", it was organised by the Heartland Institute – a group that described the event as "the world's largest-ever gathering of global warming sceptics." The organisation is another right-wing think-tank to have benefited from funding given by ExxonMobil in recent years.

A large British contingent was present at the event, with speakers including Dr Benny Peiser, from Lord Lawson's climate sceptic think-tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF); the botanist David Bellamy; Julian Morris and Kendra Okonski from the London-based International Policy Network; the weather forecaster Piers Corbyn; Christopher Monckton, a former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher; and Professor David Henderson, a member of GWPF's advisory council.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Radioactive Waste Shipments

From the St. Petersburg Times:
Cargo of Toxic Waste Arrives in City’s Port

A cargo of 650 tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride arrived at the city’s port on Monday. The radioactive load, which is due to travel on by rail to the Siberian Chemical Factory in the Siberian town of Seversk for reprocessing, was brought in by The Captain Kuroptev ship, a vessel that has repeatedly come into conflict in the past with ecological groups trying to prevent it from docking.

The French company AREVA, one of the largest exporters of depleted uranium to Russia, along with the German-Dutch holding URENCO, is responsible for the radioactive cargo. During the past 15 years, the companies have jointly sent to Russia nearly 140,000 tons of radioactive material, according to Greenpeace Russia.

Radioactive loads on board foreign ships have been arriving at the port of St. Petersburg on a regular basis for a decade, being sent on by rail to factories in Siberia and the Urals.

The trains carrying the hazardous loads set off from Avtovo railway station — located in the south of the city close to residential areas — according to the local branch of the ecology group Bellona. Bellona’s research has shown that most residents in the area have no idea about the risks to which they are regularly exposed as a result of these toxic cargoes.

Ecologists have difficulty monitoring the cargoes, as officials restrict information concerning the transportation of nuclear material, and often prevent independent experts from gaining access to the trains. When volunteers have been able to get close to the trains they say they have often registered increased radiation levels.

AREVA is not the only French company that regularly sends uranium hexafluoride to Russia. EURODIF also continues to send regular shipments of radioactive loads. Russia’s contracts with both AREVA and EURODIF expire in 2014, and ecologists are actively campaigning in France against their renewal...

Ecologists have questioned the ethics of these deals. It has been calculated that it is at least three times cheaper for Western European companies to send depleted uranium for reprocessing to Russia than to do the job at home.

In 2008, Russia also signed contracts with India, Pakistan and China to receive spent nuclear fuel and highly toxic uranium hexafluoride in addition to the regular shipments of radioactive cargoes from Western Europe.

In November last year, environmentalists trumpeted their first major success in years when the German-Dutch company URENCO announced that it would end the practice of sending spent nuclear fuel to Russia for reprocessing and storage...

And From the Japan Times:
The world's radioactive rubbish is piling up

The Pacific Sandpiper, a specially built cargo ship with safety features far in excess of those found on conventional vessels, left Britain's Barrow port bound for Japan the other day.

In the Pacific Sandpiper's hold on this journey to Japan via the Panama Canal is only one item of cargo — a giant cylinder weighing more than 100 tons. Inside are 28 containers, each made of stainless steel nearly one-third of a meter thick. They are packed with 14 tons of highly radioactive waste that has been turned into solid glass form to make it safer and easier to handle.

It is the first of a series of such shipments planned for next few years to Japan from Britain's Sellafield nuclear storage and reprocessing complex. Three years ago, a dozen similar shipments from France to Japan were successfully completed. Used fuel from nuclear power reactors that generate about one-third of Japan's electricity has been shipped to Europe for reprocessing since 1969, while vitrified waste has been sent back to Japan by sea since 1995.

There have been over 170 of these ocean shipments covering more than 8 million km without any incident involving the release of radioactivity, according to the Euro-Japanese company that operates the fleet of purpose-built vessels.

But the elaborate and costly arrangement casts light on two of the most problematic and controversial aspects of civilian nuclear power — how to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons material and knowhow to terrorists and rogue states, and how to store nuclear waste safely for the long-term when it can remain radioactive for hundreds of years.

With the number of power reactors expected to rise from 435 in 31 countries to nearly 570 in 42 countries by 2020, and with much of this expansion expected to take place in Asia and the Middle East, the need for safeguards on uranium or plutonium processing that could be used to make nuclear weapons is obvious.

Recycling fuel from nuclear reactors under strict national and international regulations is one method being developed. When uranium oxide fuel has been used in a reactor for three or four years, it becomes less efficient and is replaced with fresh fuel.

The spent fuel can then be chemically treated to recover usable uranium, associated plutonium and radioactive waste, a system known as reprocessing. Although expensive, this cycle provides up to 25 percent more energy from the original uranium. It also reduces the volume of high-level waste to about one-fifth of what it would otherwise be...

So far, about 90,000 tons of used fuel from commercial power reactors have been reprocessed, mainly in Britain, France and Russia. By 2030, another 400,000 tons of used fuel is likely to pile up, an average of 20,000 tons a year.

At present, annual global reprocessing capacity is about 3,800 tons per year for normal uranium oxide fuel, and about 1,700 tons for other nuclear fuels, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Much of the spent fuel piled up by 2030 will be in Asia. Japan, India, China and South Korea aim to emulate the main reprocessing centers in Europe and Russia. They see the technology as the key to a lucrative nuclear service industry as well as being one that is vital to their own energy security...

High-level radioactive waste is accumulating at a rate of about 12,000 tons per year worldwide. When used fuel is removed from a reactor, it must cool for up to 50 years under water in secure pools or in dry storage, where circulating air gradually removes the heat.

The level of both radioactivity and heat from spent fuel, or from the dangerous waste material extracted from the fuel during reprocessing, fall rapidly in these years down to about one-thousandth of the level when the fuel was removed from the reactor...

Without a long-term solution, the pile of radioactive "rubbish" will become so big and so widely dispersed that it may be impossible to manage safely.

"Evidence Builds on Color of Dinosaurs"

An illustration showing the likely colors of Anchiornis huxleyi.

From the New York Times:

Until last week, paleontologists could offer no clear-cut evidence for the color of dinosaurs. Then researchers provided evidence that a dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx had a white-and-ginger striped tail. And now a team of paleontologists has published a full-body portrait of another dinosaur, in striking plumage that would have delighted that great painter of birds John James Audubon.

“This is actual science, not ‘Avatar,’ ” said Richard O. Prum, an evolutionary biologist at Yale and co-author of the new study, published in Science.

Dr. Prum and his colleagues took advantage of the fact that feathers contain pigment-loaded sacs called melanosomes. In 2009, they demonstrated that melanosomes survived for millions of years in fossil bird feathers. The shape and arrangement of melanosomes help produce the color of feathers, so the scientists were able to get clues about the color of fossil feathers from their melanosomes alone.

That discovery prompted British and Chinese scientists to examine fossils of dinosaurs that are covered with featherlike structures. The 125-million-year-old species Sinosauropteryx, for example, has bristles on its skin, and scientists found melanosomes in the tail bristles. They concluded that the dinosaur had reddish-and-white rings along its tail.

The discovery, which the researchers reported last week in Nature, supports research showing that birds are dinosaurs, having descended from a group of bipedal dinosaurs called theropods.

Dr. Prum and his colleagues, meanwhile, had set out on a similar quest. “We had a dream: to put colors on a dinosaur,” said Jakob Vinther, a graduate student at Yale.

Working with paleontologists at the Beijing Museum of Natural History and Peking University, the researchers began to study a 150-million-year-old species called Anchiornis huxleyi. The chicken-sized theropod was festooned with long feathers on its arms and legs.

The researchers removed 29 chips, each the size of a poppy seed, from across the dinosaur’s body. Mr. Vinther put the chips under a microscope and discovered melanosomes.

To figure out the colors of Anchiornis feathers, Mr. Vinther and his colleagues turned to Matthew Shawkey, a University of Akron biologist who has made detailed studies of melanosome patterns in living birds. Dr. Shawkey can accurately predict the color of feathers from melanosomes alone. The scientists used the same method to decipher Anchiornis’s color pattern.

Anchiornis had a crown of reddish feathers surrounding dark gray ones, and its face was mottled with reddish and black spots. Its body was dark gray, but its limb feathers were white with black tips.

Given the full detail of the findings, Dr. Prum said, “it was like writing the first entry in a Jurassic field guide to feathered dinosaurs.”

...The color pattern on Anchiornis was so extravagant that the scientists are confident it served some visual function. “It was definitely for showing off,” Mr. Vinther said.

Some features, like the crest, might have allowed the dinosaur to attract mates. But white and black limb feathers might have helped Anchiornis escape predators...