Hinterland Green

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Scientists Identify Dominant Chemical That Attracts Mosquitoes To Humans

ScienceDaily (2009-12-30) -- Scientists have identified the dominant odor naturally produced in humans and birds that attracts the blood-feeding Culex mosquitoes, which transmits West Nile virus and other life-threatening diseases. The groundbreaking research explains why mosquitoes shifted hosts from birds to humans and paves the way for key developments in mosquito and disease control.

The groundbreaking research, published this week in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, explains why mosquitoes shifted hosts from birds to humans and paves the way for key developments in mosquito and disease control.

Entomology professor Walter Leal and postdoctoral researcher Zain Syed found that nonanal (sounds like NAWN-uh-nawl) is the powerful semiochemical that triggers the mosquitoes' keen sense of smell, directing them toward a blood meal. A semiochemical is a chemical substance or mixture that carries a message.
"Nonanal is how they find us," Leal said. "The antennae of the Culex quinquefasciatus are highly developed to detect even extremely low concentrations of nonanal." Mosquitoes detect smells with the olfactory receptor neurons of their antennae.

Article continues:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091026172056.htm

Photo credit:  A side view of a Culex mosquito, an important vector in West Nile Virus transmission. (Credit: iStockphoto/Douglas Allen)

Report: World's Oceans are Becoming Noisier Thanks to Pollution

Getty Images
According to a study published in the science journal Nature, the world's oceans are becoming noisier thanks to pollution, with potentially harmful effects for whales, dolphins and other marine life. Scientists said the low-frequency sound in the ocean is produced by natural phenomena such as rain, waves and marine life, and by human activities such as sonar systems, shipping and construction. The report said the sound is absorbed mainly through the viscosity of the water and the presence of certain dissolved chemicals.

Article continues:  http://www.breitbart.com /article.php?id=CNG.5315a8879e53e0d27d665433910c4641.1211&show_article=1

U.S. Corn Yield Loss Could be as High as 100 Million Bushels Due to Heavy Snowstorms

CHICAGO (Reuters) - As much as 100 million bushels of U.S. corn could be lost after heavy snowstorms in recent days likely delayed until spring the final stages of an already historically slow harvest, analysts and meteorologists said on Monday. The harvest delays helped to push up corn futures more than 1 percent to a six-month high on Monday at the Chicago Board of Trade. The U.S. Agriculture Department last week in its final harvest update of the year said five percent of the corn crop was still in the fields. And after much of the U.S. Midwest and Plains regions were pounded by heavy winter storms in past several days, it's likely to stay there until next year.

Article continues:  http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5BR2T520091228

San Francisco's Famous Sea Lions Leaving in Droves

Scientists at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Ca., counted more than 1,500 sea lions on Pier 39 last month. This month, however, the story is vastly different. Almost all of the sea lions are gone and experts are baffled as to where they went and why. According to the Associated Press, Jeff Boehm, executive director of the center said the animals began leaving the day after Thanksgiving. He said the fact that so many sea lions stayed for so long is even stranger than their disappearance. Read more:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/29/san-franciscos-famous-sea_n_406702.html

Photo credit: Sea lions at Pier 39, Trip Advisor.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

German Billionaire Prince Albert of Thurn and Taxis Proposes World's Largest Solar Park in German State of Bavaria

German billionaire Prince Albert of Thurn and Taxis wants to build the world's largest solar farm in the German state of Bavaria. The project, estimated to cost about 115 million Euro ($171 million), could prove to be lucrative in terms of generating electricity sales for the family. There is, however, one hitch -- local resistance to the project.

The family, one of Germany's wealthiest known from the 16th to the 18th century for delivering mail, plans to build solar panels across 20.5 million square feet of land, which, Der Spiegel estimates to be equal to 280 soccer fields, in the town of Harthof, located near Straubing. The farm would reportedly provide up to 65 megawatts of peak power, making it the world's largest.
But Prinz's plan to draw power from the Bavarian sun has run into resistance from local citizens, who object to having such a large solar set up right in their backyard. Indeed, the solar farm would stretch from the Harthof border three kilometers (1.9 miles) towards the neighboring town of Alburg. "We have nothing against solar energy," Barbara Unger, mayor of Feldkirchen, told the FT Deutschland. But the concern, she added, is that the size and breadth of the solar panel project would destroy the land. "Where now the eye glides over the Gäuboden countryside, our citizens will only see a gleaming glass desert," Unger said.

Despite a petition to block the solar farm, the Straubing City Council voted to approve the project, which would bring in approximately €1 million of taxes to the city from the €18 million in annual electricity sales the House of Thurn and Taxis hopes to earn.  Source: Der Spiegel
According to Der Spiegel, the House of Thurn and Taxis dates back to 12th century Italy. During the 16th century, the family began a postal service that lasted until the 18th century. During that time, the family changed its name to Thurn and Taxis in 1650 and receiving their princely title from Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I in 1695. Since their time in the postal service, the family has owned various breweries and built several castles.

Prince Albert wants to enter a booming sector, which is aided by the sunny climate, state-guaranteed prices for green electricity, as well as rapid price declines. According to FT Deutschland (German), this year alone, the region between Landshut, Regensburg and Straubing will see about 60 new large solar farms installed, with approximately 60,000 new roof installations are being erected across Bavaria.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

NewsDaily: Oklahoma-Based National Steak & Poultry Company Recalling Beef Products in Six States

NewsDaily (2009-12-26) -- An Oklahoma company said it was voluntarily recalling 248,000 lbs (112,000 kg) of beef products in six states following an outbreak of illnesses involving E. coli bacteria. In a recorded telephone message, National Steak and Poultry of Owasso, Oklahoma, said it was recalling various products in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Michigan, and Washington state.


NewsDaily: Meddling in Mosquitoes' Sex Life Could Cut Malaria

NewsDaily (2009-12-26) -- Interfering in mosquitoes' sex lives could help halt the spread of malaria, British scientists said on Tuesday.  A study on the species of mosquito mainly responsible for malaria transmission in Africa, Anopheles gambiae, showed that because these mosquitoes mate only once in their lives, meddling with that process could dramatically cut their numbers.

Researchers from Imperial College London found that a "mating plug" used by male mosquitoes to ensure their sperm stays in the right place in the female is essential for her to be able to fertilize eggs during her lifetime.


Science Daily: Scientists Take Important Step Toward 'Fountain of Youth' Through Calorie Restriction

ScienceDaily (Dec. 26, 2009) — Going back for a second dessert after your holiday meal might not be the best strategy for living a long, cancer-free life say researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. That's because they've shown exactly how restricted calorie diets -- specifically in the form of restricted glucose -- help human cells live longer. This discovery, published online in The FASEB Journal, could help lead to drugs and treatments that slow human aging and prevent cancer.

"Our hope is that the discovery that reduced calories extends the lifespan of normal human cells will lead to further discoveries of the causes for these effects in different cell types and facilitate the development of novel approaches to extend the lifespan of humans," said Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Center for Aging and Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "We would also hope for these studies to lead to improved prevention of cancer as well as many other age-related diseases through controlling calorie intake of specific cell types."

To make this discovery, Tollefsbol and colleagues used normal human lung cells and precancerous human lung cells that were at the beginning stages of cancer formation. Both sets of cells were grown in the laboratory and received either normal or reduced levels of glucose (sugar). As the cells grew over a period of a few weeks, the researchers monitored their ability to divide, and kept track of how many cells survived over this period.

They found that the normal cells lived longer, and many of the precancerous cells died, when given less glucose. Gene activity was also measured under these same conditions. The reduced glucose caused normal cells to have a higher activity of the gene that dictates the level of telomerase, an enzyme that extends their lifespan and lower activity of a gene (p16) that slows their growth. Epigenetic effects (effects not due to gene mutations) were found to be a major cause in changing the activity of these genes as they reacted to decreased glucose levels.

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2009, December 26). Calorie restriction: Scientists take important step. Science Daily

Photo credit:  Glucose molecular model. (Credit: iStockphoto/Martin McCarthy)

Purdue University Develops New Method to Rearrange Distillation Sequence Needed to Separate Crude Petroleum into Products

ScienceDaily (Dec. 25, 2009) — Refineries could trim millions of dollars in energy costs annually by using a new method developed at Purdue University to rearrange the distillation sequence needed to separate crude petroleum into products. The researchers have demonstrated their method on petroleum plants that separate crude, showing that 70 of the new sequences they identified could enable oil refineries to improve the energy efficiency of this step anywhere from six percent to 48 percent, said Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering.

"This is important because improving efficiency by 10 percent at a refinery processing 250,000 barrels per day would save in excess of $12 million a year if oil were priced at $70 a barrel," said Agrawal, who is working with doctoral student Vishesh Shah. "And that's just a single refinery. For the U.S. petroleum industry as a whole, this is a huge potential savings."

Research findings appeared online this month in the AIChE Journal, the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and will be included in a future issue of the magazine.

Chemical plants spend from 50 percent to 70 percent of their energy in "separations," which are usually distillation steps required to separate a raw material into various products. In the case of petroleum, four distillation columns are needed to separate raw crude into five separate components -- naphtha, kerosene, diesel fuel, gas oil and heavy residue. Some of these components are later used to make gasoline.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.

Purdue University (2009, December 25). Method makes refineries more efficient. ScienceDaily.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mount Mayon Volcano in the Phillipines Threatens Villages, 20,000 Evacuated

Times Online -- One of the world’s most perfectly formed volcanoes oozed lava and ash overnight, threatening to explode over a picturesque tourist town in the Philippines.

Many of the 50,000 villagers living within the 6-8 km (4-5 mile) danger zone around Mount Mayon, around 310 miles (500 km) south of Manila, the capital, were evacuated earlier today. The glowing volcano loomed large over the town of Legazpi, in the Albay province, spewing lava and ash that reached a height of about 330 feet.

Renato Solidum, head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said magma has been rising at the volcano over the past two weeks and an explosion could be imminent.

Mount Mayon is an active stratovolcano and regarded as one of the world’s most perfectly formed volcanoes because of its symmetrical cone.

Two Australian Scientists Filmed Veined Octopus Carrying Coconut Shells for Shelter (VIDEO)

Australian scientists, Julian Finn and Mark Norman, have discovered an octopus in Indonesia that collects coconut shells for shelter. This behavior is considered unusually sophisticated and researchers believe it is the first evidence of tool used in an invertebrate animal.

The veined octopuses, scientifically known as Amphioctopus marginatus, were filmed by scientists filmed, selecting halved coconut shells from the sea floor, emptying them out, carrying them under their bodies up to 65 feet and assembling two shells together to make a spherical hiding spot.

The two scientists from the Museum Victoria in Melbourne observed the odd activity in four of the creatures during a series of dive trips to North Sulawesi and Bali in Indonesia between 1998 and 2008. Their findings were published Tuesday in the journal Current Biology.

While octopuses often use foreign objects as shelter, it seems that the veined octopus went a step further by preparing the shells, carrying them long distances and reassembling them as shelter elsewhere.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lowe's Launches Energy Centers in 21 Stores in California, Additional Roll-Out in Other U.S. and Canadian Stores to Come in 2010

Twenty-one Lowe's Cos. locations in California will include new Energy Centers, which will provide information and products related to measuring, reducing and generating energy. Lowe's created the Energy Centers to provide a one-stop location within stores for energy needs.

According to Green Biz, each center will include a touchscreen display with product demonstration videos, energy tips and a tool from ChooseRenewables.com that helps customers assess their home's potential for solar and wind power.
For energy measurement, the Energy Centers will feature power monitors that monitor real-time energy use and offer other features like energy bill projection. On the energy reduction side, the centers will include compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and programmable thermostats.

And for those who own homes that are a good fit for solar and wind power, Lowe's offers a couple different solar panel products and will soon offer utility-connected wind turbines by special order.

The Energy Centers will pop up in Lowe's stores in Antioch, South Antioch, Burbank, Cotati, Dublin, North Fontana, Fremont, Livermore, Pacoima, East Palmdale, Palmdale, San Bruno, East San Jose, East Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, South San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Union City, Vacaville, Victorville and West Hills. Source: Green Biz
Lowe's will roll out more Energy Centers to other U.S. cities and Canadian stores in 2010.

Two Proposed Changes being Made to the Washington D.C. Green Building Act of 2007, Apply to the Surety Industry

Several revisions to the Green Building Act of 2007, which phased in green building in Washington D.C., are being proposed to clear up some of the confusion surrounding what it covers and to update the act. There are two proposed changes that apply to the surety industry. The first, proposes that the phrase "performance bond" be replaced with the word "bond." Companies in the surety industry, such as Surety Bonds, guarantees the completion of construction projects by issuing a wide variety of bond. These companies have been questioning the enforcement tactic in the current act, by saying the provision is patently unclear and saddled with more risks than relief. 

In essence, if a project fails to meet the green requirements, Washington D.C. would obtain funds from a performance bond that has been posted for the project in an amount of up to four percent of the building costs, or $3 million. That money would then be put into a new city green building fund, whose primary aim would be helping to implement legislation. This mandate has left surety companies, such as Surety Bonds, puzzled as to which party in the project, whether the building owners, the contractors or the designers, would have to pay for the performance bond and ultimately bearing the risk of failing to comply with the Act.

The D.C.-based National Association of Surety Bond Producers and the D.C. Building Industry Association have asked the D.C. Council, which passed the Act in 2006, to amend the language in the act because they claim it is wrong. They maintain that if the phrase "performance bonds" remained, it would result in reluctance from the surety companies to back the bonds. Developers must provide these "performance bonds" for each project seeking green building certification, such as LEED.

The second major change that is being proposed to the act is to force compliance to the latest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards published in 2009. Starting January 1, 2012, all new construction projects in Washington D.C. will be required to report energy usage to the U.S. Green Building Council to ensure LEED certification. A public hearing on the revisions is set for December 14.

According to the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs, the Green Building Act of 2006, requires that commercial buildings be certified, using the LEED Green Building Rating System. LEED is a nationally-renowned benchmark for green building design, construction and operation. It is a whole-building approach to sustainability. The Act also launches a green building incentive program, a Green Building Fund and a Green Building Advisory Council.

Photo credit:  Building Commissioning

Monday, December 7, 2009

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, "Space Tourism Craft" To Be Unveiled in Mojave Desert

Virgin Galactic will unveil its long-waited SpaceShipTwo Monday in the Mojave Desert. After five years of secret construction, the cloak will come off the privately funded spacecraft designed to fly tourists, albeit well-heeled ones, into space. The project is bankrolled by Virgin Galactic founder, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who partnered with famed aviation designer Burt Rutan, the brains behind the venture. It is based on Rutan's design of a stubby white prototype called SpaceShipOne, which captured the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004, by becoming the first privately manned craft to reach space.

Since the historic feat, engineers from Rutan's Scaled Composites LLC have been laboring in a Mojave hangar to commercialize the prototype in heavy secrecy. Branson said he, his family and Rutan would be the first people to make the trip in space aboard the craft, ushering in an era when people can "become astronauts." "What we want to be able to do is bring space travel down to a price range where hundreds of thousands of people would be able to experience space and they never dreamed that could happen in the past," Branson said in an interview on CNN.

The first SpaceShipTwo test flights are expected to start next year, with full space launches to its maximum altitude by or in 2011. According to the company, about 300 clients have paid the $200,000 ticket or placed a deposit. Virgin Galactic plans to operate commercial spaceflights out of a taxpayer-funded spaceport in New Mexico that is under construction. The 2 1/2 hour trips – up and down flights without circling the Earth – include about five minutes of weightlessness.

SpaceShipTwo is built from lightweight composite materials and powered by a hybrid rocket motor. It is different from its prototype cousin in three ways:  it's twice as large, measuring 60 feet long with a roomy cabin about the size of a Falcon 900 executive jet; it has more windows including overhead portholes; and while SpaceShipOne was designed for three people, SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots.

SpaceShipTwo will be carried aloft by White Knight Two and released at 50,000 feet. The craft's rocket engine will burn a combination of nitrous oxide and a rubber-based solid fuel to climb more than 65 miles above the Earth's surface. After reaching the top of its trajectory, it will then fall back into the atmosphere and glide to a landing like a normal airplane. Its descent is controlled by "feathering" its wings to maximize aerodynamic drag. Virgin Galactic expects to spend more than $400 million for a fleet of five commercial spaceships and launch vehicles.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nepalese Government To Hold Highest Cabinet Meeting Near Mount Everest

A group of ministers from Nepal have reached the Mount Everest region for a cabinet meeting being billed as the highest ever, a stunt meant to highlight the threat global warming poses to the Himalayan glaciers. The meeting comes ahead of the international climate change conference slated to commence next week in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Nepalese meeting is meant to draw attention to the effects climate change is having on the region surrounding the world's highest peak.

The 23 ministers flew to the airstrip in Lukla, a town at an elevation of 9,180-feet (2,800 meters) that is considered the gateway to the Mount Everest region. They were to stay overnight before flying by helicopter to Kalapathar for Friday's meeting at an altitude of 17,192 feet (5,250 meters). Scientists say the Himalayas' glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, creating lakes whose walls could burst and flood villages below. Melting ice and snow also make the routes for mountaineers less stable and more difficult to follow.

Due to the high altitude and risks involved, Friday's mountainside meeting will be brief, with the ministers soon flown down to the town of Syangboche, at a safer 12,800 feet (3,900 meters). Nepalese Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was scheduled to attend the meeting. Rescue helicopters and doctors have been positioned at Lukla, Syangboche and at the meeting venue, according to the Himalayan Rescue Association.

Monday, November 30, 2009

SHOCK: Two-Thirds of of Chicken Tested Harbor Dangerous Bacteria

SHOCK:  According to the Huffington Post, Consumer Reports' latest test of fresh, whole broilers bought in 22 states reveals that two-thirds of birds tested harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of food-borne disease. The report reveals that organic "air-chilled" broilers were among the cleanest and that Perdue was found to be the cleanest of the brand-name chicken. Tyson and Foster Farms chickens were found to be the most contaminated. The report is available, free online (note, you have to click through the side bars to the left of the story) and in the January 2010 issue of the magazine.
Consumer Reports has been measuring contamination in store-bought chickens since 1998. The recent test shows a modest improvement since January 2007, when the magazine found these pathogens in 8 of 10 broilers, but the numbers are still far too high. The findings suggest that most companies' safeguards are inadequate. The tests also found that most disease-causing bacteria sampled from the contaminated chicken were resistant to at least one antibiotic, potentially making any resulting illness more difficult to treat.
Each year, salmonella and campylobacter from chicken and other food sources infect at least 3.4 million Americans, send 25,500 to hospitals, and kill about 500, according to estimates by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While both salmonella and campylobacter are known to cause intestinal distress, campylobacter can lead to meningitis, arthritis, and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a severe neurological condition.

"Our tests show that campylobacter is widespread in chicken, even in brands that control for salmonella," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Technical Policy at Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "While one name brand, Perdue, and most air-chilled chickens were less contaminated than others, this is still a very dirty industry that needs better practices and tighter government oversight."
This is reason for concern and one has to wonder why the USDA  reported finding much lower numbers. Either way, we must all exercise caution with the foods we eat, including meats and poultry.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Oceans Absorb Less Carbon Dioxide as Marine Systems Change (Study)

The oceans are by far the largest carbon sink in the world. Some 93 percent of carbon dioxide is stored in algae, vegetation, and coral under the sea.  But oceans are not able to absorb all of the carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels. In fact, a recent study suggests that the oceans have absorbed a smaller proportion of fossil-fuel emissions, nearly 10 percent less, since 2000. The study, published in the current issue of Nature, is the first to quantify the perceived trend that oceans are becoming less efficient carbon sinks. 

The study team, led by Columbia University oceanographer Samar Khatiwala, measured the amount of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions pumped into the oceans since 1765. "Our method takes as input the relatively well-known atmospheric CO2 concentration history. Given this history, we calculate the ocean absorption of industrial CO2 consistent with this history," Khatiwala said.

Industrial carbon dioxide emissions have increased dramatically since the 1950s, and oceans have until recently been able to absorb the greater amounts of emissions. Sometime after 2000, however, the rise in emissions and the oceans' carbon uptake decoupled. Oceans continue to absorb more carbon, but the pace appears to have slowed. The reason is based in part on simple chemistry. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide have turned waters more acidic, especially nearer to the poles. While carbon dioxide dissolves more readily in cold, dense seawater, these waters are less capable of sequestering the gas as the ocean becomes more acidic. The study revealed that the Southern Ocean, near Antarctica, absorbs about 40 percent of the carbon in oceans.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.

Photo courtesy NOAA

Sunday, November 22, 2009

US Army Corps Found Negligent in Katrina Floods

US district judge Stanwood Duval has ruled that negligence by the US Army Corps of Engineers led to massive floods in parts of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. It was the first time a US court has found the federal government directly responsible for some of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The court upheld complaints by six residents and a business against the Corps over its maintenance the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet. They were awarded damages totaling $720,000, and the ruling could lead to thousands more claims.  The Corps is responsible for maintaining a system of canals and earthworks that protect New Orleans from storm surges. About 80% of New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. More than 1,800 people died on the US Gulf coast in the devastating storm.

Article continues: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8367702.stm

Inferno on Earth: Wildfires Spreading as Temperatures Rise (Earth Policy Institute)

"Future firefighters have their work cut out for them.," says Janet Larsen, Director of Research for the Earth Policy Institute, in a recent release, "Inferno on Earth: Wildfires Spreading as Temperatures Rise". "Perhaps nowhere does this hit home harder than in Australia, where in early 2009 a persistent drought, high winds, and record high temperatures set the stage for the worst wildfire in the country's history."

On February 9th, now known as "Black Saturday," the mercury in Melbourne topped 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.4 degrees Celsius) as fires burned over 1 million acres in the state of Victoria—destroying more than 2,000 homes and killing more than 170 people, tens of thousands of cattle and sheep, and 1 million native animals.

Even as more people move into fire-prone wildlands around the world, the intense droughts and higher temperatures that come with global warming are likely to make fires more frequent and severe in many areas. (See table of regional observations and predictions) For southeastern Australia, home to much of the country's population, climate change could triple the number of extreme fire risk days by 2050.

Although fires typically make the news only when they grow large and put lives or property at risk, on any given day thousands of wildfires burn worldwide. Fire is a natural and important process in many ecosystems, clearing the land and recycling organic matter into the soil. Some 40 percent of the earth's land is covered with fire-prone vegetation. A number of plants—such as giant Sequoia trees and certain prairie grasses—need fire to propagate or to create the right conditions for them to flourish.

Now policies are shifting in many places to let some fires proceed naturally or through preventative controlled burns; yet by warming the planet, we may be relinquishing even more control than we bargained for. Higher average global temperatures mean extremes are in store: even as climate change brings more flooding in some areas, other places will be plagued by droughts and extended heat waves. As the temperature rose between the 1970s and early 2000s, for instance, the share of total global land area experiencing very dry conditions doubled from less than 15 percent to close to 30 percent. A hotter, drier world burns more readily. Global warming could be pushing us into a new regime of larger, longer-burning, more intense fires as well as fires in places that historically have been hard to ignite, like moist tropical forests.

Just as a weakened immune system leaves a person vulnerable to otherwise innocuous germs, the combination of logging, road construction, and intentional burning to clear forests for cattle ranches, farms, and plantations has fragmented the world's tropical forests, increasing their vulnerability to fire. Piling higher temperatures on top of such stresses could completely undermine forests' resilience. For the massive Amazon rainforest, we risk reaching a tipping point where recurrent droughts dry out the landscape enough so that small fires can turn into devastating conflagrations.

For full report visit Earth Policy Institute

Contact Info:
Media & Permissions to Reprint Contact:
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 12
E-mail: rjk (at) earthpolicy.org

Research Contact:
Janet Larsen
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 14
E-mail: jlarsen (at) earthpolicy.org

Earth Policy Institute
1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 403                
Washington, DC  20036
Web: www.earthpolicy.org

Website : Earth Policy Institute

Maryland Green Hawks Becomes the First Green Pro Sports Team in the U.S.A.

Welcome to the Maryland Green Hawks -- the first green pro sports team. The NightHawks, who claimed to be the nation's longest-running minor-league basketball franchise, has changed its name to the GreenHawks and is attracting green-friendly sponsors such as Honest Tea, Sweet Green and CarbonFund.org. The team is holding an introductory event at which it promises a bamboo court, hemp nets and uniforms made from either recycled plastic or recycled bamboo.

The GreenHawks won't start playing until Jan. 16, but they've already been dubbed "the pride of Montgomery County," "a pioneer in promoting environmental conservation," and a team dedicated to "spreading the message environmental conservation to the community and its basketball fans."

The Washington Post article continues: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcsportsbog/2009/11/welcome_to_americas_first_gree.html

Feared Asian Carp May Have Breached Barriers Designed to Keep Them Out of the U.S. Great Lakes

There are signs that the Asian carp may have breached barriers designed to keep it out of the Great Lakes. Authorities said that could spell ecological disaster for the vital source of fresh water. Concentrations of DNA discovered by Notre Dame University researchers may indicate the presence of bighead and silver carp upstream from two electrical barriers designed to bottle up the invasive fish. Environmentalists say that if the fish reach the Great Lakes, about 20 miles from the barriers, they would quickly destroy the lakes' $4.5 billion fishery by consuming other fish and their food sources. Only Lake Superior among the five lakes may be too cold for the carp, which can reproduce rapidly and reach 100 pounds (45 kg). The Great Lakes are the world's largest body of surface fresh water and are relied on by 30 million people in the United States and Canada for drinking water and recreation.

The barriers are on the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal, which is fed by several waterways that flow away from Lake Michigan. The canal is connected by various rivers to the Mississippi River. Two electrical barriers constructed in recent years in the canal near Chicago were designed to shock the carp and keep them out of the lake. The DNA could be from carp feces or eggs carried by ship and barge traffic, but it could indicate the carp have breached the barriers. Environmentalists called for the immediate closing of several locks separating the lakes from the inland waterways, and pressed for a permanent solution that would separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed.

To read the entire article from Reuters, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kenya To Boost Geothermal Generation Capacity by 4,000 Megawatts Over Next Two Decades

Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Kenya plans to boost geothermal generation capacity by 4,000 megawatts over the next two decades to ensure East Africa’s biggest economy has clean and reliable energy supplies, the Geothermal Development Co. said. 

Three production sites at the Olkaria geothermal field, 60 kilometers (37 miles) northwest of Nairobi, can now produce a combined 167 megawatts, against a national potential of 7,000 megawatts, said Silas Simiyu, chief executive officer of the state-run company that was set up in February.  “There is a political push in Kenya to produce electricity that is more affordable, reliable and from green energy,” Simiyu said in an interview in Nairobi, the capital, yesterday.

Funds from Kenya’s government, private investors and donors totaling about $16 billion will be required to exploit the potential of a fault line in the earth’s surface that runs through Kenya over the next 20 years, he said. Kenya introduced power-rationing between August and October after drought cut output at hydro-electric plants, which account for more than 70 percent of installed power capacity. Article continues

GREENBIZ: Americans' Interest in Green Sags During Downturn

OAKLAND, CA — A growing number of American consumers would like to tell President Obama to focus on the economy first before tackling environmental issues, according to research published today. The finding, part of the monthly Green Confidence Index, is that while significant numbers of Americans support the administration's environmental stance, their principal concern remains focused on the economy. The number of Americans preferring that the president "focus on the economy first" or "keep a balanced perspective" rose over the past month, while the number urging President Obama to "educate us about the issues" dropped.

The Green Confidence Index is a monthly snapshot of Americans' attitudes about and confidence in their leaders and institutions, nationally and locally, on the subject of environmental responsibility, as well as in their own understanding of issues and their willingness to make green purchasing choices. During October, the Index fell four points from a month earlier, from 103.6 to 99.5. The Index was set in July 2009 at 100.0.

According to Chief Research Officer Amy Hebard of Earthsense, whose company creates the Index: "Should we worry about a four-point drop in the Index? Not yet. Confusion in this market is broad and deep and, with the economy still in jitters, consumers' confidence in going green will take time to build before we realize the pent-up demand we've seen. As we approach the holiday season, a key question will be whether or not the drop we saw in October is the start of a downward slide or just a one-month blip." Article continues

Penguins, Sea Lions Help Produce New Atlas of Patagonian Sea

Recording hundreds of thousands of signals sent by satellite transmitters fitted on penguins, albatrosses, and marine mammals, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Birdlife International have released the first atlas of South America’s Patagonian Sea. The atlas contains the most accurate maps ever assembled for this ecosystem and shows key migratory corridors spanning from coastlines to deep-sea feeding areas off the continental shelf hundreds of miles away.

Data for the atlas was gathered by a team of 25 scientists working over a 10-year period. The team tracked 16 species of marine animals, which produced some 280,000 uplinks of data over the Patagonian Sea, a huge area ranging from southern Brazil to southern Chile. Called Atlas of the Patagonian Sea: Species and Spaces, the 300-page book was edited by Valeria Falabella and Claudio Campagna of WCS, and John Croxall of Birdlife International.   

The atlas, which is in English and Spanish, will be used to help inform policy decisions in the region such as managing fisheries and charting transportation routes of oil tankers. This vast region, which spans 1.1 million square miles, is increasingly threatened by burgeoning development and overfishing.  Article continues

Environmental Groups File Lawsuit to Stop Grand Canyon Uranium Mine

The Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Land Management over its decision to allow a uranium mine to reopen north of the Grand Canyon. The group argues that the mine plan has expired and that the environmental analysis is outdated and Denison has not proven its claims.

Canadian mining firm Denison Mines Corp. received the final state permit needed to move forward on its Arizona 1 Mine in September. The BLM says Denison has an approved mine plan and should be allowed to resume operations.

The mine is about 20 miles from the canyon's northern border. Denison plans

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NASA on a Crusade to Debunk 2012 Apocalypse Myths

NASA is on a crusade to debunk the myths surrounding December 12, 2012, and the impending doom that many believe will occur when the Mayan calendar comes to and end. NASA poses the question: remember the Y2K scare? It came and went without much of a whimper because of adequate planning and analysis of the situation. Impressive movie special effects aside, Dec. 21, 2012, won't be the end of the world as we know. It will be another winter solstice, NASA says.
Much like Y2K, 2012 has been analyzed and the science of the end of the Earth thoroughly studied. Contrary to some of the common beliefs out there, the science behind the end of the world quickly unravels when pinned down to the 2012 timeline. Below, NASA Scientists answer several questions that we're frequently asked regarding 2012.

Q: Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.

A: Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.

Q: What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in 2012?

A: The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012. Then these two fables were linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 -- hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

Q: Does the Mayan calendar end in December 2012?

A: Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then -- just as your calendar begins again on January 1 -- another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.

Q: Could a phenomena occur where planets align in a way that impacts Earth?

A: There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades, Earth will not cross the galactic plane in 2012, and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible. Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.

"There apparently is a great deal of interest in celestial bodies, and their locations and trajectories at the end of the calendar year 2012. Now, I for one love a good book or movie as much as the next guy. But the stuff flying around through cyberspace, TV and the movies is not based on science. There is even a fake NASA news release out there..." - Don Yeomans, NASA senior research scientist  

Q: Is there a planet or brown dwarf called Nibiru or Planet X or Eris that is approaching the Earth and threatening our planet with widespread destruction?

A: Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax. There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles.

Q: What is the polar shift theory? Is it true that the earth’s crust does a 180-degree rotation around the core in a matter of days if not hours?

A: A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-and-shift to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic polarity of Earth, which does change irregularly, with a magnetic reversal taking place every 400,000 years on average. As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth. A magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia, anyway.

Q: Is the Earth in danger of being hit by a meteor in 2012?

A: The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs. All this work is done openly with the discoveries posted every day on the NASA NEO Program Office website, so you can see for yourself that nothing is predicted to hit in 2012.

Q: How do NASA scientists feel about claims of pending doomsday?

A: For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012.

Q: Is there a danger from giant solar storms predicted for 2012?

A: Solar activity has a regular cycle, with peaks approximately every 11 years. Near these activity peaks, solar flares can cause some interruption of satellite communications, although engineers are learning how to build electronics that are protected against most solar storms. But there is no special risk associated with 2012. The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 time frame and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history. Source: NASA
Do you buy NASA's argument, or do you still expect to see catastrophe in 2012?

Photo source: Scenes from the motion picture "2012." Courtesy Columbia Pictures

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ancient Huarango Trees at Risk As Ecosystem in Peru Losing Key Ally

The huarango is a storied Peruvian tree that can live for over a millennium and rests like a mirage amid the sand dunes just west of Ica, Peru. The tree has provided inhabitants of this desert with food and wood since before the Nazca civilization etched geoglyphs into the empty plain south of the city approximately 2,000 years ago. The depletion of the huarango, a giant relative of the mesquite tree of the American Southwest, around Ica is sounding alarm. The tree has survived the rise and fall of Pre-Hispanic civilizations and plunder by Spanish conquistadors, but the very survival of these trees of being pushed to the limits.
Villagers are cutting down the remnants of these once vast forests. They covet the tree as a source of charcoal and firewood. According to the New York Times, the depletion of the huarango is raising alarm among ecologists and fostering a nascent effort to save it. Many Peruvians view the huarango as a prime source for charcoal to cook a signature chicken dish called "pollo broaster." The long-burning huarango, a hardwood rivaling teak, outlasts other forms of charcoal. Villagers react to a prohibition by regional authorities on cutting down huarango with a shrug.

That the huarango survives at all to be harvested may be something of a miracle. Following centuries of systematic deforestation, only about one percent of the original huarango woodlands that once existed in the Peruvian desert remain, according to archaeologists and ecologists. Few trees are as well suited to the hyperarid ecosystem of the Atacama-Sechura Desert, nestled between the Andes and the Pacific. The huarango captures moisture coming from the west as sea mist. Its roots are among the longest of any tree, extending more than 150 feet to tap subterranean water channels. Source: NY Times
Protecting the huarango groves is going to be an uphill battle in this impoverished desert climate. As David Beresford-Jones is an archaeologist at Cambridge University who co-authored the Nazca study, pointed out in an interview with the New York Times, “It takes centuries for the huarango to be of substantial size, and only a few hours to fell it with a chainsaw … The tragedy is that this remnant is being chain-sawed by charcoal burners as we speak.”

Photo credit:  NY Times

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hurricane Ida Heads for the Gulf of Mexico, Leaves Devastation in El Salvador -- 91 Dead, At Least 60 Missing

Hurricane Ida is heading for the Gulf of Mexico and has left behind devastation in El Salvador where 91 people were killed and at least another 60 are missing in floods and mudslides. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Ida is expected to weaken gradually as it heads toward some of the oil and gas production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the energy companies in the Gulf were evacuating workers from offshore platforms, but so far, production has not been affected.

According to Reuters, the hurricane center set a hurricane watch from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to Mexico Beach in northwestern Florida, but did not include the city of New Orleans. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are expected in the area within 36 hours. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, not taking any chances, declared a state of emergency on Sunday, allowing the government to mobilize troops and rescue workers. If Ida makes landfall in Louisiana it would be the first storm to strike the state since Hurricane Gustav came ashore in September 2008.

As of 4 p.m. EST (1800 GMT), Ida was 95 miles west-northwest of the western tip of Cuba, the hurricane center said. It was moving north-northwest near 10 mph and was forecast to turn toward the north over the next two days. Ida first became a hurricane on Thursday off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, where heavy rains forced more than 5,000 people into shelters.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Concern over Canned Foods: Consumer Reports Tests Tind Wide Range of Bisphenol A (BPA) in Soups, Juice, Tuna and More

Consumer Reports' has released data on its latest tests of canned foods, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, have found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). The results are reported in the December 2009 issue and also available online. BPA, which has been used for years in clear plastic bottles and food-can liners, has been restricted in Canada and some U.S. states and municipalities because it has been linked to a wide array of health effects including reproductive abnormalities, heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE

Photo credit: Consumer Reports

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mirador, Guatemala: The Forgotten Mayan City

El Mirador flourished as a trading center from around 300 BCE to 150 CE during the Maya Pre-Classic Period. With a population as high as 80,000, it was one of the first large cities in North America. The city's main group of buildings covers two square kilometers and many were built on a grand scale. The largest pyramid at El Mirador, El Tigre, has six times the surface area as Temple IV at Tikal and is 55 meters tall.

The Danta Complex is about 300 meters wide on each side of the bottom base, which is 7 meters high and supports a series of buildings. The next and smaller platform rises another 7 meters. Above that is another platform around 21 meters high, which is topped off by three pyramids, the tallest of which is 21 meters high. The total height is 70 meters, making it taller than Temple IV at Tikal.

El Mirador was a pre-Columbian site whose existence began from the movement of people from Nakbé to what was then an area of shallow lakes and more water availability. It is two days on foot in the Petén Jungle from the nearest village, although there is now helicopter service that is not unthinkably expensive. Currently there is a project called the Mirador Basin National Park, whose objective is to form a major national park in the area, where archaeological excavation will be done and tourists also can share in the discoveries about the Maya civilization. This will be done with the help of the Guatemalan government and interested individuals. A long term plan would include narrow gauge train service. Source: Mostlymaya.com

Beijing's First Snow Fall of Season, Artifically Induced to Combat Lingering Drought

Chinese meteorologists blanketed Beijing in snow Sunday after seeding clouds to bring winter weather to the capital in an effort to combat a lingering drought, state media reported. The unusually early snowfall covered the capital from Sunday morning and continued falling for half the day. It was aided by temperatures as low as 29 degrees Fahrenheit and strong winds from the north.

The report said snow fell in the northeastern provinces of Liaoning and Jilin and the northern province of Hebei, the eastern port city of Tianjin. Chinese meteorologists have sought for years to make rain by injecting special chemicals into clouds. The drought in northern China has continued for over a decade.

Xinhua, the state news agency, said besides the snow, which was the earliest to hit the capital in 10 years, the cold weather and strong winds also delayed air travel from Beijing's Capital Airport, while interrupting passenger shipping services off the coast of Shandong province in the east.

Photo credit: Snow in China, AFP

Monday, October 26, 2009

Study Sees Link Between Home Insecticides and the Autoimmune Disorders Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women

A new research study suggests there is a link between women's exposure to household insecticides, including roach and mosquito killers, and the autoimmune disorders rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The scientist did not find a direct cause-and-effect relationship between insecticide exposure and the illness, but said it is possible that the women have something else in common that accounts for their higher risk. Christine Parks, epidemiologist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the lead investigator of the study, said the findings raise a red flag.
Previous research has linked agricultural pesticides to higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, two diseases in which the immune system goes haywire and begins to attack the body. Farmers, among others, appear to be vulnerable. Parks and her colleagues wanted to find out whether smaller doses of insecticides, such as those people might encounter at home from either personal or commercial residential use, might have a similar effect. The researchers examined data from a previous study of almost 77,000 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 79. Their findings were to be released Monday at the American College of Rheumatology's annual scientific meeting in Philadelphia.

Women who reported applying insecticides or mixing them — about half — had a higher risk of developing the two autoimmune disorders than women who reported no insecticide use. This was the case whether or not they had lived on a farm. Those who used or mixed the insecticides the most — judged by frequency or duration — had double the risk.

Even so, the risk of developing the diseases remained very low. Overall, Parks said, about 2% of older adults develop the conditions. Parks said the insecticides that the women used included insect killers, such as those designed to eradicate ants, wasps, termites, mosquitoes and roaches. They didn't include insect repellents. Source: USA Today
There are some caveats to the study, including the fact that it is not clear exactly which products the women used or when. The findings indicate that there is a pressing need for more research on the environmental risk factors and to gain a better understanding of what factors might explain the study's findings, as well as which chemicals might be associated with these risks.

Study Finds Giant Pool of Magma May Feed Three Washington Volcanoes -- Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams & Mt. Rainier

Aerial view of Mount St. Helens' crater and lava dome, 
as seen from the south on Nov. 10. Credit: USGS/John Pallister

A research study led by Graham Hill of GNS Science in New Zealand, suggests that there is a vast pool of magma beneath southwestern Washington state that supplies Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams. Some scientists beg to differ. The study was published in the journal Natural Geosciences and hints that the setup could be akin to the known supervolcano at Yellowstone. The journal concludes that, "If confirmed by additional methods, this could be one of most widespread magma-bearing areas of continental crust discovered thus far."
Hill and colleagues measured the electrical conductivity in the rocks under the northern Cascade Mountain range, where the three mountains sit. Their data confirmed previous hints that there is a widespread layer of material with low conductivity below the range. They also found that narrow fingers of this material rise towards the surface, below the Mount St. Helens and Adams volcanoes.

Molten rock has a lower electrical conductivity than solid rock, so the researchers suggest there is a zone of partially molten rock that has pooled in the continental crust. According to Hill and colleagues, the small fingers probably indicate areas where the molten rock is moving up towards the magma chambers of the volcanoes, feeding future volcanic activity.

"Their interpretation is open to disagreement," Seth Moran , a volcano seismologist with the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash, is quoted by McClatchy Newspapers. "Other geophysical studies don't support this theory." Researchers have long predicted that the Yellowstone supervolcano will eventually erupt again, with devastating consequences for much of the United States. Half the country could be covered in ash up to three feet (one meter) deep, one study predicts. But those same researchers say nothing suggests such an eruption is imminent. They point out, however, that Yellowstone seems to blow its top about every 600,000 years. Source: LiveScience
This is rather fascinating and we will see if the study's findings are substantiated or they are struck down in later studies.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lou Dobbs Suggests "A Real Political Storm in the Making" Over Meatless Monday Lunch Program at Baltimore Schools

Embedded video from CNN Video

Lou Dobbs did a segment on his Monday show on how "Meatless Monday" is being adopted by the Baltimore city school district in an effort to cut costs and get children to eat healthier food. The segment showed schoolchildren eating vegetarian chili and grilled cheese sandwiches. CNN reported that they found no parents who objected to the policy. Er, it's healthy food. Why would they complain? There's nothing wrong with starting a conversation with children in their formative years about embracing vegetables as a regular part of their meals.

CNN also noted opposition to the one-day-a-week of vegetarian food by the American Meat Institute, which is a trade group that represents meat processors and packers with obvious financial interests in meat consumption. Why am I not surprised about that move? They are deliberately ignoring the fact that there is widespread obesity in this country and the school lunch is often high-calorie. Other school districts ought to embrace it. CNN chose to ignore the obvious and chose instead to report that the AMI is concerned that "students are being served up an unhealthy dose of indoctrination." The institute's Janet Reilly claims the policy was depriving students and parents of "choice."

After watching the segment, Lou Dobbs pompously described this as "a real political storm in the making." Really Lou, is that the best you could do? The bigger question is why are you still on CNN?

Target Accused of Organic Food Fraud, Watchdog Group Files Formal Complaints With USDA's Organic Program

Have you ever wondered if the milk you are drinking is really organic as the label says? Well, if you purchased it at Target, there's a real possibility it might not be. The Cornucopia Institute, which is a food and agriculture watchdog group, said that it has filed formal complaints with USDA's organic program accusing the retail giant of organic food fraud. Here is the press release from the group:
The complaints are the latest salvo into a growing controversy whereas corporate agribusiness and major retailers have been accused of blurring the line between "natural" products and food that has been grown, processed and properly certified organic under tight federal standards.
"Major food processors have recognized the meteoric rise of the organic industry, and profit potential, and want to create what is in essence 'organic light,' taking advantage of the market cachet but not being willing to do the heavy lifting required to earn the valuable USDA organic seal," said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia.
The Wisconsin-based farm policy research group discovered Target nationally advertised Silk soymilk in newspapers with the term "organic" pictured on the carton's label, when in fact the manufacturer, Dean Foods, had quietly shifted their products away from organics.
Shoppers should be very leery of Target because this isn't the first time the company has been accused of this. In September 2007, the USDA threatened to revoke the organic status of Aurora Organic Dairy, a Colorado farm that supplies Target, and other stores, with milk. I have wondered many times if the organic eggs I purchase for my family really are. As a matter of fact, I have become really leery of organic products from Whole Foods after CEO John Mackey stated that his company sells "a bunch of junk." 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Maldives Cabinet Holds Underwater Meeting in Lagoon Off Island of Girifushi

Talk about being creative.  Cabinet ministers in the Maldives held an underwater meeting Saturday to draw attention to the threat global warming poses to the lowest-lying nation on earth. President Mohammed Nasheed and members of his cabinet, dressed in scuba gear, met in a lagoon off the island of Girifushi. They sat at a table anchored to the sand on the floor of the Indian Ocean and signed a document calling on all countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions.

Officials from around the world will meet in the Copenhagen, the Danish capital, under UN auspices to hammer out a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, with the aim of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.

The ministers said that if something isn't done to stem the rate of rising sea levels, the entire archipelago could end up under the water by the end of the century, since the island group is only a couple meters above sea level. Scientists at a meeting in Copenhagen last March predicted that glaciers and ice sheets melting as a result of global warming could boost the level of the world's oceans by as much as a meter by 2100.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

NOAA: El Niño to Help Steer U.S. Winter Weather

NOAA:  El Niño in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean is expected to be a dominant climate factor that will influence the December through February winter weather in the United States, according to the 2009 Winter Outlook released today by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Such seasonal outlooks are part of NOAA’s suite of climate services.

“We expect El Niño to strengthen and persist through the winter months, providing clues as to what the weather will be like during the period,” says Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center – a division of the National Weather Service. “Warmer ocean water in the equatorial Pacific shifts the patterns of tropical rainfall that in turn change the strength and position of the jetstream and storms over the Pacific Ocean and the U.S.”

“Other climate factors are also likely to play a role in the winter weather at times across the country,” added Halpert. “Some of these factors, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation are difficult to predict more than one to two weeks in advance. The NAO adds uncertainty to the forecast in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic portions of the country.”

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE.

Friday, October 9, 2009

NASA Crashes on the Moon Twice in Quest to Find Presence of Water in the Moon's Soil

NASA's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite dropped its Centaur upper-stage rocket on the lunar surface at 7:31 a.m. ET. The hope is that the impact would kick up enough dust to help the LCROSS probe find the presence of water in the moon's soil. Four minutes after the impact, the LCROSS followed the probe through the small debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before crashing into the Cabeus crater near the moon's south pole.

According to NASA, the LCROSS carried spectrometers, near-infrared cameras, which is a visible camera and a visible radiometer. These instruments will help scientists analyze the plume of dust, more than 250 metric tons' worth, for water vapor. The orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter watched, and photographed, the impacts.

Video Watch animation of how the moon will be "bombed" »

Monday, October 5, 2009

Study: Sugar Cane Could Supply Electricity to Mozambique by Producing Biomass-Fired Energy

A new study, “A Clean Energy Plan for Mozambique”,  from Mark Hankins, a renewable energy consultant, to be released at the Sandton Solar Energy Conference in October, states that there is significant potential for green biomass in Mozambique, with five large sugar farms that could generate electricity from cane waste. The country could supply electricity to a greater percentage of its population by producing biomass fired energy.

This year Mozambican sugar mills estimate they will produce 419 000 metric tonnes of sugar, which is a a 68% increase on 2008. According to the Mail & Guardian Online, environmentalists have said the waste from this and other resources could see the country become a regional leader in biomass-fired electricity. Converting sugar waste into biofuel could create another 60MW to be available on the grid and could extend electrification into rural areas.

Sadly, Mozambique is hesitant to take up that challenge, instead it has chosen to back a $2-billion (R14.8-billion) dam on the Zambezi, 70km from Cahora Bassa at Mphanda Nkuwa. According to the Mail & Guardian Online, the dam will mostly serve South Africa’s energy needs. It has come under criticism from environmentalists, who said it will contribute to water shortages Southern Africa is expected to experience in the next few years because of global warming.

Mozambique exports electricity from Cahora Bassa to Eskom and then reimports it for use in southern Mozambique, with high rates of energy loss during the process. Approximately 85% of Mozambicans living without electricity. This latest study details how Mozambique could develop an energy supply system based on clean-energy options that are low-cost, rapidly implementable and suited to the geographical distribution of local demand.

Photo credit: Sugar cane, Environmental News Network

SHOCK: Lax Coal Ash Recycling Practices Including Use for Golf Course to School Carpeting Filler is An Outrage (VIDEO)

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Lesley Stahl on Sunday's "60 Minutes" took an in-depth look at the problems with the by-products of coal production, which is commonly known as coal ash. Coal ash contains many toxic metals, including arsenic, which can be extremely hazardous to breathe, if it is unchecked and seeps into ground water. It is shocking that coal ash isn't labeled as a hazardous waste by the EPA and it is currently being used as filler in everything from golf courses to carpeting in schools.

Stephanie Smith Paralyzed After E. coli Poisoning, New York Times Questions Safety Of Ground Beef

I swore off red meat for quite some time for health reasons, but I was appalled to learn that Stephanie Smith, a dance instructor, was the victim of E. coli poisoning. First it seemed as though she had a stomach virus, which later progressed into bloody stool, then her kidneys shut down and seizures rendered her unconscious. According to the New York Times, her convulsions grew so relentless that the doctors put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The illness had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed. She was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007.

 Stephanie Smith, Paralyzed After E. coli Poisoning (NY Times Photograph)
 I have long been leery of ground meat and poultry. Why? It is usually the amalgam of various grades of meat from different parts of cows, in the case of beef, or poultry. What's shocking is that the ground beef can be comprised of meat from different slaughterhouses, hereby increasing the chances of contamination. To make matters worse, there is no federal requirement for grinders to test their ingredients for the pathogen. This is common practice among most of the large producers of fresh and packaged hamburger. For example, using a combination of sources allowed Cargill to spend about 25 percent less than it would have for cuts of whole meat.

Equally shocking, as industry research shows, is the fact that those low-grade ingredients are cut from areas of the cow that are more likely to have had contact with fecal matter, which carries E. coli. Cargill, like most meat companies, relies on their suppliers to check for the bacteria and reportedly does it own testing after the ingredients are ground together. One would think that the logical course of action would be the test the ingredients before they are combined. The United States Department of Agriculture has encouraged these companies to devise their own safety plans instead of relying on their suppliers.

To read the entire NY Times article, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Layoffs Begin at Kennedy Space Center

Layoffs have begun at the Kennedy Space Center.  According to media reports, United Space Alliance, a private company that employs many shuttle employees, will lay off 277 workers in the coming weeks.

All but 19 voluntarily accepted the loss of their jobs by taking early retirement packages.

As you will recall, the shuttle program is set to be retired next year.

Disaster Looms in East Africa as Effects of Drought Threaten Millions of People with Starvation

Across East Africa a drought is drying up rivers, grasslands, scorching crops and threatening millions of people with starvation. Kenya, which is the biggest and most robust economy in the region, has seen the rivers that feed its great game reserves dry up and electricity is now rationed in the cities because hydropower has been adversely impacted. According to recent media reports, it is in the semi-desert on the southern fringe of the Sahel zone where the most dramatic changes have been felt. Though droughts in this region are nothing new and herders' nomadic life led to the build up in the good years to pad the margins of life when the patchy rains failed, this way of life is now being threatened and even the camels are dying of thirst. This disaster, which is three years in the making, is on the verge of catching Kenya and the United Nations unprepared.
Across the north of Kenya competition for water, grazing land and surviving cattle has sparked ethnic conflict. Cattle raids were always a feature of nomadic cultures but as the battle for survival intensifies the death toll climbs. Sixty-five people have been killed in the Turkana region alone since January. Despite being a disaster three years in the making, the drought is in danger of catching Kenya and the UN unprepared. Failed harvests mean high food prices, the national government is crippled by infighting and corruption, and international aid groups have seen funding squeezed by the credit crunch. The food vouchers sustaining hundreds of Rendille families will run out in less than a fortnight as the Irish aid agency paying for them, Concern, has run out of money for the project. In the last week, other big organisations such as Oxfam and Cafod have launched emergency appeals. The UN has received less than half the £350m it has called for.

In reality no one can deliver the rain that is really needed. Leina Mpoke has been working to unravel the cycles of drought, local deforestation and global influences for the Kenya Climate Working Group. "The drastic changes we're experiencing cannot be explained by local activities," he says. "Across the southern Sahel we're seeing a huge trend." In the 1970s there was a major drought once in the decade. In the 1980s this quickened to once every seven years, in the 1990s, once every five years. At the beginning of this decade the rains failed every other season and what we now see is "perennial drought".

Marsabit mountain rises up from the semi-desert of northern Kenya to touch the clouds at nearly 2,000 metres. Its highland slopes have always offered respite from the heat and dust of the savannah. The mountain was known as "Saku" or mist, and its elevated forest sheltered elephants, kudus, lions and high altitude lakes. It is now home to climate refugees who have swollen the population to more than 40,000. Everything in town is coated in a choking layer of red dust, the two mountain lakes have dried to a green-black crust and rangers at the Marsabit National Park say that eight elephants have starved to death in recent months. Source:  The Independent
I recall the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s and remember seeing the suffering that was widespread in some areas. It literally brought tears to my eyes. We cannot allow history to repeat itself in this region.

Earth's Nitrogen Cycle Overturned By Archaea, 'Tiny Ammonia Eater Of The Seas'

A few years ago, researchers at the University of Washington cultured a tiny organism from the bottom of a Seattle Aquarium tank and discovered that it can digest ammonia, which is a key environmental function. The new results, which were published online September 30 in the journal Nature, show that this minute organism and its siblings play a more central role in the planet's ecology than previously thought. The findings show that these microorganism, which are members of the archaea, beat out all other marine life in the dash for ammonia. According to Science Daily, ecologists now assume that ammonia in the upper ocean will first be gobbled up by phytoplankton to make new cells, leaving very little ammonia for microbes to turn into nitrate.
Ammonia is a waste product that can be toxic to animals. But plants, including phytoplankton, prize ammonia as the most energy-efficient way to build new cells. The new paper also shows that archaea can scavenge nitrogen-containing ammonia in the most barren environments of the deep sea, solving a long-running mystery of how the microorganisms can survive in that environment. Archaea therefore not only play a role, but are central to the planetary nitrogen cycles on which all life depends.

In the tree of life, archaea occupy their own branch. Archaea were discovered only about 30 years ago and were first thought to exist only in extreme environments, such as hot springs or hydrothermal vents. They are now known to be more widespread.

In the early 1990s scientists collecting seawater found strands of genetic material that suggested at least 20 percent of the ocean's microbes are archaea, and circumstantial evidence suggested they might live off ammonia. Stahl's group in 2005 was the first to isolate the organism, which they got from a tropical tank in the Seattle Aquarium, and demonstrate that it can, in fact, grow by oxidizing ammonia. His lab and others have since found the organism in many marine environments, including Puget Sound and the North Sea. The microbe is likely ubiquitous on land and in the seas, they say.

The new experiments show that the organism can survive on a mere whiff of ammonia – 10 nanomolar concentration, equivalent to a teaspoon of ammonia salt in 10 million gallons of water. In the deep ocean there is no light and little carbon, so this trace amount of ammonia is the organism's only source of energy.

That finding has two important implications for ocean ecosystems. Scientists knew that something was turning ammonia into nitrate in the deep ocean, but could not fathom what organism might be responsible. Now it appears archaea are those mysterious organisms. And in the sun-dappled upper ocean waters, it appears that archaea can out-compete phytoplankton for ammonia. The same may be true in soil environments, the researchers say. Source: Science Daily
The archaea measure 0.2 micrometers across, about eight millionths of an inch. The only life forms smaller are viruses. One speculation is that the archaea's size could explain how they are able to survive on such a scant energy supply. The strain used in these experiments is named Nitrosopumilus maritimus, which means "tiny ammonia-oxidizer of the sea."

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fisker Automotive, Backed by Former Vice President Al Gore, Gets $$529 Million Government Loan

How is it possible that California startup Fisker Automotive Inc., which is backed by former Vice President Al Gore, was able to secure a $529 million U.S government loan to help build a hybrid sports car in Finland that will sell for about $89,000? This award follows a $465 million government loan to Tesla Motors Inc., purveyors of the ultra-pricey $109,000 British-built electric Roadster. Incidentally, Tesla is another California startup, but there's a twist, it has a number of celebrity endorsements that is backed by investors who have contributed to Democratic campaigns. It is really unfair that the average working class American will not benefit from Fisker or Tesla's products, but the very wealthy. Why can't the government ever show that it really cares about the average American citizen? Other companies that would service the needs of the taxpayers have had their bids rejected, instead the companies with vehicles aimed at the wealthiest customers are getting the loans at our expense. That's just shameful and wrong.

Fisker's Karma hybrid sports car, above, will initially cost about $89,000.

Fisker's Karma Hybrid sports car AFP/Getty Images

 According to the Wall Street Journal, Henrik Fisker, who designed cars for BMW, Aston Martin and Tesla before starting his Fisker Automotive in 2007, said his goal is to build the first plug-in electric hybrids that won't sacrifice the luxury, performance and looks of traditional gas-powered luxury cars. Enter the Karma and guess who was one of the first to sign up for one? Mr. Al Gore himself. Thanks a million Al Gore for showing the American people what you really value and how much you really care about our needs. According to the WSJ, Mr. Fisker said he pitched Gore at an event hosted by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers last year and he almost immediately submitted a down payment on the car. Kalee Kreider, a spokeswoman for Gore, confirmed that he backs Fisker. Doesn't this muddy the water as to how this company managed to land such an enormous loan?

Fisker said that most of the DOE loan will be used to finance U.S. production of a $40,000 family sedan that has yet to be designed.  They claim that it was "the ability to drive a significant change in fuel economy across a large market segment that swayed the department to approve Fisker's loan." Fisker's government loans will  reportedly come from a $25 billion program established by Congress in 2007 to help auto makers invest in the technology to meet a new congressional mandate to improve fuel efficiency. In June, the DOE awarded the first $8 billion from the program to Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., and Tesla, which are all developing electric cars.