Archive for the 'environment' Category
and, this week in the destruction of our children’s future world
  • The Petermann ice shelf in Greenland (the northern-most glacier in the world) has lost a quarter of its mass, calving a 100 square mile iceberg now known as the “Petermann Ice Island (2010)”. Note that there is a “2010″ designation to distinguish this one from a smaller iceberg calved in 2008. Ed Markey had a good idea.

    Relevance to the pending apocalypse: Sign of global warming; loss of Arctic / sub-Arctic environments and habitats; influx of fresh water into the North Atlantic currents; Greenland is smaller.

    sources: AFP, wikipedia.

  • The drought and related fires in Russia continue, threatening, among other things, wheat prices and harvests. Relevance to environmental and social DOOM: Farmlands diverted from other crops to wheat; wheat prices increasing; and, of course, smoke from the fires may contribute to global warming as well as causing shorter-term respiratory problems.
  • Rising temperatures diminish rice harvests. It’s getting too hot at night for rice to grow. Yields have already diminished by 10-20% in some parts of the world, over the last 25 years. Need I mention that rice is the #3 staple food crop? And the primary staple food crop in Asia and Africa?
  • Rising food costs. Related to both the wheat & rice fiascos, the FAO has predicted that staple food prices will rise significantly, between 15 to 45%, over the next decade.
  • Genetically engineered pesticide-resistant strains of canola growing wild on roadsides. “Roundup Ready” and “Liberty Link” varieties have been found, and varieties resistant to both pesticides — indicating cross-breeding of the varieties. Why is this a problem? To the extent these are pest plants — weeds — they will have to be controlled with other, more toxic, pesticides, or controlled through agricultural methods (e.g., plowing) that adversely affect soil erosion. Plus, of course, once those now-wild genes start jumping, the problems will just multiply. As my partner has pointed out, one-in-a-million events happen millions of times with plant propagation.
Gulf Oil Spill math

One of the best articles I’ve read on the math used to estimate Gulf Oil Spill quantities: Jenn Kepka’s “Putting the Gulf oil spill in perspective”, Salon.com, 5/28.

energy “expert” à la William Carlos Williams

Sarah Palin recently made a strange and nearly incoherent comment about US energy policy when asked about keeping domestic oil production in the US (WarRoom 9/19):

Of course, it’s a fungible commodity and they don’t flag, you know, the molecules, where it’s going and where it’s not. But in the sense of the Congress today, they know that there are very, very hungry domestic markets that need that oil first. So, I believe that what Congress is going to do, also, is not to allow the export bans to such a degree that it’s Americans who get stuck holding the bag without the energy source that is produced here, pumped here. It’s got to flow into our domestic markets first.

WarRoom linked to Obsidian Wings’ interpretation of this comment, which appears to be (mostly) a suggestion that Congress would ban exports of oil. There’s good analysis of why this is a bad idea — such a bad idea that it really ought to be obvious to our energy “experts”.

Of course, according to McCain, his VP candidate is an expert (but not one of those elitist experts) who “knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America”, probably because her state is in charge of producing 20% of the nation’s energy needs — no, that’s not right: 20% of the nation’s oil and gas production — no, not quite: 20% of the nation’s oil? — no, try again: around 18%, but falling to 13% during the first two years of Palin’s gubernatorial administration. Yes, there we go. Which is of course a decent amount, if only the McCain team didn’t lie about it.Gary Farber’s comment on same post.

Anyway, MaryL on the comments thread had this retake which I thought deserved a bit more attention:

This is Just to Say

I have flagged
the molecules
that were in
Alaska

and which
you were probably
saving
for Canada

Forgive me
they were fungible
so sweet
and so cold

Chortle. I love WCW and literary mashups and political absurdity — to have all together at once made a very pleasant start to a Saturday otherwise full of work.

right-wing oil fantasies

Peter Dizikes writes about a number of right-wing myths about oil in today’s Salon.com.

Unbelievably enough, there are people who believe:
# There’s more oil in Alaska than in the Middle East
# The Chinese are about to start drilling — or are already drilling — off the coast of Florida (the Cuba/China menace — Russia/Cuba 2.0 — new and improved!)

and — wait for it —

# Oil is not a “fossil fuel” but a nearly infinite non-organic resource like, I guess, rocks.

now bats

This article (“Dark Night for Bats”, Kirsten Weir, Salon.com) compares the current wave of bat deaths with bees’ colony collapse disorder. I’d add the precipitous decline in frogs, as well.

break-break for anxiety

in the middle of a blogging break (for good reasons! welcome ada marie) i bring you this article from salon.com which is scary as fuck and makes me fear for little ada’s future:

Apocalypse Now by Mike Davis.

Davis does not buy any of the Gore-style cheerleading that we might avert a climatically disastrous future through alternative energy sources and sustainable economics. Instead, he predicts that in the new “Anthropocene” (the human-determined geological era just declared “open” by the Geological Society of London) the rich will get richer, the poor will get poorer, and we will become a “planet of slums”.

postcards from the handbasket

Our trip to hell in a handbasket has been mostly passing through environmental markers, with occasional — okay, frequent — forays into the economy and civil rights. Now we’ve got rising bread prices, a scary sign that I have personally never seen in my nearly 40 years of life.

So now, farmers want to take land out of conservation programs in order to grow high-priced commodity crops. NYT 4/9 Why are the commodity crops high-priced? Because of government mandates about biofuels: The Bush plan on global warming and the energy crisis is to burn more food crops. Wow, good idea. Of course, farmers are not just being greedy. Their costs on their current croplands — fuel and fertilizer — are also rising, which means they need the most bang for their buck out of croplands. Jeff Krehbiel, apparently a wheat farmer from Oklahoma, put it this way: “Let’s hurt the farmer in order to shut the bakers up, is that what we’re saying?”

Instead of tax dollars for truly clean and renewable technologies, and conservation, the Bush people are putting our money on “clean” coal, biofuels, nuclear, hydrogen fuel cells, and other less promising technologies. Of course there are roles for these, and all technologies, but I don’t get the math.

clinton & obama on global warming

Joseph Romm analyzed both Clinton and Obama’s plans on global warming, noting that they are much better than McCain’s, who has begun teetering toward a Bush position. salon 3/15

Compare Romm’s earlier analysis of McCain’s proposals (salon 2/8)

west coast salmon collapse

Federal officials have indicated that they are likely to close the Pacific salmon fishery from northern Oregon to the Mexican border because of the collapse of crucial stocks in California’s major watershed.That would be the most extensive closing on the West Coast since the federal government started regulating fisheries.

“The Central Valley fall Chinook salmon are in the worst condition since records began to be kept,” Robert Lohn, regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Portland, Ore., said Wednesday in an interview. “This is the largest collapse of salmon stocks in 40 years.”

Counts of young salmon, whose numbers have dwindled sharply for two years, were the first major indication of the problem. The number of fish that survive more than a year in the ocean, or jacks, is a marker for the abundance of full-grown salmon the next year. The 2007 count of the fall Chinook jacks from the Sacramento River was less than 6 percent of the long-term average, Mr. Lohn said.

The Central Valley salmon runs are concentrated in the Sacramento River, the focus of a water struggle between farmers and irrigation districts on one hand and environmental groups and fishermen on the other.

NYT, 3/13

Washington & Alaska fisheries are still okay, but of course this will put major pressure on them.

could we use spy satellites for something USEFUL, please?

Satellite photos reveal the depredations of illegal loggers in Mexican forests, particularly in the winter home of the migratory monarch butterflies.

Is there any reason at all that we cannot have real-time monitoring of the freakin’ environment to ensure that wide-scale clearcutting, burning, stripmining, and other land and sea uses do not happen? It seems like a much more useful use of the already-existing satellite spy technologies. Instead of trying to zoom in on plots of pot or coca trees or the various personal activities of individuals, we could stop the poachers and other people who are destroying — and appropriating for their personal profit — our common natural heritage. I mean, come on. Here we have the frickin’ photographs that show large-scale abuses over the last year. But too little, too late. Those trees are gone, the butterfly habitat is gone, and it’s just frankly pure neglect and waste. We have the technology to do so much more, but we’ve chosen to deploy it — how? As toys for boys with silly war games and spy games. That waste, too, is some sort of environmental crime.

These are the kinds of bad choices and misplaced priorities that national governments are making. Entrusted with a significant portion of the resources and decisionmaking power of the world’s people, and squandering them.

Elsevier’s environmentally-unfriendly licenses

Why does Elsevier hate the environment and all the trees and all the little children who will be living in a world 50 years from now harmed by Elsevier’s really stupid insistence that its electronic documents be PRINTED and then SCANNED IN before being sent out for ILL ????

Seriously, faculty should really reconsider submitting to Elsevier journals. What a waste of human effort as well as trees.

Open Access News has the rest of the scoop. Although this isn’t new news, it seems like an opportune moment to bring it to people’s attention.

See also digital koans.

seed vault now open

The seed vault I wrote about last year has opened, ahead of schedule. (NYT 2/26) Bent Skovmand would be proud.

the bush administration: destroying the media environment and the real environment, again

The NYT tells us today about Kevin Martin & the FCC’s new plan to relax the cross-ownership rules, which restrict large corporations from dominating entire urban markets. And, on the same page, on the same day, a story that has all the classic hallmarks of the Bush approach to the environment: scuttle environmental protection schemes that are working, destroy wildlife, and lie about science. New battle of logging vs. spotted owls

god I’m tired. 460 more days is a very long time.

more extinctions on the way

The western gorilla is “critically endangered” — close to extinction — and all the great apes are in trouble. A number of corals have moved to more endangered positions; the Asian crocodile “Gharial” has moved to critically endangered — only 182 breeding adults in 2006. A number of vultures have declined — largely because of drugs given to livestock and intentional poisonings of carcasses. Here in North America, 90 reptile species are threatened with extinction and 738 are threatened. The Wild Apricot tree in Asia has been declared Endangered, and a Malaysian herb has officially been declared extinct.

All this is from the new report from the IUCN (World Conservation Union), which maintains a “Red List” of threatened species. The Red List of Threatened Species lists 41,415 species in all, listing the threatened species from “vulnerable”, “endangered”, to “critically endangered”. The “critically endangered” category faces an “extremely high risk of extinction in the wild”, based on rapid decline in population (more than 90% in last 10 years or 3 generations) or range, or extremely small numbers of mature individuals — e.g., fewer than 250.

The 2007 reports lists for “critically endangered”: 1 in 4 mammals, 1 in 8 birds, 1 in 3 amphibians, and 70% of all plants that have been studied are threatened with extinction — a total of 16,306 species in all, an increase of 188 from last year’s list of endangered species. The numbers of threatened species are increasing across almost all the major taxonomic groups. Extinction rates are 100-1000 times higher than natural background rates. Species in the tropics are still at the greatest risk. Australia, Brazil, China, and Mexico hold large numbers of threatened species. Continental extinctions are becoming as common as island extinctions.

On the math: Does the “increase of 188″ count species that went extinct last year? The IUCN is not counting the Yangtze River dolphin as extinct, although the most recent survey concluded that they were likely extinct. But, say there were 10 extinctions last year, then that would be 198 species added to the critically endangered list, and 10 taken off as they were moved to extinct. Something to figure out.

I think I want a Battlestar Galactica-like survivors count for Earth. 2007 Sept. 13 CE, survivors count:

  • 6,000 species of mammal (of which the Yangtze River dolphin was one);
  • 10,000 species of birds;
  • 8,000 species of reptiles;
  • 13,000 species of freshwater species;
  • 6,000 species of amphibian.

AP 9/13 via boston.com, Red List Categories & Criteria v.3.1, Introduction to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, IUCNredlist.org, “Extinction Crisis Escalates” (9/12 press release from IUCN).

freshwater dolphin extinction

Yangtze River freshwater dolphin
One of the last Yangtze River
freshwater dolphins.
Photo from CNN/Reuters.

One of only four species of river dolphin is officially extinct; the last member of the species probably died sometime in the last few months. Just thirteen were found in the last survey a few years ago, and the 2006 survey found none. The last member in captivity died in 2002. [Turvey et al, Journal of the Royal Society Biology Letters (2007/8/7); media coverage in CNN;
channel 4
; allheadlinenews
]

Douglas Adams wrote movingly about the Yangtze River dolphin in Last Chance to See, excerpts of which are posted at flying squid blog. The dolphins — which are extinct as a result of human activity, including the Three Gorges Dam — had a hard life over the last decades. They navigated by echolocation, and all the human activity in the Yangtze created constant white noise. It’s unspeakably sad to imagine the experiences of the last Yangtze River dolphins.

The Yangtze River dolphin is the first large mammalian species to go extinct in fifty years, and the first cetacean species to die from human causes in modern history. The other three river dolphin species are also endangered.

Incredibly fucked up.

DRM-less online music sales and other good news

Well, Steve Jobs certainly looks prescient, what with EMI dropping DRM for its iTunes sales. Why do I suppose they were already in negotiations when Steve Jobs wrote his editorial?

Never mind, it’s still good news. (As is the decision from the Supreme Court on EPA’s responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases, a case that worried me. Yes, Virginia, if masses of scientific evidence show that human emissions are harming the environment, then the Environmental Protection Agency needs to deal with it.)

good news for science & the environment, too

Intelligent Design” advocates lost in Ohio, and the League of Conservation Voters reports that most of their 2006 Dirty “Dozen” lost, and most of their 2006 Environmental Champions won. Ha.

what global warming skeptics miss

Skeptics who use the uncertainties to justify delaying such actions forget that uncertainty cuts both ways, and things could be far worse than forecast.

Succinctly put. This in an NYT article about ‘the big thaw’: the shrinking Arctic ice coverage. Andrew C. Revkin, No Escape: Thaw Gains Momentum, NYT 2005/10/25

Katrina (9/1-9/15, ongoing)

9/1: Between work-stuff and watching Katrina, I’ve been too busy & too sad to post much the last few days.

To sum it all up:, a letter from Switzerland (9/3) [via daily kos 9/4]:

Watching the events in New Orleans unfold from here in Europe, mostly via BBC World, we have the impression that the storm blew up a corner of the carpet beneath which America had long been sweeping some of its fundamental problems.

Among the fundamental problems revealed are:

(1) the enormous divide between rich and poor (which has expanded rapidly in the past two or three decades);

(2) the racial divide leaving blacks in the poorest class (nearly all the stranded, angry, unassisted poor we see on the TV screen are black),

(3) the failure to invest in infrastructure (not only the failure to protect the dikes and levies, but the failure to storm-proof the electric and telephone systems by burying cables, etc.);

And, perhaps most striking of all,

(4) the bizarre law-and-order mentality which orders the National Guard to shoot-to-kill looters (that is, to give priority to protecting property more than human lives).

Perhaps it is going too far to state that we are watching a collapse similar to the collapse of the Soviet Union fifteen years ago. Much as the total-collectivization and total-centralization of society in the USSR collapsed, eventually, of its own internal contradictions, we wonder whether or not America, too, with its ultra-individualistic, ultra-material ideology and its absence of much concern about the collective needs of society (health care, education, infrastructure, etc.) will collapse of its own internal contradictions.

Here’s the rest of the best & most useful of what I’ve seen on Katrina, below the fold:

(more…)

new yorker on bush on science

In The New Yorker, The Talk of the Town, posted 2005/8/15, Hendrik Hertzberg had this to say about Bush & his recent comments on intelligent design:

If the President’s musings on [intelligent design] were an isolated crotchet, they would hardly be worth noting, let alone getting exercised about. But they’re not. They reflect an attitude toward science that has infected every corner of his Administration. From the beginning, the Bush White House has treated science as a nuisance and scientists as an interest group—one that, because it lies outside the governing conservative coalition, need not be indulged. That’s why the White House—sometimes in the service of political Christianism or ideological fetishism, more often in obeisance to baser interests like the petroleum, pharmaceutical, and defense industries—has altered, suppressed, or overriden scientific findings on global warming; missile defense; H.I.V./ AIDS; pollution from industrial farming and oil drilling; forest management and endangered species; environmental health, including lead and mercury poisoning in children and safety standards for drinking water; and non-abstinence methods of birth control and sexually-transmitted-disease prevention. It has grossly misled the public on the number of stem-cell lines available for research. It has appointed unqualified ideologues to scientific advisory committees and has forced out scientists who persist in pointing out inconvenient facts. All this and more has been amply documented in reports from congressional Democrats and the Union of Concerned Scientists, in such leading scientific publications as Nature, Scientific American, Science, and The Lancet, and in a new book, “The Republican War on Science,” by the science journalist Chris Mooney.

linked from chris mooney 8/15