Archive for August, 2006

Poll: 70% of evangelicals see global warming threat

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

WorldNetDaily – February 16th, 2006

Majority of respondents want government to take action even if economy is harmed

A poll released today shows 70 percent of American evangelical Christians see global warming as a “serious threat” to the future of the planet.

Conducted by Ellison Research, the survey indicates a majority of evangelicals agree with 85 Christian leaders who signed an Evangelical Climate Initiative unveiled Feb. 8 that calls for government action to deal with so-called global warming. The initiative includes a campaign of newspaper, TV and radio ads.

Signers of the initiative include, among others, Rick Warren, pastor and author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, Commissioner Todd Bassett, national commander of The Salvation Army, and David Neff, executive editor of Christianity Today.


California Leads on Warming

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

NY Times Editorial – 5 Aug 2006

Tony Blair, the British prime minister, who worries about global warming more than any other world leader, has finally found an important American ally: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. This week, the two agreed to collaborate on cleaner-burning technologies and to explore an emissions-reduction program that would combine mandatory controls on greenhouse gases with market incentives to reduce the costs of compliance.

Mr. Blair said he was not end-running his good friend President Bush. The governor was less diplomatic, saying that the administration and Congress had shown no leadership on the issue. In any case, the White House was a conspicuous no-show. No surprise there: the meeting of politicians and corporate executives, convened to discuss climate change, served only to dramatize how badly Washington lags both Britain and California with its program of voluntary reductions and Hail Mary technologies.

And California is about to get a lot tougher. Later this month, the Legislature will vote on two ground-breaking bills. One would set binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions with a goal of reducing them to 1990 levels by 2020 — an ambitious undertaking by any measure.

The other is a strikingly original bill that would bar long-term contracts with any out-of-state utility that failed to meet strict standards for pollution. A coal-fired plant in Wyoming, for instance, could sell power into California only if it found ways to dispose of most of its carbon dioxide, instead of merely venting it into the atmosphere. A bill like this would not only help California meet its targets but could also help jump-start clean-coal technologies that will be essential to reducing carbon dioxide emissions in countries like China and India.

For good measure, the Legislature will entertain two more warming-related bills, and Californians will be asked to vote in November on a ballot initiative that would raise $4 billion to promote alternative fuels.

All of this is may be too ambitious even for environmentally conscious Californians. But a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that two-thirds of the state’s voters supported an aggressive attack on global warming. And while Mr. Schwarzenegger’s re-election chances will clearly benefit from appealing to these voters, this is a genuinely bipartisan effort of the sort that has completely eluded Congress.

Moreover, California has long enjoyed taking the lead on environmental issues and bringing other states with it. Four years ago, Mr. Schwarzenegger signed the so-called Pavley bill aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions from cars. Though the law has been challenged by the automobile companies and the Bush administration, 10 other states have adopted similar legislation.


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Pat Robertson: I’m “A Convert” On Global Warming, “It Is Getting Hotter”

Saturday, August 5th, 2006

Yesterday on the 700 Club, evangelical Pat Robertson declared himself “a convert” on global warming. Robertson said that he has “not been one who believed in global warming in the past.” But now, Robertson said, he believes “it is getting hotter and the ice caps are melting and there is a build up of carbon dioxide in the air.” Robertson implored, “we really need to do something on fossil fuels.”


Baiters Teach Scammers a Lesson

Friday, August 4th, 2006

They pilfer nearly $200 million from Americans annually and drive some of their victims to suicide, but Nigeria’s notorious e-mail scam artists may finally have met their match — and the results can be hilarious.

British online vigilante “Shiver Metimbers” is leading tens of thousands of “scambaiters” in a crusade to shut down advance-fee fraudsters, grifters who spam unwitting victims with elaborate, e-mailed sob stories promising a share of nonexistent fortunes in return for upfront payments.

So-called 419 scams, named after the section of Nigeria’s criminal code that covers the conduct, are the most common type of con; victims are sometimes left penniless.

But Metimbers and crew turn the tables on scammers one by one, boomeranging the tricksters’ own tactics to entice them into performing outlandish tasks in desperate pursuit of cash — then trumpeting evidence of the con artists’ naïveté for the online world’s amusement.


Cat parasite may affect cultural traits in human populations

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

A common parasite found in cats may be affecting human behavior on a mass scale, according to a scientist based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

While little is known about the causes of cultural change, and biological explanations often stimulate social and scientific debate, a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey published in the August 2 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology, indicates that behavioral manipulation of a common brain parasite may be among factors that play a role.

“In populations where this parasite is very common, mass personality modification could result in cultural change,” said study author Kevin Lafferty, a USGS scientist at UC Santa Barbara. “The geographic variation in the latent prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii may explain a substantial proportion of human population differences we see in cultural aspects that relate to ego, money, material possessions, work and rules.”

Although this sounds like science fiction, it is a logical outcome of how natural selection leads to effective strategies for parasites to get from host to host, said Lafferty. Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite of cats, both domestic and wild. While modern humans are a dead-end host for the parasite, Toxoplasma appears to manipulate personality by the same adaptations that normally help it complete its life cycle. The typical journey of the parasite involves a cat and its prey, starting as eggs shed in an infected cat’s feces, inadvertently eaten by a warm-blooded animal, such as a rat. The infected rat’s behavior alters so that it becomes more active, less cautious and more likely to be eaten by a cat, where the parasite completes its life cycle. Many other warm-blooded vertebrates may be infected by this pathogen. After producing usually mild flu-like symptoms in humans, the parasite tends to remain in a dormant state in the brain and other tissues.


Energy From the Restless Sea

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

By Heather Timmons – NY Times – 3 Aug 06

NEWCASTLE, England — There is more riding the waves here than surfers, thanks to a growing number of scientists, engineers and investors.

A group of entrepreneurs is harnessing the perpetual motion of the ocean and turning it into a commodity in high demand: energy. Right now, machines of various shapes and sizes are being tested off shores from the North Sea to the Pacific — one may even be coming to the East River in New York State this fall — to see how they capture waves and tides and create marine energy.

The industry is still in its infancy, but it is gaining attention, much because of the persistence of marine energy inventors, like Dean R. Corren, who have doggedly lugged their wave and tidal prototypes around the world, even during the years when money and interest dried up. Mr. Corren, trim and cerebral, is a scientist who has long advocated green energy and pushed through numerous conservation measures when he was chairman of the public energy utility for the city of Burlington, Vt.


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Hot Enough Yet?

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

By Bob Herbert – NY Times – 3 Aug 06

The heat wave burned its way east from California, where it killed more than 100 people. It moved relentlessly across the nation’s midsection, sparking record-high temperatures in state after state, mimicking a heat wave that killed more than 700 people in the Midwest in 1995.

For the past couple of days it has tormented the East Coast, draining power systems and creating a hellish environment for the frail and infirm, and especially for the elderly poor struggling to survive without the blessings of air-conditioning.

You can’t blame any single weather event on global warming. But with polar bears drowning because they can’t swim far enough to make it from one ice floe to another; with the once-glorious snows of Kilimanjaro about to bring down the final curtain on their long, long run; with the virtual disappearance of Lake Chad in Africa, which was once the size of Lake Erie, it may be time to get serious about trying to slow this catastrophic trend.


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Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

Desertification, the process of converting productive land to wasteland through overuse and mismanagement, is unfortunately all too common. Anything that removes protective grass or trees leaves soil vulnerable to wind and water erosion. In the early stages of desertification, the finer particles of soil are removed by the wind, creating dust storms. Once the fine particles are removed, then the coarser particles–the sand–are also carried by the wind in localized sand storms.

Large-scale desertification is concentrated in Asia and Africa–two regions that together contain nearly 4.8 billion of the world’s 6.5 billion people. Populations in countries across the top of Africa are being squeezed by the northward advance of the Sahara.

In the vast east-to-west swath of semiarid Africa between the Sahara Desert and the forested regions to the south lies the Sahel, a region where farming and herding overlap. In countries stretching from Senegal and Mauritania in the west to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia in the east, the demands of growing human and livestock numbers are converting more and more land into desert.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is losing 351,000 hectares of rangeland and cropland to desertification each year. While Nigeria’s human population was growing from 33 million in 1950 to 132 million in 2005, a fourfold expansion, its livestock population grew from roughly 6 million to 66 million, an 11-fold increase. With the forage needs of Nigeria’s 15 million cattle and 51 million sheep and goats exceeding the sustainable yield of the country’s grasslands, the northern part of the country is slowly turning to desert. If Nigeria continues toward 258 million people as projected by 2050, the deterioration will only accelerate.

Iran is also losing its battle with the desert. Mohammad Jarian, who heads Iran’s Anti-Desertification Organization, reported in 2002 that sand storms had buried 124 villages in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, forcing their abandonment. Drifting sands had covered grazing areas, starving livestock and depriving villagers of their livelihood.

Neighboring Afghanistan is faced with a similar situation. The Registan Desert is migrating westward, encroaching on agricultural areas. A U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) team reports that up to 100 villages have been submerged by windblown dust and sand. In the country’s northwest, sand dunes are moving onto agricultural land in the upper reaches of the Amu Darya basin, their path cleared by the loss of stabilizing vegetation from firewood gathering and overgrazing. The UNEP team observed sand dunes 15 meters high blocking roads, forcing residents to establish new routes.

China is being affected by desertification more than any other major country. Wang Tao, Director of the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute, describes the country’s accelerating desertification. He reports that from 1950 to 1975 an average of 1,560 square kilometers of land were lost to desert each year. Between 1975 and 1987, this climbed to 2,100 square kilometers a year. From then until the century’s end, it jumped to 3,600 square kilometers of land going to desert annually.

China is now at war. It is not invading armies that are claiming its territory, but expanding deserts. Old deserts are advancing and new ones are forming like guerrilla forces striking unexpectedly, forcing Beijing to fight on several fronts. Wang Tao reports that over the last half-century, some 24,000 villages in northern and western China have been entirely or partly abandoned as a result of being overrun by drifting sand.

People in China are all too familiar with the dust storms that originate in its northwest and in western Mongolia, but the rest of the world typically learns about this fast-growing ecological catastrophe from the massive dust storms that travel outside the region. On April 18, 2001, the western United States–from the Arizona border north to Canada–was blanketed with dust. It came from a huge dust storm that originated in northwestern China and Mongolia on April 5. Measuring 1,800 kilometers across when it left China, the storm carried millions of tons of topsoil, a vital resource that will take centuries to replace through natural processes.

Almost exactly one year later, on April 12, 2002, South Korea was engulfed by a huge dust storm from China that left people in Seoul literally gasping for breath. Schools were closed, airline flights were cancelled, and clinics were overrun with patients having difficulty breathing. Retail sales fell. Koreans have come to dread the arrival of what they now call the fifth season, the dust storms of late winter and early spring.

These two dust storms, among the 10 or so major dust storms that occur each year in China, are one of the externally visible indicators of the ecological catastrophe unfolding in northern and western China. Overgrazing is the principal culprit.

A U.S. Embassy report entitled Desert Mergers and Acquisitions describes satellite images showing two deserts in north-central China expanding and merging to form a single, larger desert overlapping Inner Mongolia and Gansu provinces. To the west in Xinjiang Province, two even larger deserts–the Taklimakan and Kumtag–are also heading for a merger. Highways running through the shrinking regions between them are regularly inundated by sand dunes.

In Latin America, deserts are expanding in both Brazil and Mexico. In Brazil, where some 58 million hectares of land are affected, economic losses from desertification are estimated at $300 million per year, much of it concentrated in the country’s northeast. Mexico, with a much larger share of arid and semiarid land, is even more vulnerable. The degradation of cropland now prompts some 700,000 Mexicans to leave the land each year in search of jobs in nearby cities or in the United States.

In scores of countries, the overgrazing, overplowing, and overcutting that are driving the desertification process are intensifying as the growth in human and livestock numbers continues. Stopping the desertification process from claiming more productive land may now rest on stopping the growth in human and livestock numbers.


The above is adapted from Chapter 5, Natural Systems Under Stress, in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), also available on-line in PDF form here:

X-rays reveal Archimedes secrets

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

By Jonathan Fildes – Science and technology reporter, BBC News

A series of hidden texts written by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes are being revealed by US scientists.

Until now, the pages have remained obscured by paintings and texts laid down on top of the original writings.

Using a non-destructive technique known as X-ray fluorescence, the researchers are able to peer through these later additions to read the underlying text.

The goatskin parchment records key details of Archimedes work, considered the foundation of modern mathematics.

The writings include the only Greek version of On Floating Bodies known to exist, and the only surviving ancient copies of The Method of Mechanical Theorems and the Stomachion.

In the treatises, the 3rd Century mathematician develops numerical descriptions of the real world.

“Archimedes was like no one before him,” says Will Noel, curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland and director of the imaging project.

“It just doesn’t get any better than rereading the mind of one of the greatest figures of Western civilisation.”


Evolution Opponents Lose Kansas Board Majority

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

By Ralph Blumenthal – NY Times – August 2nd, 2006

Kansas voters on Tuesday handed power back to moderates on the State Board of Education, setting the stage for a return of science teaching that broadly accepts the theory of evolution, according to preliminary election results.

With just 6 districts of 1,990 yet to report as of 8 a.m. Central time today, two conservatives — including incumbent Connie Morris, a former west Kansas teacher and author who had described evolution as “a nice bedtime story” — appear to have been defeated decisively by two moderates in the Republican primary elections.