Archive for May, 2007

Latest IPCC Report is out now

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

– The UN started these IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports in 1988 and they come out approximately every five years. This is the IPCC’s Fourth Assesment Report. Previous reports came out as follows:

IPCC First Assesment Report 1990
IPCC Second Assesment Report 1995
IPCC Third Assesment Report 2001

– Within each report, there are multiple working groups, each with a different focus and they each release their own sub-reports at various times during the reporting year.

– What we’re looking at here in this post is the IPCC Fourth Assesment Report, Working Group III.

– In the Fourth IPCC Assesment Report the working group’s specific focuses were as follows:

Working Group I – Physical Science Basis of Climate Change
Working Group II – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
Working Group III – Mitigation

– Working Group III’s Mitigation sub-report is where we are now in the sequence.

– For a complete breakdown/overview on the IPCC Reports, go here:

– This stuff is the subject of huge debates among nations, between scientists, within the Blogosphere and anywhere else where people have formed opinions or have vested interests in the implications. Therefore I’m not going to try to report on it. Rather, I’m just going to collect reports and POVs and enumerate them below as I find them.


– Wikipedia overview of the IPCC Reports up to and including the fourth one.
– The actual IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group III document (PDF)
– Report from the Sietch Blog (only 8 years and counting left)
– From Scientific American (what will it cost to fix it?)
– From the Climate Progress Blog (countries are avoiding responsibility)
– From the Climate Progress Blog (US & China resisting global efforts)
– From the Climate Progress Blog (Highlights of the IPCC’s Mitigation Report)


– One thing I noticed is that there do not seem to be as many articles and commentaries on this sub report as on the last. One wonders if the subject material (mitigation) is just inherently less interesting or if people are just getting bored with the entire business.

– The more I think about these things, the more I keep circling back around to the idea that since humans are the cause of the world’s environmental problems, the need to develop a deep and consilient understanding of human nature is probably one of the most effective and obvious approaches we can make to solving our problems. In this context, Evolutionary Psychology seems to me to hold a particular promise.

‘Stunning’ Nepal Buddha art find

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Paintings of Buddha dating back at least to the 12th century have been discovered in a cave in a remote area of Nepal’s north-central region.

Researchers made the find after being tipped off by a local sheep herder. They discovered a mural with 55 panels showing the story of Buddha’s life.

The mural was uncovered in March, with the team using ice axes to break through a snow path to reach the cave.

The find was in the Mustang area, 250km (160 miles) north-west of Kathmandu.

Sheer cliffs

“What we found is fantastically rich in culture and heritage and goes to the 12th century or earlier,” American writer and conservationist Broughton Coburn told the AP news agency.

Mr Coburn said the main mural measured around 8m (25ft) wide, and each panel was about 35cm (14in) by 43cm (17in).

It was set in sheer 14,000ft (4,300m) cliffs in Nepal’s remote Himalayan north.


Pakistan downplays radioactive ad

Friday, May 4th, 2007


I think only Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine and a couple of severely retarded or gullible people would remain unworried after this strange bit of business.


Pakistan’s nuclear authority has said there is no cause for concern after it published press adverts for information on “lost” radioactive material.

Pakistan Ad|||||Alfred E. Newman - What me worry?

The adverts urged members of the public to inform officials if they found any “lost or stolen” radioactive material.

They were published in major Urdu-language newspapers in Pakistan.

A spokesman for the nuclear authority said that there was a “very remote chance” that nuclear materials imported 40-50 years ago were unaccounted for.

International concern over the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear programme was expressed in 2004, when the country’s top nuclear scientist, AQ Khan, confessed to leaking secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Dr Khan was subsequently placed under virtual house arrest, and is now suffering from pancreatic cancer.

‘Cradle to the grave’

Officials on Wednesday were keen to reassure the outside world that the latest incident in no way has the makings of another nuclear scandal, and that no radioactive material had been stolen, lost or gone missing.

But officials say they need to heighten public awareness of nuclear issues to ensure that decades-old nuclear material is fully accounted for.


– Mmmmm. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling much more reassured now that they’ve explained themselves. Yah sure, ya betcha.

Mt Cook glaciers ‘permanently damaged’ by climate change

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Mt. Cook & Glaciers - New Zealand

New Zealand’s famed Mount Cook glaciers are so affected by a warming climate they will never return to their former splendour, a New Zealand glaciologist has said.

Glaciologist Dr Trevor Chinn, who has been studying the Mount Cook structures since the 1960s, said some had already shrunk up to five kilometres, about 20 per cent, and it was too late for any of them to completely recover.

He said that while some of the world’s glaciers would grow back if the climate cooled to its pre-global warming levels, those fronting lakes, like some at Mount Cook, would not.

“You can’t get a re-advance that will come back if you apply the previous climate … a re-advance across a lake is difficult because the ice breaks off the front of the glacier and floats away,” Chinn said.

He said local warming since the 1890s had started the trend, but man-made climate change in recent decades had exacerbated the effect.

“They will never completely go. For that to happen the climate has to warm enough for the snowline to rise clean above the mountains, but they will retreat quite a bit more,” he said.


Protein Enables Discovery Of Quantum Effect In Photosynthesis

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Science Daily When it comes to studying energy transfer in photosynthesis, it’s good to think “outside the bun.” That’s what Robert Blankenship, Ph.D., professor of biology and chemistry in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, did when he contributed a protein to a study performed by his collaborators at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley.

Taco shell protein

It’s called bacteriochlorophyl (BChl) a protein, but Blankenship fondly calls it the taco shell protein because of its structure: its ribbon-like backbone wraps around three clusters of seven chlorophylls, just like a taco shell around ground beef. The structure also is referred to as trimeric because of the three clusters.

The protein, which comes from a photosynthetic bacterium that lives in extremely high temperatures, enabled the researches to discover that quantum mechanical effects appear to play a role in photosynthesis.

The taco shell protein is arguably the most studied and understood protein in a complex photosynthesis researchers refer to as the antenna system, molecules that efficiently transfer energy from light in a cascade.

Photosynthesis transforms light, carbon dioxide and water into chemical energy in plants and some bacteria. The wavelike characteristic of this energy transfer process can explain its extreme efficiency, in that vast areas of phase space can be sampled effectively to find the most efficient path for energy transfer.

“We have a very detailed molecular structure of this protein and we understand the electronic properties of it very well, too,” said Blankenship. “It’s taught us a lot about how chlorophylls interact with proteins. It was ideal for this study.”

Blankenship’s colleague, Graham R. Fleming, Ph.D., deputy director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and professor of chemistry at the University of California, and colleagues used 2-D spectroscopy to study what happens inside a bacteriochlorophyll complex, and detected a ‘quantum beating.”

The effect, described in the April 12, 2007, issue of Nature, occurs when light-induced excitations in the complex meet and interfere constructively, much like the interactions that occur between the ripples formed by throwing stones into a pond.

The collaboration is a good illustration of interdisciplinary science. The Washington University group’s expertise is in photosynthesis, especially antenna systems, and the West Coast group’s specialty is advanced laser techniques. The quantum finding would have been impossible without collaboration.


– Also see

We’re Number Two: Canada Has as Good or Better Health Care than the U.S.

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Despite spending half what the U.S. does on health care, Canada doesn’t appear to be any worse at looking after the health of its citizens.

The relative merits of the U.S. versus Canadian health care systems are often cast in terms of anecdotes: whether it is American senior citizens driving into Canada in order to buy cheap prescription drugs or Canadians coming to the U.S. for surgery in order to avoid long wait times. Both systems are beset by ballooning costs and, especially with a presidential election on the horizon, calls for reform, but a recent study could put ammunition in the hands of people who believe it is time the U.S. ceased to be the only developed nation without universal health coverage.

Gordon H. Guyatt, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who coined the term “evidence-based medicine,” collaborated with 16 of his colleagues in an exhaustive survey of existing studies on the outcomes of various medical procedures in both the U.S. and Canada. Their work appears in the inaugural issue of the new Canadian journal Open Medicine, and comes at a time when many in Canada are debating whether or not to move that country’s single-payer system toward for-profit delivery of care. The ultimate conclusion of the study is that the Canadian medical system is as good as the U.S. version, at least when measured by a single metric—the rate at which patients in either system died.


070504 – Friday – Trust your brain?

Friday, May 4th, 2007

– I’ve got a nice collection of relatively unpopular books. They concern how poorly our brains work and I suspect they are unpopular because we, as a species, just don’t want to take a hard look at this issue. We are, after all, the smartest animal on the planet, right? I mean, look how well we are running the place.

– Here a little problem that just might give you a glimmer:

There are three boxes on the table and I’ve put a $100 bill into one of them. I know which one it is but you don’t. I ask you to pick one box and you do and you slide it over to your side of the table without opening it. Then I open one of the remaining two boxes that I know is empty and and I show you that there’s nothing in it. (The fact that I know the box is empty before I show you is the key bit here.)

Now, I ask you if you want to keep the box you originally chose or would you like to trade for the remaining closed box that I have?

You can either keep your original box or trade for mine. Which ever you choose to do, you need select and complete one of the following statements to explain your choice:

(1) It was important to stick with your original box because <fill in the blank>.

(2) It was important to switch to my box because <fill in the blank>.

(3) It wouldn’t make any difference if you switched or not because <fill in the blank>.

THINK about your answer for a bit before you click on the following link to get the answer.



Oh, and that collection of books? I thought you’d never ask.

A Mind of its Own – How Your Brain Distorts and Decieves by Cordelia Fine

Non-sense – a handbook of Logical Fallacies by Robert J. Gula

Inevitable Illusions – How the Mistakes of Reason Rule Our Minds by Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

Mean Genes – from Sex to Money to Food Taming our Primal Instincts by Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan

Thought Contagion – How belief Spreads Through Society by Aaron Lynch

– And if you want to buy any of these books, make your way to Amazon through one of the following links and a few pennies will come my way so that my on-line raving does not go totally unrewarded.

Minor postscript: I originally wrote this piece yesterday and entitled it, 070403 – Thursday – Trust your brain? Then, after it was all written and I was making a few final tweaks, my brain, which I trust very little indeed, caused me to press some unknown combination of surprise keystrokes (while thinking it was doing something brilliant, no doubt) and the entire piece vanished from the screen and, I thought, from the face of the Earth forever. It was GONE. It was also fairly late in the evening and so I got up, said a few choice words about bad luck and the illegitimate parentage of this particular computer (note, I left any culpability on the part of my brain entirely out of my carefully thought out post-mortem analysis) and went off and had a glass of Sake to quell my irritation. Have I ever mentioned, that with few exceptions, I hate doing anything twice? So, imagine my surprise, when I checked my E-mail this morning, to find a copy of the lost piece in my mail box! Apparently, the WordPress system, which E-mails out copies of the pieces I write to those who’d prefer not to read them on web browsers, had snagged a copy in those lucky few second between my completing the piece and my final aberrant keystrokes. My conclusion (this is my brain talking here so be wary) is that either some one loves me or someone has a strange sense of humor. Either way – I’m clueless and happy.

– Thx to Rolf A. for suggesting a change to this piece that made it more effective.

China gas emissions ‘may pass US’

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

China could overtake the US this year as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, a leading international energy group has said.

The International Energy Agency had predicted China’s carbon dioxide emissions would pass the US by 2010.

But IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said the rate of China’s economic growth this year defied expectations.

His comments come days after a Chinese government report warned of the impact of climate change on the country.

The report, compiled by several government bodies, said that higher temperatures would lead to worsening droughts, spreading deserts and reduced water supplies.

But it stopped short of recommending cuts in greenhouse gas output and risking the country’s economic growth.


Norwegians and ethical investing

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

– Bravo.

– Norway has amassed a fortune of 300 billion dollars over the last decade. Only Saudi Arabia and Russia have larger oil exports. The Scandanavian countries have, in my opinion, been leading by example for a long time in many areas. Now Norway has decided to use the huge clout of their wealth to influence the world by how and where they invest. Bravo, is all I have to say. Bravo.


Norway Keeps Nest Egg From Some U.S. Companies

OSLO — For a people whose deep national pride is in bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize, Norwegians are developing a reputation for throwing some sharp elbows.

And they are doing so in an unexpected way: by pulling investments out of Wal-Mart and other big companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin for what they say are ethical failings.

Norway has amassed a fortune of more than $300 billion over the last decade, thanks to its profits from oil exports. Yet few countries are more ambivalent about their vast wealth than this modest, socially conscious society of less than five million people.

So rather than managing their monstrous nest egg simply for the best returns, the reluctant billionaires of Norway are using the money to advance an ambitious ethical code they established in 2004 for their oil reserve, known as the Government Pension Fund.

Norway’s investment choices have become a focus of attention in the last nine months over the exclusion of Wal-Mart, the American retailer whose big-box stores do not exist in this pristine country.

Public pension funds on both sides of the Atlantic commonly avoid investing in certain companies on social or ethical grounds. But it is rare for a sovereign state to make such judgments, and rarer still for one to do it in the pointed, public way that Norway has.

Among the first companies to run afoul of Norway’s standards were makers of cluster bombs and nuclear weapons or related components — a list that includes General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, in addition to Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Then last June, Norway added Wal-Mart Stores to its blacklist, alleging that the retailer was guilty of tolerating child-labor violations by its suppliers in the developing world and obstructing unions at home. The fund sold off more than $400 million worth of Wal-Mart shares.


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, recently, a friend of mine suggested the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

Food Imports Often Escape Scrutiny

Tuesday, May 1st, 2007

– I’m a former systems analyst. I spent years digging around in software systems and learning all the ways things can go wrong in systems. As I’ve been writing and thinking about the world’s gathering problems these last years, a strong revelation has been growing on me: many of our problems are caused because we put profits before people.

– Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not against Capitalism. It is the prime engine of creativity and wealth generation in today’s world. What I am against, however, is letting Capitalism sit at the top of the decision maker’s priority pile.

– In my opinion, we can and should decide for ourselves what kind of a world we want to live in. I’d prefer to live in one in which the good of people and the environment they live in is the paramount concern and Capitalism has to take a back seat to that. That still leaves a huge playing field for Capitalism and it wouldn’t disadvantage Capitalists either, so long as the entire world played by the same rules thus generating a level playing field for the competitors.

– So, back to this story. Food imports – many of them coming out of China – are now making up a significant portion of what we Americans are eating. And there’s lack supervision and inspection of what’s coming into the country bound for our tables. China was recently found to be putting chemicals into the wheat glutens they sell to us to improve the ‘apparent’ protein content to the material and thus improve its price. I read the other day that this is an ‘open secret’ in China – everyone’s doing it.

– The Chinese, like profit obsessed Capitalists everwhere, are willing to play fast and loose with things that affect human welfare and health to boost their bottom line. And why shouldn’t they? After all, they subscribe to the theory that profit comes first – and all else (including the welfare of other people) takes second place.

– Here in the US, we have the FDA which attempts to inspect our incoming food. But it is woefully under funded and understaffed. Why? Its activities are seen by Capitalist oriented minds here as being a money sink rather than a source so they fund it as little as they can to give the appearance that we have a strong and vibrant FDA providing good and necessary services for the good of the people – when it fact, we have a hobbled and lame FDA which is much more a cardboard store-front than it is an agency fully staffed and funded in a manner commensurate with its assigned duties and responsibilities.

– You watch. There will be a crises at some point where some crap from China or some other place with lax standards, slips into our food supplies and people die. And then there will be a most amazing display of shock and outrage on Capital Hill as everyone, who previously was content to ignore the FDA’s plight, suddenly wants to know, “How the hell this could happen?”. Watch – it’ll be great and instructive theater on why we should begin to rearrange the priorities of our societies away from Capitalistic dominant models to something else that acknowledges that people are what this planet’s resources and our governments should be primarily about.

– Here an axiomatic thought to ponder: You cannot simultaneously have two or more number one priorities.


Early in the 20th century, the safeguarding of food at American ports often amounted to inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration prying open containers of molasses or sugar and examining them for mold or insect parts.

The F.D.A. has come a way since then. But not much more.

Last year, inspectors sampled just 20,662 shipments out of more than 8.9 million that arrived at American ports. China, which in one decade has become the third-largest exporter of food, by value, to the United States, sent 199,000 shipments, of which less than 2 percent were sampled, former officials with the agency said.

Now, as F.D.A. inspectors travel to China to investigate the source of contaminated pet food that has killed at least 16 dogs and cats and sickened thousands of others, critics in Washington are warning that the agency is woefully understaffed and underfinanced to keep America’s food supply safe.

“The public thinks the food supply is much more protected than it is,” said William Hubbard, a former associate commissioner who left in 2005 after 27 years at the agency. “If people really knew how weak the F.D.A. program is, they would be shocked.”

Globalization and new manufacturing capabilities have changed the makeup of the food that Americans put on their table. Food processors in the United States are buying a greater number of ingredients from other countries, becoming more of an assembler in the nation’s food supply chain.

“With globalization, American food processors are turning to less-developed countries to get food ingredients because they can get them so much more cheaply,” Mr. Hubbard said.


– This article is from the NY Times and they insist that folks have an ID and a PW in order to read their stuff. You can get these for free just by signing up. However, recently, a friend of mine suggested the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.