Archive for April, 2008

‘Regional’ Nuclear War Would Cause Worldwide Destruction

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

Think you might escape the aftereffects of a limited nuclear war that happens on the other side of the globe from you? Think again.

Imagine that the long-simmering conflict between India and Pakistan broke out into a war in which each side deployed 50 nuclear weapons against the other country’s megacities. Karachi, Bombay, and dozens of other South Asian cities catch fire like Hiroshima and Nagasaki did at the end of World War II.

Beyond the local human tragedy of such a situation, a new study looking at the atmospheric chemistry of regional nuclear war finds that the hot smoke from burning cities would tear holes in the ozone layer of the Earth. The increased UV radiation resulting from the ozone loss could more than double DNA damage, and increase cancer rates across North America and Eurasia.

“Our research supports that there would be worldwide destruction,” said Michael Mills, co-author of the study and a research scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “It demonstrates that a small-scale regional conflict is capable of triggering larger ozone losses globally than the ones that were previously predicted for a full-scale nuclear war.”


Dark water: coastal China on the brink

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

– This is a two part story about pollution along the Chinese coastline and rivers. If I lived in China, I’d be angry as hell and profoundly frightened.

– It is a story of what happens when everyone involved goes for the short-term gains with no thought of the long-term consequences of their individual or joint actions. Me, me, me, mine, mine, mine, now, now, now. Get the money and run.

– If the eastern idea of Karma resonates for you, here we have it in spades. Or, if you prefer, how about the western idea of “we reap what we sow“?

– Just today, here in my home town, a letter to the editor was printed by a local knuckle-dragger calling down ridicule on the idea that there’s any Global Warming or any of the other “crackpot ideas being jammed down the throats of people in Seattle and Berkeley”. I wish we could buy some of these folks a vacation along China’s coast, or up in the melting permafrost, or in a dozen other places around the world where the signs of deep problems are becoming unmistakable.

– But as long as the sun comes up tomorrow and their hair’s not on fire, they will steadfastly maintain that every thing’s fine. Yeah, right!

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Ports are being deserted, schools closed and jobs lost as pollution ravages Jiangsu and Shandong. In the first of two reports, the Southern Metropolis Daily describes the death of the local fishing industry.

To part I:

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Marine pollution is creating an ecological tragedy and may even poison our food. In the second of two reports, the Southern Metropolis Daily sees a chain of industrial zones threatening the life of China’s east coast

To part II:

Inner Mongolia: reign of sand

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

A vast Chinese grassland – and a way of life – are turning to dust in an ancient land of breathtaking scenery. W Chad Futrell reports from a battleground in the fight between China’s development and its resource management.

An Asian Sahara of sand is moving closer every year to Beijing, blackening the sky, and producing environmental refugees and social unrest in Inner Mongolia and throughout China.

“Desertification is not a natural function,” said John D Liu, an American-born journalist, researcher and director of the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP) for China, a 10-year-old environmental organisation based in Beijing. “Scientifically what’s happening is that the grasslands are losing natural infiltration and retention of water, which is altering respiration and evaporation rates. That affects relative humidity, and potentially precipitation in other regions.”

“Socially and politically, what you are talking about are policy decisions made in earlier eras — from the 1950s to the 1990s — and now those mistakes are really biting them,” added Liu, who’s lived and worked in China since 1979. “They have to deal with the decisions made in those years. And in Inner Mongolia those decisions have produced some horrific consequences. Large areas of the region have been massively devegetated.”


Rice jumps as Africa joins race for supplies

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

Rice prices rose more than 10 per cent on Friday to a fresh all-time high as African countries joined south-east Asian importers in the race to head off social unrest by securing supplies from the handful of exporters still selling the grain in the international market.

The rise in prices – 50 per cent in two weeks – threatens upheaval and has resulted in riots and soldiers overseeing supplies in some emerging countries, where the grain is a staple food for about 3bn people.

The increase also risks stoking further inflation in emerging countries, which have been suffering the impact of record oil prices and the rise in price of other agricultural commodities – including wheat, maize and vegetable oil – in the last year.

Kamal Nath, India’s trade minister, said the government would crack down on hoarding of essential commodities to keep a lid on food prices. “We will not hesitate to take the strongest possible measures, including using some of the legal provisions that we have against hoarding,’’ he said on Friday.

Thai medium-quality rice, a global benchmark, traded at about $850 a tonne on Friday, up from $760 a tonne last week, while the price of less representative top-quality aromatic rice broke the $1,000-a-tonne level for the first time, traders said. They added that the grain was being sold to African destinations.

In Chicago, US rice futures hit an all-time high of $20.45 per 100 pounds.


Obama wants Gore in key position

Saturday, April 5th, 2008

DEMOCRAT presidential candidate Barack Obama has said he would consider putting former US vice-president Al Gore in a cabinet-level position or higher if he wins the presidency. His offer came as polls showed him closing the gap with rival Hillary Clinton in the next primary state to vote, Pennsylvania.

A woman at a town hall meeting in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, asked Senator Obama whether he would consider asking Mr Gore, now a climate change campaigner, to join his cabinet — or even take a higher office — to address global warming.

I would,” Senator Obama said. “Not only will I, but I will make a commitment that Al Gore will be at the table and play a central part in us figuring out how we solve this problem.

“He’s somebody I talk to on a regular basis. I’m already consulting with him in terms of these issues, but climate change is real. It is something we have to deal with now.


Warning on plastic’s toxic threat

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Plastic waste challenge on Pacific island

Plastic waste in the oceans poses a potentially devastating long-term toxic threat to the food chain, according to marine scientists.

Studies suggest billions of microscopic plastic fragments drifting underwater are concentrating pollutants like DDT.

Most attention has focused on dangers that visible items of plastic waste pose to seabirds and other wildlife.

But researchers are warning that the risk of hidden contamination could be more serious.

Dr Richard Thompson of the University of Plymouth has investigated how plastic degrades in the water and how tiny marine organisms, such as barnacles and sand-hoppers, respond.

He told the BBC: “We know that plastics in the marine environment will accumulate and concentrate toxic chemicals from the surrounding seawater and you can get concentrations several thousand times greater than in the surrounding water on the surface of the plastic.

“Now there’s the potential for those chemicals to be released to those marine organisms if they then eat the plastic.”

More… (there’s a great little video here as well)

– research thanks to John K.

Spam blights e-mail 15 years on

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

– Everyone who thinks that we live in representative democracies should consider this: The vast vast majority of us detest Spam – and yet, it is still here.

– We have a war on drugs and wars on poverty and ‘no child left behind’ programs. But, has the might of the government that is suppose to be a reflection of the will of its people seen fit to declare war on Spam? Nope. You have to wonder why.

– And once you begin to pull on that thread, there’s no telling where it might take you.

– And I’m not just talking about the U.S. here. All you you out there who think you live under representative governments, just look around you at various issues that clearly have a majority of public sentiment behind them – and yet they never seem to go anywhere.

– Recently, in New Zealand, a poll was published that indicated that 85% of the NZ public thinks talking on cell phones should be banned while driving. You’d think in a representative democracy, that would have the elected folks sitting up and taking notice and falling over themselves to introduce the bill and associate themselves with the bill that would implement the public will. But, sometimes the silence is deafening after one of these polls.

5-Apr-08 – a nice follow-on:  Here’s an article that asserts that 81% of Americans polled think America’s on the wrong path.   Now, what do we think the chances are that these opinions will result in a change in the country’s directions?    Slim and none I’d say – but then I’m a bit of a cynic.

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Spam continues to blight e-mail exactly 15 years after the term was first coined and almost 30 years since the first spam message was sent.

The term is thought to have been coined by Joel Furr, an administrator on the net discussion system Usenet, to refer to unsolicited bulk messages.

More than 90% of all e-mail is spam, according to anti-spam body Spamhaus.

“Spam is a real life arms race,” said Mark Sunner, chief analyst at online security firm Message Labs.

Billions of spam e-mails are sent each day, blocking mail servers, slowing down networks, infecting people’s computers with viruses, helping hijack machines and generally making the internet a painful experience for many.

Mr Furr told BBC News that the anniversary of his first use of the term was no cause for celebration.



Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

A Long Year in the Life of the U.S. Coal Industry

Lester R. Brown and Jonathan G. Dorn

With concerns about climate change mounting, the era of coal-fired electricity generation in the United States may be coming to a close. In early 2007, a U.S. Department of Energy report listed 151 coal-fired power plants in the planning stages in the United States. But during 2007, 59 proposed plants were either refused licenses by state governments or quietly abandoned. In addition, close to 50 coal plants are being contested in the courts, and the remaining plants will likely be challenged when they reach the permitting stage.

What began as a few local ripples of resistance to coal-fired power plants is quickly evolving into a national tidal wave of opposition from environmental, health, farm, and community organizations as well as leading climate scientists and state governments. Growing concern over pending legislation to regulate carbon emissions is creating uncertainty in financial markets.  Leading financial groups are now downgrading coal stocks and requiring utilities seeking funding for coal plants to include a cost for carbon emissions when proving economic viability.



Blind to Change, Even as It Stares Us in the Face

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

Leave it to a vision researcher to make you feel like Mr. Magoo.

When Jeremy Wolfe of Harvard Medical School, speaking last week at a symposium devoted to the crossover theme of Art and Neuroscience, wanted to illustrate how the brain sees the world and how often it fumbles the job, he naturally turned to a great work of art. He flashed a slide of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Study for Colors for a Large Wall” on the screen, and the audience couldn’t help but perk to attention. The checkerboard painting of 64 black, white and colored squares was so whimsically subtle, so poised and propulsive. We drank it in greedily, we scanned every part of it, we loved it, we owned it, and, whoops, time for a test.

Dr. Wolfe flashed another slide of the image, this time with one of the squares highlighted. Was the highlighted square the same color as the original, he asked the audience, or had he altered it? Um, different. No, wait, the same, definitely the same. That square could not now be nor ever have been anything but swimming-pool blue … could it? The slides flashed by. How about this mustard square here, or that denim one there, or this pink, or that black? We in the audience were at sea and flailed for a strategy. By the end of the series only one thing was clear: We had gazed on Ellsworth Kelly’s masterpiece, but we hadn’t really seen it at all.


The Opium Brides of Afghanistan

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

In the country’s poppy-growing provinces, farmers are being forced to sell their daughters to pay loans.

Khalida’s father says she’s 9—or maybe 10. As much as Sayed Shah loves his 10 children, the functionally illiterate Afghan farmer can’t keep track of all their birth dates. Khalida huddles at his side, trying to hide beneath her chador and headscarf. They both know the family can’t keep her much longer. Khalida’s father has spent much of his life raising opium, as men like him have been doing for decades in the stony hillsides of eastern Afghanistan and on the dusty southern plains. It’s the only reliable cash crop most of those farmers ever had. Even so, Shah and his family barely got by: traffickers may prosper, but poor farmers like him only subsist. Now he’s losing far more than money. “I never imagined I’d have to pay for growing opium by giving up my daughter,” says Shah.