Archive for May, 2008

Nuclear power popular again as energy prices soar

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Slammed by the surging cost of energy imported from volatile regions and befuddled about how to meet their pledges for tackling global warming, European countries are reviving nuclear’s role in their energy strategies.

Pro-nuclear countries are pushing ahead with plans for next-generation reactors, encountering so far either minimal opposition or even acquiescence. In some anti-nuclear countries, decisions to phase out power are being reversed or are under threat.

“We need nuclear energy as part of the energy mix,” the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, said this week before a ceremony to honour environmentally friendly projects.

Such an endorsement would have been unthinkable two or three years ago. European memories were still seared by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, when a stricken Soviet nuclear plant spewed fallout over the continent.

But in January this year, the British Government gave the go-ahead to replace 14 nuclear plants that date from the 1970s. France, which gets 78 per cent of its electricity needs from nuclear, has started work on a new-generation European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), a model that is also being built in Finland by the French firm Areva and Germany’s Siemens.


Under Fire, White House Releases Report About Global Warming

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

Overdue Report Reveals Serious Health Consequences

Today, the White House finally released an overdue report on the comprehensive impact of global warming on the United States. It is the first such report from the Bush administration since it took office more than seven years ago.

Starting to catch up with the understanding long agreed on by the world’s climate scientists, the report says, “It is likely that there has been a substantial human contribution to surface temperature increases in North America.”

With recent U.S. wildfires, downpours, drought and smog, the report paints a sobering picture of threats to America’s food, water and energy supplies — stressed in an ever hotter country.

Integrating federal research efforts of many agencies and literally thousands of scientists, it reports that the global climate disruption now under way is already damaging U.S. water resources, agriculture and wildlife and is expected to keep doing so — often worsening — for “the next few decades and beyond.”


– Research credit to John P. 

President Bush Signs Landmark Genetic Nondiscrimination Information Act Into Law

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

– I fully admit, I was surprised to see our hapless President actually doing something I applauded. The possibility of genetic discrimination is here with us now due to recent discoveries and this was a good piece of work – to prevent corporations from using this information against individuals to enhance their own bottom lines.

– I theorize that the corporate world just hadn’t realized that something important to their bottom lines was on the table – or they would have unleashed their unholy lobbying dogs and headed all of this off.

– So, the President did a good thing for the people. But, I suspect this story isn’t over. The corporations can enhance their bottom lines by using genetic information about us against us and they will wiggle the new law and shake it until they find its weaknesses and then they will drive trucks through those weaknesses.

– And later, when congress notices that the law is being subverted and tries to tighten it, everyone will find a rabid dog hanging on their pant-leg and growling a low message of warning.


U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law May 21 the first civil rights legislation of the new millennium, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). GINA is the first and only federal legislation that will provide protections against discrimination based on an individual’s genetic information in health insurance coverage and employment settings.

“This is a tremendous victory for every American not born with perfect genes – which means it’s a victory for every single one us,” said Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY). “Since all of us are predisposed to at least a few genetic-based disorders, we are all potential victims of genetic discrimination.”

“Today marks the beginning of a new era in health care,” continued Slaughter. “Americans can finally take advantage of the tremendous potential of genetic research without the fear that their own genetic information will be used against them.”

Just a few weeks ago, GINA received overwhelming support in both the Senate, with a unanimous vote of approval, and the House of Representatives, where the legislation was passed by a landslide vote of 414-1.

“Individuals no longer have to worry about being discriminated against on the basis of their genetic information, and with this assurance, the promise of genetic testing and disease management and prevention can be realized more fully,” stated Sharon Terry, president of the Coalition and CEO of Genetic Alliance. “We applaud our champions on the Hill who have worked tirelessly to pass this important legislation. It is now our responsibility to make sure the public knows that these new protections are in place.”


G-8 meet ends with call to halve warming gases

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

– Oh good. Another meeting to talk about maybe doing something.

– Let’s have a lot of people come and we’ll spend a lot of money and we’ll publish a very important paper at the end stating the ‘sense’ of the meeting and listing all the things that should be done – if anyone was actually thinking of doing anything – before the next meeting.

– Sorry, I just couldn’t resist adding the red highlights myself to show just how pompous and toothless this meeting and its ‘statement ‘ were.


KOBE–The Group of Eight Environment Ministers Meeting closed here Monday with a chairman’s summary statement from Environment Minister Ichiro Kamoshita urging developed countries to agree to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the G-8 summit in Hokkaido in July.

“It was noted that in order to halve global greenhouse gas emissions [by 2050], developed countries should take the lead in achieving a significant reduction,” Kamoshita said, reading aloud the statement during the closing ceremony.

The summary was made with the agreement of environment ministers of the G-8 nations and 10 other nations–including major emitters China and India–which held intensive and extensive discussions with the officials of international organizations such as the Global Environment Facility, World Bank and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change as well as representatives from nongovernmental organizations.

Kamoshita also said in the statement, “A strong political will was expressed to go beyond the agreement [made in the 2007 Heiligendamm Summit, where G-8 leaders agreed to seriously consider reducing the emissions by at least half by 2050].”

Although many developing countries and NGOs demanded that G-8 countries set midterm goals for reducing the emissions, they simply said in the statement that they recognized the need to set effective targets, taking into account the report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that urged the developed nations to reduce the emissions 25 to 40 percent by 2020.

The summary mentioned that for global greenhouse gas emissions to peak and then decrease within the next 10-20 years, developed countries must commit to quantified national emission targets.

Kamoshita also said in the statement that a bottom-up calculation for the amount of emissions that can be reduced by different economic and other sectors in a country was recognized as a useful tool to set national reduction targets, adding that developed countries should give developing countries assistance if they try to use the method.

The statement also said that appropriate technologies and funding from the international community are essential to promoting conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity in developing countries.

The Kobe Initiative proposed by Kamoshita in the environment ministers meeting, which involves establishing an international research network, was also included in the summary statement.

– follow this link to your very own copy of this toothless wonder:

Energy Watchdog Warns of Oil-Production Crunch

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

– I’m seeing folks arguing both sides of the current oil price crisis.  Some say it is sheer speculation and some say it is actual shortages being reflected in the prices.   And some, of course, say it is some of both.

– These folks are warning that  we may not have as much oil as we think.

= = = – – – = = = – – – = = = – – – = = =

IEA Official Says Supplies may Plateau Below Expected Demand

The world’s premier energy monitor is preparing a sharp downward revision of its oil-supply forecast, a shift that reflects deepening pessimism over whether oil companies can keep abreast of booming demand.

The Paris-based International Energy Agency is in the middle of its first attempt to comprehensively assess the condition of the world’s top 400 oil fields. Its findings won’t be released until November, but the bottom line is already clear: Future crude supplies could be far tighter than previously thought.

A pessimistic supply outlook from the IEA could further rattle an oil market that already has seen crude prices rocket over $130 a barrel, double what they were a year ago. U.S. benchmark crude broke a record for the fourth day in a row, rising 3.3% Wednesday to close at $133.17 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

For several years, the IEA has predicted that supplies of crude and other liquid fuels will arc gently upward to keep pace with rising demand, topping 116 million barrels a day by 2030, up from around 87 million barrels a day currently. Now, the agency is worried that aging oil fields and diminished investment mean that companies could struggle to surpass 100 million barrels a day over the next two decades.

The decision to rigorously survey supply — instead of just demand, as in the past — reflects an increasing fear within the agency and elsewhere that oil-producing regions aren’t on track to meet future needs.


Development as explained by two cows in a field

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

– Great piece by Long Ago and Not True Anyway, a New Zealand Blog.

– – – – – – – – – – –

Development as Explained By 2 Cows in a Field

Development in General – “Three cows are better than two.”

Mainstream Development – “Feeding the cow grass and exposing it to fresh air is completely inefficient. We will loan you money so that you can house the cows in a battery farm and feed them upon sheep brains which you will import from Great Britain. You can pay off the loan by exporting factory effluent to Japan.”

The Debt Crisis – In the 1970’s Western Banks had more cows than they knew what to do with, so they loaned cows to all manner of Third World despots and dictators. These un-elected rulers then slaughtered the cows and sent the profits to Swiss Bank accounts. Twenty years later the people of third world countries are asked to forgo education and basic medical care to repay the loaned cows, despite the fact that they never saw them in the first place.

And for more of this sort of thing, click here:

Italy signals turnaround on nuclear power

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Italy’s newly elected government said Thursday that within five years it planned to resume building nuclear plants, a type of energy that the country dropped 20 years ago after a referendum resoundingly condemned nuclear power.

“By the end of this legislature we will put down the foundation stone for the construction in our country of a group of new generation nuclear plants,” said Claudio Scajola, Minister of Economic Development. “An action plan to go back to nuclear power cannot be delayed anymore.”

The sea change for Italy is a sign of the times, reflecting growing concern in many European countries over the skyrocketing price of oil, energy security, and the warming effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. All have combined to make this once-scorned form of energy far more palatable.

“Italy has had the most dramatic, the most public turnaround, but the sentiments against nuclear are reversing very quickly all across Europe – Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Germany and more,” said Ian Hore-Lacey, spokesman for the World Nuclear Association, an industry group based in London.


Nuclear clean-up costs ‘to soar’

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

The cost of cleaning up the UK’s ageing nuclear facilities, including some described as “dangerous”, looks set to rise above £73bn, the BBC has learned.

A senior official at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said the bill would rise by billions of pounds.

Nineteen sites across the country, some dating from the 1950s, are due to be dismantled in the coming decades.

A spokesman for the Department for Business said it was ready for an adjustment in the clean-up costs.

In January, the National Audit Office said that the cost of decommissioning ageing power sites had risen from £12bn to £73bn.


Global Food Crisis 2008

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

– One of the more thoughtful Blogs around is Anup Shah’s Global Issues Blog. Here’s a piece he’s done on the current global food crisis. It is well worth a read.

– And here’s a quote for the article that I especially liked:

The dominance of the richer nations and companies in the international arena has had a tremendous impact on agriculture, which, for many poor countries forms one of the main sources of income. A combination of unfair trade agreements, concentrated ownership of major food production, dominance (through control and influence in institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and the World Trade Organisation) has meant that poor countries have seen their ability to determine their own food security policies severely undermined.

= = = = = = = = = = = = =

Food prices have been rising for a while. In some countries this has resulted in food riots and in the case of Haiti where food prices increased by 50-100%, the Prime Minister was forced out of office. Elsewhere people have been killed, and many more injured. While media reports have been concentrating on the immediate causes, the deeper issues and causes have not been discussed as much.

This web page has the following sub-sections:

  • Rising food prices
  • Food prices or overpopulation
  • Causes: short term issues and long term fundamental problems
  • More information


Burning Incense Is Psychoactive: New Class Of Antidepressants Might Be Right Under Our Noses

Sunday, May 25th, 2008

Religious leaders have contended for millennia that burning incense is good for the soul. Now, biologists have learned that it is good for our brains too. An international team of scientists, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, describe how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. This suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

“In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity,” said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study’s co-authors. “We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning.”


– Research thanks to PHK