Archive for May, 2008

Vatican says aliens could exist

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

The Pope’s chief astronomer says that life on Mars cannot be ruled out.

Writing in the Vatican newspaper, the astronomer, Father Gabriel Funes, said intelligent beings created by God could exist in outer space.

Father Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory near Rome, is a respected scientist who collaborates with universities around the world.

The search for forms of extraterrestrial life, he says, does not contradict belief in God.

The official Vatican newspaper headlines his article ‘Aliens Are My Brother’.

Woooo… this way to more fun…

Natural changes pinned to warming

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Major changes in the Earth’s natural systems are being driven by global warming, according to a vast analysis.

Glacier and permafrost melting, earlier spring-time, coastal erosion and animal migrations are among the observations laid at the door of man-made warming.

The research, in the journal Nature, involves many scientists who took part in last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

It links warming and natural impacts on a tighter regional scale.

Changes in the Earth’s physical and biological systems since at least 1970 are seen in regions which are known to be warming, it concludes.

The researchers assembled a database including more than 29,500 records that documented changes seen across a wide range of natural phenomena, such as:

  • the earlier arrival of migratory birds in Australia
  • declining krill stocks around Antarctica
  • earlier break-up of river ice in Mongolia
  • genetic shift in the pitcher plant mosquito in North America
  • declining productivity of Lake Tanganyika
  • melting Patagonian ice-fields

“Since 1970, there’s been about 0.5C, 0.6C of warming – that’s the global average,” said Cynthia Rosenzweig from Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss) in New York.

“And look at all the effects this relatively low amount of warming has had.

“It reveals the sensitivity to relatively low amounts of warming in many physical and biological systems,” she told BBC News.


U.S. Major Importer of Illegal Asian Timber, Study Says

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

– From the National Geographic:

“Vietnam’s furniture exports reached U.S. $2.4 billion in 2007, a ten-fold increase since 2000.

The United States is by far the largest market for Vietnamese wooden furniture, accounting for almost 40 percent of the exports.”

Vietnam has become a hub for processing Asia’s illegally logged timber, much of which is sold in the United States as outdoor furniture, conservationists say.

In a report released in March, the U.K.-based nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and its Indonesian partner Telapak warned that the illegal timber trade is threatening some of the last intact forests in Southeast Asia, especially in Laos.

“Despite wide awareness of the problem of illegal logging and a series of political commitments to tackle the issue, demand for cut-price wood products is still fuelling the illegal destruction of some of the worlds most significant remaining tropical forests,” said Julian Newman, head of the EIA’s forest campaign program.

It is currently legal in the United States to import illegally sourced wood products. But legislation now under consideration in the U.S. Congress would ban imports of wood products derived from illegally harvested timber.


For the Sundarbans, time is running out

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

Rising sea levels threaten to flood many of the islands in the broad and fertile Ganges delta, leading to environmental disaster and a refugee crisis for India and Bangladesh

Dependra Das stretches out his arms to show his flaky skin, covered in raw saltwater sores. His fingers submerged in soft black clay for up to six hours a day, he spends his time frantically shoring up a crude sea dike surrounding his remote island home in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest delta.

Alongside him, across the beach in long lines, the villagers of Ghoramara island, the women dressed in purple, orange and green saris, do the same, trying to hold back the tide.

For the islanders, each day begins and ends the same way. As dusk descends, the people file back to their thatched huts. By morning the dike will be breached and work will begin again. Here in the vast, low-lying Sundarbans, the largest mangrove wilderness on the planet, Das, aged 70, is preparing to lose his third home to the sea in as many years. Here, global warming is a reality, not a prediction.

Over the course of a three-day boat trip through the Sundarbans, The Observer found Das’s plight to be far from unique. Across the delta, homes have been swept away, fields ravaged by worsening monsoons, livelihoods destroyed. Events confirm what experts have been warning: that the effects of global warming will be most severe on those who did the least to contribute to it and can least afford measures to adapt or save themselves. For these islanders, building clay walls is their only option.


Climate change deniers – Grrr

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

– For whatever reasons, there are folks around who spend all their time trying to convince the rest of us that Global Climate Change is not happening or, if it is, that it is not humanity’s fault.

– And all of this in spite of strong and unequivocal assertions by the f0lks best positioned to know what’s going on. I.e., the professional global scientific community of climate scientists who are telling us IT IS REAL AND WE ARE CAUSING IT.

– The climate denialists are forever putting up straw men arguments and bogus alternatives (cosmic rays, anyone?) and as soon as their argument of the day is demolished, they move on to their next amazing claim. Interestingly, once you go digging, you find many of them have financial links back to big oil and coal.

– Recently, these folks put out a paper advertising itself as a list of 500 scientists who disagree with the Global Climate Change hypothesis.

It didn’t take long before many of the scientists on the list began to complain mightily about being on this bogus list.

– Just another day in the life of the smoke and mirrors climate denialists.

– A few quotes:

* “I am horrified to find my name on such a list. I have spent the last 20 years arguing the opposite.” – Dr David Sugden, Professor of Geography, University of Edinburgh
* “I have no doubts … the recent changes in global climate are man-induced. I insist that you immediately remove my name from this list since I did not give you permission to put it there.” – Dr Gregory Cutter, Professor, Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Old Dominion University.
* “Please remove my name. What you have done is totally unethical!!” – Dr Svante Bjorck, Geo Biosphere Science Centre, Lund University.

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Fury over ‘unethical’ warming website

New Zealand climate scientists are upset their names have been used by an American organisation wanting to challenge the increasingly accepted view that climate change is human induced.

Among the five scientists is Niwa principal scientist Dr Jim Salinger, who said he was annoyed the Heartland Institute was trying to use his research to prove a theory he did not personally support.

The institute describes itself as a non-profit research and education organisation not affiliated with any political party, business or foundation.

Dr Salinger said he was never contacted about his work which was being mis-used to undermine support for the idea that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, largely fossil fuel burning, was warming the globe.

“I object to the implication that my research supports their position … they didn’t check with me.”

He said that he and the other New Zealand scientists all felt their work had been misinterpreted.

“We say global warming is real.”


See also…

Money raised for Africa ‘goes to civil wars’

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

– Things are seldom what they seem which means that to make intelligent choices, we must dig and be passionate and skeptical at the same time. So many of us want to believe without doing the hard work of considering what it is we believe in and why. Consider this story and all the folks who gave money with the best of intentions.

– And for those who, rightly, want to know who it is that is making these accusations, here’s a link to a Wikipedia article about Dr. Loretta Napoleoni:

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Billions of dollars raised for African famine relief by celebrities Bono and Bob Geldof have instead funded civil war across the continent, says terrorism expert Dr Loretta Napoleoni.

London-based Napoleoni, in Auckland to appear at the Writers & Readers Festival, has written two books, Terror Inc: Tracing the Money Behind Global Terrorism and Insurgent Iraq: Al-Zarqawi and the New Generation, on the economics of terrorism.

Her latest book, Rogue Economics, studies the destabilising effect of economic globalisation, focusing in part on why more than half a trillion dollars worth of aid sent to Africa since the 1960s failed to reach the intended destination – developing the nations’ economies.

That huge amount of aid, which includes money from the United Nations and donations generated by Live Aid for Ethiopia, organised by Geldof, and the Live 8 concert in 2005, organised by Bono, has instead “served as a rogue force, notably as an important form of terrorist financing” in countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Kenya. Ethiopia, for example, received $1.8 billion in foreign aid between 1982-85, including a large contribution from Live Aid; $1.6 billion of that, she points out, was spent on buying military equipment.


In the Clearing Stands a Boxer

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

– One of the Blogs I follow on a daily basis is Only in it for the Gold by Michael Tobias. He’s put up a new piece that I particularly liked and I’ve copied here in its entirety. After you’ve read it, please follow the link to the original so you can read the follow on comments which are equally interesting. Thanks, Michael.

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From “Unequal Democracy” by Larry M. Bartels (emphasis added):

American beliefs about inequality are profoundly political in their origins and implications. Well-informed conservatives and liberals differ markedly, not only in their normative assessments of increasing inequality, as one might expect, but also in their perceptions of the causes, extent, and consequences of inequality. This is not simply a matter of people with different values drawing different conclusions from a set of agreed-upon facts. Analysts of public opinion in the realm of inequality–as in many other realms–would do well to recognize that the facts themselves are very much subject to ideological dispute. For their part, political actors in the realm of inequality–as in many other realms–would do well to recognize that careful logical arguments running from factual premises to policy conclusions are unlikely to persuade people who are ideologically motivated to distort or deny the facts. While it is certainly true, as Jennifer Hoschschild has argued, that “Where You Stand Depends on What You See,” it is equally true that what you see depends in significant part on where you stand.

Or more succinctly from “The Boxer” by Paul Simon:

I have squandered my resistance
for a pocketful of mumbles,
such are promises,
all lies and jest,
still a man hears what he wants to hear
and disregards the rest.

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– To the original and its comments…

Who Will Tell the People?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

– Thomas Friedman is one of my favorites and here’s an excellent piece he’s penned for the New York Times. I highly recommend it.

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Traveling the country these past five months while writing a book, I’ve had my own opportunity to take the pulse, far from the campaign crowds. My own totally unscientific polling has left me feeling that if there is one overwhelming hunger in our country today it’s this: People want to do nation-building. They really do. But they want to do nation-building in America.

They are not only tired of nation-building in Iraq and in Afghanistan, with so little to show for it. They sense something deeper — that we’re just not that strong anymore. We’re borrowing money to shore up our banks from city-states called Dubai and Singapore. Our generals regularly tell us that Iran is subverting our efforts in Iraq, but they do nothing about it because we have no leverage — as long as our forces are pinned down in Baghdad and our economy is pinned to Middle East oil.

Our president’s latest energy initiative was to go to Saudi Arabia and beg King Abdullah to give us a little relief on gasoline prices. I guess there was some justice in that. When you, the president, after 9/11, tell the country to go shopping instead of buckling down to break our addiction to oil, it ends with you, the president, shopping the world for discount gasoline.

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents’ generation — work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means — have given way to subprime values: “You can have the American dream — a house — with no money down and no payments for two years.”


– 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, a friend of mine suggests the website :arrow: as an alternative to having to do these annoying sign ups. Check it out. Thx Bruce S. for the tip.

– Research thanks to L.A. 

Survey shows US honey bee deaths increased over last year

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A survey of bee health released Tuesday revealed a grim picture, with 36.1 percent of the nation’s commercially managed hives lost since last year.

Last year’s survey commissioned by the Apiary Inspectors of America found losses of about 32 percent.

As beekeepers travel with their hives this spring to pollinate crops around the country, it’s clear the insects are buckling under the weight of new diseases, pesticide drift and old enemies like the parasitic varroa mite, said Dennis vanEngelsdorp, president of the group.

This is the second year the association has measured colony deaths across the country. This means there aren’t enough numbers to show a trend, but clearly bees are dying at unsustainable levels and the situation is not improving, said vanEngelsdorp, also a bee expert with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

“For two years in a row, we’ve sustained a substantial loss,” he said. “That’s an astonishing number. Imagine if one out of every three cows, or one out of every three chickens, were dying. That would raise a lot of alarm.”

The survey included 327 operators who account for 19 percent of the country’s approximately 2.44 million commercially managed bee hives. The data is being prepared for submission to a journal.

About 29 percent of the deaths were due to Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease that causes adult bees to abandon their hives. Beekeepers who saw CCD in their hives were much more likely to have major losses than those who didn’t.

“What’s frightening about CCD is that it’s not predictable or understood,” vanEngelsdorp said.


Unexplained Mass Die-Off Hits German Hives

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

Bees in the German state of Baden-Württemburg are dying by the hundreds of thousands. In some places more than half of hives have perished. Government officials say the causes are unclear — but beekeepers are blaming new pesticides.

 In Germany’s bucolic Baden-Württemburg region, there is a curious silence this week. All up and down the Rhine river, farm fields usually buzzing with bees are quiet. Beginning late last week, helpless beekeepers could only watch as their hives were hit by an unprecedented die-off. Many say one of Germany’s biggest chemical companies is to blame.

In some parts of the region, hundreds of bees per hive have been dying each day. “It’s an absolute bee emergency,” Manfred Hederer, president of the German Professional Beekeeper’s Association, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “Fifty to 60 percent of the bees have died on average, and some beekeepers have lost all their hives.”

The crisis hit its peak last weekend. Beekeepers from Germany’s Baden-Württemburg reported hives full of thousands of dead bees. The worst-hit region, according to state officials, was along the upper Rhine river between the towns of Rastatt and Lorrach. The Rhine valley is one of Germany’s prime agricultural regions.

Regional officials spent the week testing bees, pollen, honey and plant materials to look for the die-off’s causes. The Julius Kühn Institute in Braunschweig, a federal research institute dealing with agricultural issues, set up a special hotline for beekeepers to send in dead bees for analysis.