Archive for March, 2009

Biofuels Boom Could Fuel Rainforest Destruction, Researcher Warns

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Farmers across the tropics might raze forests to plant biofuel crops, according to new research by Holly Gibbs, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

“If we run our cars on biofuels produced in the tropics, chances will be good that we are effectively burning rainforests in our gas tanks,” she warned.

Policies favoring biofuel crop production may inadvertently contribute to, not slow, the process of climate change, Gibbs said. Such an environmental disaster could be “just around the corner without more thoughtful energy policies that consider potential ripple effects on tropical forests,” she added.

Gibbs’ predictions are based on her new study, in which she analyzed detailed satellite images collected between 1980 and 2000. The study is the first to do such a detailed characterization of the pathways of agricultural expansion throughout the entire tropical region. Gibbs hopes that this new knowledge will contribute to making prudent decisions about future biofuel policies and subsidies.

Gibbs presented her findings in Chicago on Feb. 14, during a symposium at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The symposium was titled “Biofuels, Tropical Deforestation, and Climate Policy: Key Challenges and Opportunities.”


U.S. infrastructure crumbling

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

The nation’s roads, bridges, levees, schools, water supply and other infrastructure are in such bad shape that it would take $2.2 trillion over five years to bring them up to speed. But even that huge chunk of change would only raise their grade from a “D” average to a “B,” according to the latest “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure” released today by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

“We’ve been operating on a patch-and-pray system,” says ASCE President D. Wayne Klotz. That is, patch something and pray that it holds up—instead of providing regular improvements for aging facilities.

Like a car, he notes, if you keep skipping oil changes and ignoring the funny clanking noise, it’s going to be a lot more expensive to fix the major problems happen down the proverbial road.  In fact, the current estimate of $2.2 trillion is 70 percent more than the $1.8 trillion the ASCE estimated it would cost to bring the U.S. infrastructure up to par four years ago. And the D grade has remained the same.

“It’s the kind of report card you would have expected on the eve of the collapse of the Roman Empire,” says Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank in New York. “It’s not the kind of grade you want to bring home to Mom.”

Flynn says a major problem is that we take the infrastructure for granted, which makes it difficult to generate awareness until there’s a major event, such as the 2007 fatal bridge collapse in Minneapolis or levee failures during deadly Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“There’s no sex appeal to invest in it, so we don’t,” he says.


Disobedience of edicts has deadly consequences

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

– I’m as much a environmentalist liberal as the next fellow.  But sometimes, I think, “Enough is enough”.   The planet’s small enough as it is and we’ve got to work out how to get along with the biosphere that we’re all dependent on without destroying ourselves during the learning process. 

– We just don’t need or have time for fundamentalist idiocy like this. 

– Sorry, if that’s not PC enough.  But, we’re 10 folks in a boat built to hold six.   And I can think of a few who should go over the side now.   Sorry.

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Militants who have seized control of swaths of Pakistan’s Swat Valley have set today as a deadline for men to grow beards or face retribution.

In the latest edict issued by Taleban forces seeking to impose Islamic law on an area once celebrated as a tourist destination, men have been told to begin growing beards and to wear caps. Barbers in the Matta area, a militant stronghold, have been ordered to stop offering shaves, and have posted signs in their shops asking customers not to request them.

The Swat Valley, just five hours from Islamabad, has gradually fallen under the control of militants headed by the cleric Maulana Fazlullah. Despite claims by the Pakistani Army that they are successfully confronting the extremists, local residents say up to 80 per cent of the valley is outside Government control.

In recent weeks the militants’ tactics have become increasingly extreme. Corpses of people who have fallen foul of the Taleban have been strung up in trees and markets have been ruled off-limits to women.


Foreign investors in the U.S. economy are wavering

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

– Just the other day, I published a piece here entitled, “Wen Voices Concern Over China’s U.S. Treasuries“.   Well, here are two more stories in the same vein.   Keep listening for that big shoe to drop.

Foreigners Wary of Long-Term U.S. Securities


China Blasts U.S. Economic Policy, Expresses Doubt in Financial System

– The weather barometer is hinting that change is on the way.  Jeez, with this many articles, we’ve almost got a full set of shoes, eh?

Obama warns of US food ‘hazard’

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

President Barack Obama has said the US food safety system is a “public health hazard” and in need of an overhaul.

He sounded the warning during his weekly radio and video address, as he appointed a new head of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

New York Health Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has been named for the post.

Mr Obama cited a string of recent food safety scandals including a salmonella outbreak in peanut products this year that has been linked to nine deaths.

The president said recent underfunding and understaffing at the FDA had left the agency unable to conduct annual inspections of more than a fraction of America’s 150,000 food processing premises.

“That is a hazard to public health. It is unacceptable. And it will change under the leadership of Dr Margaret Hamburg,” Mr Obama pledged.


James Lovelock: You Ask The Questions

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

– Here’s a question and answer session with James Lovelock.  Well worth a read.

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The eminent scientist answers your questions, such as ‘Is the Earth really a living organism?’ and ‘Why do you like nuclear power?’

I have heard that the Gaia theory means that the Earth is alive. What does that mean, exactly? Roger Middleton, Chester

The Earth system (Gaia) shares many attributes with a living cell; it metabolises, it responds to changes in its environment, it can die, and it reduces its internal entropy by taking in high quantum energy as sunlight and excreting infra-red radiation to space. It does not reproduce, but something that has lived about 3 billion years hardly needs to reproduce; selection theory asserts that organisms reproduce at a rate reciprocally related to their lifespan. Gaia’s reproduction rate would therefore be expected to be less than one in three billion years.

Some scientists say that your suggestions for geoengineering sea algae will never work. Is it just pie in the sky? Guy Brewer, Nottingham

Those who claim that encouraging algal growth in the ocean will not reduce CO2 abundance in the air might be right, but they do not know for sure. Their arguments are based on calculations using theoretical models and not, as they should be in science, on observation and experiment. Evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and from ocean sediments suggests that algal growth was more abundant in the ice ages. We also know from Antarctic ice core data that the low temperatures of the ice age were closely associated with low CO2. It reached as low as 180 parts per million, and this requires powerful biological pumps. What better than those of the abundant ocean algae?


– research thanks to Robin S.

Carbon cuts ‘only give 50/50 chance of saving planet’

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

As states negotiate Kyoto’s successor, simulations show catastrophe just years away

The world’s best efforts at combating climate change are likely to offer no more than a 50-50 chance of keeping temperature rises below the threshold of disaster, according to research from the UK Met Office.

The key aim of holding the expected increase to 2C, beyond which damage to the natural world and to human society is likely to be catastrophic, is far from assured, the research suggests, even if all countries engage forthwith in a radical and enormous crash programme to slash greenhouse gas emissions – something which itself is by no means guaranteed.

The chilling forecast from the supercomputer climate model of the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research will provide a sobering wake-up call for governments around the world, who will begin formally negotiating three weeks today the new international treaty on tackling global warming, which is due to be signed in Copenhagen in December.


– research thanks to Robin S.

Doing the dead-dog

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Back on March 9th, I came down with a cold or a flu.  Just today, on the 15th, I awoke feeling half-way normal again.big-sneeze.jpg

Maybe it is because I’m getting older, I don’t know, but this was one of the worse I’ve ever had.  This past week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were like dreams from hell.

The only work I did was to sit at the computer and do stuff and I couldn’t do that for more than an hour or so before I had to go lay down again for an hour to recover some strength.

We’re talking severe congestion, sinus pressure, muscle aches, kidney aches, all previous injury sites aching, fever flashes, and dizziness when turning the head.

I have, personally, this week put the toilet paper industry back into profitable space with the amount of nose blowing I’ve done.

People are so casual about colds.   I had to make a few trips out into the world during the week.  At each place, I was as antiseptic as I could be and when ever I had to deal with someone, I told them I had a cold and that they should take precautions after we’d done our business.  Precautions like wiping down the credit card machines and/or washing their hands and etc.   Some were grateful and did so.

One lady told me that in ten years of working with the public, daily, I was the first person who’d ever warned her like this.  But, another fellow, after several minutes of talking about it, said he wasn’t worried and if he got it, he got it, and he did nothing.  Amazing.

My wife and I are careful.   We both carry hand-sanitizer and try to remember to use it after all contacts with the public, doorknobs or whatever.   We wash our hands whenever we come in from the outside.   If customers how up here that look snotty, we watch their every move and lysol the ground they walked on as they leave.

In spite of all of this, I got nailed someplace in the last two weeks.  Someone snotty touched an object that I later touched and then that material made it into my system – and I was hosed.

When one of us gets sick here, we immeditely go into what we call ‘isolation mode’.   If I’m the one who is sick (usually the case – as my wife is far more careful than I am), then I begin to sleep in the guest room, use only the upstairs bathroom, enter an exit the house through a different door that she uses.  I touch nothing in the kitchen, or, if I must, it is via paper towels that I’ve only touched on one side and the object in question is, of course, on the other side.

Every move and every object is looked at as a possible vector for the virus to get from me to her.

Usually, we’re successful and she avoids getting what I’ve got.   So far, this time, she’s symptom free (knock on wood) and I hope it stays that way.   We open for spring here on April 4th, which is about two weeks away, and we are both maxed out with things to do that MUST be done.

Moral/s of this story:

-  Don’t be casual when you have a cold or flu.  Every object you touch can be a vector via which the virus moves onto the next person and so the chain continues.  The ideal is to let the infection you have stop with you – and break the chain.

– If you are healthy, try to stay that way.  Realize that most folks ARE careless and causal about colds and flus and that infection is always around you waiting for a chance to use you as its next playground.  Carry hand sanitizer and use it.   Think about the objects you touch as you move through your day and who else might have touched them.

– Do not go into work if you are sick unless you absolutely have no choice.   If you have to be in contact with the public – warn them.   The last time my wife got sick, it was because the checkout lady at the local supermarket was working with a cold and handled all of our food items as she checked us out.   My wife raised holy-hell with the store supervisor – but the store has no policies to allow employees to stay home with pay if they are sick.   It’s cheaper for the corporate bean-counters to make them work if they want to get paid – and too bad for the unwitting public.

-Folks, we are our own worst enemies with colds and flus – wake up.

Postscript (later the same day):   It looks like, after six days in the same hours with me in close quarters, Sharon may not have escaped getting this virus in spite of our best efforts.   She says she’s feeling off and getting something in her throat.  That’s a bummer.   I really hate to see anyone have to go through this one.

US Muslim TV boss ‘beheaded wife’

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

– Well, I just don’t know how to think about this one.  A tragedy for the people involved, no doubt.   But the irony is also undeniable. 

– A man who founded a Muslim TV network in the U.S. that was aimed at countering stereotypes of Muslims has beheaded his wife – who wanted to divorce him.

– I’ll just let you read the story and think your own thoughts about it.

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The founder of a US Muslim TV network has been charged over the beheading of his wife, media reports say.

Muzzammil Hassan, 44, is accused of second degree murder of Aasiya Hassan, whose body was found last week at the TV station in New York state.

Both Mr Hassan and his wife worked at Bridges TV, a station aimed at countering stereotypes of Muslims.

Authorities said Mrs Hassan, 37, had recently filed for divorce. The couple had two children, aged four and six.

Bridges TV, a satellite-distributed news and opinion channel, was founded by Mr Hassan in 2004 and was based in a suburb in Buffalo, in upstate New York.

Mrs Hassan had filed for divorce after enduring previous incidents of domestic violence, her lawyer told the Buffalo News.

In a statement on its website, Bridges TV said it was “deeply shocked and saddened by the murder of Aasiya (Zubair) Hassan and subsequent arrest of Muzzammil Hassan”.

A family court hearing was due to address the future of the couple’s two children.

Their grandparents have travelled from Texas and Pakistan to attend the hearing, John Tregilio, a lawyer for the children, told the Buffalo News.

Mr Hassan also has two other children, aged 17 and 18, from a previous marriage, according to reports.

To the original…

Here’s another link that fill in more of this story:

Solar panel prices to fall by up to 40 per cent by year end

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

– Now, here’s some good news among all the doom and gloom.

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The long-awaited drop in prices for solar photovoltaics (PV) appears to be close at hand. Soaring demand for PV and high prices for silicon have kept PV prices up for the past several years, but had two beneficial impacts:

  • Producers ramped up polysilicon production
  • PV companies pursued designs with less silicon.

The result is that Business Green reports:

The price of solar panels could fall by as much as 40 per cent by the end of the year as huge increases in polysilicon supplies lead to a sizable fall in production costs for solar panel manufacturers.

Analysts have been predicting this price drop for a while [– I had heard this prediction at a climate solutions summit in January 2008].

If this drop does materialize, it is quite a big deal and will help keep demand on its staggering growth rate with PV becoming one of the largest job-creating industries of the century, projected to grow from a $20 billion two years ago to a $74 billion industry by 2017 (see “Sharp to boost thin film solar capacity 6-fold to 6000 MW by 2014, U.S. hits snooze button“).