Archive for March, 2010

Suncreen nanoparticles ‘might be toxic’

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Nanoparticles used to make some sunscreens transparent, making them popular with consumers, might also be toxic according to Australian research which adds to uncertainty about the safety of some sunscreens.

A study by Amanda Barnard, from the CSIRO’s materials science and engineering division, found the nanoparticles that provided the best transparency and sun protection also represented the highest for production of free radicals.

Using computer modelling, Dr Barnard analysed the properties of the man-made titanium dioxide nanoparticles found in some sunscreens, testing them in three areas: sun protection, transparency and potential for free radical production.

Studying various sizes of particles, she found it was a case of the smaller the nanoparticle the better the sun protection and transparency.

“Unfortunately the small ones also have a high surface-to-volume ratio and the surfaces are where the free radicals are produced through a photochemical, or light induced reaction,” she said.

Dr Barnard won the 2009 Malcolm McIntosh Prize for physical scientist of the year for her work on nanoparticles — tiny particles used in many products including sunscreens, cosmetics and paints.

Her latest research, published next month in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, found only particles less than 13 nanometres in size minimised free radical production while retaining other desirable properties.

The titanium dioxide nanoparticles in sunscreens range in size from three to 200 nanometres.

The results add to questions about the safety of such sunscreens. The main concern is whether the nanoparticles interact with sunlight to produce free radicals that damage tissues or DNA. “There’s a trade-off to be made here,” she said. “Currently it’s a situation of ‘is it better to protect yourself from UV rays or hold off and see what happens’. But in the future it may be ‘is it better to protect yourself from UV rays or protect ourself from something else’,” she said.


Arctic Sea Belching Tons of Methane

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Ocean permafrost an overlooked greenhouse gas source, study says

Arctic seabeds are belching massive quantities of methane, according to a new study that says ocean permafrost is a huge and largely overlooked source of the powerful greenhouse gas, which has been linked to global warming.

Previous research had found methane bubbling out of melting permafrost—frozen soil—in Arctic wetlands and lakes.

But the permafrost lining the deep, cold seas was thought to be staying frozen solid, holding in untold amounts of trapped methane.

“It’s not the case anymore,” said study leader Natalia Shakhova, a biogeochemist at the University of Fairbanks, Alaska. “The permafrost is actually failing in its ability to preserve this leakage.”

(Related: “Methane Bubbling Up From Undersea Permafrost?”)

In fact, Shakhova and colleagues estimate that roughly eight million tons of methane are leaking into the atmosphere each year from the East Siberia Sea (map), fueling concerns of accelerated global warming.

Methane Feedback Fueling Global Warming?

Shakhova’s team took detailed measurements of methane levels in the water column over the Siberian Arctic shelf during six research cruises from 2003 to 2008.

The 77,204-square-mile (2,000,000-square-kilometer) shelf is characterized by shallow seas less than 164 feet (50 meters) deep, and the permafrost layer extends throughout. (See a detailed map of the Arctic seafloor.)

The scientists found that much of the seawater above the shelf is laden with methane, which in turn is being released into the atmosphere.

Previous studies had found that current atmospheric methane levels in the Arctic are three times higher than those recorded across past climate cycles going back 400,000 years.

(Related: “Ancient ‘Snowball Earth’ Melted Fast Due to Methane.”)

This phenomenon most likely isn’t limited to the East Siberian Sea, the researchers note. If permafrost is melting in this part of the Arctic, all shallow areas along the Arctic shelf should be similarly affected.

– More…

– See also…

Oceans Turn More Acidic Than Last 800,000 Years

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

– Not my first post on this subject.   See:

– Like many of the pots coming to a slow bubble, this one just keeps slowly heating up while we blithely go on our way.   Imagine how surprised many of us are going to be when one or more of these ‘pots’ boils over.  But, so long as it all keeps happening slowly, most will ignore it all in favor of American Idol or Oprah.

– I was just talking about the possibility of sudden state-changes in one or the other of the world’s natural systems with a friend over the wekend.   We (humanity) have never experienced a major one but the geological records clearly prove that they’ve happened in the past.   And it seems quite likely that if we keep pushing the parameters of the world’s various systems, we’re going to trigger one sooner or later.  Oh, happy day.

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The question is not whether acidification is happening, but how bad it will get

SAN DIEGO—For more than 30 years, scientists have understood the link between rising carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. But it wasn’t until the middle of the last decade that they realized CO2 emissions could alter the chemistry of the world’s oceans to devastating effect.

Now they’re making up for lost time, researchers said this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said his agency is preparing to release its first ocean acidification research plan.

“It’s going to be delivered to headquarters next month,” he said. “Our plan includes coastal observations, technology development, remote sensing using satellites, an observational network with moorings to measure CO2, [and] physiological research on how various organisms respond to changes.”

And the National Academy of Sciences is also expected to weigh in. An NAS committee will release a congressionally mandated study by the end of next month that will address everything from scientific questions about how ocean acidification will affect marine life and ocean-dependent industries to recommendations for a national acidification research program.

Victoria Fabry, a visiting research scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a member of the NAS panel, said researchers can already detect and measure CO2-driven changes in ocean chemistry.

Feely, for example, led a 2007 NOAA expedition that found corrosive waters off North America’s Pacific coast at levels not expected until 2050.


Issue 50

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010



– I follow a lot of websites and Blogs on a daily basis.   They are all over the map in their points of view.  And I prefer it this way so that I know I’m getting a good cross section of things.

– Some of those I follow could be called survivalist or doomsters.  Of course, long time readers will know I’d have to have a lot of cheek to be throwing that stone, myself, since my views about the future of the world are pretty bleak.

– Regardless, I still think I have a bit of the moderate in me.   After all, I haven’t stocked up on a year’s worth of supplies, an arsenal of weapons, moved to beyond the beyond and gone off the grid <give me a few weeks, eh?>.

– The article, below, is written by a fellow who’s pretty deep into survivalism.   But, having said that, I don’t think he’s far wrong.  In this article, he’s gone over things pretty closely as to what he sees wrong and where it is all headed.  And I have to say it is well written, well thought out and well worth reading.

– Give it a look and see what the folks are thinking who are beginning to get down in the trenches.   You may find that a lot of it speaks to you.

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It’s taken me a little while to publish this 50th issue, because I have been pondering some deep questions about the future of humanity upon this planet.

At issue here is the notable accelerating environmental collapse factors, and how we have singularily failed to stop a single one of these issues.  It is now plainly evident that we cannot stop, and the following short long essay is why.

I wrote this in a couple of hours on February 11th, late at night in one sitting.  I’m going to take a break now as it’s time to let this all sink in, for you and for me. I will return to publishing… when I feel like it!

Collapse Is Built In

We need to build a new way of living; therefore we must design it from the ground up, as this present model has demonstrated itself incapable of self-change.

I see this as needing to completely unplug and to disconnect; to remove our dependencies from the system on what we require to survive; to provide for these things for ourselves as much as possible; and to share them amongst ourselves completely outside of the present system of control and distribution and material exploitation.

Unplugging is also the fastest non-violent way to bring down the machine.  It is this machine itself, fueled by us, that is headed towards self-destruction.

The very existence of the First World existence (living standards and demands) encourages the rest of the world to seek after the same things as we do. This in turn will always lead to increasing levels of consumption throughout the world.

I have come to understand that the notion that we will voluntarily restrict ourselves and our levels of consumption is provably false, this we will never do.  We may in fact be completely incapable of doing this as a society (which I do think is true now).  We even experience extreme difficulty in doing this on an individual level.  This alone demonstrates the extremity of our present situation.

Therefore, multiply our level of consumption and living standards by the population of the earth.  7 billion people are seeking to “come up” to the first world expectations, or some higher measure then what they already have (including us in the First World).  Many could never acheive this as their environments have already been entirely denuded and stripped of resources.  But the point is, this is simply not possible for all of humanity and has been widely documented. It is completely and factually unachievable.  We do not produce enough food, energy or material goods for this to happen.  There is not enough resources left either.

But these living / lifestyle standards for the entire population is also highly undesirable too, as the Earth itself can only truly sustain one lifestyle above all else, and this is the hunter / gatherer lifestyle, of small groups of people living and using local resources.  Alll other lifestyles require increasing levels of consumption beyond true sustainability and eventually results in systematic breakdown of the Earth’s natural systems as population grows.

It was the abundance of energy the broke the imbalance of human population and the natural equilibrium of living.  Once this was broken, it was never regained as energy sources were continually exploited to greater and greater levels, fueling human population growth of the planet, while destroying and consuming the populations of everything else.  Extensive species extinctions have always followed after growing human populations.  It was only where this did not happen did human populations remain low enough that sustainable living still existed, but even these areas eventually were “discovered” and then consumed, and have now experienced the same and often, worse results.

Everywhere this natural threshold was exceeded, resulted in environmental collapse.

Here in the First World, it has been exceeded by ten thousand percent.  This is leading to a breakdown of natural systems the world over, as the First World now imports the majority of its consumption and materialism.  This is also now completely irreversible, due to non-sustainable population levels now in existence world wide.  Nothing can now stop this decline.  Nor can we simply “stop” our consumption as has been often suggested (including by me). We neither have the will to do so, or even the means anymore.

In America and many other places in the world today (especially the First World) it is actually illegal to do this, as we are forced into participation into higher material standards and consumption.  An important point, but not my main one.  This just demonstrates how we have made it more impossible.

We are dealing with a form of Jevon’s Paradox in every human endeavor.  Every efficiency and “gain” that we develop in technology or energy usage, allegedly to help us control our consumption, simply leads us to even more consumption.  This in turn continues to fuel higher population levels.

The only solution to this is a total energy collapse, with horrific results for humanity.  If I may ignore that for huge topic for now, all other human-devised solutions are self-defeating and completely unrealistic because they do not actually gain both efficiency and reductions as alleged.  We always find ways to take advantage of these things and increase our numbers, instead of decrease our actualy consumption.

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Empires on the Edge of Chaos

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

– an excellent piece of thoughtful writing that should give anyone pause who thinks that America and its empire will endure for many years to come.

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Complexity and Collapse

By Niall Ferguson

Summary: – Imperial collapse may come much more suddenly than many historians imagine. A combination of fiscal deficits and military overstretch suggests that the United States may be the next empire on the precipice.

There is no better illustration of the life cycle of a great power than The Course of Empire, a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole that hang in the New-York Historical Society. Cole was a founder of the Hudson River School and one of the pioneers of nineteenth-century American landscape painting; in The Course of Empire, he beautifully captured a theory of imperial rise and fall to which most people remain in thrall to this day.

Each of the five imagined scenes depicts the mouth of a great river beneath a rocky outcrop. In the first, The Savage State, a lush wilderness is populated by a handful of hunter-gatherers eking out a primitive existence at the break of a stormy dawn. The second picture, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, is of an agrarian idyll: the inhabitants have cleared the trees, planted fields, and built an elegant Greek temple. The third and largest of the paintings is The Consummation of Empire. Now, the landscape is covered by a magnificent marble entrepôt, and the contented farmer-philosophers of the previous tableau have been replaced by a throng of opulently clad merchants, proconsuls, and citizen-consumers. It is midday in the life cycle. Then comes Destruction. The city is ablaze, its citizens fleeing an invading horde that rapes and pillages beneath a brooding evening sky. Finally, the moon rises over the fifth painting, Desolation. There is not a living soul to be seen, only a few decaying columns and colonnades overgrown by briars and ivy.
Conceived in the mid-1830s, Cole’s great pentaptych has a clear message: all empires, no matter how magnificent, are condemned to decline and fall. The implicit suggestion was that the young American republic of Cole’s age would be better served by sticking to its bucolic first principles and resisting the imperial temptations of commerce, conquest, and colonization.

For centuries, historians, political theorists, anthropologists, and the public at large have tended to think about empires in such cyclical and gradual terms. “The best instituted governments,” the British political philosopher Henry St. John, First Viscount Bolingbroke, wrote in 1738, “carry in them the seeds of their destruction: and, though they grow and improve for a time, they will soon tend visibly to their dissolution. Every hour they live is an hour the less that they have to live.”
Idealists and materialists alike have shared that assumption. In his book Scienza nuova, the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico describes all civilizations as passing through three phases: the divine, the heroic, and the human, finally dissolving into what Vico called “the barbarism of reflection.” For Hegel and Marx, it was the dialectic that gave history its unmistakable beat. History was seasonal for Oswald Spengler, the German historian, who wrote in his 1918-22 book, The Decline of the West, that the nineteenth century had been “the winter of the West, the victory of materialism and skepticism, of socialism, parliamentarianism, and money.” The British historian Arnold Toynbee’s universal theory of civilization proposed a cycle of challenge, response, and suicide. Each of these models is different, but all share the idea that history has rhythm.

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– Research thanks, again, to Tony H.

Govt must get serious about peak oil

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

– It’s the same everywhere.  This is from a New Zealand newspaper.

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John de Bueger looks at the implications of “peak oil” and suggests New Zealand should be getting serious about it.

A predictable howl erupted when it was announced that some parts of the conservation estate might be opened-up to small-scale mineral extraction.

This contrasted markedly with the barely audible mutterings from the same quarter when Gerry Brownlee announced late last year that offshore oil exploitation from our continental shelf held the key to future prosperity, with likely annual exports of tens of billions of dollars.

Given that the Zealandia plate on which these islands float is about one-third the size of Australia, it follows that the potential of offshore oil and minerals dwarfs any onshore prospects, even if it was Otago placer gold that kick-started this country’s economic development.

My initial suspicion was that thoughts of mining in national parks was a just a decoy tactic to redirect eyes onshore while the foreshore and seabed issue was being thrashed out, but perhaps this is being a little too Machiavellian.

It is more likely that our Minister of Energy has little or no idea of the real worth of untapped oil reserves (anywhere), given the coming realities of peak oil.

When he was asked some questions on this matter at an energy conference late last year, he gave the impression that even if he had heard of the concept, he certainly hadn’t mastered its implications.

In this respect Gerry is exhibiting the archetypal behavioural response of the caveman – a condition I hasten to add that he shares with 95% of the human race, and 100% of politicians.

That is a total inability to rationally weigh the seriousness of future risks against pressing short-term expediency.

– More…

– Research thanks to Tony H.