Category "2. In the News"
December 8, 2005
Global Climate Change Will Cause an Increase in Disease Outbreaks
Global climate change is a highly discussed, debated, and analyzed topic. There are many components that make up this debate ranging from why it is occurring to how we are going to slow its effects. A very important area of study within the topic of global climate change is the effects that it will have on the ecosystems of the world.
One of the most recent revelations found, from a study put out by Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment, reinsurance company Swiss Re, and the United Nations Development Program, is that the warmer climates and increased/decreased amounts of precipitation, due to global climate change, will be greatly influencing the number of disease outbreaks among humans. Hari Pant, assistant professor of environmental, geographic, and geological sciences at Lehman College of the City University of New York says that, "[But] overall, the effect on human health will be bad because of the spread of opportunistic organisms that take advantage of unstable environments." The three diseases thought to increase the most are Malaria, West Nile, and Lyme disease.
Malaria is predicted to have an increased outbreak in the areas where the climate will be getting predominately warmer. The warming of these specific areas will cause the breeding season to be longer and the reproduction and biting rates of these insects to increase. The warmer temperatures also cause the parasite that is Malaria to reach full maturity inside the mosquito more quickly then it would in cooler temperatures. An increase in precipitation causes more breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and a decrease in precipitation causes people to migrate and therefore transmit the disease around the country, continent, or world.
West Nile virus is said to be more prevalent with the onset of global climate change because the mosquito that carries this virus thrives in droughts. This means that some areas of the world that usually do not see this disease because of their tendency to be a relatively moist area, could start to see a rise in the number of outbreaks because global climate change could impact these areas, making them more dry. Another negative effect of drought in the areas where these diseases could appear is that drought decreases the amount of predators that these mosquitoes have, creating an imbalance in the local food chain.
Lyme disease will also take advantage of rising temperatures. Lyme disease is prominently carried by deer ticks. These ticks will move north when the temperatures start to get warmer, causing the area in which the disease inhabits to more than double.
This problem can be solved in a number of different ways. One could be to find solid vaccines for all of these diseases and give them to everyone susceptible. This is not a very logical solution, however. It would be very costly and would also have the potential of causing more harm to some then it would cause good. The main solution that I think the world should put to action is simply to work on reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We need to find alternate forms of sustainable energy that will give off less greenhouse gases and therefore slow down global warming so that the consequences of the changes it will cause can be better prepared for and possibly curbed to reduce the impact by a margin.
This information comes from an article in National Geographic Magazine by Nicholas Bakalar called â€œWarming Will Lead to Major Disease Outbreaks, Experts Warnâ€? written on December 2, 2005. This magazine focuses entirely on nature and advocates its preservation. It is good that they are supporting articles that generate awareness about the looming effects of human-caused turmoil in the environment not only in the US but on a world-scale. This magazine doesnâ€™t sugar-coat the reality of situations and I think that is exactly what people need to hear: an intelligent sounding, reality bearing, informative analysis of the problems that the world is facing.
Category "2. In the News"
U.S. says â€œNo Thanksâ€? to Global Climate Talks
The Bush administration has chosen not to enter the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The goal of the conference is to form an international pact which is hoped will reduce green house emissions drastically and help prevent the predicted chaos that can come from global warming. More than 180 countries are involved in the conference and the Bush administration is receiving some heavy flak from foreign nations.
The Bush administration has reasons for their decision. One, they believe that there is no â€œone size fitsâ€? all solution to the problem. They believe that by independently investing large sums of money into cleaner technology, they are doing their part. Another reason is that the cost of reducing emissions under an international pact could be severely detrimental to the U.S. economy.
There is no doubt that this is a very tricky situation. Global warming is a serious concern, and must be confronted. However, no matter how severe the problem is there are other factors that must be considered, first and foremost the economy. The U.S.â€™s economy is fragile enough as it is. With so much money going into the Iraq war, I find it understandable that the Bush administration would be weary of committing to such a potentially costly agreement. It is their job to think of here and now as well as the future. The counter argument to this is obvious. The Earth does not belong only to America. In fact, we share it with approximately 6,181,417,603 (www.geohive.com) other people. We are also the worldâ€™s leading green house gas emitter, coming in at 21% (Year 2000) of worldwide emissions. It is understandable that other countries tend to get angry when we refuse to participate in these talks, especially since we are the #1 culprit.
This is a problem that is not going to go away. In fact, if global warming continues as many have predicted, we are going to be hearing more and more about this familiar subject. Unfortunately it is also one of the more difficult problems people will have to face. Where does one find a balance between what is good for the nation and what is good for everyone? Is the risk of putting our economy in danger worth it? I personally think it is. I also donâ€™t want the nation to go into a severe recession, much less a depression. I also enjoy paying taxes as much as the next person. In the end, I try to keep one thing in mind. What kind of a world do I want to leave for my children, my childrenâ€™s children, and so on and so forth? I know it is clichÃ©d, and I know it is sappy. I donâ€™t care, it is relevant. Unfortunately it is a never ending circle of difficult decisions. Do I want to leave my children with a nation that is economically strong and secure, or a country that is not so great but a planet that is healthier? Itâ€™s times like these I wish I could see into the future. What will really happen if we donâ€™t do enough to ebb global warming? That is a question I wish I could see with my own two eyes. Sooner or later we will have the answer. Maybe we will do what is right, and maybe we wonâ€™t. One can only hope.
Category "2. In the News"
December 7, 2005
Now stepping up to the plate...New York
In an article in the New York Times, anounced that New York is now adopting similar measures to that of California to cut car emissions. This announcement means that New York will now require all automobiles to be more fuel efficient and emit less greenhouse gasses. The automotive industry however is not taking these new laws sitting down and they are filing law suits against both California and New York and any other state that would follow suit. The auto industry argues that it will hurt sales, inhibit the availability of SUV's, vans, and other high performance engines, it will also cause the prices of automobiles to rise.
In another article that I read in the Star Tribunal that compared Japanese car companies to American car companies. This article mainly focused on the fact that the Japanese companies focused and invested in the future, whereas American companies played on the whims of the market and mass producing SUVs and big trucks. In fact American companies laughed at the fact that the Japanese were underselling their hybrids, a technology that nobody thought would make it off the ground. And now the market has switched to favoring better gas mileage, and more hybrids which Japanese have cornered. American companies are losing out because of their lack of forsight.
The point is that these new laws being instated by New York and California may not be so detrimental to the American Auto industry as they may claim. They just need to invest in the future and the future is alternative fueled cars, and hybrids. So instead of wasting so much time, energy, resources, and money on fighting these laws American auto industries should take this as a sign to invest in the future.
Category "2. In the News"
The cost of gold
I think anyone would choose to own a ring made of gold over a ring of steel. It is just well known that gold is valuable and is priced to reflect its higher value. Though they understand the increased value they do not understand why gold is so cotly. In class we dicussed how massive the amounts of waste are formed through the extraction of gold. It amazed me how much work went into retrieving and refining gold, and the lecture helped me respect and value it more. What I did not learn from class is what the cost of gold fully encompasses. Through an article in the Minnesota Daily entitled, "Film Triggers discussion over Choropampa Case," by Emma Carew, I was made aware of a very controversial issue facing the United States and Peru concerning gold. The problem lies within an accident that spilled over 150 kilograms of mercury, a byproduct of gold mining, near a village in Peru. The spill caused more than 300 people in the area to contract mercury poisoning. The inhabitants of the vilage are filing a lawsuit in the United States demanding retribution for the damages. This type of lawsuit has occured before but has never been successful. Brad Karkkainen, a professor of environmental law, said that if the case is won it will be the "first time foreign plaintiffs have been able to hold a U.S. based corporation responsible in U.S. courts for environmental harm." Not only does the mercury spill affect the people in the area, it also is detrimental to the environment. A government published fact sheet regarding mercury stated that mercury is, " Concentrations of Mercury in fish and wildlife are a risk to wildlife," and also explained how the accumulation of mercury thorugh the food chain results in many environmental problems. (1) The spill of mercury degraded the land by polluting it and harmed the people, so someone needs to bear the cost of the problem.This event raises an important issue, is gold worth the cost both economically, environmentally, and socially, and also who should pay for these added problems? I thought those questions corresponded well with our recent lecture on environmental problems and the question over whether to internalize the costs of those problems. Our pollution due to the extraction of gold harms the human needs of those who live in the area, so I think we should bear the cost of the results. An alternative view beleives that the country in which the problem occured should bear the burden of the results. Many countried in which we mine are not economically able to bear the cost of cleaning up pollution problems. The developing countries rely heavily on our mining and other natural resources for their economy, and thus have an increased dependance on us. We should not expect them to pay for the problems we induce in their country. I think the United States needs to pay for the mercury spill clean up and also for the medical problems it created for the local people. It is important to try and attribute to the reputability of our country and stand behind good business practices including admitting when we have created a problem and finding a way to fix it.
1. United States. Geological Survey. Mercury in the Environment. October, 2000. 07 Dec. 2005. http://www.usgs.gov/themes/factsheet/146-00/
Category "2. In the News"
Whose Responsibility is Clean Water?
â€œChemical spill in China poses potential threat to rare species living downriverâ€? â€“ 12/6 article in the Star Tribune
Who owns water? Who is responsible for cleaning up chemical spills in water? What happens if the polluted water is carried to another country? All these questions are coming into play after a chemical spill in China.
After an explosion at a chemical factory in China, a toxic benzene slick is headed down the Amur River towards Russia, says a 12/6 article in the Star Tribune (Associated Press). According to the Associated Press article, a river basin in the path of the spill is home to many animals: leopards, bears, musk deer, and numerous species of fish, as well as the species experts are most worried about: the Siberian tiger, one of the most endangered animals on the planet. Many of these rare cats live in the Wild Animals Rehabilitation Center located at the Sikhote-Alin Nature Monument in far eastern Russia. Though the tigers probably wonâ€™t be directly affected by the spill unless they drink from the river, they will probably be indirectly affected if they consume birds that have eaten fish from the Amur River, which is likely (Associated Press).
Many important and controversial issues play a role in this incident. Because the spill will not stay in one place in China and affect the people there, the Chinese are probably not as concerned about it as they would be had the spill stayed. The Russians did not cause the spill, but are now left with cleaning it up if China refuses to do so. Whose job is it to clean up a spill which happened in one country but traveled to another?
In my opinion, the spill should ideally be cleaned up by the Chinese. After all, it was caused by a factory located in China, and though it will probably not affect the Chinese people in a large way, it is therefore their responsibility. This sort of issue is incredibly controversial, and it is very easy to simply pin the blame and then not do anything. If we want a clean planet for future generations, I think that we need to establish more solid international laws and treaties surrounding environmental issues. If we develop an â€œeveryone for their selvesâ€? type of policy, we wonâ€™t get very far when faced with dire environmental issues.
Category "2. In the News"
December 6, 2005
Is Hydropower the Answer?
Recently in our environmental science class we discussed alternative energy sources to fossil fuels such as solar power, wind energy, and hydropower. I thought I would expand on hydropower and the benefits and drawbacks in a real life scenario: The Three Gorges Dam in China. First off, the idea to build this dam over the Yangtze River was first established in 1919, but was not actually considered until around 1954. The Three Gorges Dam construction is a very controversial subject and affects many in China.
Hydropower is a very clean source of renewable energy, and without further investigation looks like a savor to our current environmental problems with the depletion of nonrenewable energy sources. But hydropower does have its drawbacks like other alternative options. There are many hazards and external costs with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. The project itself costs about 25-75 billion dollars to construct (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Gorges_Dam). This price range doesnâ€™t include the external costs such as environmental, cultural, and safety hazards linked to the construction.
Building this dam threatens already existent biodiversities such as the Chinese River Dolphin and varieties fish populations. The dam destroys their habitats and â€œdivides their populationsâ€?, causing migration and mating cycles to be disrupted. Already endangered species will be hurt by this large change in living conditions.
Another problem associated with the three gorges dam is the cultural disruption. There are 1,300 archeological sites dating back to 10,000 BC that will be lost due to the dam, not to mention the possible artifacts in these areas. (http//www.personal.psu.edu/users/k/l/klc241/impacts of hydroelectricity/html)
Much of the land that will be flooded is land that has been cultivated by the same families for thousands of generations. Flooding the land disturbs family history, hard labor, and pride.
One of the largest concerns for building the dam is the relocation of people living in the construction area. Fourteen million people are affected by the building of this dam and it is proposed that 1 to 2 million people will need to move. (http//www.personal.psu.edu/users/k/l/klc241/impacts of hydroelectricity/html). Many of these people forced to relocate their homes are farmers, and they are unskilled at jobs offered in the city.
Of course there are safety hazards associated with building a large dam, such as breaks and cracks leading to flooding and construction job risks.
Back to the environmental hazards we learned about in class, dams degrade water by large build-ups of silt, increase water salinity, and disturb organisms found in the water.
These hazards got me thinking about internal externalities associated with the building of this damn. The project is already VERY expensive, but what about all the other costs associated with pollution, life style changes, and possible endangerment of species.
Although I do feel alternative energy sources are important to explore and experiment with, I feel the external costs associated with the building of this dam are too high to manage. Just because there is an alternative to fossil fuel power doesnâ€™t always make it a better option.
Category "2. In the News"
December 4, 2005
In Canada, a new source of fueling your car is being produced, a fuel which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is called biodiesel. This fuel can be made out of a variety of different things. One company is producing this biodiesel from the remains of farm animals like the bones and other parts of cows, chickens, and pigs that are not consumed otherwise. This waste comes from a rendering plant and then is turned into an odorless clear yellow fuel. It is also being made by recycling oil from fast food restaurants such as the oil from deep fryers. According to this article, biodiesel emits little smog and practically no heat-trapping gases, especially when compared to the amount produced by conventional gasoline and diesel fuel. The main Canadian company currently producing this fuel is Rothsay which is a unit of Maple Leaf Foods, Inc. If this plant works at full capacity, it has the potential to produce 35 million liters or about 9 million gallons of biodiesel a year. If you look at how much greenhouse gases this would emit in comparison to regular gasoline and diesel fuel, it would be like taking 22,000 cars off the road. Biodiesel can also be produced from crops. The first diesel engines were even designed to run on peanut oil. These engines were produced in Germany, where one of the other three plants producing biodiesel is located, the other is in Kentucky.
The idea of biodiesel seems like it will have many benefits. It is a way to reuse animal waste. Why not use it to make fuel? We would not really do much with it otherwise and it is something that we have a steady supply to. Biodiesel can help to get rid of our dependence on oil and is a practical way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, vehicles that use biodiesel often get tax breaks from the government. With oil prices the way they are (at about $55 a barrel), biodiesel has a competitive price. As long as oil prices remain high, we should try this alternative.
Category "2. In the News"
Palm Oil Tree Plantations vs. the Orang-utans
Environmental groups have been expressing their concern regarding the rainforests and orang-utans of Sarawak, Malaysia. The issue was reported in an article by Ben Sutherland from the BBC World Service News titled â€œMalaysia hits out at palm oil â€˜smearsâ€™â€? (news.bbc.co.uk). Chief Minister of Sarawak, Pehin Sri HajI Abdul Tai Mahmud is facing opposition from environmental groups such as â€œFriends of the Earthâ€? who are against palm oil tree plantations being planted. The concern is that planting the trees is destroying the habitat of the orang-utans of the area. Even though ten percent of the land is designated to protecting the rainforests, only 2,000 of these animals are living in the state. However, the article does not mention if this makes the species endangered or threatened. According to a case study by Nokia Global, â€œthe orang-utan is among the most endangered Malaysian wildlife speciesâ€? (http://www.nokia.com/link?cid=EDITORIAL_945).
The timber industry fells nine to ten million cubic meters of logs each year, and this is also a complaint made by environmental activists. On the other hand, the Malaysian government claims that the plantations of palm oil trees are not destroying rain forests. Instead, they are built on previously cleared areas. One needs to watch out for the journalists who are looking for any potential environmental issue to blow out of proportion. The harm to orang-utans, for instance, was based on a study carried out before the palm oil trees were planted. This makes their study based on other factors that could be unrelated to the plantations. Also, the media coverage on the issue was written by those who had never even been to the state of Sarawak, Malaysia. However, the article does not mention that the United Kingdom is buying huge amounts of palm oil from Malaysia. Therefore, the article could be biast to supporting the growth of the trees and diminishing the environmental authenticity of the issue. The only safe conclusion to be made from this article is that plantations of palm oil trees are being planted legally because they are not in the regions of protected rainforests. However, one cannot ignore the fact that orang-utans are severally endangered in Malyasia. What is this contributed to? More research would be required to accurately identify their disappearance.
Category "2. In the News"
December 3, 2005
Abu Dhabi and the Reuse of Wastewater
As Abu Dhabi, the capitol of the United Arab Emirates continues to experience increasing rates of suburbanization, the demand for freshwater increases. The problem is most of this area is a desert. The whole Arabian Desert does not have a single river flowing through it. This increased demand and the increasing cost of desalination plants have lead to a search for a cheaper source of fresh water. A conference was recently held in Abu Dhabi with experts from the world's driest countries to discuss the potential use of wastewater from sewage plants. Since the population is increasing and city water is free, this area has the highest per capita water consumption in the world as "water is lavished on golf courses, gardens and fountains, even as groundwater in overtaxed aquifers grows salty and unusable" ( Jim Krane, associated press). Currently this area gets 60% of its water from desalination and only 1% from recycled wastewater, which is only used for farming and landscaping. Singapore has recently opened a plant which converts wastewater to drinking water, which they call NEWater, proving that this is a feasible possibility. Also, Kuwait has opened the world's largest reverse osmosis plant, which filtrates water to higher standards than those governing drinking water in the US, but this water is only used for irrigation. The Middle East is in dire need of water. It contains 5% of the global population, but has only 1% of the world's accessible fresh water. However, just because we have the technology does not mean we should implement its use. This region, like many around the world, has been affected by suburbanization. They have neglected their water crises by continuing to have free water for city use, and by continuing to move further into a dessert, which only increases consumption rates. By building plants to increase freshwater without addressing the issues of why increased water is needed, its excessive usage is only being encouraged. Restrictions need to be implemented. This area was not meant to have large populations living on it, especially with golf courses and gardens. While something needs to be done with wastewater, plants converting it to fresh water will probably require large amounts of energy and materials causing possible environmental problems. Increasing technology allows people to live in places previously thought impossible, but personally, I do not think this is a good thing. The entire world is facing a water crisis, and one of the predominant reasons for this is the exponentially increasing population. Instead of thinking of ways to create more fresh water, we should be concentrating first on how to lower the demand for water, whether that be by conservation movements and education of water use or by trying to educate on population growth. Freshwater is essential and is declining rapidly throughout the world. If something isn't done to control water usage worldwide, the entire world will be facing a major crises.
Category "2. In the News"
December 2, 2005
Viagra and Endangered Species....?
I found an interesting article, a bit humorous, about how Viagra is actually helping to save endangered species. It is suggested that traditional Chinese-medicine users are switching from traditional medicines based on animal products to the western pill, Viagra. Scientists say this could be having a knock-on effect on the welfare of those animals. In 2002, William von Hippel, a psychologist from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia reported that the trade in both seal penises and reindeer velvet had gone down.
While I believe that Western Medicine is good, I donâ€™t believe that we should take this incidence of Viagra decreasing the number killed of some endangered species as a means to be able to say westernization is good for endangered species. In the Amazon Rainforest westernization is the cause of loss of culture for the native people (with that goes the Shamanâ€™s knowledge of traditional medicines only transferred from generation to generation orally) and loss of biodiversity due to the illegal pet trade, black market, and habitat loss.
I think this article should actually conclude that it is important to teach people about how their actions effect the environmentâ€¦.and not that western medicine will save endangered species. That is very misleading. In places where species are valuable to people does always mean people will over-exhaust them anyways, and when we can lean to use them in a sustainable way we will actually be protecting the environment they live in, because we place value on it. It was also mentioned that Viagra used to cure erectile dysfunction was the only western medicine shown to reduce the deaths of any endangered species in China. Other conditions such as arthritis, indigestion and gout, traditional remedies are still favored (Hippel 2005).
Category "2. In the News"
November 29, 2005
China has a plan, but is it good enough?
With a city of nearly 14 million people (866 people/square kilometer), there is bound to be a great problem with pollution. The 2008 Summer Olympics will be held in Beijing, but with air pollution as high as it is it would be an extremely unhealthy atmosphere for the athletes as well as bystanders. China has put together the "Beijing Olympic Air Quality Action Plan" which includes: "expanded natural gas use, energy efficiency, and 'green' transport (cleaner fuel for taxis and expanded public transport)." Beijing is looking to reduce carbon dioxide, a common greenhouse gas, by 22% in 2010. They are also hoping to reduce health impairing particulates by 40% each year. The only problem I see with this is the way the reductions are going to be made and the amount of time it will be done in. Changing from coal-fired to natural gas powered rural residential areas isn't feasible. Energy efficiency is looking to be changed by installing only energy efficient lighting and air conditioning systems, but what about the ones that are already installed? There are still so many out there. I think the step towards a cleaner, healthier air is excellent, but results shouldn't be expected so rapidly. Things like reduction in air pollution take time.
Category "2. In the News"
November 28, 2005
US exception from Montreal Protocol
The article, â€œUS wins exemption from pesticide ban,â€? discusses the Montreal Protocolâ€™s ban of methyl bromide in all but necessary uses. Methyl bromide is a chemical used in agriculture to ensure â€œabundant, pest-free and affordable produce.â€? However, this chemical depletes the ozone layer and can cause neurological damage and health problems. Workers who â€œinhale enough of the chemical can suffer convulsions, coma and neuromuscular and cognitive problems. In rare cases, they can die.â€?
The US participates in the treaty, but the Bush administration has convinced other treaty signatories that US farmers need this chemical. Although farmers have tried other products, none compare to methyl bromide. The administration is now attempting to extend treaty exemptions through 2008 to cushion economic impacts of discontinuing use of this chemical.
This article bothers me for two reasons. First, this article shows another example of big corporations bending the rules. While a sudden halt in the use of methyl bromide may hurt farmers economically by producing lower yields, to me, a treaty is a treaty. Exemptions eventually need to lead to accordance with the treaty, not more attempts to extend the exemptions. If all environmental treaties allowed for extended exemptions, eventually no countries would feel obligated to honor these agreements.
The second issue that concerns me is that the article does not address the effects of ingesting products sprayed by methyl bromide. If inhaling a small amount of this chemical can cause headaches or vomiting, what are the effects of consuming small amount of the chemical over many years? Eventually chemicals like these build up in our bodies (bioaccumulation) and affect us in some way.
This is of special concern with strawberries since they are difficult to wash. Furthermore, even if washed, chemicals can easily set into this fruit through its skin or through the water strawberries soak from the ground as they grow.
Altogether, while it may hurt producers, it is in the best interest of consumers, workers, and the integrity of the US in the Montreal Protocol that the US follow through with treaty regulations and discontinue use of methyl bromide.
â€œUS wins exemption from pesticide ban.â€? 28 November 2005. http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/science/11/28/pesticide.politics.ap/index.html
Category "2. In the News"
November 10, 2005
Experimentation on Mice Initiates a Breakthrough in Medicine for Learning Disabilities
After reading the daily online news on November 8th, I found an article that truly sparked my interest. Along with interesting (and cute) pictures of mice, the article proposes an interesting scientific breakthrough in medicine. The article, found on http://www.nature.com/news/2005/051107/full/051107-4.html, investigates the connection between statins and their effect on aiding learning disabilities. Statins are classified as prescribed drugs that lower cholesterol and, according to the article, may have the ability to "reverse a learning disorder known as neurofibromatosis.
Neurofibromatosis affects about 1 in 4000 children and may cause tumors, coordination problems and learning disabilities. The disorder is caused by the mutation of a single gene. The gene, if functioning correctly, would produce neurofibromin which keeps another protein, called Ras, under control. However, when the disorder occurs, the gene does not produce enough neurofibromin, allowing the active Ras to invade the brain creating "abnormal nerve cell responses". Steven Kushner, a medical student at UCLA discovered the connection between statins and learning disabilities and studied the results with a group of analysts.
According to governmental study, mice that are genetically engineered to have neurofibromatosis have the same defect as humans with the disease. Mice and humans alike have a hard time focusing and learn at a slower rate than normal mammals. However, once Kushner and his colleagues dosed the mice with statins, they were able to pay attention 30% more than those without the statins. They also learned at a 4 second average faster rate. These results were found after multiple tests on the mice.
With these positive results, critics may wonder what the negative side effects are to using statins, but currently, there are none! Humans have taken tablets for high cholesterol for almost two decades with no toxic side effects. ("These drugs are sustainable!" according to Kushner and his colleagues). With this medical knowledge at hand, it seems impossible to ignore the positive effects statins could have in reducing learning disabilities, coordination problems, and tumors in people fighting neurofibromatosis. I am very excited to see the result that statins could have in reducing these learning disabilities. I have volunteered with both children and adults with learning disabilities similar to neurofibromatosis, so the effect that statins may have in fighting (or possibly eliminating) the disease is extremely interesting and necessary to those involved with the defect.
*This article brought up a few questions that I'm not quite sure there are correct answers to.
1. Is testing on mice truly beneficial?
2. Is in wrong to genetically engineer mice with defects in order to study them?
3. What effects do statins have on other disabilities? And how can they aid in eliminating the severity of other defects?
Category "2. In the News"
November 9, 2005
Sonar Is Killing Whales
37 whales were found dead located in the waters off the coast of North Carolina's Outer Banks. The interesting thing about these findings is that the killer of these whales was found to be the Navy. Apperantly the Navy uses sonar to detect where enemy ships may be. Unfortunately for the whales this sonar can be lethal. Sonar evidently causes so much noise pollution in thousands of square miles of ocean that it disrupts and sometimes kills the aquatic creatures. Environmentalist are sueing the Navy saying that the whales don't need to die especially in practise situations such as this. The environmentalists say that they would rather the Navy use less harmfull passive sonar. They can do this by listening for sounds made by the whales or other animals themselves to try and locate the animals before using mid-frequency sonar that can cause them harm. The environmentalists would also like for the Navy to stay away form areas where whales are known to migrate and raise the young. I understand that people are concerned with the killing of these whales, but why is a lawsuit neccessary? I wonder who gets the money. I don't think the whales will be asking for any payments for the deaths of family. I guess my point would be that the Navy should take these percautions as suggested to them (especially when they are just practising proceedures) but suing them doesn't really help the whales. So I think the Navy should be more cautious in the future so the whales don't have to die for silly practice routines for detecting enemies.
Category "2. In the News"
Rewriting the Endangered Species Act
I recently read a Chicago Tribune article which summarized the debate over the steps Congress is taking to rewrite the Endangered Species Act of 1972. The conflict is between developers, property rights advocates and conservationists. The House has passed a bill to make significant changes to the Act. According to the article, the bill would require “that the government pay developers if the Act prevents them from building, and it would eliminate the government’s ability to designate a creature’s “critical habitat” where building is forbidden.” Environmentalists are arguing that requirements such as this would make the Act worthless, because the way to protect endangered species is to protect their habitat. Developers assert that the Act has not been as effective as people often think. They cite that the Act hurts business while only 1 percent of the animals on the list have been deemed as recovered. Another change in the bill would require both commercial and scientific data to be used when deciding whether or not an area can be developed. Even if the House Bill does not fully pass in the Senate, Republicans Senator James Inhofe and Representative Richard Pombo who sponsored the bill would have the power to appoint the conference committee that decides the final details of the bill. According the article, Pombo is looking to sell 15 national parks to developers and is urging the drilling for oil in the Artic Wildlife National Refuge in Alaska. I think that it is ridiculous that politicians such as Pombo are in the position to so strongly influence legislation as important as the Endangered Species Act when it is so obvious how their motivations are for their own benefits. Pombo is a former rancher and a longtime property rights advocate according to the article. I believe Pombo’s strong bias does not allow him to have the perspective to find the right balance between both sides of the argument. I agree with some aspects of the developers arguments. The Endangered Species Act may not be as effective as it potentially could, and may enforce unnecessary restrictions on developers and property owners. With recent scientific discoveries and theories, I think the Act should be reworked so that the focus is on protecting ecosystems and habitats in general, not a specific species. However, after recognizing this fault of the Act, it should not be changed so that “the (Interior) department would limited to 180 days to make a decision; after that, developers would receive permission to build by default”. Also, the suggestion that 15 national parks should be sold to developers is a scary concept. Politicians are being driven by profit and ignoring the obvious environmental impacts this would have. In conclusion, I agree that the Endangered Species Act should go under revision. It is over 30 years old, and methods of conservation have since changed. However, the bill should be focused on more efficient ways of protecting the environment, not ignoring it.
To Read the Article:
Category "2. In the News"
In the most recent issue of Minnesota Environment, that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency puts out, the topic was quite concurrent to our studies in that is was all about recycling and waste management.
I was very proud to learn where Minnesota stood in the recycing realm. We have one of the highest rates of recylcing in the country. This is largely do to the act that was passed in 1980 citing a waste hierarchy where the base was creating less waste followed by recycling, composting, waste to energy recovery, landfill- methane to energy and finally at the top as a last resort: landfill - no methane to energy.
We haven't been perfect in our system, but currently Minnesotans are recycing almost 40% of thier waste products. The areas we are falling short in are orgainc compounds, cloth, fiber and paper products. There still is alot of our waste that can be reused and not just sealed up in a landfill.
The problems facing a larger scale recycling effort are mainly finding a market for the products. Not only creating programs to implement the recycling, but then getting companies to put the money and energy into reusing those materials. Minnesota has a few leading companies in this field, but there still remains a large void to be filled.
Recycilng is not only good for the environment, but in Minnesota it is responsible for 9,000 jobs as well as generating 3 billion dollars a year. Its beneficial for not only companies that can profit off of it, but also to the consumers whose garbage fees could be just about cut in half.
We do have a limited amount of resources, it doesn't make sense to simply extract them all to extinction, creating untold environmental impacts. Why not use what we have in abundance? What is easily accessible, and needing a home? I cringe every time I see a pop can or bottle in a trash can, it just seems so wastful when not only in Minnesota, but especially at the U, you have to try to not recycle. There are recepticles everywhere on campus, the same size and right next to the trash cans, for which I am extremely greatful.
Knowledge is power. I think the more the United States and the world gets educated on recyclling, and as we have more success leaders like Minnesota to follow, recycling can reach its full potential. Its going to take personal decsions from all of us as a start, then we need to look to legistation as well as creating and expanding the market of recyclables, so that once we get them out of the landfills, they have a profitable, safe and healthy place to go.
More information available from the mpca website.
Category "2. In the News"
The United States and the Kyoto Protocol
As we learned in class, the Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty addressing climate change signed by 160 countries in 1997. The goal of the treaty is to reduce the overall emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Each country involved in the Kyoto Protocol receives a different limit on emissions on the basis of current emission status and the economic security of the country.
Even though the United States contributes more carbon dioxide than any other country (in fact 28% of all human caused emissions are from the US), the United States has not ratified their decision to be active in the Kyoto Protocol. Under the Clinton administration the protocol was signed but never ratified, but the Bush administration refuses to ratify the treaty and has made no sign of ever agreeing to the treaty.
The Bush Administration won’t participate in the treaty because they feel it will not be beneficial to the economy and because of uncertainties with climate change. This came as a huge shock to me after reading Chapter 15 in the textbook where there is hard evidence that global weather changes are occurring. The average surface temperature has rose 0.6% C during the 20th century. This might not sound like much but it is already affecting humans, plants, animals, and the weather. Because of global warming the artic permafrost is melting, pest populations are changing, stronger hurricanes are happening, and animal migration and hibernation are being thrown off cycle. I understand that by signing the treaty Americans will have to make slight changes in their daily lives and this may upset some, for example driving less. But I feel that the United States should at least make a conscious effort to lower their emissions under a set standard. We live in a global society and to be positive members, we must be active! Once the initial work of implicating the protocol sets in, it wont be as difficult to continue it.
Since the controversy with the United States not signing the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush Administration seems to be more accepting of the concept of global warming. The United States signed the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. Although this sounds nice and comforting, this act allows countries to set individual emission goals for themselves. One of the reasons the United States refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol was because it was "flawed", but the leeway the Asia Pacific Partnership gives countries is misleading and at no set regulation. Yet since the signing of the Partnership the United States has not reduced their emission totals.
I feel that the United States should ratify their signing of the Kyoto Protocol and control their greenhouse emissions to take responsibility for their actions. With a set standard and the support of other countries in the treaty, we as a global community can work together to fight the issue of climate change.
Here are a few ways you can help reduce global warming stated in our environmental science book:
-Drive less! We are fortunate that public transportation is abundant in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area
-Use energy efficient household appliances
-Produce less waste, buy reusable products
Cunningham, William P., Mary Ann Cunningham, and Barbara Saigo. Environmental Science: A Global Concern. 8th ed. New York:McGraw-Hill, 2005.
Category "2. In the News"
I read an article the other day about the Bush administration is providing an additional $55 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This would allow a severe upgrade in forecast instruments for weather experts to give them everything they need to predict hurricanes in the future. They are also getting new "hurricane hunter" airplane which goes into the eye of the storms and getting information. Along with this, the administration is using $17.1 billion for things like repairing buildings, repairing highways, and rebuilding levees. According to Bob Sheets, former director of the National Hurricane Center, "Once something gets the attention of the public, it gets the attention of the politicians. There are some things that can be done that are not prohibited in cost, and some priority can be placed there." I thought that this was an exceptional idea, repairing a part of the country that needs help. There are obviously people that, no matter what the Bush Administration does, will not support their ideas. But this is something that everyone should be backing. Who knows what is going to happen in the future in terms of climate change and natrual disasters. This is a great opportunity to prepare for something like what happened in the Gulf Coast. I definately believe that this should be more of a priority than oil conflicts or whatever else the administration is busy dealing with. I love this idea and think that this is a gret idea that the Bush administration has thought of.
Category "2. In the News"
10 Year Nuclear Battery
May 12, 2005
NEW 'NUCLEAR BATTERY' RUNS 10 YEARS, 10 TIMES MORE POWERFUL
A battery with a lifespan measured in decades is in development at the University of Rochester, as scientists demonstrate a new fabrication method that in its roughest form is already 10 times more efficient than current nuclear batteries—and has the potential to be nearly 200 times more efficient. The details of the technology, already licensed to BetaBatt Inc., appears in today’s issue of Advanced Materials.
“Our society is placing ever-higher demands for power from all kinds of devices,” says Philippe Fauchet, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Rochester and co-author of the research. “For 50 years, people have been investigating converting simple nuclear decay into usable energy, but the yields were always too low. We’ve found a way to make the interaction much more efficient, and we hope these findings will lead to a new kind of battery that can pump out energy for years.”
The technology is geared toward applications where power is needed in inaccessible places or under extreme conditions. Since the battery should be able to run reliably for more than 10 years without recharge or replacement, it would be perfect for medical devices like pacemakers, implanted defibrillators, or other implanted devices that would otherwise require surgery to replace or repair. Likewise, deep-space probes or deep-sea sensors, which are beyond the reach of repair, also would benefit from such technology.
Betavoltaics, the method that the new battery uses, has been around for half a century, but its usefulness was limited due to its low energy yields. The new battery technology makes its successful gains by dramatically increasing the surface area where the current is produced. Instead of attempting to invent new, more reactive materials, Fauchet’s team focused on turning the regular material’s flat surface into a three-dimensional one.
Similar to the way solar panels work by catching photons from the sun and turning them into current, the science of betavoltaics uses silicon to capture electrons emitted from a radioactive gas, such as tritium, to form a current. As the electrons strike a special pair of layers called a “p-n junction,” a current results. What’s held these batteries back is the fact that so little current is generated—much less than a conventional solar cell. Part of the problem is that as particles in the tritium gas decay, half of them shoot out in a direction that misses the silicon altogether. It’s analogous to the sun’s rays pouring down onto the ground, but most of the rays are emitted from the sun in every direction other than at the Earth. Fauchet decided that to catch more of the radioactive decay, it would be best not to use a flat collecting surface of silicon, but one with deep pits.
A layer of silicon riddled with pits, each of which would fill with the radioactive tritium gas, would be like dropping the sun into a deep well lined with solar panels. Almost all of the sun’s rays, no matter which way they were emitted, would strike a well wall. Only those rays that fired straight up and out of the well would be lost. With this reasoning, Fauchet devised a method to excavate pits into a microscopic piece of silicon.
The pits, or wells, are only about a micron wide (about four ten-thousandths of an inch), but are more than 40 microns deep. After the wells are “dug” with an etching technique, their insides are coated with a material to form a p-n junction just a tenth of a micron thick, which is the best thickness to induce a current. The Advanced Materials paper details how these wells were dug in a random fashion, yielding a 10-fold increase in current over the conventional design. The team is already working on a technique to create and line the wells in a much more uniform, lattice formation that should increase the energy produced by as much as 160-fold over current technology.
“Our ultimate design has roughly 160 times the surface area of the conventional, flat design,” says Fauchet. “We expect to be able to get an efficiency that very nearly matches, and we’re doing this using standard semiconductor industry fabrication techniques.”
Houston-based BetaBatt Inc. has formed to capitalize on the technology, and has recently been awarded a technology commercialization grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF funded the initial research as well. Collaborators on this research included one of Fauchet’s graduate students, Wei Sun, Nazir Kherani from the University of Toronto, Karl Hirschman from Rochester Institute of Technology, and Larry Gadeken from BetaBatt, Inc.
PR 2154, MS 592
This is going to be an interesting thing to see develop over the next few decades. Nuclear power went from this supposed clean and perfect energy source to becoming the demon of nuclear war, chernobyl and three mile island (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/tmi/tmi.htm). When you say nuclear power to people, they get images of three-eyed fish, cancer, etc. Having said that, safe nuclear power, which is entirely feasible right now, could possibly be one of our better options for dealing with energy shortages in the near future (http://web.mit.edu/canes/research/nfc/annularfueldesign.html). The pebble bed nuclear reactor technology doesn't melt down, provides plentiful energy, and doesn't emit a gram of CO2 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_reactor). Plus, if I'm not mistaken, the disposal of the pebbles is less troublesome than the leftovers from the more traditional reactors.
A nuclear battery that could last 10 years would be way better, not only for the users of the batteries, but also for the environment. Think about how much energy you have to use to charge a laptop. All of that energy is primarily coming from fossil fuels (http://www.rbrc.org/consumer/index.html). Then when you are done with the battery, you throw it in a dump (at least most people do), and the heavy metals that go into most of those batteries leak into the environment.
Of course, in order for any of this progress to happen, you're going to have to get people comfy with having radioactive sources in such close proximity. It might have all the shielding in the world, but it's still going to make a lot of people nervous.
Category "2. In the News"
November 8, 2005
The Truth About Ethanol Production
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of research on ethanol production, and I have been finding very controversial information. So I started to wonder which side of the story was the actual truth. My interest in ethanol started when I read an article from the San Francisco Chronicle based on a study conducted by Tad Patzek, a geo-engineer at UC Berkley. Tad claimed that the production of ethanol used six times more energy than the end ethanol contains. He also made claims that ethanol wasn’t a renewable resource, and that we were “wasting” fossil fuels in the actual production of ethanol. When I first read this article I thought that there is no way that it could be true so I did some more research and found interesting results.
According to the USDA there is an overall energy gain in the production of ethanol. The average energy gain is 48,722 BTU/gal of ethanol produced. That number is the complete opposite of Tad’s findings, so I read the fine print and found out that under optimal conditions the energy gained by ethanol production is positive. These conditions are: 100% corn yields, minimal fertilizing, low energy fertilizer application techniques, low energy harvesting techniques, new corn to ethanol conversion technology, using the steam let off in production as an energy source, and low energy production of byproducts.
Given that so many conditions are needed to make the process of ethanol production a positive energy system, only one or two things can be below standards in order for a negative energy exchange to take place. And, considering that most plants in operation today don’t have the newest technology we could be producing mass amounts of ethanol at a negative energy price. Tad also argued that ethanol production is depleting a food supply. At first I believed that to be true, but then I realized that most of the corn used to produce ethanol is field corn which is predominately feed to livestock not humans, and an ethanol byproduct is livestock feed because the production of ethanol used only the starch from the corn. According to the American Coalition of Ethanol, the corn used in ethanol is only making a dent in the surplus corn that the US produces not the corn that we rely on as a food source. So it is ok to continue porducing ethanol until the amount of corn being used begins to comepte with the corn needed for food.
I think that ethanol production is an important prospect for further research because it is possible to produce ethanol fuels using sustainable methods and it has the potential to become a renewable resource. I say “potential to become a renewable resource” because we are still having issues producing ethanol in an energy producing system, but once we get that down we should be able to move forward with further analysis of the ethanol production processes, but for now ethanol is a useful fossil fuel substitute/additive even if it can't take the main role of gas in the united states it is still helping with the problems involving fossil fuels. And since solving the fossil fuel problems is a top priority of our country it is necessary that we continue to produce ethanol even if there is a slight loss in energy at least until we come up with a better way to deal with the problems relating to fossil fuels.
Information from: American Collation of Ethanol and the Renewable Fuels Association, USDA, and www.sfgate.com “UC Scientist says ethanol uses more energy that it makes A lot of fossil fuels go into producing the gas substitute” By Elizabeth Svoboda
Category "2. In the News"
November 7, 2005
High levels of Mercury in fish and air
Finally, the EPA has come forward with claims to regulate mercury levels! High mercury levels can cause “problems including paralysis and death, but among the first harmful things noted would be learning disabilities”, says Bob Presley, an oceanographer professor at Texas A&M. Humans take in mercury from any type of seafood (usually fish) and even from the emissions of factories. The EPA suggested that emissions from coal-fired power plants will be reduced approximately 70 percent, or down to 31 by 2010. This figure will continue to decrease to 15 tons after 2010. The EPA stepping in on this situation will be better for everyone, even infants. Small children are the ones most affected by high mercury levels because their bodies cannot process it. Adults have stronger immune systems. Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group says “fully 10 percent of American women -- roughly 7 million women -- mercury levels were above the dose that may put a fetus at risk for adverse nervous system effects.” If the emissions from power plants decreases drastically and the population only eats 8 ounces of fish a week the mercury levels should continue to decrease to safer levels. One alternative might be a different type of power plant, non-coal fired. Another alternative might be trying to remove some of the mercury in lakes and oceans or trying to remove the mercury saturated producers the fish eat. The EPA has opened the argument for comments. This is a step in the right direction because the reduction will decrease learning disabilities as well as neurological damage.
Category "2. In the News"
November 6, 2005
Wind Energy Takes a Step Forward
In Cheyenne, Wyoming a new wind turbine has been designed by Terra Moya Aqua Inc. The information was reported in the news through www.casperstartribune.net, but the article "New Turbine Design May Boost Wind Energy" appeared on the Yahoo News website also: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051106/ap_on_sc/vertical_wind. The new turbine is shorter and slower, yet is more effective. At only 96 feet tall, it can be built in industrial areas where taller turbines can not fit. The slower blades make it more bird-friendly, not to mention less noisy also. Normally, only 25 to 40 percent of wind power can be converted through propellers to energy. However, "TMA's design is 43 percent to 45 percent efficient, creating up to 80 percent more power from the same wind". Already, the company has domestic and foreign buyers interested. On the other hand, a 3-5 percent jump is not that much. The article makes it appear as a huge amount, but wind energy is not yet efficient economically and another 3 to 5 percent does not put it in a competitive arena with fossil fuels and oil. I'll admit it is a step in the right direction, and we need to keep working towards improving this form of alternative energy. However, the "New Turbine Design" is not all it's talked up to be. There is still a long way to go before it will make more sense economically to pay for wind turbines than to pay for oil or coal.
Category "2. In the News"
November 2, 2005
Marine Life and Sonar
When considering pollution, the general population may immediately assume that the topic is air pollution. The emissions from our cars and factories seem to be the biggest and most prevalent forms of pollution right now. Some people may think of water pollution and wastewater controls as a severe issue in pollution. Others might even go so far as to think of soil pollution and the disruption in nutrient cycling. However, few would consider the use of sonar as pollution. This is, however, becoming more of a serious concern and can be considered a form of pollution.
According to Washington Post journalist Tim Molloy, sonar is a form of pollution to many environmentalists. In his article entitled, “Navy Sued Over Sonar’s Effects on Whales,” Molloy discusses a lawsuit that a group of environmentalists started, targeting the United States Navy for their use of mid-frequency sonar on the East Coast of the United States. According to the environmentalists, the Navy used mid-frequency sonar, which resulted in the deaths of approximately 37 whales on North Carolina’s outer banks. This is a large amount of whales that died because of the loud noise the sonar emits into the water. According to the article, the Navy is only allowed to use low-level frequency sonar during peace time, which this was considered. They were practicing the capabilities of their sonar and used the mid-level frequency without considering its effects. Though they are not prohibited from using this type of frequency during war times, it is considered very dangerous and irresponsible to do so, particularly in peace time.
I have personally never heard of sonar having the capacity to kill a marine animal, especially a whale. However, as this article states, it has and does happen. The Navy clearly knows this, has agreed to be careful not to use these higher frequencies, and yet, still does at times. The environmentalists have good reason to be upset. The loss of 37 whales seems considerable. If the use of these frequencies is not necessary, there is no reason it should be allowed. Though I had never heard of something like this, I found it really interesting and was excited to hear that something was being done to regulate the government and its use of sonar that has the potential to harm marine life.
Category "2. In the News"
October 25, 2005
The article on the snow fleas has grabbed my attention. It is a subject that affects us as human, but especially people living in the cold parts of the world. It is an effective way to use a common a fungus and to establish it in a particular way to help the population. This shows what our book described as a benefit to help and at the same time it shows communalism between humans and animals. Also it uses peticide to get rid of the common pesticite but at the same, it benefits us in the long run. These proteins that the researchers have found can also help us in the long run with the frozen foods and the ability to store them without caring an appliance everywhere we go. Another factor is agriculture and land degreadion. We see that our land is use constantly and everyday is being degraded. With the help with this new discovery, it can help out in the arigculture by keeping the crops fresh and ripe for a longer period of time. This shows that any new discovery can benefit for the population and that this small creature(snow flakes-fleas) can sometimes be benefactors to us humans and not make our lives messerable. We should look at each creature as a benefit and resource and that each of them in some way or other they have a small "ounce of resource" maybe their juices or their bodies or even them as a whole are going to be a cure for the many diseases that humans carry.
Category "2. In the News"
October 22, 2005
Snow fleas are wingless, six-legged fleas that are between one and two millimeters long. They contain a unique antifreeze that allows them to survive on fungus underneath blankets of snow. This antifreeze is a protein that limit the growth of ice by lowering the freezing point of fluids by eleven degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers have found that these antifreeze in proteins found in the snow fleas are different than those found in beetles and moths, causing them to believe that these antifreeze proteins evolved independently in the snow fleas.
Laurie Graham, one of the two researchers from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada who carried out the study, commented on the many technolical possibilities that this discovery has on our world. These proteins could be used to allow the storage of transplant organs so they can be preserved at cooler temperatures for longer amounts of time, thereby increasing the shelf life of organs. They could also be used in frozen foods to inhibit freezer burn, as well as in crops so that fruit trees could survive cooler temperatures.
This discovery is very important as it will make the transplant of organs easier and help the people who desperately need them. It is helpful to people in the agricultural business as they will not use their crops due to an early freeze.
Category "2. In the News"
October 20, 2005
Conserving Energy at UMN
The Minnesota Daily published an article on Tuesday, Oct. 18th titled "Under Heat" by Emily Kaiser. Basically, the UMN SouthEast Steam Plant is looking into alternative energy resources. During the winter, UMN is normally heated with natural gas. However, not only is the price of natural gas increasing, it also emits a lot of greenhouse gases, especially Sulfur Dioxide. The current alternative being looked at is burning oat hulls along with coal. Now, this doesn't get rid of pollution, but the article did make it sound as if the chemicals released will significantly decrease. Realistically, the type of pollution will shift from carbon dioxide to nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. Is this better than carbon dioxide? Not necessarily, but consider that we will be eliminating the .455 pounds/million BTU of sulfur dioxide burned annually by natural gas. Furthermore, the oat hulls would come from the general mills cereal company since the hulls are a waste left from making cereal. There is evidence of the success of this system at the University of Iowa, and Ferman Milster who is the associate director of Utilities and Energy at U of Iowa states, "'We are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and our costs are significantly reduced,' he said. 'We are also able to support local business so this is a win for the company and the University.'" (page 6 MN Daily). Something to watch out for is the fact that coal needs to burned along with the hulls. According to the Daily, coal emits .171 lbs/pmm BTU Nitrogen oxides annually which is much lower than natural gas. A good thing to compare would be the effects of SO2 vs Nitrogen oxides on the environment, air, and humans. It is important that the change in greenhouse gases are carefully evaluated before a switch is made, but from the info I have been able to gather, using oat hulls seems like a very economical and efficient alternative form of Energy.
Category "2. In the News"
Ravaging the Reefs
We are currently studying biodiversity and we know that the coral reefs are a hot spot. However coral reefs all along the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia and quickly getting destroyed from fishermen. According to the Asian Development Bank, the South China Sea’s 30 year old fish trade brings in close to 1 billion each year. It sounds like it is a great economic market for china but the way the fish are being caught brings up problems. Illegal fishing techniques are rapidly destroying corals. Fish traders will pay local men to catch the fish illegally using unusual techniques, such as diving, nets, hooks, and use of chemicals. Besides the local fishermen destroying the reefs, larger operations and reducing the fish population. Large boats like find spawning areas so they can catch many adult fish before they release there sperm and eggs. This is a problem that needs to be solved. The fish market plays such a dominant role in china and so many people are involved. If the reefs and fish keep getting destroyed at the current rate the outcome will be devastating.
Category "2. In the News"
October 19, 2005
Hurricane Katrina and Global Warming?
I recently read an article from Rolling Stone magazine called "Was it Global Warming?" While reading I started to realize how poorly written this article is and how it was basically written to install fear in those who read it. The author basically took two major topics from the news and put then together to create something that SOME people might believe. But those who actually read the article could hardly be expected to believe the general “headline” message that the author is trying to send: Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming. In actuality when one reads the article, the author is not saying this at all. He is simply stating that since hurricanes are caused by heat, this could be a sign of what is to come in the next couple decades if global warming persists. He is asking if people are ready and also relaying the different points of view skeptics have about the topic.
To give a summary of the article, the author starts off explaining how much peril the world is in right now: disease in Africa, droughts in northern Europe and the U.S., and war all over the place. He goes on to say that there are theories that this might all be indirectly caused by global warming. This assumption is so naïve and clearly stated in this article as an attention-getter to scare people and make them believe that there is one thing to blame for all of these events. People like to have something to blame things on so…why not pick global warming, especially if there are a few feeble facts that may vaguely suggest this? Anyway, he goes on to inform readers that recent studies have shown that our overall climate is getting warmer and because of these facts some of the critics against global warming are starting to change their viewpoints. He states that even though these people are changing their viewpoints, they are stating that the solution to this problem is that the world should simply adapt to the warmer climates. People (Fred Singer, the dean of global warming skeptics) believe that when global warming comes into full affect we will just have to adapt. (“Less winter sports? Better beach weather?”) A good point this article makes about these kinds of views is that the author looked at the damage and chaos created by hurricane Katrina and how people responded to that. He then stated that if this is how people are going to act, when change in weather causes destruction, then it will be almost impossible for the world to “adapt” to global warming. So, if we can’t adapt to global warming then what do we do? According to this author, to cut emissions could mean a full-fledged energy boom creating more jobs and maybe a boost to the economy… Anyway the point is that this article brings up many theories, assumptions, and viewpoints that I believe are just put in to create controversy and entertain people, while making a tie to current events.
Category "2. In the News"
Ban On FishingIn a recent article I found on the Environmental News Network's website, a research group in Copenhagen, Denmark is trying to put a ban on certain deep-sea fish species. These fish include the Portuguese dogfish, the orange roughy, the roundnose grenadier, the leafscale gulper shark, as well as a ban on cod found in the North and Irish Sea. These fish are being over harvested and are at risk of being at a level too low for re-population. The current pressure on these fish are way to high for sustainable management. As we have learned, we must practice these sustainable processes if we want a species to remain in a healthy population. With out informing the fishermen as well as informing the public, problems like these can easily be over looked. Thanks to research groups like this one, once problems arise and are published, being shown to the public, an awareness can begin and ultimately a solution. http://www.enn.com/today.html
Category "2. In the News"
Last Wednesday there was another hurricanedown south that tore through the caribbean coastlines, hurricane wilma. the wind speed of the hurricane was 175 mph then weaken alittle to 160 mph, thousands evacuated as it threatened to move into cancun and southern florida. they estimated that at least 13 people died.
the white house promised that they would take every precautions unlike what they did for katrina.
the strongest atlantic storm based on pressure readings was hurricane gilbert which was recorded at 888 millibars, but according to the hurricane center wilmas pressure reading was measured at 900 millibars. when it hit land, it was recorded to 882 millibars. lower pressure means higher wind speed.
forecasters said wilma was stronger than the labor day hurricane that hit the florida keys in 1935, the most powerful atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record. also wilma should avoid the central gulf coast damaged by katrina and rita, which killed over 1200 people.
-im not from the southeastern part of the US nor i have family there.. but that area had been ravaged by hurricane after hurricane. according to my friend who used to live in tampa said that it was normal to have hurricanes but not as strong as katrina, rita, and now wilma. i guess im more thankful that i dont live there but my prayers go out to them.
well.. the six-month hurricane season ends Nov. 30. and any new storms would be named with letters from the greek alphabet, starting with alpha..
National Hurricane Center: http://www.nhc.noaa.gov
Category "2. In the News"
Why the flu shot is not for everybody
Every year in Minnesota people get the flu shot to prevent other serious illness when they do get the flu or just to prevent themselfs from getting too sick. The federal government recommends high risk people, like order People 65 years, older pregnant women and children younger than 6 months etc to get the shot. "State health officials warn that a quarter-million Minnesotans could become sick with the avian flu, and of that number, 20,000 could die." (St. Paul Pioneer Press Oct. 17) If the avian flu can cause this may death, why is the federal government recommending people to get the shot. I understand these people who may be at risk believe the best thing for them to do is get the avian to prevent them from serious illness or death, but the avian can cause them death also, how could something that suppose to help them also kill them. According to health officials besides high risk people everyone should go get a flu shot, but what if you like me and believe that if it can cause you harm then forget it. I know people who get flu shot and still get the flu really bad, what is the shot for in that case. I understand people at high risk what to prevent themself, but are they really preventing themself or hurting themself with a flu shot. It up to the individual to decide what's good for them.
Category "2. In the News"
who cares about the ozone anyway?
Who cares about the ozone anyway?
Thought that everyone was for replenishing the ozone layer was a worldwide goal? Think again. The world at large used to have that goal, but now some developed countries say that they need to use ozone damaging chemicals to aid with critical problems. The item that banned the use of these ozone damaging chemicals (CFC’s) was the Montreal Protocol, and it applied to the countries in the United Nations, saying that they could only use the ozone destroying chemicals if there was a critical need for them. The protocol was highly successful, and the damage to the ozone is expected to be repaired by around 2050. I think that each side has a valid argument in this issue. On one hand, CFC’s may damage the ozone, causing increased rates of cancer and blindness, and they contribute to global warming. But on the other hand, they are useful, non-toxic gases used in refrigeration, packaging, insulation, or as solvents and aerosol propellants. So for the environment and people in the long run they are bad, but for the economy and people in the short run, they are good. Countries are required to reduce the use of them, which can be expensive generating technology and materials to replace their function, so it is easy to see why developed countries, who use CFC’s the most, would want to be able to sue them more. The point is though, that if they are allowed to be used more, then their negative effects will become apparent again, and people will once again want to ban them. The negative effects of CFC’s outweigh their positive effects in my mind. So, it is my opinion that the United Nations should deny the requests of the countries who want the regulations to be eased up, and that the regulations against the CFC’s should be kept in place.
Category "2. In the News"
U.S. Reaction to Bird Flu
One issue that is gaining global attention is the outbreak of bird flu. It has already been discovered in Asia and parts of Europe, and is considered to be a growing threat. As the concern and number of cases as of bird flu rises, scientists are looking to the source and what may be encouraging the spread of the virus. This most recent outbreak of bird flu isn’t an isolated incidence in which viruses have come from Asia, specifically Southern China.
There are a few reasons that Southern China is such a hot spot for flu pandemics. First, traditional cultures and practices are combined with more modern lifestyles. Open air markets can be found in a close proximity to airports and hotels. China is also the world’s most populated country. China has both busy cities with high concentrations of people, and also farmers who live in cramped quarters with their livestock (often chicken, ducks and pigs). In addition to simply the high amount of animals, there is also a large number of different species present. According to some accounts as many as 60 species can be contained in one market. These unique markets combine animals, people and microorganisms that would normally never exist in the same area. Furthermore, according to a CNN article by Marianne Bray “This is also a place where dietary staples and traditional Chinese medicine like turtle shell are in hot demand. Early on, a lack of regulations, record keeping and research between Hong Kong and China, and a suppression of information by Beijing stunted any efforts to clamp down on outbreaks.”
Scientists and virologists have found that all flu pandemics can be traced back to birds. Virologists suggest that the flu virus was able to jump from birds to people when birds became domesticated 3,000 years ago. With very weak immune systems, birds easily incubate the illness and can spread it to pigs; the virus then mutates and spreads to humans.
President George Bush has asked Congress to give him the power to use military in law enforcement roles if the bird flu reaches the United States. However this would require changing the law, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which bans the military from participating in law enforcement activity in the United States. President Bush argued that because there is currently no effective vaccine against bird flu, public health officials would want to hinder the disease’s spread by isolating and quarantining those who had been exposed or affected. According to the President, such action would require military involvement. The discussion to change the law banning military participation began during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Last month, Bush told reporters that he wanted “there to be a robust discussion about the best way for the federal government, in certain extreme circumstances, to be able to rally assets for the good of the people.”
Many are in opposition of Bush’s proposition. Dr. Irwin Redlener, an associate dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and director of its National Center for Disaster Preparedness believes that the idea is dangerous. He feels that military law enforcement is a measure that is unnecessary if “the nation had built the capability for rapid vaccine production, ensured a large supply of anti-virals like Tamiflu and not allowed the degradation of the public health system” as summarized by CNN. Others feel that giving the military law enforcement power would be similar to introducing martial law. Gene Healy, of the Cato Institute feels that the President would risk undermining a “fundamental principle of American law.” Healy also expressed that shifting toward military power gives a signal that the American people are not comfortable with the set law enforcement currently in place. In addition, he points out that American soldiers are not trained to be police officers, and putting them in a position as such runs the risk of “damaging American life and liberty”
I agree with the President that the military should be involved in police type activity provided extreme circumstances. Looking back on the rescue effort of Hurricane Katrina, I think that more immediate military involvement would have improved the conditions for those in the areas hit. Police and local authority are best suited for just that, local issues. However, in circumstances that affect much more consuming areas, different resources need to be brought in to help. The police in the area hit by Hurricane Katrina had to deal with a disaster that they couldn’t possibly be equipped for on their own. In extreme circumstances like the natural disasters, or flu outbreaks, the United States should be able to utilize its assets. One detail of this proposed law change that I do not agree with is that the Department of Defense would assume responsibility for the situation. I think that the responsibility should belong to organizations such as FEMA that are specialized in dealing with specific disasters and circumstances.
Category "2. In the News"
Great Lakes Protection from Invasive Species
An article on www.msnbc.com states that legislation protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species has stalled in Congress. Currently, the Coast Guard requires entering ships to exchange fresh water ballast for salt water or vice versa as organisms have a hard time surviving in their non-native water environment. The effectiveness of this approach is being questioned and rightly so. Invasive species such as zebra mussels and Eurasian milfoil have invaded the Great Lakes area and are having a large effect on the area's ecosystem and native species.
The current requirement is that ships carrying ballast need to exchange their water, however a majority (80%) of the ships entering the Great Lakes do not carry ballast and thus they do not need to exchange water, according to the Government Accountability Office. They still can harbor invasive species which can enter the Great Lakes area. According to Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Natural Resource Center, a new invasive species enter the Great Lakes once every eight months.
A National Aquatic Invasive Species Act would actually eliminate ballast exchange and exchange it for technology that would kill the invasive species instead. This bill has sat in Congress for 3 years! A rival bill called the Ballast Water Management Act has been introduced in the meantime. This act has support from the shipping industry and calls for standards "100 times more stringent” than an agreement by the UN Internal Maritime Organization. However, attorney generals from the Great Lakes States requested the committee to not move forward, stating that this act would remove the EPA from have regulating authority on ballast water and also pre-empt state laws. Helen Brohl, director of the US Great Lakes Shipping Association states that the EPA should not have regulatory power, but rather the Coast Guard. Brohl also handles foreign ships in the Great Lakes ports. The shipping industry, itself supports the Ballast Water Management Act because it is claimed the bill is less restrictive on the industry.
Those living in the Great Lakes area already know the devastating effects of invasive species, such as the zebra mussel. According to Cunningham et. al. (2005), removal of zebra mussels costs $400 million per year and Eurasian milfoil removal coasts $5,000 per hectare per year. It is time that Congress increases the regulations on ships entering the Great Lakes. Currently only 20% of the incoming ships are regulated. It is no wonder that non native species have invaded the waterways. Without some kind of bill regulating incoming ships, who knows what kind of species will be invading the lakes next and what kind of damage it will cause to the lakes and waterways.
Associated Press. Congress slow to stop Great Lakes 'invaders'. Retrieved 10/19/05 from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9728712/.
Cunningham, W.P., Cunningham, M.A., & Saigo, B. (2005). Environmental Science: A Global Concern (8th Ed.). McGraw-Hill: New York
Category "2. In the News"
October 18, 2005
Shrinking Polar Cap
Recent discoveries have shown that the Arctic ice sheet shrunk to its smallest size ever recorded this summer. While this shrinking threatens wildlife and ancient cultures, it also brings the dark idea that global warming is a reality. Over the past fifty years, the air over the Arctic Ocean has experienced a raise in temperatures around 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The size of the sheet the sheet on the last day of summer was 2.05 million square miles, which may seem like a large expanse, but it lost a land size almost twice the area of Texas. Scientists say that at this rate, by the end of the century the ice sheet may disappear for entire summers. Also, ice reflects some of the sun's energy, so when there is less area of ice, there is more expanse of ocean which readily absorbs solar energy, raising the water temperature, surrounding air, and potentially the earth’s temperature. As the Arctic continues to shrink in area, new issues are going to arise, such as shifting breeding grounds for animals, loss of Inuit lifestyle and the opening waterway for trade, that will forever change our way of life. Whales and codfish use the Arctic waters for breeding grounds and will be benefited by the melting, according to Time. However, polar bears spend summers stranded on land during summers after the ice melts, relying on fat reserves until the ices comes back and they can return to fishing. If the ice continues to shrink, polar bears will have to spend more and more time on land, and more will die of hunger. Eventually, polar bears may become extinct due to the lack of ice and therefore food. According to the Arctic Research Commission, "Climate warming is likely to bring extensive fishing activity to the Arctic, particularly in the Barents Sea and Beaufort-Chukchi region where commercial operations have been minimal in the past." The commission has also shown that snow crabs are moving away from Alaska, towards Russia. These drastic changes in aquatic life patterns make me question how natural this melting could be. These animals have remained in generally the same area for many years, and all of sudden, all of them seem to be migrating. What happens if some of the aquatic life remains stationed while others move? The aquatic cycle will almost certainly become unbalanced, and who knows what changes that will bring. Experts say there are impending issues that need to be discussed including "the availability and potential for exploitation of energy, fisheries and other resources, access to new sea routes, new claims under Law of the Sea, national security, and others.'' Already a complex, the Shnohvit, is being built with the capacity to receive and liquefy natural gas from the Barent's Sea for shipping. According to the USGS, "one quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas resources lies in the Arctic." About 4 million, including 150,000 Inuit, live within the Arctic. It is surprising how little the average person hears, or even knows, about the Arctic, but as Sheila Watt-Cloutier, leader of a transnational Inuit group, says, "As long as it's ice nobody cares except us, because we hunt and fish and travel on that ice. However, the minute it starts to thaw and becomes water, then the whole world is interested." This impending future for the Arctic is worrisome. This expanse of ice is the home of several species that, if the ice disappears, will be unable to survive anywhere else. Not to mention the severe loss of culture and lifestyle of the Inuit people that has survived centuries. With the possibility of oil, this area will become severely trafficked, and the feuds between countries over fishing grounds and oil resources could end in wars. This discovery also brings about the question of whether this is purely a natural phenomenon, or whether the shrinking was brought about by global warming. Although there have been cycles in the climate of the world for years, a change of 5 degrees is hard to dismiss. This paired with the huge area change, and the fact that this year on August 28, Russia sent a research ship to the pole without the help of an icebreaker for the first time in history, makes it hard to dismiss this shrinkage as purely a climactic cycling. It is worrisome, though, because if effects like these are already showing, and it takes years for many atmospheric gasses to impact the greenhouse effect, even if the emission of greenhouse gasses could all of a sudden be stopped, there would still be a strong possibility of huge area change of the Arctic ice. Even if the melting of the ice and therefore the opening of the Arctic for natural gas and oil drilling would be beneficial for the depleted fossil fuel amounts, it is just not natural. The Arctic is a vital area for biodiversity, and for the maintenance of the earth’s climate. Who knows what negative impacts will present themselves once this ice is melted, and once it is, there is no way of refreezing it, or reversing the process.
Category "2. In the News"
October 17, 2005
The Carolina Bays
The Carolina Bays are shallow depressions that run along the coastal plains from Georgia to Maryland, although they are found mostly in the Carolinas. A small portion of a bay holds more biodiversity than acres of the surrounding areas, making them a mystery to researchers still, since their discovery in the 1930s. They are home to a variety of organisms, including bears, deer, bobcats, orchids, pitcher plants, wire grass, and venus flytraps. In fact, the bays are the only place that venus flytraps are found in the wild.
They are also home to reptiles and amphibians as the dry land that they thrive on is then conveniently close to the water they need to lay eggs. When the bays are undisturbed, their life cycle is driven by fire. The dry areas burn every two to three years from the water's edge to the thick marshy shrubs that mark their border. Jim Luken, a biology professor at Coastal Carolina University, has been studying the Carolina Bays for over four years. He commented that although he has been to the bays hundreds of times, everytime he's out there, he sees something new.
The Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve covers 6000 acres. It is currently surrounded by two highways and there are plans for a third which will cut through one of the greatest concentration of bays. A new subdivision is also being built off of these highways that will bring over 22,000 homes to the edges of the bays, threatening the survival of these depressions.
If we continue to build wherever we want, we may never find out why theses depressions are there and the importance of them. The venus flytraps bring many visitors and tourists to the preserves, but even the preserves could be threatened if we dont stop to think about what the consequences of our actions are.
Category "2. In the News"
October 16, 2005
Subdiving the North Country: 10/16 Article in the Star Tribune
Who wouldn’t want to own secluded lake-front property? This is exactly the problem that three northern Minnesota counties are facing. St Louis, Lake, and Cook counties all have acres and acres of heavily forested land that, until recently, was entirely inaccessible. But with more and more people interested in owning a cabin or retirement home, developers aren’t sitting around. Increasingly, land has become accessible by new roads or by boat. And prices are skyrocketing: one undeveloped 80-acre piece of land sold for $19,300 in 2000, resold in 2002 for $120,000, sold again for $299,000 in 2003 with the addition of a road, and is now on the market yet again. The asking price is $695,000.
Of course, the development of this land is also raising several problems. Those who have lived on a quiet lake for years are suddenly experiencing noisy construction and lakes overrun by huge motor boats. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are happening left and right. What were once serenely beautiful lakeshores now resemble high-price suburbs.
In my opinion, there is no reasonable way to keep these areas from being developed; I understand the need to escape from everyday life. But I think that dividing the land into smaller and smaller pieces will just lead to more suburb-like developments. This sacrifices the beauty and isolation of the area, devalues the land, and forces people to find other, more secluded, places to get away to. The best approach might be to create some limits and such on the development of this amazing resource. I guess my opinion is best summarized by what Fitz Fitzgerald, the conservation director of the Minnesota Land Trust in Ely, had to say on the subject in the Star Tribune article: “I can’t find fault with people who like the area, but that’s why we need some limitations and controls over how the areas are expanded and developed—so it doesn’t look just like the areas they’re trying to escape.”
Of course, there is opposition to this viewpoint. Many say that this would limit development and force prices so high that most people would not be able to afford the land. Cabins and houses built in clumps so as to leave as much shoreline untouched as possible is a good idea from an environmental perspective, but do not sell well because most people want secluded cabins and their own bit of shoreline, not some that they must share with ten or twenty other landowners.
The only thing that everyone really agrees on is that there is no easy answer to this problem. We must try to figure out a solution that works for the land owners, developers, and environmentalists.
If you’d like to read the article, go to: http://www.startribune.com/stories/110/5670338.html
Category "2. In the News"
October 13, 2005
Global Warming and Hurricanes
I recently read an article in Time magazine about the correlation of global warming and intensity of hurricanes. As of late there has been a lot of awareness of both hurricanes Rita and Katrina because of the immense amount of damage they have done. Both were absurdly destructive, reaching Category 5’s before becoming land locked. Is there really a correlation between global warming and the intensity of these storms? That’s exactly what I asked myself before I read this article.
There seems to be a direct correlation between the temperature in the waters and how strong the storm is. “When ocean temperatures rise, so does the mount of water vapor in the air. A moister atmosphere helps fuel storms by giving then more spit out in the form of rain and by helping drive the convection that gives them their lethal spin” (Kluger, 44). The number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has nearly doubled annually since the 1970s. Because of things like urbanization and chemical use, global warming is an extremely important issue.
If we could somehow slow down global warming, maybe the intensity of these storms would decrease as well. Population is always an issue; the world population is growing at an alarming rate and no one knows what the threshold is. The uses of things such as pesticides pollute the water thus increasing the temperature. Asking people to stop using pesticides and running factories immediately is impractical, but if we stop slowly will it really help?
Kluger, Jeffery. "Global Warming: The Culprit?." October 3 2005: 43-46.
Category "2. In the News"
October 12, 2005
Intense Drought in the Amazon
The world's largest rainforest, the Amazon Rainforest, is currently suffering from one of the worst droughts in the past 40 years. Because of this drought, there have been: wildfires, unsafe drinking water, and a depletion of fish in the area. I fisherman from the Amazon basin leaves of us with the image of, "Thousands of rotting fish line the dry banks."
Some scientists believe that high temperatures in the ocean (caused by global warming) are the causes of such drought. Other scientists feel that the rising air, which causes storms, may have caused the air in the Amazon to move down and therefore losing the precious cloud formations that bring rain. Another theory of the droughts is because of current deforestation the moisture in the air is lost without the supply of trees, then causing more intense sunlight.
People of the area now can drive where they once swam. Because of the increasing heat farmers now have to clear many pastures that are now susceptible of wildfires. About 100,000 hectares of forest have now been burned since the drought began and the smoke has even shut down local airports. Gilberto Barbosa, the secretary of public administration in Manaquiri said, "We closed 40 schools and canceled the school year because there's a lack of food, transport and potable water." This drought has affected many throughout the Amazon.
A current fear now is that the still water will produce possible outbreak of malaria, and medicine is now much harder to reach without water transportation. To settle these fears, the state government has distributed 5 tons of basic medicines to different villages.
This drought has become a serious economic problem for the people and environment of the Amazon. It has already affected their agriculture, transportation, health, education, as well as, the biodiversity in the rainforest.
Category "2. In the News"
October 9, 2005
Badgers vs Cattle
An article titled, "Badger cull 'must be considered' " found on the BBC News website
Category "2. In the News"
October 4, 2005
Evolution is a "Believed" Observation
What are we teaching about science in school these days? What will we be teaching in the near future? Teaching evolution is under attack in the state of Kansas. A school district in Dover Pennsylvania has been sued by parents of an high school student for requiring teachers to discuss "intelligent design". Apparently many schools around the country are considering it.
There are a lot of strong feelings out there and differing views. What is crucial is that revisionist science doesn't happen. In an article in the Indiana Daily Student (Sept 27, 2005) Hannah Schroder explained that the focus of arguments about Evolution versus "Intelligent Design" is on what the students should be taught in public schools not so much on how the world was created. This is quite telling. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education in her lecture at the IU auditorium, strongly stressed that Intellegent design is not a science, and did not belong in a science classroom. Mike Wade an IU biology professor, teaches an evolution and diversity course. He contends that the lack of answers in the intelligent design argument are one of the reasons critics argue that it's not science. "Intelligent design is not a scientific theory, science is made up of hypotheses and evidence supporting those hypotheses. I don't see science as an explanation for everything but as an explanation for taking apart the natural world and seeing how it works, it's the only way I know it". He shares that he is a man of faith.
Richard Miller, IU religious studies professor and director of the Poynter Center for the study of Ethics and American Institutions says he has concerns that non-scientific ideas are being voiced by political and cultural leaders who are unable to support them on scientific terms. "Many public policy decisions rely on sound science". Mr. Miller shares the same concerns I have, that faith-based politics or an agenda under the guise of faith failing to heed scientific evidence regarding our environment or biological, human or medical matters is putting us all in peril.
What is extremely worrisome is: if intelligent design is imposed on a classroom, won't that pose a risk to the student's interpretation and understanding of evolution and nature and how things work? This is exactly the question asked in the OP EX section in the Sunday Star Tribune October 2, 2005. And by dismissing evolution as just theory, what is this doing to the overall perception of science by the public. This is serious. The public needs to have a degree of knowlege to have realistic expectations, to care for it's habitat, to make public policy. The article, written by Kenneth Keller is titled Science at Risk and makes a great argument for educating the public, getting them to understand their world and themselves. He poignantly explains there is no need to discredit the integrity of science in order to defend a higher power (which in his view needs no defense). "Science is the discipline we depend on for a human and practical understanding of nature. To say that something is "only a theory" misses an important concept in science. We don't call something a theory to suggest that it's not yet proved." He then suggests that if you're ever thinking of jumping off a cliff, you might do well to remember the theory of gravity. He queries: are facts more reliable than theories? He gives us a few examples of "believed observations" and how if we don't understand the difference between facts, theories and interrelationships we could be duped by voo doo science. I really welcomed his comment that just because we don't know everything about a phenomena we do know some things. He says science is a process of narrowing uncertainties. I think he's right on the mark when he says that as we are more and more dependent on scientific knowledge the public needs to understand and deal with that reality.
Category "2. In the News"
October 3, 2005
Chemical lures Great Lakes parasite to its death
October 3, 2005
Recall the sea lamprey -- that eel-like nemesis of the Great Lakes that literally sucks up trout and whitefish galore?
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have spent about $2 million and 15 years perfecting a chemical called a pheromone that attracts the fish to spawning grounds where they can be slaughtered. The news comes from a study in the November issue of Nature Chemical Biology magazine.
The lamprey attaches to other fish and sucks out the body juices. It can consume an average of 40 pounds of fish a year, the study said.
The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, which monitors and manages the lakes, has resorted to using a poison that kills lamprey larvae in streambeds, but it also can kill other animals, the researchers said.
Early tests in Michigan streams have increased the capture rate of lampreys because the synthetic pheromone has attracted them from miles away, the study said.
By Bloomberg News
Category "2. In the News"
Species act backers pin hopes on Senate
BY JOHN DODGE
Critics of the U.S. House- approved changes in the 1973 federal Endangered Species Act are counting on the Senate to derail the bill.
Left in place, the bill that passed the House 229-193 last week could unravel protections of old-growth forests in the Northwest that are home to the ESA-listed northern spotted owl, said Joe Scott, international programs director for Conservation Northwest, a Bellingham-based conservation group.
Scott based his comments on a provision in the bill championed by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif. It eliminates critical habitat designations for threatened and endangered species.
The bill calls for recovery plans for imperiled species and protection of areas of special value but does nothing to guarantee how much habitat would be protected, Scott said.
Most observers in Washington state and Washington, D.C., said the bill has little chance of passing the Senate and becoming law.
"This bill takes reform to an extreme," said Alex Glass, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "The bill faces major challenges in the Senate."
"I don't even know if the Senate will take the bill up," said state Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Jeff Koenings. "We're cautiously optimistic that the Senate will be too busy."
Koenings said a provision in the bill, which requires landowners to be compensated if the presence of a threatened or endangered species limits what they can do with their land, would create havoc for the Puget Sound chinook recovery plan, which calls for major increases in habitat protection along rivers, streams and watersheds.
"Recovering Puget Sound chinook would become tremendously more expensive," he said.
It isn't clear how the federal government could afford to compensate landowners, but the provision does have appeal for property owners who have made sacrifices to preserve land for fish and wildlife, noted Sherry Fox, a Lewis County tree farmer who, along with her husband, Tom, last week were named National Tree Farmers of the Year by the American Forest Foundation.
'No surprises' clause
She said she supported another provision in the law, which says the federal government can't come back at a later date and tell a landowner who enters into a habitat conservation plan with the feds to do more to protect species. It's the so-called "no surprises" clause.
The Fox family's 144-acre farm is covered by a habitat conservation plan that includes the no surprises clause.
"Without it, there is no incentive for the property owner to grow the habitat," she said. "And we want to grow some old timber."
On Friday, officials at the Audubon Society's state office were calling the House bill "the extinction bill."
Since the landmark bill became law, only nine of 1,268 listed species have gone extinct, said Heath Packard, field director of Audubon's state office. "ESA is our safety net, and the Pombo bill cuts holes in that safety net."
Supporters of the Pombo legislation use numbers to tell a different story. Fewer than a dozen of those same species have recovered sufficiently to take them off the ESA list, noted David Wilson, president of the National Association of Home Builders. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said 16 listed species have recovered enough to be taken off the list.
Some had the opinion Friday that Pombo's measure would have less effect on certain threatened and endangered species in this state because of existing state and local laws to protect habitat.
For instance, state and private timberland owners are required under the state Forests and Fish law to limit timber harvesting along rivers and streams to protect listed salmon species, said Cindy Mitchell, spokeswoman for the Washington Forest Protection Association.
"We're trying to make ESA work in its current form," she said. "But we're always looking for more incentives to create habitat, rather than heavy-handed regulatory approaches."
The 10-year, $1.5 billion plan to recover Puget Sound chinook that was crafted in the region and forwarded to the federal government this summer will rely in large part on habitat protection provided by city, county and state land-use ordinances, said Jim Kramer of Shared Strategies.
At the same time, the recovery plan assumes a major boost in habitat for salmon.
"It is confusing for the public," Kramer said. "We're saying we need to protect a lot more habitat than the feds call for in their critical habitat plan for Puget Sound salmon."
Billy Frank Jr.
In testimony last week before a Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman Billy Frank Jr. represented the Northwest tribal perspective on the Endangered Species Act.
"The goals and objectives of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 are more essential today than they have ever been," the American Indian leader and Nisqually tribal member said. "It has helped return the mighty (bald) eagle and the gray whale from the brink of extinction. It has helped bring attention to the plight of the salmon, and it has helped bring some badly needed funding to the effort to turn the tide on salmon decline."
Category "2. In the News"
September 29, 2005
Arctic Ice Cap Shrinking for 4th Summer in a Row
On September 29,2005 the Star Tribune published an article about the ongoing shrinkage of the sea ice in the Arctic. According to Andrew C. Revkin of the New York Times the floating cap of sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, shrank this past summer to its smallest size in a century. Mark Serreze, a senior scientist at the snow and ice center and a professor at the University of Colorado said that this summer was the fourth in a row with ice cap areas sharply below long term average. Of course it was mentioned that this phenomena is hard to explain without taking into account global warming which is caused by humans. Many
experts agree now and from the outset that this trend toward less summer ice is definitely related to global warming. More open water means solar energy is absorbed, not reflected back into space by snow and ice. Ted Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center In Boulder Colorado states that "it's pretty certain a long term decline is under way. All the fears of a rise of sea level due to melting glaciers and ice sheets could be just around the corner I don't doubt it. This article mentioned that polar bears and Inuit seal hunter could be adversely affected as well. It did mention that an expansion or rise in sea level could affect some organisms favorably. For example cod and whale. I don't believe melting ice caps are the answer to saving the whales or cod. There would be more ocean. The scientists in the article said the difference between the average ice area and the area "that persisted" this summer was about 500,000 square miles. A constant comment that was present in this article as well as many articles of this nature was that it's not possible to determine how much of this change in the Arctic is caused by human behavior. How much is caused by carbon dioxide and/or other emissions and what is the role of normal climate fluctuation? Not having a definitive answer to this is quite a barrier to solid public support and lends a bit of credence to corporations that justify not wanting to change their polluting ways.
Category "2. In the News"
Weekend at the Shack...To Bag a Mountain Lion?
Anyone famialar with the midwest knows that many look forward to automn not just for the apple cider, fall leaves and backyard football, but for the onset of hunting season. Grouse, deer, ducks and many other animals are hunted each fall during specific seasons.
Well, the people of South Dakota are preparing to add one more game species to their list, the mountain lion. The first ever mountain lion hunting season is schedualed to begin on October 1st.
Minnesota Public Radio's, Cara Hetland reported yesterday that South Dakota officials claim the growing moutain lion population is breaching more populated areas. Thus over 1,000 hunting license applications have already been submitted. The new hunting season would allow for 25 cats to be killed and five may be breeding females.
The Mountain Lion Foundation based in Souix Falls, SD warns that subjecting the cats to a hunting season would surely be enough to wipe out the 150 lion population. A species that continues to remain extinct in 35 states. The group, who is currently suing the state, scoldes South Dakota's lack of any coordination, research, and record keeping and reccomends joint conservation efforts. Lynn Sadler, president of the foundation, supports South Dakota's original policy, where mountain lions were only allowed to be killed when threatening people or livestock. A male lion requires abot 300 square miles of individual territory which the increasing number of cats have been in search of. The territorial nature of mountain lions could in fact be the best tool against a growing population, suggests Sadler, since males will fight to death over territory.
Those willing to comment from South Dakota's Game, Fish and Parks Department are confident that the 25 cat limit won't even be met due to the difficulty of hunting a mountain lion over South Dakota's rough hills. Rapid City officials explain that that is the very reason the state kept the license fee a cheap as possible. A hearing on issue will take place today where a swift judgement is expected.
It seems that South Dakota's "exploding" mountain lion population of 150 total cats is just another example of where humans must be mindful of more than just local experience, when really the big picture should be examined. Remember that Minnesota underwent a similar situtation when we became the first state to regain a small wolf population. Is it ever thought that we may have invaded the mountain lion population rather than them breeching our territory?
For more information visit mpr.org.
Category "2. In the News"
A 'New Era' of Hurricanes
Like others in the class, I am also writing about the article, “It’s a ‘New Era’ of Hurricances.” This article discusses the trend in blaming global warming for the recent strain of hurricanes and also the general abundance of hurricanes over the last ten years or so.
According to the article, there are cycles or periods during which hurricanes are more or less abundant. These cycles on depend on the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), or “changes in the ocean currents that move heat northward.” Faster currents mean that we will see more hurricanes. Data shows that these seasons change roughly every 20 to 25 years. We saw cool currents from “1900 to 1925, warm from 1926 to 1969, cool from 1970 to 1994 and warm since 1995.”
Although there is specific data of the AMO to back up the fluctuations in hurricane abundance and strength, many are not aware of this information, or they have not lived long enough to observe these cycles.
For me, this article brings up two important points. The first is my concern over the lack of knowledge and blind acceptance of the news and other forms of media. Although global warming may still play a factor in recent hurricane strengths and numbers, there is data available to suggest another reason for these hurricanes. I assume that most people are not aware of this information, but instead blindly accept the idea that global warming causes more and stronger hurricanes. I have to admit that until I read this article, I had not even questioned the connection between global warming and hurricanes; it made sense to me, so I went along with it. For me, this article stresses the importance of completely understanding an issue before taking a side. It also stresses the importance of critically thinking about mainstream media and its information.
My second concern was how the article discounted the link between global warming and the weather. I was disappointed by the “I don’t know” response of Professor William Gray over the connection between the two factors. Although the article does not make a connection between global warming and natural disasters, I had hoped that Gray and other scientists would still stress the importance of reducing its effects. I hope that reducing global warming and improving our environment is still a concern and an item of importance. Instead, Gray states, “With all the problems in the world, we shouldn’t be dealing with this one.”
Category "2. In the News"
Captivity vs. animal rights
Animal rights are some of the most prominent and controversial issues facing society on a daily basis. Many of these rights focus on domestic animals, however, a recent article by Discovery and ABC news has brought the rights of exotic animals to worldwide attention. According to a recent study recorded in Applied Animal Behaviour Science journal, gorillas kept in zoos have shown signs of agitation and stress as a result of being exhibited. These gorillas were noticed to have “abnormal behavior, teeth clenching, body rocking and spinning,”
according to Dr. Deborah Wells. The study indicates that gorillas are not the only primates affected by captivity and that other primates have shown similar signs of agitation and stress in zoo settings. Although some animals appear to enjoy human attention, zoos must be aware of the needs and concerns of other animals. Changes have been made to decrease the stress levels and interaction between the human viewers and the captive animals. However, improvements must continue to be made in order to further promote the happiness and quality of life of the animals humans hold captive in order to observe.
In my opinion, it is wrong to hold animals in captivity if they indeed show signs of stress and agitation around humans. Taking animals out of their natural habitat to place them in an unnatural and somewhat unwelcoming setting has proven to be significantly harmful to the animal’s emotional wellbeing. In this way, scientists and zoologists must be aware of the wellbeing of animals held in captivity and sensitive to the differences in animal emotion and character.
Category "2. In the News"
Contaminated Fuel Angers Customers
I live in the city of Oakdale, Minnesota. Recently a gas station in the area was close down due to some problems. It was later reopen by new owners. The new gas station was called Circl-C Convenience Center. During the time Circle-C station open was when gas prices was really high about four months ago. Circle-C was selling gas really cheap, at least 20-30 cents cheaper than everyone else. When you purchase a gas at Circle-C you receive fee cup or coffee and a free popcorn. They just open so I thought they were trying to get customers. The cheaper gas price got alot of peoples attention. We had people from Oakdale and people outside the city of Oakdale all buying gas there.
"Authorities and customers think that the problem with the gas may have resulted from a failure to clean out the underground storage tanks, which had been empty for months, before filling them with new fuel. The vehicle owners said that dirty watery sludge in the gas was the cause of damages." (Oakdale and Lake Elmo Review)
Most people cars were damage from the contamination of the fuel. My car was okay, but I do feel bad for those who cars are damage. This have all made me realize that some times cheapers is not always better. Your car is worth more than the few cents you save on gas. I do feel bad for the new owners because they are have a lawsuit against them, and they just open the business.
Category "2. In the News"
The Killer Chicken Flu!
It's very easy for us to underestimate the power of the flu. To most of us it's just a nuisance than can be solved with a few days in bed, but for some in southeast Asia it is a different story. The flu's victums have mostly been chickens and it has killed more than a hundred million of them. Robert Webster, a researcher at St. Jude Children's Hopital, said, "This virus right from scratch is probably the worst influenza virus, in terms of being highly pathogenic, that I've ever seen or worked with." When chickens catch the virus they usually die within hours, and now researchers have found that the virus can also kill mammels just as quickly.
Now, there have been several cases where humans have caught the chicken virus and of those cases half have died. The virus has been named H5N1. It is not well adapted to transfer from birds to humans, but it has been proven possible. The scary thought it if this virus has evolved to be able to transfer between species than it is very likely that other virus' could mutate and also infect humans. This isn't the first case that a flu strain has transfered from birds to humans. The last epidemic was named the Spanish flu and spread through army camps during the World War I. Doctors who examined those who died from it found that their lungs were heavy and filled with bloody fluid. Eventually, this strain infected normal civilians and over 50 million people ended up dying. Scientists are still studying the genetic make-up of that virus, they are not done with their research yet, but one conclusion they have made was that the Spanish flu virus was a strain that had been passed from an animal to humans. Victums from the chicken flu are having similar symptoms. Their lungs become filled with fluid and they seem to suffocate to death. The reason our bodies cannot fight animal virus' it because we our immune systems don't recognize them. When we catch the common flu our bodies recognize part of the virus from previous years and can trigger our immune system to fight it. Usually a chicken virus could not affect humans because it isn't able to attack human cells. However, they have now found that a transfer species can develop both a chicken virus and human virus and create a hybrid that can attack human cells. These virus' are much more detrimental to humans because our bodies do not know how to fight them. Right now the virus has not become an epidemic, but it is scary to think of what could happen if this would become out of control. The scientists who are studying it are very concerned about the eventual outcome and the people are even more terrified. Their lack of understanding about the virus has scared them into not eating as much chicken which greatly affects the local economy. As a whole, this issue brings up an even greater concern, what would we do if a virus did infect our nation and how would we fight it? Interesting to think about.
Category "2. In the News"
Wisc. Govenor to veto ban on cloning
While skimming over the online edition of the Star Tribune I found an article about human cloning in Wisconsin. The Senate passed a bill that banned human cloning and the Govenor was set to veto that bill. He believes that putting a ban on cloning would hurt the research done at UW Madison. I for one will not claim myself to be an expert in the ill effects due to human cloning but I do believe that the positives do outweigh the negatives. If we allow stem cell research and cloning of cells we have a greater oppertunity to find cures for our most devistating diseases. With the amount of knowledge and technology in the science world today why put a halt to it now? I have great faith in the scientists to help find a cure for cancer and other deadly diseases within our lifetime. I can't wait to see all the innovations and successes that are going to come about because of the research being done in today's labratories. I agree with the govenor of Wisconsin to veto the bill to ban human gene cloning.
Category "2. In the News"
September 28, 2005
Kill the hurricane before it kills us?
It was called project Stormfury. It's goal was simple; to weaken or dissapate potentially dangerous hurricanes before they could cause damage. The idea was to drop silver iodide outside of the hurricanes eyewall. The silver iodide would act as ice nuclei and new clouds would form out side of the existing eyewall. The goal was to form a new eyewall that would collapse the existing wall and spin slower. In trials conducted in the 60's and 70's Stormfury seemed to be working. Hurricanes that were seeded with the silver iodide appeared to lose up to 30% of their wind speeds.
Unfortunetly their were some gigantic holes in the method. Primarily, the fact that hurricanes fluctuate in power on their own completely negates the results of the experiment. Effective cloud seeding also requires supercooled water that is liquid even though it is below 32 degrees F. Unfortunetly hurricanes contain far less supercooled water than other storm clouds. The project was dropped after wasting hundreds of millions of dollars.
Other, even more rediculous methods of hurricane prevention have been proposed. One includes cooling tropical water with icebergs, and another involves spreading some sort of film over the water preventing storm cells from feeding off the heat of the ocean.
I don't know what others think but the whole thing seems like a pretty good example of human kinds' arrogance in the face of nature. I do not think that destroying the storm is the answer. Either way I am kinda reporting on old news.
What I think we need to focus attention on are more practical ways of preventing damage. Stronger levies, a rigid, government enforced building code, and better evacuation plans are far more practical solutions to the hurricane problem.
Category "2. In the News"
According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ICIA), polar bears are facing possible extinction with the increase of global warming. The ICIA has over 250 scientists from Britain and America researching such cases. If the arctic keeps melting at its present rate, the sea-ice that the polar bears hunt on will become liquid. If the polar bears hunting area diminishes the bears wont be able to build up the necessary fat to hold them through the winter months and to be able to successfully reproduce. In Canada's Hudson Bay, the sea ice is breaking around 2.5 weeks earlier than 30 years ago. Also, the polar bears in Manitoba way 55 pounds less than they did 35 years ago. If this pattern continues in about 10 years polar bears wont be able to reproduce, because they will be too thin and infertile. Computer prediction programs show the sea-ice by 2100, disappearing by 1/2. This case of global warming also affects artic seals, walruses, and local people. Chief Gary Harrison from the Arctic Athabaskan Council stated, "Our homes are threatened by storms and melting permafrost, our livelihoods are threatened by changes to the plants and animals we harvest. Even our lives are being threatened, as traditional travel routes become more dangerous." The ACIA reported that this global change will not only contribute the the extinction of polar bears and other arctic species, but it will create numerous hardships for the natives of the land.
Category "2. In the News"
Cracking the code for hurricane forecasts
In light of the hurricane issues our country has been having, I found it appropriate to write about it. This MSNBC news article gave a little information on the tracking of hurricanes and how to read what they are telling us.
Hurricane prediction experts are saying that if you just look at the "skinny black line" when watching a predicted hurricane, it's not enough to tell you where and how hard the hurricane will hit. The National Hurricane Center has a new tool that narrow down where it is likely a hurricane will hit and how strong the winds may become. They comment that these new developments are for saving lives, no matter how scientifically interesting they may be.
Hurricane pictures show a "balloon" because it balloons outward from where the storm's position may be three to five days in the future. In order to get these predictions at all, forecasters have to take data such as wind, precipitation, temperature and pressure from air and ground resources and put all of them into computer systems in order to study them. They then come up with specific forecasts that predict a storm's certain location at a certain time. All these forecasts added together form the "skinny black line" and from there, the forecasts can add the "cone of uncertainty by mathematically computeing an error range, based on a 10-year average of prediction errors." I find it interesting that the entire hurricane is based on a computer and past errors in order to warn thousands of people their lives may be in danger. As the cone widens around the black line, it is getting further away in time because these predictions are more likely to be wrong the more in the future they are.
If you want to look at these forecasts, the National Hurricane Center has all of these tools on their webpage. Their graphics include a three day cone and a five day cone; it is historically shown that a given storm has 60 to 70 percent change of staying within the cone when looked at on a three day cone map. They are saying it's more important to focus on the balloon shaped areas rather than the black line because storms do take unexpected turns. All of the uncertainty a hurricane provides in basically a scary thing for the people who it affects. Those paying attention to the large area are more likely to be aware of a storm that could possibly hit their area at a given time, though the black line is still important. It gives a general "danger zone" and can be effective that way. This new development is able to make people aware of the storms in their area and can possibly save lives when people are paying attention to what is going on.
The black line chart is a probability chart. It shows the probability that the center of a storm will pass within 75 miles of the given point during a 72 hour period. This tool also shows strike probabilities and can give an estimate of when the storm will affect your area, using 12 to 24 time periods.
An obvious important hurricane factor is the wind. The prediction maps are a little more difficult for wind, but for a tropical storm, the service provides "three maps displaying the likelihood that sustained winds in a given area will exceed a particular level over periods of up to five days."
Though these tools are available at a national level, the areas that are in direct paths of the storm should obviously pay attention to their local weather and grasp information that way. I just feel that these tools could be very helpful for people who live in other areas and have loved ones living in storm paths. It helps us be aware of what is going on, because in the Midwest we aren't as affected as those down south. Katrina is a national problem, and in the future these new discoveries may help natural disasters be somewhat less, well, disastrous.
Category "2. In the News"
Feminizing Male Fish
Last year nine smallmouth bass from the Potomac River were found with developed eggs inside their sex organs. This discovery spawned a wave of concern among scientists and citizens alike who were worried about what this discovery meant. The reason for this unusual situation is believed to be brought upon by endocrine disruptors. The endocrine system in the body regulates hormones distributed from the glands, such as pituitary, pancreas, testes, ovaries, etc. One of the major possibilities is the release of estrogen from sewage; women on birth control and other hormonal medications release estrogen through their excrement, and since there are currently no restrictions on estrogen, it readily flows through the sewage-treatment plant and into our water supply, affecting fish. Since the endocrine system controls hormones, and endocrine disruptors affect the endocrine system, excess estrogen disrupts the hormonal balance, aiding in the feminization of fish. Research was done in 2003 on the smallmouth bass in South Branch to conclude why many of the fish were dying. One hundred fish were dissected, and 42 of those were found to contain eggs. Researches went back in 2004, and examined 63 smallmouth bass from South Branch, and approximately 80% of the fish had either eggs or female reproductive characteristics. Environment Canada showed that fish living near sewage plant seepage had a higher percentage of feminization. Britain researches evaluated 24 seepage sites in 8 European countries and found that some of the sites had abnormally high female populations. They hypothesized that endocrine disrupters affected the male fish so much that they probably died sooner than the females. So far England is the only country that measures and limits estrogen levels in its sewage effluent. Another problem with endocrine disrupters in fish is that it is unknown who these will affect humans that ingest them. Scientists believe the endocrine disrupters could cause effects such as neurological and thyroid system problems, and in Hardy County, where people get their drinking water from contaminated South Beach, there has been an increase in cancer of the liver, gallbladder, ovaries, and uterus. Scientists say all 4 types of cancer grow faster in presence of estrogen, or estrogen-like chemicals. After hearing about feminization of fish, I became very worried about not only the quality of water in streams, but also about the quality of drinking water and sewage seepage. I thought that in order for waste from the sewage treatment plants to be dumped, it had to be carefully examined for all possible harm. It really makes me consider how much trust we can place in the cleansing of sewage. Most people prefer to not think about where their bodily excrement is going, but this information proves that it is something we need to consider. People seem to assume that their waste is being adequately handled with, without looking into it more. While I realize that not every hormone, compound, and material can be tested for, someone should be constantly monitoring sewage seepage and the surrounding area, and should be ready to make a move when something is found. I find it amazing that the issue has to become as severe as large numbers of male fish harboring eggs before action is taken. However, it seems as though no action has yet to be taken, even after these discoveries. One of the articles I read seemed to sum up the human attitude best, stating, "Until rigorous medical research shows a direct connection between elevated estrogen levels and negative health effects in humans, public health and environmental officials are unlikely to devote significant time and money to reducing estrogen levels in fish populations." I think this seems to be the general attitude towards the environment. Unless the issue has significant negative impact on humans, and can be proven as truth, the public would rather remain in denial. The articles I read where from December 2004, and when I was searching for recent news about the development of estrogen in sewage seepage, the only thing I could find was an article from August 14, 2005 stating that male fish from the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair had been found with altered sex organs. It seems that there still has not been any legislation on this issue, not even sewage testing for hormones. Instead, just more fish have been found with altered sex organs. This is devastating for the future of these fish populations. With that high of a percentage of male fish that are now incapable of reproducing, the fish population will drastically decline. Not to mention future generations, where the males will continue to grow female reproductive parts, and the females may too become affected, inhibiting their normal reproductive cycle. I just think this issue proves how it is impossible for people to know about all the environmental problems facing the world, and how we are incapable of knowing our actions’ consequences until the effects start to show up. I know legislation and action take time and money, but this is an important, worrisome issue.
Category "2. In the News"
Here is an interesting and accidentally environmental protection story. In 1982, there was a small war between Argentina and Britain over the rights to the Falkland Islands. During the fight, mines were placed by the coastal regions of the island. After the dispute was over, not all of the mines were cleared out, and at the time it would have been extremely hard and expensive to clear all of them out, so they just put a fence around it. This fenced off area, therefore is now absent of all human influence, including livestock grazing. This has given the plant life time to recover, as well as creating an ideal breeding environment for penguins, which are too light to set off the landmines. So, interestingly enough, these animals have gained a protected habitat through an act of human violence. I think that this is a great situation! The humans have given a large section of land back to the environment, and it went back to the function it held before human interaction with it. However, human safety is still a concern for some, and they think that the mines should be removed. While this is an admirable idea with good intentions, some believe that well enough should be left alone. And as of now, there isn’t a big push from the locals to do so, and I couldn’t agree more. Four different species of penguins, gentoo, king, rockhopper and Magellanic can be found there. Over 1,500 of the gentoo alone! The mines haven’t even caused a single injury since 1984, and the human inhabitants haven’t have dealt with the land loss. I think that the current situation should be allowed to continue, for the benefit of humans, other animals, and the land itself.
Article = http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/americas/09/27/falklands.penguins.reut/
Category "2. In the News"
Tigers Attack? Really?
I found a pretty interesting story that happened right here in Minnesota. I just don't get people who think they can erase hundreds of thousands of years of evolution by bottle feeding and raising an animal like that as a pet. Why force an animal to conform to human society simply for their own personal entertainment? And if their claim was to help an endangered species, then why bring it into a habitat as cold as Minnesota’s? As cool as tiger’s may be, they’re out of place in our society, even if they are tamed. We all know how much Siegfried & Roy love their tigers, but look what happened to him, he was also mauled. During that attack, Roy got bit in the neck, that's right, the neck – ouch. A tiger's ecological niche belongs in the jungle, not in the backyard with a 10-year-old child.
June 23, 2005
MINNEAPOLIS - A 10-year-old boy was attacked and critically injured by a tiger and a lion that were among a dozen large animals kept by a businessman, authorities said.
Russell LaLa of Royalton was injured Wednesday when he and his father visited Chuck Mock, who authorities say is the owner of 11 large cats and a bear. The boy was in critical condition Thursday at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.
Authorities said Mock opened the door of a cage and a tiger pushed its way out to attack the boy. When the owner was pulling off the tiger, a lion bit Russell, Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel said.
Mock, the owner of Best Buy Auto near Little Falls, did not immediately return telephone calls to his home and office Thursday.
Wetzel said Mock has registered 12 animals with the state — 11 large cats and one bear. The sheriff said he thought Mock kept the animals as "a novelty."
"I don't think anyone should have them," Wetzel said. "Just because you're legal doesn't mean you're safe."
SIEGRIED & ROY - Audience members said the tiger, a 7-year-old named Montecore who actually has performed in the show for years, refused a command to lie down and then clamped its jaws on Horn's right arm.
The magician repeatedly struck the animal in the head with a microphone, the sound reverberating throughout the auditorium.
The tiger then lunged at Horn, clamped its jaws around his neck and pulled him out of the audience's view, horrified tourists said after filing out of the show.
"He started beating the tiger with his microphone, and the next thing I know, Siegfried is running across the stage yelling, `No, no, no!' " said Tony Cohen, a tourist from Miami who was about 10 yards from the stage. "Then this thing, this tiger, it just took him right off the stage."
Category "2. In the News"
A solution to global warming?
After reviewing the carbon cycle for our upcoming test, I ran across an article with a solution to curb global warming. The New York Times article reported on a new study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They proposed capturing carbon dioxide emissions from factories and power plants. Doing this could reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations by as much as 30 percent. This surprised me because many new proposals have to do with reducing CO2 emissions, rather than capturing them. This seems like a good idea; it certainly would limit the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. But where will this trapped carbon go? Sure, we can trap it, but what happens then?
The carbon would be compressed and stored in geological formations. This includes, oil and gas fields, bedrock formations and the ocean. I do not have much knowledge on how pumping CO2 back into the earth will affect various systems and cycles, but the idea of this concerns me. Instead of solving the problem of high CO2 emissions by reducing them, we are just going to cover it up.
The article even brings up the fact that this process is expensive and requires methods of transporting and depositing the compressed CO2.
I do not understand why we continue to produce high levels of waste and then spend our money trying to get rid of it. This happens with municipal garbage, nuclear waste and now carbon dioxide. Money should be spent reducing the amount of waste produced initially.
Capturing CO2 may be a good solution to a pressing problem, but in my mind, the best long-term solution would be to reduce CO2 emissions altogether.
IPCC Special Report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage
Category "2. In the News"
Government in the Environment
I was reading the September 22 issue of Rolling Stone magazine and came across an article called “A Polluter’s Feast” (referring to our nice clean world) by Tim Dickinson. The point of the article was that this author was accusing the Bush administration of reversing environmental progress. He made the claim that the administration has “reversed more environmental progress in the last eight months then Ronald Reagan did in a full eight years.” The article states that many of the pro-environmental laws put into affect by previous presidents are being overruled and will therefore not come onto affect. It talks about the energy bill and how, with it, the Bush administration is polluting the water, logging more forests, killing fish, and “nuking the future”. I’m glad that in the process of getting the energy bill passed, the part about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was omitted, but all of these other issues seem bad as well… This article is full of sarcasm and unquestionably biased. Rolling Stone magazine, an entertainment magazine, is undoubtedly a very liberal magazine and chose to print this article to cater to, and make angry, all of its anti-Bush readers, which is probably the majority. I also think that this article was a little extreme and I am choosing not to believe EVERYTHING emphasized as “Bush’s horrible plan”. It was a well written article to make people, and not just environmentalists, angry at Bush, but also anyone in the general public who are interested in the wellbeing of humans.
Category "2. In the News"
Ice-cap Melting Eliminating Arctic Ecosystems
I listened to an NPR story this morning, which discussed the expedition of a couple dozen biologists to the Arctic Ocean in search of "hidden oceans" between the glaciers of the North Pole. In the hidden oceans they have found, they have encountered many life-forms living in these freshwater reservoirs. For instance, they have discovered several species of insects, snails, and other bacteria that could only live in the cold, fresh-water environments of the arctic. One snail, named the clione, was compared to a butterfly in appearance and motion.
The fact that many organisms can only find survival possible within these uncommon environments poses a difficult question: what will happen when global climate change alters these environments? It is already obvious that the Earth is seeing an increase in global average temperature, and that the highest temperature increases are occurring in the polar regions. As a result, ice-caps are melting and its freshwater is being sent into the salty ocean.
The story I heard on NPR had a concerned tone when relating the details of the biologists' expedition to global climate change. What will happen to these organisms when the ice-caps melt away and they find their environments, whether once before on solid ground or in the "hidden" freshwater reservoirs between and under this ground, now melted and dispersed into the salty oceans? This question was one I had hardly considered because I often forget how much life actually does exist in the polar regions. It seems that global climate change is too rapid a process for polar bears to simply take to swimming all the time, cliones to adapt to saltwater in a snap (of an ice-wall), and so on.
Even the slowing down of global climate change could help protect as many of these arctic life-forms as possible. If--the big "if"--emissions of greenhouse gases can be reduced by any amount, perhaps these wet or furry creatures of the arctic flurries will have a home proportionally longer.
If you also wish to listen to this story, visit: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4865870
Category "2. In the News"
Is it worth repairing?
A new pipeline is being built in west Washington to replace an older pipeline which has ruptured twice in the past having dramatic effects on the surrounding habitat. It sounded like a great idea at first, then i looked into the details of the plan, and realized that in building a new pipeline would encroach and even damage some of washington's wetlands.
The plan is to place the new pipe line in a riverbed running in opposite directions on either side of the river, but in placing the pipeline in the riverbed many miles of vegitation that can be vital to the river ecology will be dissrupted. The dissruption caused may be so severe that some vegitation may never fully recover from the devistation. Another downfall of placing the new pipeline in a reverbed is disruption of spawning grounds for salmon. Since salmon migrate instinctivly, meaning each generation returns to the exact same spawning location as the previous generation(www.msnencarta.com) Disturbance or distruction of the spawning grounds could be detrimental to the future populations of salmon. The dangers of a rupturing pipeline also have to be considered because that would really devistate much of the river's inhabitants, and the remaining vegitation.
After taking a closer look at the possible downfalls of building a new pipeline in a riverbed it really dosent seem like all of the possible problems were considered. The company planning the new pipeline did however agree to attempt to restore all wetlands effected by the construction of the pipeline, and sponsor or construct three new wetlands along the route to make up for any unrepairable damage. So i ask again, in the end is it worth rebuilding? Personally i have to say no.
Information aquired from www.theolimpian.com, "Pipeline Firm Will Create a Wetland" by John Dodge, published Sept. 16 2005
Category "2. In the News"
The Disappearing Arctic
I read an article online titled "Arctic Ice 'Disappearing Fast"' by Richard Black, and it can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4290340.stm. Basically, it states the data that has been accumulated in the arctic for the month of September, which is the time of year when there is the least amount of ice. Evidently, this is the fourth year in a row when there's been extremely low amounts of ice, and it's disappearing at a rate of 8% per decade. This is yet another piece of evidence to global warming.
The news article is liable to me because it does provide both views on this issue. For instance, the fact is mentioned that only surface ice is measured, and there could be ice pile ups deeper in the ocean that account for some of the missing ice.
As an interesting tid-bit, the arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. What are going to be the consequences of this in the near future? I'm not sure, and I would be skeptical of anyone who claimed that they knew. There are so many different factors that affect the environment, other than global warming. However, I can state from my own experience living in Alaska that the melting permafrost has a significant effect on building structures. Homes need constant maintaneance due to the shifting soil. Furthermore, the tiaga and boreal forest are creeping up on the tundra's territory. Spruce trees are rapidly spreading farther north. Therefore, based on various articles from different newspapers and my own observations, I would say the arctic is definetly disappearing and temperatures are rising.
Category "2. In the News"
Global Dimming was an issue I was not very familiar with and there was a well written article and www.globalissues.org that helped me understand more.
Global dimming is cause by burning fossil fuels which creates sulphur dioxide, soot, and ash. When those pollutants get released into the air the get trapped in clouds. These polluted clouds are very reflexive, which means the suns heat and energy isn’t getting to the earth like it should but rather gets reflected back into space from these clouds. This process is known as Global Dimming.
Global Dimming has had a large impact on people and their environment in the past few decades. Climatologists who have studied this issue believe that it has resulted in a massive death toll. In 70's and 80's in Northern Africa there was a major drought and famine cause by lack of rain, which lead to millions of deaths and many more people suffering and hungry. Because of global dimming the sun reflected head made the water in the northern hemisphere much cooler which resulted in lack of rain in regions of Africa.
Global Dimming is an issue people should be aware of. The only known solutions to the problem are reforestation and simply cleaning up emissions.
Category "2. In the News"
September 27, 2005
what of the frogs?
I recently was viewing the Star Tribune, when I came across an article sent in by Melanie Peterson-Nafziger (a St. Paul teacher) which in all its detail, focused on her frustration with Minnesota and it's end to research on frog malformations that have been predominatly surfacing in the last 10 years. She had recently found a malformed frog and was motivated to share her findings with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
This Agency, due to legislative funding cuts, no longer researches deformed frogs. This information surprised me to say the least, due to fact that most of these frog findings have originated specifically in Minnesota. These seemingly minute creatures, small although they are, have been around for millions of years, and have survived to this day. These telltell environmental indicators, shouldn't be pushed aside as uninformative. These frogs are basically highlighting the issue regarding our disregard for what we are doing to disrupt our surrrounding environment and in fact in the long run, to our own health. Some of the conclusions from the research that was done in Minnesota as listed on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency website where:
Something in the water due to ground-water contamination, chemicals at the sight acting as endocrine disruptors, and ulraviolet light. These malformations obviously aren't warrenting from natural causes, so why have we disregarded what could become breakthrough research. This information, should make the nation take a step back and look at what we are in fact putting into our envrionment from things discussed in class such as disruption or irregular displacement of certain cycles in our environment to the introduction of chemicals such as fertilizers and how our environment is not able to remove such entities. As Donella Meadows once stated "The indicators a society chooses to report to itself are surprisingly powerful. They reflect values and inform collective decisions."
Category "2. In the News"
Hurricanes and Global Warming?
In my human geography class last spring we discussed natural disasters, man-made disasters like Chernobyl, and in-between disasters, which the professor stated were hurricanes. At the time the class and myself thought that did not make sense, but the explanation was that global warming through pollution from man warmed the waters possibly increasing the frequency for hurricanes. Since I'm not a meteorologist, I thought it made sense. This is just another reason why the environment needs to be a bigger priority on the government's list.
In an article on CNN that I just saw discussed hurricanes and global warming. Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, suggested that global warming is not really to blame for the increase in hurricane activity, but "natural fluctuations (and) cycles of hurricane activity driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it". In addition, Mayfield's colleague, Chris Landsea, stated studies linking global warming and hurricanes indicate that global warming can have a 5 % increase on hurricane winds and rainfall 100 years from now. Two other hurricane researchers, Hugh Willoughby (Florida International University) and William Gray (Colorado State University) agree with NHC. The increase in hurricane activity is associated more with the oscillation cycle in the Atlantic Ocean which causes fluctuations in ocean temperature and salinity rather than global warming, and that this activity is moving back towards "normal".
I find this very interesting. This shows misinformation in what people are told and what actually the evidence is. Many organizations claim that the environment is currently in a "crisis." Are these organizations just making a claim or is there underlying support for the crisis? Just as many feel that the increase in hurricanes is partly because of global warming, the experts on the other hand suggest that global warming is not really to blame. It could be that many are in a rush to place blame on environmental concerns before considering the research which substantiates or contradicts whether the concern is real. This is similar to the thought that global warming is evident in fluctuations in temperatures of various regions (Minnesota for example), when in actuality experts state that temperature has only increased by one or two degrees over a long, extended time period, rather than a few years like many think. What other concerns is society receiving misinformation about? It is this disparity between research and opinion that makes critically thinking so important.
O'Neill, A. (2005). It's a 'new era' of hurricanes. CNN, September 23, 2005. Retrieved 09/27/05 from http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/science/09/23/hurricane.cycle/index.html
Category "2. In the News"
Area under habitat conservation plans could soar
Petitions increase burden on Fish and Wildlife Service
Monday, September 26, 2005
By LISA STIFFLER AND ROBERT MCCLURE
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTERS
Timber companies, developers, local governments and others are seeking federal permission to nearly triple the 37 million acres that fall under the nation's controversial and underfunded habitat conservation program.
Of the 433 pending plans listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, most are in the West and South, where development and timber-cutting most frequently collide with endangered species, records obtained by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer show.
In the Pacific Northwest, more than two dozen habitat plans are officially under review, according to Fish and Wildlife records released under the Freedom of Information Act.
One of the largest is a 9.1 million-acre deal in Washington that would shield much of the state's private timber industry from prosecution for harming salmon, steelhead, bull trout and 47 other kinds of fish. Approval of the 50-year "Forests and Fish" deal is expected later this year.
Other regional plans range from Port of Vancouver construction projects to irrigation water withdrawals in Eastern Washington to the Oregon coastline.
Some of the biggest in the works elsewhere: a 16 million-acre Louisiana plan that would allow logging and construction in areas populated by endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers; a 10.7 million-acre plan covering a Texas aquifer that is home to imperiled salamanders and insects; and a construction-farming strategy for 9.4 million acres inhabited by desert tortoises in California's Mojave Desert.
Habitat conservation plans are supposed to balance property rights and protection of endangered animals, often with developers restoring or setting aside some wild lands for vanishing species while bulldozing others. The deals typically offer an exemption from liability under the Endangered Species Act, effectively allowing the harming or killing of protected animals.
A P-I investigative series in May showed that many of the plans have serious shortcomings that tip the scales in favor of industry. In some cases, vast stretches of land "preserved" to supposedly offset the effects of construction already was in public ownership.
The agreements are often made with limited scientific information and rely heavily on careful monitoring of species to decide whether more or less protections are needed.
The records released recently by Fish and Wildlife show the potential for explosive growth in the program -- at a time when the agency's ability to oversee the long-term plans is eroding as taxpayer dollars and staff levels dwindle.
"That's a huge concern. That may be the jugular of the whole picture," said Dyche Kinder, wildlife committee chairman for The Mountaineers, a Seattle-based environmental and outdoor organization. Whether or not protection succeeds depends on adequate funding, he said.
Ken Berg, who oversees the federal program in Washington, described the job of continuing to work on new plans while keeping tabs on the ones already approved as "challenging."
Shrinking budgets have cut the staff working full time on the plans at the Portland-based regional office in half: from six a few years ago to three today. Laura Hill, habitat conservation coordinator for Fish and Wildlife's Western region, said further cutbacks are likely.
"Funding has always been a problem and, if anything could help the problem, that would be it -- to get more biologists on the ground working on this," Hill said. Biologists in numerous field offices also work on the plans.
A dozen plans are moving forward in Washington, but at least 16 have been abandoned, including a King County proposal seeking Endangered Species Act exemptions for wastewater-treatment facilities in a 435,200-acre service area.
"The hurdles that you have to go through ... are so incredibly difficult," said Don Theiler, the county's wastewater director.
The plan, he said, would have been too complicated because of the variety of projects it would have covered. "We decided it was easier and more efficient to work with other parts of the Endangered Species Act to get our needs met."
The Wastewater Treatment Division completed an environmental impact statement to determine what effect its actions would have on the environment and struggling species, including chinook salmon and bull trout.
Critics suspect that many of the dropouts from habitat planning simply decided to take their chances. Once approved, the habitat plans secure a government permit that gives the holder a pass on government prosecutions under the Endangered Species Act -- and a fairly formidable defense against private lawsuits by environmentalists to enforce the act.
Without such a permit, someone cutting down a forest or developing a hillside that shelters threatened species could be prosecuted.
Fish and Wildlife officials acknowledge that the agency's ability to enforce the law is limited. That's why they push so hard for companies and governments to complete the habitat plans. At least that way, the animals are getting something out of the deal, government biologists reason. They say that species benefit from the partnerships being formed, that plan holders can be genuinely committed to saving species.
And they hope that the trend toward creating larger plans will allow for more effective conservation.
One in southeastern Washington would protect ranchers, wheat growers and others in Douglas County, where the endangered pygmy rabbit is making its last stand. Agricultural operations also are fearful of what might happen if the sage grouse gains federal protection.
The habitat plan would require farmers to take steps to protect species, such as rotating cattle among pastures to make sure herds don't wear out any one piece of ground, said rancher Jim Hemmer of Del Rio. The plan has been under development for several years, he said, in part because of difficulties in securing the funds needed to complete the project.
Others are persevering.
In November, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department released a draft version of a 25-year plan to save the snowy plover. The small seabird nests, feeds and raises its chicks on sandy coastal beaches. The plan covering the coastline helps establish protected areas off-limits for public use and includes some restoration.
Work on the plan started in 2001, and officials said a final version could be completed by 2007.
"We've never done anything on this scale before," said Kathy Schutt, planning and resources manager with the department. "All of it is new. We just boldly went into it."
A similarly sweeping Washington plan covering publicly owned marine shorelines across the state, including Puget Sound, is under way. The plan would protect dozens of aquatic species and address such activities as geoduck harvests, pollution threats and installation of docks and buoys.
ABOUT THIS REPORT
The P-I requested the information on pending habitat conservation plans a year ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service complied after nine months, but the agency refused to divulge the names of 182 plan applicants or 74 proposed locations, claiming Freedom of Information Act exemptions protecting personal privacy.
Category "2. In the News"
September 26, 2005
It pays to be environmentally friendly
The California Public Utilities Commision just approved the proposal to give consumers rebates for their energy efficient appliances. There is going to be $2 billion dollars to grant to consumers in the upcoming 3 years. This gives consumers incentives to buy energy efficient household items such as: water heaters, furnaces, and air conditioners. In the long run much money will be saved purchasing these appliances, as well as, earning their rebates up to $600.
This plan will reduce pollution in the air and spread awareness to the public about their effects on the environment. Overall, this plan should also help decrease global warming, because people will be reducing their CO2 emissions. I hope that more states adopt plans similiar to this one to help keep promoting positive environmental changes.
Category "2. In the News"
Melting snow hastens warming in the Arctic
By DOUG O'HARRA
Anchorage Daily News
(Published: September 24, 2005)
Melting snow has triggered the warmest summers across Arctic Alaska in at least 400 years, setting in motion tree and shrub growth that will accelerate warming by two to seven times as the century unfolds.
The slow expansion of the tundra's snow-free season by about 2.5 days per decade since the 1960s explains 95 percent of the recent rise in summer temperatures, and is far more influential than changes in vegetation, sea ice, atmospheric circulation or clouds, according to a report published this week in Science Express.
Those few extra days when the sun bakes brown tundra instead of getting reflected back into space by snow produces a surprising impact, wrote University of Alaska Fairbanks ecologist Terry Chapin and 20 co-authors. They have warmed the tundra by three watts for every square meter -- as much heating as you'd get from doubling the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
"There's been a long-term interest in why it is that high latitude climate seems to be warming more rapidly than the rest of the world," said Chapin, a professor at the Institute of Arctic Biology and the first Alaska member of the National Academy of Sciences. "Basically, I thought that maybe vegetation would be having a large influence, but the bottom line of that paper is that snowmelt swamps the vegetation."
Even small increases in the time the landscape spends dark rather than white make a huge difference in how much solar energy gets absorbed, explained snow researcher Matthew Sturm, with the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory at Fort Wainwright.
"If you sort of think about the short summer period, there's just a certain number of days when we have that nice dark tundra exposed," he said. "If we add a couple days where we don't have snow cover, we have a big impact. Just peeling that back a couple days per decade, and there's a lot of warming."
The paper, the "Role of Land-Surface Changes in Arctic Summer Warming," arose from a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Coordinated by Chapin and Sturm, it drew on a decade of work by 21 ecologists and biologists, snow and ice experts, climate researchers and supercomputer jockeys. It crunched a hemisphere of data -- shifts in temperature, cloud cover, solar energy, snow cover and vegetation.
"We argue that recent changes in the length of the snow-free season have triggered a set of interlinked feedbacks that will amplify future rates of summer warming," the authors wrote.
The study is only one of several new reports describing how climate change appears to be accelerating across the Arctic. Tundra has been greening up with more shrubs that, in turn, trap more solar energy, according to new papers published by scientists at Woods Hole Research Center and the Army research lab. At the same time, Interior spruce forests have declined, under stress from drought and wildfires.
Scientists say there's no question that overall Arctic warmth has been influenced both by increases in greenhouse gas concentrations and natural cycles, though the relative contributions are still not clear.
This newest study suggests that policy-makers should take Alaska's warming climate as a spur to action, regardless of the causes, said Chapin, the lead author. That means people ought to find ways to cut back on fossil fuel consumption while preparing for big changes in the landscape.
"It's a chance for policy-makers and industry to look for innovative ways to maximize the societal benefit of the fuels that we do use," he said. "I think there's lots that can be done to reduce fossil fuels that would have modest or even positive impacts on the economy."
The study found summer warming in Arctic Alaska and western Canada sped up over time, resulting in an increase of almost three-quarters of a degree Fahrenheit per decade over the past 40 years. But explaining why was complicated.
Changes in ocean cycles influence winter temperatures and don't fully explain summer warmth. Shrinking sea ice also has the biggest impact on fall and winter conditions. More summer cloudiness tends to "dampen" the amount of sun beating down over the seasons, the scientists said.
Vegetation has spread, too, with tall shrubs advancing into the tundra and the tree line slipping north. Spring leaf-out has come 10 to 12 days earlier in Alaska over the past half century. But all these shifts, while moving faster and faster, account for only about 2 percent of the summer warming observed so far, the scientists said.
"The summer warming in Alaska is best explained by a lengthening of the snow-free season, causing sensible warming of the lower atmosphere to begin earlier," they concluded.
But as the shrubs expand in the tundra, their influence will grow -- catching more solar heat, trapping more insulating snow, enriching the soil with nutrients. Eventually vegetation will take over.
"Because of these feedbacks, there are lots of reasons to think that this warming will continue," Chapin said.
Understanding what factors are pushing the shrub expansion "would reduce the likelihood of unexpected surprises" in future summer warming, the scientists wrote.
Chapin, one of the most influential scientists in Alaska, said he hopes to begin looking into what factors might pushing climate changes in other areas of Alaska.
"I'm interested in asking similar questions for the boreal forest, where there's an increase in forest fires," he said.
Category "2. In the News"
September 20, 2005
Evolutionary Adaptions of Otters
I read recently about a study done on the evolutionary qualities of otter fur. Everyone knows that otters, like other animals, enjoy being in the water, but most animals that spend a lot of time in the water have a layer of fat that helps keep them warm. Otters, however, do not! Scientists were stumped, so they decided to research into it. They used electron microscopes to look at the otters hair and found that it had a very unique adaption. The otter's cuticle surface on their underhairs have grooves that interlock with eachother and form a solid water resistance barrier. This adaptation has helped them survive very well in the cold water they love. This also showed the effectiveness of their grooming. When they groom themselves they are actually helping lock those hairs together to keep themselves more warm. I thought it was a fun unique discovery!
Category "2. In the News"
September 16, 2005
Severe Hurricanes Increasing, Study Finds
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 16, 2005; A13
A new study concludes that rising sea temperatures have been accompanied by a significant global increase in the most destructive hurricanes, adding fuel to an international debate over whether global warming contributed to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.
The study, published today in the journal Science, is the second in six weeks to draw this conclusion, but other climatologists dispute the findings and argue that a recent spate of severe storms reflects nothing more than normal weather variability.
Katrina's destructiveness has given a sharp new edge to the ongoing debate over whether the United States should do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming. Domestic and European critics have pointed to Katrina as a reason to take action, while skeptics say climate activists are capitalizing on a national disaster to further their own agenda.
According to data gathered by researchers at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the number of major Category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide has nearly doubled over the past 35 years, even though the total number of hurricanes, including weaker ones, has dropped since the 1990s. Katrina was a Category 4 storm when it made landfall.
Using satellite data, the four researchers found that the average number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes -- those with winds of 131 mph or higher -- rose from 10 a year in the 1970s to 18 a year since 1990. Average tropical sea surface temperatures have increased as much as 1 degree Fahrenheit during the same period, after remaining stable between 1900 and the mid-1960s.
Georgia Tech atmospheric scientist Judith A. Curry -- co-author of the study with colleagues Peter J. Webster and Hai-Ru Chang, and NCAR's Greg J. Holland -- said in an interview that their survey, coupled with computer models and scientists' understanding of how hurricanes work, has given the researchers a better sense of how rising sea temperatures are linked to more-intense storms.
"There is increasing confidence, as the result of our study, that there's some level of greenhouse warming in what we're seeing," Curry said. "Is it the whole story? We don't know."
Higher ocean temperatures result in more water vapor in the air, which, combined with certain wind patterns, helps power stronger hurricanes, Webster said. Small increases in sea temperature, he added, can "exponentially provide more and more fuel for the hurricanes."
Other studies and computer models also have pointed to an increase in storm intensity: Massachusetts Institute of Technology atmospheric scientist Kerry A. Emanuel wrote last month in the journal Nature that the duration and maximum wind speeds of storms in the North Atlantic and North Pacific have increased about 50 percent since the mid-1970s. The storms' growing violence stemmed in part from higher ocean temperatures, he concluded.
Some researchers, however, question the connection with more severe hurricanes and cyclones. Gerry Bell, the lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the rise in strong hurricanes reflects a natural weather pattern spanning several decades. Hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean were more powerful in the 1950s and '60s, weakened in the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, and have strengthened again since 1995.
"It's not linked to global warming or anything like that," Bell said. "This is normal climate variability. It's just that this trend lasts for decades."
Florida State University meteorology and oceanography professor James O'Brien, who writes for the online free-market journal Tech Central Station, said his survey of government data on Atlantic storms between 1850 and 2005 shows that "there's no indication of an increase in intensity."
But both Emanuel and Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said today's Science paper is important because it examines worldwide hurricane patterns.
"If you look at it on the global basis, it makes that signal of global warming easier to see," Schmidt said. "You have to be extremely conservative -- with a small 'c' -- to think [rising sea temperatures and stronger hurricanes] are not related."
And some hurricane experts who previously have questioned the influence of global warming now say the evidence is mounting that it has contributed to recent intense tropical storms.
Florida International University researcher Hugh Willoughby, who headed NOAA's hurricane research division between 1995 and 2003, said the recent two hurricane studies are "very persuasive" and helped move him "toward the climate corner" of the debate.
"It's really hard to find any holes in this, and I'm the kind of person who's inclined to look for holes," he said of the new study in Science. The arguments against the connection between climate change and more intense storms, he added, are "looking weaker and weaker as time goes by."
Katrina reanimated a transatlantic argument over global warming policy as critics of the Bush administration have seized on it to promote mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
"The American president shuts his eyes to the economic and human damage that the failure to protect the climate inflicts on his country and the world through natural catastrophes like Katrina," Germany's environmental minister, Jurgen Trittin, wrote in an opinion piece printed Aug. 30 in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.
But Bill Holbrook, spokesman for Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), said the senator has no intention of pushing for new emissions curbs.
"It is reprehensible for a politician to promote an agenda by twisting a tragedy Americans feel so deeply about, particularly when there is no merit to his ideas," Holbrook said of Trittin. "Policy decisions should be based on sound science, and the notion that Katrina's intensity is somehow attributable to global warming has been widely dismissed by scientific experts."
Arguing that the science of global warming remains uncertain, President Bush in 2001 disavowed the Kyoto treaty that sets mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and he has pursued policies calling for more research and voluntary efforts to limit emissions.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
Category "2. In the News"
September 15, 2005
Poverty and the World Summit
Analysis By Richard Black, Environment Correspondent, BBC News website
The initial aim of the UN World Summit was to review progress on attacking world poverty and meeting the Millennium Development Goals, the pivotal targets on issues such as education, health and hunger agreed five years ago at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000.
And discussion of these issues there will be, though the agenda has evolved considerably since then.
Security, terrorism and United Nations reform will now feature strongly in a meeting which is scheduled to bring 191 countries together, 175 of them represented by heads of state or heads of government.
The aim is to reach consensus on a wide-ranging document encompassing all of these issues.
There is a strong chance, however, that this will not be possible, with parts of the wording left open, important issues left unresolved, or mismatches between commitments made and resources pledged.
The agenda for the summit was largely determined by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in a report released in March this year entitled In Larger Freedom.
Mr Annan listed four principal aims which would form the framework of discussions:
* freedom from want
* freedom from fear
* freedom to live in dignity
* strengthening the United Nations
Precisely how, when and why the purposes of the Summit were adapted from a simple review of the Millennium Goals to this larger, all-encompassing concept is not entirely clear.
But it appears that a number of influential governments wanted to ensure that issues relating to security, civil strife and terrorism were high on the agenda.
Mr Annan, meanwhile, had his own set of priorities which he wanted to put on the map, such as reforming the UN.
Whatever the precise nature of the machinations, a discussion document emerged; and earlier this year, the indications were that an agreement might be possible.
And optimism increased when the G8 group of leading industrial nations pledged to double aid to Africa by 2010 at the July summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.
FIVE POTENTIAL FLASHPOINTS
Responsibility to protect
should the international community intervene to prevent genocide?
will these be acknowledged as definitive indicators of development?
Human Rights Council
should a more powerful body replace the Human Rights Commission?
will the US allow references to the Kyoto Protocol?
how should it be defined and what responsibilities do governments have?
Then, on 1 August, President Bush appointed John Bolton as his UN Ambassador. Shortly afterwards, the US produced a set of revisions, creating a document drastically different from that which had gone before.
References to the Millennium Goals were removed in favour of a more general wording on assistance programmes and targets; pledges to resource the United Nations according to its needs were taken out.
A number of other countries also cited reservations about elements of the proposed text.
Since then, a frantic series of last-minute negotiations have been taking place to try to agree a common text.
With just days to go, a small group including the key members of the Security Council and seven other nations have been meeting to thrash out differences, with Kofi Annan warning that negotiations are likely to go down to the wire.
There have been some concessions by the US, such as restoring a reference to the Millennium Development Goals, but there are still major disagreements.
And some issues that were central to UN reform - such as expansion of the size and composition of the Security Council - look like being sidetracked altogether.
Mr Annan's management of the UN has also been under scrutiny from the inquiry into the Iraq oil-for-food programme, which presented its third interim report a week before the World Summit's opening.
Focus on the Goals
KEY UN TARGETS FOR 2015
Halve the number of people living on less than $1 a day
Halve the number of people without safe drinking water
Enable all children to complete primary school
Halt and reverse the spread of Aids and malaria
For many participants and observers, though, the focus remains on the Millennium Development Goals and progress, or lack of it, towards meeting them.
The broad picture is that on a global basis, progress on many of the goals is quite good.
But with some exceptions, sub-Saharan Africa appears to be moving backwards rather than forwards.
The UN World Summit has the potential to add impetus to development initiatives, by providing a forum where action can be agreed and where different ideas can be synthesised into a coherent whole.
The fear among development activists, though, is that this opportunity may be compromised by all the other issues fighting for space on the New York table.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/09/12 07:06:31 GMT
© BBC MMV
Category "2. In the News"
September 14, 2005
U.S. Senate Upholds EPA's Power-Plant Mercury Rule (Update1)
Sept. 13 (Bloomberg.com) -- The U.S. Senate voted to uphold an Environmental Protection Agency rule allowing creation of an emissions-credits trading system to reduce mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
A majority of fifty-one senators voted to reject a resolution to overturn the rule sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. The rule was adopted by the EPA as an alternative to a proposal under the administration of former President Bill Clinton that would have required plant operators to install controls to reduce mercury emissions.
``We let some healthy sunshine into the Senate to expose a flawed rule that puts special interests over the health of the American people,'' Leahy said in a statement after his resolution was rejected.
The EPA in March set the first limits on airborne mercury pollution from about 600 U.S. coal-fired power plants, the largest man-made source of the substance, which can cause birth defects and brain damage in infants and children. The agency has called for reductions of up to 70 percent by 2018.
The Bush administration wants to set up industry-supported markets for mercury so that plant operators that don't meet emissions limits can buy credits from those that upgrade their equipment, under a system known as cap-and-trade. The EPA rule was endorsed by the largest U.S. coal users, including American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co., through their lobbying groups.
Health and environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council Club and Physicians for Social Responsibility joined 13 states in lawsuits challenging the EPA's decision to remove mercury from a list of toxic substances regulated by the Clean Air Act. One suit was overturned by a Circuit Court in Washington. Others are still pending.
Power plant mercury emissions were added to the list by former EPA Administrator Carol Browner in 2000, just before the end of Clinton's second term. The designation would have required plant operators to install controls to reduce emissions. The EPA removed mercury from the list when it published the rule in March.
Supporters of the cap-and-trade system say the marketplace is the most efficient means to cut pollution. Forcing utilities to upgrade power plants would cost as much as $358 billion over the next three years, raising power prices and harming the economy, according to an estimate by the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, the supporters note.
`Stay the Course'
``At the end of the day, the Senate voted to stay the course and deliver consumers significantly cleaner air without raiding their pocketbooks,'' said Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, a utility lobbying group based in Washington.
Opponents of the rule say a cap-and-trade market would lead to ``hot spots'' of contamination near power plants that don't install controls. They want all power plants to install controls.
The EPA and the Food and Drug Administration last year recommended that women who could become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children avoid fish with high mercury levels. The department and health groups have said that mercury can damage the nervous systems of infants and children.