Month: September 2006

Pot Farms Damaging National Parks

Horrible story coming out of California.
Pot farms ravaging park land / Big raid in Marin County only hints at the extent of erosive techniques by growers

The discovery of 22,740 marijuana plants growing in and around Point Reyes National Seashore last week wasn’t only the biggest pot seizure ever made in Marin County. It was an environmental mess that will take several months and tens of thousands of dollars to clean up. The crops seized on the steep hillsides overlooking Highway 1 were planted by sophisticated growers who cleared vegetation, terraced land, drew water from streams through miles of irrigation hoses and doused acres of land with hundreds of pounds of fertilizer and pesticides.

To avoid the obvious “Pot Legalization” questions and flip it, consider a world where cigarettes have been banned/regulated to the extent that black market growing became viable, would this happen with tobacco? Obviously, the nature of the growing (Tobacco – plains, easy plant to spot, Cannabis – Hill sides, easy to hide), make it an operation question in addition to an economics question. But as the above report states, the operation was obviously not hard to spot, nor was it low impact.

Something to consider as actions widely prevalent in populations are made illegal, how well does prohibition ever work?


The NY TImes on India’s Water Issues

The New York Times starts a three part series on water issues in India.
In Teeming India, Water Crisis Means Dry Pipes and Foul Sludge – New York Times

The crisis, decades in the making, has grown as fast as India in recent years. A soaring population, the warp-speed sprawl of cities, and a vast and thirsty farm belt have all put new strains on a feeble, ill-kept public water and sanitation network. The combination has left water all too scarce in some places, contaminated in others and in cursed surfeit for millions who are flooded each year. Today the problems threaten India’s ability to fortify its sagging farms, sustain its economic growth and make its cities healthy and habitable. At stake is not only India’s economic ambition but its very image as the world’s largest democracy.

This has not changed since I was a kid, we had the exact same problems growing up, and it is not likely to get any better real soon. Depressing to read first thing in the morning.

Another Reason to Fear Hog Factories

Buried in this abstract from the Environmental Science and Technology Journal is a little titbit about the origin and fate of 90% of all natural estrogens found in water bodies.

Fate, Transport, and Biodegradation of Natural Estrogens in the Environment and Engineered Systems

Another major source, which accounts for 90% of the estrogen load, is animal manure from concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs). Manure is not required to be treated in the United States as long as it is not discharged directly into water bodies. Thus, there is an urgent need to study the fate of animal-borne estrogens from these facilities into the environment. A number of studies have reported the feminization of male aquatic species in water bodies receiving the effluents from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) or surface runoff from fields amended with livestock manure and municipal biosolids.

I am not a big fan of hog factories. Clean them up!


The most important thing I read today (Indian Agriculture Edition)

Yes, I read the Times article about this subject too, but Tom Philpott and P. Sainath writer better and more eloquently.

India, food, and modernization | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist

That “promising biotechnology” is Monsanto’s Bt cotton seed, genetically modified to ward off the cotton bollworm. Indian farmers have been desperate to get their hands on it because they think they need it to compete with their lavishly capitalized and subsidized U.S. peers.

But the Monsanto seed, which promises to enable farmers to use 25 percent less pesticide, might not be worth the premium (it goes for about twice as much as conventional seed, the Times reports). The great Indian journalist P. Sainath wrote recently that “despite all the claims made for [Bt cotton], input dealers here have seen no decline in pesticide sales as a result of its use. Some claim higher sales than before.”

As prices for seeds and other inputs rise, farmers have seen the price their goods fetch in the marketplace fall or stagnate. The result has been crushing debt burdens, mounting losses, and a stunning surge in suicides among farmers.

The Times reports that “17,107 farmers committed suicide in 2003, the most recent year for which government figures are available. Anecdotal reports suggest that the high rates are continuing.”

Well, that’s one way to clear the land of “inefficient” farmers.

For the enduring scam that is BT cotton, read this.

Virulent E-Coli strain lives in grain-fed cattle.

Interesting side note about the spinach E-Coli outbreak

Leafy Green Sewage – New York Times

Where does this particularly virulent strain come from? It’s not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It’s the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.

Well, talk about unforeseen consequences, cows really should not eat grain. Go watch my favorite food cartoon ever, the Meatrix, and its most excellent sequel, The Meatrix 2: Revolting for more.

When cows were switched from a grain diet to hay for only five days, O157 declined 1,000-fold. This is good news. In a week, we could choke O157 from its favorite home — even if beef cattle were switched to a forage diet just seven days before slaughter, it would greatly reduce cross-contamination by manure of, say, hamburger in meat-packing plants.

Seems easy enough to implement, if impossible to enforce.


A more nuanced look, if not a debunking of the above theory can be found on this scienceblogs page.

EPA not conducting Environmental Justice Reviews

The Environmental Justice movement was started to deal with disparities in the treatment of environmental issues that could be traced back to race/class. It’s disheartening to know that the EPA, which has a mandate to specifically deal with EJ issues has dropped the ball. The next time a landfill/hog factory gets sited near an economically depressed neighborhood, you know why.

Environmental agency inspector criticizes agency’s lack of fairness on reviews – iht,america,US Environmental Justice – Americas – International Herald Tribune

The Environmental Protection Agency is not conducting required reviews to ensure that low-income and minority neighborhoods get the same environmental protection as other communities. The report by the EPA’s inspector general, made public Tuesday, said senior EPA officials have not required regional offices and department heads to conduct environmental justice reviews despite a requirement for such reviews dating from 1994. A survey by the IG’s office found 60 percent of the regional offices and program departments that responded had not conducted the reviews, and 87 percent said they had not been asked to do them, according to the report. Such reviews were required by an executive order that former President Bill Clinton issued in 1994. It was reaffirmed by EPA administrators in 2001 and again last year, said the report by acting Inspector General Bill Roderick. Until adequate reviews are conducted, “The agency cannot determine whether its programs cause disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects on minority and low-income populations,” the report said.

Combating Global Warming with Frankensulfates

I don’t quite know how to react.

Chemical & Engineering News: Latest News – Support Voiced For Geo-Engineering Research To Combat Global Warming

The call to at least consider audacious geo-engineering steps that would fill the stratosphere with globe-cooling aerosols to check global warming got louder last week. In Science, Tom M. L. Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colo., writes that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is the long-term solution to global warming but that nearer term engineering of the atmosphere might provide “additional time to address the economic and technological challenges faced by a mitigation-only approach” (DOI: 10.1126/science.1131728). Last month, Nobelist Paul J. Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, in Mainz, Germany, made headlines with an essay in the journal Climatic Change calling for more research into the pros and cons of injecting sulfate-based aerosols into the stratosphere as a sunlight-reflecting, cooling foil to global warming (C&EN, Aug. 7, page 19).

The paper is still not out for public consumption, because “YOUR INSTITUTIONAL SUBSCRIPTION DOES NOT INCLUDE THIS ITEM:” (How an organization that is funded wholly by government (taxpayer) money can publish in journals that make you pay to read their contents is the subject of a different rant). Nevertheless, this modeling effort builds on Crutzen’s earlier essay which I just finished reading.

Sulfate particles reflect incoming solar radiation, reducing the amount of light incident on earth and lowering the average temperature. This has been known for years, and I am sure every aerosol scientist has thought “Well, if there was some way of putting particles in the atmosphere to reflect more light, this whole global warming thing would just go away”. But the obvious issue with this approach is that sulfates in the troposphere are nasty, they cause acid rain, haze, increased mortality, etc. Crutzen expands on this further.

The great advantage of placing reflective particles in the stratosphere is their long residence time of about 1–2 years, compared to a week in the troposphere. Thus, much less sulfur, only a few percent, would be required in the stratosphere to achieve similar cooling as the tropospheric sulfate aerosol (e.g., Dickinson, 1996; Schneider, 1996; NAS, 1992; Stern, 2005). This would make it possible to reduce air pollution near the ground, improve ecological conditions and reduce the concomitant climate warming. The main issue with the albedo modification method is whether it is environmentally safe, without significant side effects

Which I guess is the key question, let alone the practicalities of introducing and maintaining 5.3 Tg (terra grams or million metric tonnes) of sulfur in the stratosphere successfully. This is a 10% increase from the current emissions of 55 Tg/year, so I guess it is not a terribly large number. Crutzen estimates that it will cost 25-30 billion dollars per year to have a loading of 1-2 Tg (to combat the most optimistic global warming scenario), though he cites a personal communication with someone at the National Academy of Sciences in 1992. This number is bogus, how do you know what something will cost if you don’t know how you’re going to do it? Crutzen has some ideas…

Locally, the stratospheric albedo modification scheme, even when conducted at remote tropical island sites or from ships, would be a messy operation. An alternative may be to release a S-containing gas at the earth’s surface, or better from balloons, in the tropical stratosphere

In other words, speculation at this point in time. The bottom line is this, the idea is not revolutionary, heck, even I thought of this in the mid 90s when I was doing sulfate aerosol work. The mechanics of how this will be done without causing some unforeseen other major issue is the real question that will take years to answer. Meanwhile, this silly personal virtue called conservation still works, look at this graph (from an NY Times article through the Washington Monthly), if Cali can do it, so can you.


NC Phosphate Mine to expand: wetlands in trouble | Mine plan would erase wetlands

The proposal by PCS Phosphate, if approved, would represent the single largest destruction of wetlands permitted in the state — 2,500 acres including the headwaters of seven creeks near the Pamlico River. The rich deposit of black phosphate rock, left by ancient oceans and buried 100 feet beneath the surface, has been extracted from the site by various companies for about 40 years. PCS has worked the mine since 1995 to get phosphate for fertilizer and for use in food additives. In food, it’s turned into phosphoric acid — a flavor enhancer in such products as Coca-Cola, jellies and vegetable oil.

Yes, this is right, phosphoric acid is a “flavor enhancer”. Well, the mine employs a 1000 people in the area, and is not necessarily an evil that must be stopped at all times, for that, see Hog Factories! But this disturbs me.

Hunter Turnage, 44, a Raleigh cable television salesman, has a house across the river from the PCS mine. He is one of several people who have written letters to the state complaining about the odor when the wind blows from the south.

“If you don’t want to smell it, you shut up the windows and turn on the air conditioner,” Turnage said.
“It’s something you just deal with. … I kept thinking one day they would run out of areas to mine. I think they’ll stay there forever –as long as they get continued rights to destroy the wetlands.”

It’s one thing to use up wetlands, knowing fully well that the law requires you to create wetlands elsewhere to compensate, this smell issue is more problematic, and hard to legislate. Which means that various Environmental Justice issues will also come into play.

Global Warming Gets More Positive Feedback

More climate change positive feedback news (Positive feedback for children, Good, for climate, bad!). BTW, does this kind of news not make you leery of CO2 Sequestration?

Study says methane a new climate threat – Yahoo! News

Scientists worry about a global warming vicious cycle that was not part of their already gloomy climate forecast: Warming already under way thaws permafrost, soil that has been continuously frozen for thousands of years. Thawed permafrost releases methane and carbon dioxide. Those gases reach the atmosphere and help trap heat on Earth in the greenhouse effect. The trapped heat thaws more permafrost and so on. “The higher the temperature gets, the more permafrost we melt, the more tendency it is to become a more vicious cycle,” said Chris Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who was not part of the study. “That’s the thing that is scary about this whole thing. There are lots of mechanisms that tend to be self-perpetuating and relatively few that tend to shut it off.”

The “World Trade Center Cough”

Lung problems rife among WTC responders – Yahoo! News

NEW YORK – Nearly 70 percent of recovery workers who responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center suffered lung problems during or after their work at ground zero, a new health study released Tuesday shows. Less than a week before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Mount Sinai Medical Center issued the results of the largest study on related health effects. It found, among other things, that the ailments tended to be worst among those who arrived first at the site, and that high rates of lung “abnormalities” continued years later. The study focused mostly on what has been dubbed “World Trade Center cough,” which was little understood immediately after the attacks but became a chief concern of health experts and advocates.

Not surprising at all, considering all the fine particles, asbestos, PAHs, elemental Carbon, PCBs, and numerous other nasties that were released in a couple of catastrophic explosions, and the utter unpreparedness of the first responders, who were, after all, going in to save other peoples’ lives, not looking out for the air they were breathing. Calling this major air pollution related health disaster the “World Trade Center Cough” is a little like calling World War II the “Skirmish with Germany, Part Deaux”, but what do I know about the power of language and framing!