Month: September 2007

Salmon linked to Larry Craig's downfall!

Well, if you believe that correlation = causation, that is! But jokes aside, every time an anti-environmental icon goes down, the salmon rejoice. Not that I know much about fisheries, but salmon and Larry Craig, that’s a great combination right there!

Sen. Craig’s fall may benefit salmon – Yahoo! News

The surprising fall of Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, removes a longtime obstacle to efforts by Democrats and environmentalists to promote salmon recovery on Northwest rivers.
Craig, who was removed from leadership posts on the Senate Appropriations and Energy committees after a sex scandal, is known as one the most powerful voices in Congress on behalf of the timber and power industries. Environmentalists have fought him for years on issues from endangered salmon to public land grazing.

At issue is the protection of salmon migration trails in Western rivers full of dams. The Bush administration in 2005, among other things, issued a salmon recovery plan that, among other things, counted farmed salmon in claiming that salmon populations were recovering (can’t even be bothered to argue against that!). Craig’s fall will let Harry Reid (Nevada) and Maria Cantwell (Washington) spearhead more sensible legislation.

Corn Ethanol goes boom, then bust (and is evil)

Turns out that even the small increase in ethanol production (it is small if you compare it to the actual amount of gasoline used) cannot be handled by this country’s fuel infrastructure.

Sudden Surplus Arises as Threat to Ethanol Boom – New York Times

The ethanol boom of recent years — which spurred a frenzy of distillery construction, record corn prices, rising food prices and hopes of a new future for rural America — may be fading. Only last year, farmers here spoke of a biofuel gold rush, and they rejoiced as prices for ethanol and the corn used to produce it set records.

But companies and farm cooperatives have built so many distilleries so quickly that the ethanol market is suddenly plagued by a glut, in part because the means to distribute it has not kept pace. The average national ethanol price on the spot market has plunged 30 percent since May, with the decline escalating sharply in the last few weeks.

How many cars can run on E85 ethanol, which is an 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline blend? This pdf file courtesy of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition lists about 50 vehicles. Note one common thread, most of them are overized, overpowered trucks and SUVs. Worse, only about 10 of them are < 3.0 liter engine vehicles. So why are these the only vehicles setup for ethanol? The hybridcars website explains:

Automakers’ tendency to make their largest vehicles E85 compatible is rooted in America’s fuel economy rules. Since 1988, automakers have been allowed to assign flexible-fuel vehicles higher fuel economy ratings under the government’s CAFE fuel economy regulations. This means that a vehicle like the Durango, which averages 13 mpg would be rated at roughly 23 mpg for CAFE purposes, even if its owner never fueled it with E85.

Hah, one more boondoggle. Corn ethanol is subsidized to the tune of $1.45 per gallon, corn growers get billions in subsidies, car manufacturers get to claim laughably high fuel economy standards, and politicians get to proclaim their fealty to the Midwest by kissing babies in Iowa and bowing to the corn god.

Meanwhile, everyone else loses, and the prospect that prices would fall 30% gets a concerned article out of the New York Times.

Now we know where Juvenile sea turtles Hide

You see the hatchlings as they dig out of the nests all small and helpless and make a beeline towards the sea. You see the adult female as she comes back to lay her eggs. You see adult males when you go snorkeling , but the juveniles had kept a low profile, until now…

Sea turtles’ mystery hideout revealed – LiveScience –

Once sea-turtle hatchlings hit the surf, they vanish for up to five years. Where the half-dollar-size tots spend these ‘lost years’ while ballooning to the size of dinner plates has been a mystery, until now.

New research, published in the online edition of the journal Biology Letters, indicates the green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) hide out in the open ocean, where they feast on jellyfish and other marine creatures.

Turns out that they’ve been “hiding out” in the open ocean eating meat to augment their vegetarian adult diet. I have not seen the paper (reference below), but the study was based on an analysis of their shell content. Carbon and Nitrogen isotope analysis was used as a marker for diet and location.

The ‘lost years’ of green turtles: using stable isotopes to study cryptic lifestages

Kimberly J. Reich, Karen A. Bjorndal, Alan B. Bolten

Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, Department of Zoology, PO Box 118525, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA

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The LA Times and the American Chemistry Council

Giving the American Chemistry Council a forum to sing paeans to its chemical du jour is kinda like giving Donald Trump an Op-Ed column on the harmlessness of gambling. The ACC is a trade association that gets all its funding from the chemical industry and is the reliable source on producing just about enough fudge to create “reasonable doubt” about chemicals. The ACC is notorious for its various astroturf websites including the Phthalate information center, the Plastic Resource, dioxin facts (seeing a pattern here?), and many other websites that propagate biased industry funded research, outright misinformation, and unrestrained cheerleading. They also spend vast amounts of money lobbying congress. Bora, and other Open Access advocates, note the similarities in the arguments used in the above websites to some recent attacks on Open Access, the imprint of Nicholas-Dezenhall is all over the ACC’s strategies!


One Person's Carbon Offset – Another's Child labor?

The ‘carbon offset’ child labourers – Times Online

“Pumping furiously on a foot treadle in the afternoon heat, six-year-old Sarju Ram is irrigating her impoverished family’s field, improving the crop and – without knowing it – helping environmentally sensitive holiday-makers assuage their guilt over long-haul flights to dream destinations.

But Sarju and her four brothers and sisters working flat out in a clump of trees that provide scant shelter from the sun illustrate a growing argument over claims that British environmentalists’ efforts to curb greenhouse emissions are inadvertently fuelling an increase in child labour.”

Carbon Offsets are a pricing mechanism setup where people can sign up to pay various companies to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by funding mitigation projects, such as planting trees, funding renewable energy projects, and in this case, paying money to farmers (and their families) to pump their water using a foot pump. Terrapass is one such well known company and there are many others.

I am not so sure I would characterize this as exploitative child labor. There’s plenty of that going around in conventional manufacturing in Asia, not to mention children being used to kill. Compared to this general egregiousness, the prospect of a farmer’s kid, who would be working on the farm anyway, biking away for half an hour so his family can get some extra money does not sound all that bad. Yes, the colonialistic aspects of the story hit me in the face and makes me want to condemn a practice where a rich Westerner pays a poor farmer to pedal away for hours so she can fly to the Galapagos for a eco-vacation.

But, in the end, these offsets do something. No, they will not do anything to slow (well, maybe a little, imperceptibly, perhaps?) CO2 emissions. Obviously, there’s no substitute to comprehensive worldwide carbon reduction strategy which prices carbon correctly, does not put barriers on technology transfer, and does not transfer greenhouse emissions from the US to Western Europe to China and India in the name of efficiency while doing nothing to ensure that that this manufacturing uses clean technology. Offsets make people aware of their actions, and choices they can make. This makes them (I hope) more likely to support major climate change legislation. It is more about attitudinal change than major change. But calling this child labor and exploitation is, I think, unwarranted.


Conventional biofuels are evil, part 4233241

English to American Translation:

Rapeseed = Canola.
Maize = Corn.

Turns out that all the nitrate fertilizer you use to grow all the corn and canola you need emits a lot of Nitrous Oxide. No laughing matter, this, N2O is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas.

Rapeseed biofuel ‘produces more greenhouse gas than oil or petrol’ – Times Online: “Measurements of emissions from the burning of biofuels derived from rapeseed and maize have been found to produce more greenhouse gas emissions than they save.

Other biofuels, especially those likely to see greater use over the next decade, performed better than fossil fuels but the study raises serious questions about some of the most commonly produced varieties.

Rapeseed and maize biodiesels were calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. The concerns were raised over the levels of emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide”

Coal is Evil, part 1201010

Note: When people say “clean coal”, they are referring in part to all the actions taken to limit particle and ash emissions out of the smokestacks. This is done in a variety of ways including washing the coal to remove inorganic ash components, trapping the particles using electrostatic precipitators, etc. What this leaves you with is very toxic coal ash, and very toxic acidified water loaded with the coal wastes it was used to remove.

Now you can pretend that this is somehow cleaner, and it is, to an extent, because you have concentrated the pollution by isolating it and not letting it disperse into the atmosphere. However, if you then dump the waste into unlined landfills, you completely defeat the whole point of the exercise. This very extensive report written by the Clean Air Task Force and Earth Justice looked at streams in Pennsylvania and found a ton of heavy metal pollution.

Coal is neither cheap, nor clean if you have to deal with all the pollution and pay for it, and we did not even have to get to that whole other pollutant, CO2!

<Pennsylvania Groundwater Contaminated By Coal Ash

Disposing of coal ash in mines is contaminating water supplies throughout Pennsylvania, according to a report released today by the advocacy group Clean Air Task Force and the nonprofit, public interest law firm Earthjustice.

In 10 of 15 mines examined across the state, groundwater and streams near areas where coal ash, or coal combustion waste, was placed had levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and selenium and other pollutants above safe standards.

‘Disposing of coal combustion waste in these mines is threatening water supplies all over the state,’ said Jeff Stant, director of the Pennsylvania Minefill Research Project at the Clean Air Task Force. ‘If the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection won’t act now to stop these dangers, the U.S. EPA should step in to protect the residents of Pennsylvania who live near coal ash mine fills.’

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has refered to the ‘beneficial use’ of coal ash in these active and abandoned mines, claiming that the practice limits the outflow of acidic water from mines.

This study found the opposite was true – in six of the nine permits that used coal ash to treat acid mine drainage, acidity levels increased, leaving the mines more acidic at the end of monitoring.

U.K Hospitals – Get that filthy tie out of here!

It may be no surprise to some that doctors frequently transmit diseases amongst patients in hospitals. And bugs in hospitals, raised on a steady diet of antibiotics, tend to be hardy, drug resistant and deadly. Among the many sensible things doctors need to do (ahem, wash your hands doc!), turns out that the clothes you wear make a difference. So, in the U.K, where they worry about these things, doctors are being issued a dress code. Read on for some biting criticism of that most pointless of neck appendages.

U.K. hospitals issue doctors’ dress code – Yahoo! News

“British hospitals are banning neckties, long sleeves and jewelry for doctors — and their traditional white coats — in an effort to stop the spread of deadly hospital-borne infections, according to new rules published Monday.

Hospital dress codes typically urge doctors to look professional, which, for male practitioners, has usually meant wearing a tie. But as concern over hospital-borne infections has intensified, doctors are taking a closer look at their clothing.

‘Ties are rarely laundered but worn daily,’ the Department of Health said in a statement. ‘They perform no beneficial function in patient care and have been shown to be colonized by pathogens.’

Please frame that statement, ties are pointless, ties perform no beneficial functions, down with ties!

Northwest Passage Opens – Life is Unfair

While developing countries face devastating droughts, floods and general mayhem due to climate change, it appears that melting ice in the Arctic could expose all kinds of mineral resources, including more oil to accelerate global warming, to the very countries, the US, Canada and Northern Europe that caused the bulk of the problem.

Arctic ice melt opens Northwest Passage – Yahoo! News

The European Space Agency said nearly 200 satellite photos this month taken together showed an ice-free passage along northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland, and ice retreating to its lowest level since such images were first taken in 1978.

The waters are exposing unexplored resources, and vessels could trim thousands of miles from Europe to Asia by bypassing the Panama Canal. The seasonal ebb and flow of ice levels has already opened up a slim summer window for ships.

Well, I have nothing more to say…

Pesticide Screening Using a CD Player and CDs.

Who said CDs were dead, this is, hands down, the coolest paper on screening techniques I have seen in a while. I haven’t seen the rest of the paper, not Open Access, of course, but the abstract does make it sound cool.

Microimmunoanalysis on Standard Compact Discs To Determine Low Abundant Compounds

“High-density competitive indirect microimmunoassays were performed in both sides of compact discs by direct absorption of immunoreagents on polycarbonate surface, using gold- or enzyme-labeled immunoglobulins as tracers for displaying the immunoreaction. The operational principle is based on the use of a low-reflectivity compact disc as analytical platform that allows the reflection/transmission (30/70%) of the CD reader laser beam ( 780 nm). The reflected light is used to scan the disc track keeping it in movement. The transmitted light is detected by a planar photodiode integrated on the CD drive. The variation of the optical transmission of the light caused by the immunoreaction products is related to the sample concentration. As a proof of concept, low abundant compounds, commonly used as pesticides, were detected in a 60-min total assay time, with a limit of detection ranging from 0.02 to 0.62 ug/L for 2,4,5-TP, chlorpyriphos, and metolachlor. The obtained results show the enormous prospective of compact discs in combination with CD players for multiresidue and drug discovery applications.”

Why are techniques like these important in the world of environmental analysis? Because they change the paradigm from laboratory based techniques to field based analysis. You don’t have to take a bunch of samples, spend a lot of time and money shipping them to a lab and waiting for the results. You can pop your samples into a CD player and one hour later (less than a 74 minute listening time on a CD!), you’ll have results.

Awesome stuff, I’d love to see it in action, or even try to replicate the work. It looks like you have to make some modifications to the player to make it work, but hey, there are millions of CD players that are going to be obsoleted in the next few years.