Month: November 2007

Biofuels are Eviil, Part 233223

The biodiesel boom has a high environmental cost, however. Critics say it’s contributing to global warming. Tropical forests help remove millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. Burning and clear-cutting not only eliminates one of the planet’s crucial air-filtration systems, the process also releases even more carbon dioxide into the air, in smoke or as gases released during the decomposition of forest waste. Annual clearing of Indonesia’s carbon-rich peatlands alone releases some 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gases, according to a Greenpeace report. Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind the U.S. and China, says the World Bank. “We liken what’s going on [in Indonesia] to pouring petrol on a fire,” says Martin Baker, a Hong Kong–based communications officer for Greenpeace International. “It’s completely ridiculous to produce green fuels from places like this.”

When Biofuel is Bad for the Environment – TIME

This just makes we want to jit my head against the wall. Tropical forests are some of the most efficient sinks of carbon, and countries that hold these sinks should be paid as well as countries that are sources of carbon. Yes, this means setting a realistic carbon pricing scheme that can eliminate this perverse incentive to destroy tropical rain forests so Western nations can claim to be environmentally friendly.

This is not a bribe, or an incentive, it is recognition of the fact that carbon sinks have a monetary value.

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The US guts Environmental Assessments

Environmental assessment in the U.S. was enshrined in law for the first time when President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on January 1, 1970. Since then, however, the U.S. has slowly cast aside its role as a leader in the field of environmental assessments, as successive administrations have chipped away at the scope of NEPA, experts say. The cuts have reached a crescendo with President George W. Bush’s administration, and proponents of these assessments worry that pressure to develop natural resources with little oversight of the consequences will lead to an unsustainable future for the U.S.

ES&T Online News: Environmental Magna Carta under siege

Well, perfect. Now you can claim very factually that “you don’t know of any harmful effects of your actions”.

The fact is, the attack on NEPA has come, chronically, from a relatively small group of commodity users—timber companies, highway builders—who simply oppose having the public and environmentalists get in the way of their plans and programs,” Houck maintains.

Can’t say it any better. Information is very important and one thing this Bush administration has been very successful at is reducing the flow of information.

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Terrorist Attacks in Uttar Pradesh

Terror struck Uttar Pradesh on Friday, when militants triggered near-simultaneous blasts in court premises in three cities across the state, killing at least 13 and injuring over 59 others.Six bombs — three in Varansi, two in Faizabad and one in Lucknow — went off within a span of 15 minutes in the crowded court complexes between 1310 hours and 1325 hours. Some of bombs are believed to have been planted on cycles.A little-known outfit, called Indian Mujahideen, has claimed responsibility. UN intelligence agencies said senior UP police officials have received an email in which the outfit has owned up to the attacks.

Delhi on high alert following UP serial blasts

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Grad student measures hazardous levels of air pollution at cigar show

Sure makes my graduate work in air quality seem a little tame!

The man behind the subterfuge (Researcher 2, male) was Ryan David Kennedy, 34, a scrappy Canadian graduate student with crooked glasses who is studying the impact of tobacco on air quality.He crossed the border at Buffalo on Monday morning and on Tuesday crashed the giant cigar party and trade show sponsored by the publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

At a Cigar Show, an Air-Quality Scientist Under Deep, Smoky Cover – New York Times

Well, what did he find? Particulate matter readings four times higher than “hazardous”. Sometimes I think of strapping on a sampler and going to the local bar just out of curiosity. I can leave the bar if it gets smoky, the bartenders and wait staff can’t. I don’t see why this is not a clear case of hazardous working conditions leading to an immediate indoor smoking ban.  but what do I know, I’m just a scientist!

Happy Thanksgiving.

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James Hansen, the Cliffside power plant and global warming

James Hansen gave an interesting talk on the physics of climate change, the magnitude of current anthropogenic emissions versus historical CO2 regimes, and the need for immediate action at the NCWarn forum on the Cliffside power plant issue.

In a CBS 60 Minutes profile in March 2006, Hansen said, “The speed of the natural changes is now dwarfed by the changes humans are making to the atmosphere and the surface.” Carolinas Clean Air and NC WARN are part of a statewide effort by public interest groups to block the new Cliffside plant and help the state reduce greenhouse gases by aggressively ramping up energy efficiency, cogeneration and renewables. That effort has already stopped one of two plants Duke sought to build at Cliffside – by proving it wasn’t needed. The second unit has suffered multiple delays and cost overruns and is the subject of ongoing legal battles over air pollution and water permits.


Some background: Duke Energy, the North Carolina utility wants to spend a heap of public money building a new coal fired power plant in Cliffside, NC. The problem? They will not sequester or otherwise capture the massive CO2 emissions out of the plant, which is inexcusable given what we know about climate change now.

Following an excellent talk by Mike Nicklas of Innovative Design, a Raleigh based green architectural firm which focused on reducing demand by increasing efficiency, James Hansen’s talk was an excellent primer on climate change, its history, its easy and basic correlation with atmospheric CO2 concentrations, our current state of affairs, and what we need to do in the next 10 years.

Their presentations can be found here (Nicklas), and here (Hansen). Go see it. Hansen talked a lot about the interaction of scientists, policy makers and the media in framing the “debate” and contrasted the quick march to consensus on the ozone hole with the the sometimes deliberate fact muddying of the climate debate.

Musharraf and the Pakistani Army's Many Problems

Why has Musharraf failed so dramatically to stop the insurgency? One reason is that most of the public is hostile to government action against the extremists (and the rest offer tepid support at best). Most Pakistanis see the militants as America’s enemy, not their own. The Taliban is perceived as the only group standing up against the unwelcome American presence in the region. Some forgive the Taliban’s excesses because it is cloaked in the garb of religion. Pakistan, they reason, was created for Islam, and the Taliban is merely asking for Pakistan to be more Islamic. Even normally vocal, urban, educated Pakistanis — those whose values and lifestyles would make them eligible for decapitation if the Taliban were to succeed in taking the cities — are strangely silent. Why? Because they see Musharraf and the Pakistan army as unworthy of support, both for blocking the path to democracy and for secretly supporting the Taliban as a means of countering Indian influence in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s problems start at the top – Los Angeles Times

This is an excellent article on how the Pakistanis military’s long hold on power has created a situation where the Talibanization of Pakistan is tolerated even by the people who have a lot to lose from it. He has to step away and let Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto fight it out, but I don’t see it happening unless he loses control of the army.

While on the subject of Pakistan, this blog post by Samia Altaf summarizes the hollowness of Pakistan’s “democracy”. Bhutto and Sharif have, in their past incarnations, been about as corrupt and reliant on the army as Musharraf is. So, are they good alternatives to Musharraf? Not really.

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James Hansen today at the Friday Center, 3:00 PM

Environment North Carolina is co-sponsoring 2 events featuring Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute and the nation’s foremost climate expert. In the past year, Dr. Hansen has lead the charge in calling for action on global warming, stating, “We have at most ten years-not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

RSVP-NASA’s Dr. James Hansen coming to North Carolina – Environment North Carolina

Well, if I’d been keeping normal bogging hours, this would have been up last week, anyway… Full report on the talk later tonight/tomorrow. It figures to be exciting, always great to see visionary scientists in person.

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Understanding Food Labels You Might Encounter at Whole Foods.

Fine stuff from Mcsweeneys. Just read the whole thing!

Free-Range: Animals raised with a free-range lifestyle have plenty of room to stretch out and eat bugs. This is particularly important for chickens, which need at least two square feet of space at all times. Factory-farming conditions are like living in apartment buildings in big cities: a co-op is formed within the coop, and the poultry have grinding meetings on where to put the satellite dish and how much to tip the doorman at Christmas. As in a human co-op, any new members deemed unsatisfactory or weak are pecked to death. Other free-range items, such as tofu, need less room to grow.

Natural: Pretty much everything is natural, including this sentence. What makes it natural? The fact that it has the word “natural.” The only things in this store that aren’t natural are the highly coifed blonds who shop here. Natural foods include any combination of natural flavorings, natural ingredients, and a high price, since it’s human nature to pay more for anything that we imagine will keep us alive forever.

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: Understanding Food Labels You Might Encounter at Whole Foods.

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Two differing views on the Pakistani Army

Apparently, this blog is now all Pakistan all the time. But these two articles caught my eye this morning, the first one from a writing fellow in the U.S.

The Pakistani military, as is the case with most armed forces in the Muslim world, is the citadel of the country’s modernity, its most significant secular institution and protector not only of the modern nation state but the idea of the nation state itself.

The case for standing by Musharraf. – By Lee Smith – Slate Magazine

And this one from an ex-Pakistan army cadet and current reporter for the BBC Urdu service.

Within months there were other changes: evenings socializing to music and mocktails were replaced by Koran study sessions. Buses were provided for cadets who wanted to attend civilian religious congregations. Within months, our rather depressing but secular academy was turned into a zealous, thriving madrassa where missing your daily prayers was a crime far worse than missing the morning drill.It is this crop of military officers that now runs the country. General Musharraf heads this army, and is very reluctant to let go.

Pakistan’s General Anarchy – New York Times

Now who’s right, I wonder? The guy who’s from Pakistan and was actually in the army when it was transforming from a secular to a religious organization, or a writing fellow who despite an impressive Arab resume does not actually know any Urdu.

It’s Western “experts” like these that fuel this idea of Musharraf being some kind of secular bastion against anarchy in Pakistan. It’s under Zia ul-Haq and Musharraf that the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan made greater inroads because the Pakistan intelligence service (ISI) and the army are full of people who support and propagate extremist agendas.

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