Month: January 2009

Obama, Oil and Canada

America's dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.

Obama’s speech on energy (Solveclimate)

A short, punchy, powerful speech. Two things – First, Obama stresses again and again the necessity to reduce oil consumption and “the dependence on foreign oil”. He mentions wind, solar and efficiency as the three best ways to get there. There is no mention of increasing imports from Canada, the US’ largest supplier. Of course, when he mentions “bankrolling dictators”, Stephen Harper does come to mind 🙂 But the rest of it is puzzling, look at this bar chart of The US’ top 15.


Really, not too many “unfriendly” countries on the list, It is dominated by the US neighbours Canada and Mexico, and friend, ally and vassal state Saudi Arabia. Yes, there is some Venezuela, but this whole oil imports from unfriendly dictators frame in inaccurate.

But from the Canadian side of the border, we see things differently. >99% of oil exported from Canada goes to the US, so in essence, our only customer. Any reduction in demand from the US could seriously derail Alberta’s economy. On the other hand, if the US is willing to overlook the seriously dirty nature of Canada’s oil, not that Canadian NGOs haven’t mentioned it to Obama recently, it will not have any problems shifting its buying patterns to favour Canadian oil over Saudi Arabian/Venezuelan oil, at least in theory.

The US has not attempted to do anything that drastic in many years, so all oil is bought and sold in the world market and price rules, but it will be interesting to see what happens. My view is that any serious carbon legislation will undermine the oil sands’ dirty oil. But we shall see.

Drugs in the Water

When researchers analyzed vials of treated wastewater taken from a plant where about 90 Indian drug factories dump their residues, they were shocked. Enough of a single, powerful antibiotic was being spewed into one stream each day to treat every person in a city of 90,000.

And it wasn’t just ciprofloxacin being detected. The supposedly cleaned water was a floating medicine cabinet — a soup of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers say.

Not at all surprising, considering that drug manufacturing releases tons of pollutants at high concentrations. The sources are very different from recent studies in the US where end users of the drug are the greatest source, and ciprofloxacin was again one of the drugs detected at the highest levels. At this rate, most bugs will be resistant to cipro in a few years.

In the end, water treatment plants cannot deal with this toxic soup. They need to be cleaned up at the source, by the pharmaceutical companies before they hit any waste streams. After all, isn’t recapturing and reusing the kilos of drugs being wasted good economic sense?

Climate Change – Killing Trees in Our Neighbourhood

Well, anyone who says that temperate countries could do with a little warming ought to read this study. Trees are dying at double the usual rate in the last 17 years.

Warmer temperatures have dramatically increased the rate at which trees in old-growth forests are dying in parts of British Columbia and the western United States, a study says.

The study, to be published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, found that mortality rates for trees in the old-growth plots in the Pacific Northwest — including parts of southern British Columbia — had doubled in 17 years.

Forests in California and other states had less dramatic numbers. The interior states — like Arizona, Colorado and Idaho — had tree mortality rates that doubled every 29 years. The mortality rates change incrementally every year, the researchers say.

“We may only be talking about an annual tree mortality rate changing from 1 per cent a year to 2 per cent a year, an extra tree here and there,” study author Mark Harmon, professor of forest ecology at Oregon State University, said in a statement.

“But over time a lot of small numbers can add up. The ultimate implications for our forests and environment are huge.”

The increases in mortality rates are replicated across all trees at every elevation, regardless of species or size.

The study, which the researchers say is the first of its kind on temperate forests, gathered data on 76 long-term forest plots over a 50-year period for analysis. All of the forest areas studied were at least 200 years old, although individual trees varied in age and size.

The study controlled for all other variables including the infamous pine beetle, and found that temperature increase was to blame. Why? A 1ºC rise in temperature results in less snow, longer summer and increased drought stress. The effects on any one individual tree would not be significant, but if you look at an entire population, these stresses caused a doubling of mortality.

Tar sands smog seen worsening

Pollution will continue to plague Alberta’s oil sands despite plans to pipe harmful greenhouse gases deep underground, according to documents obtained by the Toronto Star.

Part of the task of cleaning up the oil sands involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing them in geological reservoirs in western Canada.

But chemicals linked to acid rain, respiratory problems and ozone depletion could escape into the atmosphere at an even faster rate, thanks to an estimated tripling of production from one million barrels a day in 2007 to 3.4 million barrels a day in 2017. That could occur despite proposed national caps on air contaminants.

By capturing about 200 megatonnes a year of carbon dioxide, sequestration as carbon dioxide storage is known is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 80 per cent in 2017, says an Environment Canada study obtained under the Access to Information Act.

But, the study notes, “there are emissions of CO2 and air contaminants resulting from the generation of the energy required by carbon capture and storage facilities. The CO2 emissions offset the volumes captured by the facilities, while the air contaminant emissions add to the load on the environment.

Note that two out of the three main political parties in Canada (The Conservatives and the Liberals) support the expansion of this environmental disaster. Also, resource exploitation is controlled by the individual provinces and Alberta is almost united in support for its prime bread winner. So nothing will happen unless there is external (Read American) pressure. Harper is making a lot of noise about working with Obama on energy and climate policy in an effort to get ahead of this pressure, so we shall see what happens. If the US moves ahead aggressively on policy, the Tar Sands could lose its biggest customer and that would be all she wrote.

A Chartchooser for excel/powerpoint

Having trouble selecting the right kind of graph/table for your data? Think that excel’s default colour options are, for the lack of a better term, sucky? Then you might like this site that lets you choose the right kind of chart/table for the data you want to present, and provides a nice template with distinct colours to start off. You can save charts as templates in excel, so you’ll always have nice looking graphs!

via chartchooser

Tim Dechristopher and Oil Leases in Utah Update

I had blogged recently about how one guy gamed an auction of Utah public lands to prevent the sale of sensitive land to oil and gas companies. It looks like he may be off the hook, at least temporarily.

A federal judge on Saturday blocked oil and natural gas exploration on tens of thousands of acres of federal land in Utah, saying in an 11th-hour decision that the Interior Department had not done sufficient environmental analysis, particularly of how air quality might be degraded.The decision by the judge, Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court in Washington, granted a temporary restraining order sought by seven environmental groups to prevent oil and gas companies from taking possession of leases they had purchased Dec. 19.

11th-Hour Ruling Blocks Utah Oil and Gas Leases –

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Gulf States spending more on Clean Energy than Canada

Gasoline sells for 45 cents a gallon. There is little public transportation and no recycling. Residents drive between air-conditioned apartments and air-conditioned malls, which are lighted 24/7

Still, the region’s leaders know energy and money, having built their wealth on oil. They understand that oil is a finite resource, vulnerable to competition from new energy sources.

So even as President-elect Barack Obama talks about promoting green jobs as America’s route out of recession, gulf states, including the emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are making a concerted push to become the Silicon Valley of alternative energy.

They are aggressively pouring billions of dollars made in the oil fields into new green technologies. They are establishing billion-dollar clean-technology investment funds. And they are putting millions of dollars behind research projects at universities from California to Boston to London, and setting up green research parks at home.

Meanwhile, we in Canada are pushing hard to completely ignore environmental concerns as we push to expand the incredibly dirty tar sands. I read an interesting New York Times article recently, summarizing the issues with this dirty oil. Of course, the CO2 emissions, and the incredibly nasty effects of mining, water pollution, etc. are well documented. One fact stuck in my head – The cost to replace one tire in one of the earth moving vehicles is $60,000. What a wasteful enterprise on such a grand scale, whose only purpose is to carry on business as usual when business as usual is going to result in catastrophic climate change in the not so distant future.

Bibliographies for the 21st century, why Zotero rules!

Many scientists now manage the bulk of their bibliographic information electronically, thereby organizing their publications and citation material from digital libraries. However, a library has been described as “thought in cold storage,” and unfortunately many digital libraries can be cold, impersonal, isolated, and inaccessible places. In this Review, we discuss the current chilly state of digital libraries for the computational biologist, including PubMed, IEEE Xplore, the ACM digital library, ISI Web of Knowledge, Scopus, Citeseer, arXiv, DBLP, and Google Scholar. We illustrate the current process of using these libraries with a typical workflow, and highlight problems with managing data and metadata using URIs. We then examine a range of new applications such as Zotero, Mendeley, Mekentosj Papers, MyNCBI, CiteULike, Connotea, and HubMed that exploit the Web to make these digital libraries more personal, sociable, integrated, and accessible places. We conclude with how these applications may begin to help achieve a digital defrost, and discuss some of the issues that will help or hinder this in terms of making libraries on the Web warmer places in the future, becoming resources that are considerably more useful to both humans and machines.

via PLoS Computational Biology: Defrosting the Digital Library: Bibliographic Tools for the Next Generation Web

zoteroInteresting look at how to manage scientific information. I use zotero these days. Zotero is a firefox addon that works within the browser, hence is platform independent. It is incredibly powerful, automatically imports meta data from a lot of journal sites, links to microsoft word and openoffice for “cite as you write” and bibliographic generation behaviour, stores pdfs, word docs, excel files, etc as attachments to your citations so if you have a little calculation routine you got from a paper, you can put that in an excel spreadsheet and always have it linked to the paper.

You can synchronize the database to the cloud. And, if you have access to a server with webdav, you can synchronize your attachments as well (i have not tried this yet).

Best of all, it is free and open source.

Anyway, the days of ridiculously expensive and arcane tools like endnote are over.

Autism epidemic not caused by shifts in diagnoses; environmental factors likely

California’s sevenfold increase in autism cannot be explained by changes in doctors’ diagnoses and most likely is due to environmental exposures, University of California scientists reported. The scientists who authored the new study advocate a nationwide shift in autism research to focus on an array of potential factors in the environment that babies and fetuses are exposed to, including pesticides, viruses and chemicals in household products.

Autism epidemic not caused by shifts in diagnoses; environmental factors likely — Environmental Health News

One of the most common arguments you will see about a lot of mental health diagnoses is that doctors have changed their diagnostic practices significantly. While there is evidence of this occurring in diagnoses of childhood depression, anxiety, or even bipolar disorder due to the millions of dollars involved in medication and the attendant corruption, autism is different.

This population study used 17 year data in California and concluded that diagnostic changes were only responsible for a 2 fold increase, not the seven fold increase seen. The rest is unexplained, and the authors attribute it to a confluence of environmental and genetic factors.

And no, for the last time, VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM!

Tim Dechristopher, Environmental Hero

tdcAn act of quite some chutzpah, “outbidding” oil and gas companies in a public land auction. The land was going over for even more oil and gas exploration at a time when we should really be ramping down gas and oil usage.

More on contributing to his cause here. He needs 45,000 dollars in downpayment to the US government to keep the process going. He appears to be well on his way, but needs some more money to get over the top. It is more than likely that the Obama administration is going to cancel the land grab process anyway, so he will be off the hook soon enough.

Audacious, brilliant and brave.

One Utah » Blog Archive » Why I Disrupted A Fraudulent Auction.

Yesterday I decided that the crisis facing us requires more critical action than has been taken in the past. When faced with the opportunity to seriously disrupt the auction of some of our most beautiful lands in Utah to oil and gas developers, I could not ethically turn my back on that opportunity. By making bids for land that was supposed to be protected for the interests of all Americans, I tried to resist the Bush administration’s attempt to defraud the American people.

At this point it appears that I was successful in my attempts to disrupt this fraudulent auction. The federal officials who took me into custody said that I cost the oil companies in the room hundreds of thousands of dollars and prevented 22,500 acres of land from being sold for fossil fuel development. I had a very open conversation with the federal agents about my motivations and values. They were friendly, respectful, and somewhat sympathetic.