Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dubai Strikes Again!

A beach in Dubai, where development is still geared to luxury rather than sustainability. Photograph: Jochen Tack/Alamy

Dubai just keeps coming up with one extravagance after another. Each more dizzying than the last. Soon there will be no excesses left untasted, no environmental temples left undesecrated, no folly left unerected.

We all watched in wonder when ski domes were built in the desert, gasped when artificial islands shaped to represent a world map rose from the sea and watched several structures compete for the title of world’s tallest building. (Does the Tower of Babel spring to anyone else’s mind?) While some believe Dubai represents the best life has to offer and is a testament to how far man’s vision can soar; the more realistic among us realize that is more a testimony to man’s insatiable greed and folly.

The latest project from the Emirate, more specifically the Palazzo Versace hotel, is enough to take your breath away. The Palazzo Versace hotel (when completed in 2010) will host a refrigerated 820 sq. metre (8826 sq. ft) swimming pool, a beach with artificially cooled sand and wind machines to provide a gentle breeze. This is all to protect guests from the summer temperatures which can exceed 50 degrees C (122 degrees F).

“We will suck the heat out of the sand to keep it cool enough to lie on," said Soheil Abedian, founder and president of Palazzo Versace, a hotel group with plans for a further 15 luxury hotels around the world to add to the one that already exists on Australia's Gold Coast. "This is the kind of luxury that top people want," he added.

I can’t help but wonder if Soheil Abedian realizes that he may be pushing the envelope a little too far. When Hyder Consulting, the British Company hired by the hotel to build these facilities, was questioned about the energy that was going to be required to run this project; they stood behind a confidentiality agreement they had signed with Palazzo Versace and refused to comment. This lack of transparency leads me to believe that environmentalists and conservationists worldwide would be downright apoplectic; if not comatose, were the figures released to the public.

Again Dubai’s total lack of regard for water and the environment is shown by the importing of 30,000 mature trees (among many other plants) to help landscape the new Tiger Woods-designed golf course (http://www.tigerwoodsdubai.com/) that will be bordered by 22 palaces and 75 mansions. The proposed Tiger Woods Dubai is a stunning paradise if artificially built and sustained decadence is enough to cause people to overlook the environmental catastrophe they are contributing to. We have looked at the massive amounts of water needed to maintain a golf course in previous blogs. The term “green” in golf refers not to “good for the environment” it means “expensive both monetarily and in water usage.”

The United Nations has described Dubai as one of the most “water-imperilled” environments on the planet; but, the per capita water use is three time the global average. The last thing Dubai needs is a golf course surrounded by 22 palaces and 75 mansions.

And as for the Palazzo Versace: "It's grotesque that while the world's poorest people face the loss of their homes and livelihoods, as well as disease and starvation, because of climate change, the world's richest people think it's acceptable to waste precious energy so pointlessly on things such as artificially cooled beaches," says Robin Oakley, head of climate and energy at Greenpeace UK. "While Abu Dhabi, like Barack Obama, is betting on green technology as the engine for growth this century and even building a zero-emissions city, Dubai is apparently still stuck in the 1980s."

There does seem to a delicious irony in the fact that when the seas rise due to global warming, Dubai will be one of the first to disappear below the waves. At least then their water shortage problems will be a thing of the past.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Preventing Light Trespass

1. Light only what needs lighting. This sounds simple, but is typically overlooked. Ask yourself, does this even require lighting? Sometimes a good, old-fashioned flashlight will serve the purpose for a short trip outside.

2. Light only when you need it to be lit. Ok, so you’ve determined that it really requires light. Does it need to be lit at all times? If you only go out to your shed once a week does it really need to be lit dusk to dawn each and every night? Or, again, would a flashlight suit?

3. Use only as much light as is required. Don’t always install the highest available wattage. If you’re not performing surgery on your patio, there’s no need for operating room illumination levels.

4. Use only full cutoff light fixtures. Full cutoff fixtures shine light down onto the ground and prevent light from shining thoughtlessly across property lines or wastefully up into the night sky. With the light shining downward only where it is needed, you can use a lower-wattage bulbs because now 100% of your light is directed where it is needed instead of 50% escaping to the sides and upwards where it is not needed.

5. Shield your existing fixture. If you’re not quite ready to install new, full cutoff fixtures, light shades are available for many fixtures that will convert them into night sky friendly fixtures for a minimal cost.

6. Install motion sensors. These will turn your lights on automatically whenever there is activity outside your home or business. This typically reduces your use of electricity for lighting upwards of 90%, easily paying for the cost of the sensor and its installation. This again is a case of only using your lights when you need them.

7. Install reflectors. Many times, reflectors can be used to outline a driveway instead of putting in a string of lights. These are cheaper to purchase, cheaper to run, and are unaffected by power outages.

8. Get used to the dark. Our eyes are quite good at seeing at night. If you need to take the trash out at night, do you really need to turn your outdoor lights on? Chances are quite good that you’ll be able to find the trash can and make your way “all the way” to the curb. You’re also much more likely to enjoy the beauty of the night sky if you’re not blinded by area lights. Still require a little assistance, try a flashlight.

9. Educate your friends, neighbors and elected officials about light pollution. With just a little bit of thought and effort, this is one environmental pollution that can be cleaned up without any lasting side effects.

10. Harness your spending power -- stay at hotels that conserve energy. Eco-tourism is a booming industry. Stay at hotels, inns and resorts that tread lightly on the earth through energy-conservation measures that enforce strict lights-out or light-blocking measures in bird-migration paths, sea turtle-nesting areas, and other particularly light-sensitive wildlife areas.

11. When camping and cottaging, keep exterior lights off as much as possible as they can interfere with the body clocks of nocturnal creatures like salamanders, giving them fewer hours to scavenge for food. And keep interior light indoors with blackout curtains.

Now that we’ve looked at things we can do in our own homes to help reduce light trespass, what can we do about light trespass that our city creates. How can we help there?

1. Turn the lights off at work. Lights left on in office buildings is one of the greatest wastes of electricity while also causing immense collateral damage to our feathered friends. Collisions with man-made structures are the number one cause of death among migrating birds -- many of which are already facing extinction from habitat loss. Ask your office building's management to turn off the lights during bird migration season in the spring and fall. Visit the website of the Fatal Lights Awareness Program, a Toronto organization that has successfully lobbied to get Toronto's financial core darkened during migration season, for info on its Bird-Friendly Building campaign. If you're working late and the light switch controls only the entire floor, close everyone's blinds or doors -- or, if you don't mind, just use a simple desk lamp. Or work from home. (Or, best option yet, call it a night and be tomorrow's early bird instead.)

2. Boycott clutterbugs. "Lighting clutter" refers to the excessive grouping of lighting, especially illuminated billboards and overly lit-up commercial establishments. You can tell companies why you don't agree with what they're doing (detracting from highway safety, in many locations, cluttering the landscape, and wasting energy -- in all cases), and inform them you're patronizing more eco-friendly competitors until they wise up. Will they care? If you get your friends, family and local environmental organizations involved in the letter-writing campaign, they will. And if all of you start writing to local newspapers and raising awareness of the issue, doubly so.

3, Get involved in municipal politics. Write, e-mail or phone your local councillor, as well as the mayor's office, to talk about city lighting. Suggest ways to reduce lighting consumption in municipal buildings (cooling it with the dramatic -- yet wasteful -- uplighting on building facades and off roofs is one easy way). And lobby for high-efficiency, lower-energy, flat-lens streetlight fixtures. Not only do they produce less greenhouse gases, they reduce glare, increasing driver, cyclist and pedestrian safety. Is your city likely to overhaul its lights overnight? No, but keep plugging away. Eventually, every street-lighting system needs upgrading, and cash-strapped municipalities will look for cost-saving and eco-friendly options. Ask your municipal politicians to visit the City of Calgary's website for info on the Envirosmart streetlights the city installed a few years ago, which have saved an estimated $2 million a year in energy costs.

4. Lobby for a lights-out. The 20,000 lights on Paris's Eiffel Tower were turned off for five minutes earlier in February 2007, in a symbolic gesture aiming to raise awareness about energy consumption and global warming. Start a letter-writing campaign to get your local landmark to follow suit -- perhaps on Earth Day/Night. Also, ask local sports arenas and stadiums to turn off lights when games aren't playing.

Sites to visit:

Starry Nights: http://www.starrynightlights.com/blog/?p=19

Night Lighting Product Information Program: http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/nlpip/index.asp

International Dark-Sky Association: http://www.darksky.org/mc/page.do

Fatal Lights Awareness Program: http://www.flap.org/

City of Calgary EnviroSmart: http://content.calgary.ca/CCA/City+Hall/Business+Units/Roads/Streetlights/EnviroSmart+Streetlight+Retrofit/EnviroSmart+Streetlight+Retrofit.htm

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Light Trespass aka Light Pollution

Light Pollution destroys the views of the heavens that man has enjoyed since the beginning of time. I cannot imagine how humbing the experience must have been to look heavenward in the days before electricity. The stars must have stood out like tiny fireballs.
90% of all American live under skies that are "affected" by light pollution while roughly half can not see the Milky Way from their homes. This is a shame. Mankind has throughout history looked to the stars to try to understand events around them.
The effects of light pollution as shown on the Orion nebula
Light Pollution picture of Earth at night.

Light Trespass or Light Pollution has only really become a problem in my and my memory’s lifetime. I well remember when the term first came into popular use and you didn’t have to be a scientist to see the effects.

The most well-known form of light pollution is light that is used in a place where it is wanted (to illuminate the outside of a building at night for example) and spills over into a place it is not wanted (the bedroom window of the house next door). Light has many advantages if used correctly; but, when used incorrectly can cause many problems that one is not even aware of until it is too late.

At one time, if you were driving and a town was on the other side of the horizon you didn’t know it was there because you couldn’t see it. Now, while you can’t see the actual town due to the horizon blocking it, you can see the glow above the horizon from all the light pollution. There is no mistake there is a town on the other side of the horizon. You no longer have to see it to know it’s there. As the picture above shows, the glow from the electricity used on earth can be seen on satellite pictures.

The night sky at Galloway Forest Park
Galloway Forest Park in southern Scotland is set to be Europe’s first official dark sky park. It may seem an unlikely place to have a park. After all, it’s surrounded by 300 sq. mi. of moorland, woods and lochs forming a rugged, unforgiving wilderness in a row of mountains whimsically named the Range of the Awful Hand.

From the car park in the foothills, it is a short walk to what is probably the darkest place in the country. After dark you are unlikely to run into anyone else up there; however, there is a small group of devotees who wait for nightfall to look and ponder their own significance in the grand scheme of things.

It is the profound lack of light that draws the dedicated to view the spectacular night sky as it can be seen only near zero light conditions. This spot is so remote that on a cloudless night it offers a view of the heavens that can be seen nowhere else on Earth. Among its offerings are rare chances to see shooting stars and the distant Andromeda galaxy, the aurora borealis and stellar nurseries
where suns are born to shine on alien planets.

Only two other parks in the world, one in Pennsylvania, the other in Utah, have been recognized by the International Dark-Sky Association, (
http://www.darksky.org/mc/page.do) a US-based organization that seeks to preserve and celebrate the darkest corners of the Earth.

With increasing urbanization comes better-lit streets, roads and buildings, which send light needlessly up into the sky, obscuring all but the brightest stars. According to some estimates, the amount of light that leaks into space costs around £110m ($163m US) a year (in the UK). Now that I know how much a relatively small country such as the UK wastes in electricity alone, I’ve decided I’m too mentally unstable to handle what it would be worldwide.

"If you go out in an urban street and look up at night, you might see 50, maybe 100 stars at best. But come to our park and when you look up and let your eyes adjust, there are so many stars you can't count them. You see shooting stars, satellites and the Milky Way, with its billions of stars. You don't even need a high-powered telescope: a pair of binoculars is brilliant," said Keith Muir, recreation officer at Galloway Forest Park.

Steven Owens, an astronomer who is coordinating the UK's involvement in the International Year of Astronomy, said: "We've become a very urban population; and, in doing so, we've cut ourselves off from experiences people have had for hundreds and thousands of years.

"People have been looking up at the night sky, telling stories and passing on myths and legends for the entirety of recorded human history. But when we moved into cities, we lost that very deep connection with the universe. In setting up dark sky parks, we're trying to reconnect people with nature."

Kukula, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, said designated dark sky parks were needed to put the brakes on the rapidly vanishing natural beauty of the night sky. "This is a part of our heritage that we're losing. If we concreted over the countryside and bulldozed the forests, there would be an outcry; but, this has sneaked up on us, and people don't realize what we are doing. The night sky is an amazing spectacle that 90% of the population doesn't get to see," he said.

Next blog: How to make changes in your own home that will help cut down on light trespass. How to try to make changes in your own city? Websites that will help you learn more about light trespass, what you can do about it and what some organizations are already doing to reduce it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Undiscovered Eden

It was one of the few places on the planet that remained unmapped and unexplored. A real-life “lost” Garden of Eden has been found in Mozambique.

The giant forest found on Mount Mabu in the mountainous north of Mozambique was until recently only known to local villagers. Not only was it not featured on maps; but, it is believed not to have been mention in scientific collections or literature. Trust technology to blow its cover. No sooner did scientists “find” the forest on a Google Earth internet map then a British-led team of scientists launched what is considered the first full-scale expedition into the canopy.

When they returned, they brought an astonishing number of previously unknown species from the fantastic array of biodiversity found there 45 m (148 ft) below the tree canopy.

The scientists found what they believe are three new species of butterfly, a previously undiscovered adder snake and new populations of rare birds. They also expect to find new plants among the hundreds of specimens they have brought back with them.

The forest is lush with tropical creepers; giant snakes such as the gaboon viper; small klipspringer and blue duiker antelope; noisy samango monkeys; and elephant shrew all backdropped by the granite-like rocky peak of Mount Mabu.

Papilio ophidicephalus, the emperor swallowtail butterfly
Photograph: Julian Bayliss/Kew

New atheris snake
Photograph: Julian Bayliss/Kew

Olive sunbird Nectarinia olivacea
Photograph: Julian Bayliss/Kew

Jonathan Timberlake, expedition leader, says now he’s home, "that's when the excitement comes out - when you come back home or start reading some of the background and realize you're breaking new ground."

“Scientists "describe" about 2,000 new species a year; but, discovering new ones still captures the imagination,” said Timberlake. "The phenomenal diversity is just mind-boggling - seeing how things are adapted to little niches, to me this is the phenomenal thing. If we don't have wonder as a human species, where are we? If we don't have excitement, what are we doing with our lives?"

Timberlake’s team was looking for site for a conservation project in 2005 when Mount Mabu was “discovered. Not long after conservationist Julian Bayliss visited the site and studied satellite photos which revealed the 80 square kilometer forest.

"It's then we realized this looked [to be] potentially the biggest area of medium-altitude forest I'm aware of in southern Africa," said Timberlake, who has spent most of his working life in the region. "Nobody knew about it. The literature I'm aware of doesn't mention the word 'Mabu' anywhere; we have looked through the plant collections of Kew and elsewhere and we don't see the name come up. It might be there under another name, but we're not aware of any collection of plant or animals, or anything else taking place there."

A few exploratory trips were made in October and November of this year to plan their strategies for the expedition. Eventually, 28 scientists and support staff from the UK, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Switzerland went along with 70 porters to help with the equipment, supplies, tents, cameras etc. They drove to an abandoned tea estate where the road ended and hiked the last few kilometers into the forest to set up camp for four weeks.

When they emerged from the canopy on the peak of Mount Mabu a humbling sight awaited them. Hundreds and hundreds of male butterflies had gathered in the sunlight to attract mates by flying as high as possible. "There were swifts flying in and peregrines in the air above: it was phenomenal," said Timberlake.

While the land outside the forest had been devastated by a civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1992, the forest landscape was almost pristine. Timberlake explained that ignorance of its existence, poor access to the land and the forest’s value as a refuge for the villagers during the fighting had all combined to protect it.

Local people are now returning to the area and Mozambique’s economy is booming. Scientist fear that pressure will be exerted to either cut down the forest for firewood or burn it to make room for crops that will further threaten the ecology.

Visiting and describing what they found was the first step to conserving the new species, said Timberlake. "They are not propping up the earth in most cases, but if you know about them what right have you to destroy them? If you don't know about them, it was an accident; if you know about them, it's malicious."

Origins of Boxing Day

Boxing Day dates back to past centuries when it was the custom for the wealthy to give gifts to employees or to people in a lower social class, most especially to household servants and other service personnel.

Service personnel could and did include persons such as the milkman, your coal deliverer, and all persons who supplied your household throughout the year

As with Christmas itself, some elements of Boxing Day are also likely related to, and ultimately derived from, the ancient Roman pagan holiday of Saturnalia, which also had elements of gift giving and social role reversal.

Saturnalia is the feast with which the Romans commemorated the dedication of the temple of the god Saturn, which was on 17 December. Over the years, it expanded to a whole week, to 23 December to what we recognize as Christmas today.

Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals. It was marked by tomfoolery and reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places.

The name 'Boxing Day' originates from the tradition of putting gifts in boxes for the less fortunate.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Seasons Blessings, Friends

Whatever your religious beliefs, the best to you and yours this coming year (whenever that starts for you). God Bless to those who believe - Good Fortune to those who don't.

Rubber Duckie You're The One...

If you are out on the open seas in the near future and a rubber duckie floats casually by, net it - it may be a very valuable piece of low-tech Nasa scientific equipment. That bathtub toy may be worth $100 and bragging rights for finding the first rubber duckie dropped into a tubular hole in a glacier on Greenland’s west coast. Make sure you have your digital camera with you so you have proof positive that you are the rightful heir to the claim of finding the first duck.

What makes these ducks so special? I mean, aren’t rubber duckies meant for those private moments when you’re alone in the bath? Nasa has come up with a way of making these $2.00 bathtub toys into low-tech pieces of scientific equipment. Ninety ducks were dropped through holes in Greenland’s ice three months ago in an effort to track the way the Artic icecap is melting. The toys were chosen for their buoyancy and ability to withstand low temperatures.

The holes they were dropped into are known as “moulins” and are in the Jakobshavn glacier. The scientists are hoping the ducks would find their way into channels beneath the hard-packed surface so they could track the flow of melt water into the ocean.

"We haven't heard anything from them yet," Nasa robotics expert Alberto Behar told the BBC.

The scientists also released a football-sized, floating, robotic probe equipped with a GPS positioning transmitter powered by hi-tech batteries. The probe has yet to communicate its position. "We did not hear a signal back, so it probably got stuck under the ice somewhere," said Behar.

Glacier movement has speeded up in recent years and scientists believe that melting water lubricates the bases of glaciers increasing their movement.

Nasa is offering a modest prize of $100 to the first person who finds a duck. The ducks have an email address stamped on them, together with the word "reward" in three languages, including Inuit. I suspect the real glory lies in finding the first duck and having pictures to prove it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Toy Recall at Christmas...Again

Last year, 2007, lead-laced toys imported from China dominated the headlines with massive recalls causing mini-hysteria among parents (and rightfully so).

The demands for stricter quality control from concerned parents prompted Ottawa to reassure the public that they would be seeing fewer toy recalls as stricter policies were put into place.

The stricter policies are in place and the number of children’s products pulled from the shelves increased by some 40% in 2008. This is being attributed to a potentially toxic and previously undetected threat – barium – tainting seven of those toys. Lead continues to be the biggest reason for recall; but, barium was a new find for Health Canada who says it hides mostly in wooden toys with brightly coloured paint. (Irresistible for small chewers who then ingest the paint.)

Used to create pigments in paint, barium is grouped with arsenic and cadmium and its use in children's products is limited in Canada through hazardous products legislation.

"It sounds very ominous," said Bruce Cran, president of the Consumers' Association of Canada. "It's astounding to us to see some of these poisons and toxins that get into products."

Those who point to the fact that there were no barium-related recalls last year are using skewed data. The reason there have been no previous recalls for barium is simply because there never has been testing for it. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

"In 2007, due to the number of recalls related to lead content in paint on children's toys, Health Canada focused testing and enforcement activities on lead content," the Ministry of Health said in a statement. "This year, Health Canada performed testing for all heavy metals (lead, mercury, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, selenium and barium) on 92 painted toys available on the Canadian market."

The federal agency issued the barium-related recalls for the seven children's toys between August and October.

The most recent recall was a toy dump truck under the Fast Lane brand (UPC 803516114007) in October.

The month before, the agency issued a warning on its website about a brightly coloured toy locomotive called the "Stacking Train" by Melissa and Doug (UPC 000772005722 and batch GY1207).

Also in September, a recall was issued for three Kushies Baby brand Zolo Zippy wooden pull toys, including a buggy (item 80020 and UPC 064408800204), a toy named Ozlo ( 80019 and UPC 064408800198) and a toy called Scoot (item 80021 with a 064408800211 UPC code).

In August, notices were issued about four toys. A set of wooden alphabet and number blocks by First Learning (item 8409 and UPC 834162008198). A Galt brand wooden block with four pop-up pegs (product reference AO138L, UPC code of 5011979101389). A wooden domino set with a circus theme, called "Big Top Flippity Flops" by Alex (item 86W and UPC 731346008602). A stacking toy set called "Geometric Stacker" by Melissa and Doug (item 094730, UPC 000772005678, batch ZP1207).

While some forms of barium are safely used for medical or commercial purposes other forms are toxic. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramps.

More severe symptoms include difficulty breathing, increased or decreased blood pressure, numbness and muscle paralysis, Health Canada said. In rare cases, exposures to very high levels can be fatal.

Health Canada says no barium-related incidents have been reported in connection with any of the recalled toys.

As of Dec. 24/08, there have been 114 children's products recalled in 2008 compared with 82 in 2007.

Unfortunately, once again, China figures prominently in this recall. At least half of the children's products recalled this year for whatever reason - lead content, barium, choking or strangulation hazard - were made in China.

Eleanor Friedland, vice-president of the Consumers Council of Canada, said she was "disturbed" to learn there was such a dramatic increase in toy recalls. "It drives me nuts," she said. "If we want to trade with countries then they have to have the same type of inspection practices that we have here; and, if not, stop trading with them for God's sake."

Ex-Health Minister Tony Clement predicted at year’s end 2007 that there would be fewer product recalls in 2008. "Companies haven't kept as rigorous a view of the standards on their offshore supply chains," Clement told the Canadian Press last December. "A lot of companies have learned their lesson now."

The Health Ministry has released an email that states that the increase in the number of recalls is due to several factors. Probably the biggest contributor to the increased number of product recalls is Health Canada increasing its targeted sampling and testing program of toys over the past 18 months. Also, many companies are making a more comprehensive effort to inform consumers of any hazards in a more timely fashion.

Our last election cost us dearly. Not just in the money that was spent on it; but, in other ways as well. (Don't get me started!) At the time Clement made his comments there was a very good likelihood that he would have been correct if the election had not have occurred.

At the time, legislation was moving through the House of Commons that would have imposed stricter penalties on manufacturers and importers of dangerous goods. These industries would have been much more tightly controlled. Instead of recalls being done on what is essentially a voluntary basis by the manufacturer, the government would have the necessary power to force a recall of goods they determined to be hazardous.

Unfortunately for all Canadians, the proposed Canada Consumer Product Safety Act was one of the bills that died on the order paper when the election was called. It had gone through second reading and had been referred to committee when Parliament was dissolved.

The end of January should show us what we have to expect regarding the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act and the importance given to it by the new government.

Cran (Consumers’ Association of Canada) believes the government was making a "very valiant" effort to enhance product safety.

"(However) I don't see any attempt on the part of the manufacturers to be more vigilant," he said. “I think there's a very solid need at the moment for the minister to have powers to recall and penalize and hold accountable people who are bringing dangerous goods into the country." (There are many who would agree with you, Bruce.)

For a complete list of products recalled in 2008, go to

and choose children's products in Health Canada's drop down category menu.

Don’t forget that pre-2008, there was no barium testing done, so those wooden toys with the eye-catching, brilliantly-coloured paint bought before 2007 could be hazardous to your child’s health.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Called The Most Destructive Project On Earth By Some

Paul Kedrosky of Infectious Greed (http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2008/03/12/alberta_tar_san.html) says this about the above picture of the tar sands taken from space. "Truly a scar on the face of (the) planet."

The Alberta Tar Sands: what a highly anticipated, highly acclaimed oil and gas recovery project it was at the time. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and thought our energy woes were over.

However, just recently, along with other information that I will reveal later, it has been disclosed that 4 billion litres of toxic leakage escapes from the tailings ponds at the tar sands project into the groundwater every year. It is further estimated that this groundwater contamination could grow by five-fold within one decade: just 10years. The report that used industry data to arrive this conservative estimate of tailings pond leakage is 11 Million Litres a Day: The Tar Sands’ Leaking Legacy.

“This massive leakage from toxic tailings ponds are yet another reason why tar sands oil is dirty oil,” said Matt Price, Program Manager, Environmental Defense.
Edward Burtynsky - photographer. To see more of his work:

Tailings ponds are known to contain dozens of toxic contaminants like heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) [As a pollutant, they are of concern because some compounds have been identified as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and
teratogenic] and naphthenic acids. Naphthenic acids in particular break down very slowly posing a long-term threat to the groundwater of the region.

Tailings consist of ground rock and process effluents (all the waste) that are generated in a mine processing plant. Mechanical and chemical processes are used to extract the desired product from the run of the mine ore. After extracting what they want from the ore everything else is diverted into a waste stream known as tailings. This process of product extraction is never 100% efficient; nor, is it possible (or economically desirable) to reclaim all reusable and expended processing reagents and chemicals. The unrecoverable and uneconomic metals, minerals, chemicals, organics and process water are discharged, normally as slurry, to a final storage area commonly known as a Tailings Management Facility (TMF) or Tailings Storage Facility (TSF).

Tailing ponds are one method of storing tailings. They are areas where the refuse material is ponded to allow the settlement of solid particles from the water it is carried in. There is minimal benefit to capturing the fine tailings in the ponded water as it minimizes them being gathered up and spread by the wind.

Tailings ponds are often dangerous because the wastes deposited into the ponds are often very toxic, corrosive or both, to human and animal life. At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing. Tailings are sometimes mixed with other materials such as cement and bentonite to form a thicker slurry that slows the release of impacted water to the environment.

The tailings ponds for the tar sands sits upriver from the Peace-Athabasca Delta, one of the world’s largest inland freshwater deltas and home to Fort Chipewyan where residents already have serious concerns about pollution and their health.

The tiny hamlet of Fort Chipewyan (pop. 1200) gets all their water from the Athabasca River. A generation ago, the lake the river runs into was so clear people drank directly from the lake without treating the water in any way. They are the only community in the area who receive their public drinking water from the river.

Their usually peaceful existences have been turned upside down now Fort Chipewyan has been identified as a cancer cluster – possible living proof – that the escaping toxic leakage from the tailings ponds is having a dramatic effect on the health of the persons living downstream from the tar sands.

Five cases of an extremely rare bile duct cancer have been found in this hamlet. Statistically, a city should be the size of Halifax (approx. 386,000) to have this many rare cancers. Did I mention they also have cases of leukemia, lymphoma, colon cancer, cervical cancer, lupus and Graves’ disease? Kind of overwhelming for a hamlet of 1200 people.

What makes this even more interesting is that none of the other communities in the area are experiencing this kind of health apocalypse; but, then none of the other communities draw their water from the Athabasca River either. This only reinforces suspicions that the waste water leaking from upstream is the cause of the problem.

Tailings ponds are built on bare ground with walls made out of earthen materials. As we all know, these kinds of structures tend to leak. The amount leaked may not be much in comparison to the total volume treated in the tanks; but, it still can be a significant amount.

Companies deploy measures to capture some of the leakage from the ponds; but, these measures are imperfect. Company applications for new projects admit that leakage is lost to the groundwater; so, it seems to have become an accepted part of doing business. It is my opinion that when applications or proposals such as this are put forward, things like leakage are usually not only downplayed, they are underestimated. I, therefore, wonder how accurate the report “11 Million Litres a Day: The Tar Sands’ Leaking Legacy” is since it was these applications that were used to arrive at the overall leakage rate. I suspect the numbers might be a little bit low.

Both Alberta and federal legislation prohibits the discharge of toxic materials into the environment; but, tailings ponds leakage is sanctioned by the Alberta permitting process. The report calls on the Canadian government to enforce the federal Fisheries Act to end the leakage problem, given a pattern of inaction by Alberta.

“The destruction in the tar sands will not stop until the federal government steps in to enforce its environmental laws,” said Price. “Canadians should not have to carry the shame of being the producers of such dirty oil.”

11 Million Litres a Day: The Tar Sands’ Leaking Legacy, and the leakage calculations, can be downloaded for free on the Environmental Defense web site at

DeSmogblog gleaned some facts from it:

-Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.-Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes. -The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. -The ponds span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.-Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.

More good, good, stuff on their website:


Only in Canada...Pity!

Put some green into your holidays...the One Million Acts of Green website is counting the green acts of Canadians. Send an e-card instead of a paper one, recycle your christmas tree, reuse wrapping paper, bows and ribbons or make your own. The site has many ideas on greening your life and how much you save in greenhouse gases.

Don't forget to register your acts on the One Million Acts of Green website. In just two months, Canadians have already registered more than 600,000 green acts! One Million Acts of Green is spearheaded by CBC TV’s The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos in partnership with Environmental Defence and other national environmental groups.

The website is: http://green.cbc.ca/

Go ahead! Commit a green act and register it! For my friends who are not Canadian, it's a good site to browse for green ideas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Possible Water Contamination In New York City Causes Outcry From Bagel and Pie Makers

I belong to an environmental group, Environmental Working Group (EWG), and receive their newsletter. In this latest newsletter, is a statement from Dusty Horwitt, JD, Senior Analyst for Public Lands, EWG. I have replicated his statement verbatim. I have not changed a single word or piece of punctuation. Why would I try to tamper with something I cannot possibly improve upon?

Dusty was testifying before the New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection regarding proposed natural gas drilling in the New York City watershed. Hydraulic fracturing is the process mining companies favour; however, it involves injecting water laced with toxic chemicals into the ground.

We all know where water absorbed into the ground goes - into our groundwater supply which is a source of our public drinking water...and cooking water, cleaning water, washing water...and we haven't even looked at the environmental hazards involved.

This toxic plan has aroused a lot of opposition, controversy, and heated debates with one of the biggest sectors opposed being the New York pizza and bagel makers. It has long been sworn that the secret to the critically acclaimed pizza and bagels is the quality of the city's tapwater.

I never would have thought it possible that pastry could be a determining factor in the saving of a city's water quality; but, if that's what it takes - it works for me.

Dusty's statement is right below. Enjoy.

Statement of Dusty Horwitt, JD

Senior Analyst for Public Lands, Environmental Working Group
December 2008

Oversight Hearing on Natural Gas Drilling in the New York City Watershed, Part II
Before the New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection
Friday, December 12, 2008 at 10:00 a.m.


Mr. Chairman, distinguished Members of the Committee:
My name is Dusty Horwitt, and I am a Senior Analyst for Public Lands at Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, and Oakland, California. I thank the members of the Committee for this opportunity to testify.

For the last several years, Environmental Working Group has used government and industry records to track a virtually unprecedented increase in oil and gas drilling in the Western United States. As part of our work, we have investigated the practice pioneered by Halliburton known as hydraulic fracturing that is the subject of today’s hearing.

Earlier this year, we worked with Theo Colborn, a distinguished scientist in Colorado who has identified dozens of chemicals used by the natural gas industry. We found that at least 65 chemicals used by the natural gas industry in Colorado – many of them used in hydraulic fracturing – were listed or regulated as hazardous substances under six federal statutes including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Superfund. Natural gas companies, as you know, are not required to disclose what chemicals they use.

I’d like to add to the testimony I presented to the committee in September by making a few comments about New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s Draft Scope for the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program, Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs.
We have reviewed the document and believe that the state is not taking seriously the threat that hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling poses to New York City’s drinking water. Nor is the state taking seriously the risk of water contamination in other parts of New York.

The state echoes claims made by the natural gas industry when it says that there is “no record of any documented instance of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing for gas well development in New York, despite the use of this technology in thousands of wells across the state during the past 50 or more years.”

The state may have no record, but that does not mean that contamination has not occurred. For example, the state fails to mention how diligently it has looked for contamination or whether it has even tried. Speaker Quinn noted at September’s hearing that the state has 19 inspectors for 14,000 oil and gas wells, figures that state officials did not dispute. Those numbers do not inspire confidence that the state has the staff to perform a thorough investigation. Nor is it clear how the state could be so confident about the safety of hydraulic fracturing when companies are not required to reveal what chemicals they are using and are exempt from federal disclosure requirements under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory. Under these circumstances, how would state officials know what contaminants to look for?

The state should disclose to this committee the results of all the tests it has performed over the past 50 years or more to determine whether hydraulic fracturing chemicals or other chemicals used in natural gas drilling in New York State have contaminated the state’s water supplies. We will be requesting this information from the state ourselves.

Even the EPA does not know what is in hydraulic fracturing fluids. According to a recent story by ProPublica, a New York-based nonprofit news outlet, EPA scientists say the lack of knowledge makes it impossible to assure the public that the drilling process is safe or to accurately track its effects.

Joyel Dhieux, a drilling field inspector who handles environmental review at the EPA’s regional offices in Denver told ProPublica in a story that ran on the front page of the Denver Post that "I am looking more and more at water quality issues…because of a growing concern…But if you don't know what's in it I don't think it’s possible."

What we do know is that hydraulic fracturing is used in 90 percent of all oil and gas wells drilled in the U.S. and that in spite of assurance from the state, drilling for natural gas and hydraulic fracturing chemicals themselves have recently been linked to water contamination and serious illness.

This summer, the Bureau of Land Management found that groundwater in Sublette County, Wyoming is contaminated with benzene, a toxic substance linked to cancer and nervous system disorders. Sublette County is the site of one of the nation’s largest natural gas fields. We found that under the Bush Administration, energy companies have drilled more than 2,300 wells in the county. The total number of wells in Sublette County is around 6,000. Thousands of wells may be drilled in New York State.

Benzene is found in hydraulic fracturing fluids and is also found in condensate, a liquid that is produced along with natural gas. The maximum safe amount of benzene in drinking water is just 5 parts per billion, and the EPA has recommended that the goal for benzene in drinking water is zero. What makes the Sublette County case so alarming is that the county is rural, and there are no likely sources of benzene contamination other than natural gas drilling.

This spring, the Durango (Colorado) Herald reported that a nurse became gravely ill after being exposed to fracturing fluids that had spilled on a natural gas worker she was treating. As the nurse suffered from liver failure, heart failure and respiratory failure, the company that manufactured the fracturing fluid refused to tell her doctor what was in it, citing the need to protect trade secrets. The doctor had to guess how to treat his patient who later recovered.

In March and April 2004, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News reported that natural gas seeping from a well drilled in Garfield County, Colorado contaminated drinking water 3,500 feet away, forcing local residents to drink bottled water. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) determined that the contamination came from an improperly cemented well drilled by Canadian company, Encana. Encana had drilled four wells within a mile of the gas leak.
Inspectors found high levels of benzene in the water the day after residents noticed unusual bubbles in a nearby creek. A report prepared for Garfield County found that the contamination also included methane gas and toxic toluene, ethylbenzene and xyleneithin. In August 2004, the COGCC fined Encana a record $371,200 and imposed a moratorium on drilling within a two-mile radius of the seep. It was not clear if the well had been fractured, but hydraulic fracturing is common in the area.

It is also important to note that hydraulic fracturing can require a staggering amount of water and equipment and that operations have increased in size in recent years, especially in shale formations. The industry publication Oilfield Review reported in 1995 that a fracturing operation could involve as many as 40 vehicles, a million gallons of fluid and three million pounds of sand. A photo of a fracturing operation in the Barnett Shale near Fort Worth, Texas, indicates that even more equipment can be used. The photo is from a PowerPoint presentation given this year by a representative of Texas-based Dale Resources and is available on the website of Barnett Shale News. You can see the scale of the operation with more than 50 vehicles pictured as well as a close-up of the same operation. The Dale Resources presentation suggested that in the Barnett shale, companies may use up to four million gallons of fluid for hydraulic fracturing.

  • Because of these examples and the record of toxic spills and leaks in the natural gas industry that has been documented by Colorado, New Mexico and other authorities, we continue to recommend that there be no drilling in New York City’s watershed.
  • We urge the state to hold at least one hearing in New York City so that city residents can comment on the draft scope. Due to the risk to New York City’s drinking water, it would be unconscionable to exclude the city from this process.
  • We urge the state to require disclosure of chemicals used in natural gas drilling – not just to state officials as the draft scope suggests – but to the general public as well.
  • After disclosure of chemicals, the state should conduct its own tests of surface and groundwater near any wells where these chemicals have been used and should carefully analyze incidents of contamination associated with natural gas drilling that have occurred elsewhere including those that I have mentioned. Natural gas companies should pay for the testing.
Several other recommendations are included with my previous testimony. I thank you for this opportunity to testify and look forward to your questions.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A New Crisis For A New Generation?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are at odds with a long-standing policy of the US government.

Despite the fact that the US government has an advisory on the level of fish consumption considered to be safe due to escalating mercury in the flesh, the FDA is petitioning the government to amend the amount considered safe upwards. The FDA says that, in their opinion, the benefits of seafood outweigh the health risks. They also say most people would see such significant health improvements it would make eating fish worthwhile despite the mercury.

At the present time, the government’s policy is that certain groups (deemed to be more vulnerable) – women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants, and children – are more easily harmed by the mercury in fish and should limit their consumption. If the White House approves this new stance by the Food and Drug Administration, they would be, in effect, totally reversing a policy they have supported for decades.

Alarmed scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have criticized the FDA’s recommendations in internal memos as "scientifically flawed and inadequate" and said they fell short of the "scientific rigor routinely demonstrated by EPA."

The FDA sent its draft report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, to the White House Office of Management and Budget as part of the FDA's effort to update the existing health advisory. The report argued that nutrients in fish, including omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and other minerals could boost a child's IQ by three points.

The following type of synchronicity has always bothered me – it seems to smack of hidden agendas.

The FDA report had determined that the greatest benefits from eating fish are derived when eating more than **gasp** 12 ounces a week. Coincidentally, this just happens to be the current cut-off limit advised for pregnant women, women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and young children.

FDA spokesman Michael Herndon declined to discuss the draft report. "As a science-based regulatory agency we periodically and routinely review and analyze scientific evidence about health effects of FDA-regulated products," he wrote in an e-mail. "We do not comment on draft reports that are undergoing internal review." (I always did enjoy a good soft shoe shuffle.)

Benjamin H. Grumbles, the EPA's assistant administrator for water, said, "EPA is working closely with other agencies in the scientific review of this report to better understand the risks and benefits of fish consumption."

The FDA and EPA both are responsible for protecting the public from mercury contamination in fish. The EP handles recreationally-caught fish with the FDA deals with seafood sold in markets and restaurants. The states rely on these agencies issuing their own advisories in a truthful and timely manner.

It was just four years ago in 2004, that these two agencies issued their first joint advisory. They suggested that women of childbearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers, infants and children stop eating shark, tilefish, swordfish and king mackerel. It was at this time, the government advised limiting consumption of any mercury-contaminated fish.

Mercury is known to damage the neurological development of fetuses and infants. Remember the target group they want the advisory limit raised for: this could affect an entire generation.

It has recently been discovered that mercury may pose an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adults.

The EPA and FDA are supposed to work together to regularly review the advisory, make any recommendations needed and make any submissions jointly. However, EPA sources say the FDA proceeded with its proposal alone consulting with EPA only when the document was nearly finished.

"This is an astonishing, irresponsible document," said Richard Wiles, the environmental group's executive director. "It's a commentary on how low FDA has sunk as an agency. It was once a fierce protector of America's health, and now it's nothing more than a patsy for polluters."

Kathryn Mahaffey, who until August was the EPA's top mercury scientist, said the FDA used an "oversimplified approach" that could increase the public's exposure to mercury.

But Gavin Gibbons, a spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, applauded the FDA's efforts. "This is a science-based approach," he said. "And you start to see a picture emerge that shows the clear benefits of eating seafood outweigh the risks of a trace amount of mercury in fish."

Off My Balcony

Good morning reader(s)!!

Just thought I'd slip out onto the balcony at 3:00 am this cold winter morning (am I nuts?!) to take a snapshot of what's on the other side of my nice warm condo. I thought how very lucky I was not to have to go out today for any reason.

My darling dog, Hayley, whom I adore more than anything peed on my balcony. Well, technically, she was outside. I managed to get it before it froze solid. SHE was already back in the condo having decided it much to cold outside for her. If I wanted to freeze out there, that was my decision; but, it was not for her. I came back in closing the slider firming locking winter on the other side of the glass.

Then my thoughts turned as they always do, especially at this time of year, to the homeless. Last year, I gave away several blankets - just got off the bus at a spot where I had previously noticed someone without enough blankets, covered them up and carried on. Easy. This year thick socks and mittens are my cause.

So many people are already homeless and thousands more are joining them every week. It is a time of hardship for all; but, especially the homeless. We cannot allow ourselves to be defeated and beaten down by the numbers of people who are out there needing help. If we allowed numbers to defeat us the homeless would suffer even more. I try to concentrate on the one or two I can help. Notice I said "help" not "save". I'm not in a position to save anyone; but, I can help with a warm, thick pair of socks; a pair of mittens stuffed with a granola bar and a smile that lets them know someone has noticed them and cares. You will find there is no shortage of cold homeless feet and hands out there that will appreciate these gifts more than you know.

A word of warning: Do NOT leave granola bars and small food items near a sleeping homeless person. I have witnessed passers-by steal (or attempt to steal) these items from the person while they were still asleep. Make sure your person is awake and able to receive your donatation personally. (And people talk about the homeless stealing!)

Please try to spread the word in your community. Vancouver has already had a senseless death. A homeless woman trying to keep warm in her cardboard box was using a candle. Her "home" caught fire, then her clothes. Despite rescue efforts from passers-by and 911, she passed away. They need us.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Water Is Rising...final

If countries fail to adapt to the new reality of climate change, Coleman warns, they will suffer far greater damage from floods, droughts and hurricanes.

The World Bank study, led by Susmita Dasgupta, of its Development Research Group, says some countries will suffer the effects of sea level rise much worse than others. Severe impacts will be limited to a "relatively small number of countries".

As well as highlighting the fact that Vietnam is the most vulnerable of all countries, the report goes on to predict likely damage to the Bahamas which could lose more than a tenth of its territory to a one-meter rise. Egypt faces the flooding of 13% of its agricultural land while Mauritania, Guyana and Jamaica are also among the biggest losers.

Surprisingly, Bangladesh which is often associated with rising sea levels is listed as the tenth most affected by land area, with just over 1% likely to be flooded.

The report says: "The overall magnitudes for the developing world are sobering: within this century, tens of millions of people are likely to be displaced by sea level rise, and the accompanying economic and ecological damage will be severe for many."

It adds: "International resource allocation strategies should recognize the skewed impact distribution we have documented. Some countries will be little affected by sea level rise, while others will be so heavily impacted that their national integrity may be threatened. Given the scarcity of available resources, it would seem sensible to allocate aid according to degree of threat."

This study is the first of its kind and therefore is neither foolproof nor all-encompassing. There was no investigation into the effects of milder sea level rises which will be felt exponentially over the next few decades. The report appears to prepare us for 2100; but, what will the years leading up to that be like? Unfortunately, the testing methods were not sophisticated enough to assess the impact on or the fate of small islands which are particularly vulnerable. There is also no indication of the impact the adaptation measures which will be put in place over the next century will have.

Nevertheless, its central message is clear: "There is little evidence that the international community has seriously considered the implications of sea level rise for population location and infrastructure planning in many developing countries."

A separate Oxfam report last month investigated the situation on the ground in Vietnam, in the provinces of Ben Tre and Quang Tri.

Vietnam has made some very impressive development achievements. It is one of the few countries on track to meet most of its millennium development goals by 2015. They managed to reduce their poverty rate from about 58% to 18% in 2006 – an impressive 40% drop in the poverty level of the Vietnam population.

However, Oxfam warns that the effects of climate change threaten all the work the Vietnamese people have done. "Such impressive achievements are now at risk," Oxfam says. Vietnam is one of the lowest contributors to world greenhouse gas emissions producing just 0.35% emissions in 2000.

It is not just rising sea levels that pose a threat; higher temperatures, as well as more extremes of weather such as drought and typhoons, will have a "potentially devastating impact on the country's people and economy", the report says.

Some communities are attempting to adapt to changing weather patterns in the hope that the changes they are implementing have come soon enough. Rice farmers are harvesting earlier before the main flooding season or growing a rice variety with a shorter growing cycle. However, the report found that once again it was the poor people (the people with the least to lose) across both Ben Tre and Quang Tri, who were ill-equipped to cope with the consequences of the climate changing.

Oxfam says that rich countries must step in - and quickly. "The amounts of investment needed are beyond [Vietnam's] budgetary capacity," it says. "International adaptation finance will be needed in the face of unavoidable impacts."

Take the time to write to elected officials to let your views be known. We are still in early days and time may remain to make changes; but, they won’t happen alone and they won’t happen overnight.

Eventually, it all comes down to your point of view. Do you see the one-meter sea level rise as an encroachment on the land of only 0.3% which can be compensated for elsewhere? Or do you see it as a life-changing, perhaps life-ending, event that will affect 56 million people?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Water Is Rising

I have always felt that to a greater or lesser degree, we are all responsible for our brothers and sisters. While they may not be able to hold us legally responsible, we should always act as if we are morally responsible for them…because we are.

As we know, sea levels are rising due to climate changes melting polar ice caps along with other contributing environmental factors. What my early readers may remember is that we already have the world's first environmental refugees. Not many people know of them, their plight, or their pending relocation. Please see my October 1, 2008 blog “The World’s First Climate Change Refugees.”

A new study has identified the country most at risk from rising sea levels even as rich nations are being requested to help vulnerable populations. The country declared most vulnerable stands to have 10% of its population displaced with 10% of its economic power crippled and 10% of its towns and cities swamped by the end of this century. The World Bank has named this country as the nation with the most to lose as global warming forces the oceans to reclaim the land. That country is Vietnam. Surprised?

You shouldn’t be. There has already been plenty of warning concerning rising sea levels. An entire village in Alaska is being relocated because the Bering Sea is literally clawing the land back into the ocean a little at a time. Not many people have heard of it. Not much information has been released about it.

It’s Newtok, Alaska (pop. 320), an Inuit village that squishes when you walk on the ground. Walking on the ground in Newtok is like walking in mud – the houses end up tilted at odd angles as they sink into the mire. This is because the sea is silently invading the permafrost causing it to become unstable and recede at a rate of 90’ a year into cold Arctic waters. However, 320 lives is hardly newsworthy plus it might cause enough pressure for someone to finally have to take financial responsibility; and, relocate these people before the ocean does.

Now, everyone is familiar with Vietnam. It's a fairly big player on the world scene so I am fairly certain that if the ocean rose and covered 10% of the land, someone somewhere would notice.

Global warming has finally come to the point where it can no longer be ignored. What would be some of the ramifications if waters rose high enough to claim 10% of Vietnam?

A rise in the sea level of just one meter (3.28 ft) would flood over 7% of their agricultural land and destroy nearly 30% of their wetlands, says the World Bank. Some climate experts, such as Jim Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, feels that an estimate of one meter is too conservative. He argues that the estimate should be closer to several meters.

A one-meter rise in the water level would impact about 0.3% of the territory, or 194,000 sq. km., of 84 developing countries according to a quote from the World Bank published in the journal Climatic Change. That doesn’t sound so bad – 0.3% - how much is that really? It’s enough to affect 56 million people.

Heather Coleman, senior climate change policy adviser with Oxfam, says: "Helping vulnerable people cope with the effects of climate change is desperately needed today because they already face increasingly severe and ever-worsening climate change impacts."

Oxfam is calling for at least $50 bn (£33.85 bn) a year to be diverted from international carbon trading schemes into adaptation efforts. "With a global financial crisis unfolding, these mechanisms could raise enough money from polluters without governments having to dip into national treasuries," Coleman says. "Many negotiators agree that this is one of the more practical approaches. Billions of dollars can be raised and invested to prevent future climate change and to help poor people adapt to the negative impacts of global warming."

Oxfam says poor countries need help to upgrade national flood early-warning systems, plant mangrove "bio-shields" along coasts to diffuse storm waves, and grow drought-tolerant crops.

"Poor people around the world bear the brunt of climate change, and yet they are least responsible for global warming. Even during tempestuous financial times, rich countries can and should help poor people to cope. We can't afford to exchange a short-term saving for a long-term disaster."

More in the next blog. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Reader Says...

Anonymous points out that more information can be found out about the fight between Shell and the villagers at Rossport, Ireland at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHvtty3ELNY or at

Anonymous: if you have any information that you would like published on this link - names of people to write to; letter writing campaigns, etc., just leave me a note and I will publish it for you. Hopefully, the villagers will be successful in their quest.

Shell vs Rossport, Ireland

This is view of the waters edge near Rossport, Ireland. This is the beautiful unspoiled countryside the villagers are fighting over.

What is important enough to cause you to go on a hunger strike? What reason could possibly be so powerful to make someone determined enough to carry a hunger strike to the ultimate end: either one side backs down or one side dies? Is there anything you feel strongly enough about to sacrifice your life for? Maura Harrington felt strongly enough about an environmental problem about to take place in her little Irish village to do just that.

This is the story of Maura Harrington and Shell.

The village is Rossport in County Mayo, Ireland and the company is the multinational oil company Shell. The residents of Rossport and Shell have been locked in battle for eight years now. Shell wants to build a pipeline from an offshore gas extraction outfit through or near Rossport and on to an onshore refinery.

This issue has caused a bitter rift in the village. Feelings run high and five men (the Rossport Five) have served jail time and gained notoriety for blocking Shell’s access to their land, a protest camp has taken root near the village, fishermen are out in their boats trying to face down Shell’s machinery and Maura Harrington started her hunger strike.

As local campaigner Terence Conway says, "The days before we were fighting this seem like childhood memories now. It just goes on, day after day after day."

Despite the fact that the onshore route is yet to be decided, this summer the villagers could only stand and watch as Shell began to lay the hated offshore pipeline. Shell now has permission to lay offshore pipeline through the waters of Broadhaven Bay, on which the village of Rossport sits, to the land. Shell’s ship, the Solitaire, was positioning itself to do that.

Ms. Harrington, a former headmistress, has always been opposed to the onshore pipeline believing Shell should build an offshore refinery. She sent word of her intended hunger strike to the commander of the Solitaire. Her statement was simple: if the ship entered the bay she would begin her hunger strike continuing until either the Solitaire left the bay or she died.

"What kind of country are we living in?" she said during her strike. "This part of the world was such a beautiful place; and, it is painful - physically and emotionally - to see what has happened here with the construction work. So I have put my life and death into the hands of the Solitaire."

Shell removed the 400 m (1312.34 ft) Solitaire after 10 days ostentatiously for repairs. While Ms. Harrington claims she trusts Shell “about as far as I can throw the Solitaire”, she decided to call a halt to her strike.

In a quote to The Observer, Ms. Harrington said, “I always said this would end in one of two ways. I'm happy to say that it ended the way I wanted it to, thank God.”

The County Mayo-born environmental campaigner said the Solitaire's departure was a victory for herself and fellow campaigners. “This has been a battle won; although, we are engaged in a long war with Shell about this pipeline. It isn't over; but, yes, this was a victory,” said Ms. Harrington.

She added: “The fast was the culmination of eight years of campaigning. It reached the point where I had to engage in the ultimate form of peaceful protest. That is how strongly we all feel.”

Maura was a small woman when she began her fast; but, she had the inner resolve of the headmistress she had once been to see it through. Describing her ordeal, carried out the fast at Glenagad beach, by the headquarters of the pipeline project, she says, “Strangely enough, the hardest days were when the weather was fine. I felt much weaker when the sun was shining and the heat was up. It was then I felt dehydrated the most. The days of cold, rain and wind made it easier to cope. I missed two big parties: my retirement from the school and my 55th birthday. When I build up my strength I will celebrate them again.”

Gotta love that fighting Irish spirit.

Maura says the most shocking and disturbing incidents were the presence of so many gardai deployed to protect the headquarters of the pipeline project. “During my 10 days out in front of the pipeline site I was surrounded by gardai even though my protest was entirely peaceful. This kind of heavy-handed security shouldn't be happening in a democracy.”

Last weekend her son and three others were arrested during a Shell to Sea protest at Glenagad beach. The protests were organized in solidarity with Ms. Harrington’s fast. The result: The Irish government deployed the navy to the area to protect the Solitaire.

Ms. Harrington paid tribute to other anti-Corrib protestors such as Pat O’Donnell, the Donegal fisherman who kept a close watch on the Solitaire from his fishing boat while the ship was in Killybegs (waters off Rossport).

“Pat and his son fought the battle on the high seas and it was as important as our battle here on the ground in Mayo. This victory was as much about them as it was to do with my protest,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the oil giant said, “The vessel will remain in port while a further assessment of factors including operational, technical and weather issues will be completed. This program still requires a suitable weather window for successful completion. Separately, a special diving support vessel has been deployed to Broadhaven Bay to assist in the salvage of the 12-metre long, 80-tonne section of the Solitaire's pipe-laying equipment. This piece of equipment, which became detached from the vessel on 10 September, (2008) is currently lying on the seabed in Broadhaven Bay, Co Mayo and will be removed and disposed of for safety and environmental reasons.”

The spokeswoman refused to comment on whether the Solitaire would return to Irish waters. They also refused to comment on Maura Harrington and her hunger strike.

Maura vows to fight to the death if necessary to keep the pipeline out of Rossport.

For All My Arthritic Friends

I have arthritis in both wrists and hands and carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. Sometimes I find it hard to hold anything of any weight in my hands because my wrists can't support it. I was in the market for a new kettle because I drink alot of ginger tea for my tummy.

If you have tummy or intestinal troubles, julienne a 1 1/2" piece of fresh ginger in a pot, fill with enough water for 3 cups of tea and boil. That's it! Can be drunk as is or with honey if preferred. I like just the plain ginger and water. This tea works well for lungs too.

I was having difficulty lifting the pot at times and could not lift it at all on occasion. I needed something that worked better for what I needed. What you are looking at is a Chinese herbal pot.

The handle is extremely well placed for pouring and causes no extra strain on my wrists. The pot is some sort of earthenware and is lightweight. On a bad day when I cannot lift the pot to pour out my tea, the mouth of the pot is wide enough to ladle the tea out into my cup.

If you are having the same problem with your wrists and hands, you might want to try this. Did I mention they are also half the price of an on-top-of-the-stove kettle?

I just love mine. Now I can keep my pot full of ginger tea and be able to drink it too!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Planned Resort in Crete...final

Mystery lovers, this is where we unveil those who would have us believe they are environmentally concerned while sucking everything they can out of the situation. How do they do it? Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors. As you will see, what is presented for the world to see is something akin to making an elephant disappear on a stage in front of hundreds of witnesses.

The audience is shown an elephant in an enclosure on the stage. There is no doubt - the elephant is truly there. After much bravado on the part of the magician, dazzling light effects on the part of the electricians, and much dancing and other so-called creative distracting moves the curtain is closed around the elephant. The lights dim, the crowd is hushed and suddenly the curtain is drawn back and the elephant is gone. The crowd is stunned and amazed. The magician (illusionist) and his assistant(s) take their flamboyant bow and the stage curtains are drawn concealing everyone from sight.

What the crowd did NOT see was that as the enclosure curtain was around the elephant, the mirrors that had been installed in the enclosure were adjusted to an angle to reflect only reflections of the reflections. When the enclosure curtain opened, the elephant was still standing exactly where he/she had been moments before; but, was now rendered invisible to us by the clever use of mirrors and their reflections.

Call me psychic; but, I can see the question in your minds. What does an over privileged, environment-destroying resort on a fragile, supposedly-protected Greek island have to do with disappearing elephants that don’t really disappear?

I’m glad you asked.

The elephant is our case is the damage that will be done to the fragile ecosystem of the Toplou peninsula on the Greek isle Crete if Minoan Group is allowed to develop the planned Cavo Sidero resort.

Minoan Group claims that its development of Cavo Sidero is "underpinned by a comprehensive environmental policy, designed to protect the site's ecosystem through a long-term program of sustainable environmental management". They also promise to respect the area’s topography and preserve existing vistas working with not against the landscape. They further claim they intend to use traditional Cretan building styles and Cretan material throughout. The final “green” offering they have is that they say the building footprint occupies less than 1%, and that energy-efficient systems will be used.

This is the enclosure they supply to surround the elephant. Outside, everything looks to be exactly what is being presented. In this case, what is being presented is all the correct “environmental” jargon, legal mumbo jumbo and all the razzle-dazzle of a circus come to town.

While everyone is accepting coffee and doughnuts from a very charming and a very gracious host and hostess (the enclosure curtain), someone turns the mirrors and voila.

While the elephant of environmental destruction is still there; no one can see it because despite the fact that the report is highly favourable to the resort, it is only perfunctory. The report fails in at least four essentials areas: there are only vague general principles open to various interpretations; there’s a lack of essential detail; deals only with the areas proposed to be built on right now; and, says nothing of the effect(s) on the rest of the peninsula.

What does lurk behind the mirrors? What is it that we can’t see? Unfortunately, there are many issues to consider. If this first development is successful, there will surely be cries for more – and not just more; but, bigger and better more. Even if a second development is not called for, there is still the threat of encroachment by service buildings, car parks, litter and dumps for earth and rubbish. The grazing habits of wildlife in that area will be affected; thereby, changing the habits of other species around them creating a possible loss of species.

Remember, this land harbours the largest palm grove of the special Cretan Vai palm tree. While this grove is not directly being encroached on, it is threatened by contamination of the groundwater which nourishes it. An equally dangerous situation is that developers often bring in foreign palm trees complete with red palm weevils. Red palm weevils are particularly deadly to native palms as they have never built up any defenses against this imported insect.

Minoan Group proposes eight sites for protection: the site of Itanos, two scraps of landscape and five isolated sites. One of these five sites is already a fragile Minoan villa. In one of the first signs of the respect with which they treat the heritage of the Toplou peninsula, they intend to run the road to the desalination plant they propose right through a very important site. The site has substantial ancient building foundations so close to the surface of the earth they are clearly visible without any excavation work of any kind. We can probably expect the same kind of respect for the Cretan heritage and ecology throughout the project.

The sites that have been singled out for protection are simply “green” window dressing – part of the smoke and mirrors. The entire island is an unexplored archaeological site capable of surviving if left alone; but, so fragile and easily destroyed that commercial development will consign many more plant species to the extinct list.

And the venerable monastery – the last bastion of truth and all things honourable apparently had been in contact with Minoan Group prior to the global invitation for tenders were issued for developments on Crete. During these discussions between Minoan Group and the monastery (who own the land), Minoan Group managed to obtain an “option for first submission” before others were aware the competition had been set. There are allegations that Minoan Group had an unfair advantage over rival competitors and they would appear to be one of the only things that is not smoke and mirrors.

For more information and a chance to sign the petition, go to: