Thursday, October 30, 2008

Four Lives Saved

Time to reveal the reason I haven't been on in a couple of days. As you can see, I've got kittens. Various neighbours have come and gone from the neighbourhood in recent years and left their cats behind- unspayed and unneutered, of course. We (a couple of owners and our building caretakers) have adopted a small colony of feral cats that live at our apartment building now. We feed them and take care of them the best we can; but, these cats are truly feral and will not let a human anywhere near them. Our female (probably the most feral) became pregnant again; so, we tried to trap her. The idea was that we were going to keep her and her kittens in my den until the babies were able to leave mom. After this litter, we were going to get her spayed to prevent anything like this happening again.

Unfortunately, before we could get her safely trapped, she had her babies either Monday night or Tuesday morning. She is very trap savvy. She chose an outside stairwell and the babies were deposited on the cold concrete. It is autumn here in Surrey, BC and the babies could not live on the concrete - much too cold - so we took them and tried to lure mommy in so she could nurse them in warmth with a full tummy. I am sorry to report that mom has disappeared and we are unable to find her (although we continue to look).

I have been on kitten duty since Monday - nursing every two hours - day and night. I have also been on laundry duty (they manage to excrete alot considering their size) and stimulation duty three times a day. Kittens must be massaged all over including those regions to encourage elimination and development of inner organs. Needless to say, any time I have had to myself, I have used to sleep after I have taken care of my own pets.

In the above pictures, the babes are three (exhausting) days old. As a society we are still not very evolved when it comes to recognizing the rights of other sentient beings on our planet. Animals are treated like property without feelings and it must stop. The number of feral cats, in particular, forced to fend for themselves is growing at an alarming rate. They continue having kittens that repeat the cycle of miserable lives leading to miserable deaths since these poor things are put out without being spayed or neutered.

Our mother cat originally had 5 kittens; but, one of them had been too badly chilled on the concrete to survive. If we hadn't found them when we did, he would died an agonizing death freezing to death. As it was, he died on my chest being held close for warmth and stroked with love and caring. Most feral cats don't have the luxury of such a death. Theirs is painful and lonely.

We have found homes for all 4 babies and they will be with their new families just in time for Christmas. A heartwarming end to a heartbreaking story. Unfortunately, the ending is usually as heartbreaking as the story.

Please spay and neuter your pets. Remember outdoor pets live shorter lives and can be victims of cars, coyotes, practical jokes, and many other cruel acts. Get involved with an animal rescue if you have the inclination. Donate to a rescue if you have the resources; but, remember that they always need things like old towels, an extra can or two of food, a toy your pet doesn't play with anymore. Before you throw it out, see if a rescue could use it. It only takes a moment to drop these things off and your local pet store usually collects such donations. There are sites on the internet - see on the right-hand side of my blog - to donate free food to rescued animals just for clicking.

As you can see from the above picture, little voices are calling me and little bodies are on the move in search of food. The final four have hearty appetites and no trouble letting me know when meal time is here!!

After I answer the call and get everyone tucked in for the night with full tummies and empty bladders and bowels, I will be getting a few more hours sleep. I will keep you updated on the remaining 3 females and 1 male. I'm sure there will be many antics before they go to their forever homes.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Don't Forget To Click

I know it's hard to see everything that's on this page; but, I want to particularly draw your attention to websites I have listed on the right-hand side of the page under the title "You can make a difference." They are located just above the "blog archive" section. These are direct links to two amazing websites: and asks questions on the subject of your choice - art, english grammar, english vocabulary, foreign language learning, chemistry, mathematics and geography. The questions are fun and encourage learning. The bonus is that for every correct answer you donate 20 grains of rice to a family in a developing country who can't afford it. Feed the hungry - it's simple, it's free.

Thehungersite collects clicks to help fight hunger (human and animal), fight breast cancer, promote literature, protect the rainforest and maintain child health. Every click donates a certain amount to that particular cause. Again - it's simple, it's free.

So. look for the links and donate to those who aren't as fortunate as us. It makes both the giver and the receiver feel good.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Third and final installment for this subject.

Probably the biggest contributor to the Latin Americas feeling they may have been “had” by fast-talking business entrepreneurs with their talk of carbon sinks, carbon offsets, carbon footprints and other barely-understood catch phrases that promised pie in the sky was that the business mechanisms were often complex and poorly explained. As these business plans progressed, local inhabitants felt sidelined and disenfranchised because they no longer understood what was going on.

For example: Conflicts have flared up among indigenous groups in Costa Rica after individuals in these communities sold medicinal plants to pharmaceutical companies. This practice is known as bioprospecting; but, also covers a practice some consider to be biopiracy.

Biopiracy is a negative term for the (mis)appropriation of legal rights over indigenous knowledge. This is done by a major pharmaceutical company taking out a patent on the use of a certain plant and all associated biomedical knowledge that the indigenous peoples have developed over the centuries. What makes it biopiracy is that the indigenous groups who originally developed this knowledge and shared it with the outside world have received absolutely no compensation whatsoever in any way, shape or form. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical company is making billions from the knowledge and they are protected by their patent.

A much-cited case is the Rosy Periwinkle (Madagascar Periwinkle). Research into the plant was only prompted by the plant’s traditional medicinal role; but, resulted in the discovery of one of the most lucrative medical agents ever found. Besides the many biologically active chemicals present, vincristine, an agent useful during leukemia chemotherapy was discovered.

Eli Lilly developed a method for purifying vincristine, patented it and marketed the drug. It is widely reported that the country of origin did not receive any payment; although, without the indigenous knowledge, Eli Lilly researchers would never have known where to look.

Biopiracy has been accused of widening the gap of inequality between developing countries and the developed countries.

There have been other glitches as well. Columbian forest communities have reportedly lost control over which trees they are allowed to plant on their own land after they agreed to participate in a carbon-credit reforestation program. In some cases, the forests they were regenerating have been reclassified as stubble so the land could be cleared and used for a timber plantation.

"Although there's a theoretical opportunity for indigenous people, they can't really engage [with market-based schemes] because there's so many hurdles they have to jump," says Hall.

“Just as they have with the financial markets, governments need to step in with a robust rescue plan,” says Sergio Leitao, campaign director of
Greenpeace Brazil. "We can't leave such an important subject for the future of the planet as forest preservation in private hands," he continues.

Sergio points to Paraguay, a country not usually associated with strong public governance. They put a recent moratorium on deforestation, and it cut illegal logging in the heavily-forested state by 83% in one year. Simone Lovera, author of the report, has another idea. Why not leave the forest communities of Latin America to protect their natural habitat?

Simone points out that the best-preserved, best-managed forests today are found on indigenous territories. "Indigenous-led conservation initiatives have proven to be very cost-efficient," she says.

Regrettably, few of the indigenous peoples who reside in Latin America’s forests will be able to attend the climate change talks in Poland in December. Hopefully, there will be enough people representing their ideals to cause everyone to take a fresh look at the problem.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Amazon Rainforest...con't

So…climbing down off my soapbox; my point being, paying to leave the forests standing is the right thing to do. We shouldn’t try to cloak it with claims of grandiose generosity trying to make it appear that we are doing something out of the norm for these countries. Just as we pay that Canadian farmer for not growing corn (our desire for his land); so should we pay the owners of the rainforest for not cutting it down (again, our desire for their land). We should pay them simply because it’s the right thing to do.

But, back to Latin America and the rainforests.

As we are all excruciatingly aware, the global financial market is not looking too healthy at this moment. The Latin Americans involved in these deals are wondering if the business theorists haven’t double-talked them into a win-lose situation with them holding the losing cards.

"The problems that have been caused by companies with their own rules cannot be solved by the same companies with the same rules," says Ana Filippini, spokesperson for the World Rainforest Movement, a Uruguayan-based conservation group. So incredibly simple, so incredibly true.

Illegal loggers are still harvesting the rainforest illegally despite the millions being spent on sustainable projects in the Amazon. According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, monthly deforestation rates are still rising. In August 2008, the forest lost three times the timber it lost in August of last year.

Unintended consequences have a habit of showing up in the best-laid plans. Remember my buddy Murphy? This is particularly true of business-based schemes. There are so many variables involved, it is impossible to accurately predict the outcome in most of the cases.

A new report, Life as Commerce: the Impact of Market-based Conservation lists some examples of unintended consequences as cited by the Global Forest Coalition.

The Kyoto protocol makes provision for the carbon captured by so-called “carbon sinks” can be sold to buyers in developing countries. What exactly is a carbon sink? A carbon sink is a reservoir of carbon that accumulates and stores carbon for an indefinite period. The main natural sinks are oceans which absorb the carbon dioxide and photosynthesis of the gas by plants and algae.

In order to collect these “carbon credits”, companies across South America have been racing to plant fast-growing plantations for the extremely profitable carbon market. More trees – what could possibly be wrong with this?

The so-called immediate climate change benefits (carbon credits) of monoculture plantations are more than offset by the immense damage they do to local biodiversity – plant, animal, indigenous peoples. There is no way to estimate what might be lost in the area of biodiversity since we have absolutely NO idea of the full range of riches that lie undiscovered in the Amazon Rainforest. We have yet to see if an overwhelming majority of monoculture plantations has an effect on the climate and/or weather patterns in the years to come.

The report Life as Commerce: the Impact of Market-based Conservation also says that by endorsing commercial plantations, timber certification schemes such as the
Forest Stewardship Council are doing more harm than good.

“Market-based schemes fail the residents of Latin America's forests as much as the forests themselves,” says the Global Forest Coalition.

Wow! Riveting stuff. Final installment tomorrow – then off to different subjects. I hope you are all finding this as interesting as I am. If you are, let me know: if you’re not, let me know.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Another Blow to the Amazon Rainforest? You Decide.

One of the couplets in the Robert Burn’s poem, Ode to a Mouse, goes "The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, gang aft agley" (original verse). Remember, Burns was an 18th century Scotsman. The drawl must have been as thick as the fogs out on the moors.

That couplet has since been transformed into the less-colorful adage of today: The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. This meaning that no matter how much preparation, how many checks, how much research, how many prototypes, how much anything goes into the planning of a project; you must always plan for the unexpected. Or, as my good friend, Murphy, once said: “If anything can go wrong, it will!”

This seems to be the case here. The idea seemed like sheer genius – a conservation coup – a feather with sparkles in everyone’s cap. Why not determine the dollar value of a set area of the rainforest by placing a price on the rainfall it produces plus all the other “services”, and then sell these parcels of land off to rich philanthropists with green leanings?

Canopy Capital, a London-based investment house, came up with the plan and persuaded 10 wealthy individuals to buy into the “ecosystem services” of Guyana’s Iwokrama Reserve. At this time, the Iwokrama Reserve is a heavily-forested ecological and visual delight. The plan would appear to be working.

The thinking behind this plan is very simple and straightforward. Trees must be worth more standing up, living, cleaning air and being trees than they are chopped down. Giving them a “utility value” is one way of showing the value of unpaid services they provide to us and what we would be losing if we continue the deforestation.

"How can it be that Google's services are worth billions; but, those from the entire world's rainforests amount to nothing?" Canopy Capital's director, Hylton Philipson, is fond of saying.

What services do the trees provide? Climate regulation; biodiversity maintenance; water storage; traditional herbs and medicines; edible fruits and nuts; air oxygenation and filtration; undiscovered species; undiscovered peoples(?); undiscovered plants; and, who knows what else.

In recent years, governments across the region have bought into ecotourism, forest certification, biodiversity offsets and carbon emission trading.

“Market-based mechanisms appeal because they appear a win-win,” says Ronnie Hall, coordinator for Global Forest Coalition, an international coalition of environmental groups.

"Governments don't have to dip into the public purse so much, and private investors think they can make a profit out of it … It's very skewed. In the end, it's all become about money", she says.

Maybe I’m the one that’s skewed; but, it seems very simple to me. The rainforests are in South America and should be under the control of the country they lie in. Can you imagine the reaction if another country tried to tell the USA or Canada what to do with their lands?

The countries they lie in are very poor with very few resources other than the forests and the land they stand on. The people are mainly poor, uneducated, unskilled manual laborers working for starvation wages, if that. Many of these people clear the land to feed their families. The logging is done to support their families. I don’t know about you; but, there is very little I wouldn’t do to feed my children.

If we want the forests to remain as they are, we should PAY the countries involved a fair rate. We can’t tell them to stop the activities that is providing the food for the mouths of their families for another day and not replace it with something else.

In Canada, I know if agricultural watchdogs don’t want a farmer to produce this year, the proposal is made to him – but he is paid the same amount of money not to produce as he would have made producing. We would not expect the farmer to watch his family suffer because he is accommodating our request in the use of his land.

The same should apply in South American rainforests.
More on this tomorrow. Big, big issue!!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Crikey - Steve Irwin Is Leaving Brisbane In December

November marks the beginning of the Japanese whaling season. The whaling fleet will depart from Japan for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Captain Paul Watson and the Steve Irwin will leave Brisbane, Australia in early December and should arrive at the Sanctuary about the same time as the Japanese fleet.

Captain Watson and his crew are taking the correctly-named vessel. Steve was a passionate environmentalist and would have wanted to be in the forefront of this battle. Good luck Captain Watson, crew and the Steve Irwin: May you have good winds and calm waters!

"Our objective is simple," said Captain Paul Watson. "We intend to once again intervene against illegal Japanese whaling and once again we intend to save the lives of as many whales as we can with the resources available to us. We have been the cause of the Japanese whaling fleet losing profits for three years in a row. We intend to make it a fourth year of red ink for the whalers' books."

Captain Watson claims that he is unable to depend on the Australian government led by Kevin Rudd to help save the whales. “They have reneged on their promises and have done far less than the John Howard government when Senator Ian Campbell was the Environment Minister. I think Environment Minister Peter Garrett should have kept playing music and stayed out of politics. He is no friend to the whales, kangaroos, trees or the environment – just another hot-air politician.”

Approximately, one year ago, both Kevin Rudd and Peter Garrett promised (pre-election) to appoint a whaling ambassador and take legal action against Japan. Now, approximately one year later (post-election), shadow environment minister, Greg Hunt, is saying that both Rudd and Garrett are hoping that the public will forget these promises.

Last year’s successful campaign will be aired on the TV channel Animal Planet in a seven-part series called Whale Wars. It airs November 7, 2008 at 9:00 pm in most major American cities. It will be air internationally at later dates.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Did You Know That?

- it is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open?
- when you sneeze everything in your body stops including your heart?
- making a ton of paper from recycled paper saves up to 17 trees and uses 50% less water than making paper from virgin fiber?
- the USA uses nearly $1 million worth energy every minute?
- the average American’s trash has doubled since 1960 to 4.5 lbs. a day?
- the global recycling industry employees more than 1.5 million people?
- incinerating 10,000 tons of waste creates one job; landfilling 10,000 tons of waste creates six jobs; recycling 10,000 tons of waste creates 36 jobs?
- as part of “Clean Up Australia” day, almost 500,000 plastic bags were found and removed from the landscape?
- in 2001, Ireland consumed 1.2 billion plastic bags, or 316 per person? An extremely successful tax was introduced on the plastic bags named
PlasTax. This tax was introduced in 2002, reduced consumption of plastic bags by 90% and worked beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Approximately 18,000,000 liters (4755096.9) of oil have been saved due to this reduced production made possible by one simple tax. Governments around the world are considering implementing similar measures.
- the average lifespan of a tastebud is 10 days?
- the human heart contracts with enough force to propel blood 30 feet?
- when you were born you had 300 bones? As an adult you now only have 206.
- your thumb is as long as your nose?
- your foot is as long as the distance between your wrist and your elbow?
- a sneeze can travel at up to 100 mph?
- camel milk is the only milk that doesn’t curdle when boiled?
- almonds are a member of the peach family?
- an elephant’s trunk can hold up to 4 gallons of water?
- a group of geese on the ground is a gaggle, in the air: a skein: a group of unicorns is a blessing; a group of kangaroos is a mob; a group of whales is a pod; a group of ravens or crows is a murder; a group of larks is an exultation; a group owls is a parliament; a group of frogs is an army; a group of goats is a trip; a group of rabbits is a husk; a group of finches is a charm?
- the tooth is the only portion of the human body that is unable to repair itself?
- the average human body contains enough: Sulphur to kill all fleas on an average dog, Carbon to make 900 pencils, Potassium to fire :a toy cannon, Fat to make 7 bars of soap, Phosphorus to make :2,200 matchheads, and enough Water to fill a ten-gallon tank?
- a man’s testicles manufacture 10 million new sperm cells each day - enough that he could repopulate the entire planet in only 6 months?
- a human nose can recognize 50,000 different smells?
- every square inch of human skin has about 32 million bacteria on it?
- the average person produces about 25,000 quarts of saliva in a lifetime- enough to fill two swimming pools?
- feet have approximately 250,000 sweat glands?
- some brands of toothpaste contain glycerin or glycerol, which is also an ingredient in antifreeze?
- females have more tastebuds than males?
- the adult human body requires about 88 lbs of oxygen a day?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Whale and Dolphin Meat Contains Dangerous Levels Of Mercury

Slices of raw whale meat are served in restaurant on Japan's west coast. Dolphin meat is also considered a delicacy in the region. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters

Japan has long been known for its whale hunts carried out under the thinly-veiled disguise of “scientific research”. Somehow the meat from these whales and dolphins captured in the name of science always seems to find its way to the thriving fish markets of Japan. Whale and dolphin meat is considered a delicacy in Japan and diners are prepared to pay premium prices for it.

Now, continued whale and dolphin eating will do more than cause a dent in your wallet. Continued indulgence will cause you to flirt with international condemnation; and, put your health at serious risk also.

Taiji is a whaling town on the Pacific coast of Japan where the inhabitants regularly eat the meat of Pilot whales – a member of the dolphin family. Two Japanese universities (Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and Daiichi University’s College of Pharmaceutical Studies) studied the residents only to find that they have mercury levels approximately 10 times the national average. The national average is somewhere between 2.15 ppm and 1.20 ppm.

In hair tests of the residents, three had quantities of mercury higher than 50 parts per million (ppm). Neurological problems are known to occur at this level. The three men whose mercury levels were so dangerously high said they ate pilot whale meat more than once a month.

Tetsuya Endo, a member of the research team, said the residents faced no immediate threats to their health; but, suggested they cut back on their dolphin and whale meat consumption, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Among those people who discontinued eating the meat for two months, many of them reduced their mercury levels by up to 50%. The body is capable of flushing mercury out of the system given enough time; but, the health risks are as yet not fully known.

Last year a study was undertaken on the levels of mercury in the dolphin meat served in the school lunches in the Taiji area. The Health Ministry’s accepted level for this 0.4 ppm; but, the results showed mercury levels 10 to 16 times higher than this.

Taiji is about 280 miles west of Tokyo and is gearing up for the annual dolphin cull. Local fisherman are expected to harvest (read: slaughter) approximately 2,000 of the estimated 20,000 dolphins that will be killed in the coastal waters off Japan between now and April.

For the dolphins, it’s a time of horror and death. Hunter bang on metal poles to drive pods of terrified and disorientated dolphins in secluded coves from which there is no escape. They are then speared and hacked to death. If they somehow manage to survive this nightmare, the traumatized survivors are sold to aquariums in Japan, Europe and the USA.

The international condemnation of the culls doesn’t seem to deter the people of Taiji, where coastal whaling is said to stretch back 400 years, from claiming the local economy would collapse if coastal whaling and dolphin hunting were banned.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hurricanes - Truly Hot Air

Scientists have found a direct link between global warming and the intensity of Atlantic hurricanes. There is now proof positive that warmer ocean temperatures affect their intensity. Scientists also predict that hurricane and hurricane-related damage will continue to increase as long as the ocean’s temperature continues to increase. So far, other studies have only managed to tentatively link the increase in temperature to a likely increase in the number of hurricanes.

James Elsner of Florida State University in Tallahassee did an intensive study (50 years of data) on the correlation between the average global near-surface air temperature and Atlantic sea surface temperatures compared with hurricane intensities. His paper was published August 23, 2008 in Geophysical Research Letters.

"The large increases in powerful hurricanes over the past several decades, together with the results presented here, certainly suggest cause for concern," Elsner said. "These results have serious implications for life and property throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and portions of the United States."

James Elsner, using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), found trends and evidence to support the climate change/hurricane-intensity hypothesis.

Never has the United States been so battered by hurricanes and other tropical cyclonic storm systems as in recent years. It is now three years after Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans remains horribly damaged and disfigured still. The devastation was overwhelming, the lives lost unbearable; and, the toll in dollars – still counting.

Hurricane Omar has just been discovered in the Caribbean. It is heading towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It is expected to cause flooding and landslides when it hits land there. It has already caused floods in Curacao as well as a partial blackout in Venezuela.

"I infer that future hurricane hazard mitigation efforts should reflect that hurricane damage will continue to increase, in part, due to greenhouse warming," Elsner said. "This research is important to the field of hurricane science by moving the debate away from trend analyses of hurricane counts and toward a physical mechanism that can account for the various observations."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Samso - In The Red and Loving It!

Denmark seems to be constantly redefining the “gold standard” in ecotechnology. In the past 10 years, the Danish island of Samso has managed to cut its carbon footprint by a mind-blowing 140%. This has all been accomplished with a simple grid of windfarms, solar panels and sheep. Samso has been so successful that they are able to export their excess electricity to the mainland.

Samso used to be known mainly for its rich, sweet strawberries and delicately flavored early potatoes; but, there is history everywhere you look on this island also. The Vikings built ships and constructed canals here. Now the structures you see are of a much different nature.

Ten years ago, the island was almost entirely dependent on the oil and petrol brought in by tankers; and, from coal-powered electricity transmitted to them through a mainland cable link. Today that situation has been reversed. Samsingers export millions of kilowatt hours of electricity from the renewable energy sources implemented on their tiny island to the rest of Denmark. By managing to supply all their own needs plus export to the mainland, Samsingers have managed to reduce their carbon footprint enough to be the first community to have a negative footprint that I am aware of. While the rest of us are struggling to reduce our footprint – 0% carbon footprint seeming an unattainable standard – the island of Samso is already operating in the red (and proud of it!)

Change has taken place right across the island and is clearly visible to the naked eye. Solar, biomass, wind and wood-chip power generators have been multiplying across the island while traditional fossil fuel plants have been closed and dismantled. Dozens of wind turbines are scattered about the island, houses have solar-panels in the roofs, and a long line of wind turbines operate off the southern tip of Samso.

Hot water is pumped to homes by the district heating systems that are linked from town to town. The systems are powered by either rows of solar panels that cover entire fields or by generators which burn excess straw from local farms or timber chips cut from the environmentally-maintained forests on the island.

No one has forced or imposed these standards of living on the Samsingers. Neither have they received any money from major energy companies. Instead, they have all joined together and each plant on the island is either individually or collectively (group) owned.

These islanders wanted to show the rest of the world what could be done to alleviate climate change and still live comfortably.

Towns are linked to district heating systems that pump hot water to homes. These are either powered by rows of solar panels covering entire fields, or by generators which burn straw from local farms, or timber chips cut from the island's woods.
None of these enterprises has been imposed by outsiders or been funded by major energy companies. Each plant is owned either by a collective of local people or by an individual islander. The Samso revolution has been an exercise in self-determination - a process in which islanders have decided to demonstrate what can be done to alleviate climate damage without necessarily giving up the “good life”.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Face of a Miracle

This is truly the face of a miracle. My friend's daughter is having a baby and this an ultrasound of the little guy. She is now about 7 months pregnant. Isn't it amazing what can be created in as little as 7 months? I think childbirth (no matter the species) should be the first wonder of the world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Green Ham and Eggs

While I’m on the subject of things that glow – three glowing piglets were born in December 2006. This was accomplished by injecting pig embryos with fluorescent green protein taken from a jellyfish. One of these little piggies went on to have babies and two of her 11 offspring glow green from their snouts, trotters, and tongues under ultraviolet light.

According to Liu Zhonghua, a professor overseeing the breeding program at Northwestern Agricultural University, the “green” births prove that transgenic pigs are fertile and able to pass their engineered traits on to their offspring. The University reported that this development could lead to the future breeding of pigs for human transplant organs.

“Continued development of this technology can be applied to the production of special pigs for the production of human organs for transplant,” Liu said in a news release posted on the university’s web site.

Robin Lovell-Badge, a genetics expert at Britain’s National Institute for Medical Research, said the technology “to genetically manipulate pigs in this way would be very valuable.” While Lovell-Badge had not seen the research from China’s cloned pigs and could not comment on its credibility; he did say, that organs from genetically altered pigs could potentially solve some of the problems of rejected organs in transplant operations.

He said the presence of the green protein would act as a marker and allow genetically modified cells to be tracked if they were transplanted into a human. The fact that the pig’s offspring also appear to have the green genes would indicate that the genetic modification had successfully penetrated every cell, Lovell-Badge added.

However, he went on to say that much more research and further trials — both in animals and in humans — would be necessary before the benefits of the technology could be seen.

Tokyo’s Meiji University last year successfully cloned a transgenic pig that carries the genes for human diabetes, while South Korean scientists cloned cats that glow red when exposed to ultraviolet rays.

Glow, Kitty, Glow

Scientists at Gyeongsang National University in South Korea have cloned three Turkish angora cats that have a very unique characteristic. They are fluorescent. These cats glow in the dark when an ultraviolet light hits them. While this may make finding them in the dark a little easier for the owners, researcher Kong Il-keun says there is a much different reason for the research. He says the real reason the cats were created is because the technology can be used to clone animals that are suffering the same diseases as humans. Stem cell treatment research will also be enhanced by the experiments.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Coffee Has Just Become More Fashionable

I just love things that do double duty. When items do more than one chore, you really can get away with less is more and have it mean something.

My new favorite double-duty invention is the Coffee Cuff. Hopefully, this green innovation will change the way people wear their accessories and sip their coffee. Wait a minute! What do fashion accessories have to do with coffee? Let me explain.

Who among us wasn’t delighted when the “java jacket” came out? Burned fingers of coffee drinkers everywhere were so relieved to have that little honeycombed cardboard sleeve between them and the hot take-out cup that it was an immediate success. After many years of successful rule as the most-sought after coffee accessory, there is a pretender to the throne.

Move over Java Jacket – (**drum roll, please**) - here comes the Coffee Cuff. It’s a cuff that slips around your take-out cup in much the same manner as a java jacket; but, when the coffee is gone, the cuff slips onto the wrist to become an elegant earth-toned bracelet to be worn until the next take-out coffee.

Made by hand in the Contexture Design workshop in Vancouver, BC., Canada the Coffee Cuff was recently selected for the SWELL Future, Friendly Design exhibition featuring sustainable design from around the globe. Just look at the advantages to this product: eco-friendly, fulfills a huge demand, reusable, clever, inventive and makes a statement both environmentally and fashion-wise.

Coffee cuffs are made from exotic wood veneer like rosewood, ebony and zebrano. The materials are leftover “scraps” from the larger local furniture industry. These off-cuts would normally be thrown away with the rest of the industrial waste from these industries and become part of waste that is needlessly clogging our landfills. Contexture is able to salvage these woods turning them into Coffee Cuffs and extending their life through the Bentwood line of accessories.

Every year, billions and billions of java jackets are used for approx. ½ hour, then discarded to be sent to the landfill. Obviously, while the ideal situation is for everyone to bring their own coffee cup, this is not a realistic goal. However, converting all coffee drinkers to coffee-cuff users is far more realistic. Wear your cuff as a fashion accessory until coffee time, use it as a coffee-cuff, then slip back on wrist. So simple, so green.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name...Maybe Not

Once again scientists have dabbled where wise men should fear to tread. Genetic manipulation is not for the faint-hearted no matter who’s (or what’s) genes are being manipulated.

Not content with adding a gene there, splicing a gene there in the animal kingdom; a team of scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found a new genetic victim. They have developed a way to genetically enhance the scent of flowers and implant a scent in those that don’t have one.

Prof. Alexander Vainstein explains how smell plays an important role in our lives. “It influences the way in which we choose fruit and vegetables, perfume, and even a partner. And yet, smell is not just what we smell with our noses, it’s also what we taste. Aroma is of major importance for defining the taste of food.” Prof. Vainstein is heading the team of scientists at the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Prof. Vainstein and his research assistant, Michal Moyal Ben-Tzvi, together with other researchers have managed to find a way to enhance the scent of a flower by ten-fold and cause it to emit a scent night and day – regardless of the plant’s own natural rhythm of scent production. This development has been patented by the Hebrew University’s technology transfer company, Yissum, and is intended to be applied to other agricultural produce.

Utilizing natural components will increase and change not only smell of fruits and vegetables; but, will also influence the commercial appeal of a wide variety of produce. This could change the taste and appearance of fruits and vegetables as we know them now.

Another industry that Prof. Vainstein sees as being interested in this development is the flower industry. "Many flowers lost their scent over many years of breeding. Recent developments will help to create flowers with increased scent as well as producing new scent components in the flowers."

Scent is a big industry today with billions of dollars being spent to lead the consumer around by the nose. Over a third of those surveyed by the Flowers and Plants Association stated that scent influenced their choice of flower purchase as much or more than any other feature such as color, shape, petal shape, etc. The perfume industry spends a great deal of time and money every year trying to replicate the scent of that perfect bouquet. Floral scents are one of the most popular no matter where they are used.

As Prof. Vainstein points out smell is a very complicated sense. No one really understands how it works in humans let alone bees. Scent in flowers and plants is used to attract pollinating insects like bees, beetles, wasps and ladybugs that pass on pollen and aid in the reproduction and creation of fruit. Many things control the scent emitted by the plant like time of day, weather, age of the flower, species and many other factors not known to us yet.

Many of these signals emitted by the plant (scent intensity, no scent, day scent, night scent) are used to encourage the correct pollinators in and keep the incorrect pollinators out. Nature has evolved a marvelously effective pollination cycle. An example of this: Some flowers need a rounded fuzzy body like a bee to enter so all the pollen is taken from this flower and given the next. If the scent of the flower is altered so a walking stick now finds it attractive – the nectar will be gone and the pollen will remain because a walking stick is not round enough or fuzzy enough to remove it. Then what?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Shark Virgin Birth

A female Atlantic blacktip shark named Tidbit has produced a pup without the presence or aid of a male shark. Scientists have confirmed only the second-known instance of “virgin birth” in a shark using DNA testing.

Beth Firchau, the Curator of Fishes at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, in Virginia Beach confirmed that Tidbit came to them shortly after being born in the wild and has lived there for the past 8 years without the presence of a male shark.

The 5’ (1.5 m) Tidbit passed on after being removed from her tank for a routine veterinary exam. The necropsy to discover the cause of death revealed that Tidbit was carrying a fully-developed pup nearly ready to be born. This fact was confirmed by Beth Firchau.

The scientists were quick to caution that these rare asexual births should not be viewed as a means to prop up the declining shark populations.

Demian Chapman, a shark scientist with the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University in New York state, performed DNA testing that showed the pup had no father. Virgin birth such as this is known as parthenogenesis.

It was Chapman who proved that a hammerhead shark born at a zoo in Omaha in 2002 was also the result of parthenogenesis. Normally some shark species can have up litters of up to a dozen or more pups; but, the two parthenogenesis pregnancies produced just one pup each.

"It tells us that the original case we documented last year was not some fluke of nature. This is something that might be more common than we think it is, and widespread among sharks," Chapman said in a telephone interview.

“Parthenogenesis also has been documented in Komodo dragons, snakes, birds, fish and amphibians,” Chapman said.

"It's a finding that kind of rewrites the textbooks a little," Chapman said. "It just goes to show how the ocean keeps its secrets very well. And the sharks in particular."

"Of course, sharks are being killed at such a rate that unless we do something to stop that, we're not even going to learn all their secrets before they're gone," Chapman added.

Denmark's Offshore Wind Farm

Oregon, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Delaware all have offshore wind farms in various stages of development; although, none have been completed yet. The US market, one of the largest in the world, seems to be smelling the coffee a lot of the world has already been perking.

Denmark may be a very small country; but, it has already begun to drink it's coffee. This small country has already taken giant steps along the journey away from fossil fuels towards greener energy sources. They are planning to add another offshore wind farm to the already successful Rødsand I project.

E.ON Climate and Renewables and Siemens have signed an agreement to develop the new project. When this project is completed, it will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

The Rødsand II project will consist of 90 turbines for a total capacity of 207 MW. The €275 million ($373 million) project is expected to be completed by 2010, and is estimated to save 700,000 tons of carbon emissions annually.

“With roughly 1,800 MW of offshore wind power capacity either installed or on order, Siemens is the number one supplier of offshore wind turbines”, said René Umlauft, CEO of the Siemens Renewable Energy Division “With our proven wind turbine technology we make offshore wind power happen today. Together with E.ON we are looking forward to realizing this major Danish offshore project”, added Umlauft.

Cord Landsmann, CFO of E.ON Climate & Renewables said “We are building on the offshore experience of Rødsand I, it is a successful model which we will replicate in the construction of Rødsand II. We are fortunate to have great engineers and great technology to get the job done”.

In addition to the Rødsand II project, E.ON and Siemens have signed an agreement for the purchase of 500 wind turbines, with a total combined capacity of 1,150 MW to be installed at unspecified onshore locations in both the United States and Europe by 2011.

Batteries to be Mushroom Powered?

Mushrooms – edible fungus – one of nature’s wonder foods. Mushrooms are not only loaded with fiber and provide vitamins such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, cobalamins, and ascorbic acid; they also provide some minerals including iron, selenium, potassium, and phosphorous.

Nothing adds sparkle to a salad like fresh, organic mushrooms. What would a cheese and mushroom omelet be without the mushrooms? Boring – that’s what!

Now it would appear that mushroom has a hidden talent. It may not be just for cooking anymore. Apparently, mushroom enzyme could strip pollutants from fuel cell. Chemists at Oxford University say they have isolated a chemical that could one day be used as a clean alternative to the expensive, polluting and rare metals used today in fuel cells and conventional batteries.

They have demonstrated that laccase, an enzyme produced by fungi that grow on rotting wood, can be used as a cheaper, greener and more efficient catalyst. Fuel cells use chemical reactions to produce emissions-free electricity; however, current technology is expensive and requires electrodes that contain rare metals such as platinum.

Christopher Blanford, a chemist at Oxford, is working to replace the use of these rare and precious metals with cheap and abundant enzymes. Laccase has now been shown to equal the catalytic performance of platinum when used to speed up the reactions on the electrode of a fuel cell. The fungi, such as Trametes versicolor, use laccase to break down lignin, a component of the cell walls of plants. Lignin is highly resistant to degradation and is what we refer to as the “fiber” in our foods.

However, Blanford found that it was also highly effective at reacting oxygen with hydrogen to produce water and electricity. “Portable power sources from enzyme-coated electrodes could one day replace the batteries now in everyday use,” he said.

Canada, the US and the UK alone discard approximately 3 billion batteries a year. This is equivalent to 200,000 tons of unrecycled material. Not only are throwing away and not reclaiming the precious metals we use in the electrodes such as platinum; the most crucial element of a battery, zinc, is due to run out in 2037 according to the British Geological Survey. The good news is that there is no shortage of plants that can be grown to produce the enzyme laccase.

John Loughhead, executive director of the UK Energy Research Centre, welcomed the Oxford group's work. "Much of the benefit, if they make it work, is not necessarily cleaner energy; but, that we no longer need to exploit scarce mineral resources, produce unpleasant by-products, and consume energy in manufacturing processes if we can grow the things naturally," he said.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist at Greenpeace, also welcomed the research; but added: "I would ask about the scale of production required [for the enzyme] — what's the yield per mushroom? How much area does it take? As a high-value product that may not be too much of a barrier; but, a GM fungi would need to be contained in some way."

Loughhead said it would be some time before the technology was available commercially. "My gut feel is this is a possibility for the post-2020 world: discovery to deployment is historically around 20 years so I'd put my money on towards 2030 if it works — probably before nuclear fusion."

The Bay of Naples In Peril?

It has been used as a backdrop in many a romantic movie. It draws tourists by the tens of thousands. Renowned worldwide for its beauty and glittering clear waters, the Bay of Naples located approximately 2/3 of the way down the boot of Italy has a dirty little secret.

Photo: courtesy Lonely Planet

Unfortunately, Naples's dirty little secret could be just a precursor of things to come.

Scientists have discovered streams of gas bubbling up from the seabed around the island of Ischia. “The waters are like a Jacuzzi – there is so much carbon dioxide fizzing up from the seabed,” said Dr. Jason Hall-Spencer of Plymouth University. He went on to add, “Millions of liters of gas bubble up every day.”

The gas streams have turned Ischia’s waters into an acid bath that has had a major impact on the immediate and surrounding sea life and aquatic plants. Marine biologists fear that it may not be long before the rest of the world's bodies of water become more acidic as well.

Dr. Hall-Spencer went on to explain, "Everyday the oceans absorb more than 25 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. If it were not for the oceans, levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be far higher than they are today and the impact of climate change would be far worse. However; there is a downside, it is called ocean acidification.”

Once again, mankind has managed to do the most damage in the most recent years. It has been calculated that the oceans are absorbing so much additional carbon dioxide as a result of our pollution that they are 30% more acidic than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution, just two centuries ago.

The “Second International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World” was just held on October 6, 2008 in Monaco. Hundreds of scientists gathered to discuss what might happen in the next few decades with regards to our oceans.

Scientists have found that in Ischia's highly acidic water:

• Biodiversity of plants and fish has dropped by 30 per cent (less stocks to chose from, weakening of food chain, overpopulation of some species, imbalances of predator to prey)
• Algae vital for binding coral reefs have been wiped out (loss of shelter for small fish, loss of biodiversity, impact on larger species, loss of food source for some, loss of environmental protection provided by coral reefs)
• Invasive 'alien' species, such as sea-grasses, are thriving (choking out of natural species, loss of diversity, possible changes in gaseous makeup of ocean)
• Coral and sea urchins have been destroyed, while mussels and clams are failing to grow shells (the very building blocks of our oceans are unable to reproduce properly)

The conference also dealt with the issue of fish larvae sensitivity to high levels of acid as this will affect the commercial fisheries in coming years. “Many developing countries have seafood as their prime source of food,” pointed out Dr. Carol Turley of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. “If they lose that, the result could be famine.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

For All My Canadian Friends

Last week in Canada, the Do Not Call List was launched. Thousands of Canadians either phoned in or went on-line to register their phone number as one that is NOT to be called by any telemarketers. However, there are still a number of exceptions to the list that could still call you, unsolicited. Michael Geist created "iOptOut", an online tool that will automatically send requests to remove you from an even deeper list of data bases. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the equivalent for my American friends. So, Canada, that's "".

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Two More Natural Fabrics

It has been well established by now that fabrics made with organic materials are more environmentally friendly than fabrics treated with materials that have been treated with chemicals and pesticides.

One of my favorite fabrics, cotton, is treated with more harmful chemicals than any other crop. Most consumers don’t realize this; but, it’s important to buy only items made with organic cotton. Not only does treating the crop with chemicals wreck havoc on our eco-system; but, some of those chemicals remain in the fabric after processing and harm the wearer.

Fortunately, our green choices are growing. Recently, I did a blog on fabric for clothing, sheets, linens and other articles being made from bamboo that is becoming quite the rage. There are two more natural materials in the running for most eco-friendly fabric. These fabrics are made from the soybean and milk. Read on, fashionistas!

Soy fiber (make sure it’s organic) is sweeping the fashion world. Henry Ford invented soybean fiber in 1937 and called the fabric “soy wool”. Henry wore and had his picture taken wearing suits made from soy wool. He was so convinced of the superiority of this fabric, he promoted it everywhere.

Being Henry Ford, many Ford cars wound up having soy wool upholstery interiors. (He was also very fond of hemp fabric.)

Soy fiber is often called vegetable cashmere because of its silky luster, smooth body feel and excellent draping properties. It has the same moisture absorbing properties as cotton; but, provides more ventilation.

Milk fabric is one of the most creative, I think. It was invented in the 1930’s in Italy and America to compete with wool. Back then the fiber was marketed under a variety of names such as “aralac, lanatil and merinova” among others. However, the milk-casein fiber was to become a casualty of the war as did soy fiber and wool.

The fiber is made by drying the liquid milk and extracting its proteins. The separated proteins are dissolved in a chemical solution, placed into a machine and spun in much the same way cotton candy is.

Milk fiber is environmentally friendly, superior in strength and has other amazing qualities. The producing of milk fiber has no effect on the environment and there is no formaldehyde formed by this process. Milk fiber contains 17 amino acids and has a natural anti-bacterial rate <80%.

I shall be on the lookout for the soy fabric. What girl can resist cashmere?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

More Amazing Animal Facts

I thought I’d share one more blog of amazing animal facts before getting back to the usual environmental blogs. Mother Nature is so wonderful I just can’t help sharing.

1. The African elephant has a gestation period of 22 months (nearly 2 years) while a short-nosed bandicoot gestates for 12 days (less than 2 weeks).
2. Hummingbirds consume half their weight in food daily.
3. A woodpecker can peck 20 times per second.
4. It takes a lobster about seven years to grow to be 1 lb.
5. Dragonflies are one of the fastest insects, flying 50 – 60 mph.
6. Turtles can take in oxygen through their bottoms.
7. A female rat can produce up to 12 litters of 20 young each yearly.
8. Rats destroy 1/3 of the world’s food crop yearly.
9. Sharks seem to be the only animals that never get sick. They are immune to every type disease – even cancer.
10. A cockroach can survive for about a week without its head before starving to death.
11. The fastest bird, the spine-tailed swift, can fly as fast as 106 mph.
12. On average, pigs live for about 15 years.
13. A chameleon’s tongue is twice the length of its body.
14. Giraffes have no vocal cords.
15. During warm weather, hippopotami secrete sweat that is pink. This substance not only cools them down; but, helps to fight infections of the skin. Despite their skins appearance, it is actually quite sensitive.
16. The whale shark has over 4,000 teeth; however, they are only 3 mm (1/8”) long.
17. The rat has been called the world’s most destructive mammal other than man.
18. Large kangaroos can cover over 30’ with each jump.
19. Male seahorses produce the offspring.
20. Elephants have been known to remain standing after they die.
21. A mosquito has 47 teeth. (No wonder they hurt so much!)
22. A bird “chews” with its stomach.
23. Some birds have been known to put ants into their feathers because the ants squirt formic acid which kills parasites.
24. An albatross can sleep while flying.
25. Research indicates that mosquitoes are attracted to people who have recently eaten bananas.
26. The sex organ of a male spider is located at the end of one of its legs.
27. Armadillos, opossums and sloth’s spend about 80% of their lives sleeping.
28. The ears of a cricket are located on the front legs just below the knee.
29. Owls swallow their prey whole because they have no teeth (unlike the tiny mosquito). After 12 hours, they cough up the feathers, bones and fur in the shape of football pellet.
30. The female pigeon cannot lay eggs if she is alone. In order for her ovaries to function, she must be able to see another pigeon.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Amazing Animal Facts

I thought I would have a little fun with some amazing animal trivia. While I was collecting this trivia, I found a gem - not animal related - I had to share.

1. The word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent”. (I don’t think this is a coincidence.)
2. Hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly forwards and backwards.
3. The oldest living thing on earth is 12,000 years old. It is the flowering shrubs called creosote bushes in the Mojave Desert.
4. A crocodile can’t move its tongue and cannot chew.
5. Humpback whales create the loudest sound of any living creature.
6. A crocodile’s digestive juices are so strong that it can digest a steel nail. (So can a can of coca-cola.)
7. The mortality rate if bitten by a Black Mambo (snake) is over 95%.
8. Armadillos are able to contract leprosy.
9. The ant, when intoxicated, will always fall over to its left side.
10. Most parrots are left-footed.
11. A snail can sleep for three years. (Aha…the origins of Rip Van Winkle!)
12. Zebras are white with black stripes.
13. Of all known forms of animals life ever to inhabit the Earth, only about 10 percent still exist today.
14. The cockroach is the fastest animal on 6 legs. It can run a metre a second.
15. Mosquitoes are attracted to the colour blue most.
16. A goldfish is the only animal that can see both infrared and ultraviolet light.
17. An electric eel can produce a shock of up to 650 volts. (Each year at the Vancouver Aquarium in Vancouver, BC., their Christmas tree is lit by putting the adapter into the eel tank where the electricity from just 2 eels lights up the tree much to the amazement and joy of all the children present.)
18. A cow gives nearly 200,000 glasses of milk in her lifetime.
19. Polar bears are capable of jumping as high as 6’ and can run as fast as 25 mph.
20. Rats multiply so quickly that in 18 months, two rats could have over a million descendants
21. Eagles mate while airborne.
22. A hippopotamus can run faster than a man.
23. The only two animals that can see behind themselves without turning their heads are the rabbit and the parrot.
24. The heart of a shrimp is located in its head.
25. Some frogs are able to be frozen, thawed and continue living.
26. The “crosshairs” of gun sights were made of spider web filaments until the 1960’s.
27. A giant squid’s eyes have a diameter of 15 inches which are the largest of any animal.
28. Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes.
29. A dog’s sense of smell is 1,000 times stronger than humans. (I can imagine what wet human must smell like to them.)
30. Camels have three eyelids to protect them blowing sand.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bowhead Whale Sanctuary Opens In Northern Canada

Bowhead whales live exclusively in the Arctic Ocean and the sub-Arctic waters of the north Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. These slow-moving mammals grow up to 19 m (65’) in length and are among the longest-lived - if not, the longest-lived - mammals on earth. In fact, they are still growing after the age of fifty. Females are sexually mature at 10 – 15 years; but, bear young only once every 3 – 4 years. Their slow reproduction rate combined with losses due to whale hunting makes them an endangered species today.

Scientific tests done on both bowhead carcasses and the harpoon points that have been found healed within their bodies prove that some of these whales have lived to be 200+ years. Their actual lifespan is still unknown at this time.

An extensive area off the coast of Baffin Island, Nunavut, known as Niginganiq, has become Canada’s newest National Wildlife area. This area contains critical habitat for threatened bowhead whales. The newly-protected area includes two deep offshore troughs that are rich in copepods (plankton-type crustaceans less than an inch long), a main food source for the 70 ton bowhead whale. The bowhead is a baleen whale meaning that instead of teeth it has rows of baleen strips that act as a strainer. The whale takes in great mouthfuls of water and food forcing the water back out through the baleen strips straining out the plankton and other food before swallowing.

This area also includes a shallow shelf at the entrance to the bay that provides protection from the bowheads’ only natural enemy the orca whale. Other species that share this cold domain and will benefit from this sanctuary include polar bears, ringed seals, Arctic char, Halibut, Narwhal, Canada geese, Snow geese and King Eider.

Niginganiq is located on the northeast coast of Baffin Island, near the community of Clyde River. Also referred to as Isabella Bay or Igaliqtuuq, this area is a pristine late summer and fall feeding and resting stopover for a large proportion of the threatened Davis Strait-Baffin Bay bowhead whale population. During this time, an estimated 1,500 – 2,000 bowheads inhabit Niginganiq.

The return of the bowhead whale each year to this unique marine habitat signals hope for this threatened species. Permanent protection of this critical habitat will ensure the whales have a safe place to return each year.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The First Climate Change Refugees (con't)

The grounds are disintegrating at an alarming rate; the sea is marching in the direction of the villagers at around 90ft a year
Photograph: Brian Adams

There are 90,000 Alaskans, mostly Eskimos or Inuit, that make their homes on top of the permafrost. Their few roads are now cracking and caving in making travel difficult if not impossible in some areas. Alaska has 213 Native villages of which 184 are severely affected by erosion and flooding with six being classed as needing immediate help. Newtok is at the top of the list.

While they wait for help the villagers have tried to bolster up their village until they have somewhere else to go; but, they are running out of options. The piles (stilts) that the houses are built on used to be driven 8’ down into the permafrost for stability. Now they are being driven down 12’ and that still isn’t enough. As the permafrost melts, the houses shift and tilt to the south. The reason they tilt to the south is that the southern sunshine causes a disproportionate melting of the permafrost.

The ocean’s relentless advance is the greatest threat to this outcropping of civilization. It is the permafrost that has kept the tundra safe from the ocean’s advance for all the decades. Without the permafrost to act as a barrier between the land and the sea, the water undercuts the topsoil until it topples over in enormous clumps like the one in the picture at the beginning of the first article. Then the topsoil is sucked into the ocean and vanishes causing the water to advance on the village at an astonishing 90’ a year. It has already taken the barge landing where the villagers used to moor their boats. It is estimated that it will be only two years or so until the first houses are claimed by the ocean.

The new site of the village will be on Nelson Island about nine miles to the south of their present location. The villagers have built three houses themselves so far, with the help of government grants; on land that is high enough up the hillside to be safe from the dangers of climate change. These first three houses are being given to the elders – the villager’s advisors, their most precious resources.

The new village will be called Mertarvik, meaning “getting water from a spring”, after the abundance of drinking water to be found on the island. The natural abundance the villagers depend on to survive is evident everywhere on the island. Wild musk ox inhabit the island and the waters are teeming with whitefish, herring and halibut. The island is covered with berry bushes of great variety: nagoonberries, cranberries, crowberries, blue-, black-, and red-berries.

It is estimated that the villagers of Newtok can be tranferred to their new village of Mertarvik by 2012.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The World's First Climate Change Refugees

In the eroded craters it is possible to see the thin layer of ice that is melting around six feet below the surface. The drips are soaked back up into the soil, causing it to become soft and spongy which allows the sea to slowly undercut and eventually take over the soft soil. Photograph: Brian Adams

Our world is starting to fray around the edges literally. One of the first places to begin to unravel is the land and permafrost under a small village named Newtok on the Alaskan coast (pop. 320).

For years, the men of Newtok have gathered in the qasgiq, the house built of sods dug deep into the tundra and reserved only for the men. This is where the young men would learn of the history of their people; of traditional hunting and fishing methods; survival skills; and, most importantly, bond with the other males of the community.

When the elders of today were young boys, the snow outside lay thick on the ground and the sea was a single block of ice as far as the eye could see. The elders back then warned of a great reversal – a time when seasons would change and the coast of the Bering Sea would never see winter again.

This prediction came from observation of the land, the birds, the animals, the sea, and many other subtle clues for months and years. The elders today are equally observant and they say the change has arrived.

They point to things like snow which used to lie thick on ground until well into June now disappears as early as April. This brings the geese from the south months before they are due. In the old days, the villagers used to take the dog teams out in January or February across the pack ice to fish for sticklebacks. The ice used to be 6’ thick or more. Now it’s a good year if it’s 4’ thick. In the elders’ youth land could be seen stretching far into the distance from the village. Now the water is literally lapping at the village edge.

Newtok has 60 houses and communal buildings, all of which are sinking and tilting at odd angles -- most are tipping downwards at a southern pitch. The boardwalk that connects the homes is sinking and bending in great snake-like curves. It moves slightly when you walk on it.

But how can global warming cause land to fray? Global warming is causing the permafrost underneath the tundra to melt and this is the problem.

Newtok has been described as the Ground Zero of global warming. NASA admits that Alaska has suffered temperature rises approximately double that of any other place on earth in the last 50 years. It has been estimated that Alaska is 4F higher on average; but, can reach 10F higher in winter.

What causes this phenomenon? It’s called positive feedback. Ice and snow have a brilliantly reflective surface which normally would reflect most of the radiation from the sun back into space. However, due to global warming, the ice has started to melt and the exposed land absorbs the radiation, which causes further warming and melting. This starts the melting of the frozen segment of the tundra which forms the permafrost. Scientists feel it could be thinning by as much as or more than an inch a year.

More on this tomorrow!