Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Trivia

There are New Year's traditions from around the world that herald in the New Year for our global neighbours. Here are some of them. Reprinted from newyearfestival.

Baby New Year Tradition
Tradition of using a baby to signify the New Year was started by ancient Greeks around 600 B.C. They would carry a baby around in a basket to honor Dionysus, the God of Fertility and symbolize his annual rebirth.

Burning "Mr. Old Year"
In Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico families stuff a life-size male doll with things that have bad memories or sadness associated with them, and then they dress it up in old clothes from each family member. At the stroke of midnight, this 'Mr. Old Year' is set on fire.

Eating 12 Grapes
In Spain people eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight (one each time the clock chimes) on New Year's Eve. This peculiar ritual originated in the twentieth century when freak weather conditions resulted in an unseasonable bumper harvest of grapes. Not able to decide what to do about so many grapes at Christmas time, the King of Spain and the grape growers came up with the idea of the New Year ritual.

Eating Noodles
Late on the evening of December 3 1, people of Japan would eat a bowl of buckwheat noodles called "toshikoshisoba" ("year-crossing noodles") and listen for the sound of the Buddhist temple bells, which were rung 108 times at midnight. The sound of these bells is said to purify the listeners of the 108 sins or evil passions that plague every human being.

White Clothes
In Brazil most people wear white clothes on New Year's Eve to bring good luck and peace for the year that will follow.

Gifts in Shoes
In Greece children leave their shoes by the fireside on New Year's Day (also the Festival of Saint Basil in Greece) with the hope that Saint Basil, who was famous for his kindness, will come and fill their shoes with gifts.

Carry a Suitcase
In Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, and Mexico, those with hopes of traveling in the New Year carry a suitcase around the house at midnight. Some even carry it around the block to ensure traveling at greater distances.

Burn Crackers
The people in China believe that there are evil spirits that roam the earth. So on New Year they burn crackers to scare the evil spirits. The doors and windows of every home in china can be seen sealed with paper. This is to keep the evil demons out.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Want Some Luck? Smoke Vulture Brains!

Rolled into a cigarette or inhaled as vapors, vulture brains can help at the horse races or lure more clients to a business according to vendors of traditional medicines in South Africa. Photograph: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images

Using animal parts to relieve pain, enhance sexual performance, and confer mystical powers upon the part of the consumer has driven some species to the edge of extinction. Now, vultures in Africa can be added to that list.

On the surface, it would appear that there is nothing a vulture possesses that anyone in their right mind would want; but, that’s where we go wrong. Vulture brains are in great demand in Africa; specifically dried and rolled into cigarettes.

There is a traditional belief that the vultures’ adeptness in finding prey with their keen vision is actually due to a mystical ability by the bird to see into the future. Believers feel that by smoking their brains or inhaling the smoke from a burning vulture brain will give them the same ability. This ability to determine future events and outcomes will be used for gambling purposes.

Gambling is a popular pastime in Africa and this is only increasing with the upcoming 2010 World Cup being held in South Africa. Environmentalists fear that this old superstition may be the demise of some vulture species in Africa. Already, seven of the nine African species of vulture are classed as endangered. While the vultures are usually shot, trapped or poisoned; the poisoning has escalated to the point of poisoning other animals, so that when the vulture feeds on them they die also. This is easy money for the vulture hunters as there can be as many as 300 – 400 birds feeding on any one carcass.

Photo courtesy: TreeHugger

Steve McKean, of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife:

Traditional use as it is currently happening is likely to render vultures extinct in southern Africa on its own within 20 to 30 years.

Andre Botha, from the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa:

People believe it's foresight and this finds fertile ground in people's imagination. If it worked for the lottery, everyone would use it and we'd have a lot of millionaires walking around today. There is a lot of betting in South Africa. So we may see an increase connected to gambling around the 2010 World Cup.

A 2007 study found that 160 vultures a year are sold for muti in eastern South Africa but the total across the region is much, much higher. About 1,000 are killed every year in Tanzania alone.

Brains and other body parts are then sold at street markets or shops in Johannesburg and other cities.

There is a demand for the bearded vulture in Eastern Cape province. Traditional healers prefer that the bird be captured alive as the head needs to be removed while it is still living so that "the brain does not flow down into the spinal cord" and the muti loses its potency.

Via TreeHugger and guardian.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Talk About "Grow Your Own"

Photo courtesy: The Fire Wire

Lizards, spiders, sea cucumbers, worms, and sponges are a few of the living creatures that can do it. Pretty soon, humans may be able to do it, too.

What is “it”? It is the ability to regenerate portions of one’s own body. People may soon be joining the ranks of creatures such as sharks – species with the ability to regenerate their own teeth.

Some scientists are confident that in the very near future, people will be able to replace lost teeth, not with dentures; but, with brand new ones grown by the owner.

A small ball of cells capable of growing into a new tooth will be implanted where the missing tooth used to be. No more will bedside tables hold a glass of water with dentures grinning eerily inside. If you lose a tooth, a quick trip to the dentist and a local anaesthetic later, starts you growing your own replacement. A few months later, no one would ever know that you hadn’t had that tooth all your life.

Dental procedures today require a metal post to be driven into the jaw before being capped with a porcelain or plastic tooth.

"The surgery today can be extensive and you need to have good solid bone in the jaw and that is a major problem for some people," Professor Sharpe, a specialist in the field of regenerative dentistry at the Dental Institute of King's College, London, says.

He also points out that this method could be used on far more patients because the ball of cells that grows into a tooth also produces bone that anchors to the jaw.

The choice of growing a new tooth is likely to appeal to patients.

"Anyone who has lost teeth will tell you that, given the chance, they would rather have their own teeth than false ones," said Prof. Sharpe.

Photo courtesy: eHow

The procedure is fairly simple to perform. Doctors take stem cells, which are unique in their ability to form any tissue which makes up the body, from the patient; and, carefully nurture them in a laboratory. By selective nudging, a scientist can coax the cells into becoming teeth. After a couple of weeks of careful direction, the ball of cells (called a bud) is ready to be implanted. Tests are run to determine which type of tooth (molar, incisor, etc.) the bud will mature into.

A local anaethetic is used while the bud is inserted through a small incision into the gum. As the tooth grows, it releases chemicals that encourage nerves and blood vessels to link up with it. Within a few months, a fully-formed, full-functional tooth is present fused to the jawbone.

Tests have shown the technique to work in mice, where new teeth took weeks to grow. "There's no reason why it shouldn't work in humans, the principles are the same," said Prof. Sharpe.

His team has set up a company, Odontis, to exploit the technique; and, it is already garnering interest from the private sector. He has won £400,000 ($639,509 USD) from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts and the Wellcome Trust.

Via Guardian

Sunday, December 27, 2009

10 Reason To Hug a Tree

Digital Vision/Getty Images

Why be a friend to the trees? If nothing else, there's a little something I like to call survival. As you'll soon see, trees are essential to our species and many, many others. Sure, trees are fun to climb, to swing on, to picnic under, or to hug...but we've reached a critical point on Planet Earth and without proper appreciation and love for our barked co-inhabitants, well...we're screwed. So, read the list below, share it, get organized, and get busy with the transition to a culture that celebrates simplicity, diversity, and solidarity. It's time to put out the call.

10 Reasons to Hug the Nearest Tree ASAP

1. Trees Provide Oxygen (and Reduce Climate Change)
The equation is rather fundamental: During photosynthesis, a tree "inhales" CO2 from the air and then separates the carbon from the oxygen molecules. The carbon is absorbed by the tree, which then "exhales" pure oxygen back into the air for us to breathe. In the process just described, trees also serve as carbon sinks, e.g. as Wise Geek tells us, trees "naturally absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, sequestering the carbon and converting it into mass while releasing the oxygen back into the atmosphere." Such carbon sinks offset carbon dioxide emissions and reduce climate change.

2. Trees Provide Food
Almost as basic as #1, trees offer food like nuts and fruits for humans and other creatures. The folks at SavaTree add: "Many animals, including elephants, koalas, and giraffes eat leaves for nourishment. Flowers are eaten by monkeys, and nectar is a favorite of birds, bats, and many insects. Animals also eat much of the same fruit that we enjoy. This process helps disperse seeds over great distances."

3. Trees Provide Homes
From nearly microscopic insects to camouflaged reptiles to feathered friends to wily primates and beyond, each tree is a vast, thriving eco-system in and of itself. The destruction of even a single small tree not only disrupts natural cycles, it also sentences countless creatures to death.

4. Trees Provide Medicine
For 5.1 billion people--85% of the world's population--herbs are the primary source for medicines. Even in a modern (sic) society like the U.S, plants are the original source materials for as many as 40% of the pharmaceuticals in use.

5. Trees Provide Shade and Protection
Due to ozone depletion, we earthlings now have to endure increased amounts of potentially dangerous ultraviolet radiation. Thanks to our tree friends, we get some shade and protection and thus (we hope) less skin cancer.

Digital Vision/Getty Images

6. Trees Provide Energy Savings
"As you whiz down the interstate on your way to more interesting places, you'll see that all the farmhouses are surrounded by trees," writes Josh Peterson. "You see, the farmers know that planting trees in the right places is good for their houses and it's good for the land. The trees act as windbreaks and keep the snow from drifting up against the house. It also keeps that valuable topsoil in place. And in the summer time, there is no better place to beat that ridiculous Midwestern heat than in the shade of a tree. You can use the same principals to make your house more energy efficient with proper tree placement."

7. Trees Provide Pollution Reduction
Trees absorb pollutants like sulfur dioxide, ozone, and nitrogen oxides through the stomates in the surface of their leaves. Up to a 60% reduction in street level particulates has been found on tree-lined streets and roadways. Trees also muffle urban noise pollution.

8. Trees Provide Erosion and Flood Prevention
Deforestation negatively impacts the amount of water in the soil and groundwater and the moisture in the atmosphere. Without tree roots to hold soil in place and fight erosion, we are seeing more runoff and less sediment deposit after storms. This result in higher levels of chemicals in our water and far more flooding. On a related note, mangrove trees protect coastal areas from ocean waves and work in smooth symbiosis with coral reefs.

9. Trees Provide Soil Enrichment
Fallen leaves make excellent compost that enriches soil. Here's how the USDA Forest Service explains it: "Needles and leaves that fall are not wasted. They decompose and restock the soil with nutrients and make up part of the spongy humus layer of the forest floor that absorbs and holds rainfall. Fallen leaves also become food for numerous soil organisms vital to the forest ecosystem."

10. Trees Provide Beauty and Natural Wealth
Some people look at trees and see only lumber and profits as the sound of chainsaws echo in their clouded heads. Sane people look at trees and see kindred spirits, fellow travelers, and eons of wisdom from which we have so much more to learn.

Via TreeHugger

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Did You Know That...

The Iroquois used to plant three vegetables together and call them "the three sisters". They were corn, beans and squash. The corn stalks were support for the beans and the squash prevented weeds.

Points to Ponder...

When you are travelling at the speed of sound, can you still hear the radio?

Did You Know That...

The term "posh" to describe a life of luxury came about because in earlier days wealthy British tourists travelled to warm places like India, they wanted their ship cabins shielded from the sun. Their tickets were stamped POSH which stood for "portside out, starboard home".

Monday, December 21, 2009

Interesting Dragonfly Facts

In Indonesia, dragonflies are considered a tasty snack.

In Vietnam, they are used as predictors of weather.

Dragonflies fly at a low level when it is rainy, at a high level when it is sunny and at a medium level when it shadowy.

Dragonflies may have six legs; but, they can't walk.

Suede Cleaning Trick

Remove water or snow stains from suede shoes, hats, or purses by filing gently with an emery board. The stains will disappear quickly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Bridge to the Other Side

We, in the more developed countries, are always complaining about our road systems, bridges, and other like infrastructures.

This is a bridge located in Siberia. The caption they include with it is:

World's most dangerous bridge. 570 meters (1870 feet) Russia Siberia Vitim River crossing River Land Rover Discovery. The bridge is 15 meters above the water. It is the old railway bridge which are not attached sleepers. The bridge has no railings.

Another bridge in Siberia.

I think I'll be just a bit more forgiving about the state of our roads and bridges!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Household Hints

1. Peel a banana from the bottom and you won't have to pick those "stringy things" off of it. That's how primates peel them. (Don't you just hate those "stringy things"?)
2. Take your bananas apart when you bring them home from the store. If you leave them connected, they will ripen faster. (I did not know that!)
3. Store your opened chunks of cheese in aluminum foil. It will stay fresher longer and will not mold.
4. Add a teaspoon of water when frying ground beef. It will help pull the grease away from the meat while cooking.
5. For a cool brownie treat, make brownies as directed. Melt Andes mints in a double boiler and pour over warm brownies. Let set for a wonderful minty frosting.
6. Add garlic immediately to a recipe if you want a light taste of garlic; or, add it at the end of the recipe if you want a stronger taste of garlic. (Never too much garlic for some of us!)
7. To reheat pizza without the soggy crust, either heat on a baking sheet in the oven or in a non-stick pan over med-low heat until the pizza is heated through.
8. To get more frosting for your cake dollar, whip up a container of cake frosting from the store with your electric mixer. The frosting will double in size, you get more frosting for your cake; and, the sugar content remains the same. If you are frosting cupcakes, you frost more and get less sugar because you are actually getting less frosting.
9. If you are re-heating refrigerated bread, pancakes, muffins or biscuits, place them in a microwave with a cup of water. The increased moisture will keep the food moist and help it reheat faster.
10. Newspapers keep weeds away. Start putting them in with your plants. They also work the nutrients in your soil. Wet newspapers, then put layers around the plants, overlapping as you go, cover with mulch and forget about weeds! Weeds will get through some gardening plastic they will not get through wet newspapers.
11. Pick up the hard to see, small shards of broken glass with a damp cotton ball or Q-tip.
12. A dryer sheet placed in your pocket will keep mosquitoes away.
13. Keep squirrels out of your garden by sprinkling liberally with cayenne pepper. Squirrels hate it and it doesn't harm your plants.
14. To get rid of that horrible cling that pastes your skirt, dress and/or slacks to your legs, pin a small safety pin on your slip or in the seam of your slacks. Static cling gone.
15. Before putting a sticky substance such as peanut butter in a measuring cup, fill the cup with hot water for a moment. Empty measuring cup; but, don't dry. Fill with sticky substance and watch it slide right out after measuring.
16. Clean a foggy windshield with a chalkboard eraser - works better than a cloth.
17. Sealed that envelope and forgotten to put something in it? Freeze your envelope for a couple of hours and it will open easily. You can reseal it by moistening the glue again when you are done. (Opens up a world of possibilities, doesn't it?)
18. Shave your legs? Try using hair conditioner instead of shaving cream. It's cheaper and conditions your legs at the same time. Also a good way to get rid of all those conditioners you didn't use on your hair.
19. Get rid of fruit flies by putting down a saucer containing apple cider vinegar and 2 drops of dishwashing liquid. Good-bye fruit flies!
20. Need to get rid of ants? Place small amounts of cornmeal out where you know they walk. The ants take the cornmeal home, eat it, can't digest it, and die. Simple, safe and inexpensive.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Historical Origins

I just love discovering the origins of how phrases came to be. It is always so interesting to find out the circumstances that spawned a common phrase. If you love finding the historical origins of phrases we still use today - read on!!

There is an old Hotel/Pub in Marble Arch, London , which used to have a gallows adjacent to it. Prisoners were taken to the gallows, (after a fair trial of course) to be hung. The horse drawn dray, carting the prisoner, was accompanied by an armed guard, who would stop the dray outside the pub and ask the prisoner if he would like ''ONE LAST DRINK''.

If he said YES, it was referred to as 'ONE FOR THE ROAD'

If he declined, that prisoner was 'ON THE WAGON'


They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were, "Piss Poor", but worse than that, were the really poor folk, who couldn't even afford to buy a pot, they "Didn't have a pot to Piss in" & were the lowest of the low.


The next time you are washing your hands and complain, because the water temperature isn't just how you like it, think about how things used to be.


Here are some facts about the 1500'S:

Most people got married in June, because they took their yearly bath in May and they still smelled pretty good by June. However, since they were starting to smell, brides carried a bouquet of flowers, to hide the body odour.

Hence the custom today, of carrying a bouquet when getting married.


Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water.

The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the Bath water!"


Houses had thatched roofs, thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying "It's raining cats and dogs."


There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top, afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence. Kind of takes away all the romance, doesn't it?


The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, "Dirt Poor." The wealthy had slate floors, that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing.

As the winter wore on, they added more thresh, until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way. Hence: a thresh hold. (Getting quite an education, aren't you?)


In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle, that always hung over the fire. Every day, they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight, then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme: ''Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot, nine days old''.


Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon, to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, "Bring home the Bacon." They would cut off a little, to share with guests and would all sit around talking and ''Chew the fat''.


Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning & death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.


Bread was divided, according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or ''The Upper Crust''.


Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination, would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road, would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of ''Holding a Wake''.


England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So, they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, thread it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell.

Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night, (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, ''Saved by the Bell '' or was considered a ''Dead Ringer''

And that's the truth.

Cephalopod Intelligence Demonstrated off Coast of Indonesia

Screenshot via YouTube

You don’t have to have a backbone to be intelligent. An octopus made headlines earlier this year by disassembling part of its tank at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California.

It turns out that a curious two-spotted octopus had disassembled a water recycling valve and directed a tube to spew out of the tank for about 10 hours. Despite the octopus’s dexterity and intelligence, they are sometimes called “sea slugs”. Not very complimentary, if you ask me. Apparently, the star attraction of the aquarium's Kids' Corner octopus tank had swum to the top of the enclosure and disassembled the recycling system's valve, flooding the place with some 200 gallons of seawater.

Now, even more proof of cephalopod intelligence has been recorded by a team of researchers from Australia and the UK in the waters off the coast of Indonesia. The research was done over 10 years with over 500 man-diving hours recorded.

Scientists have found that octopuses can navigate their way through mazes, solve problems quickly and remember those solutions, at least for the short term. Still some scientists have been loathe crediting these creatures with the intelligence they demonstrate by the use of coconut shells.

"There is a fundamental difference between picking up a nearby object and putting it over your head as protection versus collecting, arranging, transporting (awkwardly), and assembling portable armor as required," Mark Norman, of the Museum Victoria in Australia and paper co-author, said in a prepared statement.

"The fact that the shell is carried for future use rather than as part of a specific task differentiates this behavior from other examples of object manipulation by octopuses, such as rocks being used to barricade lair entrances," the researchers wrote in their paper.

So, how do these octopods use these coconut shells exactly? Indonesian octopods have been recorded carrying and stacking coconut shells which they use as protection from predators. They carry the shells along with them; then, huddle up underneath them if attacked. They’ve even been observed keeping two halves of coconut shells so they can pull the two halves together to create a ball that they can sit safely inside. Researchers state that it's the first time they've seen an invertebrate using tools.

Researchers have dubbed the ungainly walk they use to transport the shells with them as “stilt walking”.

"While I have observed and videoed octopuses hiding in shells many times, I never expected to find an octopus that stacks multiple coconut shells and jogs across the seafloor carrying them," Julian Finn, of the Museum Victoria in Australia and also a co-author, said in a prepared statement.

"While I have observed and videoed octopuses hiding in shells many times, I never expected to find an octopus that stacks multiple coconut shells and jogs across the seafloor carrying them," Finn says. "I could tell that the octopus, busy manipulating coconut shells, was up to something, but I never expected it would pick up the stacked shells and run away," Finn said. "It was an extremely comical sight--I have never laughed so hard underwater.”

On a similar note, hermit crabs do not have their own shells. They use the discarded shells of others to crawl inside and use as their own home. They carry these shells around on their backs until they grow too big to use them anymore. At this time, they look for a new shell - trying on several until they find one that they feel fits well. Unfortunately, with all the garbage we dump into the ocean, sometimes a crab can make a mistake.

Image via Recyclart

The following three short videos show octopuses using coconut shells and other ocean garbage as protection and/or homes:

Via TreeHugger, Los Angeles Times and Scientific American

Monday, December 14, 2009


I am in the process of doing some minor renovations to my condo. Nothing drastic - painting, flooring, removal of environmentally-unfriendly stuff, etc.

Right now, I am redecorating my bathroom. One of the things that went is the "always popular" plastic shower curtain. I decided to change to a 100% cotton shower curtain (see below) that is washable during its lifetime AND biodegradeable when it comes to the end of its life.

But, wait! Don't throw that old shower curtain away to live forever in a landfill - at least, not yet.

Now, whenever you have a project that requires a dropcloth, you can use your old shower curtain. Everytime you use the shower curtain, you save another dropcloth from possibly entering the land fill. Do any camping? Put the curtain down to prevent dampness from seeping into your sleeping bag from the ground. Need to protect something on your balcony or patio from the elements? Use the curtain.

It can be used over and over; and, we know it will last a long, long time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An Amazing Event

Norbert Rosing's striking images of a wild polar bear coming upon tethered sled dogs in the wilds of Canada's Hudson Bay.

At first, Norbert thought his dogs were all going to be killed. He got the surprise of his life when the bear finally came in contact with the dogs.

"I come in peace, little friend!"

The dog greeted the bear with a big hug.

The bear and the dogs exchanged alot of hugs, kisses and playtime.

The bear returned every night for the week he was there to play with the dogs.

Friends come in all shapes and sizes; and, in the strangest of places. Thank you Norbert Rosing for having the foresight to grab your camera and take these pictures for the rest of us to wonder over.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gleaning - The Resurrection of an Old Practice

The Gleaners. Jean-François Millet. 1857

In biblical times, the Jewish people were required by law to leave the gleanings in their fields for the old, poor, widowed, children and hungry travelers to gather. Gleanings are the produce left over after the first harvest. In many cases, it is not profitable to harvest a field a second time; so, the produce would have been left to rot in the field if not for the gleaning law. Those gleaning the fields did not need to ask permission of the landowner. After the first harvest, it became their right to glean the fields for useable produce.

The gleaning law helped add to the personal esteem of the individual poor or hungry. They did not have to beg anyone for food or money to buy food – it was their right to enter the fields and gather what they needed for their personal use.

Many cultures have promoted gleaning as part of their welfare system. Farmers have produce removed from their fields before it rots; and, the needy have access to fresh, wholesome food. In some cases, the farmers were required to leave a border of unharvested produce around their fields for the needy to collect.

In Nineteenth century England gleaning was a legal right for cottagers. In fact, the right to glean was taken so seriously that in some small villages the sexton would often ring a church bell at 8:00 a.m. and again at 7:00 p.m. to tell the gleaners when to begin and end work.

Today, the practice of gleaning is experiencing a resurgence. People are realizing how much food is going to waste that, with a little bit of organization and effort, could be collected and used to alleviate hunger in their local area.

In actuality, food that is gleaned is usually more nutritious than food we purchase in the supermarkets. Food in supermarkets can be a week or more away from picking allowing some of their nutrients to be lost; while, gleaned food is usually distributed within 2-3 days making it fresher also.

Gleaning can be accomplished in a number of ways:

1. When a field has been harvested by the farmer, he calls the gleaning agency nearest him.
2. Collection of food from supermarkets that would be thrown away; but, are still within date.
3. Suburban gleaning: homeowners who can’t, won’t or are unable to pick their own fruit, call when the fruit trees in their yard are ready to be picked. If homeowners find they have planted more vegetables than they can use, call the gleaners.
4. Sometimes, abandoned properties have fruit trees.
5. In British Columbia, where I live, we have blackberry brambles growing wild everywhere for the harvesting. Many places have similar free-for-the-picking bonanzas.

Climbing, picking, shaking and sorting takes the best part of a couple of hours for three trees. Photograph: Graeme Robertson.

Here is the story of Abundance, a suburban gleaning group from Sheffield, England.

Daniele Rinaudo is the organizer for the south Sheffield branch of Abundance, a voluntary organization that picks unwanted fruit and vegetables from the city's gardens and public spaces. The majority of the food harvested is given to projects such as Sure Start children's centers and Salvation Army shelters for homeless people.

"I was scared of heights before I started doing this," says Rinaudo. "Going picking was quite a drastic way to face that fear, but now I love the climbing."

The best, most appetizing fruit is given away whole and the less appetizing is transformed into chutney, jam and juice. Some fruit is always left for the owners of the trees; although, some are suspicious of the fruit from their own backyards. While the fruit is delicious, at its nutritional peak, it is not aesthetically pleasing; and, would never match supermarket standards. Hence, the hesitancy to eat.

The irony is that many of the tree owners Abundance deals with give their home-grown fruit (usually apples) away; and, buy apples from a supermarket. The conditioning of so many years of supermarket shopping has influenced people as to what a good apple (or other piece of fruit) should look like; and, are not willing try apples that do not live up to this standard.

Abundance has an educational element to its philosophy as they reconnect locals with a plentiful source of local, fresh and seasonal foods.

Gleaning is definitely one part of the solution to alleviating world hunger. Check out your area to see what is available in your area. The gleaners always receive a portion of what is gleaned if desired; so, it is a wonderful of giving back, helping others and getting some really fresh produce on your own table.

S.H.A.R.E. - a gleaning project in the US.

News story regarding gleaning.

Via Guardian

Friday, December 11, 2009

At What Price? The Man of the Hole

One of the only known images of the 'Man of the Hole', taken by filmaker Vincent Carelli. Look closely.

“The love of money is the root of all evil”. Truer words were never written. People will commit the most heartless acts if they feel they will benefit financially. Unfortunately, while money is a necessary evil in our world today; the love of money will continue to claim lives.

This incident took place last month in Tanarú, an indigenous territory in the Amazon state of Rondônia, Brazil; but, the news has only just emerged.

There are only a few tribes remaining in the Amazon that remain uncontacted. One tribe has only one sole survivor. The two times he has been “contacted” by outsiders were very brief and fatal.

Little is known about this solitary man; but, it is believed that when his tribe was first “contacted” by outsiders – in this case ranchers -sometime in the 1970s or 1980s at which time they were all massacred. All, that is, except him.

Since the extermination of the rest of his tribe, the man has been living in a small hut on his native land. He grows his own vegetables and hunts for meat as his ancestors did before him.

He is called the “man of the hole” because of the holes he digs everywhere for animal entrapment and personal concealment. The holes he digs for animal entrapment are lined with sharpened stakes pointing upward; and, his personal concealment holes give him the element of surprise against his attackers.

He obviously wants to be left alone as he hides everytime anyone approaches him. Not surprising since his only previous contact with strangers cost him his tribe, his family, his friends; and, shattered his entire world as he knew it. There is a real possibility that he is also the only person left on earth that speaks his language; so, verbal communication may not even be an option for him.

FUNAI, Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, has oversight of the land on which he lives and protects it for the lonely tribesman. Unfortunately, in one of their trips to check up on the man, they have discovered that he has had a second “contact” with outsiders.

That “contact” consisted of surrounding ranchers shooting at the man in an effort to remove him from his land; or, possibly even kill him. These local ranchers oppose the government’s protection of the man and his land. They want him off the land and; obviously, believe in self-help.

The 'Man of the Hole's' house and garden where he grows manioc and other vegetables © J.Pessoa. Photo courtesy: Survival.

Why would local ranchers try to kill what has to be the loneliest, most harmless man on the face of the planet? In a word – Greed. It all goes back to the original reason the tribe was slaughtered. This land is surrounded by cattle ranches and soy bean plantations. The ranchers’ land would become more profitable if they could obtain the “Man of the Hole’s” land.

The extent of the attack is not known as yet; but, spent shotgun shell casings in the area have FUNAI officials very concerned. "This is a serious situation. The Indian's life is being put in danger by the interests of the ranchers," said FUNAI's Altair Algayer.

Despite the attack, the officials believe the “Man of the Hole” is likely still alive, while the perpetrators remain at large.

Survival is a group committed to preserving the rights of indigenous tribes and the group's director, Stephen Corry, says, “His tribe has been massacred and now the “Man of the Hole” faces the same fate. The ranchers must allow this man to live out his last days in peace on his own land, and the authorities must do all they can to protect it.”

The disturbing implications of the attack on the tribesman, who is guilty of nothing more than having land the surrounding farmers and ranchers want, reflect on the precarious state of the Amazon itself.

The 'Man of the Hole', in many ways, offers a face to a region threatened by encroaching development and deforestation from ranchers and farmers. As sickening and cowardly as this attack has been, we must not forget this is the result of large-scale attack being waged against the forests these few remaining tribes people call home.

Check this list to send a letter of protest to the Brazilian government. Let them know that none of your tourism dollars will be spent in Brazil unless the people responsible for this act of terrorism against a defenseless man are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

"Man of the Hole" on film captured by filmaker Vincent Carelli. You need to watch the bottom third of the screen closely to see the "Man of the Hole". He is very well camoflagued.

This video shows his hut and some of his belongings. FUNAI checks on him occasionally to determine how he is doing. He had left this hut for a time and the team took the opportunity to make a short video.

Via TreeHugger and Survival

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pitch of Blue Whale Songs is Changing

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia, CC/GFDL

Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Planet Earth. They can attain 32.0 m (108’) in length and 172 metric tons (190 short tons) or more in weight. Blue whale calves can weigh 2,700 kg (6,000 lb) at birth – the size of fully-grown hippopotamus – and gain weight at the rate of 90 kg (200 lb) every 24 hours.

Blue whales were abundant in nearly all the oceans until the beginning of the twentieth century. For over 40 years, they were hunted almost to extinction by whalers until protected by the international community in 1966.

There is still such a high demand for whale meat and oil worldwide that hunting whales is an incredibly lucrative business - one carried out illegally by the Japanese. Every year, even with anti-whaling laws in place, there are still intense confrontations between anti-whaling groups and the Japanese whaling fleet. The Japanese hunt whales for consumption under the guise of scientific research.

A 2002 report estimated there were between 5,000 - 12,000 blue whales worldwide. However, more recent research into the Pygmy subspecies of the Blue whale suggests this may be an underestimate. Before whaling, the largest population in the Antarctic numbered approximately 239,000 (range 202,000 to 311,000). The remaining populations are much smaller with about 2,000 individuals in each of the North-East Pacific, Antarctic, and Indian Ocean groups. There are two more groups in the North Atlantic; and, at least two in the Southern Hemisphere.

A high-frequency acoustic recording package, or HARP, used to record marine mammal sounds. Photo courtesy: Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Using recording equipment such as HARP and other devices, scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego have noticed a change in the pitch in the song of the Blue whale.

Mark McDonald of WhaleAcoustics in Bellvue, CO, John Hildebrand of Scripps Oceanography and Sarah Mesnick of NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center conducted a study into Blue whale song data from around the globe and discovered a trend. There was a downward curve in the pitch, or frequency, in the Blue whale songs from across the planet. This was not a localized phenomenon; but, was found in all the whale populations off the coast of Southern California, the Indian Ocean and the southern oceans.

To obtain these results, researchers analyzed thousands of songs divided into at least 10 worldwide regions. These include the Northeast, Southwest and Northwest Pacific Ocean; the North Atlantic; the Southern Ocean near Antarctica; and the North and Southeast Indian Ocean.

Researchers had access to a database of Blue whale songs dating back 45 years. These songs have been obtained through scientific and military applications, by seafloor seismometers tracking regional earthquakes and dedicated whale acoustic recording packages.

"The basic style of singing is the same, the tones are there, but the animal is shifting the frequency down over time. The more recent it is, the lower the frequency the animal is singing in, and we have found that in every song we have data for," said Hildebrand, a professor of oceanography in the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps.

There are many potential reasons that could explain the change in pitch; and, for once, the explanation would appear to be positive.

Since the bans on whaling have been in place, the Blue whale seems to have benefitted greatly. The populations have increased in recent years; and, this would seem to be the reason for the pitch change.

Photo courtesy: Flickr, CC

While no one knows conclusively what the function of whale song is, there are some facts they do know. All known singers have been male; and, the high-intensity (or loud) frequency songs and the low-frequency songs travel great distances across the ocean. During mating seasons, Blue whales can be found miles away from each other; so, it may be that the songs identify which species is singing and where they are.

During the height of the whaling years, Blue whale numbers dropped drastically to the point where they have been listed as endangered. With fewer individuals to hear them and greater distance between them, Blue whale males may have found it advantageous to sing higher frequency songs. The researchers believe that this would have maximized their transmission distance to make the location of available females; and, the location of other rival males more effective.

"It may be that when (blue whale) densities go up, it's not so far to get to the closest female, whereas back when they were depleted it may have been that the closest female was a long way away," said Hildebrand.

"When they make these songs they need to use most of the air in their lungs," said Hildebrand. "It's like an opera singer that sees how long he can hold a note. The (male) songs are made to impress the females and/or other males, so I think that's how the boy blue whales are impressing the girls, or are showing off to other boys: by making a loud and long song."

Hildebrand says such knowledge about whale songs could be important in monitoring whale populations and recovery efforts.

Hopefully, these changes in whale song mean that we are seeing the resurgence of a healthy, Blue whale population.

The study's results are published in the most recent issue of the journal Endangered Species Research.

Via TreeHugger and Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Restoring Soil, Revering Life

This post is reprinted from TreeHugger. The post was written by Timothy LaSalle of the Rodale Institute. I haven't changed a word or a link. Please enjoy.

Editor's Note: This guest post is by Timothy J. LaSalle of the Rodale Institute.

What I am about to share with you works for large-scale farmers as well as gardeners anywhere in the world. Pests and diseases do not like healthy plants, so weak plants are more susceptible to their damage. Chemical inputs of synthetic fertilizers begin a downward cycle of weakened plants that need pesticides and fungicides to prop them up.

This is not a new idea, but the work of French research scientist, Francis Chaboussou. He outlined plant responses and increased pest susceptibility way back in the 1980s as part of his "Theory of Trophobiosis" in his book, Healthy Crops: A New Agricultural Revolution Jose Lutzenberger, former Minister for the Environment in Brazil, calls Chaboussou's work, "the most important discovery in agricultural chemistry since Liebig," the 19th century German chemist known as the "father of the fertilizer industry."

But the agro-chemical companies don't want you to know this. They want you to think you need their fossil fuel-based, toxic and unsustainable products to grow food. Agribusiness is even lobbying at Copenhagen to receive funding for these practices.

Here is how Choboussou explained why soluble fertilizers work to increase disease and pest vulnerability. The soluble fertilizers cause plant proteins to break down into amino acids and change the carbohydrate to sugar ratios, affecting the plant's metabolism. This change makes plants more vulnerable. Pests and disease rely on malfunctioning plants for nutrients that are not available in healthier plants. When imbalance occurs, circumstances are ripe for infestation and infection. Further, chemical fertilizers inhibit the growth of life-sustaining fungi in the soils, damaging the biological health of the soil as well as that of the plant.

Chemically-treated soils produce weaker plants that are more physiologically stressed, and these plants become more susceptible to disease and insects as well. There is, perhaps, little difference for humans. Just like plants, scientist Dr. Warren Porter at the University of Wisconsin has informed us that as a human becomes stressed and is fighting disease, he or she will break down blood proteins, which creates a similar environment to what the imbalanced plant experiences with the application of fertilizers.

When plants get nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) as manufactured soluble salts--instead of from biologically released nutrients from a healthy, biologically alive soil--the plant becomes dependent on chemical applications for nutrition, instead of the soil. Increased applications of herbicides (to kill weeds) over time only further weakens the plants, creating more opportunities for weed resistance and pest infestation. For humans, it's the same as our immune systems are weakened by eating over-processed and corn syrup/sugar-based diets.

What happened to eating whole foods that are toxin-free and possess actual nutrition, whole proteins, complex carbohydrates? No person in their right mind would try to survive solely on vitamin supplements—why do we think our food supply can? Crops, and humans, demand a complexity of nutrients for optimum wellness that can only come from biologically derived nutrients.

Choboussou's conclusions are not surprising to those in the biodynamic, organic, regenerative, or ecological farming communities, who have known this truth for decades. Yet these life-based farming practices are not a return to "antiquated" methods of the pre-Industrial era. They are, rather, post-modern agriculture at its finest and most promising, and it is time to adopt it.

We must all restore health to ourselves, our families, and the planet in all the ways open to us. We need to learn how to work with nature to replace that which we have destroyed by trying to trick and manipulate it. This is best done biodynamically, organically and eco-agriculturally—without synthetics—and with aggressive soil regeneration in mind.

Soil regeneration is not just farming without chemicals.
● It takes intensive, well-planned practices and knowledge of how soil life works,.
● It means looking at the kinds of grazing that maximizes root growth with a biodiverse plant mixture in grasslands or pastures.
● It means cover crops/green manures and composts to build soil organic matter at faster rates without losing productivity.
● It means keeping soil covered as much as possible for as many days of the year as possible.

Agrochemical companies, take notice. Copenhagen is happening, and there will be new appreciation for farming that really works. The information exists, you can not keep it obscured forever. New media is joining old media and word of mouth to help common sense prevail through networks of farmers, scientists, activists and citizens who have seen the truth growing in their fields and nourishing their communities.

We have a chance to advance organic agriculture methods as a solution to climate crisis in Copenhagen, certainly. More importantly we have a chance to seize this opportunity for restoring our planet and civilization as it needs to be through a deep and reverential respect for soil, its biology, and life-producing qualities.

Climate Adaptation Award Won by Bamboo House on Stilts

Moso bamboo plantation. Photo courtesy: INBAR

The International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) won the $200,000 US grant award.

Their press release says:

INBAR Wins World Bank 2009 Global Development Marketplace Award on Climate Change Adaptation

WASHINGTON D.C., November 13, 2009 - World Bank and Partners awarded the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) a US $200,000 grant for the project "Elevated Bamboo Houses Designed to Lift Communities Above Flood Zones" through the 2009 Global Development Marketplace, a global competitive grant program to fund innovation in development.

Increased flooding in Ecuador's coastal regions often destroy peoples homes. INBAR joined the Catholic University of Santiago de Guayaquil and the NGO Hogar de Cristo to develop a plan to build 500 elevated flood-resistant bamboo houses. With the Development Marketplace Grant the partnership will not only bring new and safer homes to those 500 families, but also link 1,000 farmers and 500 builders with an existing bamboo housing supply chain.

"We will use a local plant, which is bamboo, and through technical innovation, make a more durable house, a permanent house for poor people", said Alvaro Cabrera, INBAR's Regional Coordinator for Latin America.

The project was rated by the World Bank as one of three stand-out ideas from this year's contest on climate change adaptation. In addition to the grant money, the partnership will also receive guidance and technical support from the World Bank as the project moves into implementation.

"Agriculture is where climate change, food security and poverty reduction intersect" said Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). "The Development Marketplace is an excellent platform for scouting and collecting new ideas from diverse sources, fostering innovative solutions, and developing partnerships in support of climate change adaptation."

Stilted Ecuadorian bamboo esterilia house with concrete foundation. Note: in the pictured example, esterilla refers to 'woven matting' of bamboo slats which constitute the building envelope walls. Photo courtesy: INBAR

Have a look at their website. They are doing good work promoting bamboo and rattan as sustainable building materials. Bamboo and rattan are much stronger than most people expect and make sturdy homes capable of withstanding the elements amazingly well. They are also helping people out of poverty by supporting home industry in countries and circumstances where others wouldn't.

House by Hogar de Cristo, Guayaquil, Ecuador Photo courtesy: INBAR

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Galapagos Faces Destruction From Climate Change and Fishing

The following is a press release from Conservation International. The Galapagos - the Rosetta Stone of Evolution - is under attack from global warming and the fishing industry. We stand to lose species that are not only priceless; but, irreplaceable.

Galapagos: the "Rosetta Stone of Evolution" faces devastation from climate change and fishing

December 4, 2009

The coastal wildlife of the Galapagos Islands – arguably the world’s most celebrated environmental treasure – has suffered outright transformations due to a combination of climate change and over fishing, with several species of marine plants and animals believed to have gone extinct and many others seriously threatened, a new report reveals today.

The report, which is published today in the scientific journal Global Change Biology, outlines the massive impact that the increasing ocean temperatures associated with strong El Niño events have had on the archipelago which, coupled with fishing, tourism and other human activities have changed Darwin’s living laboratory forever.

The report follows a major scientific meeting, convened by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment, the Galápagos National Park Service, Conservation International, WWF and other organizations, to assess the vulnerability of the Islands to climate change. Experts established that the El Niño weather cycle, possibly aggravated by global climate change, and combined with other human impacts has systematically impoverished the Galápagos marine environment in just a few decades.

Coral reefs and kelp beds have been eliminated, once-abundant marine species such as the Galápagos black-spotted damselfish (Azurina eupalama), Galápagos stringweed (Bifurcaria galapagensis), as well as the 24-rayed sunstar (Heliaster solaris) are thought to be extinct, and dozens of others – including the beloved Galapagos penguin – are within a hairsbreadth of annihilation. Based on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List, two species are "probably" extinct, another 7 "possibly" extinct, and a further 36 Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Climate change is predicted to make this devastating set of conditions more frequent and intense in the region.

On top of this, by comparing heavily to lightly fished areas in the Galapagos Marine Reserve, scientists learned that overfishing weakened the web of life in Galapagos through cascading effects of the expansion of sea urchin populations, which in turn erode its resilience.

The scientists that co-authored the report hope that the findings will demonstrate the urgency of taking action so that delegates at the international climate conference in Copenhagen later this month make tough commitments to adequately finance both measures to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to urgently address the climate adaptation needs of vulnerable communities and ecosystems.

Report coauthor Scott Henderson, Conservation International’s Regional Marine Conservation Director in the Eastern Tropical Pacific said: "If marine species are going extinct in one of the most famous, and most cherished World Heritage Sites, what is happening in the rest of the World that has been so little studied? It is time we recognize that the Ocean has limits just as the rain forests of the Amazon, the rivers of Europe, the ice sheets of the Arctic and the grasslands of the Great Plains. For seas to thrive we need increased efforts to slow climate change, more, bigger and better managed marine protected areas (MPAs) and better managed fishing activities outside MPAs."

Authors of the report believe that the Galápagos Islands are a "canary in a coalmine" – a telling indicator of what the world has in store under global warming. The archipelago lies at the convergence of several major ocean currents, which allows a diverse and unique set of ecosystems to co-exist – from penguins to marine iguanas to corals. However, during El Niño years ocean temperatures throughout the Galápagos Marine Reserve rise a few degrees. These increases are roughly in line with those predicted under climate change scenarios for this region. During these years scientists are able to get a glimpse into the future of how wildlife and the people that depend on the environment might fare under climate change conditions.

Sylvia Earle, one of the paper’s coauthors and one of the foremost authorities on marine issues said: "Nowhere on Earth are the combined impacts of climate change and overfishing more clearly defined than in the Galápagos Islands where unique assemblages of wildlife live on the sharp edge of change. Decades of data link recent fishing pressures to disruption of the islands' fine-tuned systems, making them more vulnerable to natural – and anthropogenic changes in climate."

Professor Les Kaufmann from Boston University said: "The Galápagos, the Rosetta Stone of evolution, is now teaching us the far-reaching impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems. Though too late to stop, we now know that the impacts of climate change can be softened by cutting back on fishing. The wildlife we eat today was part of the inner workings of an ecosystem which was under stress from global climate change and when these ecosystems are damaged, species and livelihoods can vanish in a heartbeat."

Sunday, December 6, 2009


There has been a person who insists on posting inappropriate comments to this blog. So far, I have found them reasonably quickly after they have been posted and removed them. I'm not sure if any of you have seen them; but, measures will be taken to stop them.

I don't want to have to take the step of having to moderate all comments before they are posted as I want my readers and friends to be able to comment freely; however, I cannot allow the inappropriate posting to continue.

If this person refuses to stop posting these inappropriate comments, I will have to (regrettably) moderate all comments which means they won't be posted until I read them first and approve them.

Hopefully, this will not come to be.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Case of Overkill?

Credit: A bighead carp, like one found after a poisoning project this week. U.S. Geological Survey.

The following is an example of what can happen when man steps in to solve a problem.

Panic has set in around the Great Lakes area. Invasive Asian carp are supposedly poised waiting to launch a scaly attack on the lakes. Don’t get me wrong – the Great Lakes are a treasure for both Canada and United States. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth.

Wikipedia tells us:

Recreational boating and tourism are major industries on the Great Lakes. A few small cruise ships operate on the Great Lakes including a couple of sailing ships. Sport fishing, commercial fishing, and Native American fishing represent a US $4 billion a year industry with salmon, whitefish, smelt, lake trout, and walleye being major catches. In addition, all kinds of water sports can be found on the lakes. Unusually for inland waters, the Great Lakes proved the possibility of surfing, particularly in winter due to the effect of strong storms and waves.

At least it’s easy to see why the Asian carp struck such fear into the hearts and wallets of those associated with the lakes. These carp move in, eat everything in sight (including native fish), reproduce like mad, and eventually take over the entire lake. They can grow up to 4’ long and weigh 100 pounds. These fish could kill off the entire fishing industry; and, possibly the recreational boating and tourism industries as well.

This problem all began in the early 1990s when several aquaculture facilities on the Mississippi River flooded. During that flood, two species of Asian carp – the silver and bighead variety – escaped into the river and began their journey northward.

As a result of this great escape, they have become the most abundant fish in some areas of the Mississippi causing incredible hardship to the people who depend on the river for a living. The Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal connects the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes; and, according to eye witness reports, the carp have been spotted in the canal a scant 40 miles from Lake Michigan.

There is an electrical barrier that separates the canal from Lake Michigan designed to repel any invasive species from entering the lake through the use of a non-lethal jolt. The barrier was installed in 2002 and recently required maintenance.

In order to prevent any carp from entering the lake during the time the electrical gate needed to be turned off, authorities (in their wisdom) decided to dump 2,000 gallons of rotenone into the 6 miles of canal near Chicago to poison the water.

They killed an estimated 100 tons of fish – that’s 200,000 pounds of fish which had to be land filled. They poisoned 6 miles of a canal that will take years to return to the ecosystem it maintained previous to the poisoning. As for the carp – they found one, single carp in the entire 6 miles of poisoned waterway. Must have been an advance scout doing some intelligence gathering.

"The last thing the National Wildlife Federation wants to see is dead fish, even in a sewer canal," said Andy Buchsbaum, Great Lakes Regional Executive Director for the group, billed as the nation's largest wildlife conservation organization. "But in this case, the Illinois (Department of Natural Resources) showed strong leadership and commitment in doing a very difficult job. Without the agency's successful handling of this operation, the Great Lakes would be devastated by these monster carp."

Buchsbaum goes on to say that finding even one Asian carp near the electric fence is cause for concern and "shows that we must now wage an all out war to keep these invaders out of the Great Lakes."

Environmentalists and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said the locks should be closed while the scope of the problem is established.

"This is an immediate threat to the Great Lakes, to our sport and commercial fishery, and as such it requires some emergency actions appropriate to the level of that threat," said Ken DeBeaussaert, director of Michigan's Office of the Great Lakes. "Closing the locks to prevent the possible spread of the Asian carp into the Great Lakes is an appropriate response on an emergency basis."

Video about closing locks to prevent Asian carp from reaching the lake.

Via TreeHugger, Great Lakes Echo, Great Lakes Fishery Commission and MSNBC.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Contrails - An Environmental Hazard

Vapour trails caused by jet aircraft over Britain can cause clouds covering 20,000 square miles, according to Met Office research. Photo courtesy: Telegraph

An analysis of the contrails left by one large military aircraft circling over the North Sea showed the creation of a thin cloud layer that, at its height, covered an area of more than 20,000 sq. mi.

Contrails (short for "condensation trails") or vapour trails are basically artificial clouds. They are the visible trails of condensed water vapour made by the exhaust of aircraft engines. As the hot exhaust gases cool in the surrounding air they may form a cloud of microscopic water droplets. If the air is cold enough, this trail will comprise tiny ice crystals.

Met Office (shortened from Meteorological Office; but, now the official name in itself) research suggests that for the millions of people who live under busy flight paths the news is grim. The collective impact of hundreds of vapour trails in areas surrounding airports can create a cloud layer that reduces the sunlight for those unfortunate enough to live there.

Contrails sometimes disperse within minutes; but, can also be present in the sky for many hours. They can also act as a catalyst for the formation of further wispy cirrus cloud.

Globally, the amount of sunlight reduction from vapour trails is less than 1%; but, this figure can rise to 10% in areas that are busy air traffic corridors.

In 2003, Patrick Minnis, a researcher with NASA, said contrails “already have substantial regional effects where air traffic is heavy” and that the impact “may become globally significant” because of the growth in air travel.

The Met Office analysis, not incredibly substantial, was based on observations of a single military aircraft circling over the North Sea on a sunny day earlier this year.

Researchers had expected the wind to disperse all contrails quickly; but, instead they attracted more clouds. As they were blown southwards, they continued to grow and eventually formed a hazy, high-level blanket of cirrus clouds.

Jim Haywood, the Met Office’s aerosol research manager, told the newspaper: “At its peak the resulting cirrus cloud covered an area of more than 20,000 square miles.”

He added: “Such clouds are normally short-lived; but, depending on atmospheric conditions, they can last much longer.”

Mr. Haywood said aviation-induced cirrus clouds have a warming effect on the planet as they trap heat and bounce it back to earth.

“Studies show that, overall, the warming effect is stronger so aviation-induced clouds are helping to warm the planet,” he said.

Via Telegraph

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

Image via Hammacher Schlemmer

Being the “earth muffin” that I am, I have always had plenty of plants around me. Not only do I love the look of plants; but, I love the free air cleaning they provide. The air in homes with plants always smells fresher to me.

I had always thought that cranking my windows open and having an abundance of plants would keep the air in my condo clean, fresh and as pure as possible. But, I was obviously wrong…

Introducing the Botanical Air Purifier; or, “plant inside machine with fan” as most people will see it. The purpose of the machine is to suck in air and circulate it around the plant’s roots and leaves before releasing the air back into room. I had previously (and obviously erroneously) thought that the natural air circulation in the room combined with an open window would be more than enough breeze to circulate it around the plant’s leaves and roots. As far as I know, plants don’t discriminate between a real breeze and an artificial one. They clean the air just as well no matter which method the air was delivered to them by.

However, again I seem to fail to understand the importance of this machine. According to their retail website, it’s the winner of a Popular Science Invention Award.
Drawing on NASA research, the botanical air purifier removes common household VOCs, including formaldehyde and other toxins emitted from paint, carpets, and adhesives, and recirculates clean air into your home. A study performed by Le Laboratoire of Paris found that the device reduces the concentration of formaldehyde by 50% in 30 minutes, 10 times faster than a traditional air filtration system.

So, if you feel a burning desire to spend $200 per machine rather than buy a couple of nice plants, this product is for you.

Check out this list to find the most effective air cleaners.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coral Eats Jellyfish?

Scientists found a coral (Fungia scruposa) calmly chowing down on a moon jellyfish during a survey of Red Sea reefs near Eliat, Israel. This may seem like just another predator gets prey incident; but, this is the first time such an event has ever been documented or even observed.

It's dinner time: A mushroom coral polyp sucks in the jellyfish. The white bar shows a distance of 2cm. Photo courtesy: MailOnline

These pictures were taken on a dive by Omri Bronstein from Tel Aviv University and Gal Dishon from Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan.

“During the survey we were amazed to notice some mushroom corals actively feeding on the moon jellyfish,” said Ada Alamaru, a member of the research team. 'We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw it.'

The coral, which is approximately 10” in diameter, is not attached to the sea floor or anywhere else; but, still has a very range of motion. It’s a bit of a mystery right now as to how the coral manages to capture the jellyfish.

“This is the first documentation of a coral feeding on a jellyfish almost equal to its size,” Ms Alamaru told the BBC. “In fact we saw a few corals feeding and not only one.”

The large-mouth mushroom coral are solitary organisms and do not combine with other coral to form a reef. Their diet usually consists of plankton which are microscopic organisms only a fraction of an inch in size. The jellyfish the coral were observed eating are approximately 5” in diameter making them half the size of the coral.

At a time when climate changes are causing blooms of jellyfish, eating them gives the coral valuable extra protein and an advantage over other types of coral.

“The ability to utilize a variety of food sources and to take advantage of such a bloom event gives the mushroom corals an advantage compared with other small polyped corals that are not able to feed on such large prey items,” Ms Alamaru told the BBC.

The findings were published in Coral Reefs, the journal of the International Society for Reef Studies.

Jellyfish blooms, top, in the Red Sea and, bottom, the jellyfish disappearing inside the coral. Photo courtesy: MailOnline.

Via MailOnline