Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Plea From WWF - Malaysia

The Malaysian peninsula is home to some of the world's most amazing wildlife, including Sumatran rhinos, Malayan tigers and Asian elephants.

But these and many other species in the region are under increasing threat due to poaching and the demand for their body parts in the illegal wildlife trade.

Take action now and help protect wildlife in Malaysia.

Wildlife in Malaysia is currently protected by the Protection of Wild Life Act 1972, which is severely outdated and riddled with loopholes. As a result many species continue to be poached and illegally traded at alarming rates, while wildlife offenders often escape arrest and prosecution.

Please sign our petition and urge the Malaysian government to strengthen the wildlife law.

We will present your name, as part of the petition, to the Malaysian government in August 2009.

Thank you for your support,

Dato' Dr. Dionysius Sharma
Executive Director and CEO

P.S. Help us reach our target of 100,000 signatures by forwarding this message to your friends and family. Every signature counts!

Like Natural Cures? You'll Love This Website

If you prefer natural remedies to torturing your body with man-made prescriptions, visit this website: It contains a cornucopia of information - both old and new - all completely natural.

The site is interactive. At any time, you are free to leave your comments, feedback, ask questions, or anything you like. This website is in my top 10 "Websites I Visit Frequently".

Are You Vegan Or Want To Be?

A new vegan website has just come online. I visited it; but, I can't give you much information because I refuse to watch the videos. I am so sensitive to these things I won't take the chance I will see something that will upset me. So, unfortunately, readers, you will have to make your own decisions about the worth of this site. It is:

Did You Know That...

Did you know that Dublin is home to the Fairy Investigation Society? Unfortunately, due to a lack of belief, it has become inactive. Who's next to fall victim to our modern-day cynicism: the Easter bunny? Santa Claus?

Friday, February 27, 2009

No More Egyptian Cotton For Me!

At least 60 people have died so far this year in gunfights between tenant farmers and landlords in the Nile Delta as they battle over coveted parcels of lush farmland. One in 10 Egyptians is unemployed. In the teeming textiles markets of Cairo, business has never been worse. Nowhere in Egypt is economic hardship and growing resentment against the west felt more keenly.

A Sudanese-Egyptian trader sits infront of his mouldering open shop-front, dwarfed by huge jute sacks of cotton, counting wooden prayer beads. In his other hand is a crude copy of the government futures projection for this year's crop. He places the grubby sheets of paper on the floor and kneels towards Mecca and prays.

The Land Centre for Human Rights, an NGO that fights for cotton farmers, believes the cotton farmers' intensive farming methods are coming back to haunt them. The methods they employ exhaust the soil and pollute the irrigated Nile channel waters that feed it reducing their annual yields. Many of the poorer farmers are harvesting at levels one-tenth the level they harvested a decade ago. Larger farms can afford to regenerate soil by leaving a third of their fields fallow for long periods. This is impossible for the tiny family farms. They are already living at levels nine-tenths below their previous standards and their children still need to be fed.

Unfortunately; crops, yields, fertile land and money are not the only items to be contended with. There is still a deeply ingrained mindset that cotton is good cash crop. The farmers still believe that if you plant cotton, you will be able to feed your family.

Says Hamdi Wabid: “The farmers have still not escaped the old mindset that cotton is a good cash crop. It is becoming apparent that cotton is not an economical crop. Now it's just hurting people – and perhaps most tellingly the environment – badly, and many families are going under.”

To tell the story of the cotton crisis, one has to start with the Nile River. The Nile spans nine countries and with a length of 6,700 km (4163 m) is the world’s longest river. The river begins its journey in a fairly natural pristine state; but, as it journeys downstream passing through populated lands the demands on it become increasingly significant. As the Nile nears the Sudan increasing amounts of water are diverted for agricultural purposes. As ever-increasing diversions are made; concerns are increasing for those in need downstream. This includes our cotton farmers.

As the Nile heads north towards Egypt, it is soon slowed by the giant Aswan dam. This is where the problems are exacerbated. Located 900km (559 m) south of Cairo, the dam was built to eliminate flooding, provide electricity and open more of the Nile delta to farming. What it has done instead is block the Nile's sediments which are no longer deposited at the river's mouth. It is these very sediments that keep the delta rich, fertile, and stable. Without the ability to renew its soil with the help of these rich sediments, the Delta's extensive farmlands are increasingly barren.

The other role these sediments play that is not usually recognized is that they shore up (pun, intended!!) the delta. Since these sediments are reaching the delta, the land is shrinking. Combine this with the erosion from the sea and thousands of square metres of coastland are irreparably lost each year. This destruction has caused part of the Delta to subside and tilt allowing more salt water entrance underneath the land. This increases the soil salinity and groundwater contamination.

As it approaches the sprawl of Cairo, the Nile becomes increasingly polluted. Once beyond Cairo, the river fans into this massive delta, where a host of waterborne diseases, such as schistosomiasis, also flourish. While the previous link to schistosomiasis was just written material, the next two links contain pictures. If you are sensitive; or, of fainter heart; please, do NOT click on these next two links. (;

Finally, in the waters of Alexandria, where almost 40 per cent of Egypt's industry is located; on top of everything else, a healthy dose of oils and heavy metals is added.

A young man named Riad Muhammad, in Egypt, (9) says: “I will be a cotton farmer, like my father and my grandfather. We get time to play and in the evenings we swim in the water channels. Sometimes, after the harvest, we get treats and money to buy lollipops and balloons. My mother tells me she is proud that I work like a man to help my sisters. This is my fourth year in the fields. One day I hope to own my own land, that is my big dream."

Erosion and rising sea levels mean the cotton fields are being pumped with salt water under the rich, fertile soil south of the Nile Delta. This makes it almost impossible to grow crops. Photo courtesy of Robin Hammond.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No More Egyptian Cotton For Me!!...con't

Let’s examine what the cotton crop entails. Cotton is actually two crops: the fibre and the seed. Approximately two-thirds of the harvested crop is composed of the seed. The seed is crushed to separate its three products – oil, meal and hulls. Cottonseed oil is a common component of many foods; although, it is used primarily as a cooking oil or salad dressing.

Most of the oil goes to the preparation of snack items such as crackers and digestive biscuits. Lesser quantities go into soaps, pharmaceuticals, cosmetic, textile finishes and other products. The remaining meal and hulls are used as livestock, poultry and fish feed. The rest is used as fertilizer.

The fibre still remains after 7,000 years the most adaptable and widely used fabric used today. Cotton is used in a range of clothing up to and including spacesuits; banknotes, linen, tarpaulins and tents; and remains the single best-selling fibre in the world. Impressive!

China, USA, India, Pakistan, and Brazil are the world leaders in production; but, nothing says prestige and luxury like Egyptian cotton. What makes it so superior is its fibres which are of uniform length making them stronger, finer and possessing of a greater elasticity than any other fibre.

With Egypt's cotton exports worth £150m ($214 m USD); the cotton business should be securing the livelihoods of the farmers. Instead, Egypt is a nation of thousands of cotton farmers trying to survive amid inflation, corruption, dwindling water resources, high fuel prices and a government that ignores their plight. The irrigation systems, which pump waters from the increasingly depleted Nile, are rusting. The cost of seeds and fertilizer has soared. Rich landowners demand ever higher rents from their tenants for the right to work the modest lands. Those lucky enough to own their own land end up with smaller and smaller plots as each generation's inheritance subdivides farms among several sons.

While the Egypt Child Law of 1996 bans the employment of children under 14, and regulates the hours and conditions of those between 15 and 17, it remains largely unenforced. Everyone knows it’s going on; but, no one does anything about it. There are no penalties enforced so there is no motivation for those breaking the law to stop or treat their child workers more humanely. More importantly, it does nothing to address the root causes propelling youngsters into this line of work.

The essential reason is poverty. According to the UN 2005 Egypt Common Country Assessment, almost 17 per cent of Egypt's 77.5m people were living below the poverty line in 2007. The situation is much worse in Upper Egypt, especially in rural areas where the cotton fields lie.

Juliette Williams, spokeswoman for the Environmental Justice Foundation, which has investigated the cotton industry across the world, has this to say, “Egyptian cotton is synonymous with luxury, yet the reality behind its production is endemic child labour – up to 1m children are working in the cotton fields each year. This is a scandal the companies need to address. Yet when we have pressed companies on their supply chains many tend to fudge the issue, and simply say they require their suppliers to meet certain standards within the factories that produce clothing. This misses the point. Companies need to get out of the factories and look to the fields. I think they, like us, would be horrified at what The Observer has found.”

“The whole cotton supply chain, unless you choose reputable organic or fairtrade, is so murky,” she adds. “The irony is that Egyptian cotton is the only cotton that is sold with the country of origin as a selling point, as top-of- the range quality, yet the luxury bedsheets we buy may well be linked to entrenched poverty and rampant child labour.”

Things that we can do:

Contact President Hosni Mubarak
His Excellency, President Mohammad Hosni Mubarak
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
‘Abedine Palace, Cairo, Egypt
Fax: + 20 2 390 1998, 20 2 260-5417 , 20 2 355-5700, 20 2
795 3192 or 20 2 795 8016

Contact President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Tel. 202-456-1111
Fax. 202-456-2461

Visit the Better Cotton Initiative website: ( They have some good info.

Ask your retailer if their cotton supplier is on the SEDEX (Supplier Ethical Data Exchange) Database. They publish suppliers that source their material from ethical sources only.

Create awareness. Talk with those who will listen. Write to your local retailer letting them know you will now only buy cotton from suppliers on the SEDEX list and if they don't stock those suppliers, you will go to someone who does. Write a letter to the editor. Join a peaceful protest.

Next blog: Why erosion and soil destruction may put an end to cotton farming in the near future.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

No More Egyptian Cotton For Me!!

I am ashamed to say that is one story I was unaware of until just yesterday. I sleep on Egyptian cotton sheets and have for a long time. They are the height of luxury in my mind and in many others' minds as well. No longer!! There will no longer be any Egyptian cotton bought in my home. I will not sleep on the backs of children.

Zawyat al-Kardsha: A cotton farming family headed by Shaban Abdal Zaher, (third from left). His children work in the family fields. He made £50 from his cotton last year. Photo courtesy Robin Hammond.

This is the decrepit mud and brick home that Shaban Abdulal Zarhel and his family call home. Most of us would call it a hovel. This family is representative of Egyptian cotton farmers. The mother is fussing with the youngest. She is pregnant and they are hoping for another boy. Beside her, her four other children sleep off their exhaustion from their morning labours and try to recharge their tiny bodies with enough energy for the afternoon’s trials. By 2:00 pm (after the hottest part of the day has passed), the children will have arisen and had a tiny meal of rice and flatbread. After that, it’s back to the cotton fields for the afternoon shift. Due to the intense heat - 40°C (104°F) – the children work split shifts working the cooler morning and evening times.

The children’s lives revolve around the cycles of the harvests here: radishes in winter, onions in spring, and Egyptian cotton in summer and fall. There is no time for school. Between working their family’s own small landholding and hiring out to other landholders to earn disposable income, there is little time left for anything else.

When it is cotton season the fields on the banks of the Nile will be filled with children working up to 10 hours a day. They are usually employed to remove the boll weevils from the cotton plants. This means they are constantly handling plants that are awash with pesticides. Most of the children complain of breathing difficulties during the height of summer.

Today, there are an estimated 2.7 m children working across Egypt, the majority in agriculture. More than 1 m children are hired yearly for the cotton harvest with nearly all children reporting beatings by foremen in the fields.

Most Non-government organizations (NGOs) say that erasing child labour in Egyptian agriculture will be impossible as it is traditionally an issue between families; it appears more likely the children are victims of modern-day press gangs who pay their impoverished parents a pittance for their labour.

Egyptian cotton has become a byword for luxury with no five-star hotel in London or Manhattan complete without starched sheets from the Nile Valley on its beds. In Britain alone, the cotton business, from sheets to Savile Row clothing, is worth billions.

Cotton has a long and not-so-illustrious history. It may have existed in Egypt as early as 12,000 BC. It has successfully been cultivated in the Nile Delta for at least 7,000 years due to rich soil and a perfect climate. It was brought to Europe by Arab merchants about 800 AD. In 1492 when Columbus found America, he also found cotton growing in the Bahamas. Cotton found its way to England two centuries later.

While everyone is aware of the inhumane history of cotton, slavery and the Americas; not many people (I was one of them) are aware of the inhumane history of cotton, near slavery and Egypt.

Mohammed Ramadan, eight, with one of the worms children are employed to pick off cotton leaves. Photo courtesy of Robin Hammond.

It's cotton season and children are everywhere, on hands and knees, searching for the tiny insects and worms that threaten the crop. Their job is to remove them.

Ahmed Khaled, 10, begins his day at 6:00 am harvesting onions before moving into the cotton fields at 8:00 am. He says, “We work up to eight hours a day. This is the hardest time, keeping the cotton safe when the sun is at its hottest. The harvest is easier – the hours are hard; but, the weather is cooler. I cannot read or write. We go to school when we can; but, we cannot afford to. School is for rich children.”

Huge, huge issue. More next blog.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sewage Leaks Into San Francisco Bay

Photo courtesty of

The San Francisco Bay – Sausalito area has a worldwide reputation of being one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Tourists flock there to enjoy the huge variety of water sports, fishing boat charters, whale watching, yacht racing, and all manner of outdoor recreation. It is rumoured that Otis Redding wrote the first line of his famous song “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” while in Sausalito.

Photo via Blumpy

However, since Wednesday, February 18, 2009, there might be a bit of a pall cast over the water activities. Contractors toiled all day digging a pit next to a ruptured steel pipeline at a sewage treatment plant near the Sausalito shoreline. Despite their efforts, about 500,000 galloons of untreated and/or partially treated sewage made its way into the San Francisco Bay.

The leak discovered early Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 17/08) is the latest in a long string of spills that have polluted the Bay’s water and soiled the shoreline of southern Marin County.

One of the reasons there has been quite a lengthy history of continued spillage could be things like what is happening with the fix they are working on right now. While the temporary fix had significantly reduced the flow, the leak was not fully stopped; so, workers rigged hoses to divert the waste back into the plant.

"Virtually all of the leakage has been stopped," said Bob Simmons, general manager of the sanitary district. "It's now leaking at less than a gallon per minute. What we ended up doing here is not a fully engineered repair. It's a temporary fix."

The Sausalito-Marin County treatment plant serves about 18,000 customers in Tamalpais Valley, Marin City, Sausalito, the Marin Headlands and Fort Baker. Simmons said the spilled sewage had been partially treated with 60 percent of the solids removed.

I’m not sure that would reassure me. I know it wouldn’t convince me to go back in the water.

Simmons blames corrosion of the pipe along with a possible defect in the 24” diameter steel pipe. The concrete-coated pipe is about 23 years old. "This type of pipe should last 50 years," he said. "We think the majority of the pipe is in good shape."

Meanwhile, signs have been posted along the southern Marin County shoreline warning people of the danger and warning them not to swim or fish.

The local Regional Water Quality Control Board is investigating the incident and Simmons said he expects an enforcement action.

"A fine is inevitable," Simmons said. "It'll probably be hundreds of thousands of dollars. ... We created a hazard and some environmental harm."

He added: "I think fines help get the bad apples moving, but I wouldn't consider us as one of them."

Watch the following video (approx. 1 min.) and decide for yourself if they are one of the bad apples or not.

Plastic, Paper Or Cloth?

Terlingua Springs Market does it right. Photo by Trevor Reichman

I wish I could say that this is my only pet peeve; but, I have quite a few of them. You'll probably get to know all of them if you stick around long enough. Enough about me - on with "Plastic, Paper, or Cloth?"

Many cashiers automatically start putting your purchases into a plastic bag before you have even finished unpacking your groceries; let alone had the chance to say, “I have brought my own bags.”

Of course, they obligingly take the few items they have managed to get into that plastic bag out and put them into your cloth bag; but, then they throw out the plastic bag they have just emptied.

Why would they do this? Many stores have rules which don’t allow a cashier to reuse a plastic bag once it has been “contaminated” with another customer’s item(s).

What pernicious disease could I possibly have that has erupted from the time I picked up that item (and several others) compared them, put my choice in my shopping basket and returned the others to the shelf? How does the cashier know that I have not contaminated the other items I considered, picked up, rejected and returned. Why are other customers not being protected from these packages?

Tips and tricks to get your cloth bag in the cashier’s hand before she gets your first item in a plastic bag:

1) I send my bags through the checkout first. Then when the cashier gives me that puzzled look, I have a chance to explain that I would prefer not to use plastic and could she use my cloth bags instead.

2) Use the self-check out lane and bag your own items. You will be unable (in Canada anyway) to use your own bag right away as the weight of your bag on the scale would prevent it from working. You would have to pay them for them first, remove them from the scale and then put them in your own bag.

3) Sometimes I don’t bag them at all. If I’m only picking up a few items, I just drop them in my cart (naked) and flaunt them as I leave the store.

4) Shop at stores which have either banned plastic bags entirely; or, at least require their cashiers to ask “paper or plastic”. That gives you the opportunity to present your bags and reply “Cloth, thanks.” I have to wonder why the question can't be changed to "plastic, paper or cloth?" Surely, it can't be that difficult to implement.

5) Shop at smaller, locally owned stores or markets, where everyone knows who you are and asking for plastic is enough to have you banned for life.

6) Speak and/or write to store managers, city officials, anyone who might help with the fight to eradicate the use of plastic bags.

7) Spread the word about the success San Francisco and China are having with their war on plastic bags.

I feel much better now. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Birdie Backpacks

A purple martin wearing a geolocator. Photo courtesy of Tim Morton.

Birds are most famous for their flying ability. Man has never really been able to crack the mystery of flight and migration. Now we may be one step closer to being able to track these migrations and discover some of the subtler points of them.

Researchers have come up with a tiny birdie backpack that contains sophisticated sensors; yet, weighs less than a dime. While the new technology has already yielded interesting data such as some birds fly faster than previously thought; it’s real worth will be in unlocking the mysteries of bird migration that could help preserve species threatened by habitat loss and climate change.

“We knew that purple martins went to Brazil and wood thrush went to Central America,” said Bridget J. M. Stutchbury, a biologist at York University in Toronto, who with the aid of colleagues fitted birds from these species with the sensors and mapped their migrations last year. “But the details of how an individual gets there, what routes they take, how fast they fly, how often they stop to rest — these are the kinds of details we have never been able to have.”

As The Bird Flies - A Graph

The tiny backpacks contain solar geolocators that collect and store data on the birds’ location based on their relation to the sun. When the sensors are removed, the information is downloaded and this tells researchers when and where the birds have been.

“If the bird were on a hillside you’d get a slightly wrong time,” Dr. Stutchbury said. “If it were a cloudy day you would get a slightly wrong time. But these devices are accurate enough, within 5 or 10 kilometers (3-6 miles)”.

Engineers at the British Antarctic Survey developed this system for tracking Wandering Albatrosses. These birds are the largest of the albatross family and inhabit the waters around Antarctica. Unfortunately, the Wandering Albatross is about the size of a large dog; so, the sensors made for them were obviously too large to be used on songbirds.

British researchers announced at a conference in 2006 that they had miniaturized their sensors to 1.5 grams. “That for me was a magic number,” Dr. Stutchbury said. “I could put it on a large songbird.”

Dr. Stutchbury has managed to obtain sensors that weigh even less than 1.5 grams and sit on the bird’s back at hip level. Each sensor is about the size of person’s pinkie nail. “There’s a little loop that goes around each leg,” she said. “It would be like you wearing a backpack.”

Researchers used nets to trap 34 birds in Pennsylvania in the summer of 2007. Sensors were applied to the birds after determining they were in a healthy condition and acting normally. They were then released and the scientists waited for the end of the migration approximately one year later.

April 25, 2008 was the day the first bird with a geolocator returned to Pennsylvania. “It seemed almost a miracle,” Dr. Stutchbury said.

Some of the information gleaned from the recovered geolocators show the birds flew two to six times faster going north than south. Some birds covered about 370 miles in a day which is much faster than was previously though. One female martin flew almost 5,000 miles in 13 days – including 4 stopover days.

Dr. Stutchbury identified the Yucatan Peninsula as being an important stopover point in these migrations. She and other experts say identifying important migratory stopovers will be an important benefit of the technology.

Since data from only seven of the 34 tagged birds was recovered, Dr. Stutchbury and her colleagues have tried not drawing too many conclusions from the data. However, she points out, “That’s seven more than anybody else.”

Last summer, she and her colleagues applied sensors to dozens more birds. The work is important, she said, because songbird species are already in steep decline and climate change may threaten crucial habitat.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Peek-a-Boo, I Failed To See You

France’s Le Triomphant, a nuclear missile submarine, is seen in this undated photo released by the French Navy on Monday.

On the night of February 3, 2009, in what is being labeled as a freak accident, two submarines carrying nuclear missiles collided while submerged in the Atlantic Ocean. The two submarines, one French (Le Triomphant) and one British (H.M.S. Vanguard) were on operational patrols when the collision occurred. The exact location has yet to be disclosed.

Both vessels, though damaged, managed to return to their home ports with 250 crew members aboard uninjured. In terse statements that appeared to have been a collaboration between the two nations, the defense ministries said that there was “no compromise to nuclear safety”.

The Vanguard, which is 492’ (150 m) long, was towed back to its home port, at Faslane on the Firth of Clyde, near Glasgow, Scotland, with “very visible dents and scrapes,” according to the BBC. The similarly sized French submarine took three days to get back to its home port, at L’Île Longue near Brest, according to French news reports.

The reference to “no compromise to nuclear safety” was taken to mean there was no breach either to the security of the nuclear reactors that power the subs or the 16 ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads that both nations routinely carry on patrols.

While I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that two nuclear-equipped submarines have just collided in the Atlantic and somehow we have managed to escape disaster; then I read the following.

Military experts feel this episode has raised troubling questions about the safety of nuclear submarines patrolling the oceans without having to tell anyone – including NATO – where they are. Apparently, the agreements on “waterspace management” requiring NATO nations to advise each other of the exact locations of submerged submarines does not include those carrying ballistic missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. The locations of the mostly deadly submarines are the most jealously guarded of all.

So, no one but the crew members of these submerged nuclear subs knows their whereabouts and two of them have just had a fender bender. Am I right in thinking that raising these “troubling questions about safety” now is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has fled the property?

The collision “could have released vast amounts of radiation and scattered scores of nuclear warheads across the seabeds,” said Kate Hudson, the chairwoman of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a long-established protest group in Britain. Besides Britain and France, the United States, Russia and China have the same vessels.

Military experts point to the number of collisions between western and Soviet submarines during the cold war. One incident in particular occurred in 1992 when the American nuclear submarine (the Baton Rouge) was struck by a surfacing Russian sub in the Barents Sea.

Stephen Saunders, editor of Jane’s Fighting Ships, a much-respected publication among naval experts, said that an investigation would need to cover a variety of technical issues to rule out mechanical malfunctions and the like. However, he said, the problem appeared to be procedural. In other words, so much importance is attached to remaining undetected that they got within striking distance each without knowing the other was there.

Lee Willett of the Royal United Services Institute in London said the NATO allies would be very reluctant to share information on the whereabouts of their nuclear submarines.

“These are the strategic crown jewels of the nation,” he told Agence France-Presse. “The whole purpose of a sea-based nuclear deterrent is to hide somewhere far out of sight. They are the ultimate tools of national survival in the event of war. Therefore, it’s the very last thing you would share with anybody.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

What Do Crop Diversity and Ocean Dead Zones Have In Common?

Photo Nicholas_T @ flickr

Biodiversity – like change – is the spice of life. It’s what keeps our ecosystems healthy, resilient to stress and able to provide valuable services such as clean air, water, and/or food. However, we are increasingly becoming a monoculture society. We plow under our diverse ecosystems and plant a monoculture (single species) in its place. Now instead of a lovely patchwork of crops; we have fields of one crop as far as the eye can see. This affects the insects that visit; the variety of pollinators that can survive here; the nutrient ratios in the soil; increased chances of species-specific disease; increased soil runoff; higher fertilizer requirements; and, ultimately ocean dead zones.

image NASA

Louisiana State University has new research that shows that industrialized farming leads to ocean dead zones. One of the techniques that could be used to lower nitrogen runoff is to plant a variety of crops. Studies show that where the biodiversity of crops is high, there is less dissolved nitrogen found in surrounding watersheds. Eventually the water from the watersheds (along with all the pollutants it may carry) makes it way to the ocean and is dispersed many thousands of miles from where it first originated.

Nitrogen from agriculture fertilizers (produced from fossil fuel) winds up increasing the local aquatic dissolved nitrate. The increase in fertilizer is necessary because we are now growing single species crops which leach the soil of select nutrients only. Instead of replacing those nutrients naturally through crop rotation and times of laying fallow (unplanted), we pump the soil full of artificial nutrients and nitrogen. The increased nitrate leads to the growth of algae, which uses up the available oxygen in the water, creating dead zones.

The number of marine dead zones has doubled every 10 years since the 1960s, which corresponds nicely with the increase of these industrialized farming technologies.

image US DEP

Whitney Broussard, who received a Ph.D. in oceanography and coastal sciences from Louisiana State University is now at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and R. Eugene Turner of LSU, compiled data from the past 100 years on watersheds varying in size from the Illinois Cache River basin (400 square miles) to the Mississippi River Basin (more than a million square miles). The researchers compared this watershed data with land-use practices since the early 1900s.

The results show that the average farm size has approximately doubled from 60 ha in 1900 to 180 ha in 2002. An additional result of survey is that corn has been proven to be probably not the best biofuel out there and now there may be a link between the corn farming itself and increased nitrogen runoff.

"These results are important because they highlight the need to address land use in order to reduce both the size of the low oxygen zone off Louisiana and the negative effect of nutrients on coastal wetland restoration efforts," said Turner.

"With the growing American farm comes the necessity to use more industrialized means of farming," said Broussard. "Our agricultural practices have always impacted water quality, but over the past century the mechanization of agriculture and the use of more potent fertilizers has caused a greater effect: the nitrogen leakage rate is higher…. Diverse farms tend to have smaller fields with more edges, which can mean there's a greater buffering effect on nitrogen runoff by surrounding grasslands or woodlands."

The good news is that the impacts of nitrogen pollution due to industrialized farming practices might be reversible if incentives were developed for farmers to increase biodiversity, decrease field size, increase buffering zones, and incorporate more native landscapes between fields.

"There has been great progress made to reduce the footprint of agriculture, but there is still room for improvement," said Broussard. "The American farmer is caught in a mode of production that has tremendous momentum and cannot be changed on the farm – it's a policy question now."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Water - The New Fuel

No comments this time. Just a few videos I think will interest you readers. If this can be converted to mass use, it could be a huge help in the fight to clean up the environment.



Getting The Numbers Out

Thirteen global warming facts for 2008 you'll be sorry you know. Again, these facts are American; however, I'm sure they're fairly representative of figures worldwide.

Increase in the global carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1992.

388.57 ppm
Average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in May 2008, a record high.

541 – 970 ppm
The projected concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 2100 under a business as usual scenario where we don't dramatically reduce global warming emissions.

260 – 280 ppm
Average concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before industrial emissions.

50 – 200 years
Length of time carbon dioxide stays in the earth's atmosphere before it is absorbed into carbon sinks.

1000 years
Length of time changes in the earth's surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level will remain even after carbon dioxide emissions are completely stopped.

Percentage that 2008's Arctic seasonal sea ice melt outpaced normal levels.

Increase in the rate of Greenland's ice melt over the last five years.

1.7 days
Number of days earlier seasons are coming than 50 years ago.

1.5 million
Number of acres of forests in Colorado destroyed by the pine beetle, which is better able to survive warmer winters and is wrecking havoc in America's western forests.

$427 million
Amount spent by the oil and coal industries in the first six months of 2008 in political contributions, lobbying expenditures and advertising to oppose climate action.

Number of global warming bills passed by the Senate.

Number of global warming bills passed by the House.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Surprising Survey Results on Mount Kinabalu

Dawn breaks over a rainforest in Borneo. Photograph: Peter Lilja/Getty Images

A survey on the moths of Mount Kinabalu confirms that global warming is forcing tropical species uphill to escape the rising temperatures at a rate of more than a metre (3.25’) a year.

The site on Mount Kinabalu was first visited by a group of undergraduate students more than 40 years ago. Now more than 4 decades later a team of British scientists has returned to the same site on the south-east Asian island of Borneo. Not only were the sites replicated; but, the surveys and many other aspects of the journey, both large and small, were duplicated. Probably one of the most exciting aspects of the trip was including one of the original members in the group of six that set out over 40 years later. What a privilege for the original member.

Although the trip has only been repeated once so far: they did everything possible to repeat the original survey. They travelled at the same time of year (July and August); they used photographs to identify exact sites for moth traps, and carried out the work during the same phases of the moon.

Lights were used to attract the moths where were then captured using nets or in empty “egg boxes” designed to allow them in but not out.

The group found that on average the insects had raised the altitude of their range by 67m (220’).

"While this is the first example with insects, there are a few other tropical examples that are starting to emerge," said Chris Thomas, professor of Biology at the University of York. "If you look across all those studies they are all showing the same response, and it's extremely difficult to think of any other possible explanation that was causing all of those."

I-Ching Chen, the PhD student who led the research, said: "Our new study is good in that it increases the evidence available, but it is potentially bad for biodiversity."

While some species might survive by migrating up mountains to similar temperatures, others could find there is too little space, or even run out of habitat on the barren rocky peaks, warns the study.

"The fact that over however many tens of thousands or millions of years they have failed to expand their distribution away from those areas makes it vanishingly likely [that] in the next 50-100 years they'll suddenly be able to up sticks and find a cooler part of the world they can expand in rapidly," said Thomas.

For those of you who don't speak fluent European slang - here's the translation:

They're a critically endangered environment. All these species have proved that their only solution is to move further up the mountain and that has worked so far (because everything is moving up the mountain). The environment remains the same, it just gets higher. Unfortunately, what the plants, moths and other sentient beings on the mountains don't realize is that eventually the mountain ends.

Going Shopping? Don't Forget Your Geiger Counter

Testing granite from Green building options

One of my dreams has just been shot down in flames. Oh, well, sometimes doing what’s right involves some form of self-sacrifice. In this case, it’s my “when-I-can-afford-them” granite countertops. I thought they would look super with my organic wood floors that I’m also going to put in when I can afford them.

Then I read a series of disturbing articles about the dangers of radon, radiation, Geiger counters and granite countertops. Radioactive, glow in the dark, granite countertops? That’s scary!!

Not only is it scary, it’s very controversial since only some granite emits radiation and the industry seems to be doing its best to bury the whole sorry mess behind a blustery bravado of innocence and outrage.

The Marble Institute, the trade flack site for the industry, says "It’s misleading to even hint that we would knowingly sell a product that might harm consumers! The report was prompted by a group that claims to be independent, but is actually funded by two companies that manufacture synthetic stone countertops made of quartz gravel, resins, coloring agents and other chemicals."

The Times reports that demand for granite has increased tenfold in the last decade, and the stuff is coming from 63 countries; some are more radioactive than others.

“It’s not that all granite is dangerous,” said Stanley Liebert, the quality assurance director at CMT Laboratories in Clifton Park, N.Y., “But I’ve seen a few that might heat up your Cheerios a little.”

Linda Kincaid at Green Building Options not only writes about granite; but, carries a monitor and has scanned over a thousand slabs of granite since last July.

She writes that:

Most of those slabs emitted very little radiation. However, a small percentage emitted gamma radiation at many times background. Some of those stones contained as much uranium as uranium ore.

She also notes that the retailers are either not interested, not knowledgeable or downright rude, often throwing her out of the shop.

A San Jose, CA showroom manager told me last August, “This is all propaganda from Silestone”. When I showed him radioactive Niagara Gold granite in his showroom, he insisted, “a sealer will take care of it”. As few minutes later, an assistant asked me to leave the premises.

It seems that this industry does not want to reveal the truth about their industry; and, is in even less motivated to clean it up and remove any radioactive material.

I don’t know about anyone else; but, there is no acceptable radiation emission level in my home.

Tree Planting Ceremony in Karura Forest

As part of the UN Environment Program (UNEP) over 5,000 trees are going to be planted in the Karura Forest in Kenya to fight climate change, promote carbon sequestration and help clean up the Karura River.

This planting is part of the Trees4Love campaign in Kenya where loving, hugging and planting trees is highly encouraged. The official ceremony will be taking place on February 14, 2009 (Valentine’s Day). The ceremony is open for anyone to attend and is taking place in the Karura Forest from 1:00 pm to 5:30 pm.

This experience is part of the larger Plant For The Planet: Billion Trees Campaign. Several thousand people are expected to join the celebration and plant trees in memory of loved ones and out of respect and love for the planet.

The Billion Trees Campaign has thus far planted 2.6 billion trees out of their goal of 7 billion by 2009 (one tree for every inhabitant on the planet). Ethiopia is leading the way having planted the most trees of any country for this campaign - over 700 million trees total.

A Greek proverb goes: A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food or RUTF

RUTF is changing how World Vision and other charitable organizations treat acute malnutrition in children under five. The peanut butter-based spread contains oil, sugar, and life-saving micro-nutrients. It has the consistency of thick spread and tastes like super-sweet peanut butter. It is packaged in a sanitary container so mothers can transport, store an feed it to their children without any worry of contamination.

Before RUTF, parents of severely malnourished children had to take their children to stay at a feeding centre for long periods of time. Now moms can go to the feeding centres, stock up and home with their children right away. The therapeutic food is a super boost of energy, calories and nutrition for children who are so malnourished they cannot eat regular food. Now parents of sick malnourished children can treat them at home. What a blessing for both parent and child!!

Children are recovering at home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Niger and Ethiopia.

Did You Know That...

A movement is afoot to change the world by changing paper margins. The website is advocating computer user to change their printer margin settings to 0.75" on all sides of a document.

The default setting on a printer is usually 1" on the sides and 1.25" top and bottom. According to one study, this small act reduces paper use by 4.75%. Multiply that by the 29.0 tons of paper Canadians use annually; and, we could save more than three million trees. This does not include energy costs and waste products. This also only applies to Canada - 3 million trees - what a savings.

Readers, let's take it to big business, charitable organizations, anywhere that sends out alot of paper. Amazingly, this small change in your margins doesn't seem so small anymore.

Seas Used To Be 70 Feet Higher - Believe It or Not!

Photo: Ministry of Tourism & Transport, Bermuda, with permission.

Nearly a decade ago, a study was published by a team of geologists and zoologists - based on their preliminary findings - that showed that nearly 400,000 years ago the sea levels were almost 70 feet higher than they are today. This was met with very polite skepticism. However, this same team has published a new study claiming “unequivocal evidence” that confirms their previous theories.

Bermuda (photo above) was the site of newly-discovered “unequivocal evidence”.

From the Smithsonian release:

Storrs Olson, research zoologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and geologist Paul Hearty of the Bald Head Island Conservancy discovered sedimentary and fossil evidence in the walls of a limestone quarry in Bermuda that documents a rise in sea level during an interglacial period of the Middle Pleistocene in excess of 21 meters above its current level. [...]

The nature of the sediments and fossil accumulation found by Olson and Hearty was not compatible with the deposits left by a tsunami but rather with the gradual, yet relatively rapid, increase in the volume of the planet’s ocean caused by melting ice sheets.

Unfortunately, a lot of people will see the "400,000 years ago" and think that either it can't happen again; or, if it can, it can’t happen quickly. What is not taken into account is what has changed since then. We have managed to release so many pollutants into our atmosphere that our world is heating up at a rate unprecedented in all of human history. It only makes sense that if the planet is heating up a faster rate than ever before then maybe other processes on earth are speeding up as well.

Again, from the Smithsonian:

This particular interglacial period is considered by some scientists to be a suitable comparison to our current interglacial period. With future carbon dioxide levels possibly rising higher than any time in the past million years, it is important to consider the potential effects on polar ice sheets.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Earth Hour March 28

On March 28, 2009 at 8:30 p.m., local time, World Wildlife Fund is asking individuals, businesses, governments and organizations around the world to turn off their lights for one hour -- Earth Hour -- to make a global statement of concern about climate change and to demonstrate their commitment to finding solutions. Turn out. Take action. Be part of this historic event. I have signed up. It's easy.

This largest climate event in history will be celebrated around the globe. Just like New Years Eve, Earth Hour will travel from time zone to time zone starting at 8:30 p.m. in New Zealand. The United States will witness Earth Hour in cities like Miami, Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. These will join other US cities as well as others around the world, including Abu Dhabi, Amman, Auckland, Beijing, Bogota, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dubai, Guatemala City, Edinburgh, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Kiev, Kuala Lumpur, Lisbon, London, Manila, Mexico City, Moscow, Oslo, Rome, Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Vancouver, Wellington and Warsaw. For complete list of cities click here.
During Earth Hour 2008, the lights went out in the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Coliseum in Rome and the Sydney Opera House. Even Google's home page went dark for the day. Way to go, fellow Earth Muffins!!

Here's a video of some famous skylines before and during Earth Hour 2008. Enjoy!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cheap Gas From Joe

An oil pump operates on an off-shore rig in Lake Maracaibo, western Venezuela, in this June 17, 2004 file photograph. Venezuela on Thursday launched an ad campaign touting its cheap heating oil program for the U.S. poor as Washington faces criticism for doing little to protect consumers from high fuel prices. (Jorge Silva/Files/Reuters)

CITGO and Venezuela have partnered together to provide low-cost heating oil to seniors and other needy Americans in the colder US states. CITGO will be distributing 112 millions gallons of home heating oil to homes at a 40% reduction in cost. Each qualified homeowner can purchase up to 100 gallons at this lowered cost.

The savings from this low-cost fuel can be used to help in other financially strained areas. If you need help or you know someone who could use some help; click on this link to see if you qualify.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Canada's Sweeping Success at the Colossal Fossil Awards

I stole this article. This article was available for reposting; so, I copied it and am presenting it here for you. I have no shame in reposting this word for word. Dave Martin of Greenpeace did an excellent job of turning the talks into written word that condemns Canada's performance. I am absolutely appalled at my country's standing in the Colossal Fossil Awards held in Poznan, Poland.

Not only did we win the Colossal Fossil Award at the climate change talks for doing more than any other country to impede progress; but, we also managed to garner 10 daily fossil awards. Wow!! Is there no end to the lengths we'll go to win. But, gets better. You'd think after all this it just couldn't get any better; but, it does. We almost had last place in our grip; but, at the last moment, total success slipped from our grasp. We had to settle for 56th in a field of 57 countries on the international 2009 Climate Change Performance Index. Oh well, maybe next year...

Meanwhile, the article below is an amazing read. If you're Canadian, you'll be as embarrassed as I am.

December 22nd, 2008
Canada deserves ‘Colossal Fossil’ award
Dave Martin

[the following was posted on the Toronto Star web site, December 20, 2008]

As a non-governmental delegate to the United Nations climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, I was embarrassed to be Canadian. It was troubling that in the eyes of many of the 12,000 delegates, Stephen Harper has now replaced George W. Bush on the international stage as one of world’s worst climate change culprits.

Poznan was a crucial negotiation on the road to Copenhagen, where a momentous decision will be made in December 2009 on whether to extend and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol past 2012. Many delegates hoped that there would at least be a draft negotiating text coming out of Poznan, but thanks to Canada and its climate change cronies, the best we can hope for is to have text by June of next year.

Conference delegates were scratching their heads and wondering how Canada went from being a progressive force at the 2005 climate conference in Montreal, to being chosen for the second year in a row, by more than 400 non-governmental groups from around the world, as the most obstructive country at the negotiations. The answer is simple –Stephen Harper took power in January 2006.

Canada won 10 tongue-in-cheek “Fossil of the Day” awards during the two-week conference for being the country that did the most to block progress on a climate deal. This was enough to earn the grand prize of shame known as the “Colossal Fossil.”

There’s no doubt that Alberta’s tar sands are behind the government’s reluctance to get serious about global warming. Just before leaving Canada for the Poznan climate conference, Environment Minister Jim Prentice reassured an Alberta business audience, saying, “We will not aggravate an already weakening economy in the name of environmental progress. … Here in Alberta … it is understood that when we speak of environmental policy, we also speak of energy policy. And when we speak of energy policy, we speak of economic policy.”

So it came as no surprise that one of Canada’s first fossil awards was for arguing that emissions from oil and gas exports (including tar sands) should not be counted as part of our reduction target. The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Since the Kyoto Protocol was first approved in 1997, the science of climate change has become undeniable. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) demolished the few remaining false arguments of climate change deniers, and has confirmed that the global warming Armageddon is under way.

Millions of people are at risk. Arctic sea ice is melting 50 years earlier than anticipated; the world’s glaciers are disappearing; coral reefs are dying; devastating droughts and violent storms are rampant; forest fires and logging are destroying the last great forests; and loss of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets could see ocean levels rise more than 10 metres. This is not science fiction – it’s science fact.

Canada is the only country to have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and then wilfully ignored it – the country is now 30 per cent over our Kyoto target. At the Poznan conference, Canada continued to misrepresent its national target, hiding the fact that its “20 per cent reduction by 2020″ is based on 2006 levels, which is less than a 3 per cent reduction from the United Nations 1990 base year. With this pathetically weak target, Canada will not even reach its Kyoto target by 2020 (our legal obligation was a 6 per cent reduction by 2012).

Prentice claims Canada was a “constructive player” in Poznan, but Canada won a fossil award by opposing strengthened support for 25 to 40 per cent reductions by industrial countries by 2020. Prentice justified Canada’s position by arguing that the economy and environment have to be “balanced.”

Prentice also stated all countries have to make “an equality of effort,” and that we need a “symmetry of comparable efforts” from the United States, China and India. Conference delegates saw this as throwing a wrench into the works, and Canada won another fossil award. It is widely accepted that developing countries will take action once industrial countries have demonstrated a strong commitment.

To our embarrassment, Canada justified its poor performance in fighting greenhouse gas emissions by noting that the country is large and cold. This ignored the point that targets are set on historical levels, and Canada is not any larger or colder than it was in 1990. In fact, temperatures have increased, due to something called global warming. Yet another fossil award!

Prentice and chief Canadian negotiator Michael Martin deny that Canada blocked progress on negotiations in Poznan, but the simple fact is that Canada was a big part of the problem. It is shear hypocrisy for Jim Prentice to suggest that climate change is a “priority” for the Tories.

If the world is going strengthen and extend the Kyoto Protocol, we will have to have an agreement at the annual UN climate change conference that will be held in Copenhagen in December 2009. Time is running out.

Dave Martin is Climate and Energy Co-ordinator for Greenpeace Canada. He attended the United Nations climate conference in Poznan, Poland.

A Reader Says...

Craig White dropped by enquiring about more articles on pollution. Craig if you browse my previous blogs, you'll find that pollution is found in most of them. I intend to keep incorporating pollution into my blog; but, the problem is absolutely enormous. Sometimes in the work that I do as a private person trying to make a difference, the information I am exposed seems to make cleaning up pollution as likely as a mouse digging a grave for an elephant with a teaspoon before the corpse rots.

And then an interested party leaves a comment or a truly inspiring story crosses my path renewing my faith, my hope and my energy. Thanks for commenting, Craig. Craig points us to a good website: Theme Spinner

Take a look, readers - good site. I'll try to up the material on pollution.

Did You Know That...

Aniruddh Patel, a senior fellow at the Neurosciences Institute in California, received a link to Snowball, the dancing cockatoo, on from a friend. He decided to test if the cockatoo was really dancing. He got in touch with Snowball's owner, Irena Shulz, asking if she would help him study the bird's rhythm or lack thereof.

Patel send her CDs of the bird's favourite Backstreet Boys track at different tempos and had her videotape his routines. He then graphed Snowball's movements against the varying beats. Patel discovered that the frequent moments that Snowball locked onto the beat weren't by chance. They demonstrated sensitivity to rhythm and an ability to synchronize to it.

Snowball and I seem to share a love of Stevie Nicks so I have included a tape of Snowball practicing her backup dancing routine for her next road trip with Stevie.

If you notice Snowball dances using his/her left foot as the lead. Unlike people who are mostly right-handed, parrots are mostly left-footed.

K: We look forward to Sophie's debut!

Did You Know That...

Did you know that in his book, This Is Your Brain on Music (2006), cognitive psychologist and record producer Daniel J. Levitin alludes to a kind of Sardinian a capella music, in which, if the four male voices are perfectly balanced, a fifth female voice is conjured in the listener's mind. The Sardinians explain this voice as the Virgin Mary.

Friday, February 6, 2009

All Because of an Aquarium

Photo via Tim Sheerman-Chase

Home aquarists don’t always realize that their hobby can have an impact on the environment. Those that do tend to think of the impact being in the countries the fish are collected in. In previous blogs, I have talked about how the collection methods of some countries have led to coral reef destruction, species imbalance, pollution of the water, and other environmental tragedies.

Here’s a “home aquarium gone wrong story” that tackles it from the other end. The fish are causing the disaster in the country they were shipped to.

Lionfish are non-native to the Atlantic; but, since 1992 they've quickly been making themselves at home. Native fish are under attack, ecosystems are fending off an aggressive alien invader and divers are hyperventilating from pain if stung.

However, it was confirmed they’ve reached the Florida Keys when a 4” long lionfish (a juvenile male) was discovered in the Keys. This confirms the expected arrival of the non-native species.

The first documented Atlantic sightings came days after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when six lionfish were spotted in Biscayne Bay and traced to a private aquarium swept away from a Miami waterfront home. Now, they've spread and are becoming a real issue.

It is believed that lionfish hitched a ride north on the Gulf Stream, up the East Coast, as far as Rhode Island. Other currents and eddies led the lionfish to Bermuda, then to the Bahamas and farther south to the Caribbean as well as Belize. The lionfish was ''completing a loop'' by reaching the Keys, said Lad Akins, REEF's director of special projects.

Lionfish are visually stunning perpetual appetites. They a lot and they eat anything. Native fish don’t stand a chance against these aggressive non-stop eating machines. These ever-decreasing native fish play a vital role in balancing the ecosystems in the Atlantic.

''Lionfish are eating their way through the [Atlantic] reefs like a plague of locusts,'' said Mark Hixon, a coral reef ecology expert at Oregon State University. ``This may well become the most devastating marine invasion in history.''

In a 2008 University of Oregon State study, the first to quantify the severity of the situation, research teams observed one lionfish gorging on 20 small fish in less than 30 minutes.

Scientists fear the lionfish will kill off helpful species, such as algae-eating parrotfish, allowing seaweed to overtake reefs.

Researchers feel this “may well become the most devastating marine invasion in history”.

Government officials worried about safety and the impact on diving tourism (apparently, lionfish stings hurt a lot), have asked the public to report any lionfish sighting to the REEF office at 305-852-0030.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Holy River With An Unholy Problem

Considered one of India’s holiest rivers, the Ganges is now facing one of the most unholy of problems. The assault is three-pronged: chemical pollution, overload of raw sewage, and the possibility (read probability) that its Himalayan source, the Gangotri glacier, will dry up.

The first thing that a traveller to India learns is not to drink the tap water. And with good reason: millions of tons of untreated sewage are dumped daily into India’s rivers – and some of them, such as the holy Yamuna and Ganges rivers – are slowly choking to death, jeopardizing the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Soon, the sight of children jumping into the Ganges for a swim may be a thing of the past.

"We talk a lot about industrial pollution of our rivers, but sewage pollution is a big problem," said Sunita Narain, the director of the Centre for Science and Environment. "What is happening to the Yamuna is reflective of what is happening in almost every river in India. The Yamuna is dead; we just haven't officially cremated it yet."

Some of these rivers are the only source of water for drinking and domestic use for many poor Indian citizens. Tourists can always rely on packaged water for the duration with relatively no impact on them; but, the impact of industrial and human waste is worsening the water crisis in a country that depends on its rivers for water for both agricultural use and human consumption.

A study done by the Central Pollution Control Board showed that around 70 percent of the pollution in the Yamuna River is human excrement. In large metropolises such as New Delhi, 3.6 billion tons of sewage alone is dumped daily. This amount is from just one major city in India. It horrifies me to imagine how much raw sewage enters our water system daily worldwide.

Only half of the amount of sewage that enters the Yamuna River is effectively treated and the rest flows down the Yamuna, resulting in widespread waterborne illnesses such as diarrhea from drinking and bathing in the affected water.

Untreated sewage means anything that gets flushed down a toilet is untreated. Let’s look at (not literally) what gets flushed that could harm us:

1. Prescription pills: what leaves the body normally and unused pills that are flushed so family members won’t accidentally take them.
2. Non-prescription medications: when drug dealers flush their drugs during a raid it gets into our water system.
3. Condom contents: I think I’ve said enough.
4. Disease contagions: contagions which can cause others to become infected can be sometimes contained in feces and/or urine of the infected person.
5. Infectious bacteria: untreated sewage tends to ferment and stagnate becoming very infectious especially if there is an open wound involved.
6. Other bodily fluids: blood, vomit, etc.

The problem lies mostly with poorly utilized waste water treatment plants combined with an outdated system of drainage. There are over 300 plants; but, most are poorly located and treated waste is often combined with untreated sewage and deposited back into rivers. Half of the drains in India are considered inadequate.

Narain said that in order to meet the pressures of rapid industrialization and urbanization, India’s sewage management and treatment systems need to be overhauled and the rivers cleaned up.

"We should first look at effectively treating our waste water," said Narain. "And then using it for drinking or as irrigation rather than just throwing it back into the rivers."

Now, climate experts are warning of a new danger. The rising sea levels are causing salt water to flow into the Ganges, harming riverine ecosystems and transforming farmlands into unproductive soil. Once salt enters the soil it is impossible to use as agricultural land again unless the soil can be desalinated.

"This phenomenon is called extension of salt wedge," said Pranabes Sanyal, representative of the National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) for eastern India.

"It will salinate the groundwater of Kolkata and turn agricultural lands barren in adjoining rural belts."

The sea is rising around 3.14 mm annually in some parts of the Bay of Bengal, compared to the global average of 2 mm. India already has more than its share of natural disasters, famine and disease; but, the rising seawater level threatens even more severe consequences.

Already scientists at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University have found mangroves growing along the riverbanks of Kolkata. As plants that typically grow in brackish, saline coastal areas, their appearance in this area is worrying especially since seawater fish have been seen in the freshwater river.

"We fear what happened 6,500 years ago might recur and we have already spotted more saline water fish in the river," Sanyal said, referring to the fact that the Bay of Bengal’s waters once extended up to the northern fringe of Kolkata, a city of 12 million people.

A video on the drying up of the Gangotri river.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Alaska Sues To Keep Beluga Whales Off The Endangered List

Once again, Gov. Sarah Palin shows not only her love of and commitment to the environment; but, also the integrity of both herself and her office. It would seem that she is openly on the side of whichever team is winning; whichever side will garner her most publicity; whichever side will prove most beneficial to her career; and, whichever side has the most money she can leave with.

Fresh from her defeat (and the environment’s gain) only six months ago when she tried to keep polar bears off the endangered species list comes Alaska’s (read Gov. Sarah Palin) plans to sue over the increased protection of beluga whales in the Cook Inlet.

Only five groups of beluga whales live in US waters off Alaska. Scientists listed the beluga whales as endangered last year after determining the whale would face extinction in less than 100 years. The population in the Cook Inlet has already dwindled to 375 from thousands.

Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, all federally funded or permitted activities in the Cook Inlet are now subject to review.

“It's warranted because the beluga population near Anchorage may already be recovering through cooperative state and federal management efforts,” Gov. Sarah Palin said.

"This (endangered species) listing didn't take those efforts into account as required by law," Palin said in a press release posted online.

Alaska Attorney General Talis Colberg found alleged procedural errors in the decision by the National Marine Fisheries. They also accused the Fisheries Service for not adequately explaining or building a strong enough case to explain why the Cook Inlet whales should be regarded as a “distinct population” worthy of special protection.

"Failure to consider protection measures already in place and failure to document and support key elements of this decision are major flaws in the final rule," Colberg said.

But various Alaska scientists and environmental groups close to the controversy criticized the lawsuit.

"It seems the Palin administration only likes one kind of science -- the kind it agrees with," said Craig Matkin, an Alaska marine mammal specialist with the North Gulf Oceanic Society. "Every objective expert who's looked at this small and isolated (beluga) population agrees it should be listed." Audubon Alaska scientist John Schoen noted that the protective status for local belugas was strongly endorsed by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission empanelled by Congress.

Palin has warned that special beluga protections could do "serious long-term damage to the vibrant economy of Cook Inlet”. Besides being home to the well-known city of Anchorage, the basin is also a mature oil-producing area. Could this be the “vibrant economy” Palin is referring to?

This isn't the first time Palin has put Big Oil before the environment; and; her past behaviour proves, it won't be the last. "Gov. Palin seems more than willing to sacrifice endangered whales on the altar of oil companies," said Brendan Cummings, director of The Center for Biological Diversity.

“The endangered species designation doesn't have to turn into an economic calamity,” said Bob Shavelson, director of the Cook Inletkeeper organization, which advocates protecting the estuary's sealife and habitat while harvesting the Inlet's resources.

"Responsible development and endangered species can co-exist," Shavelson said. "The Palin administration should respect the science and the rule of law -- not throw public tax dollars at a frivolous lawsuit."

There are two main questions that need to be answered before the designation of “endangered species” can be granted. They are:
1. Are these belugas a separate species or subspecies than other belugas?
2. Is the number of belugas diminishing as rapidly as scientists claim?

Part of the answer lives on in archival materials.

In 1979 an aerial survey of the inlet belugas by University of Alaska biologists estimated their numbers at about 1,300 animals. In 1994 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biologists only found half that many. By 1998, the population had fallen to 347, NMFS said.

That prompted strict controls on the Alaska Native subsistence harvest of the Cook Inlet whales under terms of the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Still, the beluga population in the inlet has been slow to respond, federal biologists say. The present population is estimated at about 375 whales.

Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd thinks that represents progress. "The population is stable and beginning to recover," Lloyd said in the governor's press release.

In a nine-page "notice of intent to file a lawsuit" Colberg also questioned whether the Cook Inlet belugas should be distinguished from four other populations that thrive off the coastline of western and northern Alaska.

Federal scientists say the answer is yes -- that Cook Inlet is home to the only beluga population south of the Alaska Peninsula and its glacial fjord and tidal estuary setting in particular provides a unique whale habitat.

Says Colberg: "These two determinations are inadequately documented." Sounds kind of lame when you consider Palin has announced that her stand is "Drill, Baby, Drill."

Check out the petition at:

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mercury Linked to High Fructose Corn Syrup

Now you don't have to eat fish to get your allotted share of mercury - it's available on the grocery store shelf.

Mercury, a proven toxin, is the focus of two studies concentrating of the correlation between the presence of mercury in foods that contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). High glucose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn that is used as a replacement for sugar. It is used extensively in cereals, drinks, breads, lunch meats, yogurt, soup, condiments and other food stuffs.

A recent look at HFCS in foods was done by the Institute for Agriculture and Trace Policy (IATP). The group chose 55 brand name foods and beverages that listed HFCS as their first or second ingredient and had them tested for mercury.

Almost one-third of them tested positive for mercury, which was found most prevalent in dairy products, dressings and condiments. No mercury was found in the majority of beverages that were tested. The Institute noted the lack of mercury in beverages as very important as this is where the highest source of HFCS are found in diets. Items high on the list of mercury content include Quaker Oatmeal to Go; Jack Daniel's and Kraft Barbeque sauce; Hershey's Chocolate Syrup and Nutri-Grain strawberry cereal bars.

The IATP cautions, though, that it only had one sample of each product tested, and the report findings (PDF) are not a confirmation that all of one product will contain mercury.

A different study conducted in 2005; but, just recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Health, looked at 20 samples of commercial HFCS from three different manufacturers. The found detectable levels of mercury in nine of the samples (nearly 50%). Concluding that the mercury contamination was not known in the industry, the research was made known to the US Food and Drug Administration at the time. Unfortunately, the IATP notes that FDA has done nothing to change industry practices nor to inform the consumers.

It is thought that mercury makes its way into food due to practices earlier in the supply chain. Caustic soda is one of the ingredients used to separate corn starch from corn kernels. Some industrial chlorine plants that produce caustic soda still use mercury in their production resulting in mercury-contaminated caustic soda resulting in mercury-contaminated HFCS.

Although many plants that produce caustic soda have switched to mercury-free methods; four U.S. plants and about 60 percent of European caustic soda production uses mercury.

The IATP points out that is it possible to switch all caustic soda to mercury-free production. They also recommend the FDA ban the use of mercury-grade ingredients as well as revisit its approval of HFCS as "natural" and "generally recognized as safe."

Since it is impossible to tell which HGCS is tainted with mercury it is recommended that consumers avoid foods with HFCS especially those with it high up on the ingredient list.

African Animals and Ripe Marula Fruit

African animals love ripe marula fruit and the following video shows why.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Greenest Ecoresort In The World?

Image via Monterey Bay Shores

This month, February 2009, construction is scheduled to begin on the “greenest ecoresort in the world”. The resort is to be called Monterey Bay Shores and will be built in Monterey, California.

The site chosen for the resort is a 29-acre section of sand dune that has been destroyed by 60 years of mining. As part of a revitalization effort, the ecoresort will actively provide habitats for endangered species, boast 5 acres of living roofs and get 30% of its power from onsite solar and wind systems.

The developers claim that "every single detail of Monterey Bay Shores Ecoresort encompasses principles of sustainability and conservation," and that they've left no eco-stone unturned in pursuit of developing the most environmentally friendly resort ever created.

Here's what that means.

The Greenest Ecoresort's Eco-Checklist

-Six and a half of the 29 acres will be dedicated to providing a protected habitat for endangered species and rehabilitating the coastline.

-It will aim for LEED platinum certification

-It's been estimated that the resort will have 50 percent less of a carbon footprint than traditional structures, according to SNG, the resort's developers. How will it manage that? From SNG:

• Design: Designed in harmony with the site, the plans consider topography, orientation and scale of existing and restored dune formations
• Position: The property is set further back from the shoreline than required by local zoning to provide a buffer for habitat and natural coastal processes
• Materials & Construction: Maximum use of recycled building materials, onsite prefab construction and intelligent building operations
• Living Architecture: Five acres of living roofs which mitigate stormwater, and provide insulation and cooling, leave only 1.5 acres of non-native vegetative cover on the ecoresort
• Renewable Energy: Thirty percent of energy needs are provided by onsite renewable sources to power the building's functions – geothermal, wind and solar systems to be deployed
• Water Conservation: Unparalleled water conservation measures – onsite graywater recycling, complete stormwater management and rainwater capture for non potable uses (laundry and irrigation)
• Optimization of Natural Resources: Wind, light and moveable shades enable the ecoresort to utilize the natural advantages of the site

Also, there'll be an onsite sustainability learning center that offers classes, electric and biofueled transportation for guests, and a portion of the resort's profits will reportedly fund local environmental projects.

And, since it's in California, US residents won't have to fly to get there — perhaps the biggest setback for "eco" resorts on tropical islands and around the world.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Every Little Bit Helps

So simple even I can do it and just did. The Dutch communications company Spranq has designed a new environmentally-friendly font they have named the Ecofont.

It is free to download from their site complete with instructions for the computer-challenged.

This font is simplicity itself patterned after a dutch cheese with a similar look. As the designers say, “After Dutch holey cheese, there now is a Dutch font with holes as well.”

The Ecofont saves on printing ink by using less of it. Letters in the typeface contain multiple small circular holes. Obviously, this means that each letter requires less ink to be printed.

Though rather striking, the typeface is wholly readable (no pun intended) and is, apparently, most effective at nine or 10 point. It's also sans serif, because the little flourishes on serif fonts use more ink when being printed.

Spranq claims that the Ecofont will reduce ink use by up to 20% - not bad for something that was developed over "lots of late hours (and coffee)".
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the font is the question it raises: why hasn't anybody thought of this before? Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that take the longest to be seen.

Spranq actively encourages printing as little as possible and "hopes to increase environmental awareness" through the Ecofont.

However, innovative thinking like this is a positive step in conservation on any scale. Download the Ecofont, try it, see if you like it – you can’t go wrong.