Monday, February 28, 2011

There is no Such Thing as Clean Coal

Coal smog in China. Photo courtesy: Haldini via Flickr/CC BY-SA via TreeHugger

China is beginning to see the costs of its rapid march towards industrialization -- the heavy industry, coal-fired power plants, and numerous factories have so saturated the air with pollution that cancer is officially now the number one cause of death. Nearly 25% of deaths in China are now attributed to cancer. The Earth Policy Institute gleaned as much from China's own Ministry of Health -- and tragically but unsurprisingly, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in China.

EPI reports:
As is common with many countries as they industrialize, the usual plagues of poverty--infectious diseases and high infant mortality--have given way to diseases more often associated with affluence, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. While this might be expected in China's richer cities, where bicycles are fast being traded in for cars and meat consumption is climbing, it also holds true in rural areas. In fact, reports from the countryside reveal a dangerous epidemic of "cancer villages" linked to pollution from some of the very industries propelling China's explosive economy. By pursuing economic growth above all else, China is sacrificing the health of its people, ultimately risking future prosperity.

Dirty air is associated with not only a number of cancers, but also heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease, which together account for over 80 percent of deaths countrywide.
And the number one contributor to that deadly pollution? You get three guesses, and here's a hint. It's also the number one contributor to global climate change. Yep, it's coal, which China burns at a pace that left even the US in the dust some time ago.

Again, EPI explains that "According to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the burning of coal is responsible for 70% of the emissions of soot that clouds out the sun in so much of China; 85% of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain and smog; and 67% of nitrogen oxide, a precursor to harmful ground level ozone. Coal burning is also a major emitter of carcinogens and mercury, a potent neurotoxin."

In other words, coal is literally killing China. As has been noted thousands of times before, the greatest crisis China faces as it becomes an increasingly industrialized, consumption-oriented nation is that of its environment. Air quality is ghastly, lakes once full of fresh water have been turned toxic, and the population is suffering. That recent, massive investments in clean technology indicate China is maneuvering to clean up its act down the line is hardly a consolation -- but at least there are signs that change is in motion.

Via TreeHugger

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Liberia Barcodes Trees to Protect Rainforest



Barcode used on trees. Photo courtesy: diongillard via Flickr CC via TreeHugger

Barcoding seems to be the conservation concept of the day, and that goes for sparing trees from illegal logging. The latest country to use the technology is Liberia, and at least one expert thinks that barcoding trees to protect timber production could make the country a "poster child for a new green economy in Africa."

The rainforests of Liberia, like rainforests nearly everywhere, are under threat from illegal logging. However, implementing a new technology involving barcodes could save the day. Fred Pearce of Yale Environment360 reports on Liberia's new technique. He notes that Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the European Union have signed a deal to strengthen the country's timber industry by requiring every harvestable tree and every log to have a barcode that tracks it from its original location to its final destination.

The tags are from SGS, a Swiss-based company, and the requirement that every piece of timber coming from Liberia must carry a barcode will start in early 2013. Each tree gets a tag while still standing, and when it is cut, each log gets a barcode. Those barcodes must be traceable back to a stump in the forest.

While the system is called the "world's most advanced nationwide verification system for wood products", Pearce notes, "This is critical for a country desperate to boost timber exports. But it is also a potential threat to Liberia's forests, which cover more than 4 million hectares, 45% of the country. They are home to the world's only known viable population of pygmy hippos, as well as such indigenous wildlife as the Liberian mongoose, the Diana monkey, and the small antelope known as Jentink's duiker, which is the rarest duiker in the world."

The risks are high, but even environmentalists are hopeful that the new system will help Liberia form a "green economy" that keeps logging in check -- not only that, but to show the world how reigning in logging efforts can be profitable.

Pearce's article provides a good deal of history about Liberia, and why the barcoding system is just one of many issues the country must get a grip on in order to find footing after years of civil war.

Another company behind barcodes for trees is Helveta, which uses plastic barcode tags hammered into trees. Forest managers use handheld devices to scan the tags when the tree is cut and upload the information to a secure database, which then allows for the tree to be tracked through the inventory stream, as well as generate inventory maps, management reports and audit histories. Here's a video on how that technology works:



Via TreeHugger

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why Eat More Vegetarian

A vegetarian curry. Photo courtesy: cookfood

For Your Health - Fad diets come and go; but, no one disagrees that getting more fruits and vegetables into your diet has a protective effect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes; and, other illnesses. The recommended 10+ servings per day of fruit and veggies are hard to get when animal products make up a significant portion of a person's calories.

Animal products also contain much more fat than plant-based foods. Vegetarians are, on average, 10 to 20 pounds lighter than meat-eaters. Another bonus is that fruit and vegetables travel through your system faster than meat helping to reduce stomach, intestinal and colon cancers.

To Fight Global Warming - Worldwide, animal agriculture exceeds transportation as the leading source of greenhouse gases. Cows produce a lot of methane, which has over 23 times the global warming of CO2 plus when the transportation costs involved in the slaughtering and meat distribution are added in, the figures go through the roof.

For The Earth - There are more pigs than humans on this planet; and, nearly 50% of the water and 80% of the agricultural land in North America are used in the raising of animals for food. Topsoil loss from growing animal feed rivals global warming as a threat to our survival.

For Compassionate Reasons - (my personal favourite) While a small family farm may be the exception to the rule, 97% of farm animals in Canada are raised on huge factory farms, where they live often hellish lives of intensive confinement for extended periods. Vote with your dollars and your fork not to support that cruelty.

To Protect The Oceans - The world's fisheries are grossly over-fished and depleted. Catches of wild fish are dropping by several million tons a year. Help the ocean regain its biodiversity by avoiding fish and seafood.

For Social Justice - (my other personal favourite) There is a direct connection between the increasing desire for meat and the millions of people starving worldwide, as more and more land is diverted to growing crops to feed animals.

Find out more at: www.earthsave.ca/articles

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mushrooms Could Be The Answer To World Hunger

A mushroom beginning to emerge from the soil. Photo courtesy: Waldo Jaquith, used under Creative Commons license

Mushrooms are being used in a number of ways to improve the environment naturally. From breaking down disposable diapers to cleaning up pollution, killing pests and recycling nutrients, mushrooms are not just for salads anymore.



Now Science Daily is reporting on research that suggests that seeding agricultural soils with special mushrooms could drastically reduce fertilizer use and help feed the world.

Reporting on research by Ian Sanders of the University of Lusanne, Switzerland, Daily Science informs us that fungi reduce the need for fertilizer in agriculture. Because plants form symbiotic relationships with certain mushrooms, known as mycorrhizal fungi, and because those mushrooms acquire nutrients — and specifically phosphate — and make it available to plants, they act as an extension of plants' root systems, drastically reducing the need for phosphate fertilizers.

Sanders studies mycorrhizal fungi, a type of fungus that live in symbiosis with plant roots. When plants make symbioses with these fungi they tend to grow larger because the fungi acquire the essential nutrient phosphate for the plant. Phosphate is a key component of the fertilizers that fueled the Green Revolution in middle of the 20th century that made it possible then for agriculture to keep up with the growing global population.

"In most tropical soils plants have enormous difficulty in obtaining phosphate and so farmers have to spend a huge amount of money on phosphate fertilizer. Farmers have to add much more fertilizer than in temperate regions and a very large amount of the cost to produce food is the cost of phosphate," says Sanders.

Given the threat that peak fertilizer represents to Global agriculture, and given the fact that the world's population continues to rise, it makes sense that researchers are looking for ways to reduce dependence on artificial fertilizers and increase fertility in soils. Because tropical soils are particularly lacking in mycorrhizal fungi, researchers have been working on biotechnology breakthroughs that allow huge quantities of mycorrhizal fungi spores to be suspended in gel and shipped to farmers around the world. Field tests are currently underway in Colombia to assess the impact of these preparations on crop yields.

It's worth noting that mycorrhizal fungi have long been an obsession of many permaculturists and backyard food growers too. From no-dig gardening to creating perennial polycultures, there are many ways to protect and nurture the fungi within your own soil. It's also possible to buy mycorrhizal fungi to introduce into your garden on a homescale—and you can even purchase cardboard boxes that are embedded with tree seeds and mushroom spores too.

Of course shipping non-native species of fungi around the world and applying them to soils may carry its own risks. The original article does not mention the dangers of upsetting the natural biodiversity of the soil, or releasing potentially invasive species into the wild. A quick Google search brings up research suggesting mycorrhizal fungi have the potential to be invasive, but that they are not likely to be harmful to ecosystems.

Via TreeHugger

Thursday, February 24, 2011

EnviroFunFact

A Hawksbill turtle swimming off Hondurus. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Baby turtles are hardwired to swim the second they feel weightless. If you pick up a newly-hatched turtle using one finger on each side of the shell so the hatchling feels weightless, his/her legs will immediately start paddling and they will move their heads upwards imitating the taking of a breath.

Baby turtles that hatch in a nursery must be released a distance from the ocean. On the day of their release, they are released up the beach from the water. Scientists have determined through their research that the little paddlers need to cross a determined amount of sand in order to come back to this beach during egg-laying time. The time spent making it to the water is needed to imprint the location of this beach in the female's brains so they can return to this same stretch of beach many years later to lay their own eggs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Two Brazilian Environmentalists Murdered in Rainforest


Whatever the problem, whatever the cruelty, whatever the injustice - look for the money. Unfortunately, the love of money has no boundaries it won't break; no living creature it won't destroy; no crime it won't commit; no heart it won't break; no depravity it won't sink to.

This has been proved once again. This time deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Two incredibly brave environmentalists were murdered by snipers hiding in the undergrowth. How brave! Couldn't face an unarmed middle-aged man and his wife. Their mothers must be so proud of them.

The motive? José Cláudio and his wife Maria were unfailing in their attempts to bring worldwide attention to the illegal logging in the rainforest. Stopping the illegal logging would mean the loss of millions in illegal dollars. The choice was clear - the environmentalists had to be stopped at all costs.

The world is a poorer place for the loss of these two brave friends of the planet. RIP: José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger via TreeHugger

According to reports from Brazilian media, two environmentalists known for their outspoken opposition to deforestation in the Amazon have been killed in a manner investigators are describing as an execution. José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espírito Santo, his wife, were found shot to death near their settlement in the Brazilian state of Para, where they offered firsthand accounts of illegal logging. Just six months earlier Ribeiro da Silva foreshadowed his own demise: "I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs."

Roberto Smeraldi, founder and director of the environmental group Amigos da Terra, who worked with Da Silva in the Amazon, said he had been in a meeting with Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, discussing changes to the forest code when the news broke of Da Silva being killed. "He was convinced he would be killed one day," Smeraldi said. He added that Da Silva had been "very active" in the fight against illegal forest burning and logging. According to Brazilian media reports, Rousseff has asked her chief of staff, Gilberto Carvalho, to offer support to the murder investigation.

Police delegate Marcos Augusto Cruz says that the two Amazon activists were heading back towards their camp early this morning when they were shot and killed by snipers. "The perpetrators were already lying in wait. They waited there for the victims to commit murder," Cruz said in an interview with G1 Globo.

According to a local newspaper, Diário do Pará, the couple had not had police protection despite getting frequent death threats because of their battle against illegal loggers and ranchers.

"Absolutely, it was a crime to order, at the behest of someone. The characteristics are typical of an execution," added Cruz.

"We now have another Chico Mendes," said Felipe Milanez, an environmental journalist from São Paulo, referring to the Amazonian rubber-tapper who became an environmental martyr after his murder in 1988. Milanez said that in a recent phone conversation with Da Silva's wife she had suggested the situation was "getting very ugly". Milanez added: "He knew the threats were very real. He was scared."

Photo courtesy: Amazoon Press via TreeHugger

According to police, no suspects have yet been named in the murders, though in a speech made recently at a TEDx conference, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva spoke about the numerous threats he faces for rising in defense of the Amazon rainforest:
I could be here today talking to you and in one month you will get the news that I disappeared. I will protect the forest at all costs. That is why I could get a bullet in my head at any moment ... because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers, and that is why they think I cannot exist.

[People] ask me, 'are you afraid?' Yes, I'm a human being, of course I am afraid. But my fear does not silence me. As long as I have the strength to walk I will denounce all of those who damage the forest.

In this video, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva talks about his life, his environmental work and his hopes for the futures. If you cannot understand the language, there is a very small button marked "cc" on the bottom of the video. This stands for closed captions and will allow you to follow his talk via subtitles if you don't speak Spanish. One of the best nine minutes you'll ever spend.



Both forest activists had been active in reporting deforestation in the Amazon since 1997, though in recent years they'd come under threat from unknown assailants. According to a family member of the murdered environmentalists, Claudelice Silva dos Santos, the couple's house had been ransacked previously, and guns had been fired near their residence on prior occasions.

"Many people had an interest in his death," says Claudelice.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has issued a full investigation into the murders.

A 2008 report compiled by Brazilian human rights groups listed Da Silva as one of dozens of Amazon human rights and environmental activists "considered at risk" of assassination.

Via TreeHugger and guardian

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Floating Natural Gas Processing Plant - OMG!!

An example of a floating power plant. Photo courtesy: floatingpowerplant

Someone once said that we must remember the past in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the futures. It would appear that we have learned nothing at all from all the havoc we have wrought upon the planet. Catastrophes I have blogged about: the nuclear accident in Japan; the BP oil spill in the gulf; exploding Gulf water samples; the ship loaded with toxic waste that went down in Madagascar; and, many others.

Did we learn anything from the devastation; loss of aquatic life, loss of jobs and income; lack of corporate responsibility; and, consequences that will extend past our lifetimes? Obviously not. Personally, I have already bent over and kissed my butt good-bye just in case I don't have the time when actually required. I like to plan ahead.

Read on friends. The horror unfolds.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC will construct the biggest floating man-made object ever, a natural gas processing plant longer than four football fields and more massive than any aircraft carrier.

The “Prelude FLNG” facility, to be anchored off the Australian coast, will be made of 260,000 tons of steel — five times more than Sydney’s famed Harbour Bridge, Shell said.

It is designed to take in the equivalent of 110,000 barrels per day in gas from undersea fields 200 kilometers (125 miles) off Australia’s Northwest coast and cool it into liquefied natural gas, known as LNG.

Australia is awash in natural gas, and is eager to sell it to the booming economies of Asia.

In order for natural gas to be shipped overseas, it must be cooled to -260 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature the gas becomes a liquid that takes up just 0.2 percent of the volume of the gas, allowing more gas to be packed onto a ship. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. Liquefied natural gas may be odorless, colorless, non-toxic and non-corrosive; but, hazards include flammability, freezing and asphyxia.

The Australian oil and gas company Woodside is set to begin production at a giant onshore liquid natural gas facility in Western Australia this year and is considering doubling its size.

Shell claimed the plant will be able to withstand category 5 cyclones, the worst type of storms, and is planned to remain moored above the Prelude gas field for 25 years after completion.

Shell said the plant will be built in a South Korean shipyard but did not say how much it would cost.

A company spokeswoman declined to set a date for the plant’s completion date, but noted the Prelude gas field is scheduled to start production around 2017.

“We don’t give specific guidance on project level spend, but we are making a substantial investment in Australia LNG,” said spokeswoman Kirsten Smart in an email.

Shell plans $30 billion in various investments in Australia over the coming five years, the company has said.

“This project is certainly competitive with more traditional Australian LNG developments on a cost and economics basis,” Smart wrote.

Financial newswire Dow Jones cited Australia’s Resources Minister Martin Ferguson as saying the project will benefit the country’s economy by creating around 1,000 jobs and contributing A$12 billion ($12.8 billion) in tax revenues over 25 years.

Read more on their website: shell.com
To leave feedback on the project or make an enquiry, use: www.shell.com.au/emailshell
Mailing address: Shell Australia, PO Box 872K, Melbourne Vic 3000
If you are in Australia or wish to phone: (03) 9666 5444 (switchboard)
If you wish to fax: (03) 8823 4800 (general)

Via Washington Post

Monday, February 21, 2011

Flying Drunk in Australia


A rainbow lorikeet in the wild. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

Every year around this time, medical offices in Australia are deluged with cases of loud drunks that are so intoxicated they've tumbled to the ground. No, they aren't rowdy rugby fans who've had one too many-- they're lorikeets, a colorful parrot species native to the region that has a penchant for booze. So far, veterinarians in Darwin have treated more than a few super-buzzed birds that have apparently fallen from the sky because they're flying under the influence. Tame lorikeets are known for their mischevious antics; and, are known as the "bad boys" of the parrot world.

According to Wikipedia, the colorful lorikeet is described as having a tendency "to be hyperactive and clownish in personality both in captivity and the wild," but such similarities with frat-house revelers doesn't end there. The birds are infamous for causing quite the racket on the outskirts of town, much to the chagrin of their sleeping human neighbors -- but when booze is thrown into the mix, even well-trained vets use some fairly harsh words to describe them.

"I know they're not popular. They're lovely pets, but evil when wild," says Dr. Stephen Cutter, a veterinarian from an animal hospital in Darwin.



A report from Australia's Herald Sun suggests that humans are probably not responsible for creating the boisterous band of boozed-up birds -- rather, it could be part of a natural process.
Dr Cutter said the birds were unlikely to be drinking alcohol but might eat from a plant that causes them to become drunk. "It's probably a plant with alcohol - or toxins in a plant making it worse," he said.

Dr Cutter added that the animal hospital already received about half a dozen sick parrots so far this year.
Hanging out on a balcony. Photo courtesy: flickr.com

Here's to hoping that lorikeets will do their part in easing the problem cases of drunken birds falling from the sky by drinking in moderation, or at the very least, not taking to the air after they've had a few too many. In other words, straighten up and fly right.

Do these lorikeets drunk or evil or both? Photo courtesy: HeraldSun

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Can Restoration of a Collapsed Area Succeed?

A distressed species the leaves may return but will likely never be the same. Photo credit: pjan vandaele/Creative Commons via TreeHugger

Human activity creates countless disturbances in ecosystems around the world. Everything from the introduction of disease to habitat destruction, pollution to temperature changes have the power to alter local environments and, sometimes, even lead to the complete collapse of certain populations.

What happens when these disturbances are removed, however, remains somewhat unknown. Now, new research offers a hint—and unfortunately, the outlook for impacted ecosystems is not good.

Tucker Gilman, a researcher at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, created a mathematical model that simulated ecological disturbances and the mechanisms that lead to hybridization of a species.

What he found was that when disturbances are removed, collapsed populations can rebound but often it is too late to preserve the ecosystem's original biodiversity. "The model shows," Gilman explains, "that populations after collapse are likely to be different from the parental populations in ways that affect the future evolution of the system."

Disturbances that led to population declines caused hybridization, which, he says, eventually results in smaller populations and less genetic diversity across the ecosystem — even when disturbances are later removed.

"The encouraging news from an ecosystems service point of view is that, if we act quickly, we may be able to refill ecological niches emptied by species collapse," Gilman says, "however, even if we can refill the niches, we probably won't be able to bring back the same species that we lost."

Via TreeHugger

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New European Ash Cloud - Volcano Erupts

Picture shows the growing ash plume from the Grimsvotn volcano, under the Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland, as its eruption begins... Photo courtesy: Yahoo!News

An eruption by Iceland's most active volcano was set to keep the island's main airport shut while other European nations watched for any impact on their air routes from a towering plume of smoke and ash.

Experts said they saw little chance of a repeat of last year's six-day closure of airspace, which also hit transatlantic flights, when another Icelandic volcano erupted, although airlines have been warned the new ash cloud will drift.

So far Iceland, particularly the towns and villages to the south and east of the Grimsvotn volcano, has suffered most.

Day turned into night when a thick cloud of ash descended on the area, smothering cars and buildings.

The cloud had also begun to drift over the capital Reykjavik by late Sunday evening and the civil aviation authority said the prospects for re-opening the main international airport on Monday were not good.

Europe's air traffic control organization warned on its website that ash could spread southwards.

"Ash cloud is expected to reach North Scotland on Tuesday 24th May. If volcanic emissions continue with same intensity, cloud might reach west French airspace and north Spain on Thursday 26th May," Eurocontrol said in a traffic bulletin.

The agency, which set up a crisis unit after bad coordination was blamed for worsening last year's crisis, said no closures outside Iceland were expected on Monday or Tuesday.

Airlines as far away as Australia said they were monitoring the situation after travel and freight disruption rippled across the globe and cost the industry some $1.7 billion last year.

Iceland's meteorological office said the plume from Grimsvotn, which last exploded in 2004, had fallen in height from a peak of about 25 km (16 miles) in the hours after the eruption and was now holding steady.

"It has been steady all night just below 10 kilometers," met office forecaster Teitur Arason said, adding current wind conditions were spreading the ashes in separate directions.

"The winds are a two chapter story. The winds high in the air, above 25,000 feet or there about, are southeasterly, so that ash is blow to the north and then later to the east.

"But at lower levels, the winds are northerly and therefore those ashes are blowing southward."

The eruption was much stronger than the one at a volcano further south last year which closed European airspace and halted transatlantic flights last April, due to worries that particles could get into aircraft engines and cause accidents.

"It could lead to some disruption, but only for a very limited time and only over a very limited area," said University of Iceland Professor of Geophysics Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson.

"We see some signs that the (eruption's) power is declining a bit, but it is still quite powerful," he said, adding that the eruption was the most violent at the volcano since 1873.

Gudmundsson and other vulcanologists said the impact on air travel this time would be more limited as winds were more favorable, the plume's content was heavier and less likely to spread, and authorities had a higher tolerance for ash levels.

Some airlines complained that authorities had been excessively cautious in imposing blanket closures of airspace during last year's eruption.

Icelandair, the main airline on the island, stopped flights on Sunday and said on its website the halt could continue on Monday. It said 6,000 passengers had been affected by cancellations so far.

Dave Mcgarvie, vulcanologist at Britain's Open University, said any ash which reached Britain would be less than last year and added that experience gained since the 2010 eruption would lead to less disruption.

In emailed comments, he said "minor re-routing" should enable aircraft to avoid zones where ash is concentrated.

Grimsvotn lies under the Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland, the largest glacier in Europe.

Areas to the south of glacier have been covered in thick layers of ash and the sun was blocked out for several hours.

"It was like night is during the winter," said Benedikt Larusson, speaking in the town of Kirkjubaejarklaustur. "Now it is a little bit better. Now I can see about 100 metres, but before it was about one meter."

Via Yahoo!News

Friday, February 18, 2011

Where Have All The Ladybirds Gone?


As a child, I remember being fascinated by ladybirds. They were everywhere with their armour-like wings that formed a shield when folded. I used to be like every other child - I would hold a ladybird delicately on my finger and sing the old rhyme. "Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home. Your house is on fire, your children alone." Then I would blow ever so gently on the little luck bug to speed her on her way home. Now, I rarely see one; but, they still enthrall me.

One of the great mysteries of the insect world right now ranking up there with the loss of winged pollinators in general is what has happened to North America's native ladybug species? About 20 years ago, they started to "fly away" just like the nursery rhyme. There are still ladybugs to be found; but, the chances are they are not native ladybugs. One formerly widespread species, the nine-spotted ladybug, is now virtually extinct in northeast North America.

While ladybirds can still be seen, they are likely to be an invasive species such as the Asian lady beetle. Invasive ladybird beetles now account for two-thirds of all ladybugs in the United States and Canada.

Other countries are faring no better. The UK is suffering a serious invasion of Harlequin ladybugs. These aliens are taking over and pushing out the native species there as well. Many more countries are fighting their own battle with invasive alien ladybird beetles.

A luck bug. Photo courtesy: bumblebee.org

Until the 1980s, the US Department of Agriculture repeatedly tried without success to introduce imported (alien) species of ladybugs to help in control of insect crop pests like aphids, moths, mealybugs and caterpillars. These invasive species did little more than hang on until lately. Now they are flourishing and the native ladybirds are gone. What changed?

It would appear that more of man's meddling is coming to fruition and we are reaping the rewards. John Losey, one of the world's leading experts on ladybugs, believes climate change could be a driving force behind native ladybug declines. He has enlisted the aid of thousands of "citizen scientists" - especially children - in both the USA and Canada to record sightings. Through his website, Lost Ladybug Project, he has collected over 10,000 reports and is still analyzing all the data.

Warmer temperatures may be a godsend for sun worshippers; but, they are a disaster for ladybirds. Warmer weather means less winter snow to cover the ladybugs' overwintering sites. They hibernate in grass, leaves and bark at the base of trees. The snow cover keeps the ground temperatures at a constant 0oC which is cold enough for them to remain dormant all winter without freezing to death.

Constant temperatures are the key to the little beetles successful hibernation. If the temperature drops too low, they freeze to death; and, if there is a warm spell, they could wake up, fly off leading to an early demise if the temperatures drop again.

John Losey says: "Overwintering mortality could be an important factor" in the declines.

Ladybugs are the workhorses of the pest suppression species. They eat many times their weight in aphids and other plant-eating pests. Photo courtesy: gardenerstips.co.uk

The new introduced species have a unique overwintering habit that allows them to flourish regardless of the climate. In the wild, they use the cracks and fissures in cliffs for overwintering; but, in developed areas they find gaps and holes in the walls of houses and buildings. When the weather turns colder, they all mass there together in the chinks they have found or behind a bit of loose siding or anywhere that affords them a little protection for the weather.

However, one of the unforeseen consequences of importing the Asian ladybug is this habit of invading homes in swarms making it a nuisance. They have been nicknamed the "Halloween ladybug" because of the time of year they seek shelter inside. Invasive ladybugs are capable of biting though it is not dreadfully painful. However, when frightened they give off a yellowish ooze that can stain wall and smells bad. What an endearing quality!

To get an idea how beneficial these little guys can be in the plant-eating pest eradication department, read on. Ladybugs and other predator insects are so effective and so voracious, they add $4.5 billion to the US economy each year through natural pest suppression.

Additionally, there are hidden financial and environmental benefits that are not reflected in the $4.5 billion. For every acre that is treated by use of natural pest suppression, no chemicals are bought and used. Not only does the farmer save the price of the chemicals, there is no damage to the environment in that area.

There is another theory put forward by Scott Black, executive director of the Portland, Oregon-based Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. He feels the problem may be that native ladybirds are specialists while the invasive species are generalists. The native species have been here so long they have specific food, temperature, foliage; and, other requirements. If they are unable to find these conditions, they die rather than adapt.

The alien species; however, are generalists able to adapt to many changing conditions. If the conditions change, they change too. One theory is that introduced species like the Asian ladybug have pushed the native species out of their favoured habitat; and, the native species being unable to adapt are dying.

Another idea is that the number of parasitic wasps that prey upon ladybugs increased with the introduction of alien ladybugs. Changes in cropping patterns and loss of agricultural land also may have played a prominent role.

Volunteers: Jaya Walsh and her son Gaelen look for ladybugs as part of the Lost Ladybug Project near Ithica, N.Y. Photo courtesy: Christian Science Monitor

The truly worrisome aspect is the impact of the invasive species on the native species; not to mention, the wider ecosystem. It turns out that the imported ladybugs are highly aggressive predators that may be able to eradicate our own species. One of the most critical dangers of reduced ladybird diversity is that if there is a disease outbreak, there are fewer species to fall back on. We could lose ladybugs altogether; and, we cannot afford to lose even one species of winged pollinator.

John Losey says it very succinctly: "If you get a disease that wipes them out, you don't have a backup."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

EnviroFunFact

A Luck Bug. Photo courtesy: flickr

Ladybugs are probably the world's most beloved insect - the official bug of six US states and thought to in some cultures to be close to God or saints. The Turks associate them with good fortune and call them the "luck bug". They're also one of nature's workhorses.

Voracious hunters of aphids and other plant-eating pests that damage crops, ladybugs and other predator insects add $4.5 billion to the US economy each year through natural pest suppression, according to a study co-authored by entomologist John Losey in 2006.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Did You Know That...


During the Second World War, the army relied on K rations for their emergency nutritional field rations. The K stood for the man who invented the portable meals - biologist Ancel Keys.

An underground honey mushroom that spreads across 2,200 acres in Malheur National Forest in Eastern Oregon (USA) is the world's largest fungus. It crosses three county lines and is estimated to be about 2,400 years old.

Here's an interesting word: fogdog. It's the shaft of light that shines through a break in the fog.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Quotable Quotes


"It is books that are a key to the wide world; if you can't do anything else, read all that you can."

-Jane Hamilton


"For good or ill, your conversation is your advertisement. Every time you open your mouth you let the people look into your mind."

- Bruce Barton

"Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow."

- Ronald E. Osborn

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tiger Plays Mr. Mom

Photo courtesy: law_keven/cc via TreeHugger

In nature, raising tiger cubs to maturity is almost always the job of mom alone, with tiger-fathers showing little interest in child rearing if any at all. For what may be the very first time, however, officials from a wildlife preserve in India have observed a male tiger that has adopted a litter of cubs left orphaned and alone when their mother died. But the fatherly gesture isn't just exceptionally sweet -- it's exceptionally rare, too. "Such behavior of the tiger has been unheard of," says one expert.

Officials from Ranthambore Tiger Reserve had feared the worst for a litter of young tiger cubs that went missing after the death of their mother last February. Left unprotected in the wild, orphaned cubs stand virtually no chance of survival from both outside predators and other tigers.

That's when authorities made a remarkable discovery: the litter had evidently been adopted by a lone male.

Tiger males are nearly always wary of cubs, even their own. Outside males often will kill a female's young for a chance to mate with her themselves. So to find a male that has taken on the responsibility of actually raising a group of orphaned cubs has left officials awestruck.

"This unique sense of acceptance of the male tiger towards the cubs, is indeed amazing," said tiger authority RN Mehrotra in a report from The Pioneer.

What's perhaps even more amazing is the fact that the male, designated T-25, has taken to playing 'mom' to the cubs quite well. He reportedly has reduced his roaming territory to stay closer to the litter, and has been observed sharing his meals with them. Preserve officials, who have been closely monitoring the young family's progress, note that there is a chance the lone male is father to the litter, but that there is no way of knowing for certain -- and even then it would be an unprecedented case of parental involvement on the part of dad..

Officials say the unlikely discovery of a male playing 'mom' to a group of orphaned tiger cubs just goes to show that there is still plenty left to learn about the endangered species.

Via The Pioneer and TreeHugger

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Madrid's Green Wall


Too bad more buildings aren't designed to let the green energy flow.

Photo courtesy: B. Alter via TreeHugger

Madrid's green wall is a veteran...it was designed by Patrick Blanc, who has created some of the most famous vertical gardens in Europe.

It was installed on an exterior wall of a former power station which was renovated by equally famous architects Herzog & de Meuron. The garden and the building have been braving the pollution, hot sun and elements for four years and the plants on the wall are still going strong.

Photo courtesy: B. Alter via TreeHugger

First the building: it was a former power plant built in 1899 and one of the few examples of industrial architecture left in the old section of the city. Caixa Forum is a cultural and arts centre that hired Herzog & de Meuron to convert the building and retain the industrial feel. A Swiss firm, they renovated the Tate Modern in London which was formerly a power plant as well.

Photo courtesy: B. Alter via TreeHugger

Their master stroke was to remove the base of the building so that it seems to hover over the ground. That created a large plaza which provides a place to sit and meet away from the burning sun. The building goes underground, for an auditorium, and three stories above with gallery space, shop and cafe. The rusted iron cladding on the top level has aged and corroded and is a warm bronze colour.

Photo courtesy: B. Alter via TreeHugger

The vertical garden, designed by Patrick Blanc, is 4 storeys high and takes up one outside wall, overlooking the plaza. It has 15,000 plants from more than 250 different species and most of it is flourishing.

There is an irrigation system which seems to be ongoing, given the gentle mist of droplets that emanates from the garden. The architects said that they wanted to "create a very unusual encounter between the rough and the natural, ...to incorporate nature so there can be the smell of a garden where you would not expect it."

The building, and garden are in the cultural quarter where the other famous museums are located. Caixa Forum has become an urban oasis in contrast to the more formal, and much older, buildings in the vicinity.

Via TreeHugger

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Destroyed by Act of God


All photos courtesy: Yahoo! News

Photos of the recent Japanese tsunami battering the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have been released by TEPCO, the Japanese power company that runs the stricken facility.








A short video showing a robotic camera's point of view.


Friday, February 11, 2011

One Million Wild Camels Overrun Australian Outback


A wild camel stands on top of a sand dune in the Simpson Desert, Australia. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images. Photo courtesy: Discovery News

Australia boasts the only "wild" camel herds in the world. It started with a few camels being abandoned; and, due to their powers of reproduction the herds just kept growing and growing and growing. Nowhere else on earth do camels roam free - coming and going as they like - they are property of an owner; and, work for a living. Unfortunately, Australia now has more than 1 million feral camels thrashing the remote Australian desert, destroying water supplies and disturbing Aboriginal communities to the tune of $10,000,000 AUD ($10,650,000 US) a year.

Wandering around in the outback. Photo courtesy: Obliot, Flickr, CC

The single-humped dromedary camels were brought mainly from India in the second half of the 19th century to work in the scrubby, red-earthed arid parts of the Australian outback, transporting people; and, as pack animals. Once trains, roads and machinery made them obsolete as workers, the camels were let loose, creating the world's only population of wild camels.

Since then their population has doubled every eight or nine years. Camels are desert animals; and, are often referred to as "the ships of the desert" due to their ability to live, thrive and reproduce in the harsh desert climate. Australia's outback is very similar to the conditions they were brought from; so, the abandoned animals had no trouble adapting to their homeland.

"They are desert-adapted animals," explained Jan Ferguson, managing director of Ninti One Limited. "They adapt very well to our conditions." Ninti One Limited (NOL) is the organization that manages the Feral Camel Management Project, which launched CamelScan.

Ferguson explains more: "They can do enormous damage. They can eat up to very high heights in our trees. When water is short, they go for running water. They will take pipes and air conditioning units off of walls, and smash up toilet systems".

The damage is not just limited to the destruction of anything containing water. The ecosystem is taking a hit from the camels' search for potable water. The camels can chug more than 50 gallons of water in three minutes and their thirst often leads to problems. Sometimes when large numbers of feral camels converge on a small waterhole, the first animals get mired in the holes and die, fouling the water and destroying the waterhole completely. These waterholes are critical resources for humans and native birds and animals.

Camels can be a problem on the roadways as well. They tend to forage along the roadsides and many an unsuspecting motorist has rounded the corner only to hit a camel or left the roadway avoiding it.

Anyone who knows anything about camels, knows they have the disgusting habit of spitting. Check out those lips. Photo courtesy: Tambako, Flickr, CC

As part of plans to contain the camel's havoc and reduce the animals' numbers, managers have launched a website, CamelScan, where the public can report feral camel sightings and damages using a Google maps-based tool.

The program adds another species to the list of programs tracking other feral animals in Australia, including rabbits, foxes and myna birds. Since CamelScan launched earlier this month, the public has logged nearly 150 sightings.

"You need to count these animals. You need to know where they are and what they're doing," said Ferguson.

"There's no way you're ever going to eradicate them," said Murray McGregor of Curtin University in Perth, whose research estimated their numbers. "The key thing is to keep the number controlled to minimize the environmental and cultural damage."

The camels are spread over a 3.3 million square kilometer (nearly 1.3 million square mile) area. McGregor's work estimated that more than 40% of the camels are on Aboriginal lands. About 18 months ago, 3000 camels descended on one Aboriginal community during a period of drought, Ferguson said.

The Feral Camel Management Project aims to protect key areas of biodiversity and native habitat, Ferguson says, including 18 "priority environmental assets."

A mother camel patiently feeds her baby. Camels are excellent mothers. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia, CC

This includes the goal of reducing the camel density to one camel per 10 square kilometers around key locations. There are between five and 20 camels per square kilometer in some areas.

When feasible, the animals are rounded up and used for commercial consumption by people or pets. But the camels can be in extremely remote locations.

"Some are in a place where there is no economic use for them," Ferguson said. "There are camels in such remote areas that there is no option but to shoot to waste (leaving the carcasses)."

Ferguson notes that other methods to protect and manage the areas, such as putting up fences, are part of the group's strategy.

"Very important sites can be fenced or exclusion barrier put on them," McGregor said. "But these are very strong animals. You have to put something that's quite extensive to keep them out. If they're after water, they will use everything they've got to get at it."

Via TreeHugger and Discovery News

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dry Weather Puts Some Wildlife in Jeopardy

Photo by Marlin Harms via Flickr CC via TreeHugger

In the United Kingdom, everyone became so used to others complaining about swallows building their mud nests under eaves and along fascia boards that a request for homeowners to leave dishes of mud out for swallows comes as quite a surprise to many. It turns out that unusually dry weather in the UK has left the migratory birds with too little mud to create their nests which will be home to two or three broods during the season.

According to the Telegraph, "The driest April on record [in the UK] has left swallows and house martins, species that typically build ornate nests, without the wet mud needed to construct their homes."

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is calling for the public to leave dishes of mud out for the birds so that they have the materials necessary to repair old nests or build new ones for the breeding season.

This is probably the first time Britons have ever heard of a mud shortage; and, it could be the first time that a call for nature lovers to leave mud on porches, balconies, or gardens has gone out to the general public. But without the right materials, swallows and martins will have a far harder time with a successful breeding season.

Unfortunately, the dry weather is not just affecting Great Britain nor are birds the only species that require access to mud to reproduce. Female Mason bees, one of the last surviving winged pollinators, require mud to separate the cells in her nest from one another. If there is no mud available, the female will not lay her eggs.

Mason bee cocoon cells inside nest. The dark material surrounding the cocoon is mud. Without mud, mason bees can not make their nests. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

RSPB states, "House martin nests also have a tendency to fall with the young still inside. The forecasted dry spell is likely to see this happening frequently as the mud dries out, reducing the nests grip on the wall. A substitute nest may encourage the parents to continue to feed them."

Worldwide we can all help. Everyone who is living somewhere that is experiencing drier than normal weather can put out a dish of mud on their porches or on their balconies. For those lucky enough to have a yard, a dish can be put out in the garden or a small hole dug that is kept nice and cool and muddy. Of course, whatever method is chosen to provide mud must be checked daily and additional water added as necessary.

So go on...get muddy!

Via TreeHugger

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chinese Watermelons Explode in Fields

In this photo taken Friday May 13, 2011, a farmer holds up the packaging for chemicals used on watermelons that had burst in Danyang city in eastern China's Jiangsu province. Watermelon fields in eastern China are a mess of burst fruit after farmers abused growth chemicals in an attempt to make extra money but ended up ruining their crops, state media reported Tuesday May 17, 2011. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT via Yahoo!News

A story of what can happen when the use of chemicals and fertilizers are in the hands of people who are ignorant of their use and consequences:

Watermelons have been bursting by the score in eastern China after farmers gave them overdoses of growth chemicals during wet weather, creating what state media called fields of "land mines."

About 20 farmers around Danyang city in Jiangsu province were affected, losing up to 115 acres (45 hectares) of melon, China Central Television said in an investigative report.

Prices over the past year prompted many farmers to jump into the watermelon market. All of those with exploding melons apparently were first-time users of the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron, though it has been widely available for some time, CCTV said in the report broadcast Monday night.

Chinese regulations don't forbid the drug, and it is allowed in the U.S. on kiwi fruit and grapes. But the report underscores how farmers in China are abusing both legal and illegal chemicals, with many farms misusing pesticides and fertilizers.

Wang Liangju, a professor with College of Horticulture at Nanjing Agricultural University who has been to Danyang since the problems began to occur, said that forchlorfenuron is safe and effective when used properly.

He told The Associated Press that the drug had been used too late into the season, and that recent heavy rain also raised the risk of the fruit cracking open. But he said the variety of melon also played a role.

"If it had been used on very young fruit, it wouldn't be a problem," Wang said. "Another reason is that the melon they were planting is a thin-rind variety and these kind are actually nicknamed the 'exploding melon' because they tend to split."

Farmer Liu Mingsuo ended up with eight acres (three hectares) of ruined fruit and told CCTV that seeing his crop splitting open was like a knife cutting his heart.

"On May 7, I came out and counted 80 (burst watermelons) but by the afternoon it was 100," Liu said. "Two days later I didn't bother to count anymore."

Intact watermelons were being sold at a wholesale market in nearby Shanghai, the report said, but even those ones showed telltale signs of forchlorfenuron use: fibrous, misshapen fruit with mostly white instead of black seeds.

In March last year, Chinese authorities found that "yard-long" beans from the southern city of Sanya had been treated with the banned pesticide isocarbophos. The tainted beans turned up in several provinces, and the central city of Wuhan announced it destroyed 3.5 tons of the vegetable.

The government also has voiced alarm over the widespread overuse of food additives like dyes and sweeteners that retailers hope will make food more attractive and boost sales.

Though Chinese media remain under strict government control, domestic coverage of food safety scandals has become more aggressive in recent months, an apparent sign that the government has realized it needs help policing the troubled food industry.

The CCTV report on watermelons quoted Feng Shuangqing, a professor at the China Agricultural University, as saying the problem showed that China needs to clarify its farm chemical standards and supervision to protect consumer health.

The broadcaster described the watermelons as "land mines" and said they were exploding by the acre (hectare) in the Danyang area.

Many of farmers resorted to chopping up the fruit and feeding it to fish and pigs, the report said.

Via Yahoo!News

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Frogs Close Highway in Northern Greece


There was a flood of frogs on a highway in Greece, which has managed to close down the highway for hours. Greek officials confirmed that one of the critical northern highways was closed for a couple of hours, due to the unexpected swarm of frogs.

Thessaloniki traffic police chief, Giorgos Thanoglou, said that there were millions of frogs that had thoroughly carpeted the highway. This happened near the city of Langadas which is located around 12 miles east of Thessaloniki. Giorgos Thanoglou said that, “There was a carpet of frogs.”

According to reports, the traffic on the highway was affected due to the "flood of the frogs"; and, three car drivers skidded away from the road when they tried to swerve their car in order to avoid hitting the frogs present on the road. However, fortunately no causalities were reported.

It is still not clear as to why there was a flood of millions of frogs on the road; but, traffic police chief, Giorgos, is speculating that one of the reasons could be the lack of food at their place of habitation.

This short video (under a minute) shows a section of road under siege by the little hoppers.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Man Bites Man Over Dog

Not the dogs involved in the fight at the dog park. Photo courtesy: maricopacounty

It wasn't quite man-bites-dog, but there were men and there were dogs and there was biting. A sheriff's office said Monday that one man bit another during a fight over a couple of dogs at a park in suburban New York City. Rockland County sheriff's Capt. William Barbera said two dog owners got into it Sunday night. One didn't like the way their pets were playing at a dog park in New City, about 30 miles north of New York.

Barbera said that a third man tried to break up the fight and that one of the combatants bit him on the wrist. He said that no one has been arrested but that the case is still being investigated.

It should be noted that there is a much higher chance of getting an infection or other complications from a human bite than there is from a dog bite.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Natural Mosquito Repellant

Photo courtesy: dr relling

Mosquitoes are probably the most hated little insects in the world. Actually, it's only the female mosquitoes that bite; so, actually only about 50% of the mosquito population is to blame for their lousy reputations as miniature blood suckers.

In South Carolina, USA these little beggars can grow to the size of your average house pet. In the Yukon, you can throw a saddle on them and go for a ride. In the woods and forests of many countries, they are just an annoying vampiric foe who steals your blood; and leaves you with itchy little welts wherever they bit.

For most of us, mosquitoes are simply a nuisance. But in some parts of the world, they're much more than that. Mosquitoes and other biting insects spread disease and cause widespread fatalities. In fact, mosquito bites result in the deaths of more than 1 million people every year [source: WHO] from diseases such as rickettsioses, tick-borne meningoencephalitis, Lyme disease, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and malaria. The majority of these deaths are due to malaria.

DEET (chemical name N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is very well known as an effective insect repellent; but, what is not so well known is that it is also a highly effective solvent. It may dissolve some plastics, rayon, spandex, other synthetic fabrics, leather, and painted or varnished surfaces including nail polish if left on the surface for a sufficient length of time.

If that isn't enough to convince the majority to change insect repellents to those containing no DEET, mull this over. DEET was developed by the United States Army, following its experience of jungle warfare during World War II. It was originally tested as a pesticide on farm fields, and entered military use in 1946 and civilian use in 1957.

Or looking at it another way, if the lotion of choice whether at a backyard barbeque or in the mosquito-infested swamps of goodnessknowswhere contains DEET, the user is smearing a pesticide developed as a result of jungle warfare that can also melt plastic onto their skin. The skin is an incredibly porous organ; and, anything applied to the skin does not stay there. Eventually, the ingredients enter the blood stream; and, no cell is left unharmed when that happens.

The most serious concerns about DEET are with the central nervous system:
Dr. Mohammed Abou-Donia of Duke University studied lab animals' performance of neuro-behavioural tasks requiring muscle co-ordination. He found that lab animals exposed to the equivalent of average human doses of DEET performed far worse than untreated animals.

Children with DEET toxicity reported lethargy, headaches, tremors, involuntary movements, seizures, and convulsions though the amount that led to this toxicity was unreported, according to the CDC.

For at-a-glance information, the activist group Beyond Pesticides keeps its own list of documented DEET health and environmental effects:

•Cancer: Not documented
•Endocrine Disruption: Not documented
•Reproductive Effects: Not documented
•Neurotoxicity: Yes
•Kidney/Liver Damage: Yes
•Sensitizer/Irritant: Yes
•Birth/Developmental Defects: Yes
•Detected in Groundwater: Yes
•Potential Leacher: Yes
•Toxic to Birds: Not documented
•Toxic to Fish/Aquatic Organisms: Not documented
•Toxic to Bees: Not documented
[source: Beyond Pesticides]

I'd rather take my chances with the mosquitoes and a natural substance that is proving to be just as effective.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA confirmed that lemon eucalyptus oil can be as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes, a story reported on Mattermore:
Oil of lemon eucalyptus [active ingredient: p-menthane 3,8-diol (PMD)], a plant- based repellent, is also registered with EPA. In two recent scientific publications, when oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the US it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET.
Mattermore reports that until recently, DEET was the only repellent recommended by the CDC, and approved for individual use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Oil of lemon eucalyptus is plant-based repellent oil made from leaves of Eucalyptus citriodora.

Ways to avoid mosquitoes this year.

1. A citronella candle works well to cover an area. Unfortunately, citronella doesn't remain potent for long on human skin so must be reapplied more often.

2. Wear light colors. Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors. Changing your wardrobe can reduce your need for repellents.

3. Remove or cover all standing water near your home. This will induce the varmints to breed elsewhere.

4. Remain unscented. Mosquitoes are attracted to floral smells. Do not use scented soap if you wish to escape the wrath of the mosquitoes.

5. Ensure there are screen on all windows and doors so they can be opened to cool evening breezes without fear of mosquitoes.

6. If the area lived in is a mosquito magnet, try sleeping under a mosquito net at night.

7. These common plant oils repel mosquitoes; and, can be mixed with water to spray on either the person or the surrounding areas:

•Citronella Oil
•Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
•Cinnamon Oil
•Rosemary Oil
•Peppermint Oil
•Clove Oil
•Catnip
•Lavender Oil
•Garlic

Any of these plants can be used simply by crushing them and rubbing the oil on key areas like behind the ears and knees, inside the elbows, and on the ankles. If your skin is sensitive to the oils, try crushing a large handful of the plant inside a cloth then tying it around your neck.

Or, try this easy recipe:

1. Take a large handful of a couple kinds of the plants listed above (different mosquitoes are repelled by different plants, so it's best to use a mixture).

2. Place the plants in a food processor and chop them well.

3. Carefully add two cups of boiling water, steeping the chopped plants like tea.

4. Once the liquid has cooled, strain and refrigerate.

5. When you're ready to use, pour the cooled repellent into a spray bottle and apply liberally and frequently.

The final thing to remember when using these natural alternatives is that, while they may initially be just as effective as DEET-based sprays, they do not last as long. Take care to reapply frequently especially if it is raining or you are sweating.

With natural insect repellent there is no reason to stay inside this summer. Get outdoors and stay bite-free the green way.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Did You Know That...


If you're feeling "blue", then you're feeling a little sad. Early English settlers thought "blue devils" or bad spirits had followed them to their new home and that's why they'd get the blues.

When people want a job done in a meticulous fashion, they often say it has been done "to a T". That phrase actually means "to a tittle", which is a precisely positioned printer's mark or pen point.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Making Memories

The local tradition of lining up to be the first customer of the season at Belt's Soft Serve, Stevens Point, WI. Photo courtesy: flicker.com

Brayden Banks is one lucky did. His grandmother, Michelle Cuestas, waited in line for 43 hours to ensure the six-year-old from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, USA got to be first in line to place an order at the town's ice cream shop when it opened for the season. Everyone wants to be first in line when Belts' Soft Serve opens, which is why Cuestas slept in the Belts' bathroom the first night; then, waited in line with her grandson for 24 more hours until the landmark shop opened for business. It was worth it, she says, because she was making priceless memories with her grandson.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quotable Quotes


"There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do."

- Freya Madeline Stark


"There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper; and, he who considers price only is that man's lawful prey."

- John Ruskin

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

EnviroFunFact

A ladybug pollinating a flower. Photo courtesy: flickr

Ladybugs are probably the world's most beloved insect - the official bug of six US states and thought in some cultures to be close to God or saints. The Turks associate them with good fortune and call them the "luck bug". They're also one of nature's workhorses.

Voracious hunters of aphids and other plant-eating pests that damage crops, ladybugs and other predator insects add $4.5 billion to the US economy each year through natural pest suppression, according to a study co-authored by entomologist John Losey in 2006.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Increased Number of Whale Beachings Has Scientists Alarmed


Photo by NOAA via Flickr CC via Treehugger.

In the last few years, there has been an unexplained spike in the number of whales washing ashore. While the National Marine Fisheries Service has declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, it's more than just oil spills that are causing increased strandings worldwide. And experts are worried.

The numbers of beached whales have been gradually rising, peaking in 2009 with 46 whales coming ashore, and The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC)is conducting an investigation into what could be causing the rise, reports ABC news.

It could be anything from nutrition issues to sonar that drives whales off course, disorients them, or can even cause internal damage. While there has been a rash of strandings in Florida, including at least 15 pilot whales that washed ashore this week in the Florida keys, experts are quick to point out that the BP gulf oil spill is a possible cause, but not the only factor. Earth Times points out that, "A number of recent strandings in other regions happened well before the Deepwater spill occurred. In March 2009, 194 whales and a small dolphin pod became stranded on the coast of Tasmania, and most did not survive. The previous November, 150 pilot whales died in another mass stranding in Tasmania... In February 2011, 107 whales died on the coast of New Zealand."

NOAA provides this chart of whale strandings in the Gulf of Mexico, showing the marked increase:

Photo courtesy: TreeHugger.

ABC News goes on to say:
The DEC's Doug Coughran says the department is yet to work out exactly what is causing the strandings.

"We don't want to speculate too much, we want to look at it from a scientific perspective, we're entrusted with the protection of the animals in our waters," he said.

"We want to do our best to make sure we have our finger on the pulse to monitor these emerging challenges."

Mr. Coughran says wildlife officers will take samples from beached whales and investigate nutrition and other related possible causes.

So why are so many more whales becoming stranded on shorelines? Experts are befuddled, and it could be a broad range of factors.

Via Treehugger