Saturday, April 30, 2011

Burned Tortoise Gets Wheel for Leg

Gamera the tortoise has been a bionic animal since a surgery in April removed his left front leg. Photo courtesy: Henry Moore, Jr. BCU/WSU

A tortoise that had to have its leg amputated is now getting around with the help of an unusual prosthetic: A swiveling caster wheel much like those seen on office chairs.

Gamera, a 12-year-old African spur-thighed tortoise, was relinquished by its owner to Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in April after the 20 pound (9 kilogram) pet severely burned its left front leg. The injury was so life-threatening that veterinarians decided to amputate Gamera's leg at the shoulder.

To help Gamera get around on three legs, the veterinarians attached the wheel to his shell with epoxy. According to Washington State University, the tortoise took to the freewheeling lifestyle with little encouragement: Since admission, Gamera is getting around well and has gained more than 3 pounds (1.4 kg).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Superweeds Are The Result of Monsanto's "Roundup"

Photo courtesy: Peter Blanchard, Flickr/cc BY-SA

All hail the rise of super-weeds! TreeHugger has already thanked Monsanto for helping a tenacious, fast-growing, brand new kind of plant evolve. But the latest revelations from a study published in Weed Science reveal the details how dousing weeds with Roundup have caused the evolution of a "super-weed" that can grow up to 3 inches a day -- and the impact new, herbicide-resistant weeds might have on global food production.

Fast Company has more:
A new series of studies released by Weed Science this month finds at least 21 weed species have become resistant to the popular herbicide glyphosate (sold as Monsanto's Roundup), and a growing number survive multiple herbicides, so-called "super-weeds." The same selection pressure creating bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics is leading to the rapid evolution of plants that survive modern herbicides. If the trend continues, yields could drop and food costs climb as weeds grow more difficult to uproot.
Remember, Roundup is the most widely used herbicide in the world. Much of the modern food production system has come to rely on it -- and as it becomes harder and more expensive to get rid of weeds (and super-weeds) in a world where the market have grown accustomed to an artificially deflated cost of weed-killing, this Roundup trouble could cause global food prices to spike.

So it's not just the rise of mutant super-weeds that we have to watch out now for -- super weeds which, by the way, have in some cases grown so gnarly that they destroy the farm equipment employed to attempt to tame it. These super weeds have grown resistant not just to Roundup, but to multiple herbicides. FC describes them thusly:

"Super-strains of plants like pigweed--which grows three inches a day and is tough enough to damage farm machinery--have emerged, which may dramatically reduce the options for farmers to control them. The alternatives are usually more dangerous chemicals or plowing and mulching fields, undermining many of the environmental benefits biotech crops are supposed to offer. It's 'the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,' claims Andrew Wargo III, president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts."

Indeed, reports of flourishing super-weeds are alarming. But more frightening is the prospect of a shock to global food prices at a time when they're already volatile, already rising -- and thanks to climate change, projected to keep doing so.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Glow-in-the-Dark Beef?

Photo courtesy: greengulchranch

Japan's government said the number of cattle fed with hay contaminated by radiation has doubled, two days after shipments of beef from cows raised near the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant were banned.

As of yesterday there were 1,256 potentially contaminated cows from 637 two days earlier, said Kazutoshi Nobuto, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

"This is a major, major problem," Goshi Hosono, Japan's food safety minister, said yesterday at a press conference in the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan. Hosono is also in charge of the response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The cattle ate tainted straw during a feed-supply shortage after the March earthquake and tsunami caused the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant north of Tokyo. The government needs to move quickly to allay public concern about food safety, said nuclear physicist Peter Burns.

"If you don't go riding in hard from the start, 110 percent rigorous on it, then you have these things crop up and it creates a lack of confidence in the product," Burns, a former Australian representative on the United Nation's scientific committee on atomic radiation, said in an interview.

The government on July 19 imposed a ban on shipments from Fukushima prefecture north of the capital after finding 637 cattle were fed hay containing radioactive cesium. Some of the cattle had been slaughtered and the beef shipped to supermarkets, including Japan's biggest, Aeon Co., and sold in Tokyo and other cities.

Hay from rice stalks made in Fukushima prefecture was found to contain radiation of as much as 690,000 becquerels compared with the 300-becquerel safety limit, according to the local government office. The cattle suspected of being fed the contaminated hay have been shipped to 45 of Japan's 47 prefectures, Kyodo News reported yesterday.

A becquerel represents one radioactive decay per second, which involves the release of atomic energy that can damage human cells and DNA, causing leukemia and other forms of cancer, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Some beef from the cattle contained cesium exceeding government standards and was sold to consumers, said Kazuyuki Hashimoto, an official at the food-monitoring division of the Tokyo metropolitan government.

About 437 kilograms (963 pounds) of beef from a farm in Minami-Soma city, 30 kilometers from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station, was eaten in eight prefectures, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government, which detected the first case of tainted beef from the farm earlier this month.

Isetan Mitsukoshi Holdings Ltd. today said it had inadvertently sold beef later found to be contaminated with radioactive cesium at three of its stores.

A total of 68.2 kilograms of tainted beef was sold at stores in Shizuoka and Kanagawa prefectures and by a subsidiary in Tokyo, the company said in a statement on its website today.

Japan's agriculture ministry has also been conducting tests of fish caught in the waters off the eastern seaboard of the country and found some contaminated with radiation.

"So far no contaminated sea products have entered the food supply channel," Shouichi Takayama, assistant director at the Fisheries Agency's ecosystem conservation office, said today.

Products including spinach, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tea, milk, plums and fish have been found to be contaminated with cesium and iodine as far as 360 kilometers (225 miles) from Dai- Ichi. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima station, said on June 14 it found cesium in milk tested near another nuclear reactor site about 210 kilometers from the damaged plant.

While the risk to the health of individuals who have eaten the beef is minor, the damage to reputation could end up "destroying whole industries," Burns said, who has 40 years experience in radiation safety.

Via SanFranciscoChronicle

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

375 Illegally-Caught Sharks Found in Boat off Galapagos Islands

Photo courtesy: Joi via Flickr

The Galapagos Islands is an incredibly sensitive environment unlike no other on earth. Due to its isolation, species have evolved there that have evolved nowhere else. The Galapagos are also supposed to be protected due to the fragility of the microcosm.

Too many times we hear about projects that are being put into place because of their supposedly environmentally-friendly solution to the problem at hand. With a huge hew and cry, the project is implemented and we are left to be disappointed when the rules are not enforced; and, nothing seems to really change.

It is so heartwarming to hear that at least Ecuador is taking the enforcement of protecting the Galapagos Island shark reserve seriously. A refreshing change from the usual *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* approach taken by many enforcement agencies.

According to the AP, Ecuadorean authorities stopped a boat that was fishing illegally in the protected waters of the Galapagos Islands national park. The boat was boarded and 357 dead sharks were found. The captain and crew were caught red-handed.

"The government news agency says criminal proceedings will be pursued against the crew of the Ecuadorean fishing boat. The report says the boat was detained Tuesday southeast of Genovesa island inside the marine reserve...It is prohibited to catch, sell or transport sharks in the reserve."

What a breath of fresh air. All that remains now is to see if these fishermen are indeed punished. This case could create headlines worldwide; and, serve as an example of what can be accomplished if our environmental watchdogs are vigilant.

Let's hope we are not let down and that this is just one step on the journey to save the sharks of the world.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gelatin May No Longer Contain Animal Products

Photo courtesy: Daniel Morrison via TreeHugger

I haven't been this grossed out since I blogged about meat being made from the protein in human fecal matter and/or sewage sludge.

It's one of those truths that you'd rather not know; although, many of us know now. That bright red, orange, and green gelatin you slurped down as a child is actually made from animals. Vegans avoid it like the plague because it's derived from the collagen in an animal's skin, hooves and bones.

This is not the really scary part, readers. Cue the "this is going to be sooooo disgusting" music...and read on, if you dare.

According to a story on Inhabitat, scientists are experimenting on ways to derive gelatin from humans and their research will be appearing in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.
The process the researchers perfected actually involves taking human gelatin genes and inserting them into a strain of yeast. With their technology they were able to grow gelatin with controllable features.
I'd be interested to know where the genes are derived. According to Science Daily, not only would this prevent the use of gelatin made from innumerable animals, it would also eliminate the risk of Mad Cow disease in addition to creating a predictable source of gelatin. Working with animal-based gelatin is at times unpredictable because you don't know how the end product will turn out.

How about using a completely vegetable gelatin made from seaweed - agar agar?

Human-based gelatins are actually being studied for use in drug capsules and other medical applications for the most part.

But don't worry, you're not eating your neighbor here; or, at least that's what they want you to believe.

Cue back-up creepy music and fade to black.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Old English Phone Booths Recycled

All photos courtesy: B. Alter via TreeHugger

This one of the most delightful cases of recycling I have ever heard about. What a wonderful example of creative thinking. Read on to find out how a small village in England turned an out-of-work phone booth into a compact lending library for the readers in the village.

TreeHugger has already written about the recycling of the distinctive red telephone booths in England. With everyone using cell phones, the evocative boxes have become redundant and the phone company is selling them off to local communities.

Imagine the delight, while meandering through the pastoral roads of Hampshire, to come across this picture-perfect example at a crossroads of a small village.

Exquisitely located beside a thatched roof cottage and across the street from an old church and graveyard, it was like a calendar picture of olde England.

The sign on the wall explained that BT (British Telecom) no longer operates the kiosk and it is now owned and operated by the local authority. In this case it is Longstock Parish Council.

It has become a small lending library for the local community. Inside the booth was an assortment of books, reflecting the eclectic reading interests of the local villagers. There was Tom Clancy for the low-brows and Margaret Forster and Hanif Kureshi for the high-brows. The Girl with the Golden Tattoo for good summer reading and the Barbecue Bible for the cooks. Charmingly, or should that be naturally, some vines were growing through the wall, into the room.

In 2002, there were 92,000 payphones across the UK. Now there are still more than 12,500, however over half of them don't make a profit.

The first incarnation of the red phone box was designed by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott for a competition in 1924. This design, the K2, was introduced in 1926, predominately in London. Ten years later Scott refined his design and the famous K6 or 'Jubilee Kiosk' was introduced nationwide to celebrate George V's Silver Jubilee.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Conservationists Save Rare Blue Iguana

Photo courtesy: Furryscaly / cc via TreeHugger

Ten short years ago, Grand Cayman blue iguanas were on the brink of extinction. Human factors, like habitat encroachment and vehicle strikes, had reduced their number to less than two dozen -- but now, thanks, to the tireless efforts of conservation officials, the rare species is making a real comeback. Over the last decade, officials have bred and released more than 500 iguanas back into the wild, promising with it the hope that humanity's tendency towards destruction may be outweighed by our capacity for preservation.

The promising future for Grand Cayman blue iguanas is the result of many years of dedication on the part of animal experts from the Bronx Zoo's Wildlife Conservation Society, along with the Blue Iguana Recovery Program. Since 2002, when there were believed to be only around 20 of the animals left on Earth, officials have bred hundreds of iguanas in captivity which were then released back into their native island habitat.

According to a press release from the Wildlife Conservation Society:
"For the past several years, we've succeeded in adding hundreds of animals to the wild population, all of which receive a health screening before release," said Dr. Paul Calle, Director of Zoological Health for WCS's Bronx Zoo.

Fred Burton, Director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, said: "We expect to reach our goal of 1,000 iguanas in managed protected areas in the wild in a few years. After that, we will monitor the iguanas to make sure they are reproducing in the numbers needed to maintain the wild population. If we get positive results, we will have succeeded."
With hundreds of species on the endangered species list, and more than a few of those considered to be at 'critical' population levels, the proven success of recent preservation efforts aimed towards returning Grand Cayman blue iguanas from the brink of extinction has broader implications beyond this one species alone. Many more plants and animals dwindling throughout the world could experience similar benefits from concerted breed-and-release programs, and fortunately many already are.

It could be said that in many cases, the biggest impediment to the long term survival of every organism on Earth is a lack of awareness about the importance of its preservation -- but it comes as welcome news that, despite past misgivings, recovery is possible even when so few individuals remain. The lesson then is a timeless one, though perhaps never so appropriately applied: where there's life, there's hope.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Natural Architecture - Living Root Bridges

Talk about being one with nature. In the depths of northeastern India, in one of the wettest places on earth, bridges aren't built - they're grown. Vastly superior to man-made bridges, these bridges are safe, organic, environmentally-friendly and, oh so, natural. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us can only dream of living in such a serene, tranquil place where life is truly one with nature.

All pictures courtesy: rootbridges.blogspot

The living bridges of Cherrapunji, India are made from the roots of the Ficus elastica tree. These trees are a relative of the fig tree - ficus; and, I think the elastica says the rest. They produce a series of secondary roots from higher up its trunk and can comfortably perch atop huge boulders along the riverbanks, or even in the middle of the rivers themselves. These secondary roots can be trained for use as a second level to the bridge.

Cherrapunji is credited with being the wettest place on earth; so, there can be many water obstacles to cross. The War-Khasis, a tribe in Meghalaya, long ago noticed this tree and saw in its powerful roots an opportunity to easily cross the area's many rivers. Now, whenever and wherever the need arises, they simply grow their bridges. Please see the video at the end of this blog to see a root-bridge under construction - so to speak.

In order to make a rubber tree's roots grow in the right direction - over a river, for example - the Khasis use betel nut trunks, sliced down the middle and hollowed out, to create root-guidance systems. Using methods to redirect a plant's growth have been used for centuries all over the world. Bonsai is probably the most well-known method of plant growth manipulation in the world.

The thin, tender roots of the rubber tree, prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks, grow straight out. When they reach the other side of the river, they're allowed to take root in the soil. Given enough time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced.

The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional; but, they're so extraordinarily strong that some of them can support the weight of fifty or more people at a time. Pretty impressive!

Because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time. The bridges are self-maintaining as they just grow new plant material over defects making the root bridges vines larger as they age. Some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunji may be well over five hundred years old. I would love to cross a 500-year-old root bridge; but, there is no way I could be convinced to cross a 500-year-old western bridge that spanned a river.

One special root bridge, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world, is actually two bridges stacked one over the other and has come to be known as the "Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge."

Video showing a living-root bridge under construction.

Via rootbridges.blogspot

Friday, April 22, 2011

Special Pet Oxygen Masks Coming Soon to a Firehall Near You

Cat being resuscitated with pet oxygen mask. Photo courtesy: petsamerica

As a pet owner, I have long been concerned about the safety of my beloved animals if a fire should occur in my building. I know that animals' lives have been saved by fire rescuers using their own oxygen masks to help revive animals suffering from smoke inhalation. However, the masks are ill-fitting and not as effective on pets; but, now there is an alternative.

In Toronto, Ontario, Canada, pets being rescued from a fire will have their own special oxygen masks to protect them. Between them, Dr. Barbara Bryer of the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Toronto and Jeff Moynihan of Invisible Fence GTA are donating 16 masks to the Toronto fire department so firefighters can resuscitate animals at a fire scene. "Until now, firefighters used masks for humans if they needed to give animals oxygen," says Capt. Mike Strapko. Strapko once saved the life of a cat by strapping on a human oxygen mask. He says the cat only had a 40% chance of surviving.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Did You Know That...

- Shatterproof safety glass doesn't shatter when dropped because it has a thin film of plastic that keeps the glass in one piece. In the early 1900s, a French chemist named Edouard Benedictus invented it accidentally when he knocked over a glass of dried liquid plastic that he was working on.

- Kew Gardens in London, England, is home to examples of 98% of the world's plants. It boasts 33,400 classes of living plants and a herbarium of dried plants with 7 million species.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Brazil's Environmental Protection Agency President Says Protecting the Environment is Not His Job!

Photo courtesy: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture / cc via TreeHugger

In what has to be the most ridiculous and nonsensical statements ever issued by a governmental body and/or person, Curt Trennepohl, president of Brazil's Environmental Protection Agency says protecting the environment is not his job. Duh?

Curt Trennepohl has a very important position -- the agency oversees regulation of the world's largest rainforest. The only problem is, Mr. Trennepohl says that protecting the environment isn't part of it. Say again...isn't Environmental Protection just a different way of saying "protection of the environment"?

In an interview with Australia's "60 Minutes", when asked if his job was to guard the environment from destructive projects, Mr. Trennepohl replied: "No, my job is to minimize the impacts." In my mind, this is short for "No, my job is to make sure the destruction of the rainforest is delayed somewhat; so, we can rape the land for a little longer".

And as if that were not controversial enough, the IBAMA chief then suggested that indigenous tribes which stand in the way of progress should be dealt with harshly.

Australian reporter Allison Langdon recently confronted Mr. Trennepohl following his decision as head of IBAMA to approve construction of the Belo Monte dam, a controversial project which would destroy 121,600 acres of rainforest and displace nearly 50,000 indigenous people that live there. Prior to Mr. Trennepohl taking office, IBAMA's former president chose to resign rather than give in to political pressure to green-light the dam. It's too bad there are not more people like IBAMA's former president - men and women who take their jobs seriously and refuse to give in to the pressure of big money over the preservation of our planet.

Clearly, Mr. Trennepohl has no intention of letting the environment stand in the way of progress. But perhaps what's more shocking, is his apparent willingness to violate the human rights of native peoples. In what Mr. Trennepohl believed to be a private moment, he made a disturbing statement seeming to indicate that indigenous Amazon tribes could be mistreated.
"You have the Aborigines there [in Australia]. You don't respect them," Mr. Trennepohl told Ms. Langdon.

"So you're going to do to the Indians what we did to the Aborigines?" she asked.

"Yes. Yes. Yes."
Check out the 60 Minutes segment, including Ms. Langdon's interview with Mr. Trennepohl (which appears around the 12 minutes mark), to judge for yourself what he may have meant by that.

Subsequently, Mr. Trennepohl was contacted by the Brazilian newspaper Folha to clarify his remarks. He said that he was caught off guard by the 'aggressive' reporter's questioning, adding that IBAMA's function was indeed to "minimize the impacts when a project is licensed," but that any project whose impact can't be minimized is rejected.

Regardless of whether the head of Brazil's environmental protection agency misspoke about his role in caring for the environment or dealing respectfully with indigenous groups, IBAMA's actions speak louder than any errant word. But standing up to interests lobbying for a massive dam in the middle of the Amazon, even if unpopular, is the job of such an agency. If Mr. Trennepohl, as President of IBAMA, can't offer a sensible argument for preservation from within the government, what chance do NGOs have? Sadly, their biggest advocate may be no advocate at all.

Perhaps Brazilian blogger Roberto Malvezzi put it best when he wrote: "Finally someone in power is honest with their statements."

Via TreeHugger

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Truck Carrying 14 Million Honeybees Crashes

Part of the honeybee rescue effort. Photo courtesy:

As anyone who reads my blog with any regularity knows, I have a special passion for honeybees; raw, unpasterized honey; and, flying pollinators in general. Without our winged pollinators, we would soon be unable to feed ourselves.

While I applaud bees being rented out to help the farmers increase their agricultural yields for many reasons, safer transport over shorter distances must be found for these precious little pollinators.

In the search for solutions to the ongoing plight of honeybees, both mainstream bee experts and advocates of alternative approaches to beekeeping have suggested that the practice of trucking honeybees thousands of miles across country for pollination may be causing undue stress and contributing to colony losses. Whether or not this is the case, it's a fair bet that crashing a truck full of bees is not going to do them, or rescue workers dealing with the incident, much good. The Daily Mail reports on a major honeybee truck crash in Idaho that resulted in 14 million displaced bees, honey all over the highway, stung rescue workers, and a fear of hungry bears:
Fire crews sprayed the bees with water at first to try and cool them down. A bee expert then suggested using fire foam to try and kill them so the workers could get near the truck to clean up the mess and recover the vehicle and surviving hives.

"I am worried about the bears coming down now - the grizzly bears because there are so many bees that we didn't kill that they will be down," said Chief Strandberg.
The weekend did not end well for fire and police personnel near Island Park, Idaho, where 14 million bees went berserk after a semi wrecked on a highway Sunday afternoon. The truck was carrying more than 400 hives; crews didn't finish cleaning what was called a river of honey off the road until the nex day.

The bees swarmed in black clouds that kept the truck driver and rescue personnel in their vehicles until they could put on protective gear. In the end, it seems that many of the bees were killed after being sprayed by firefighting foam.

The load of bees and honey was headed from California to Minot, N.D. And according to local TV station KIFI (Local News 8), "It is not unusual for semi-trucks with bees to travel U.S. Highway 20. Strandberg said about three or four trucks come through every week."

KIFI reports that the bees have a street value of three cents apiece, meaning that an estimated $400,000 worth of insects were lost in the crash.

KIFI sent a Local News 8 reporter to the scene; the resulting piece seems to have been filed under a state of extreme duress, as one roadside "standup" shot devolved into hair-flailing acts of self-preservation before she could speak. You can watch the video. But it should be noted that it's not easy to film bees on the best of days, let alone when they're rampaging along a rural highway that's also likely to become a gathering point for grizzly bears.

For any conspiracy theorists out there, who may be wondering why millions of bees are routinely being transported on America's highways, on shadowy semis bound for the Dakotas — check out the entry on bees at the X-Files Wiki.

A video of the incident.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Grow Your Own Vegetables and Face Jail Time in Lantzville, BC

Photo courtesy: Dirk Becker via TreeHugger

Once again, bureaucratic red tape has made a mountain out of molehill. However, in this case, there isn't even a molehill. Misinterpretation and governmental tunnel vision have created an incident out of nothing. A Lantzville couple have brought 2.5 acres back to a more natural state of being, increased the wildlife in that area, and made a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Their reward? Read will amaze you.

A man in Lanztville, British Columbia is facing a battle with the local government after converting his 2.5 acre "residential" lot from a gravel pit into a thriving organic farm. His refusal to "cease all agricultural activity" could land him six months in jail.

Acting on a single complaint from a disgruntled neighbor the regional district sent a letter to Dirk Becker giving him 14 days to "remove the piles of soil and manure from the property." The quoted bylaw states that property owners will ensure their property doesn't become or remain "unsightly". Specifically this refers to "the accumulation of filth, discarded materials or rubbish, which includes unused or stripped automobiles, trucks, trailers, boats, vessels, machinery, mechanical or metal parts." Admittedly, it can be argued that, to some a manure pile could be considered "filth". But, considering how Becker regenerated his 2.5 acres (see photo above) this characterization is an insult.

Becker explains the character of his neighbourhood and the evolution of his piece of property in an article he wrote for Synergy Magazine.
We have 2.5 acres in total, as do several of our neighbours. Three doors down our road are both cows and horses. As you can see from our photographs, the area we live in can hardly be considered "urban". However, we are using the term to describe our situation as our property is zoned "residential" and we are doing small scale, organic growing of fruits and vegetables on one acre. Lantzville is a small community (population 3,500) just north of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Even the name, Lantzville, evokes images of small town camaraderie, walking down main street, basket in hand, to see the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. It's surprising that on such a quiet, rural, two-block long, dead-end road, with forest across the street and acreages on either side of us, that we would end up being ordered to stop such an essential activity as growing food for others because of a particular bylaw.

The previous owner used an excavator and dump truck to mine and scrape the land bare. He had a soil screener set up on the property, selling the soil, then sand, then gravel, which resulted in lowering the level of the property by about four feet. When Dirk assumed ownership, all that remained was gravel. There were no worms, no grasshoppers, no birds, no butterflies; essentially - no living creatures!

Since 1999, Dirk has made a tremendous effort to heal the land, beginning slowly - one wheelbarrow at a time. Nicole joined him at the end of 2006. It has been a gradual, organic process from planting a few fruit trees and having a small growing area, to expanding with more hand-made soil using wood chips from local tree companies and a small amount of horse manure from local, Lantzville stables. Now we have four kinds of bees, several types of dragonflies, numerous types of butterflies, frogs, toads, snakes, hundreds of birds and much more! We have dedicated our time to supporting hundreds of community members who have sought guidance on how to become more sustainable in their own lives; from educating people on how to support sustainable local initiatives (including 4H and homeschoolers), to teaching families how to grow their own food.
The original letter asking Becker to stop agricultural activities arrived in September, 2010. Since then, there has been a huge public outcry in support of his activities, including a decent showing of 75 people at a support rally last night. Despite this, the municipality has recently hired a law firm to pursue the matter. Becker received a couriered letter in early June, once again asking him to stop growing food or they will proceed with legal action against him. What this could amount to, according to Becker, is a judge ruling that he is "in contempt" of the district bylaw and he could be sentenced to six months in jail.

Via TreeHugger

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ancient Landscape Found UnderWater Near UK

This image of the ancient buried landscape discovered deep beneath the sediment of the North Atlantic Ocean was made using sound waves bounced off different rock layers. An ancient meandering riverbed is visible. CREDIT: R A Hartley et al. via LiveScience

Buried deep beneath the sediment of the North Atlantic Ocean lies an ancient, lost landscape with furrows cut by rivers and peaks that once belonged to mountains. Geologists recently discovered this roughly 56-million-year-old landscape using data gathered for oil companies.

"It looks for all the world like a map of a bit of a country onshore," said Nicky White, the senior researcher. "It is like an ancient fossil landscape preserved 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) beneath the seabed."

So far, the data have revealed a landscape about 3,861 square miles (10,000 square km) west of the Orkney-Shetland Islands that stretched above sea level by almost as much as 0.6 miles (1 km). White and colleagues suspect it is part of a larger region that merged with what is now Scotland and may have extended toward Norway in a hot, prehuman world.

Via LiveScience

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rainbow Toad Spotted After 87 Years

An adult female of the Borneo rainbow toad, spanning just 2 inches (51 mm) in length, hadn't been spotted for 87 years.
CREDIT: © Indraneil Das via LiveScience

Wow!! What an amazing little toad. So breathtakingly beautiful one can only marvel that this tiny trooper has survived after being thought extinct for 87 years.

After months of scouring remote forests in Borneo, researchers spotted three rainbow toads up a tree, snapping the first-ever photographs of this elusive amphibian species that hadn't been seen for 87 years, scientists announced.

Last seen in 1924, the Bornean rainbow toad (Ansonia latidisca) had been listed as one of the world's top 10 most wanted lost frogs, or those that hadn't been seen in at least a decade. Conservation scientists thought the chances of spotting the spindly-legged toad were slim.

In fact, until this rediscovery, scientists had only seen illustrations of the mysterious and long-legged toad existed, after collection by European explorers in the 1920s.

Via LiveScience

Friday, April 15, 2011

Underwater Volcanoes Found Near Antartica

Sea-floor mapping technology reveals volcanoes beneath the sea surface. Credit: British Antarctic Survey.

A string of a dozen volcanoes, at least several of them active, has been found beneath the frigid seas near Antarctica, the first such discovery in that region.

Some of the peaks tower nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above the ocean floor — nearly tall enough to break the water's surface.

"That's a big volcano. That's a very big volcano. If that was on land it would be quite remarkable," said Philip Leat, a vulcanologist with the British Antarctic Survey who led a seafloor mapping expedition to the region in 2007 and 2010.

The group of 12 underwater mountains lies south of the South Sandwich Islands — desolate, ice-covered volcanoes that rise above the southern Atlantic Ocean about halfway between South America and South Africa and erupted as recently as 2008. It's the first time such a large number of undersea volcanoes has been found together in the Antarctic region.

Leat said the survey team was somewhat surprised by the find.

"We knew there were other volcanoes in the area, but we didn't go trying to find volcanoes," Leat told OurAmazingPlanet. "We just went because there was a big blank area on the map and we had no idea what was there; we just wanted to fill in the seafloor."

The team did so, thanks to ship-borne seafloor mapping technology, and not without a few hair-raising adventures.

Leat said the images of the seafloor appear before your eyes on screens as the ship moves through the water. "So it's very exciting," he said. "You go along and suddenly you see the bottom start to rise up underneath you, and you don't know how shallow it's going to get."

At one point, in the dead of night, the team encountered a volcano so large it looked as though the RRS James Clark Ross, the team's research vessel, might actually crash into the hidden summit. "It was quite frightening, actually," Leat said.

The researchers stopped the ship and decided to return in daylight. The onboard instruments revealed that some of the peaks rise within 160 feet (50 meters) of the ocean's surface. [Related: The World's Biggest Oceans and Seas]

Though the peaks are largely invisible without the aid of 3-D mapping technology, scientists can tell they're volcanoes.

Leat said their conelike silhouette is a dead giveaway. "There's no other way of getting that shape on the seafloor," he said. In addition, the researchers dredged up rocky material from several peaks and found it rife with volcanic ash, lumps of pumice and black lava.

The find backed up reports from a ship that visited the area in 1962, which indicated a hidden volcano had erupted in the region.

Leat's biologist colleagues discovered some interesting creatures living in the hot-spring-like conditions near the underwater mountains, and news on that will be forthcoming, Leat said.

Despite the frozen, isolated conditions, Leat said the expeditions were far from boring. Quite the opposite, in fact. Each moment, a hidden world never before seen by humans unfolded before their eyes.

"It's amazing," Leat said, "and you can hardly go to bed at night because you want to see what's happening."


Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Tourism Package Complete With All The Blood and Gore One Can Handle

A Minke whale breeching. Photo courtesy: Martin Cathrae via TreeHugger

My two daughters and I went whale watching at Ucluelet, British Columbia, years ago. What a totally thrilling experience for all three of us. After we had calmed our sea sickness, the real majesty of the scenery took our breath away. Majestic mountains, an eagle scoring a fish just off our boat, seals; and, just when we thought it couldn't get any better - the whales appeared.

It soon became apparent that these vast behemoths could flip our boat with a flick of their tails; but, they swam under us without paying any attention to us at all. It was humbling; and, we still talk about it.

Tourism can be a great way to reconnect with nature and remember why you care so much about preserving it. However, tourism can also illustrate instances of blatant irresponsibility. Shockingly, in Iceland the problem goes far beyond irresponsibility, it's downright brutal.

Last week marked the launch of Whale Watching With Whalers, a four-hour tour which allows tourists not only to come along to watch minke whales being harpooned; but, then to sample the grilled whale afterwards.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) reports that today it's the tourists in Iceland that are consuming much of the whale meat. In fact, 35% - 40% of minke whale meat is eaten by tourists.

According to the organization, tourists are propping up the commercial whaling industry:
For [tourists] it's probably just one of those things they 'have' to try while they're over there; when in Rome, and all that... the irony is that fewer and fewer residents of the country are choosing to eat whale meat now.
And most recently came the launch of Whale Watching With Whalers. According to Whaler, this is what the trip entails:
be on a whaling vessel

- see and hear shot from our harpoon

- taste our grilled and raw whalemeat

- see minke whale and other commonly seen whales

- see our showroom, witch (sic) takes you through the history of whaling in Iceland

- see internal organs of the minke whale

- expert live guides
Yee! Gods!

The idea that anyone would want to see such a gruesome, painful, bloody travesty is mind boggling. These are gorgeous, intelligent, gentle animals inhumanely hunted and killed for our viewing pleasure. (Unfortunately, the species that would do the planet the most good by becoming seriously endangered is the one that's flourishing the most - man.)

What's worse, whale meat is showing up on more and more plates in Iceland. Today over 100 restaurants in Iceland serve it up.

Minke whales are the smallest of the baleen whales and the only one that can leap all the way out of the water and reenter like a dolphin. Their numbers are 149,000 in the North Atlantic, 25,000 in the northwest Pacific and Okhotsk sea but there is no clear listing of their numbers in the Southern Hemisphere, according to the International Whaling Commission.

Via TreeHugger

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Can't Find Vegan Cosmetics?

Photo courtesy: Vegan Beauty Market

Whether you are vegan or just care about what you put on your skin, you have discovered that cosmetics and beauty products without animal products or animal testing are as hard to find as hens' teeth.

Fortunately, there is a solution and the store is only as far away as your keyboard.

There's a new beauty shop on the virtual block: Called Vegan Beauty Market. It's a one-stop shop for cosmetics, personal skin care and body products. From Pangea Organics to Aubrey Organics, they've got great green beauty finds and offer free shipping on orders over $49 -- in the United States only. Plus, you'll receive free samples with every order.

Founded on the belief that animal testing and using animal products in cosmetics is an unnecessary practice, Vegan Beauty Market stocks only cruelty-free and vegan products. "I envision the store to be a one-stop shop for vegans and eco-conscious consumers alike," says owner Kelly Merkel in a press release.

"Choosing beauty products that are completely cruelty-free should be fun and convenient. Now vegans have a central place to find amazing products for enhancing their everyday beauty," she continues.

The site is easy to navigate, items are searchable by product, and there are options for children as well as adults. Product listings include ingredients. When it comes to shipping, they strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible and reuse packaging peanuts from suppliers and past shipments.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Much Plastic Do Fish Ingest?

Photo courtesy: M. WalzEricksson via TreeHugger

Our world is becoming more and more plastic each year. From toys to packaging to gadgets and bags, it's not just that we produce more than 250 million tons each year around the world, but it's the fact that little of what we produce is ever recycled, so much of it ends up littering our planet. Specifically, the oceans have ended up becoming a giant dump for our plastic waste; some seven million tons end up in our oceans. A new study, according to The New York Times, seeks to calculate just how much of that plastic ends up in fish.

In the north Pacific ocean alone between 12,000 and 24,000 tons of plastic end up in fish. This is 9 percent of fish found in the north Pacific, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Keep in mind that this does not include fish that die from ingesting plastic and it doesn't include fish that pass the plastic through their systems. So in reality, the numbers are likely even higher than study calculations.

The study, published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series, came to this conclusion by traveling hundreds of miles throughout the north Pacific Ocean testing fish along the way.

According to The New York Times:
The research team, including the authors of the study, Peter Davison and Rebecca Asch, traveled across hundreds of miles of the North Pacific ocean gyre, collecting fish specimens, water samples and marine debris at depths ranging from the surface to thousands of feet under. Just over 9 percent of the fish caught during the expedition had small pieces of plastic in their stomachs.
These findings are undoubtedly disturbing but they only include a small piece of the plastic pie. These huge numbers only tell the story of the north Pacific though other oceans likely have similar pollution problems.
The main challenge, said Mr. Woodring of Project Kaisei, is that the infrastructure for proper waste management and recycling "simply cannot keep pace with the exponential growth of plastic in our daily lives."
Therefore, it ends up covering our planet and being ingested by a huge number of marine species, many of which die as a result.

Via TreeHugger

Monday, April 11, 2011


A wood frog. Photo courtesy: LearnNC

Some amphibians freeze up for the winter and thaw out in the spring. The wood frog, for instance, boosts its blood sugar by nearly 400% before the frost hits the ground. This glucose solution rounds out the frog's cells and when it begins to freeze, they stretch out seamlessly, keeping the frog alive.

Here's an interesting 3 minute video that shows how they do it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Build a Winter Bird Roost

Photo courtesy: Shaw Creek Bird Supply

It is never to early to plan ahead; and, once again, I am blogging about our feathered friends.

Most people know that putting out a nest box will attract nesting birds in summer. But did you know that small birds often use these same boxes for shelter at night, particularly in winter? Sometimes more than a dozen birds will pile into a single box to conserve heat. But nest boxes are far from ideal for overnight roosting. They are usually too small for a group. Plus most birds need to perch or cling while roosting, but nest boxes have no perching surfaces inside.

You can help your backyard birds keep warm overnight with a specially designed roost box. Any backyard favorites that typically nest in boxes — bluebirds, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and small woodpeckers — may seek refuge in it.

Roosting boxes differ from nest boxes in several important ways. A good roost box is designed to prevent the birds' body heat from escaping, so, unlike a nest box, it lacks ventilation holes. Also, its entrance hole is near the bottom of the box so the rising warmth doesn't escape.

Inside a roost box there are several perches made from small wooden dowels, staggered at different levels. In addition, the inside front and rear walls are roughened, scored, or covered with hardware cloth so that woodpeckers can cling to them. A hinged top allows easy access so you can clean the box.

An entrance hole about 5.1 cm (2 in) in diameter will admit most small birds, but to exclude aggressive starlings reduce the opening to about 3.8 cm (1.5 in). Larger woodland birds, such as flickers and screech-owls, need a 7.6 cm (3 in) entrance hole.

If you don't wish to purchase a roost box; and, would prefer to make one - here's the plans.

- Using 2 cm (0.8 in) board, cut one floor panel, one roof panel, two side panels, one back panel and one front panel. Assemble the pieces. The roosting box compartment is usually about 35 - 45 cm (13.8 - 17.7 in) wide, 40 - 50 cm (15.7 - 19.7 in) tall and 30 cm (11.8 in) deep, though the overall size is not important.

- Use screws instead of nails to make it easier to correct mistakes. 4 cm (1.6 in) coated flathead screws are best as they will allow you to open the hinged front panel. The pieces should also be held together with bond-fast glue.

- Make several perches out of dowel 0.7 cm (0.3 in) or 1 cm (0.4 in) in diameter, mounting the perches at varying heights in the box. Don't forget to stagger them in the roost or the birds will be eliminating on each other.

- Locate the entrance hole near the bottom of the front panel to stop heat from escaping as it rises. A box for each species is not necessary; one for smaller birds and another for somewhat larger ones will do. As with nesting boxes, different sized entrance holes will attract different species.

- make the box as airtight as possible with no drainage or ventilation holes.

- put hinges on the front rather than the top, so that the box can be cleaned easily and thoroughly when winter is over.

- a latch can be installed to keep the door shut.

- place the roosting box in a well-sheltered spot on the south side of building or large tree.

When summer arrives, close the box up or put it away to prevent sparrows and mice from moving in.

Via Shaw Creek Bird Supply and Canadian Wildlife Federation

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Did You Know That...

- If just 25% of U.S. families used 10 fewer plastic bags a month, we would save over 2.5 BILLION bags a year.

- On the average, the 140 million cars in America are estimated to travel almost 4 billion miles in a day, and according to the Department of Transportation, they use over 200 million gallons of gasoline doing it.

- Every year we throw away 24 million tons of leaves and grass. Leaves alone account for 75% of our solid waste in the fall.

- Over 100 pesticide ingredients are suspected to cause birth defects, cancer, and gene mutations.

- Every ton of recycled office paper saves 380 gallons of oil.

- About 1% of U.S. landfill space is full of disposable diapers, which take 500 years to decompose.

- Energy saved from one recycled aluminum can will operate a TV set for 3 hours, and is the equivalent to half a can of gasoline.

- Glass produced from recycled glass instead of raw materials reduces related air pollution by 20%, and water pollution by 50%.

Friday, April 8, 2011

UK Cattle Affected by Climate Change, Says Study

Part of the herd grazing at Chillingham Castle. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Climate change is affecting when Chillingham cattle breed and the survival of their calves in the UK (United Kingdom) according to a new study in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

Ecologists looked at data from the past 60 years on Chillingham cattle (Bos taurus), a small population of cows found only in Northumberland, England.

Chillingham Castle shown within Northumberland. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Records of these animals have been collected since 1860 - information that can help scientists better understand how climate change affects phenology or the study of periodic plant and animal life cycle events.

"The Chillingham cattle data unique and, as far as we know, the longest mammal phenology dataset in the world. It's an amazing dataset," said lead author Sarah Burthe, researcher at the UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, in a press release.

Chillingham cattle breed throughout the year, but the data shows that more and more calves are being born in the winter. "Winter-born calves don't do very well and are more likely to die before they reach the age of one," said Burthe. "This suggests that the cattle are responding to climate change but this is having a negative impact on them."

The researchers postulate that warmer springs are shifting the breeding schedules.

"Cattle have a nine-month gestation period. Warm springs allow vegetation to start growing earlier, providing the cattle with more nutritious plant growth, and more cows conceive earlier as a result," explains Burthe in the release.

The findings highlight the importance of studying the effects of ecological changes on species expected to be able to adapt well.

"Understanding the consequences of phenology change and how widespread these responses are, even in relatively flexible species such as cattle that are able to breed year-round, helps us to predict the potential magnitude of changes caused by a warming climate," said Burthe.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rocky Mountain Wildflowers Disappearing in MidSummer

A typical alpine meadow.

Wildflowers typically decorate the meadows in the Rocky Mountains through the entire summer; but, scientists have found that recently wildflowers have declined mid-season. The team of researchers suggests that warmer temperatures in midsummer are responsible.

"These meadows are heavily affected by snowmelt and temperature," said David Inouye of the University of Maryland in a press release. "Wildflowers use information from these natural cues to "know" when it's time to unfurl their petals." Dwarf bluebells are one of the earliest plants to bloom in the spring.

According to the experts, the warmer climate has changed the moisture levels in the community, thereby shifting the timing of blooming patterns. The scientists are concerned that the decline in midsummer wildflowers might affect insects and birds whose livelihoods depend on them.

"Some pollinators with short periods of activity may require only a single flower species; but, pollinators active all season must have flowers available in sufficient numbers through the season," the researchers wrote in their paper, published in the Journal of Ecology.

In the long run, this could end up affecting other plants that depend on these same pollinators.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

MSG Linked to Obesity

MSG (monosodium glutamate). We've all eaten it, but now you can say you've seen it: Here's what MSG looks like close-up. Photo courtesy:

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavour enhancer used liberally in processed foods and Asian cuisine. While MSG is a permitted ingredient in the food supply, questions have been asked about its potential role in weight gain and obesity.

Several studies have been done linking MSG with obesity. The results of these studies showed that higher MSG levels were associated with a higher BMI (Body Mass Index). The association remained even after factors such as food intake and activity levels were taken into consideration.

If you believe that weight is only determined by caloric balance, then these results will not make sense. The authors of the study discuss the potential mechanisms behind their findings. They focus on the impact glutamate can have on a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. Although small in size, the hypothalamus has a regulatory role in key processes including metabolism and hunger.

It is also worth noting the role that the hormone leptin has in body wight regulation through its impact on the hypothalamus. Leptin suppresses appetite and stimulates the metabolism. However, if the hypothalamus is not sensitive to leptin (leptin resistance), this does not bode well for maintenance of a healthy body weight.

As the authors of the MSG paper point out, glutamate has the ability to damage the hypothalamus and cause leptin resistance. This mechanism and its potential impact on metabolism could explain how MSG might predispose to obesity, even when food intake and activity levels are taken into account.

If you want to avoid MSG ensure your diet is made from natural, unprocessed foods; and, avoid soy sauce and other condiments likely to be laced with MSG, including gravy mixes and concentrates.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Photo courtesy: FooteFamilyFarm

We have a common expression in North America: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." The fruit is certainly a healthy snack; but, now there's new evidence that a chemical concentrated in apple skin may prevent muscle weakening.

Researcher Dr. Chris Adams of the University of Iowa and his colleagues added the chemical, called ursolic acid, to food given to laboratory mice. He says, "And what we found was they got bigger muscles."

"They got muscle growth and they got stronger. But what was even maybe more interesting was that, even though the muscles were getting bigger, the mice weren't gaining weight." What Adams really wanted to know was what effect ursolic acid would have in cases of muscle wasting.

Muscle atrophy, as it's also known, is a common result of starvation and a number of very serious diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and AIDS. "But even though muscle atrophy is a very, very common and very serious, we don't have a medicine for it. And so that was our goal with these try and address that problem," Adams says.

In another part of the experiment, mice were put on reduced rations, which causes some muscle atrophy. The mice that had ursolic acid added to their diet regained more muscle mass than a control group that didn't get the supplement. "And it did this by helping two hormones that our bodies use to build muscle. And so by helping those hormones, ursolic acid reduced muscle wasting."

Adams said his team hasn't yet investigated whether ursolic acid would prevent muscle wasting; and, he stresses that his research on mice may not apply to humans at all.

But there's reason to believe it might. Ursolic acid, which is found in the skin of pears, some berries, and apples, is also found in herbs used by some traditional healers in Asia and South America to treat diabetes. In their experiments, the researchers injected mice with ursolic acid, which significantly reduced their blood sugar, a basic marker for diabetes.

Chris Adams and his colleagues at University of Iowa and the veteran's hospital in Iowa City published their findings in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Are You Kidding Me?

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Once again, researchers have spent vast sums of taxpayers' money on studies that didn't need to be conducted in the first place. We already had all the information, it was just a matter of arranging it into a coherent report. Two of my all-time favourite money wasters on studies are:

Is smoking addictive? (Duh! Just ask any smoker or me when I was quitting!)
Are vans harder to see around on the road than passenger cars? (Duh x2! Just ask any driver or me!)

Now comes the study on whether old-growth forests protect critical habitats. Send me the money allocated for the study and I can answer that one with information already gathered by scientific communities.

The mind-blowing results of this study is "yes". Old-growth forests are necessary if some species are to survive. The "research" (and I use the term loosely) is as follows:

Large old trees - and particularly the cavities in them - are vital in providing habitat for many6 varieties of bird and animal species; yet, there is a worldwide shortage of such habitat, according to a new study. The study examined the tree holes that birds and mammals use for nesting in Canada around the world.

Most animals can't carve out their own tree holes and rely on those already formed by damage and decay - a process that can take several centuries.

Tree holes are created either quickly by woodpeckers and other such birds; or, more slowly as the trees age, decay and die, a team of researchers from the University of British Columbia found.

Birds like owls, songbirds, and parrots; and, mammals such as flying squirrels and opossums make homes in tree cavities because they offer a safe environment for sleeping, reproduction and raining young. Insects, snakes and amphibians will also make use of tree holes.

Researchers found that in South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia more than 75% of the holes used by birds and mammals were created by damage and decay.

"When wildlife depends on decay-formed cavities, they are relying on large living trees," says lead researcher Kathy Martin, a professor in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC and also a senior research scientist with Environment Canada.

"Most trees have to be more than 100 years old before decay cavities begin to form and often several centuries old before large cavities or many cavities develop in one tree."

In North America however, the team found that woodpeckers and other excavating creatures are responsible for creating up to 99% of tree cavities used by birds and mammals for habitat. Therefore, in North America the tendency is that fewer mature trees are used as habitat, since they are less reliant on the process of decay. In Canada and North America the tree of choice for almost all excavators is Trembling Aspen according to the study.

"The best aspen trees tend to be larger trees that are still alive; but, with some decay in the heartwood, so that woodpeckers can excavate holes in these trees. Most woodpeckers prefer hard trees with soft spots of decay," says Martin.

The good news is that in much of Canada, forest operations tend to save the older Aspen trees for wildlife.

"So, the story is one where cavity-nesting wildlife species are doing pretty well in the managed landscape. A conservation and management success story," Martin says.

The research was carried out between 1995 and 2010, monitoring 2,085 tree holes in both mature and logged forests near William's Lake in British Columbia and two other temperate forests, one in Poland, the other in Argentina. The study highlights the need for the conservation of older growth forests, particularly in areas that are more dependent on the process of tree decay to provide habitat.

"In much of the world, forest policies focus on stipulating the lower diameter limits of trees that can be harvested," the study said. "Such policies help protect young trees but unfortunately promote harvest of large old trees, the very trees needed by cavity-nesting vertebrates."

The study calls for the requirement of forestry companies to conserve a sufficient amount of old trees" for wildlife and to ensure a long-term supply of such trees through careful forestry management. "The value of these large living trees needs to be recognized and we need to ensure that a supply of these trees is retained, especially in tropical forest systems where decay-formed tree holes last for many years and support a lot of wildlife," Martin says.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Carbon for Water Provides LifeStraw Technology

The Life Straw is demonstrated to every family. Photo courtesy: Rachel Cernansky via TreeHugger

In May 2009, I wrote about a new invention with the potential to save millions of lives worldwide - the Life Straw. It was a small device about the size and shape of a straw; and, was used like a straw; but, thanks to an amazingly effective filter, people could use it to drink contaminated water safely.

In Kagamega, Kenya, a mostly-rural region known for being one of the last remaining tracts of the Congolese forest belt is not dissimilar to so much of the developing world. However, its lack of access to clean water, which is only available to about 15% of homes in rural areas has caught the attention of the Carbon for Water campaign.

This campaign is run by Vestergaard Frandsen, the company behind the LifeStraw water filter and one the largest makers of mosquito nets in the world. VF is distributing nearly a million LifeStraw Family water filters, which are designed to provide a family of five with clean water for three years — but more notable is the payment plan for the filters.

The name "Carbon for Water" didn't come from nowhere: the filters have been registered with the Gold Standard Foundation's voluntary carbon credit market.

A woman tries her Life Straw Family in her own home. Photo courtesy: Rachel Cernansky via TreeHugger

The Carbon for Water project is the first to use the carbon market to fund an initiative that reduces emissions but also — by design — has public health benefits. For that reason, the resulting carbon credits are known as "charismatic" credits. Women and children stand to benefit the most from use of the filters because they tend to suffer the most in the first place.

Women are responsible for first collecting water and then taking care of household tasks like cooking and making sure children are healthy. But breathing in indoor smoke when cooking or boiling water takes a rapid toll on women's health: Odhiambo said that respiratory disease is probably the fifth most prevalent health issue in the region. And it's certainly not a Kakamega-specific issue: clean cook stoves are gaining momentum around the world, and Hillary Clinton and Julia Roberts recently teamed up to raise awareness about this much-overlooked but really serious, and preventable, problem.

Eliminating the need to boil water — or preventing children from drinking contaminated water if a family does not have the time or resources to boil water for drinking regularly — can have a significant impact on women's daily lives, as well as on the overall public health of the region and potentially on the health of the nearby forest, to which people turn (illegally, but desperately) to gather firewood.

Women await disciplinary action from forestry officials after being caught illegally collecting firewood. Photo courtesy: Rachel Cernansky via TreeHugger

So Vestergaard Frandsen, which has worked in Kenya before and has an established relationship with local health workers and officials, decided to test the new carbon-financed clean water model in Western Kenya. VF's very global staff teamed up with Kenyan health and community mobilization workers to distribute water filters to homes around the province, and with every filter came a 45-minute training session, followed a few days later by a spot-check by another worker, to ensure people understood what they were getting and knew how to use it properly. After a period of about six weeks, VG said it met the target of reaching 93% of homes in Western Kenya.

Overall, VF expects the program to generate a reduction of more than two million tons of carbon emissions annually. The program will be audited by an independent agency every six months, and carbon credits will only be issued after the emission reductions are verified to be accurate.

While not everybody actually boils their water — they maybe should, but can't because they can't afford the firewood or charcoal, or simply don't have time in the day to dedicate to boiling water water; because VF has registered in the voluntary carbon market, it is allowed to receive credits for "suppressed demand." Cases where people have a need, for sanitation and health reasons, to boil water, but don't because they can't.

VF has made a 10-year commitment to Western Kenya, and one of the next steps is to construct repair centers around the province, allowing people to take their LifeStraw Family in for repairs when necessary, and for a replacement filter when the lifespan of their existing one is up.

Learn more about the campaign from the Carbon for Water blog, with posts written by myself and fellow blogger 'Toyin Ajao, or from the Vestergaard Frandsen website.

Via TreeHugger

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Scientists Use Teeth To Determine Body Temperature of Dinosaurs

A Camarasaurus tooth from the Jurassic Morrison Formation of North America, in a photo courtesy of Caltech. Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Thomas Tutken/Bonn University

Scientists in California say they have for the first time devised a way to accurately take the body temperatures of dinosaurs -- by examining the creatures' teeth.

Chemical analysis of the Jurassic period fossil teeth from two sauropods -- long-tailed, long-necked dinosaurs that rank among the largest land animals ever to roam the Earth -- showed they were about as warm as most modern mammals.

But they also were cooler than some experts had predicted for animals of such gigantic size.

The findings from a team led by researchers at the California Institute of Technology were published Thursday in an online edition of the journal Science.

"This is like being able to stick a thermometer in an animal that has been extinct for 150 million years," said Robert Eagle, an evolutionary biologist and post-doctoral scholar at Caltech who was lead author of the report.

The study supports a growing body of research suggesting dinosaurs were more active and energetic than scientists originally believed.

But it leaves unanswered the key question of whether dinosaurs were cold-blooded, relying on their environments for heat, or warm-blooded, with self-regulated metabolism like modern mammals and their evolutionary descendants, birds.

Eagle said that determination will have to come with further analysis of a much greater range of dinosaur species.

The two dinosaurs initially selected for study -- Brachiosauraus brancai and camarasaurus -- were close cousins of the massive plant-eating dinosaur known as brontosaurus.

The temperature of brachiosaurus was measured at 38.2 degrees Celsius, or 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Camarasaurus registered a temperature of 35.7 degrees C, or 96.3 degrees F. Researchers say those figures are accurate to within 2 degrees Celsius.

While equivalent to the temperature of most modern mammals, that range is warmer than modern and extinct crocodiles and alligators but cooler than birds.

Still, because of their sheer enormous size, sauropod dinosaurs would be expected to retain their body heat more efficiently than smaller warm-blooded animals, like humans, even if dinosaurs themselves were cold-blooded, Eagle said.

To explain this, researchers suggested the dinosaurs may have had some physiological or behavioral adaptation that allowed them to avoid getting too hot. One possibility is they dissipated excess heat through their long necks and tails.

In any case, scientists will learn more as they apply their new technique to other species, such as meat-eating predators like Tyrannosaurus rex or velociraptors, which were smaller and probably faster on their feet, Eagle said.

Researchers previously had to gauge dinosaur body temperatures indirectly, inferring energy needs and metabolism from the spacing of fossil footprints that indicated how fast they ran, or the presumed ratio of predators to prey in the fossil record.

Eagle's more direct technique was adapted from geological research perfected by other Caltech scientists, he said. It examines concentrations of rare carbon and oxygen isotopes in a mineral found in tooth enamel and bone.

Researchers based their study on an examination of 11 fossil teeth unearthed in Tanzania, Wyoming and Oklahoma and donated by museums.

Eagle said his team started with sauropods because their plant-munching teeth were bigger and contained more enamel to work with. Sauropod teeth are also easier to come by in the fossil world, in part because museums and collectors are less willing to part with the teeth of dynamic predator species like T. rex, he said.

Via Reuters