Sunday, September 30, 2012

Recycling, Reusing, Reducing and Repurposing

Transform a large coffee can into a mini trash can. Slip a small plastic bag inside and use it in the car, yard, on the patio or even in the bathroom.

Large coffee cans make great storage for small toys. With the snap-tight lid in place, they make safe places to keep toy cars, used crayons and other small items until they are needed again.

Got old worn-out bedsheets? Got kids? On a nice sunny day outside or even a cool, rainy one inside, dig out those sheets you've been saving. Give the sheets to the kids along with permission to cut them if they wish. Now, grab a cup of tea or coffee and watch imagination at work.

Painting? Old bedsheets make great dropcloths.

Got some old bobby pins laying around? Got a nail needs hammering? Save your fingers and use those old pins as a nail holder. Slip a bobby pin over the nail to hold it in place as you hammer. No more tears!

Prescription bottles are just the ticket for travelling. Many times a traveller will not want to bring a full-size bottle of lotion or shampoo on the trip. Put some in a prescription bottle; then, place the bottles in ziplock bags in case of leakage.

Ziplock bags are the perfect solution when taking full-size bottles on the trip as well. If the bottle does leak - accidents do happen - the product will only go as far as the bag. This is a win-win situation in my mind. You can still the product that is in the bag; and, you have no product on any of your other belongings.

Old Christmas or other greeting cards have several uses once the occasion has past. Many people keep the picture from the rest of the card of the card and donate the pictures to school art programs. The other half of the card is recycled, of course.

For those of us who love great old family recipes written out in long hand, the backs of old Christmas cards (or any greeting card) are a wonderful place to write them. Every time a favourite recipe is pulled out, the picture will bring back old memories.

Make your own floating key chain by punching a hole through the side of a painted wine cork (near one end). Pass a small chain or key ring through it and Presto! Perfect for boat owners or users; swimmers; or anyone who spends time around water.

Got some great old clothing hanging about that still has plenty of life left in it? Your local theatre group or school may be interested in it for use as costumes.

Old leaky garden hoses have several new lives they can go on to. Make your backyard swing set much safer by cutting lengths of old garden hose; and, using them to cover the swing set chains. This will prevent little hands and fingers from getting pinched, squeezed or twisted.

Slit open a length of old, leaky garden hose and slip it over the wire handle of a bucket so that it doesn't cut into your hand.

Firmly attach buttons to clothing by using dental floss. Once the button is sewn with the floss, it will never fall off again.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Oahu, Hawaii is Eroding From Within

Here's a glimpse of paradise. Kanenelu beach, Oahu. Photo courtesy:

Plan your island getaway now: In time, the mountainous tropical paradise of Oahu will erode, according to new research, with the biggest losses coming from within the island itself.

To be accurate, you do have some time to book that vacation before Hawaii's Oahu flattens from an island into a low-lying seamount. Researchers writing in the upcoming February 15 issue of the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta estimate that the volcanic island will continue to grow, thanks to plate tectonics, for another 75,000 to 1.75 million years. After that, however, the forces working to eat away at Oahu from the inside out will begin to triumph.

Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah investigated the forces that add and subtract material from Oahu. The island offers an ideal place to conduct such a study, the researchers said, as it consists of one kind of rock that is exposed to very different levels of precipitation. Various regions in Oahu can record between 2 and 23 feet (0.6 to 7 meters) of precipitation a year, depending on the local climate.

The researchers measured solids dissolved in both surface and groundwater from 45 streams and 30 springs and wells around the island, adding those new measurements to previously reported data, for a total of 170 water samples scattered across Oahu.

Using that data, scientists calculated the mass Oahu loses each year. Although one might expect rain to carry away most of the soil in such a wet climate, underground freshwater springs actually removed the bulk of the mineral material from Oahu, the researchers found.

"More material is dissolving from those islands than what is being carried off through erosion," study researcher Steve Nelson, a Brigham Young University geologist, said in a statement.

In fact, groundwater carried between three and 12 times as much dissolved solids compared to surface water, the researchers report.

Oahu is made up of the remnants of two collapsed shield volcanoes, the kind known for burping out thick, oozy lava that hardens into new land. One volcano, Waianae, was active from about 4 to 2.6 million years ago; the other, Koolau, developed later.

Today, Oahu grows not because of volcanism, but from geologic uplift. As the younger Hawaiian Islands push the Pacific tectonic plate downward, nearby Oahu "pops up," as if on a seesaw. That uplift pushes Oahu's landforms upward at a rate of 0.2 feet (0.06 m) per thousand years, enough (for now) to compensate for the losses caused by groundwater carrying away the island's mass.

Researchers hope that the same methods they used on Oahu can help clarify how other tropical islands change in response to different climate conditions.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Expanding Dust Bowls in China and Africa Threaten Food Prospects

Photo courtesy: USDAgov

The following article was written by Janet Larsen, Director of Research for the Earth Policy Institute.

When most people hear the term “dust bowl,” they think of the American heartland in the 1930s, when a homesteading wheat bonanza led to the plowing up of the Great Plains’ native grassland, culminating in the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

Despite warnings from researchers and some farmers, history repeated itself in the Soviet Virgin Lands Project in the 1950s to early 1960s. Some 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of grassland were plowed under in Russia, Kazakhstan, and western Siberia during Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s push to produce ever more food from the land. When drought hit, the topsoil started to blow away. By 1965, nearly half the newly-planted area was degraded by wind erosion. Yields plummeted. Ultimately farmers staged a retreat, abandoning much of that land.

Unfortunately, dust bowls are not just relics of the past. Today two new dust bowls are forming: one in northern China and southern Mongolia and the other in Africa south of the Sahara. Whereas the dust bowls in the United States and the Soviet Union were the result of overplowing, the main culprit in Asia and Africa is overgrazing. Although arid or semiarid grasslands are typically better suited for grazing livestock than for farming, once they are overstocked their protective grass covering deteriorates and they face erosion all the same.

Forty percent of China’s land area is grassland. Following agricultural reforms that began in the late 1970s, in which collectively-owned livestock were transferred to household ownership, China’s cattle herds grew from 52 million in 1980 to nearly 105 million in 2000, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Meanwhile, China’s population of sheep and goats ballooned from close to 180 million to 280 million. Such a high concentration of grazing animals has put unsustainable pressure on the land. For comparison, the United States — a country with comparable grazing capacity — hosts a similar number of cattle but only 9 million sheep and goats.

The fastest growth in China’s livestock occurred with goats; starting in the mid-1980s, the herd size doubled in just 10 years. This is particularly troubling because a fast expansion of goat populations relative to cattle can indicate grassland deterioration. Goats are hardy, able to survive where few other grazers can. They can make efficient use of remaining greenery on nearly barren landscapes. Yet large numbers of goats often portend further environmental degradation because as the animals remove existing vegetation, they leave soils vulnerable to erosion from wind or rain.

Noting that an extraordinary 90 percent of China’s grasslands are degraded, the Chinese government has embarked on restoration programs, including re-vegetation, grazing bans, and livestock confinement. The government also has moved nomadic herders off the land or limited their movement under the guise of environmental protection. Evidence from the field, however, reveals that disrupting traditional grazing patterns can exacerbate land degradation and leave pastoralists more vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather.

FAO data indicate that since 2000, China’s cattle numbers have shrunk by 20 million, and the growth in sheep and goat herds appears to have stalled. Whether this can be attributed to policies aimed at reducing herd size or the relocation of herders is unclear.

Meanwhile, much damage has been done, and China’s dust bowl rages on. More than a quarter of China’s land area is covered by desert, and each year spreading sands claim additional territory. Expanding deserts in the arid northwest are merging. Since 1950, more than 24,000 Chinese villages have been abandoned or are seriously in danger of succumbing to traveling dunes, with some 35 million people directly affected.

The effects reach far beyond the desert margins. Spring is the dust storm season. The snow melts and the wind picks up, transporting dust and sand particles from northern China and Mongolia as far as Beijing and on to Korea and Japan, sometimes even crossing the Pacific to cloud parts of North America. The China Meteorological Administration reports that a single severe dust storm in 2006 dumped 330,000 tons of dust from the west onto Beijing: a stunning 44 pounds for each of the city’s residents. In 2007, a dust storm originating in China’s spreading Taklimakan Desert circled the globe in just under two weeks.

Desert scholar Wang Tao notes that in the first decade of the twenty-first century, China experienced 87 dust storms. Records of very strong dust storms (in which visibility is reduced below 200 meters) show an increase over recent decades, from 5 in the 1950s to 13 in the 1970s, 23 in the 1990s, and 21 between 2000 and 2009. (See data.)

The Korean Ministry of the Environment notes a similar rise in dust storms arriving from China and Mongolia, with talk of a lengthening and strengthening “yellow dust season” in South Korea. Dust events clouded 23 days in the 1970s, 39 days in the 1980s, 77 days in the 1990s, and 118 days from 2000 to 2011.

As bad as Asia’s dust storms are, the largest source of dust in the atmosphere on a global scale is Africa. Dust has long traveled out of Africa’s deserts and drylands, which make up two thirds of the continent’s land area; in fact, dust blowing out of Chad’s Bodélé Depression is thought to help fertilize the lush Amazon rainforest. Nearly 75 percent of Africa’s drylands are degraded. With land suffering the double whammy of drought and overuse, dust carried out of West Africa has increased over the last 40 years. Studies suggest that the larger influx of African dust may even be teaming up with rising ocean temperatures to damage Caribbean coral reefs.

In the Sahelian zone south of the Sahara the squeeze is on, with fast-growing populations trying to eke out a living by farming or grazing herds on ever less productive land. Desertification is particularly acute in Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger, as well as in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, where an estimated 868,000 acres are lost to desert each year. Conflicts over land between herders (largely Muslim) and farmers (largely Christian) are legion, with both groups exacerbating erosion. Nigerian pastoralists, largely in the country’s north, have dramatically expanded their herds, putting additional pressure on soils already vulnerable because of erratic rainfall. In 1990, Nigeria had 14 million cattle, 12 million sheep, and 23 million goats. By 2010, cattle populations had climbed just slightly to 17 million, but the number of sheep tripled to 36 million, and goats jumped to 56 million.

Both Africa and China have launched ambitious initiatives to halt the spread of deserts with Great Green Walls of trees. Political leaders — including former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (an early champion of the African Wall) and Abdoulaye Wade, former President of Senegal — tend to favor such large symbolic projects. Indeed in the throes of the U.S. Dust Bowl, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was similarly taken with the idea of a giant shelterbelt. But as happened in the United States, desert containment plans in the Sahel and China have broadened in scope beyond basic tree belts to encompass more holistic land management and poverty alleviation activities. The limited success at holding back the sands in China thus far, where since the early 1980s an estimated 40 billion trees have been planted (although far fewer have survived), confirms that stopping desertification involves much more than planting trees.

Climate change is complicating the matter even further. Large parts of the planet are trending toward dryness, with a marked increase in aridity since the 1970s, when global temperatures started to climb. As the Earth heats up further, droughts are projected to become even more pronounced. A rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to prevent runaway global warming, along with a slowdown in the growth of both human and livestock populations to reduce pressure on the land, are what it will take to increase our chances of leaving dust bowls to history.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

China to Move 700 Mountains - Literally

A long, long time ago, an old Chinese peasant named Yu Gong decided to move two inconveniently located mountains away from blocking the entrance to his home. Legend has it he struggled terribly, but ultimately succeeded. Hence the Chinese idiom "Yu Gong moves the mountains." Where there's a will, there's a way. Now Chinese developers are putting old Yu to shame.

In what is being billed as the largest "mountain-moving project" in Chinese history, one of China's biggest construction firms will spend £2.2bn to flatten 700 mountains levelling the area Lanzhou, allowing developers to build a new metropolis on the outskirts of the north-western city.

The Lanzhou New Area, 500 square miles (130,000 hectares) of land 50 miles from the city, which is the provincial capital of arid Gansu province, could increase the region's gross domestic product to £27bn by 2030, according to the state-run China Daily. It has already attracted almost £7bn of corporate investment.

The project will be China's fifth "state-level development zone" and the first in the country's rapidly developing interior, according to state media reports. Others include Shanghai's Pudong and Tianjin's Binhai, home to a half-built, 120-building replica of Manhattan. China's state council, its highest administrative authority, approved the Lanzhou project in August.

The first stage of the mountain-flattening initiative, which was reported on Tuesday by the China Economic Weekly magazine, began in late October and will eventually enable a new urban district almost 10 square miles in size northeast of downtown Lanzhou – a small, but important part of the Lanzhou New area project to be built. (This page is in Chinese; translation may be needed.)

One of the country's largest private companies: the Nanjing-based China Pacific Construction Group, headed by Yan Jiehe, is behind the initiative. The 52-year-old former teacher is portrayed in China as a sort of home-grown Donald Trump – ultra-ambitious and preternaturally gifted at navigating the country's vast network of "guanxi", or personal connections.

Yan was born in the 1960s as the youngest of nine children. After a decade of working as a high-school teacher and cement plant employee, he founded his construction firm in 1995 and amassed a fortune by buying and revamping struggling state-owned enterprises. In 2006 the respected Hu Run report named Yan – then worth about £775m – as China's second-richest man. (Be aware you may see an advertisement unrelated to this topic appear. It will disappear shortly; and, the article will appear.)

His latest plan has evoked a healthy dose of scepticism. Lanzhou, home to 3.6 million people alongside the silty Yellow River, already has major environmental concerns. Last year the World Health Organisation named it the city with the worst air pollution in China. The city's main industries include textiles, fertiliser production and metallurgy.

Liu Fuyuan, a former high-level official at the country's National Development and Reform Commission, told China Economic Weekly that the project was unsuitable because Lanzhou is frequently listed as among China's most chronically water-scarce municipalities. "The most important thing is to gather people in places where there is water," he said.

Others also pointed to the financial risk of building a new city in the middle of the desert. "All this investment needs to be paid back with residential land revenue, and I don't see much on returns in these kinds of cities," said Tao Ran, an economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing. "If you have a booming real estate market it might work, but it seems to me that real estate in China is very, very risky."

In an email interview, a China Pacific Construction Group spokeswoman dismissed criticisms of the project as unjustified. "Lanzhou's environment is already really poor, it's all desolate mountains which are extremely short of water," said Angie Wong. "Our protective style of development will divert water to the area, achieve reforestation and make things better than before."

Yan's plans could be considered "a protective style of development, and a developmental style of protection", she said, adding: "I think whether it's England or America, or any other country, no one will cease development because of resource scarcity caused by geography."

A promotional video posted on the Lanzhou new area website shows a digitally-rendered cityscape of gleaming skyscrapers and leafy parks. Against a driving operatic score, the camera zooms out from a large government building to reveal features of the area's imagined urban topography: a clock tower, a new airport, an oil refinery, a light-rail system, and a stadium packed with cheering fans.

The new area "will lead to an environmentally sustainable economy based on energy-saving industries" including advanced equipment manufacturing, petrochemical industries and modern agriculture, wrote Chinese Central Television on its website.

The Lanzhou city government could not be reached for comment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Does Greater Efficiency Lead to Greater Waste?

Photo courtesy: Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Many years ago, I thought I had been visually violated when I closed the door to a ladies' stall; and, found a face staring at me. I felt that advertising had finally crossed the line - I mean some places are supposed to be sacred; and, this was one of them. However, this was many years ago; and, apparently things have progressed since then. Read on for Lloyd Alter's point of view:

I have always been dubious about the rebound effect, or Jevons Paradox. It's the theory that suggests that as things become more efficient, we use more of them, say building a bigger house or driving a bigger car as the fuel economy improves. I never thought that it really applied, because in Jevons' day, coal was getting cheaper every day, which promoted the development of more ways to use the stuff. Today, our energy sources are mostly getting more expensive over time, so we should logically be using the greater efficiency to basically stay in the same place.

Then I used the loo at lunch at Noce, and saw that the simple frames with ads that used to be over urinals in Toronto are now LED video screens. That the technology has become cheap and ubiquitous enough that we can essentially have a TV running all day to sell advertising, complete with, according to Newad, "Full stereo motion-activated sound that grabs the consumer’s attention." (which fortunately wasn't running while I was there)

IDS11: IKEA Model Kitchen Demonstrates Jevons Paradox

Perhaps I was wrong about Jevons after all. We may not buy fridges that are twice the size or drive our Priuses twice as far, but we are certainly finding crazy new ways to waste energy. When I wrote about another, similarly stupid waste of energy last year at the Interior Design Show, commenter Anthony nailed it:
The Jevons Paradox definitely is important- as efficiency rises, the cost of consuming a product or service falls, so we consume more of it. So efficiency can't happen in a vacuum. It needs to be combined with either rising energy prices (by taxes or decreasing supply) or by a culture that embraces efficiency as a value in itself. That's all it means. Efficiency is still an essential component: it allows us to consume less without having to give something up.
I think I fall into the culture that embraces efficiency as a value in itself, and think that this is just an appalling trend.

I'm with Lloyd on that one. Some things just go too far.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

350,000 Trees Planted in Uganda

Photo courtesy: Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Trees are such an awe inspiring, multi-functional creation that many poems, sonnets and other literary pieces have been dedicated to them.

Remember these:

"Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago."
"Wise is the man who plants a tree under whose shade he will never sit".

Most people, myself included, have a special fondness for trees, so it was heart-warming to learn that tree-planting is not a lost art, and that the Earth Day Network has completed the first phase of its commitment to plant 10 million trees in impoverished areas of the world in 5 years (350k done, 9 million and 650 thousand to go...).

The flag of Uganda.

It's great because these can really make a difference, not only environmentally for all the obvious reasons, but also socially:
In the Kiboga-Kyankwanzi District, farmers are planting trees for fuel wood, animal fodder, construction materials, and intercropping. In the Kayunga District, families are planting trees for timber, to prevent soil erosion and mitigate the effects of storms, and to create living fences to protect their land from being seized by corrupt and influential farmers. In the Kamuli District, farmers are planting trees to create boundaries on their land and to provide fodder for cattle, which they are keeping to produce raw material for a biogas project in the district.

“My pigs did not have a shelter, but the trees I planted have created a forest for my pigs, and I also get firewood,” said Jaja Namboyere, a farmer in Basuutu Kyankwazi-Kibogo.


“I’m happy to have planted Calliandra trees as a fence on my land,” said Henry William Kunduba, a farmer in Balawori Kamuli. “I also use them to feed my goats. I need more Calliandra so that I can plant on all my land.”
Keep up the good work, Earth Day Network! And kudos to all the other tree-planters out there. Truly an investment in our future.

Photo courtesy: Dorothy Voorhees/CC BY-SA 2.0

For more info, go to the Earth Day Network and read all about the Canopy Project.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Costa Rica Bans Sport Hunting

Pumas are among Costa Rica's most treasured species. Photo courtesy: Raul Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Good for you, Costa Rica!! Costa Rica has became the first Latin American country to ban hunting as a sport, after an unanimous and final vote from Congress.

Lawmakers had provisionally approved a reform to its Wildlife Conservation law back in October. With a population of 4.5 million people, Costa Rica is one of the world's most biodiverse nations.

The central American country is already known for its environmental mindset, with 25% of its land protected as national parks or reserves.

Under the new law, those caught hunting can face up to four months in prison or fines of up to $3,000.

Smaller penalties for people who steal wild animals or keep them as pets were also included in the reform. Jaguars, pumas and sea turtles are among Costa Rica's most treasured species.

"There is no data on how much money hunting generates in the country, but we do know there are currently clandestine hunting tours that go for about $5,000 per person," said Arturo Carballo, deputy director at Apreflofas, an environmentalist organisation who spearheaded the reform.

Foreign hunters come to Costa Rica in search of exotic felines while others look to obtain rare and colorful parrots as pets.

This is also Costa Rica's first proposal that came to Congress by popular initiative, with 177,000 signatures calling for the ban submitted two years ago.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Did You Know That...

Kleenex-brand tissues started out as thin, gauzelike paper called Cellucotton that Kimberly-Clark produced as liners for GIs' gas masks during World War 1. When the war ended, the company used the surplus to make "Kleenex Kerchiefs", which it heavily promoted as "the Sanitary Cold Cream Remover". Women all over the country scrambled to buy the handy things. Until then, they'd used washcloths and towels to take off their makeup. But they soon began writing to the company with a complaint: Their husbands and children were forever snatching the Kerchiefs to blow their noses! The folks at Kimberly-Clark took the hint, changed their marketing strategy, and, voila - Kleenex tissues were born.

Dandelions can erase liver spots and get rid of warts as well. Pick some dandelions, break the stems open and squeeze a generous amount of the milky sap onto the blotches or warts. Then rub with a circular motion until the fluid disappears. Do this two or three times a day until the marks fade or warts disappear. If the liver spots are very, very, dark they may never completely disappear; but, they will become light enough they are barely noticeable.

No one know exactly who invented the washing machine or when. The basic concept goes back centuries to the days when sailors on long sea voyages would stuff their soiled clothes into canvas sacks, tie them to ropes, toss them overboard and let the ocean waves tumble them clean. One thing we do know is that as early as the 1700s, women in western Europe were doing the family laundry by putting it into a wooden box, which they filled with soap and water; then, tumbled the clothes with a hand crank.

The first electric clothes washers appeared in England and the United States in 1915; and, featured a motor that rotated a metal drum pierced with holes. These pioneer machines were a step in the right direction; but, still demanded a fair amount of hard labour, including hauling wet laundry out of the tub and running it through a wringer.

Then in 1939, the first truly automatic washers came on the market, complete with preset water levels, variable studiness cycles and timing controls.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Great Grandpa Becomes Paper Boy at 86!

Biker Bud on his appointed rounds. Photo courtesy: KARE-TV/Screen capture

Every community needs a person like Bud Shaefer a.k.a. Biker Bud. While many folks more than half his age have relegated bike-riding as merely a pleasent pastime from their youth, one octogenarian in Minnesota is proving that finding the joy of cycling anew just might be the key to staying young at heart.

On Christmas day four years ago, when Bud Shaefer unwrapped a bicycle gifted to him by his adult children, he was sure they'd wasted their money. But it wasn't long before the 86-year-old retiree decided to give it a try -- and in so doing, he discovered the hobby of a lifetime, and a pleasurable part-time job to boot.

According to a report from Minneapolis news station KARE-11, the pedal-loving great-grandpa soon found himself riding every day for fun and exercise. So, when a newspaper delivery spot opened up in his quaint community of 800 residents, he jumped at the opportunity to bring folks their papers while doing what he loved to do anyways.

To be sure, the pay's not great, but that seems to matter little to the region's oldest (and perhaps most reliable) paperboy. "You try it sometime, you'll like it too," says Shaefer.

Way to go, Bud. You're an inspiration to us all.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Air Pollution is Responsible for 3 Million Premature Deaths a Year

Another lovely, smoggy day in downtown Anywhere. Photo courtesy: Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Air quality has certainly improved in the U.S. over the last few decades — thanks to the Clean Air Act — but it's still one of the top health concerns around the world. A new report compiled by global health professionals pegs the toll of outdoor air pollution at a staggering 3.2 million premature deaths a year.

Particulate pollution like soot does the most damage, especially in the booming smog-choked cities across Asia. The report, published in the Lancet, finds that outdoor air pollution is the No. 4 health risk there, right behind smoking. Here in the U.S., it's still a major threat too, despite our progress since the sooty seventies. The report asserts that air pollution is the 8th greatest danger to premature birth worldwide.

The NRDC explains how it is that air pollution is so deadly:
It is the very finest soot – so small that it lodges deep within the lungs and from there enters the bloodstream – that contributes to most of the public health toll of air pollution including mortality. Diesel soot, which is also a carcinogen, is a major problem because it is concentrated in cities along transportation corridors impacting densely populated areas. It is thought to contribute to half the premature deaths from air pollution in urban centers. For example one in six people in the U.S. live near a diesel pollution hot spot like a rail yard, port terminal or freeway.
Point is, there are still hundreds of millions — if not billions — of people around the world who suffer the ill effects of particulate pollution. It's not just premature deaths, either; it's asthma, respiratory illness, cancer, and so on. Transitioning to cleaner energy sources and cleaner, lower-emissions vehicles will begin alleviate that suffering.

And we should be probably be actively working towards a world where three million people don't have to die early every year because they live too near a truck route or a power plant.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What do You Get When You Cross a Christmas Tree With a Jellyfish?

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger/CC BY 2.0

Totally unbelievable!! All that money and all that talent spent on a project to make trees glow green by day and night...a Christmas tree that lights itself. I can't help but think there are projects that could have used the talent and funding far more...HIV, poverty, hunger, cancer...

While 'tis supposedly the season of mirth and merry, nothing dampens a festive spirit quite like discovering an impossible tangle of Christmas lights your former self, in the midst of last year's post-holiday hangover, left for your future self to sort out. But if scientists have their way, one day the ire of burned out bulbs too may be a thing of the past -- instead, your Christmas tree just might produce its own light.

As it turns out, British genetic engineers have spent years perfecting a process whereby your run-of-the-mill Christmas tree could be modified to literally glow from within. The only downside, of course, is that your self-lit holiday centerpiece would be actually be a Frankenstein tree.

According to one BBC report, a team of postgraduate researchers from the University of Hertfordshire have devised a way to splice the bioluminescent properties of jellyfish and fireflies into the genes of a Douglas spruce, thereby creating a tree which would glow green both day and night, without adding a cent to your electricity bill.

"It is quite feasible. The only problem in reality is the cost," said researcher Kay Presland, who in 1999, first spearheaded the study of glowing spruces. "We calculate that the initial trees would cost about £200 ($320), which means going for the upper end of the market. But I'm sure a lot of people would love them, especially the Americans."

Naturally, admits Presland, there are many folks who would be skeptical of housing a self-illumated Christmas tree. "People are always afraid of the unknown," she says in an interview with McSweeney. "Man wouldn’t have developed past the wheel had we stopped at everyone’s distaste."

Still, it's no wonder Christmas tree consumers might feel wary of embracing a jellyfish-firefly tree into their homes, even beyond the eerie glow it promises to emit and the premium price.

After all, the thought of a jolly, bearded man covertly entering our living rooms Christmas morning is hard enough to swallow as it is -- and he only asks for milk and cookies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Small Charity Largest Supplier of Solar Lights in Africa

Photo courtesy: © Solar-Aid

Solar lights save lives in Africa. They improve school performance. They reduce respiratory diseases. And they provide a scalable model for micro-enterprises and economic stimulus.

But who's the biggest seller of solar electric lights on the continent? Until recently, perhaps surprisingly, it was the French oil giant Total — which was selling portable lights through its gas station forecourts and other channels. That leadership position has now been overtaken by TreeHugger regulars Solar-Aid. In a blogpost over at Sunshine Is Free, Solar Aid CEO reveals how a tiny, recently launched charity has become the biggest seller of solar lights in Africa:
At SolarAid and SunnyMoney, we have huge respect for the work Total are doing – and will do all that we can to encourage and support it – but it’s hard not to be a bit competitive! So we smiled when we learnt that they have sold 111,000 solar lights in the last three years. Here are our latest figures:

- Sold in the last three years: 203,000
- Sold in the last seven months: 137,500
- Sold in October 2012: 35,000

We believe this makes us the biggest last mile seller of solar lights in Africa; probably by a big margin if you look at our current run rate.
This isn't just a story about how small social enterprises can have a massive global impact. It's also pretty neat to note that fossil fuel giants are getting in on the action too, and not - we suspect - just to boost their corporate image. Solar power offers huge opportunities in the emerging markets of poor countries. It's neat to see how different players are jockeying to meet that demand.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Refreezing The Artic? Is This a Viable Option?

Arctic sea ice running low? No problem, according to scientists – technology can refreeze it. Photo courtesy: Yahoo!News

2012 marked a new record low for the extent of Arctic sea ice, but apparently that's not a problem. We can just refreeze it!

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is the key to a lasting solution to 'human-enhanced' climate change, however since governments and industries aren't doing a very good job of meeting reduction goals, strategies to reduce the worst effects of climate change may be needed. Dr. David Keith, a Canadian physicist, climate scientist and public policy expert who teaches at Harvard University, has done extensive research into the field of Solar Radiation Management, which involves different ways of reducing the amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth's surface.

The concept behind solar radiation management is fairly basic: introduce a substance into the environment that will reflect more sunlight back into space, and the resulting reduction in the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface will cause an immediate temperature drop in the affected region. One method of doing this involves spraying reflective aerosols — tiny drops of liquid about the same size as those that make up clouds, such as sulphur dioxide or titanium dioxide — into the stable stratosphere, where they can persist for years. Similar aerosols injected into any level of the troposphere (the lowest level of the atmosphere, where all weather happens) would quickly get caught up in the turbulent weather that we see every day and would not last long enough to help reduce incoming sunlight.

Would this really work? Studying the effects of volcanic eruptions (which is where they got the idea from in the first place) and using computer model simulations have given scientists plenty of evidence that it will.

Some approaches to solar radiation management have tried to deal with the situation on a global scale, with talk of releasing a million tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to lower the temperature around the world. However, these ideas have come under criticism, because of the potential for unforeseen consequences. For example, it has been suggested that introducing sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere could destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer, exposing us to dangerous ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

Dr. Keith and his colleagues suggest that much better results could be achieved, with a minimum of risk, by only using solar radiation management on a regional scale. Therefore, rather than spread the reflective substance across the entire stratosphere, we would only use it over the area that needed it. They used a selected climate model to simulate these regional changes, compared to a uniform global change, and according to CalTech News, "it took five times less solar reduction than in the uniform reflectance models to recover the Arctic sea ice to the extent typical of pre-Industrial years."

Injecting just five metric tons of these reflective aerosols into the Arctic stratosphere could lower solar radiation levels over the Arctic Ocean enough to refreeze it and allow it to remain frozen. Before you get too alarmed by that five metric tons, the latest official figures from the US EPA show that in 1999, industry released over 17 million metric tons of sulphur dioxide into the troposphere.

There are down-sides to the plan, of course.

Likely no surprise to anyone, it is going to cost money. Compared to how much the effects of climate change are projected to cost us, or what the costs of reducing emissions will be, though, it is a drop in the bucket. Dr. Keith, along with Justin McClellan, from the Aurora Flight Science Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Jay Apt, from Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business and Department of Engineering and Public Policy, published a cost-analysis report in the journal Environmental Research Letters, in August of this year.

Their report states that the technology to deliver these materials to the right altitude and location already exist, and by modifying existing aircraft to act as the delivery method, the entire effort of running the program would cost between $5-8 billion per year (depending on the method of delivery), with the majority of that cost going towards buying or producing the sulphur dioxide itself. According to the same report (referencing from the 2007 IPCC report) "the costs of climate damages or of emission mitigation are commonly estimated to be 0.2—2.5% of 2030 global GDP... equivalent to roughly $200B to $2000B per year. Our estimates of the cost of delivering mass to the stratosphere — likely to be the most substantial part of the cost of SRM deployment — are less than 1% of this figure."

So, we can do this, and compared to the alternatives, it is fairly cost effective. However, is this something we should be doing?

From the standpoint of the effect of having sea ice as opposed to not having sea ice, we should choose to have the sea ice. Without it, global temperatures will rise even faster than they are now. When the sea ice is there, it reflects back solar radiation into space and limits the amount of warming there is of the planet. Take that sea ice away and the darker water absorbs a large percentage of the incoming solar radiation. This will not only contribute to more melting of sea ice, but will give a generally warmer atmosphere and as the water warms it will expand, causing further rises in sea level.

There is the risk of destroying the stratospheric ozone layer, especially if these reflective aerosols get into the Antarctic stratospheric clouds that accumulate during the winter, which are the primary cause of the Antarctic ozone hole. These chemicals, in higher concentrations, would enhance the destruction of ozone and make the ozone hole even larger. However, using a regional scale approach would allow us to limit the concentrations of the aerosols, and thus limit the damage they cause.

There's one other problem with this idea, though — a general tendency towards quick fixes.

Peter Mooney, with Ottawa's Etc Group, which monitors the effects of technology and corporate strategies on society and the environment told The National Post, "It's naive to think that once [solar radiation management] becomes a political option that governments won't just take it on and interpret it as they wish. They will always find scientists who will give them the spin that they want."

"[We shouldn't be] opening up the back door for politicians to creep out of, claiming that, 'Don't worry folks. We don't need to do anything because we have technological fixes that we can deploy on short notice.'"

Monday, September 17, 2012

Slick Tricks

Photo courtesy:

Cooking liquids are one of the most valuable, wasted commodities in the modern kitchen. "Experienced" water contains a lot of taste and nutrition that many people just pour down the drain once the cooking process is finished.

Stop wasting this resource and save some money replacing some OTC (over-the-counter) products as well.

Asparagus - clear up blackheads, pimples, and other facial sores by dabbing them with asparagus water twice a day. Toothpaste dabbed on the blemish works well too. Put on at night, wash off in the morning. Good-bye expensive drugstore remedies.

Eggs - clean pewter by immersing the objects in egg water and letting them sit for a few minutes. Then dip a soft cloth in the water and rub your treasures clean. Rinse with clear water and wipe dry. Good-bye dangerous, toxic OTC cleaners.

If you are a gardener (no matter how big or small), egg water is a wonderful tonic for your plants. Give them a couple of good drinks of egg water throughout the year to help them remain healthy and hearty. Cut back on your fertilizer bill.

Peas - relieve the itch of poison ivy and other rashes by sponging the skin with pea water. Repeat as often as necessary.

Potatoes (unpeeled) - put glistening highlights in brown hair by dipping a pastry brush in potato water and saturating your hair (being careful not to get any water in your eyes). Wait 30 minutes and rinse thoroughly with cool water. Repeat every few weeks to retain the highlights.

Do you bake your own bread? I do and I have never found anything that makes a moister, lighter loaf than potato water. I save my potato water (usually with a potato blended into the liquid) and use it as the liquid in my bread dough. Try it once - you'll be hooked.

Of course, there is also the option of keeping a container in your freezer and using it to hold the liquids until you are ready to make a soup or stew. When I am saving the liquid, I simmer it down to just a small amount and let cool. Then I add it to the container in the freezer. When it's time to make a soup or stew, I already have an excellent starting point for the broth that comes pre-loaded with loaded with flavour, vitamins and minerals.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

When Energy is Scarce, This Village Voluntarily Powers Down

Photo courtesy: Shaun Merritt/CC BY 2.0

We already know that smart grid technologies could cut peak power demand by 20%, but this is particularly important in remote communities where energy security is fragile.

That's why Hawaii is experimenting with demand response technologies, powering down lights and appliances in businesses and homes when the wind stops blowing. Now Business Green has an interesting case study of the Faroe Islands' demand response experiments, where 3 major businesses account for a full 10% of the islands energy use. These businesses — all involved in one way or another in the fishing industry — see a controlled, predictable power down scenario as much more favorable than the alternative:
Bergfrost Cold Storage boasts a storage tunnel drilled into a mountain at the harbour side, which means it can lose power for 24 hours without causing damage to its frozen foods. Hiddenfjord Salmon Farm, by contrast, can only operate for up to 15 minutes without power loss harming its fish. After 15-30 minutes, three to four million fish would be lost, costing the company a minimum of 20 million DKK (£2.2m). But SEV knows the constraints and the company maintains 10-15 minutes of controlled outage is far better than the prospect of emergency blackouts that can last for hours.
The other interesting element of the Faroe's case study is that rather than going after the relatively complex challenge of shaping consumer demand, the folks who run the island's energy supply have instead chosen to create partnerships with a few key industry players who represent a hefty chunk of demand. The result is a much less complex, easier to implement scheme that still delivers significant energy savings at a fraction of the cost and red tape of a consumer-oriented program.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bogobrush: A Toothbrush You Can Care About

Photo courtesy: © Bogobrush

Beautifully designed, ecologically sound, and socially-minded are not phrases we associate with toothbrushes. But maybe they should be. Recently profiled on Design Milk, Bogobrush is a biodegradable toothbrush on a mission to bring healthy smiles to people across the country that do not have accesses to dental care.

Growing up the children of a dentist, the brother and sister team of John and Heather McDougall seemed destined to design a product that brought social awareness, and environmental action to something as mundane as brushing your teeth.

According to Bogobrush, 450 million toothbrushes are thrown away in the United States. An astounding 80 million people in the country lack access to adequate dental care. Enter Bogobrush: it’s crafted from bamboo and nylon bristles that are biodegradable. That means you can bury it in your garden instead of sending it to a landfill.

Photo courtesy: © Bogobrush

For every Bogobrush bought, one toothbrush is donated to a giving partner. Right now partners include centers in Detroit, Atlanta and Minnesota. You can preorder a single Bogobrush for $10.00 or buy a year’s subscription for $40.00, and every three months a Bogobrush will be delivered to you and someone in need.

Friday, September 14, 2012

World's Rarest Whale Seen Physically For The First Time

The world's rarest whale, the spade-toothed beaked whale, has been spotted for the first time in New Zealand. The whale stranded and died on a beach in December 2010. Photo courtesy: New Zealand Department of Conservation

The world's rarest whale has been spotted for the first time, in New Zealand, where two of the whales stranded themselves.

The two spade-toothed beaked whales, a mother and calf, stranded and died on Opape Beach on the North Island of New Zealand, in December 2010. The mother was 17 feet (5.3 meters) long and the calf was 11 feet (3.5 m) long.

A report describing the whales and the analysis of their DNA appears in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Current Biology.

"Up until now, all we have known about the spade-toothed beaked whale was from three partial skulls collected from New Zealand and Chile over a 140-year period. It is remarkable that we know almost nothing about such a large mammal," Rochelle Constantine, a marine biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, said in a statement. "This is the first time this species has ever been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them."

At first, the animals were thought to be much more common Gray's beaked whales. Their identity came to light following routine DNA analysis, which was done as part of a 20-year program to collect data on beaked whale species in New Zealand waters. New Zealand is a known hotspot for whale stranding, and it has the highest rates and greatest diversities of stranded whale species in the world, the researchers report.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation photographed the animals and collected tissue samples.

"When these specimens came to our lab, we extracted the DNA as we usually do for samples like these, and we were very surprised to find that they were spade-toothed beaked whales," Constantine said. "We ran the samples a few times to make sure before we told everyone."

The researchers said they have no idea why the whales have remained so elusive.

"It may be that they are simply an offshore species that lives and dies in the deep ocean waters and only rarely wash[es] ashore," Constantine said.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Grand Canyon May be Much Older Than Originally Thought

Grand Canyon viewed from Hopi Point, on the south rim. New evidence suggests the western Grand Canyon was cut to within 70 percent of its current depth long before the Colorado River existed. Photo courtesy: US National Park Service

The age of the Grand Canyon is a puzzle, because the Colorado River has washed away many of the clues.

So for 150 years, geologists have pondered the processes shaping the canyon, one of the world's great wonders and a living laboratory for understanding Earth history.

The gorge's rugged beauty, with its sheer cliff and steep slopes, looks young. And the general scientific consensus, updated at a 2010 conference, holds that the copper-colored Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon beginning 5 million to 6 million years ago. Many strong lines of evidence support this theory, including a pile of gravel and limestone pancaked with lava at a place called Muddy Creek. This geologic layer cake, at the western mouth of the canyon, locks down the Colorado River from exiting the canyon before 6 million years ago.

However, recent advances in dating techniques have upended the notion of a uniformly young Grand Canyon. The new approach determines when erosion uncovered rocks in the canyon. The big picture: there were two ancestral canyons, one in the west and one in the east. And the western canyon may be as old as 70 million years.

The latest sally is a study reporting samples from the western Grand Canyon were close to the Earth's surface 70 million years ago. The evidence suggests the western Grand Canyon was cut to within 70 percent of its current depth of 3,200 feet (1,000 meters) long before the Colorado River existed. The results appear today (Nov. 29) in the journal Science.

"Our data suggests that there was in fact a large canyon present for most of the Grand Canyon by about 70 million years ago in its western segment, and that canyon was carved to nearly modern depths," said Rebecca Flowers, lead study author and a geology professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "In the eastern canyon, the canyon was higher, and lowered into its modern configuration sometime after 20 million years ago."

View of the western Grand Canyon and the Colorado River from the canyon bottom. New data suggests most of this portion of the canyon was carved by 70 Ma, more than 60 Ma earlier than generally believed. Photo courtesy: Rebecca Flowers.

This much older western "paleocanyon" was incised by an ancient river flowing west to east. This Cretaceous river carved the western Grand Canyon to within a few hundred meters of its modern depth, and the eastern Grand Canyon to a higher level.

When combined with rock sample ages Flowers collected in the eastern Grand Canyon during this study and in 2008, the overview gives the Grand Canyon a complicated history. However, the research can fit into the constraints presented by the Muddy Creek barrier and other evidence supporting a young canyon, Flowers told OurAmazingPlanet.

"The presence of the [Muddy Creek] detritus represents the integration of the river system," Flowers said. That is, the Muddy Creek simply represents the Colorado River appropriating the paleocanyons and created a single drainage 6 million years ago.

Two canyons? Geologist Richard Young, who has studied the Grand Canyon for nearly 50 years, said scientists have considered the idea of two Grand Canyon precursors — one west, one east — since the research community's first symposium in 1964.

"We agreed that there were two canyons, one in the west and in the east, we don't disagree on that," he said. The problem is that Dr. Flowers wants to make the western canyon very old, Young told OurAmazingPlanet.

"It really looks like they're onto something, but it's hard to make sense out of it," said Young, a professor at the State University of New York in Geneseo. "It's really good work and it's really interesting, so obviously there's something we're missing in the story. I'm sure we're going to be talking about it forever," he said.

Recent work by geologist Karl Karlstrom supports the idea for a paleocanyon in the east. "We showed very conclusively that there was a paleocanyon in the eastern Grand Canyon that was carved between 25 and 15 million years ago," said Karlstrom, a professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

But Karlstrom is a strong advocate for a Grand Canyon quickly carved by the Colorado River starting 6 million years ago, not older rivers coming from the west. The western Grand Canyon region was cut across nearly at right angles by one or more paleocanyons with rivers that flowed north around 70 million years ago, but these paleorivers did not follow the modern course of Grand Canyon, Karlstrom said.

"The best answer is that Grand Canyon was carved by the west-flowing Colorado River in the last 5 to 6 million years and that earlier paleocanyons were likely re-used and deepened once the river found its present path," he said.

The American Southwest had a radically different appearance 70 million years ago. Most of the region's famed dinosaur fossils come from the Jurassic, and the canyon-cutting identified by Flowers and colleague Ken Farley of Caltech began in the Late Cretaceous.

North America during the Late Cretaceous, 68 million years ago. The flat Colorado Plateau can be seen in the southwest, bounded by the Sevier Mountains on the west and the Western Interior Sea to the east. Photo courtesy: U.S. Geological Survey

Seen from the air, the flat Colorado plateau might be recognizable, but the rainbow-hued pillars and monuments of national parks such as Arches, Zion and Bryce had yet to take shape. Close to the west rose a volcanic arc similar to today's Andes — the precursor to California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. A wrinkled belt called the Sevier mountains was northwest of the plateau. To the east was the Western Interior Seaway. Rivers flowed out of mountains generally heading northeast into the ocean.

The infant Rocky Mountains didn't start their rise in the east until about 10 million years later, though this timing is debated. The Basin and Range province, which built the classic Southwest monuments and valleys immortalized in film and art, began tearing apart 20 million years ago. Rivers crossing the Colorado Plateau reversed their course, flowing east to west, around this time.

"We know the river systems must have evolved dramatically during this time. The controversial part of it is how they evolved," Flowers said.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wind-Blown Plastic Bags and Balloons Threaten Desert Wildlife

Trash made up of balloons and plastic bags can prove hazardous to desert wildlife. Photo courtesy: Erin Zylstra

Ocean garbage patches get a lot of attention, but a lot of trash is blowing across some of the most treasured and remote parts of America's desert wilderness, according to a new study out of the University of Arizona.

Biologist Erin Zylstra mapped and added up all the wind-dispersed plastic trash bags and latex balloons in two protected parts of the Saguaro National Park in Arizona. She was surprised to discover that these particular kinds of very mobile trash outnumbered desert tortoises and western diamondback rattlesnakes. Like in the oceans, the bags and balloons pose potential threats to wildlife.

The study, due to be published in the February 2013 issue of Journal of Arid Environments, grew out of surveys Zylstra was conducting on those same two reptile species as part of her studies at the University of Arizona, where she is now a doctoral student.

"We were spending a lot of time surveying and we started to notice a lot of trash," Zylstra said. "Balloons are everywhere, once you start to look." The balloons were often found in clumps, tied with string and can become so degraded they look almost like lichens stuck to rocks, she explained.

"Western diamondback rattlesnakes are pretty common in the areas we studied," she said. "The fact that there is considerably more balloons than snakes was kind of shocking."

Like trash on the oceans and in coastal areas, winds seems to play a role in where trash collects in the desert as well. Zylstra found that the wind-blown bags and balloons in the two study areas, situated on opposite sides of the city of Tucson, reflected seasonal wind patterns in the region.

Because balloons are made of latex, they eventually decompose, although how long that takes in the desert is unknown. Plastic grocery bags, on the other hand, only break down if they are exposed to sunlight. Even then they only break into smaller pieces and become part of the water and soils, without actually changing into other compounds. That means they could mix with the water and food ingested by wild animals.

"Nobody really knows where those pieces of plastic bags end up," Zylstra said. "It's not known whether they have toxic effects." One possible concern is that the bags could end up in the few desert watering holes that animals of all kinds must share.

Another potential hazard for wildlife is the strings that come with the bunches of balloons, said Don Swann, a National Park Service biologist who works at Saguaro National Park.

"We see plastic bags and balloons in very remote places," confirmed Swann. This study finally put numbers on the amount of trash, which is very helpful, he said. It also showed how efficiently trash surveys can be incorporated into biological surveys.

"It's really great when researchers think outside the box," said Swann. "They can come up with insights that are valuable to us."

This story was provided by Discovery News.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First a Canadian Beef Recall - Now an American Pork Problem

Photo courtesy: Flickr/I Believe I Can Fry/CC BY 2.0

A Consumer Reports analysis of pork purchased in American supermarkets and other shops reveals that many samples contained surprisingly high amounts of a bacterium that causes food poisoning. Compounding the concern is that many of the samples of the bacterium, Yersinia enterocolitica, proved to be antibiotic-resistant.

The magazine analyzed 148 samples of pork chops and 50 samples of ground pork for contamination, the meat was selected from a variety of stores in six American cities -- the stores from where the samples were purchased were not named.

Y. enterocolitica was found in 69 percent of the samples. Salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes, which are all more-common causes of foodborne illness, were found in 3 to 7 percent of samples. And 11 percent of the samples had enterococcus, which suggest fecal contamination and may cause illnesses such as urinary-tract infections.

Although salmonella and E. coli usually steal the spotlight, Y. enterocolitica sickens about 100,000 Americans a year, commonly children.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), common symptoms in children infected with Y. enterocolitica include "fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Symptoms typically develop 4 to 7 days after exposure and may last 1 to 3 weeks or longer. In older children and adults, right-sided abdominal pain and fever may be the predominant symptoms, and may be confused with appendicitis. In a small proportion of cases, complications such as skin rash, joint pains, or spread of bacteria to the bloodstream can occur."

The magazine notes their concern that the majority of the samples it analyzed were resistant to at least one of the medically-prescribed antibiotics they used for testing in the lab. Many factory-farm raised animals are commonly fed antibiotics to keep them 'healthy' -- the practice is widely criticized because of the horror-movie potential for resistant strains of bacteria to dominate, and sure enough ... according to the report:
Some of the bacteria we found in 198 samples proved to be resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat people. The frequent use of low-dose antibiotics in pork farming may be accelerating the growth of drug-resistant “superbugs” that threaten human health.
Photo courtesy: Flickr/podchef/CC BY 2.0

Also of note, about 20 percent of the 240 pork products analyzed also tested positive for the growth-hormone drug ractopamine. Originally developed as an asthma medication for humans, it was never approved for that use, but was later employed to increase pigs’ growth and lean muscle mass. (God forbid Eli Lilly should let a drug go to waste.) It’s a controversial drug, and is banned in the European Union, China, and Taiwan -- Consumer Reports' food-safety experts posit that no drugs should be used in healthy animals to promote growth.

There are steps consumers can take to avoid Y. enterocolitica in pork. Most importantly, make sure that the pork is cooked to 145 degrees for whole pieces of meat and 160 degrees for ground pork. But the best way to ensure avoiding illness from industrially-raised meat? Avoid it all together.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sea Level Rising 60% Faster Than Expected

Photo courtesy: US Fish and Wildlife Service

New research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research shows that global sea level rise is happening 60% faster than IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) projections, even though temperatures are rising much as expected.

Potsdam's Stefan Rahmstorf:
It contrast to the physics of global warming itself, sea level rise is much more complex. To improve future projections it is very important to keep track of how well past projections match observational data. The new findings highlight that the IPCC is far from being alarmist, and in fact in some cases rather underestimates possible risks.
So how fast are sea levels actually rising?

This latest research, based off satellite data so as to get more accurate readings and greater global coverage, shows that sea levels are rising on average 3.2mm each year—and not because of any temporary event like ice discharges from the ice sheets of Greenland or Antarctica, or because of internal variability in the climate system.

The IPCC has projected that sea level rise is happening at the rate of 2mm per year.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

New Biocatalyst Technology Improves Water Quality in Wastewater Canals

Photo courtesy: mckaysavage/CC BY 3.0

In some places in the world, for instance India, sewage and wastewater flow into open canals and eventually into waterways, spreading odors and enabling the easy breeding of insects such as flies, which can be a vector for pathogens affecting human health.

An obvious and comprehensive fix would be to overhaul the wastewater and sewage infrastructure to keep potential disease sources contained and processed, but until such time as those projects can be undertaken, there's a simpler, more cost-effective solution for mitigating the effects of open sewage and wastewater canals.

According to one company, BiOWISH, they have developed and released a novel biocatalyst that can be applied to wastewater canals in just ten minutes a day - without a complex or expensive delivery system. BiOWISH says their "Aqua" product can be administered to waterways and sewage systems using just a simple drum, hose, and valve system, and the results are quick and effective, reducing Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) by 80 to 90%.
"BiOWiSH technology creates a composite biocatalyst from a unique blend of microorganisms, enzymes, and co-factors. Manufactured using a highly-refined, proprietary fermentation process, BiOWiSH enhances biochemical reactions at a faster and more efficient rate than available alternatives over a wide range of environmental conditions." - BiOWISH
The company says their biocatalyst technology can be put to use across multiple industries, including agriculture, aquaculture, and wastewater treatment, and is certified organic and contains no GMO ingredients. The technology is said to work with a broad spectrum of organic matter, and is effective in a variety of diverse environmental conditions.

BiOWISH has released a series of case studies from their work in Pune, India, and says that residents near the canal have reported a "dramatic reduction in odor and flies, potentially reducing the incidences of waterborne pathogens". The company believes their technology to be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly:
"BiOWiSH technology provides municipal governments around the world a simple, cost effective, and environment-friendly solution to treat sewage in open canals. It's estimated that implementing BiOWiSH-Aqua costs about $2-$3 per person per year (USD). That's less than 5% of the cost to install a traditional secondary wastewater treatment system." - David Fennema, BiOWISH Senior EVP for Environment
BiOWISH also produces home/residential solutions as well, to reduce odors and unclogs drains or septic tanks, to accelerate the composting process and keep water in ponds and fountains clean and clear.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Scientist Claims to Have Sasquatch DNA

A frame from the October 20, 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film many believe depict a sasquatch. Photo courtesy: Yahoo!News

A Texas scientist claims to have sequenced the DNA of Sasquatch, a creature whose very existence is mysterious to many and purely mythological to most.

"Our study has sequenced 20 whole mitochondrial genomes and utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples," Dr. Melba S. Ketchum of Nacogdoches, Texas, says in a news release.

"The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species."

Ketchum writes that her team's research indicates the "North American Sasquatch" is a hybrid of a female Homo sapien and a male of "unknown hominin species," whose DNA matched approximately 15,000 years ago.

Sasquatch, more commonly known as Bigfoot, has been a staple of American mythology for hundreds of years. The modern Sasquatch theories took on a newfound prominence in 1958 when the first official Bigfoot search party was launched in California.

Most members of the scientific community have discounted the Sasquatch theory. However, in a Sept. 27, 2002, interview with National Public Radio, Jane Goodall appeared open to the concept, saying, "Maybe they don't exist, but I want them to."

So, how do Ketchum's claims hold up under scrutiny?

The Houston Chronicle's Eric Berger does some unraveling of Ketchum and the claims she made in the news release.

For starters, Berger notes that while Ketchum has 27 years of genetic research experience during her career as a veterinarian, her company, DNA Diagnostics, has received an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau.

But more important, Ketchum has not allowed scientific peer review of her findings.

"That is a massive red flag. Real research scientists almost never preannounce their research findings," Berger writes. "In effect she is using the mantle of science to confer credibility on her discovery, without actually deserving the credibility."

And finally, where exactly did Ketchum get her DNA sample? After all, if she was working from a reliable source, that alone might be the real story because no physical evidence of Bigfoot exists on record.

As it turns out, Ketchum says her DNA sample was obtained from a blueberry bagel left in the backyard of a Michigan home that, according to the owner, sees regular visits from Sasquatch creatures.

In other words, it seems likely that the legend of Bigfoot will remain more myth than reality for the foreseeable future.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Health Warning Your Doctor May Not Have Told You About

One of my favourites. Photo courtesy:

A nutraceutical is a food or part of a food that allegedly provides medicinal or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease. Grapefruit juice has been touted as containing many compounds that can reduce hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and even the risk of cancer. Grapefruit juice can, therefore, be justifiably referred to as a classic nutraceutical. However, for many persons taking certain medications, grapefruit juice might actually better be termed a "nutrapollutical!"

It turns out that grapefruit juice can directly or indirectly interact in important ways with a number of medications. This is especially important since grapefruit juice is consumed by approximately one fifth of Americans for breakfast - a time of the day when medications also are commonly taken.

Grapefruit juice blocks special enzymes in the wall of the small intestine that actually destroys many medications and prevents their absorption into the body. Thus, smaller amounts of the drugs get into the body than are ingested. When the action of this enzyme is blocked, more of the drugs get into the body and the blood levels of these medications increase. This can lead to toxic side effects from the medications.

Amazingly, this remarkable food-drug interaction was discovered completely by accident over a decade ago! Researchers were investigating whether alcohol could interact with felodipine (Plendil) and used a solution of alcohol with grapefruit juice to mask the taste of alcohol for the study. Researchers discovered that blood levels of felodipine were increased several fold more than in previous studies. This increased blood level caused an increase in the effect and side effects of felodipine. Further research revealed that the grapefruit juice itself was actually increasing the amount of the study drug in the body.

Research about the interaction of grapefruit juice with drugs suggests that compounds in grapefruit juice, called furanocoumarins (for example, bergamottin), may be responsible for the effects of grapefruit juice. Researchers believe that furanocoumarins block the enzymes in the intestines that normally break down many drugs. One glass of grapefruit juice could elicit the maximum blocking effect, and the effect may persist for longer than 24 hours. Since the effects can last for such a prolonged period of time, grapefruit juice does not have to be taken at the same time as the medication in order for the interaction to occur. Therefore, unlike similar interactions, where the interaction can be avoided by separating the administration of the two interacting agents by a couple of hours, administration of grapefruit juice with susceptible drugs should be separated by 24 or more hours to avoid the interaction. Since this is not practical for individuals who are taking a medication daily, they should not consume grapefruit juice when taking medications that are affected by grapefruit juice.

The grapefruit juice-drug interaction can lead to unpredictable and hazardous levels of certain important drugs.

These are medications with which grapefruit juice should NOT be consumed unless advised by a doctor:

Statins (cholesterol drugs): lovastatin (Mevacor), atorvastatin (Lipitor, simvastatin Zocor, simvastatin/ezetimibe (Vytorin)

Antihistamines: fexofenadine (Allegra), terfenadine (Seldane), taken off the U.S. market

Calcium channel blockers (blood pressure drugs): nimodipine (Nimotop), felodipine (Nitrendipine, Plendil), nisoldipine (Sular), nicardipine (Cardene), verapamil (Verelan)

Psychiatric medications: buspirone (BuSpar), triazolam (Halcion), carbamazepine (Tegretol), diazepam (Valium), midazolam (Versed), sertraline (Zoloft)

Intestinal medications: cisapride (Propulsid) taken off the U.S. market

Immune suppressants: cyclosporine (Neoral), tacrolimus (Prograf)

Pain medications: Methadone

Impotence drug: (erectile dysfunction): sildenafil (Viagra)

HIV medication: saquinavir (Invirase, Fortovase)

Antiarrhythmics: amiodarone (Cordarone), disopyramide (Norpace)

Toxic blood levels of these medications can occur when patients taking them consume grapefruit juice. The high blood levels of the medications can cause damage to organs or impair the organs normal function, which can be dangerous. If you or a family member are taking any of these medications, beware of the "nutrapollutical" grapefruit juice.