Friday, March 31, 2006

Antarctic Air is Warming Faster Than Rest of World

by Mark Henderson, Times/UK, Posted on

AIR temperatures above the entire frozen continent of Antarctica have risen three times faster than the rest of the world during the past 30 years.

While it is well established that temperatures are increasing rapidly in the Antarctic Peninsula, the land tongue that protrudes towards South America, the trend has been harder to confirm over the continent as a whole.

Now analysis of weather balloon data by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has shown that not only are the lower reaches of the Antarctic atmosphere warming, but that they are doing so at the fastest rate observed anywhere on Earth.

Temperatures in the troposphere — the lowest 8km (5 miles) of the atmosphere — have increased by between 0.5C and 0.7 C (0.9F and 1.3F) per decade over the past 30 years.

This signature of climate change is three times stronger than the average observed around the world, suggesting that global warming is having an uneven impact and that it could be greater for Antarctica.

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Problem: Foreign Oil, Answer: Blowing in the Wind?

Turbines spin at a wind farm in Daban, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Region, March 1, 2005. Wind turbines may one day replace hydropower as China's second-largest source of electricity, if the country continues with a drive to boost renewable generation. Wind energy is emerging as a centerpiece of the new energy economy because it is abundant, inexpensive, inexhaustible, widely distributed, clean, and climate-benign,'' meaning that it does not add to global warming, said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. REUTERS/China Newsphoto
by Abid Aslam,, posted on

WASHINGTON - Alongside the war in Iraq, Americans worry most about U.S. dependence on foreign oil, a leading pollster said Thursday.
While most appeared fatalistic over problems like job outsourcing, around half said the government can do something about energy dependence, according to a survey run by Daniel Yankelovich, funded by the Ford Foundation, and published by the Council on Foreign Relations in its journal Foreign Affairs.

Environmentalists appeared to validate that sentiment, separately highlighting rapid growth in homespun energy alternatives and urging policymakers to boost support for the sector.

Almost 90 percent of the 1,000 Americans canvassed in January for the Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index said dependence on foreign energy jeopardized national security.

Forty-six percent gave policymakers a failing grade for their efforts to wean the nation off foreign oil and natural gas.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

Food, sustainability, and the environmentalists

Posted by Tom Philpott, Grist Magazine

What he was asking me, in essence, was, "can sustainable farming feed the world?" To which the only wise response is, "can unsustainable farming feed the world -- for long?"

To an extent, the problem is one of semantics, centering on the definition of "sustainable." To many green types, places like Whole Foods and Wild Oats teem with "sustainably produced" stuff -- everything from T-shirts to apples, chicken and eggs, even versions of Twizzlers and TV dinners. But the great bulk of it falls under the rubric of industrial-organic -- like the wares on offer at Wal-Mart, only a little less so, these goods depend on a culture of cheap and plentiful crude oil and labor.

The cheap-oil problem has certainly gained traction among greens. Blogs devoted to "peak oil" abound; this very blog seems like one at times. Most of these discussions, though, devolve into sniping about biofuels and hybrids. It's important to wonder how we'd get around in an era of super-high oil prices.

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My Saudi Arabian breakfast

by Chad Heeter, from, posted on Energy Bulletin.

For decades, scientists have calculated how much fossil fuel goes into our food by measuring the amount of energy consumed in growing, packing, shipping, consuming, and finally disposing of it. The "caloric input" of fossil fuel is then compared to the energy available in the edible product, the "caloric output."

What they've discovered is astonishing. According to researchers at the University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an average of over seven calories of fossil fuel is burned up for every calorie of energy we get from our food. This means that in eating my 400 calorie breakfast, I will, in effect, have "consumed" 2,800 calories of fossil-fuel energy. (Some researchers claim the ratio to be as high as ten to one.)

But this is only an average. My cup of coffee gives me only a few calories of energy, but to process just one pound of coffee requires over 8,000 calories of fossil-fuel energy -- the equivalent energy found in nearly a quart of crude oil, 30 cubic feet of natural gas, or around two and a half pounds of coal.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

On the Ethanol Bandwagon, Big Names and Big Risks

Vinod Khosla, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, now invests in ethanol. The flex-fuel Chevy Tahoe next to him can run on gasoline and ethanol.

By NORM ALSTER, New York Times

Ethanol derived from corn now accounts for 3 percent of the American automotive fuel market. Most cars in the United States can already handle fuel that is up to 10 percent ethanol, and as many as five million are so-called flex-fuel vehicles that can use a fuel called E85, which is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

The current excitement over ethanol derives from research that has cut the cost of converting nonfood plant matter like grasses and wood chips into alcohol. Mr. Khosla says he believes that such ethanol, called cellulosic ethanol, will eventually be cheaper to produce than both gasoline and corn-derived ethanol

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Study Says U.S. Companies Lag on Global Warming


European and Asian companies are paying more attention to global warming than their American counterparts. And chemical companies are more focused on the issue than oil companies.

Those are two conclusions from "Corporate Governance and Climate Change: Making the Connection," a report that Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmentalists, expects will influence investment decisions.

The report, released yesterday, scored 100 global corporations — 74 of them based in the United States — on their strategies for curbing greenhouse gases. It covered 10 industries — oil and gas, chemicals, metals, electric power, automotive, forest products, coal, food, industrial equipment and airlines — whose activities were most likely to emit greenhouse gases. It evaluated companies on their board oversight, management performance, public disclosure, greenhouse gas emissions, accounting and strategic planning.

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Climate Data Hint at Irreversible Rise in Seas

By ANDREW C. REVKIN, New York Times

Within the next 100 years, the growing human influence on Earth's climate could lead to a long and irreversible rise in sea levels by eroding the planet's vast polar ice sheets, according to new observations and analysis by several teams of scientists.

One team, using computer models of climate and ice, found that by about 2100, average temperatures could be four degrees higher than today and that over the coming centuries, the oceans could rise 13 to 20 feet — conditions last seen 129,000 years ago, between the last two ice ages.

The findings, being reported today in the journal Science, are consistent with other recent studies of melting and erosion at the poles. Many experts say there are still uncertainties about timing, extent and causes.

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A Carbon Cloud Hangs Over Green Fuel

By Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor.Posted on Alternet.

An Iowa corn refinery, open since December, uses 300 tons of coal a day to make ethanol. So just how green can it be?

Late last year in Goldfield, Iowa, a refinery began pumping out a stream of ethanol, which supporters call the clean, renewable fuel of the future.

There's just one twist: The plant is burning 300 tons of coal a day to turn corn into ethanol -- the first US plant of its kind to use coal instead of cleaner natural gas.

An hour south of Goldfield, another coal-fired ethanol plant is under construction in Nevada, Iowa. At least three other such refineries are being built in Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota.

The trend, which is expected to continue, has left even some ethanol boosters scratching their heads. Should coal become a standard for 30 to 40 ethanol plants under construction -- and 150 others on the drawing boards -- it would undermine the environmental reasoning for switching to ethanol in the first place, environmentalists say.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Infected Planet

Stan Cox, AlterNet.

Modern human plagues like bird flu aren't the result of mysterious forces. Whether we mean to or not, we bring them on ourselves.

When Michael Crichton's first novel, "The Andromeda Strain," was published in 1969, it was scary but also strangely reassuring. If some new disease were to threaten humanity with a deadly pandemic, it seemed, the microbe responsible would come from another planet. The march of medical progress appeared to have terrestrial germs on the run.

Twenty-five years later, when Laurie Garrett published her nonfiction bestseller, "The Coming Plague," people were waking up to the fact that our own abused planet is perfectly capable of spawning a steady stream of new diseases without any help from alien worlds.

Today, old familiar scourges like tuberculosis, malaria, measles, and diarrhea -- and a newer one, AIDS -- are the world's biggest killers, but they've been joined by a host of newcomers. Indeed, one could get the impression that each year brings a new disease. That's because it does.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

New U.S. Crop Seeks to Replace Imported Oils

By Harriet McLeod, Reuters - Posted on ENN

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A small North Carolina-based specialty crops company is trying to turn a humble wildflower into a major new oilseed crop that could produce an alternative to coconut and palm oils.

After 20 years in development, cuphea (koo-FEE-ah) will start its second planting this spring in the Midwestern United States.

"It's grown (as a crop) nowhere else in the world," said Andrew Hebard, chief executive of Technology Crops International in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which is leading the commercialization of cuphea.

The plant's seeds contain novel fatty acids along with lauric acid, which is used as a wetting and foaming agent in soaps, detergents, shampoos, toothpaste and even airplane fuel.

The world market for lauric oil was about 4.5 million tons in 2003, the most recent year for which figures are widely available, according to market reports. The United States consumed about 1.5 million tons of that, mostly from Southeast Asia.

Cuphea could reduce U.S. reliance on imported tropical oils like palm and coconut. It could also cut dependency on some petrochemicals and give American farmers a new crop to rotate with corn.

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The False Promise of 'Clean Coal'

By Kari Lydersen, The NewStandard, Posted on Alternet

Even a quick glance at coal-producing states like West Virginia shows that the idea of an eco-friendly use for the fossil fuel is far more misnomer than reality.

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In Epoch of Man, Earth Takes a Beating


"It may be that we're not going to solve global warming," Marty Hoffert, a physics professor at New York University, told Ms. Kolbert, "the earth is going to become an ecological disaster, and, you know, somebody will visit in a few hundred million years and find there were some intelligent beings who lived here for a while, but they just couldn't handle the transition from being hunter-gatherers to high technology."

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Monday, March 13, 2006

The Price of Cheap Chicken

by Wendy Orent, Los Angeles Times

Chicken has never been cheaper. A whole one can be bought for little more than the price of a Starbucks cup of coffee. But the industrial farming methods that make ever-cheaper chicken possible may also have created the lethal strain of bird flu virus, H5N1, that threatens to set off a global pandemic.

According to Earl Brown, a University of Ottawa flu virologist, lethal bird flu is entirely man-made, first evolving in commercially produced poultry in Italy in 1878. The highly pathogenic H5N1 is descended from a strain that first appeared in Scotland in 1959.

People have been living with backyard flocks of poultry since the dawn of civilization. But it wasn't until poultry production became modernized, and birds were raised in much larger numbers and concentrations, that a virulent bird flu evolved. When birds are packed close together, any brakes on virulence are off. Birds struck with a fatal illness can still easily pass the disease to others, through direct contact or through fecal matter, and lethal strains can evolve. Somehow, the virus that arose in Scotland found its way to China, where, as H5N1, it has been raging for more than a decade.

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Death of the World's Rivers

by Geoffrey Lean, by the lndependent/UK

The world's great rivers are drying up at an alarming rate, with devastating consequences for humanity, animals and the future of the planet.

The Independent on Sunday can today reveal that more than half the world's 500 mightiest rivers have been seriously depleted. Some have been reduced to a trickle in what the United Nations will this week warn is a "disaster in the making".

From the Nile to China's Yellow River, some of the world's great water systems are now under such pressure that they often fail to deposit their water in the ocean or are interrupted in the course to the sea, with grave consequences for the planet.

Adding to the disaster, all of the 20 longer rivers are being disrupted by big dams. One-fifth of all freshwater fish species either face extinction or are already extinction.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

We Are What We Buy

By Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor.

Much was familiar to me in Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine -- and I wasn't always comfortable with that.

Levine begins the book by telling us about a mid-December day in 2003 when she found herself jammed into a subway car, fighting to protect her shopping bags from other people's muddy boots. Her joy was depleting as rapidly as her bank account.

"I have maxed out the Visa, moved on to the Citibank debit card, and am tapping the ATM like an Iraqi guerrilla pulling crude from the pipeline," she wrote. That was when the idea occurred to her: Why don't we just stop buying? And thus was born the premise for this engaging and thought-provoking chronicle of 2004, the year that Levine and her domestic partner, Paul, simply said no to buying.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

After the fog (of War): The sharp focus of Vermont independent filmmaker Jay Craven

By Rob Williams | Special to the Vermont Guardian

March brings with it the third anniversary of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. In the line of duty, 2,500 U.S. soldiers, including 22 Vermont servicepersons, have been killed, while countless Iraqis, many of them women and children, have lost their lives.

It seems fitting to stop and reflect on the meaning of U.S. wars with those who have served in them, and a new film, After The Fog, co-produced by Jay Craven, does just this.

Stitching together the personal testimony of 11 U.S. war veterans, After The Fog is an intimate and human look at the consequences of war, told by those who fought. In an interview, Craven offered his thoughts on the film, and on war generally.

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Friday, March 03, 2006

Loss of Antarctic Ice Increases


Two new satellite surveys show that warming air and water are causing Antarctica to lose ice faster than it can be replenished by interior snowfall, and thus are contributing to rising global sea levels.The studies differed significantly in estimates of how much water was being added to the oceans this way, but their authors both said that the work added credence to recent conclusions that global warming caused by humans was likely to lead to higher sea levels than previous studies had predicted.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Flying is Dying

By George Monbiot, AlterNet.

" As far as climate change is concerned, this is an utter, unparalleled disaster. It's not just that aviation represents the world's fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions. The burning of aircraft fuel has a "radiative forcing ratio" of around 2.7. What this means is that the total warming effect of aircraft emissions is 2.7 times as great as the effect of the carbon dioxide alone."

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Standards: Even Approved Amount of Ozone Is Found Harmful


A study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that air even at the E.P.A.'s current acceptable level of ozone — 80 parts per billion — can bring on a significantly increased risk of premature death.

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