Sunday, December 31, 2006

Retreating glaciers threatening most of Asia

Army blamed for Siachen meltdown ... India's water resources may dwindle ... ‘Today Siachen is weeping, tomorrow the world will cry’ ... Glaciers are dying ... Melting glaciers have become a threat to major rivers

These articles are discussing retreating glaciers, with a focus today on those in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. This area accounts for nearly one quarter of China's landmass, stretches into the Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. It is home to the source of many big rivers in Asia, including the Yangtze, Yellow, Bhramaputra and Ganges, giving it the nickname "water tower" of China.

The India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir is having an effect on these glaciers. The Army blamed for article above discusses how one study indicates it is military activity which is causing most of the retreat.

But taken in whole these articles paint a very scary picture for asia in general. Under threat are the river levels in these major river valleys, which are home to a couple billion people. “Siachen is weeping, tomorrow the world will cry,” .. indeed. These river valleys are the homeland to ancient civilizations, to high cultural and spiritual achievements, and to all those people.

Without water, or more accurately with less water, their land will be unable to feed these people.

The Amazon river basin to become grassland?

Researchers: Warming May Change Amazon describes a model put together by scientists saying the temperature will rise 5-10 degrees by 2010 while rainfall in the Amazon area will drop dramatically. With those two changes the rainforest would be unable to continue living. The area would become a grassland instead, and that's ignoring the over-foresting done by the timber and ranching companies.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty


An animal rights activist group based in England who has successfully campaigned against "torture" of animals in research laboratories. Their main target is Huntingdon Life Sciences, one of the world's largest Contract Research Organizations.

Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic

Ancient ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic is about the Ayles Ice Shelf near the coast of Ellesmere Island which has broken off and is now floating freely in the ocean. This ice shelf broke clear 16 months ago from the coast of Ellesmere Island but no one was present to see it in Canada's remote north. Scientists have been monitoring the ice using satellite images, and later noticed that it became an ice island. The change took just an hour and left a trail of icy boulders floating in its wake. The article contains some quotes from scientists saying the suddenness is astonishing them, that we are passing thresholds in climate change rapidly, and they are concerned about it.

Ice Island Calvings and Ice Shelf Changes, Milne Ice Shelf and Ayles Ice Shelf, Ellesmere Island, N.W.T. is a scientific article published in 1984 which describes the ice shelves in question. Calvings of ice and breakup of ice

Ice-shelf collapse, climate change, and habitat loss in the Canadian high Arctic is later scientific research giving a more complete story of this particular ice shelf.

Giant ice shelf breaks free from Canadian Arctic Coverage by CTV.CA

Monday, December 25, 2006

Another Reason Not To Drink Soft Drinks

Another Reason Not To Drink Soft Drinks is a story linking to a video clip detailing a finding by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that soft drinks generally are containing Benzene. Which just reminds me of a recent story from India where Coca Cola was banned due to containing some hazardous chemical. Anyway, in this case there are two chemicals that are commonly added, Sodium Benzoate and Ascorbic Acid which, when mixed together and left in the right conditions, will do a chemical reaction that makes Benzene. The problem is that Benzene is a carcinogen, and these soda's are containing Benzene levels well above the accepted maximum amount.

FDA REPORT: Data on Benzene in Soft Drinks and Other Beverages

The results are preliminary and warrant further study. One detail is that the standardized maximum for Benzene levels are specified for drinking water, and are based on drinking 2 liters per day over a long period of time. I wonder how many people drink 2 liters of soft drinks per day? And it isn't known how often soft drinks end up containing benzene.

Soda Causing CANCER?

Sunday, December 24, 2006


WILL WARMING END SNOW SPORTS? is a report from EcoShock News about winter sports, the issue of retreating glaciers, and related issues. One of the effects of the retreating glaciers is to threaten the possible continuation of "winter sports" such as Skiing. This then threatens the livelihood of those whose life is those winter sports, such as professional competition skiers, skiing competitions, and ski resorts.

One of the coping strategies used by ski resorts is to install snow making machines. If there isn't enough snow, they can make the snow, right? Well ... that is just like one of the scenes in An Inconvenient Truth (DVD) with a "solution" to global warming where giant ice cubes are made and dropped into the ocean to cool the ocean. But in truth that's no solution of any kind, for instance it takes an expenditure of energy to create the ice and snow, and that expenditure of energy probably involves emission of more greenhouse gasses to run the ice or snow making machines.

However the EcoShock report includes a discussion about sustainable energy installations being put in at the Whistler-Blackcomb resort. At this resort they have begun showing pictures of the changes in the glaciers around them, which then demonstrates in very real terms the effects of global warming. This would be just like the glacier I visited in Alaska which had an informational sign showing where the glacier was over the last 100 years, and just how far up that valley the glacier had retreated. They are exploring wind power, micro-hydro-electric power generation, etc. I suppose this is at least a solid symbolic gesture that has to be connected with their message that the glaciers are melting. "Look", they're saying, "the glaciers are melting, and here are some simple things we can and are doing to mitigate the cause of the melting glaciers".

The last thought I want to mention is the ecological arrangement people around the world have learned to live in. Around the world areas exist where there isn't much rain most of the year, and the rivers stay full because of water coming from snow that accumulates during the winter and melts during the summer. So long as more snow falls in the winter than melts in the summer then you have a continual presence of snow on the mountain top. That's what a glacier is, technically speaking, is a snowpack that lasts year-round.

In those areas of the world often there are societies of people who develop and are able to live there because water is available year-round even if there is little rain most of the year.

California is just one example. What draws people to California today is that it "never" rains. Well, actually, it does rain during the winter, but the rest of the year is essentially without rain. And, you might ask, just how is the state of California able to supply enough water year-round to slake the thirst of over 30 million people? Well, part of it comes from the Colorado River, but the vast majority come from snow accumulations in the Sierra Nevada mountains and other mountains in Northern California. That water is accumulated in reservoirs, is used for hydro-electric power generation, is used for drinking water, is piped around the state in an aqueduct system, etc. The movie Chinatown dramatizes some of the shenanigans concocted in the early 1900's to tap that water for the use of the Los Angeles area.

But there are other cultures world-wide, some not so rich and fortunate as California. 10 years ago I visited the far reaches of the Andes mountains in Peru, and in part of my trip I attended an indigenous ceremony performed by the local people for over 1000 years. In this ceremony they traveled a strenuous and long journey deep into the mountains to visit the glaciers and perform sacred ceremonies with them. One of the things which struck me deeply witnessing these ceremonies is how they kept alive this wisdom that their livelihood depends on the continued existence of those glaciers.

And, uh, it is the melting snow from those glaciers which feeds the rain forest regions of Brazil and other parts of South America. I wonder what proportion of the water flowing through the Amazon and other rivers in that area come from melting snow, and what proportion come from rainfall?

So, that is an important consideration if you remember that one of the big ecological worries we face is the continued existence of that particular rain forest. It is widely held that the rain forests, not just the Amazonian rain forest, are the lungs of the planet. If those rain forests disappear then where will there be enough plant life to convert the CO2 we exhale into the O2 that we breath?

Friday, December 22, 2006

EU proposes CO2 emission quotas for airlines

EU proposes CO2 emission quotas for airlines discusses a proposal that airlines be required to reduce their Carbon-Dioxide (CO2) emissions. Airlines are obviously big contributors, especially as all their emissions happen right up in the upper atmosphere in the first place. However they were left out of previous greenhouse gas agreements.

Of course the airlines are already objecting loudly.

I think the point really has to be that when we do something we have to consider the side effects of that action. Yeah it's real convenient to fly coast to coast in a couple hours, but what of the emissions that come from that flight, and what of the opportunity cost of burning that oil?

The airlines do have some ready avenues for reducing their emissions even if they cannot change anything about the aircraft. What of all the ground vehicles? Next time you board an airplane pay attention to the ground vehicles. All of them operate over short distances and could easily be electrically driven. In some cases one could easily envision cables directly from the building to the vehicle which directly power the vehicle without requiring a battery pack.

Extreme autumn temperatures cause unseasonable flowering in the Netherlands

Extreme autumn temperatures cause unseasonable flowering in the Netherlands discusses observed lengthening of the growing season in the Netherlands. Observers in the Netherlands reported that more than 240 wild plant species were flowering in December, along with more than 200 cultivated species. According to biologist Arnold van Vliet of Wageningen University, this unseasonable flowering is being caused by extremely high autumn temperatures.

Van Vliet warns that the ecological consequences of the extreme temperatures and the longer growing season remain largely unknown. Next year will be an important year for ecologists to identify the impacts on plants and animals. The high temperatures in 2006 are likely to increase the numbers of warmth-loving species even further, a trend which has been observed for some time.

Climate Change vs Mother Nature: Scientists reveal that bears have stopped hibernating

Bears are supposed to hibernate in the winter, right? That's what we were told as school children, etc. Climate Change vs Mother Nature: Scientists reveal that bears have stopped hibernating discusses changing habits of brown bears in Northern Spain. They are most decidedly not sleeping off the winter any longer.

The article describes that since the temperature has risen the bears are now finding it energetically worthwhile to make the effort to stay awake and hunt for food.

The article reports researchers with La Fundación Oso Pardo who have been tracking bear habits in Spain, and have been seeing clear signs over the years of bears remaining awake through the winter.

Rising sea levels engulfing Indian world heritage islands

Rising sea levels engulfing Indian world heritage islands concerns islands in the Sunderbans that are being submerged by rising water levels. Where are the Sunderbans? Glad you asked because I didn't know until reading this article...

The article describes these as being islands in the Ganges river delta, an area shared between India and Bangaladesh. There are 102 islands, officially, in the group. There would be 102 islands except unfortunately 2 of the islands have gone missing. The two missing islands were home to 10,000 people, and all told there are 1.8 million people living on these islands.

This river delta made for one of the more alarming scenes in An Inconvenient Truth (DVD). While discussing the possibility of ocean levels rising are shown dramatizations of the effects of a 20 foot sea level rise in several locations, including the Ganges river delta. All told there are over 100,000,000 people who would be affected just in that one area, largely because that is one of the most overpopulated areas in the world. Another of the dramatizations pictured my home area, Silicon Valley.

The environment is not waiting for George Bush to leave office.

UPDATE: Further coverage from The Independant (London) The time is now. Disappearing world: Global warming claims tropical island this article refers to this event as the first recorded disappearance of an inhabited island. The island is so remote that researchers didn't learn about its disappearance for a couple years. Now some neighboring islands are also in danger of being swallowed by the ocean and all told 75,000 people are in immediate danger of being made homeless as their islands are swallowed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wetland loss south of New Orleans

The area south of New Orleans has the highest wetland loss in the world. This is the wetlands which helped create the disaster wrought upon New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Those wetlands had been a buffer protecting New Orleans for generations, but damage done to the wetlands by the Oil and Gas industry is rapidly destroying the wetlands. When Katrina hit the storm surge went right over nonexistant wetlands and directly submerged the city of New Orleans.

Legislation Directs Money to Gulf Coast Restoration covers a recent bill signed which will help bring money to restore the wetlands. The money is tied to royalties from oil and gas production from new wells yet to be drilled in the Gulf.

So, let's see, they need the to restore the wetlands NOW. The wetlands damage was caused by the Oil and Gas industry in the first place. And they're planning to expand the oil and gas industry and in some future time royalty revenue will begin flowing which will be be used to fund wetlands restoration. This is a very twisted picture.

One of the speakers in the piece had an interesting thought ... money is not wetlands. What New Orleans needs is wetlands, to protect the city from the next large storm. Since money is not wetlands, with the money you buy services and programs that work for wetlands restoration.

Without massive investment to do something to hold back the ocean, the had better plan to abandon New Orleans. Most of that city is below sea level to begin with, and while holding back an ocean is possible (just ask the people of Venice or The Netherlands) it's expensive and requires investment in infrastructure.

There are no more Snows of Kilamanjaro

Climate Change Melts Kilimanjaro's Snows ... in An Inconvenient Truth one of the factoids Al Gore mentions is the melting of the glaciers at the peak of Mount Kilamanjaro and some neighboring mountains. One of my co-workers was born in Kenya and last year he made a special trip there so he could climb that mountain one time before the snow on the mountain disappears.

These retreating glaciers are part of a global pattern of long-standing mountain-top glaciers disappearing.

This is first a clear indication of global warming. Beyond that it is threatening the societies that grew over millennia around those mountains, their lives relying on the water melting off those glaciers. Once the glaciers are gone, how can those people grow their crops, have water to drink, etc?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gore urges scientists to warn public about global warming

Gore urges scientists to warn public about global warming discusses a speech given by Al Gore to the American Geophysical Union in which he repeats his call for more awareness and urgency to solve the problems of Global Warming. He described television as the cause for the apathy over global warming in this way: "The well-informed citizenry has become the well-entertained audience ... The age of print that began with Gutenberg essentially ended."

An Inconvenient Truth

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

More Spare the Air advisorites

A few days ago they sent out an advisory, which I thought was a bit odd given that it's winter-time so I'd posted about it. But they've now sent out a series of these advisories since then, including one today.

On their web site they explain this: In the wintertime, as cooler temperatures and reduced sunlight diminish ozone problems, particulate matter (PM), becomes the pollutant with the greatest impact on air quality. A seasonal reversal of wind patterns and an increase in stagnant air due to temperature inversions — combined with increased wood burning, especially during the holidays — can lead to unhealthy PM concentrations on certain winter days.

You can find out more at their web site,

Friday, December 1, 2006

SF Bay Area Spare the Air advisory for December 1/2, 2006 is a service by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) overseeing air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have a service where, by e-mail, you can get warnings of unhealthy levels of air poison (a.k.a. air pollution) so you can be forewarned to change your activities and hopefully reduce releases of poisons into the air.

Spare the Air Tonight, Friday, December 1, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The air quality tonight is forecast to be unhealthy. The Bay Area Air District is asking residents to refrain from burning wood in their fireplaces and woodstoves, and to drive less.

Winter air pollution is mainly caused by small particle pollution, or particulate matter (PM). The two major winter sources of PM in the Bay Area are residential wood burning and motor vehicles.

You can help reduce winter air pollution if you:

  • Do NOT burn wood tonight.
  • Postpone errands and link necessary trips
  • Use public transit whenever possible

This advisory is in effect for the next 24 hours.

There is NO free transit program during the winter Spare the Air Tonight season.