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Saturday, June 15, 2002

Firing up the Logging Industry

As the Colorado fire(s) spread to become a danger of the highest priority level, stage 5, the airwaves have become filled with discussion about the meaning of this disaster: what can be done to stop it and what precautions must be taken to prevent similar instances of breakout wildfires in the future. This has occurred at the local level all the way up to congressional hearings involving the National Chief of Forests and the House Committee on Forest Services. The discussions all strike a similar note and use similar terminology, buzzwords like "fuel load," "forest management," and "over-growth."

Everyone, from person-on-the-street to high-powered governmental analyst to Forest Services Committee representative is singing the same tune. The problem is that there is too much fuel load in these forest regions, and that this fuel load has been increasing the size of wildfires for the last three decades. Following the end of large-scale agrarian practices in favor of urbanization and industrialization during the last century, the argument is being advanced that open spaces have become over-grown forests and that these unmanaged forest areas provide the density of young trees necessary to spark large fires. Thus, when drought conditions kick in like they have recently, an area that is rife with young and dead wood explodes into an equally unmanageable inferno.

There is a degree of truth to the way the Colorado wildfire is being discussed. However, people need to be aware (and on guard) against the rampant political "spinning" that has already begun, as an opportunity is seized upon to develop industry services around the disaster and people shuck and chuck the blame. The idea that the forests are "over grown" is especially disturbing because it flies in the face of all the difficult progress made by the conservation movement over the last decade. As many top scientists have declared, like E.O. Wilson, Paul and Anne Ehrlich, and Peter Raven, the nation's forest are not over-grown but rather they face the possibility of widespread ecosystemic collapse. This is not just referring to the old-growth timber, of which there remains a precious few regions in the U.S., but to all the large-scale unadulterated woodlands. In other words, the Colorado wildfire is every bit as much about surburban encroachment into ecosystems as it is about densely packed conifers.

But nobody wants to talk critically about the growth of the Denver suburbs over the last few years, and only a few more than that want to link the fire to the global warming processes that the EPA only recently predicted would mean MORE DROUGHT for the United States in years to come. What people do want to talk about, in general, is about managing the forests on a consistent basis so that the threat of a wildfire is significantly reduced. The idea, in this sense, is to strip the "over grown" forests of young and dead growth, thereby significantly reducing the fuel-load for future fires.

And this does make sense -- it has been tried and it appears to work (notably in Arizona). However, who (may I ask) do you think will get the job to provide this service? Will a new service economy be opened up? Will it be extended to the Federal Park Rangers as part of their duties? Could it be that national fire boards will be delivered the rights to account for the growing piles of detritus?

It seems unlikely. No, rather the large timber cutters and corporate loggers, the same industry that has accounted in its own right for many of the current "fuel load" problems -- loggers are infamous for taking the best and leaving the worst behind, as well as for cutting into forest ecologies and creating systemic disruptions that leave those ecologies susceptible to disease and drought (and fire!). But the idea that the logging industry should be granted the right to enter into more forest regions to cut timber (in the name of sustainable management) is a joke.

Make no mistake about it -- fire is and will increasingly be a major issue in the lives of Americans. But it is a complex symptom of a complex problem that has at its root the modern American lifestyle. Addressing the wildfire issue by delivering it into the hands of the corporate practices that have helped to produce it is like answering the problem of an abrasion with acid. More "managed" cuttings of the forests may in fact help the slumbering lumber corporations regain an economic niche, but it is not the sensible answer. Of course, as more and more people urbanize and expand into the developing suburbs of newly formed cities, the American consumption culture has demonstrated that it does not have much patience for making sense, only cents.

Posted by Richard
6/15/2002 05:21:30 PM | PermaLink

 
Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Automobile Industry Blocking CA Emissions Bill

A bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles has stalled in the California State Assembly, the latest legislative setback for environmental groups. If passed, the measure would be the first to restrict automotive emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases thought by many scientists to be linked to global warming. The bill directs the California Air Resources Board to develop a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by January 2005, to be put into effect for the 2009 model year. The bill has met with staunch opposition from the auto industry, which is concerned that it could be used as a template by other states. (06/12/02) New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/12/business/12CALI.html

Honda Takes Up Case in U.S. for Green Energy (06/12/02) New York Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/12/business/12HOND.html

Here is a link to a previous VB post on the status of the emissions deterrent MTBE, its harmful effects, and the sticky politics of Gov. Davis on this matter.

I think we'd better telecommute while we build elevated monorail systems for the next generation...

Posted by Richard
6/12/2002 10:59:55 AM | PermaLink

The Coltan Connection (more on Tantalum mining)

This from the "Special World Summit Edition" of the State of the World 2002 by The Worldwatch Institute, published by Norton. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to get a broad view of the current ecological and socio-political situation of the globle at present. It is filled with facts and copiously documented, but also written such that non-researchers can access meaningful information to serve as context to the ideas behing Earth Summit II.

This from Michael Renner's chapter, "Breaking the Link Between Resources and Repression":

The Coltan Connection
Few owners of mobile phones realize that their technical gadgets may link them to one of the deadliest of contemporary wars -- the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, is one of the raw materials that warring factions have battled over. With the appearance of gritty black mud, coltan is an ore containing tantalum, a highly heat-resistant material. Tantalum is crucial for the manufacturing of capacitors, tiny components that regulate the flow of current on circuit boards and help make the modern world go round. As one journalist put it, "for the high-tech industry, tantalum is magic dust." More than half the global supply is used by the electronics industry for products like cell phones, laptops, and pagers, but there are also important applications in the aerospace, defense, chemical, pharaceutical, medical, and automotive industries.

World tantalum supply runs to about 3,000-3,500 tons a year. Perhaps three quarters of this comes from legitimate mining operations in Australia, Canada, and Brazil. But Congo, with the world's fourth-largest coltan reserves, is also an important supplier. Rwandan troops and their rebel allies, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), took control of 1,000-1,500 tons of coltan stocks in 1998-99. They also drove Congolese farmers off their coltan-rich land and had Rwandan prisoners dig for coltan in exchange for reduced sentences.

The high-tech industry's soaring demand for tantalum triggered a temporary global supply shortage in 2000. Prices surged from less than $20 per pound in 1998 to more than $200, making the coltan business extremely lucrative for the warring parties and individual miners. In late 2000, the RCD rebels said they produced 100-200 tons of coltan a month, yielding the group a larger windfall than its diamond mining activities. Then in 2001, prices crashed in response to slumping cell phone sales, putting a damper on the gold rush-like conditions in illegal mining camps in eastern Congo. Still, coltan deposits retain their lure -- the promise of a better life in a country where most incomes are measured in mere cents per day.
----
Notes: Karl Vick, "Vital Ore Funds Congo's War," Washington Post, 19 March 2001; Kristi Essick, "Guns, Money and Cell Phones," The Standard: Intelligence for the Internet Economy, 11 June 2001, www.thestandard.com/article/0,1902,26784,pp.html; Edward Marek, "Tantalum and War in the Congo," www.yourdotcomforafrica.com/USPolicy040801.html, 8 April 2001; Blaine Harden, "The Dirt in the New Machine," New York Times Magazine, 12 August 2001, pp. 35-39; United Nations, Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (New York: 12 April 2001), pp. 8, 11.

Posted by Richard
6/12/2002 10:42:30 AM | PermaLink

Tantalum is Tantamount to Murder -- Stop Dialing for Help

This article from the BBC picks up on a television special that documented how the Congolese mining of tantalum (the mineral that the electronics industry uses in the creation of 'capacitors') is leading to the extinction of the great apes in the name of cell phones...



Posted by Richard
6/12/2002 10:23:35 AM | PermaLink

 
Sunday, June 09, 2002

Not in My Neighborhood!

Federal agriculture officials are gearing up to implement a four-year, $10.7 million plan to rid Hawai'i of the noisy coqui and its cousin, the greenhouse frog.

The plan, created late last summer by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services agency, describes an all-out assault on the tiny but loud Puerto Rican frogs that have landed on all four major Hawaiian Islands.

Wildlife Services officials are scheduled to meet with other agencies and groups in Honolulu next week to discuss environmental issues associated with the plan, which kicks off Oct. 1 with $200,000 in federal money obtained through a University of Hawai'i research program.

While the rest of the money remains uncertain at this point, Wildlife Services state director Mike E. Pitzler said yesterday he's confident it will come through mainly because he has the support of U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye and USDA officials.

When the plan was being developed last year, emergency money was a virtual certainty, Pitzler said.

"We had planned to be working full-bore by this time,'' he said.

But in the wake of the Sept.11 attacks, political forces and other circumstances led to a shift in spending priorities. Letters of support from Gov. Ben Cayetano and others were lost in the mail during the anthrax scare. The money didn't come through.

Now, with the frog count growing bigger by the day, the window of opportunity for eradication is shrinking, Pitzler said.

"The longer we let it go, the more likely we won't be able to eradicate this animal,'' he said.

Under the plan, Wildlife Services would combine with other state and federal agencies to mobilize an army equipped with sprayers, vehicles and equipment.

Caffeine, which has been proven to kill the frogs by what has been described as giving them heart attacks, is likely to be the chemical of choice, though others will be considered, said Tim Ohashi, the Wildlife Services biologist who wrote the plan.

Some biologists believe that the frog is too well established to allow eradication on the Big Island, where more than 260 infestations are reported.

The effort faces other bureaucratic hurdles, such as the federally required environmental documentation. While officials want to conduct a simple environmental assessment, the plan might require a lengthy and costly environmental impact statement.

"There could be delays up to a year and a half. By that time, we're going to be living with the frogs. It'll be too late,'' Ohashi said.

However, there may be options to speed up the process or get an exemption, he said.

Much of the initial $200,000 will go to the National Wildlife Research Center to collect the data necessary for Environmental Protection Agency permission for long-term use of caffeine.

The state received limited approval but ran into problems because of restrictions attached to its use, a situation that has helped leave three tons of caffeine sitting unused in a Big Island warehouse. In any case, the permit is scheduled to expire in a few months.

If any of the initial allocation is left over, Pitzler said, it will go to a pilot program to eradicate the frog populations on Kaua'i as well as a few isolated sections of the Big Island.

Meanwhile, state agriculture officials conducted a test on a wild colonies of frogs near Hilo last week using hydrated lime, which "dries'' the creatures to death.

State agriculture official Lyle Wong said the test results showed a substantial drop in noise, offering officials hope that the inexpensive chemical might join the arsenal of weapons employed in the war against the frogs.

In addition to the Big Island infestations, Maui is reported to have at least 41 separate colonies of frogs, while O'ahu has 20. Kaua'i has two.

The coqui is only a couple of inches long, but males vocalize at up to 80 to 90 decibels from a distance of 1 1/2 feet comparable to the sound of a lawnmower. The coqui lives in plants and is active at night.n their native Puerto Rico, Eleutherodactylus coqui live in densities of up to 8,000 an acre. Females can produce more than 200 eggs a year and reach sexual maturity in just eight months. The coqui's cousin, Eleutherodactylus planirostris, or greenhouse frog, is about half the size and isn't quite as loud.

Both of these frogs arrived in Hawai'i in recent years in plants imported from the Caribbean, and likely spread from island to island as hitchhikers in nursery material.

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Reach Timothy Hurley at
thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.

Posted by Richard
6/09/2002 08:38:28 AM | PermaLink