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Saturday, March 15, 2003

War or Not, Iraq's Environment a Casualty

This article provides an important and perceptive account of the situation and why war is environmentally criminal in a region already severely de-graded...a region that is historically considered to have been THE Garden of Eden and the birthplace of Western civilization.

It does not, however, provide the facts as to the full damage and oil contamination done by the US military during the Gulf War. Such info is provided by Doug Kellner in his ground breaking book The US Persian Gulf TV War, available for free at his website.

An important point is raised here about Saddam's genocidal campaign to move the Marsh Arabs out of their traditional homeland in the south, and the extinctions brought about by his draining of this historical and ecologically important region.

As we hear reports from Shell Oil and British Petroleum over the last few days, however, revolving around their concerns that they will be shut out of the OIL GRAB that will commence in a post-war situation, let us propose this --

If this war is not about oil, and is about geopolitical stability, domestic security, and the overthrow of a cruel and inhumane dictator, then will the US and Britain in a post-war scenario commit publically to assisting the Iraqi people in RESTORING the Marsh Arabs to their homelands, and to thus RE-FLOODING the now dry Southern Marshes? This would be the great historic act -- that far from justifying war -- would document to some degree the liberating powers of such global actions.

Yet, I propose this knowing full well that there is no chance that this present oil administration or Tony Blair's BP and related interests would ever fulfill such a mission.

Saddam cleared the marshes -- not only because the religious Shia of the region represented a political counter-bloc to his power -- but because these, basically indigenous, peoples lived on top of a marshland that is overflowing in oil. Draining the marshes is thus part of the program of natural resource extraction for the state. A program of state action that is hardly unique to Saddam's Iraq -- ask America's own indigenous peoples who have been repeatedly cleared off of land thought valuable to state and corporate interests.

Are we to believe, then, that the US and Britain, in a post-war scenario, would not immediately pounce on the now drained marshlands, and use the opportunity to further develop them as oil producing lands? Would such humanitarian regimes not restore this foundational ecosystem to its health and provide a return to home for the hundreds of thousands displaced arabs that have survived Saddam's murderous escapades? Bush the right-wing Christian must after all have an interest in restoring the Garden of Eden to its former glory, no?

Make no mistake about it: this war is not simply about oil, nor is it a mere manifestation of thoughtless racism. The geopolitics involved here -- as always -- go beyond the initial formulations of street slogans by far. But if this war were to occur, it would most certainly be racist and about oil.

Just ask the Marsh Arabs when it's all said and done...
War or not, Iraq's environment a casualty
By Alister Doyle

DUBAI, March 15 (Reuters) - Scarred by the 1991 Gulf War and a quarter century of mismanagement under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the environment will suffer whether or not the United States leads a war against Iraq, experts say.

Farming in Kuwait is still struggling after Iraqi forces torched about 700 Kuwaiti oil wells at the end of the Gulf War, creating a toxic black shroud over the region in one of the most destructive acts of ecological sabotage in history.

Temperatures fell, Gulf fisheries collapsed and fresh water supplies were poisoned by fires and giant oil slicks, extending human suffering long after the end of a war in which more than 100,000 people died.

And under Saddam in Iraq, environmentalists widely criticise schemes to drain marshlands at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, displacing hundreds of thousands of Marsh Arabs and causing partial desertification.

The environmental impact of any U.S.-led war to rid Iraq of alleged chemical and biological arms can only be guessed at, but 1991 is a worrying precedent. Saddam says Baghdad will not ignite oil wells and has no weapons of mass destruction.

"The environment of Iraq is already cause for serious concern," said Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the U.N. Environment Programme, which plans a study of Iraq's battered environment whether there is a war or not.

"Over the last few decades there has been damage to the life support system as a result of the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War and internal projects such as the drainage of parts of the marshlands," he said.


The bandicoot rat and a type of smooth-coated otter, once indigenous to the marshlands, are believed to be extinct. Nuttall said that UNEP wanted to halt and reverse the drainage of the marshes.

"The worst thing about war is that it kills people," said Jonathan Lash, head of the Washington-based World Resources Institute, an independent think-tank. "But there is also huge potential for environmental damage."

"In the Gulf War Iraqi forces ignited 600-700 oil wells, creating a column of smoke that could be seen from space," he told Reuters. "Iraq has about 2,000 oil wells, is more densely populated and has more agriculture than Kuwait."

Even so, he said Gulf fisheries had rebounded more quickly than expected since 1991. About 25,000 birds were killed by oil in 1991 and any new war in coming weeks would disrupt migration routes for birds like pelicans and storks.

Collapse of electricity supplies in parts of Iraq after the Gulf War led to deforestration as people felled trees. And disruption of fresh water supplies helped spread diseases.

The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said that mortality of children under five more than doubled to 131 per 1,000 live births in the five years to 1999. It said that war and U.N. sanctions on Iraq were partly to blame.

And the U.S. military said that it would hit Iraqi tanks in any new war with depleted uranium ammunition, used in the Gulf War to destroy Iraqi armour and said by critics to cause cancer. U.S. defence officials say the uranium is not a health hazard.

Posted by Richard
3/15/2003 11:30:06 AM | PermaLink

US "to Use" Depleted Uranium Weapons in Iraq

Sadly, this is a no-brainer. The larger question is would the US use "enriched" Uranium -- hence nuclear arms -- in Iraq? The press needs to focus its attention here and start doing the tough research and asking the tough questions.

Then, while they're at it, maybe they can start asking themselves why -- whenever they write articles about Bush and Blair vs. Saddam vs. the EU and China -- they always write about war as if its sure to happen and not simply a possibility.

It is never "US could Use Depleted Uranium" but always "US to Use." One simple word substitution and a change of tense alters the entirety of the perception of what is happening and what could happen.

"Could" implies the possibility of other alternatives and is a grassroots and democratic term, a word in which we are encouraged to understand the possibilities involved and involve ourselves towards making the best reality possible occur. It is an ethical term.

"To" in the above case is a State term and connotes state power, hierarchical authority, a chain of command over a population who will be informed but who will not have a say in decision forming. It is propagandistic, objectifying, and totalizing. Whereas "could" implies the power of democracy, "to" implies at best polyarchy and more so tyranny.

This example, strangely, is from the Times of India -- so it shows how far these media memes can run -- but watch domestic press coverage, prime time cable news being the worst -- and you'll see how war is spoken of as inevitable even when they present stories in which war is being actively contested and made less probable.
WASHINGTON: The US military said on Friday it will pound Iraqi tanks in any new war with depleted uranium ammunition, used in the 1991 Gulf War to destroy Iraqi armour and said by critics to cause cancer. Defence officials told reporters the extremely hard M-1A Abrams tank shells and 30 mm rounds fired from A-10 attack jets easily sliced through Iraqi  armour and that studies indicated the active uranium debris was not a health hazard.


Posted by Richard
3/15/2003 08:57:12 AM | PermaLink

Friday, March 14, 2003

Catastrophic Wildfires and Cheaper Printer Paper Coming to a Town Near You...

With this administration taking the glory days of budget surplus and turning them into record deficits, funding an unwanted war upon Iraq on credit to an undisclosed amount that is certainly no less than $90 billion dollars and as much as $400 billion, and then adding tax cuts for the rich into the mix, where is the "necessary" money to come for "thinning" forests?

We already know: timber corporations are contracted at very nice prices and in return they are given the right to go after the lumber that means something to them financially -- old growth and big trees.

Thus, even if we believed that the talk of "catastrophic" -- can a journalistic piece be done on forests without mentioning "catstrophic forest fies" I wonder? -- even if we accepted that "thinning" had to be done across the board and that this was a public good, we still should take great pains to prevent this being done at the expense of the forests that are suppossedly being thinned to be saved.

Of course, we know that this talk of catstrophe and thinning for saving is part of a larger right-wing ideology (that extends into academic forest management ideologues) and is the major code-game by this administration, Western senators, and the Western Governors Association generally. Remember -- American timber and paper products are a major sector of the economy and they have not been doing well for years, hence the recent tariff essentially blocking Canadian timber from the market. Government has vested interests in these people's welfare for a variety of reasons -- from campaign contributions to economic solvency to defense of their livelihoods as citizens.

But, beyond that, in spite of what we now know about the ecological relationships between habitats and health, the bigger question of "where shall we go?" needs to be asked and debated popularly and meaningfully. This is not happening in all this wildfire hype...
U.S. lawmakers urge forest thinning to stop fires

Friday, March 14, 2003
By Reuters

WASHINGTON — As the United States braces for the possibility of another catastrophic fire season in the West, Congress Thursday pressured the U.S. Forest Service to do more to thin forests to prevent wildfires.

Western senators acknowledged that while forest management efforts are slowed by environmental lawsuits, the Forest Service must increase its focus on managing and maintaining existing wilderness rather simply suppressing fires.

"It seems like we are always talking about what the damage is when what we really need is to get on the ground more," Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican, told the Forest Service at a Senate Energy Committee hearing.

Drought conditions that led to fires on 7 million acres of forest land in 2002 show little signs of improving. Forest experts said the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies are primed for similar disasters again this summer.

Several members of Congress said that unless more funding was allotted for forest-management programs in 2003, the administration would not be able to remove enough of the small trees and bushes that make forests susceptible to fires.

It cost an estimated $1.6 billion to suppress wildfires in 2002, and nearly $1 billion had to be shifted from other forest programs such as thinning to contain the blazes. The Forest Service and the Interior have an $800 million fire suppression budget this year.

"Certainly we can do a better job (thinning) than we're doing now," Dave Tenny, a deputy undersecretary at the U.S. Agriculture Department, told the committee. The Forest Service is a division of the USDA.

The United States has 190 million acres of land that needs to be thinned, according to the Forest Service.

In order to speed up thinning efforts, Congress provided money last month to allow the Forest Service and the Interior's Bureau of Land Management to enter into stewardship contracts. The agreement with businesses and other groups would make it less costly to remove underbrush because no limits would be set on the size of trees to be cut or on how many acres could be cleared.

Last year, President Bush proposed the "Healthy Forest" initiative that would trim some environmental regulations in 10 million acres of fire-prone forests to speed the removal of underbrush and dead trees that serve as fuel in spreading wildfires.

Posted by Richard
3/14/2003 08:21:02 AM | PermaLink

World Creating Food Bubble Economy Based on Unsustainable Use of Water

On March 16, 2003, some 10,000 participants will meet in Japan for the third World Water Forum to discuss the world water prospect. Although they will be officially focusing on water scarcity, they will indirectly be focusing on food scarcity because 70 percent of the water we divert from rivers or pump from underground is used for irrigation.

As world water demand has tripled over the last half-century, it has exceeded the sustainable yield of aquifers in scores of countries, leading to falling water tables. In effect, governments are satisfying the growing demand for food by overpumping groundwater, a measure that virtually assures a drop in food production when the aquifer is depleted. Knowingly or not, governments are creating a "food bubble" economy.

As water use climbs, the world is incurring a vast water deficit, one that is largely invisible, historically recent, and growing fast. Because the impending water crunch typically takes the form of falling water tables, it is not visible. Falling water tables are often discovered only when wells go dry.

Once the growing demand for water rises above the sustainable yield of an aquifer, the gap between the two widens each year. The first year after the line is crossed, the water table falls very little, with the drop often being scarcely perceptible. Each year thereafter, however, the annual drop is larger than the year before.

The diesel-driven or electrically powered pumps that make overpumping possible have become available throughout the entire world at essentially the same time. The near-simultaneous depletion of aquifers means that cutbacks in grain harvests will be occurring in many countries at more or less the same time. And they will be occurring at a time when world population is growing by more than 70 million a year.

Aquifers are being depleted in scores of countries, including China, India, and the United States, which collectively account for half of the world grain harvest. Under the North China Plain, which produces more than half of China's wheat and a third of its corn, the annual drop in the water table has increased from an average of 1.5 meters a decade ago to up to 3 meters today. Overpumping has largely depleted the shallow aquifer, so the amount of water that can be pumped from it each year is restricted to the annual recharge from precipitation. This is forcing well drillers to go down to the region's deep aquifer, which, unfortunately, is not replenishable.

He Quincheng, head of the Geological Environmental Monitoring Institute in Beijing, notes that as the deep aquifer under the North China Plain is depleted, the region is losing its last water reserve?its only safety cushion. His concerns are mirrored in a World Bank report: "Anecdotal evidence suggest that deep wells [drilled] around Beijing now have to reach 1,000 meters [more than half a mile] to tap fresh water, adding dramatically to the cost of supply." In unusually strong language for the Bank, the report forecasts "catastrophic consequences for future generations" unless water use and supply can quickly be brought back into balance.

India, which now has a billion people, is overdrawing aquifers in several states, including the Punjab (the country's breadbasket), Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu. The latest data indicate that under the Punjab and Haryana, water tables are falling by up to 1 meter per year. David Seckler, former head of the International Water Management Institute, estimates that aquifer depletion could reduce India's grain harvest by one fifth.

In the United States, the underground water table has dropped by more than 30 meters (100 feet) in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas?three key grain-producing states. As a result, wells have gone dry on thousands of farms in the southern Great Plains.

Pakistan, a country with 140 million people and still growing by 4 million per year, is also overpumping its aquifers. In the Pakistani part of the fertile Punjab plain, the drop in the water table appears to be similar to that in India. In the province of Baluchistan, a more arid region, the water table around the provincial capital of Quetta is falling by 3.5 meters per year. Richard Garstang, a water expert with the World Wildlife Fund, says that "within 15 years Quetta will run out of water if the current consumption rate continues."

In Yemen, the water table is falling by roughly 2 meters a year. In its search for relief, the Yemeni government has drilled test wells in the Sana'a basin, where the capital is located, that are 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) deep?depths normally associated with the oil industry?yet it has failed to find water. With a population of 19 million growing at 3.3 percent a year, one of the highest rates in the world, and with water tables falling everywhere, Yemen is fast becoming a hydrological basket case. World Bank official Christopher Ward observes that "groundwater is being mined at such a rate that parts of the rural economy could disappear within a generation."

In Mexico?home to a population of 104 million that is projected to reach 150 million by 2050?the demand for water is outstripping supply. In the agricultural state of Guanajuato, for example, the water table is falling by 2 meters or more a year. At the national level, 52 percent of all the water extracted from underground is coming from aquifers that are being overpumped.

Water scarcity, once a local issue, is now crossing international boundaries via the international grain trade. Because it takes a thousand tons of water to produce a ton of grain, importing grain is the most efficient way to import water. Countries that are pressing against the limits of their water supply typically satisfy the growing need of cities and industry by diverting irrigation water from agriculture, and then they import grain to offset the loss of productive capacity. As water shortages intensify, so too will the competition for grain in world markets. In a sense, trading in grain futures is the same as trading in water futures.

In China, a combination of aquifer depletion, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, and lower grain support prices are shrinking the grain harvest. After peaking at 392 million tons in 1998, the harvest dropped to 346 million tons in 2002. China's food bubble may be about to burst. It has covered its grain shortfall for three years by drawing down its stocks, but it will soon have to turn to the world market to fill this deficit. When it does, it could destabilize world grain markets.

Although some countries have already made impressive gains in raising irrigation efficiency and recycling urban wastewater, the general response to water scarcity has been to build more dams or drill more wells. But now expanding supply is becoming more difficult. The only other option is to reduce demand by stabilizing population and raising water productivity. With nearly all the 3 billion people to be added by 2050 being born in developing countries where water is already scarce, achieving an acceptable balance between water and people may now depend more on stabilizing population than on any other single action.

The second step in stabilizing the water situation is to raise water productivity, not unlike the way we have raised land productivity. After World War II, with population projected to double by 2000 and with little new land to bring under the plow, the world launched a major effort to raise cropland productivity. As a result, land productivity nearly tripled between 1950 and 2000. Now it is time to see what we can do with water.

More Links at Earth Policy Insitute Here

By Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute

Posted by Richard
3/14/2003 05:28:27 AM | PermaLink

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Ag Scientist Produces Hair Gel from Soybeans

This sent in by Shari, who has a great piece on the legal readings of ethical veganism qua the freedom of religion which she has given me permission to blog. Look for it over the next few days...
(ENS) - Hair styling agents made from petroleum and synthetic polymers are old news, says Sam Kuk, a chemical engineer with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Kuk, based in the Commodity Utilization Research Unit at the USDA's Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, has been studying plant compounds as alternatives to the synthetic ingredients used in most hair care products today.

Most hair gel works through the holding power of synthetic polymers. When the gel is applied, the main ingredient, water, evaporates, leaving a thin film around the hair strands that keeps them in place.

Kuk has found that the same kind of hold can be obtained with lipid compounds derived from soapstock, an underused byproduct of oilseed processing.

Normally, these lipid compounds are hard to recover, the Agriculture Department says. They degenerate through oxidation and are wasted. But Kuk has found a way to reclaim the lipid compounds and then treat them so that they can be used to hold hair in place.

Kuk has created hair gels from the soapstock of safflower and soybean oilseeds and tested them in the lab. The gels work well on a variety of hair types, from thick and kinky to fine and straight, says the Agriculture Department. They would be inexpensive to produce, since soapstock costs a fraction of the price of synthetic polymers.

Kuk has used the same thin film technology to create transparent and translucent coatings for freshly harvested vegetables. In the lab, he has shown that the biodegradable films can extend the shelf life of produce such as bell peppers and cucumbers by at least 30 percent when compared to uncoated vegetables. The films wash off easily with water, unlike paraffin wax coatings, which also cost more.

Kuk hopes to generate interest in this technology and collaborate with a hair care product manufacturer or fresh produce processor.

Posted by Richard
3/13/2003 03:33:49 PM | PermaLink

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Norton Urges Congress to Allow ANWR Oil Drilling

...despite the fact that this administration has already tried on a number of occasions to have this happen, and the American public (not just the Senate mind you) has repeatedly told them "No!"

In all this anti-war talk decrying Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfewitz, people are forgetting about some of the other administration thugs like Gale Norton -- or as I like to call her, the Wicked Witch of the american north-West.
(Reuters) - U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Wednesday urged Congress to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling and help make the United States less dependent on foreign crude imports.

Tapping the reserve's potential 16 billion barrels of oil has taken on more urgency with gasoline prices at record high levels in many parts of the country and there are market fears that vital Middle East crude supplies would be disrupted in a U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

"Our foreign sources of oil are becoming more and more unstable," Norton told the House Resources Committee. "Our reliance on foreign oil has impacts on the lives of American families, farmers and workers -- as the current gasoline price increases show," she said.

The Energy Department said this week that the national price for gasoline averaged $1.712 a gallon, just one-tenth of a penny below the all-time record high reached in May 2001.

Democratic lawmakers on the committee criticized the administration's desire to give energy firms access to ANWR, but at the same time not pushing to significantly boost mileage standards for gas-guzzling SUVs, which would reduce U.S. gasoline use and thus foreign oil imports.

"If (oil is) so critical to our national economy, why do we waste it?" said Democrat George Miller of California.

The committee's chairman, Republican Richard Pombo of California, said ANWR could be one of the world's largest oil discoveries in the last 30 years and hold enough oil to cut back on imports from unfriendly countries like Iraq.

"As America's dependence on foreign oil approaches 60 percent (of needed supply), it is foolish not to look for oil in a place that could hold resources of this magnitude, especially at a time when a substantial amount of foreign oil is imported from hostile governments," he said.

The Arctic refuge sprawls across 19 million acres (7.7 million hectares) in Alaska's northeast corner, but only the area's 1.5-million-acre (607,000-hectare) coastal plain would be accessible to energy companies.


It would take about eight years for commercial production to start, with production reaching 800,000 barrels per day by 2020, according to one government estimate.

The Bush administration wants to lease between 400,000 acres (161,874 hectares) and 600,000 acres (242,811 hectares) in the refuge's coastal plain during 2005.

Norton told Reuters that the administration would still support a compromise crafted in Congress last year to limit the impact of exploration in the refuge to just 2,000 acres (810 hectares) at any one time.

A showdown on ANWR drilling is expected in the Senate later this month, when legislation to enact the federal budget is sent to the Senate floor that would also include language opening the refuge to oil exploration.

The Senate Budget Committee will meet on Thursday to draft the legislation containing the pro-drilling language.

Once the bill arrives on the Senate floor, drilling opponents will have to get 51 votes out of the 100-member Senate to strip the ANWR language from the legislation.

Drilling supporters will need only 50 votes to keep the language in the bill, as Vice President Dick Cheney would be expected to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of drilling.

A Republican e-mail, circulated this week by congressional and environmental sources, said drilling supporters were only one senator short of the 50 needed to back an ANWR drilling measure.

The e-mail said Cheney was actively involved in rounding up the 50 votes for drilling. However, a spokeswoman for the vice president's office said he was not pressing lawmakers on the issue.

The House of Representatives is expected to approve drilling in ANWR later this spring as part of a broad comprehensive energy bill.

Posted by Richard
3/12/2003 11:50:34 AM | PermaLink

Restoring the Starry Night

The night sky just isn't what it used to be.

It used to be dark.

Starlight that takes millions of years to reach Earth is now blotted out by the competing sky glow of cities and settlements around the globe.

Two-thirds of North Americans and more than half of Europeans now can no longer see the Milky Way, according to a recent study by Italian astronomer Pierantonio Cinzano and colleagues. In relatively remote areas, a person can see about 2,000 stars, the study estimates. In big cities, a few dozen are visible.

As the stars fade from view, a national and international movement to do something about it is gaining momentum.

Last summer, the Czech Republic became the first country to pass a nationwide law against light pollution. In the U.S., state governments throughout the country are looking at reining in excess outdoor lighting.

Colorado, which enacted limited legislation in 2001 restricting the lighting practices of state agencies and projects, is among a dozen states with light laws on the books. At least a dozen more states are working on legislation.

And many Colorado cities of varying sizes are working on local lighting standards - among them, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Fort Collins, Castle Rock, Steamboat Springs and Durango.

It's not just astronomers who see excess light as a problem. Boulder lighting engineer Nancy Clanton is on the board of directors for the International Dark-Sky Association but is no stargazer, she says. She just hates bad lighting.

"There's a difference between sparkle and glare," Clanton says. "Holiday lighting is pleasant. A big floodlight is not pleasant."

Dark-sky advocates say their movement is about more than aesthetics.

"Up to 20 percent of all electricity goes into lighting. Having misdirected light that goes uselessly into space is unacceptable," says University of Denver astronomer Robert Stencel, who works as a consultant for the city of Denver.

Moreover, plants, animals and humans need alternating periods of light and dark for optimal health, Stencel says. In humans, too much exposure to light has been implicated in brain chemistry imbalances, insomnia and even increased cancer risk.

Stencel says he relishes the opportunity as an astronomer to be "socially responsible, not just aerie-faerie." But he admits that taming excess light is about more than practical concerns.

"The night sky has been a font of imagination and creativity for humans for as long as we have existed. We're pulling a gray curtain over the sky. It's hard to predict what that means for us," he says.

In Durango, City Planner Greg Hoch is learning it is not simple to draft a guideline that does not alarm business owners. Several told him at a recent city forum that the city must have better things to do with its money than "punish" businessmen with an expensive lighting ordinance requiring retrofitting.

"Is this overkill for Durango?" architect R. Michael Bell asked. "A lot of people like twinkling city lights."

But Hoch believes that the city can gradually phase in lighting standards that will improve Durango's look, enhance safety, diminish sky glow and appeal to a majority of residents.

Durango simply wants a custom code that will let it avoid the wrong amount of light with the wrong fixtures at the wrong times in the wrong places, he says.

"Durango has a history of being fairly middle of the road, with a real mixture of people here," Hoch says. "This is not 'the People's Republic of Boulder.' But it's not Lubbock, Texas, either."

The town wants to allow some decorative lighting to highlight architecture. And it wants to keep its acorn-globed streetlights, replicas of Durango's Victorian-style lamps, in its historic district. Installed in the early 1990s, the lamps cast light upward, a no-no among dark-sky advocates.

But Durango does plan to replace its several hundred other streetlights over seven years. The local electric utility estimates a total cost to the city and utility of $24,000. Light-code critic and engineer Thomas Cummins says the total costs would be closer to several hundred thousand dollars. He estimates it would cost a local Texaco gas station $12,000 to comply. It would cost First National Bank almost $39,000.

Durango is just one of many towns in Colorado and elsewhere to wrestle with these questions. While the dark-sky movement now is seeing unprecedented interest, it isn't new. It started in the late 1950s in starry Arizona, haven of astronomers with very big telescopes. They were the first to notice that people on Earth were losing the ability to see into the heavens.

In Tucson, home of the national astronomical observatory and host to astronomers from all over the world - even the Vatican has a telescope there - the International Dark-Sky Association was formally incorporated in 1989. It now has 10,000 members in 70 countries, says associate director Elizabeth Alvarez.

The dark-sky movement has had a "huge effect" in educating people and promoting research, Alvarez says. She notes that Tucson's population has grown rapidly in recent decades, but the sky has not become proportionately brighter there.

In Colorado, "Denver is one of the bigger cities to tackle this," says DU astronomer Stencel.

Floodlights engineered for Coors Field and Invesco Field at Mile High direct illumination onto the fields three times more efficiently than most traditional lighting schemes.

Douglas County, meanwhile, has had a law governing new lighting for several years with "fabulous results," Boulder lighting engineer Clanton says. Arapahoe County is looking at the issue. Aspen, Vail and Carbondale have strict rules, she says, while the town of Eagle developed a near-perfect ordinance for its community.

But much of the East Coast megalopolis and even the Midwest, as viewed at night by satellite, are so awash in light there is precious little darkness left to defend.

The dark-sky association estimates that 30 percent of outdoor lighting in the United States is directed upward. The right fixtures could fix that problem, as they have at the two stadiums in Denver.

Clanton believes that overly bright lights create glare and hazard. One of the big problems with overlighting, she says, is that it takes eyes a while to adjust from too-bright light to dimmer light.

A driver pulling out from underneath an overlit gas-station canopy cannot see well immediately upon entering a roadway, Clanton says. For elderly drivers, the adjustment period for their eyes can take minutes.

Clanton also argues that overlighting an area does not enhance a person's feeling of security. While doing a study for the California Energy Commission, she surveyed 450 sites. Bright illumination had little to do with a person's sense of safety at those sites, she concluded; minimizing contrast or glare had a much more positive effect.

Meanwhile, as dozens of towns argue these and the other pros and cons of dark-sky rules, sky enthusiasts continue to urge people to see the dark. The second National Dark-Sky Week will take place April 1-8.

By Electa Draper, Denver Post Four Corners Bureau

Posted by Richard
3/12/2003 09:50:23 AM | PermaLink

More Meat Means Less Longevity

This is an interesting and important study but this BBC gloss doesn't really get the full gist. There were 1904 Germans to be exact. They did find that overall vegetarians had a signficantly reduced risk of mortality from ischaemic heart disease. But the overall findings weren't correlated to just vegan, vegetarian, eats meat somewhat, and meat-eater. Rather, the findings said that the level of physical exercise, the duration of being vegetarian, and the status (strict vs. moderate) were all important factors for determining risk of total mortality, cancer mortality, and mortality from cardio-vascular diseases.

I can not find information from the study as to the number of vegan participants, but my hunch tells me that the findings that vegans are much more prone than vegetarians towards mortality -- nearly 20% more likely -- is the result of an insignificant number of vegan participants. Assuming that this study had a representative number of vegans, who comprise let's say 1% of the population, then we are talking about 19 participants. Even if they had 5x this many, it would hardly be enough to chart a meaningful correlation. 1904 vegans over twenty years would be a better survey. Still, this reports information is interesting -- and is meaningful for meat-eaters, if slightly skewed for non-consumers.
London (ANI): People who eat meat moderately and have a balanced diet, live longer than regular meat eaters, according to new research findings.

It has been suggested that eating a balanced vegetarian diet could reduce the risk of developing certain cancers and heart disease, cut cholesterol levels and the chances of suffering from kidney and gall stones, diet-related diabetes and high blood pressure.

A team from the Centre of Cancer Research in Germany monitored almost 2,000 people aged between 10 and 70, who ate either no meat or less than average, between 1978 and 1999, says a report in BBC.

Those studied were either vegans, who eat no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products, vegetarians, who eat eggs and dairy products, but no meat or fish, and occasional meat eaters.

Across the group, there was an average of 59 deaths for every 100 deaths in that age range in the general population during that period.

But complete avoidance of meat was not the healthiest way, the researchers found.

For every 100 deaths among vegans, there were 66 among vegetarians and 60 among occasional meat eaters.

Amongst smokers, the mortality rate was 70 percent higher than non-smokers, while those who took the most exercise reduced their mortality rates by more than 30 percent.

Posted by Richard
3/12/2003 07:55:12 AM | PermaLink

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Air Force to Test 21K Bomb in Florida

This is another case in a long line of military nicknames for their weapons in which they conflate motherhood and life-giving with patriarchal militarism and death-dealing. Interestingly, this new diabolic weapon will be dropped from a "Samaritan" aircraft. With thankless help like this, who needs enemies...
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force said it planned to drop a 21,000-pound MOAB bomb on a range in northwest Florida on Tuesday in the first live test of a powerful new weapon nicknamed the "mother of all bombs."

The bomb packs 40 percent more power than America's current most powerful non-nuclear bomb, the 15,000-pound "Daisy Cutter" used to pound the caves of Tora Bora in Afghanistan ( news -web sites ) in late 2001, according to officials at Eglin Air Force Base.

Base officials warned residents in neighboring communities to expect a loud noise when the bomb is dropped from a C-131 "Samaritan" aircraft onto the base bombing range some time between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. EST.

Posted by Richard
3/11/2003 10:43:22 AM | PermaLink

Solar Energy Users May Get Unwanted Charge

Californians who recently took the trouble to put up solar electric panels expected hearty thanks from a state desperate for clean energy to relieve its strained power grid. Instead, they may be getting a bill. A California Public Utilities Commission proposal would slap a charge on consumers who start generating their own power.


Meanwhile, Virginia at Greenconsciousness passed along this website on home power. An interesting do-it-yourself article there on bio-diesel. I know an organization that is touring the west coast in a bio-diesel tour bus. Still, after reading the article it looks like it may be a few years away yet for the average green citizen to really implement effectively...but read and decide for yourself!

Posted by Richard
3/11/2003 10:29:43 AM | PermaLink

Chemical in Soy Alters Reproductive Organs in Male Rats

While this is sure to ignite the excitement of all those men out there who equate soy with estrogen, and hence castration, a moment of caution is required. Yes, we do know that the soy-based chemical genistein is a plant-derived estrogen that appears to have effects in animals -- food does that: remember you are what you eat? Thus, the findings that menopausal women are having success using soy as a natural alternative to the horse-slaughtering necessitated by estrogen therapy are to be taken seriously as well.

What this gloss on this study does not tell us is the amount of genistein being fed to the female rats and how this would compare to a normal soy-based or soy-included diet by your average American. Without this information the findings are meaningless beyond their own results.

Further, while the study reports "smaller testes" and "larger prostate" in affected male rats, no data is given on what this means. 1 micron is "smaller" and "larger" too but not clearly signficantly so. I notice that the word "significant" -- an important scientific qualifier -- is missing from this gloss.

Additionally, while the researchers report "long-term" consequences, it is also hinted that such consequences did in fact subside eventually. This would be in keeping with research done that finds those with negative reactions to soya return to a pre-soya state after it leaves the body.

Finally, and I throw this out in all seriousness -- while these researchers apparently feel that a lower testerone level in males is "a detrimental effect," where does this value judgement come into play? Is this science or literary studies? As they mention that the males are otherwise healthy and have no affected sperm as a result, one can only believe that the use of a term like "detrimental" is added to evoke excitement by their findings...playing upon male macho, unjust fears of homosexuality, and castration psychosis.

It seems to me, on the contrary, however, that males with a little less testerone might not only be desireable but socially preferable. I read this study entirely the opposite -- to the degree that it has any meaning whatsoever for non-rat populations. Soy can be a good medicine, a prophylactic, and a psychological tonic for aggression.

There are no reports coming out of the vegan community that I am aware of that find soy to be a problem for men. I know of no higher prostate incidence, lower birth rates, higher homosexuality counts, etc.
BALTIMORE, Maryland , March 10, 2003 (ENS) - A chemical in soybeans has been identified as responsible for abnormal reproductive organs and sexual dysfunction in adult male rats whose mothers were fed diets containing the chemical while they were in the womb. Genistein is the chemical, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In the study, described in the April issue of the "Journal of Urology," pregnant female rats were randomly assigned to one of three regimens: a diet free of genistein, a diet supplemented with a low dose of genistein, and a diet with a high dose of genistein.

Male offspring were exposed to genistein only indirectly through maternal consumption during pregnancy and lactation.

When the genistein exposed offspring matured, researchers found the males had smaller testes and a larger prostate gland compared to unexposed rats. Their sperm counts were normal, but exposed adult males had lower testosterone levels and were less likely to ejaculate when presented with the opportunity to mate with a female.

"The effects of genistein continued long after the rats were exposed, leading us to believe that exposure to this plant derived estrogen during reproductive development can have long term detrimental effects in males," said the study's lead author, Amy Wisniewski, Ph.D., a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

While these findings do not indicate that genistein has a similar effect in humans, Wisniewsk and her team say the increasing popularity of soy and soy based foods, such as tofu and some infant formulas, may warrant further research to determine if genistein exposure in the womb and during breastfeeding influences human reproductive development.

Posted by Richard
3/11/2003 07:36:59 AM | PermaLink

Monday, March 10, 2003

Federal Plan Doubles Sierra Logging

While the federal game has been to try to win logging increases under the notion of "protection" from catastrophic crown fires arising from "overgrown" forests, the public and the press must continue to answer this with the greatest possible skepticism. While crown fires are resulting "unnaturally" in previously clear cut areas that are now exaccerbated by global warming drought, increasing suburban development around wilderness areas, and a history of questionable firefighting tactics, most areas (such as in California) are experiencing quasi-normal wildfire eruptions. Even when we can say that these are themselves being affected by drought, development and management practices, they are inappropriately classified as crown fires and the like across the board. As each region has its own distictive ecological systemics and human footprint, thus the fires arising in each region must be better understood to be arising from particular and complex causes. The governmental/industry answer that felling trees (often old growth trees least susceptible to such fires) is the cure all is not only reprehensible science, but it is politically crude and brutal.
The Bush administration plans to more than double the amount of logging allowed in the national forests of the Sierra Nevada over the next decade, according to a proposal released Thursday. Forest Service officials said the new plan would allow them to thin California's overgrown forests more aggressively to protect communities and wildlife from the threat of catastrophic wildfires. But environmentalists and some lawmakers said the proposal would undermine protections for the California spotted owl and other species by opening old- growth forests to more intensive logging.


Posted by Richard
3/10/2003 11:29:09 AM | PermaLink

Polar Sea Ice Could be Gone by the End of the Century

Much of the Earth's frozen north will have defrosted by the end of the century, according to the latest study of the effect of global warming on the Arctic.  New measurements of the extent of sea ice around the entire North Pole show that it has reduced by about 4 per cent a decade on average over a 20-year period.


Posted by Richard
3/10/2003 11:16:51 AM | PermaLink

Bush Administration Exempts Oil Industry From Clean Water Act

The Bush administration has decided to give the oil and gas industry two years to comply with a storm-water regulation that goes into effect across the country Monday, and will consider granting a permanent exemption.

Environmental groups and environmentalists in Congress argued that the administration is granting special rights to a favored industry, at the risk of polluting rivers and lakes.

The administration said it needs additional time to determine the effect the rule would have on the industry and whether it should be applied to companies producing and exploring for oil and gas.

The rule orders builders and others whose construction projects cover from one to five acres to get permission from state or federal officials before beginning work. It also requires municipalities with populations of less than 100,000 to seek permits for urban runoff from streets and parking lots.

It was written in 1999, but its effective date was delayed for four years.

The regulation is the second phase of an effort intended to reduce by 80% sediment and other polluted runoff from cities, towns and construction projects. Existing rules under the Clean Water Act cover construction areas greater than 5 acres and communities with populations greater than 100,000.

Environmental Protection Agency officials said they were delaying the oil and gas industry's compliance because they had mistakenly believed that most oil and gas construction projects would not impact more than one acre.

The industry, however, said most of the 30,000 sites drilled annually fall within the range of one to five acres.

Seeking to be excluded from the rule, the oil and gas industry argued that drilling sites do not create large runoff problems and that complying would be too expensive. Industry representatives also argued that the Clean Water Act bans the EPA administrator from requiring the industry to get storm-water permits for a variety of activities, including production, exploration and processing.

"We think these storm-water discharges are exempted from the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act," said Lee Fuller, a vice president of the Independent Petroleum Assn. of America.

EPA spokesman John Millet said the provision does not apply to the industry's construction projects, but agency officials would determine whether it should in the next two years.

Environmental groups and sympathetic legislators argued that the oil and gas industry's construction projects should be regulated like all other construction projects.

"While small communities and small construction projects in every other sector of the economy must comply with strong storm-water standards, the Bush administration is giving a free ride to the oil and gas industry," said Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), who was the chairman of the Environment Committee before Republicans gained control of the Senate. "With this proposal, we are seeing our nation's water quality standards go down the drain."

But EPA officials said the industry made a strong case.

"EPA agrees that sediment from all sources is a concern but believes that the oil and gas industry has raised significant questions about the differences between the nature of construction at oil and gas sites and other construction," EPA officials said in the formal notification of their decision.

It will be published in the Federal Register on Monday.

Millet said EPA officials needed the extra time because they had conflicting information about environmental damage from the oil and gas industry's construction projects and the potential economic damage to the industry.

Environmental groups said water quality would suffer if the industry is given a two-year delay.

"Everybody admits there is pollution coming from these sites," said Sharon Buccino, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They're being excused from the process that requires them to address that."

By Elizabeth Shogren, LA Times

Posted by Richard
3/10/2003 09:58:41 AM | PermaLink

Sunday, March 09, 2003

U.S. Threatens Trade War Over Meat

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said Russia might face U.S. trade retaliation if it does not remove import barriers for meat. Zoellick told the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday that he would not shrink from that course of action if necessary to help persuade Russia to drop the restrictions.


Posted by Richard
3/09/2003 08:59:03 AM | PermaLink