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Showing posts from 2014

Green rice will feed a hungry world

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B. McPherson
A quiet, green revolution is taking place in the Philippines. A joint effort by plant scientists in China and the Philippines has developed “Green Super Rice” which builds on the heritage of IR8, the rice developed 50 years ago that saved millions from starvation.
Another revolution is needed now. By 2050, two billion more people will be living on Earth, many in areas where food is scarce. The changing climate is creating stressful conditions and lowered yields of many important food crops.
This revolution relies on plant scientists using selective breeding techniques but also the knowledge gained with regard to genetics. Instead of inserting non-rice genes into the plant makeup, the scientists working on green super rice can now pick and choose gene bundles from rice plants that exhibit the traits needed. For instance plant breeders looking for a drought resistant rice but high yielding can select a gene from a drought resistant rice and insert it into the high yielding…

Lima climate conference showing ragged edges

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B. McPherson
Delegates from 190 countries are spending two weeks in Lima, Peru, discussing and dealing to try to come to an agreement on reducing countries’ carbon dioxide emissions. The aim is to agree on binding limits in order to pass them at next year’s two week conference in Paris.
Already China, the world’s biggest polluter has already announced that they will not allow independent inspectors of their emissions. That may well be enough to trash the China/US emissions agreement signed in November. The US, world’s second largest polluter, is also unlikely to agree on binding restrictions.
In spite of China’s reluctance to admit inspectors, the European Union countries have made pledges to reduce their carbon releases in the range of 40% by 2025. The US and Denmark have made multi-billion dollar pledges to develop new ways to help keep the Earth’s temperature an average of only 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Revolution levels.
The trouble with pledges is that they are only…

Bhopal 30 years ago and still hurting

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B. McPherson Dow Chemical, third largest company in the world, should be able to spare a few million to clean up this mess. The people in Bhopal India are still suffering from the chemical release that has killed 25 000 to date. It has left many with respiratory problems, blindness and birth defects. Union Carbide, now wholly owned by Dow Chemicals(head offices in Michigan) had a pesticide manufacturing plant in the town. A release of methyl isocyanate gas spread over the town 30 years ago dropping small children where they stood, adults took a few minutes to die.
Residents of Bhopal marked the terrible anniversary by marching in the streets and demanding that the corporations involved and the Indian government treat them fairly. Compensation was meagre and spotty. A widow was awarded the equivalent of $3.20/month. Eventually this was increased to $12/month. Death payments were $1000 but only if deaths could have been proved to be a direct result of the gas leak.
Some Indian managers …

World Food Programme suspended for Syrian refugees

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B. McPherson
It’s a cold world that cannot feed those fleeing from warfare. Winter is coming to Jordan and Lebanon, just as the UN has announced it can no longer afford to feed the refugees from the Syrian conflict. Some Syrians left their home country with some assets but many fled with only their clothing. Many women with small children fled, their fathers and husbands dead in the conflict. The UN WFP has been issuing food vouchers in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to those who cannot afford to buy food. The vouchers have cost the programme about $800 million to date and bolstered the economies of the countries hosting the refugees.
Many receiving food aid live in the refugee camps have no ability to buy winter clothes or blankets. Without the calories provided under the voucher programme many will not survive. The suspension of the system puts 1.7 million people at risk.
The UN spokesperson said that $64 million is needed to cover costs for December alone.
"A suspension of…

Protesters on Burnaby Mountain Arrested

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B. McPherson You can't drink or breathe oil. Stop the pipeline The standoff between BigOil and environmentalists continues on Burnaby Mountain. Pipeline company KinderMorgan wants to triple its petroleum carrying capacity to bring Alberta oil to the Pacific coast for shipping to the US and overseas. They have not received the go-ahead from the Canadian Energy Board, but they have done preliminary work to map a new route for the proposed pipelines.
Part of that route would take them under Burnaby Mountain, much of which is dedicated parkland. The survey crews have been blocked from cutting more trees in the park by protesters. Some would call them protectors depending on one’s point of view.
KinderMorgan obtained an injunction to remove the protesters who were blocking the route. This served to increase the number of people joining in the movement. Police were moved in to remove the people. Peaceful, non-violent arrests were made. To date over 100 people have allowed themselves to …

UK fracking won’t fill the energy gap

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B. McPherson
Fracking hype in the UK may be just that. Laws have been changed to make it easier for petroleum corporations to shatter the shale beds to extract the oil or gas held in the rocks. People have been told that the sacrifice of land and water to facilitate this extraction is for the common good, that it will make the UK self-sufficient in natural gas. Prices will remain as is or be reduced.
A credible report from the University of Sussex challenges that assertion. Published in The UK’s Global Gas Challenge, the report points out that the year 2000 was the last year that the UK was self-sufficient in natural gas. As the fields in the North Sea diminished their productivity, the UK gradually increased its dependence on foreign suppliers. Now about 50% of the natural gas that the UK uses comes from Norway and Qatar.
The US has led the world in fracking to obtain natural gas. Canada has followed suit. There has been a large increase in the supply of natural gas, but it has been…

Kinder Morgan Faces Mock Pipeline Lawyers

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B. McPherson Pipeline corp. shows disregard for human life Giant corporation Kinder Morgan faces widespread opposition to its application to triple the oil pipeline through Metro Vancouver. If the increase in oil transport to the coast are allowed, an estimated 300 more oil tankers will shuttle through Georgia Strait each year.
There are environmental concerns with having a high pressure oil pipeline in one’s neighbourhood. A few years ago, one of the municipalities found to their horror that the black gold will spew many feet into the air ruining houses, yards and running down the streets to ooze into the ocean. It was nicked by a backhoe working on a street.
Kinder Morgan has proposed a more efficient(read shorter) route for its additional capacity. Some people woke up one day to find strangers in their back yards. The workers said they were surveying for the new pipeline. They were kicked out. Next KM proposed tunnelling under Burnaby Mountain over Burnaby’s city council’s objectio…

Grim news from UN report on climate change

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B. McPherson 
The UN report on climate change has issued some grim words. They emphasize that climate change is happening. Humans are changing the Earth’s climate. All fossil fuel consumption must cease by the end of the century to avoid irreversible changes to the atmosphere.
World climates change without human input, but the changes that have happened since the Industrial Revolution which saw coal fired steam engines come into common use has accelerated the release of ‘greenhouse gases’ into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are those that act like the glass in a greenhouse, allowing the sun’s energy to enter but not leave. Carbon dioxide gets much attention, but other gases are also potent greenhouse contributors – methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases are some of the important contributors.
Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the report's launch in Copenhagen…

Cdn Energy Board stops Enbridge push to the east

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B. McPherson
Enbridge Group that moves petroleum products has faced stiff opposition from environmentalists in its push to move Tar Sands bitumen to Canada’s coastlines. Increasing opposition from British Columbians to their scheme to build a pipeline to the Pacific Coast has them looking at pipelines to the east that they already control.
Those pipelines have been configured to carry refined, imported oil from the Atlantic Coast, west to Ontario and Quebec.
Enbridge has applied to reconfigure them to carry the sandy petroleum product to the coastal refineries on the Atlantic coast or for export to foreign countries. The plan was to start moving the diluted bitumen(dilbit) in Line 9B in November.
While one of the things that Enbridge likes to emphasize in attempting to convince people that their pipelines would be an asset, is the safety of moving petroleum products by pipeline. Today the Canadian Energy Board put paid to that premise when they ruled that Enbridge’s proposal to rever…

Sand consumption worldwide reaches crisis stage

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B. McPherson
Sand mafia are stealing people's homes Who would have thought that sand and gravel was in short supply around the globe? Aggregates are as common as dirt, right? Apparently not so and the UN Environmental Programme is sounding the alarm, saying that the extraction of aggregates at this pace is not sustainable. The extraction is also causing widespread environmental damage.
Our modern world relies on the use of sand and gravel in many ways. As much as 59 billion tonnes of the material is mined every year. Sand is the result of millions of years of erosion and wearing away of bedrock. Gravel is just part way in that process. The trade in sand and gravel is a multibillion dollar business, estimated to be in excess of $18 billion each year.
Sand mining is usually done as open pit. Sources for sand may be dunes, beaches, dredged from rivers and glacial deposits. The sand may contain valuable minerals that can be sifted out to use in the chemical industry.
 The US has a mas…

Walruses the latest climate refugees

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B. McPherson
The world is witnessing the impact that climate warming is having on the walrus population off Alaska’s north west coast. NOAA conducting marine mammal surveys in the area noted a massive haul out of walruses. The beach near Point Lay Alaska is estimated to hold about 35 000 walruses. Mixed together are mature males, much smaller females and babies.
Normally the walruses would rarely come ashore, preferring to whelp and rest on ice floes in the Chukchi Sea. Resting on floating ice gives the animals a safe place to leave their pups while the adult dives up to 200 feet below the surface in search of shellfish and marine worms.
Since 2007 scientists have observed more walruses hauling out on remote beaches, a behavior that has coincided with the retreat of summer ice in the Arctic.
This change in behavior is hard on the walruses. It takes them far away from the prime hunting grounds. The pups risk being crushed from overcrowding or a stampede. They are vulnerable to attack…

Japan nuclear power stations located near volcanoes

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B.. McPherson How many nuclear power stations are near Japan's volcanoes? Japan currently has 48 nuclear reactors that were designed to produce electricity. Since the destruction of the Fukushima Daiichi complex more than three years ago due to earthquake and tsunami damage, all the other plants have been shut pending thorough safety checks.
On September 27 a volcanic peak, Mount Ontake, unexpectedly erupted killing at least 31 people who were hiking on the slopes. More people may have been killed and buried in the ash. You may well ask what these people were doing on an active volcano. They were assured that Mt. Ontake was safe because the seismic sensors placed on the mountain showed no activity.
There are 110 active volcanoes in Japan.
The Nuclear Regulatory Authority(NRA) has recently given a nuclear facility at Sendai a safety pass – July 16, 2014. Objections raised by those opposed to the reopening of the nuclear stations based partly on its proximity to an active volcano we…

Greenland’s black snow ominous sign of climate disruptions

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B. McPherson

Most of think of Greenland when we think of it at all, is of an almost continent covered in miles of ice. Times are changing and changing fast. For the past couple of decades environmental scientists have been warning of increased melting of the ice. This year, the melting was the greatest recorded.
Scientist Jason Box, working for the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, came back from his summer survey of the ice-cap with stunning photographs that bode ill for the rest of the world. The pristine white snow is black. Not just sprinkled with bits of dark pollution, black. You may find the photos he brought back at the Slate site.
Dark surfaces absorb more heat from the sun than light. The changing surface of Greenland has speeded up the melting of this Arctic refrigerator.
Sources of the dark matter on the Arctic ice can come from many areas. This summer there have been fewer snowstorms to cover dark material, winds circulate air from industrialized countries and…

Microbeads from cosmetics are clogging fish guts

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B. McPherson

The cosmetic industry is taking a quick turn in their product offerings. The recent phenomenon in the beauty world of offering microbeads in everything from tooth paste to body scrubs is being phased out. By 2018 in the USA most states will have banned their use and the cosmetic companies are listening.
Perhaps in the past you have purchased Crest toothpaste with neat little glitter bits in it. It’s supposed to encourage children to brush their teeth, but adults can use it too. I’ve used it. It’s kind of fun. Turns out the glitter bits are small pieces of coloured plastic. They are not poisonous, but polypropylene is not high of children’s meal menus. Many cosmetics contain tiny plastic beads as well. They have been touted as a way to achieve smooth skin. The organization Beat the Microbead has an extensive list of products that contain these tiny pieces of plastic.
Those tiny pieces of plastic make their way down the drains of the cities and from there to the water tre…

GM eggplant released without independent testing

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B. McPherson
The development of genetically modified field crops is a lucrative business. Monsanto corporation is often cited as the entity responsible for the proliferation of GM field crops. It is a leader in this industry, but there are many others eager to cash in on the bonanza.
Sometimes that eagerness combined with crop losses in normal plants pushes GM seed release before it has been independently tested for health and environmental risks. Information is now available that puts a shadow on the Bangladeshi government’s approval of four varieties of GM eggplant(brinjal) seeds.
That eagerness to release Bt brinjal(eggplant) to farmers may come with health impacts. The Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute(BARI) has admitted that there were no independent health/toxicity tests done before the release of the seed. The reason, or excuse, given was that there were no suitable labs available. Instead, BARI relied on information released by the corporation that had patented the g…

Pakistan: hundreds dead in monsoon flooding

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B. McPherson People fleeing rising flood waters in Pakistan Residents of Pakistan and India are struggling with the worst flooding in decades as heavy rains from the monsoon caused rapid rises in river levels. There are hundreds confirmed dead with little word from villages hit with floods and mudslides.
The city of Lahore is flooded. Photographs displayed by Indian newspapers show chest deep water running in the cities of Kashmir and Pakistan. Buildings in the cities tend to be built of fired brick, but many in the countryside are made of mud brick which dissolved in the water’s onslaught.
Srinagar in Kashmir has been hard hit with flooded streets and interrupted communications. Rescue efforts have been slowed by lack of boats. Thousands of people have been displaced after losing all their belongings to the fast flowing Jhelum River.
Every year during the monsoon, flooding occurs in India and Pakistan but this year’s flooding is now classed as the worst in decades.
When watching TV …

Drought in Central America spectre of hunger looms

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B. McPherson
Drought and disease have conspired to throw farmers in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras into poverty. The coffee bean rust has ruined coffee trees and continuing drought has meant lost crops for about 40 000 families in Guatemala. Fishing has also been poor, blamed on El Nino.
The government of Guatemala has declared the situation an emergency. The UN World Food Programme is assisting the Central American countries. 170 000 households in Guatemala are receiving food aid. Honduras is receiving aid for 76 000 families. Due to the dire conditions red beans have soared in price since January.
Guatemala faced a severe drought only five years ago. It was another El Nino year and at that time an estimated 2.5 million people were severely malnourished.
Guatemala was one of those “Banana Republics”. Their democratic government was overthrown in the ‘50s when it is alleged that the CIA worked to protect the properties of the United Fruit Growers(Chiquita Brands) which stood to lo…

Mussels Close German Power Plant

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B. McPherson Small but a big problem -- zebra mussels Warmer ocean temperatures are blamed for the shutdown of a major electrical producer in Germany. The EON SE plant at Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea was forced to shut operations because of marine mussel infestation.  The power plant normally produces enough electricity to light 1.5 million homes.
“We usually scrape tons of mussels out of the area where the cooling water flows during the plant’s usual revisions, but this time there were so many that we couldn’t wait for the next inspection,” Markus Nitschke, a spokesman for EON, said by phone from Dusseldorf today. “The warmer temperatures have caused this infestation.” Bloomberg News
Invasive mussels are causing additional expense and operating hazards around the world. Some species may be native to an area, but slight changes in their environment like temperature change may favour more rapid reproduction. Other species are introduced to an area where there are no natural checks on t…