Archive for July, 2012

High heat knocks out power to hundreds of millions in India

July 30, 2012

 

By Philip Bump

We’ve previously mentioned the link between hot days and increased power demand. Not like we’re genius scientists for doing so; it’s a pretty obvious connection. The hotter the day, the greater the demand for air conditioning and fans, the more strain on the electrical grid. Today, India faced the worst-case scenario.

The power grid across northern India failed Monday, halting hundreds of trains and leaving millions of people sweating in the heat in one of the worst blackouts in a decade, highlighting the country’s inability to feed a growing hunger for energy. …

It was the first time since 2001 that the northern grid had collapsed. But India’s demand for electricity has soared since then as its economy has grown sharply, and the outage was a reminder of the country’s long road ahead in upgrading its infrastructure to meet its aspirations of being an economic superpower.

In addition, a weak monsoon has kept temperatures higher this year, further increasing electricity usage as people seek to cool off. Shivpal Singh Yadav, the power minister in the state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, said that while demand during peak hours hits 11,000 megawatts, the state can only provide 9,000 megawatts.

Today’s temperatures in India. (Image by Weather-Forecast.com.)

Temperatures in New Delhi hovered around 31 degrees C, or about 89 degrees F. With humidity, it felt like 100. The city’s metro system shut down and hospitals reverted to generator backup.

 

The population in the city, India’s capital, is over 12 million. NPRestimated that the outage affected 370 million people — as though the populations of the United States, Canada, and Australia all lost power at once.

Last week, we noted that India is struggling to figure out how to generate electricity more inexpensively, moving away from domestic coal that is too low-quality for modern electrical plants. That Uttar Pradesh — the region mentioned in the excerpt above — generates only about 80 percent of what is needed for peak demand bodes poorly as demand continues to spike with increased temperatures.

 

Source

 

Philip Bump writes about the news for Gristmill. He also uses Twitter a whole lot.

 

Top 10 GMO Foods to Avoid

July 30, 2012

Corn is Number 1 on the list of GMO foods to avoid. (photo: Natural Society)
Corn is Number 1 on the list of GMO foods to avoid. (photo: Natural Society)

go to original article

By Elizabeth Renter, Natural Society

29 July 12

 

enetically modified foods have been shown to cause harm to humans, animals, and the environmental, and despite growing opposition, more and more foods continue to be genetically altered. It’s important to note that steering clear from these foods completely may be difficult, and you should merely try finding other sources than your big chain grocer. If produce is certified USDA-organic, it’s non-GMO (or supposed to be!) Also, seek out local farmers and booths at farmer’s markets where you can be ensured the crops aren’t GMO. Even better, if you are so inclined: Start organic gardening and grow them yourself. Until then, here are the top 10 worst GMO foods for your “do not eat” GMO foods list.

Top 10 Worst GMO Foods for Your GMO Foods List

1. Corn: This is a no-brainer. If you’ve watched any food documentary, you know corn is highly modified. “As many as half of all U.S. farms growing corn for Monsanto are using genetically modified corn,” and much of it is intended for human consumption. Monsanto’sGMO corn has been tied to numerous health issues, including weight gain and organ disruption.

2. Soy: Found in tofu, vegetarian products, soybean oil, soy flour, and numerous other products, soy is also modified to resist herbicides. As of now, biotech giant Monsanto still has a tight grasp on the soybean market, with approximately 90 percent of soy being genetically engineered to resist Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. In one single year, 2006, 96.7 million pounds of glyphosate was sprayed on soybeans alone

3. Sugar: According to NaturalNews, genetically-modified sugar beets were introduced to the U.S. market in 2009. Like others, they’ve been modified by Monsanto to resist herbicides. Monsanto has even had USDA and court-related issues with the planting of it’s sugarbeets, being ordered to remove seeds from the soil due to illegal approval.

4. Aspartame: Aspartame is a toxic additive used in numerous food products, and should be avoided for numerous reasons, including the fact that it is created with genetically modified bacteria.

5. Papayas: This one may come as a surprise to all of you tropical-fruit lovers. GMO papayas have been grown in Hawaii for consumption since 1999. Though they can’t be sold to countries in the European Union, they are welcome with open arms in the U.S. and Canada.

6. Canola: One of the most chemically altered foods in the U.S. diet, canola oil is obtained from rapeseed through a series of chemical actions.

7. Cotton: Found in cotton oil, cotton originating in India and China in particular has serious risks.

8. Dairy: Your dairy products contain growth hormones, with as many as one-fifth of all dairy cows in America are pumped with these hormones. In fact, Monasnto’s health-hazardousrBGH has been banned in 27 countries, but is still in most US cows. If you must drink milk, buy organic.

9. and 10. Zucchini and Yellow Squash: Closely related, these two squash varieties are modified to resist viruses.

The dangers of some of these foods are well-known. The Bt toxin being used in GMO corn, for example, was recently detected in the blood of pregnant women and their babies. But perhaps more frightening are the risks that are still unknown.

With little regulation and safety tests performed by the companies doing the genetic modifications themselves, we have no way of knowing for certain what risks these lab-created foods pose to us outside of what we already know.

The best advice: steer clear of them altogether.

Anti-nuclear protesters surround Diet building

July 30, 2012

NATIONAL JUL. 29, 2012 – 08:30PM JST ( 37 )

 

Anti-nuclear protesters surround Diet buildingAnti-nuclear protesters rally outside the Diet building in Tokyo on Sunday night.AP

 

TOKYO —

Thousands of demonstrators, some wearing gas masks, marched on the Diet building on Sunday. In the evening, they formed a candlelit human chain to protest the use of nuclear power after the Fukushima crisis.

Starting at about 3:30 p.m., they marched through Tokyo chanting “we don’t need nuclear power” and “stop operating nuclear plants,” in the latest demonstration since a recent decision to resume using nuclear power in Japan following a total shutdown.

The protesters were also wearing white protective suits similar to those used by decontamination workers at the crippled Fukushima plant, and drummed on yellow barrels emblazoned with atomic waste warnings.

AFP journalists estimated there were at least 10,000 demonstrators.

“After the Fukushima disaster, I thought that the government and vested interests were telling us lies about nuclear power being safe,” said Miho Igarashi, 46, an architect from Ibaraki prefecture south of Fukushima.

“We have to raise our voices against” the danger of atomic power, she told AFP.

The rally is the latest in a string of protests in Japan, which has seen a rising tide of anti-nuclear sentiment since Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in June ordered the restart of two reactors.

Noda defended the move citing looming power shortages after Japan switched off its 50 nuclear reactors—which provided the resource-poor country with a third of its energy—in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Weekly demonstrations outside the prime minister’s residence have drawn tens of thousands of people and a rally in west Tokyo earlier this month saw a crowd that organisers claimed was about 170,000-strong.

Sunday’s protest took place in high temperatures under a blazing sun, and the crowd included families with small children.

“I decided to join the protest because nuclear reactors are resuming even though their safety is not guaranteed,” said Sayaka Suzuki, 28, who was with her three-year-old daughter.

The latest rally comes less than a week after a damning government-backed report on last year’s crisis said Japanese officials and Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), operator of the crippled Fukushima plant, ignored the risk of an atomic accident because they believed in the “myth of nuclear safety.”

A separate parliamentary report said the worst nuclear accident in a generation was a man-made disaster, marked by a lack of oversight and collusion between TEPCO, the government and regulators.

The giant utility largely cleared itself of blame, saying the size of last year’s earthquake and tsunami was beyond all expectations and could not have reasonably been foreseen.

A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, crippled cooling equipment at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, triggering meltdowns that spewed radioactivity and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee.

The rising anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan has also led to the launch of Greens Japan, a political organisation aiming to field candidates with an environmental agenda in parliamentary elections.

“A party that strongly pursues environmental policies is needed,” Akira Miyabe, the group’s 59-year-old deputy head, was quoted by Kyodo News as saying at an inaugural meeting on Saturday.

© 2012 AFP

A Guide to Mass Shootings in America

July 27, 2012

There have been at least 56 in the last 30 years—and most of the killers got their guns legally.

By , and  | Updated: Thu Jul. 26, 2012 12:15 AM PDT


It’s perhaps too easy to forget how many times this has happened. The horrific mass murder [1] at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises [2] in Colorado last Friday is the latest in an epidemic of such gun violence over the last three decades. Since 1982, there have been at least 56 mass murders* carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. We’ve mapped them below, including details on the shooters’ identities, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.

Of the 132 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The arsenal included dozens of assault weapons and high-powered handguns. (See charts below.) Just as Jeffrey Weise used a .40-caliber Glock to massacre students in Red Lake, Minnesota, in 2005, so too did James Holmes when blasting away at his victims in a darkened movie theater.

Half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (11 and 17, respectively); the other 28 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, government buildings, and military bases. Only one of the killers was a woman. (See Goleta, Calif., in 2006.) Explore the map for further details—we do not consider the map to be all-inclusive, but based on the criteria we used to identify mass murders, we believe that we’ve produced one of the most comprehensive rundowns available on this particular type of traumatic violence. (Mass murders represent only a sliver of America’s overall gun violence.) For a timeline listing all the cases on the map, including photos of the killers, jump to page 2 [3].

Click on the dots or use the search box just above the map to go to a specific location. (You’ll need to zoom in significantly to see the Fort Hood shooting, located close to another Texas massacre in 1991, and to see other proximate incidents in Seattle and elsewhere.)

Sources: research by Mother Jones, with additional data from the Associated Press [4] and Canada.com [5].

We used the following criteria to identify cases of mass murder:

  • The killings were carried out by a lone shooter. (Except in the case of the Columbine massacre and the Westside Middle School killings, both of which involved two shooters.)
  • The shootings happened during a single incident and in a public place. (Public, except in the case of a party at an apartment complex in Crandon, Wisconsin.) Crimes primarily related to armed robbery or gang activity are not included.
  • The shooter took the lives of at least four people. An FBI crime classification report [6] identifies an individual as a mass murderer—as opposed to a spree killer [7] or a serial killer [8]—if he kills four or more people in a single incident (not including himself), and typically in a single location.
  • If the shooter died or was hurt from injuries sustained during the incident, he is included in the total victim count. (But we have excluded cases in which there were three fatalities and the shooter also died, per the previous criterion.)
  • We included six so-called “spree killings—prominent cases that fit closely with our above criteria for mass murder, but in which the killings occurred in multiple locations over a short period of time.

Here are two charts detailing the weapons used by the killers:

We’ve updated and expanded this story with additional research several times since initial publication on July 20, thanks in part to some valuable feedback from MoJo readers. (Thanks also to Professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University.)

For more about the mass shooting last week at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., jump over to our explainer [1].

First published: Fri Jul. 20, 2012 7:32 PM PDT.
Interactive production by Tasneem Raja [9] and Jaeah Lee [10]
Image: Clockwise from upper left: James E. Holmes: Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Dept./Zuma; Seung-Hui Cho: Virginia Tech University/Wikimedia [11]; Dylan Klebold: Columbine High School yearbook/Wikimedia [12]; Jared Loughner: Pima County Sheriff’s Office/Wikimedia [13]

Here is a timeline of 56 mass murders in the United States between 1982 and 2012. For further details and our interactive map locating all of these cases, click here [14].

For further details and our interactive map locating all of these cases, click here [14].


Source URL: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

Links:
[1] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/batman-theater-shooting-updates-dark-knight-rises
[2] http://www.motherjones.com/media/2012/07/film-review-dark-knight-rises-christian-bale-christopher-nolan
[3] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map?page=2
[4] http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/07/20/the-worst-mass-shootings-of-the-past-50-years/
[5] http://o.canada.com/2012/07/17/interactive-map-mass-shootings-in-north-american-history/
[6] http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/serial-murder/serial-murder-1#two
[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spree_killer
[8] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_killer
[9] http://www.motherjones.com/authors/tasneem-raja
[10] http://www.motherjones.com/authors/jaeah-lee
[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cho_Seung-hui_3.jpg
[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dylan_Klebold.JPG
[13] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jared_Loughner_USMS.jpg
[14] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map

Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt

July 25, 2012

Extent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on July 8 (left) and July 12 (right). Measurements from three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by July 12. In the image, the areas classified as “probable melt” (light pink) correspond to those sites where at least one satellite detected surface melting. The areas classified as “melt” (dark pink) correspond to sites where two or three satellites detected surface melting. The satellites are measuring different physical properties at different scales and are passing over Greenland at different times. As a whole, they provide a picture of an extreme melt event about which scientists are very confident. (Credit: Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory)

ScienceDaily (July 24, 2012) — For several days this month, Greenland’s surface ice cover melted over a larger area than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations. Nearly the entire ice cover of Greenland, from its thin, low-lying coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center, experienced some degree of melting at its surface, according to measurements from three independent satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists.

On average in the summer, about half of the surface of Greenland’s ice sheet naturally melts. At high elevations, most of that melt water quickly refreezes in place. Near the coast, some of the melt water is retained by the ice sheet and the rest is lost to the ocean. But this year the extent of ice melting at or near the surface jumped dramatically. According to satellite data, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface thawed at some point in mid-July.

Researchers have not yet determined whether this extensive melt event will affect the overall volume of ice loss this summer and contribute to sea level rise.

“The Greenland ice sheet is a vast area with a varied history of change. This event, combined with other natural but uncommon phenomena, such as the large calving event last week on Petermann Glacier, are part of a complex story,” said Tom Wagner, NASA’s cryosphere program manager in Washington. “Satellite observations are helping us understand how events like these may relate to one another as well as to the broader climate system.”

Son Nghiem of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was analyzing radar data from the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Oceansat-2 satellite last week when he noticed that most of Greenland appeared to have undergone surface melting on July 12. Nghiem said, “This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?”

Nghiem consulted with Dorothy Hall at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Hall studies the surface temperature of Greenland using the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. She confirmed that MODIS showed unusually high temperatures and that melt was extensive over the ice sheet surface.

Thomas Mote, a climatologist at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga; and Marco Tedesco of City University of New York also confirmed the melt seen by Oceansat-2 and MODIS with passive-microwave satellite data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder on a U.S. Air Force meteorological satellite.

The melting spread quickly. Melt maps derived from the three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 percent of the ice sheet’s surface had melted. By July 12, 97 percent had melted.

This extreme melt event coincided with an unusually strong ridge of warm air, or a heat dome, over Greenland. The ridge was one of a series that has dominated Greenland’s weather since the end of May. “Each successive ridge has been stronger than the previous one,” said Mote. This latest heat dome started to move over Greenland on July 8, and then parked itself over the ice sheet about three days later. By July 16, it had begun to dissipate.

Even the area around Summit Station in central Greenland, which at 2 miles above sea level is near the highest point of the ice sheet, showed signs of melting. Such pronounced melting at Summit and across the ice sheet has not occurred since 1889, according to ice cores analyzed by Kaitlin Keegan at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station at Summit confirmed air temperatures hovered above or within a degree of freezing for several hours July 11-12.

“Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time,” says Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data. “But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome.”

Nghiem’s finding while analyzing Oceansat-2 data was the kind of benefit that NASA and ISRO had hoped to stimulate when they signed an agreement in March 2012 to cooperate on Oceansat-2 by sharing data.

Share this story on FacebookTwitter, and Google:

Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byNASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Need to cite this story in your essay, paper, or report? Use one of the following formats:

 APA

 MLA

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center (2012, July 24). Unprecedented Greenland ice sheet surface melt. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2012/07/120724131608.htm

Note: If no author is given, the source is cited instead.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Get Used to the American West in Flames: What Living With the ‘New Normal’ Will Mean

July 25, 2012
TomDispatch.com / By William deBuys
comments_image 8 COMMENTS

More than scenery is at stake, more even than the stability of soils, ecosystems, and watersheds. Here’s why.
July 24, 2012  |

Photo Credit: Neo Edmund/ Shutterstock.com

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

Dire fire conditions, like the inferno of heat, turbulence, and fuel that recently turned 346 homes in Colorado Springs to ash, are now common in the West. A lethal combination of drought, insect plagues, windstorms, and legions of dead, dying, or stressed-out trees constitute what some pundits are calling wildfire’s “perfect storm.”

They are only half right.

This summer’s conditions may indeed be perfect for fire in the Southwest and West, but if you think of it as a “storm,” perfect or otherwise — that is, sudden, violent, and temporary — then you don’t understand what’s happening in this country or on this planet. Look at those 346 burnt homes again, or at the High Park fire that ate 87,284 acres and 259 homes west of Fort Collins, or at the Whitewater Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico that began in mid-May, consumed almost 300,000 acres, and is still smoldering, and what you have is evidence of the new normal in the American West.

For some time, climatologists have been warning us that much of the West is on the verge of downshifting to a new, perilous level of aridity. Droughts like those that shaped the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and the even drier 1950s will soon be “the new climatology” of the region — not passing phenomena but terrifying business-as-usual weather. Western forests already show the effects of this transformation.

If you surf the blogosphere looking for fire information, pretty quickly you’ll notice a dust devil of “facts” blowing back and forth: big fires are four times more common than they used to be; the biggest fires are six-and-a-half times larger than the monster fires of yesteryear; and owing to a warmer climate, fires are erupting earlier in the spring and subsiding later in the fall. Nowadays, the fire season is two and a half months longer than it was 30 years ago.

All of this is hair-raisingly true. Or at least it was, until things got worse. After all, those figures don’t come from this summer’s fire disasters but from a study published in 2006 that compared then-recent fires, including the record-setting blazes of the early 2000s, with what now seem the good old days of 1970 to 1986. The data-gathering in the report, however, only ran through 2003. Since then, the western drought has intensified, and virtually every one of those recent records — for fire size, damage, and cost of suppression — has since been surpassed.

New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains are a case in point. Over the course of two weeks in 2000, the Cerro Grande fire burned 43,000 acres, destroying 400 homes in the nuclear research city of Los Alamos. At the time, to most of us living in New Mexico, Cerro Grande seemed a vision of the Apocalypse. Then, the Las Conchas fire erupted in 2011 on land adjacent to Cerro Grande’s scar and gave a master class in what the oxygen planet can do when it really struts its stuff.

The Las Conchas fire burned 43,000 acres, equaling Cerro Grande’s achievement, in its first fourteen hours. Its smoke plume rose to the stratosphere, and if the light was right, you could see within it rose-red columns of fire — combusting gases — flashing like lightning a mile or more above the land. Eventually the Las Conchas fire spread to 156,593 acres, setting a record as New Mexico’s largest fire in historic times.

It was a stunning event. Its heat was so intense that, in some of the canyons it torched, every living plant died, even to the last sprigs of grass on isolated cliff ledges. In one instance, the needles of the ponderosa pines were not consumed, but bent horizontally as though by a ferocious wind. No one really knows how those trees died, but one explanation holds that they were flash-blazed by a superheated wind, perhaps a collapsing column of fire, and that the wind, having already burned up its supply of oxygen, welded the trees by heat alone into their final posture of death.

It seemed likely that the Las Conchas record would last years, if not decades. It didn’t. This year the Whitewater Baldy fire in the southwest of the state burned an area almost twice as large.

Half Now, Half Later?

In 2007, Tom Swetnam, a fire expert and director of the laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona, gave an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes. Asked to peer into his crystal ball, he said he thought the Southwest might lose half its existing forests to fire and insects over the several decades to come. He immediately regretted the statement.  It wasn’t scientific; he couldn’t back it up; it was a shot from the hip, a WAG, a wild-ass guess.

Swetnam’s subsequent work, however, buttressed that WAG. In 2010, he and several colleagues quantified the loss of southwestern forestland from 1984 to 2008. It was a hefty 18%. They concluded that “only two more recurrences of droughts and die-offs similar or worse than the recent events” might cause total forest loss to exceed 50%. With the colossal fires of 2011 and 2012, including Arizona’s Wallow fire, which consumed more than half-a-million acres, the region is on track to reach that mark by mid-century, or sooner.

But that doesn’t mean we get to keep the other half.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecast a temperature increase of 4ºC for the Southwest over the present century. Given a faster than expected build-up of greenhouse gases (and no effective mitigation), that number looks optimistic today. Estimates vary, but let’s say our progress into the sweltering future is an increase of slightly less than 1ºC so far. That means we still have an awful long way to go. If the fires we’re seeing now are a taste of what the century will bring, imagine what the heat stress of a 4ºC increase will produce. And these numbers reflect mean temperatures. The ones to worry about are the extremes, the record highs of future heat waves.  In the amped-up climate of the future, it is fair to think that the extremes will increase faster than the means.

At some point, every pine, fir, and spruce will be imperiled. If, in 2007, Swetnam was out on a limb, these days it’s likely that the limb has burned off and it’s getting ever easier to imagine the destruction of forests on a region-wide scale, however disturbing that may be.

More than scenery is at stake, more even than the stability of soils, ecosystems, and watersheds: the forests of the western United States account for 20% to 40% of total U.S. carbon sequestration. At some point, as western forests succumb to the ills of climate change, they will become a net releaser of atmospheric carbon, rather than one of the planet’s principle means of storing it.

Contrary to the claims of climate deniers, the prevailing models scientists use to predict change are conservative. They fail to capture many of the feedback loops that are likely to intensify the dynamics of change. The release of methane from thawing Arctic permafrost, an especially gloomy prospect, is one of those feedbacks. The release of carbon from burning or decaying forests is another. You used to hear scientists say, “If those things happen, the consequences will be severe.” Now they more often skip that “if” and say “when” instead, but we don’t yet have good estimates of what those consequences will be.

Ways of Going

There have always been droughts, but the droughts of recent years are different from their predecessors in one significant way: they are hotter. And the droughts of the future will be hotter still.

June temperatures produced 2,284 new daily highs nationwide and tied 998 existing records. In most places, the shoe-melting heat translated into drought, and the Department of Agriculture set a record of its own recently by declaring 1,297 dried-out counties in 29 states to be “natural disaster areas.” June also closed out the warmest first half of a year and the warmest 12-month period since U.S. record keeping began in 1895. At present, 56% of the continental U.S. is experiencing drought, a figure briefly exceeded only in the 1950s.

Higher temperatures have a big impact on plants, be they a forest of trees or fields of corn and wheat. More heat means intensified evaporation and so greater water stress. In New Mexico, researchers compared the drought of the early 2000s with that of the 1950s. They found that the 1950s drought was longer and drier, but that the more recent drought caused the death of many more trees, millions of acres of them. The reason for this virulence: it was 1ºC to 1.5ºC hotter.

The researchers avoided the issue of causality by not claiming that climate change caused the higher temperatures, but in effect stating: “If climate change is occurring, these are the impacts we would expect to see.” With this in mind, they christened the dry spell of the early 2000s a “global-change-type drought” — not a phrase that sings but one that lingers forebodingly in the mind.

No such equivocation attends a Goddard Institute for Space Studies appraisal of the heat wave that assaulted Texas, Oklahoma, and northeastern Mexico last summer. Their report represents a sea change in high-level climate studies in that they boldly assert a causal link between specific weather events and global warming. The Texas heat wave, like a similar one in Russia the previous year, was so hot that its probability of occurring under “normal” conditions (defined as those prevailing from 1951 to 1980) was approximately 0.13%. It wasn’t a 100-year heat wave or even a 500-year one; it was so colossally improbable that only changes in the underlying climate could explain it.

The decline of heat-afflicted forests is not unique to the United States. Global research suggests that in ecosystems around the world, big old trees — the giants of tropical jungles, of temperate rainforests, of systems arid and wet, hot and cold — are dying off.

More generally, when forest ecologists compare notes across continents and biomes, they find accelerating tree mortality from Zimbabwe to Alaska, Australia to Spain. The most common cause appears to be heat stress arising from climate change, along with its sidekick, drought, which often results when evaporation gets a boost.

Fire is only one cause of forest death. Heat alone can also do in a stand of trees. According to the Texas Forest Service, between 2% and 10% of all the trees in Texas, perhaps half-a-billion or so, died in last year’s heat wave, primarily from heat and desiccation. Whether you know it or not, those are staggering figures.

Insects, too, stand ready to play an ever-greater role in this onrushing disaster. Warm temperatures lengthen the growing season, and with extra weeks to reproduce, a population of bark beetles may spawn additional generations over the course of a hot summer, boosting the number of their kin that that make it to winter. Then, if the winter is warm, more larvae survive to spring, releasing ever-larger swarms to reproduce again. For as long as winters remain mild, summers long, and trees vulnerable, the beetles’ numbers will continue to grow, ultimately overwhelming the defenses of even healthy trees.

We now see this throughout the Rockies. A mountain pine beetle epidemic has decimated lodgepole pine stands from Colorado to Canada. About five million acres of Colorado’s best scenery has turned red with dead needles, a blow to tourism as well as the environment. The losses are far greater in British Columbia, where beetles have laid waste to more than 33 million forest acres, killing a volume of trees three times greater than Canada’s annual timber harvest.

Foresters there call the beetle irruption “the largest known insect infestation in North American history,” and they point to even more chilling possibilities. Until recently, the frigid climate of the Canadian Rockies prevented beetles from crossing the Continental Divide to the interior where they were, until recently, unknown. Unfortunately, warming temperatures have enabled the beetles to top the passes of the Peace River country and penetrate northern Alberta. Now a continent of jack pines lies before them, a boreal smorgasbord 3,000 miles long. If the beetles adapt effectively to their new hosts, the path is clear for them to chew their way eastward virtually to the Atlantic and to generate transformative ecological effects on a gigantic scale.

The mainstream media, prodded by recent drought declarations and other news, seem finally to be awakening to the severity of these prospects. Certainly, we should be grateful. Nevertheless, it seems a tad anticlimactic when Sam Champion, ABC News weather editor, says with this-just-inurgency to anchor Diane Sawyer, “If you want my opinion, Diane, now’s the time we start limiting manmade greenhouse gases.”

One might ask, “Why now, Sam?” Why not last year, or a decade ago, or several decades back? The news now overwhelming the West is, in truth, old news. We saw the changes coming. There should be no surprise that they have arrived.

It’s never too late to take action, but now, even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted immediately, Earth’s climate would continue warming for at least another generation. Even if we surprise ourselves and do all the right things, the forest fires, the insect outbreaks, the heat-driven die-offs, and other sweeping transformations of the American West and the planet will continue.

One upshot will be the emergence of whole new ecologies. The landscape changes brought on by climate change are affecting areas so vast that many previous tenants of the land — ponderosa pines, for instance — cannot be expected to recolonize their former territory. Their seeds don’t normally spread far from the parent tree, and their seedlings require conditions that big, hot, open spaces don’t provide.

What will develop in their absence? What will the mountains and mesa tops of the New West look like? Already it is plain to see that scrub oak, locust, and other plants that reproduce by root suckers are prospering in places where the big pines used to stand. These plants can be burned to the ground and yet resprout vigorously a season later. One ecologist friend offers this advice, “If you have to be reincarnated as a plant in the West, try not to come back as a tree. Choose a clonal shrub, instead. The future looks good for them.”

In the meantime, forget about any sylvan dreams you might have had: this is no time to build your house in the trees.

William deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of seven books, most recently A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest (Oxford, 2011). He has long been involved in environmental affairs in the Southwest, including service as founding chairman of the Valles Caldera Trust, which administers the 87,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which deBuys discusses where heat, fire, and climate change are taking us, click here or download it to your iPod here.

Radioactive strontium detected in 10 prefectures

July 25, 2012

NATIONAL JUL. 25, 2012 – 05:05PM JST ( 31 )

TOKYO —

Radioactive strontium, thought to have been released following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster last year, has been detected in 10 prefectures across Japan, the government said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology confirmed that small amounts of radioactive strontium have been detected in Akita, Iwate, Yamagata, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa Prefectures, as well as in Tokyo, Fuji TV reported.

The ministry said that the highest detected level was in Ibaraki where readings of 6 becquerels per square meter were detected. A ministry spokesman was quoted as saying that radiation at this level has a negligible effect on human health, Fuji reported.

The government’s findings come weeks after the Tokyo Shimbun reported the Koto Association for the Protection of Children held a press conference in the Tokyo metropolitan government building on June 7, to announced the results of a survey it carried out, which showed high levels of radioactive cesium in an athletic ground near the Tobu sewage sludge processing plant in Tokyo.

The research, carried out by the association and Professor Tomoya Yamauchi of Kobe University, found cesium levels of 230,000 becquerels per square meter, an amount six times higher than the limit set for material leaving the radiation exclusion zone in Fukushima, Fuji reported.

Japan Today

It’s the Guns – But We All Know, It’s Not Really the Guns…

July 25, 2012

… a note from Michael Moore

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

ALERT: Michael Moore will appear this evening on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight to discuss the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting and where we go from here. Tune in at 9:00 PM ET/6:00 PM PT (replay 12:00 Midnight ET/9:00 PM PT and 3:00 AM ET/12:00 Midnight PT).

Friends,

Since Cain went nuts and whacked Abel, there have always been those humans who, for one reason or another, go temporarily or permanently insane and commit unspeakable acts of violence. There was the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who during the first century A.D. enjoyed throwing victims off a cliff on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Gilles de Rais, a French knight and ally of Joan of Arc during the middle ages, went cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs one day and ended up murdering hundreds of children. Just a few decades later Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula, was killing people in Transylvania in numberless horrifying ways.

In modern times, nearly every nation has had a psychopath or two commit a mass murder, regardless of how strict their gun laws are – the crazed white supremacist in Norway one year ago Sunday, the schoolyard butcher in Dunblane, Scotland, the École Polytechnique killer in Montreal, the mass murderer in Erfurt, Germany … the list seems endless.

And now the Aurora shooter last Friday. There have always been insane people, and there always will be.

But here’s the difference between the rest of the world and us: We have TWO Auroras that take place every single day of every single year! At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns – and that doesn’t count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000.

That means the United States is responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. Considering that the people of those countries, as human beings, are no better or worse than any of us, well, then, why us?

Both conservatives and liberals in America operate with firmly held beliefs as to “the why” of this problem. And the reason neither can find their way out of the box toward a real solution is because, in fact, they’re both half right.

The right believes that the Founding Fathers, through some sort of divine decree, have guaranteed them the absolute right to own as many guns as they desire. And they will ceaselessly remind you that a gun cannot fire itself – that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Of course, they know they’re being intellectually dishonest (if I can use that word) when they say that about the Second Amendment because they know the men who wrote the constitution just wanted to make sure a militia could be quickly called up from amongst the farmers and merchants should the Brits decide to return and wreak some havoc.

But they are half right when they say “Guns don’t kill people.” I would just alter that slogan slightly to speak the real truth: “Guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people.”

Because we’re the only ones in the first world who do this en masse. And you’ll hear all stripes of Americans come up with a host of reasons so that they don’t have to deal with what’s really behind all this murder and mayhem.

They’ll say it’s the violent movies and video games that are responsible. Last time I checked, the movies and video games in Japan are more violent than ours – and yet usually fewer than 20 people a year are killed there with guns – and in 2006 the number was two!

Others will say it’s the number of broken homes that lead to all this killing. I hate to break this to you, but there are almost as many single-parent homes in the U.K. as there are here – and yet, in Great Britain, there are usually fewer than 40 gun murders a year.

People like me will say this is all the result of the U.S. having a history and a culture of men with guns, “cowboys and Indians,” “shoot first and ask questions later.” And while it is true that the mass genocide of the Native Americans set a pretty ugly model to found a country on, I think it’s safe to say we’re not the only ones with a violent past or a penchant for genocide. Hello, Germany! That’s right I’m talking about you and your history, from the Huns to the Nazis, just loving a good slaughter (as did the Japanese, and the British who ruled the world for hundreds of years – and they didn’t achieve that through planting daisies). And yet in Germany, a nation of 80 million people, there are only around 200 gun murders a year.

So those countries (and many others) are just like us – except for the fact that more people here believe in God and go to church than any other Western nation.

My liberal compatriots will tell you if we just had less guns, there would be less gun deaths. And, mathematically, that would be true. If you have less arsenic in the water supply, it will kill less people. Less of anything bad – calories, smoking, reality TV – will kill far fewer people. And if we had strong gun laws that prohibited automatic and semi-automatic weapons and banned the sale of large magazines that can hold a gazillion bullets, well, then shooters like the man in Aurora would not be able to shoot so many people in just a few minutes.

But this, too, has a problem. There are plenty of guns in Canada (mostly hunting rifles) – and yet the annual gun murder count in Canada is around 200 deaths. In fact, because of its proximity, Canada’s culture is very similar to ours – the kids play the same violent video games, watch the same movies and TV shows, and yet they don’t grow up wanting to kill each other. Switzerland has the third-highest number of guns per capita on earth, but still a low murder rate.

So – why us?

I posed this question a decade ago in my film ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ and this week, I have had little to say because I feel I said what I had to say ten years ago – and it doesn’t seem to have done a whole lot of good other than to now look like it was actually a crystal ball posing as a movie.

This is what I said then, and it is what I will say again today:

1. We Americans are incredibly good killers. We believe in killing as a way of accomplishing our goals. Three-quarters of our states execute criminals, even though the states with the lower murder rates are generally the states with no death penalty.

Our killing is not just historical (the slaughter of Indians and slaves and each other in a “civil” war). It is our current way of resolving whatever it is we’re afraid of. It’s invasion as foreign policy. Sure there’s Iraq and Afghanistan – but we’ve been invaders since we “conquered the wild west” and now we’re hooked so bad we don’t even know where to invade (bin Laden wasn’t hiding in Afghanistan, he was in Pakistan) or what to invade for (Saddam had zero weapons of mass destruction and nothing to do with 9/11). We send our lower classes off to do the killing, and the rest of us who don’t have a loved one over there don’t spend a single minute of any given day thinking about the carnage. And now we send in remote pilotless planes to kill, planes that are being controlled by faceless men in a lush, air conditioned studio in suburban Las Vegas. It is madness.

2. We are an easily frightened people and it is easy to manipulate us with fear. What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, #1 in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer. Maybe we would take better care of each other (here’s a good example of what I mean).

Those are my thoughts about Aurora and the violent country I am a citizen of. Like I said, I spelled it all out here if you’d like to watch it or share it for free with others. All we’re lacking here, my friends, is the courage and the resolve. I’m in if you are.

Yours,
Michael Moore
MMFlint@MichaelMoore.com
@MMFlint
MichaelMoore.com

P.S. Don’t forget to watch Piers tonight on CNN. I just taped it and it was a very good show.

Join Mike’s Mailing List | Follow Mike on Twitter | Join Mike’s Facebook Group | Become Mike’s MySpace Friend

Labor minister orders probe into claims workers’ radiation levels faked

July 25, 2012

NATIONAL JUL. 25, 2012 – 06:54AM JST ( 15 )

 

Labor minister orders probe into claims workers' radiation levels faked  Workers remove nuclear fuel for the first time since last year’s crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plantAFP

 

TOKYO —

Labor Minister Yoko Komiyama on Tuesday ordered an investigation into claims that subcontractors at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant told workers to lie about their radiation exposure.

Komiyama told a press briefing in Tokyo that she had launched a wide-ranging probe, including checks on a firm at the center of allegations which have appeared in Japanese media in recent days.

“This is an issue that shakes the foundation of the management of workers’ radiation exposure,” she said. “We will deal with it in a strict manner if any laws were broken. If true, this is extremely regrettable.”

An executive at construction firm Build-Up in December told about 10 workers to cover their dosimeters—used to measure cumulative radiation exposure—with lead casings when working in areas of high radiation, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and other media said.

The move was aimed at under-reporting employees’ exposure to radiation so the firm could continue working at the site of the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, the media reports said.

A 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 crippled cooling equipment at the Fukushima Daiichi atomic plant, triggering meltdowns that spewed radioactivity and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee.

Several workers at Build-Up reportedly said that their on-site supervisor told them he had used a lead casing and urged them to do the same, otherwise they would quickly reach their legally permissible annual radiation exposure.

“Unless we hide it with lead, exposure will max out and we cannot work,” the executive was heard saying in a covert audio recording, the Asahi reported.

Some workers refused and left the company, the newspaper said.

The workers were hired for about four months to insulate pipes at a water treatment facility, Kyodo News has said.

© 2012 AFP

New Compounds Inhibit Prion Infection

July 24, 2012

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2012) — A team of University of Alberta researchers has identified a new class of compounds that inhibit the spread of prions, misfolded proteins in the brain that trigger lethal neurodegenerative diseases in humans and animals.

U of A chemistry researcher Frederick West and his team have developed compounds that clear prions from infected cells derived from the brain.

“When these designer molecules were put into infected cells in our lab experiments, the numbers of misfolded proteins diminished — and in some cases we couldn’t detect any remaining misfolded prions,” said West.

West and his collaborators at the U of A’s Centre for Prions and Protein Folding Diseases say this research is not yet a cure, but does open a doorway for developing treatments.

“We’re not ready to inject these compounds in prion-infected cattle,” said David Westaway, director of the prion centre. “These initial compounds weren’t created for that end-run scenario but they have passed initial tests in a most promising manner.”

West notes that the most promising experimental compounds at this stage are simply too big to be used therapeutically in humans or animals.

Human exposure to prion-triggered brain disorder is limited to rare cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob or mad cow disease. The researchers say the human form of mad cow disease shows up in one in a million people in industrialized nations, but investigating the disease is nonetheless well worth the time and expense.

“There is a strong likelihood that prion diseases operate in a similar way to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which are distressingly common around the world,” said West.

Share this story on FacebookTwitter, and Google:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 85 other followers