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Ten Ways to Kick our Oil Habit

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Gail over at The Oil Drum has a surprisingly comprehensive list that goes beyond merely ‘trying to drive less':

1. A better “cash for clunkers” program. A two year plan that gives credit for only replacement vehicles with 35 miles per gallon efficiency or greater is suggested. This program would be paid for by extending the 1978 gas guzzler tax to cars and trucks.

2. Emergency funding for endangered mass transit. The article notes that 59% of public transit networks have cut service, raised fares, or both since January 2009. More federal funding could help this situation.

3. A national telecommuting and videoconferencing initiative. Federal employees should be directed to do these as much as possible. “For everyone else, a campaign would make these more normative and socially acceptable.”

4. Smarter freight movement. Grist suggests that Congress commission a study of methods to make trucking, rail and jet transport more efficient, including approaches to improve milage and ways to reduce empty travel of vehicles.

5. Smarter land use. Grist suggests that Congress could direct (and help fund) efforts to update zoning and land use regulations, to encourage more compact development.

6. Smarter travel through IT. Grist recommends a national study, noting that UPS saved 3 million gallons of fuel in a year, by equipping its trucks with software that allowed them to map out routes that avoided left-hand turns. Also, traffic lights could be timed better.

7. Educating drivers. Drivers ed programs and other outreach programs might teach the importance of slower acceleration and maintaining tire pressure for getting good gas mileage.

8. A resolution saying efficiency is a new national priority. Congress should pass a resolution on the importance of efficiency, and tell government agencies to improve efficiency. Funding for new projects might also depend on efficiency.

9. Prizes for tech breakthroughs. A prize is now awarded for 100 mph vehicle. Similar prizes could be offered for other breakthroughs.

10. Efficiency “visibility.” Congress should fund the development of a National Energy Efficiency Data Center (NEEDC), which would study efficiency technologies.

Written by pavanvan

May 28, 2010 at 12:06 am

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BP Off the Hook for Billions

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Many have mentioned and I think it bears repeating that British Petroleum, who, along with Haliburtion, bears full responsibility for the stain of death expanding through the Gulf of Mexico, is only liable for $75 million in damages – what you would call a drop in the bucket. They must pay for 100% of the cleanup, which is substantial, but fishermen and tourist companies, those who have seen their lives ruined for BP’s avarice, can collectively get only $75 million in damages.

The economic damage of this oil spill is sure to run in to the billions of dollars, and many commentators estimate the lost capacity resulting from this spill will run into the tens of billions. All of the property destroyed, the fisheries massacred, the empty tour boats and so forth will have to fight for a slice of the $75 million that BP is offering.

This ridiculous situation came after the fallout of the Exxon-Valdez spill of 1990, which occurred off the coast of Alaska and involved orders of magnitude fewer economic victims. Rikki Ott of Reuters explains how Exxon bargained with the Senate then to shoulder all of the cleanup costs if the Senate could guarantee that they could only be sued for $75 million.

Those are the rules which govern our present disaster, and they are, to say it mildly, unfair. As we know, BP lobbied against the regulation that would have required them to buy a valve ($500,000) which would have prevented this disaster (>$5,000,000,000). They ought to be liable for every cent of damage their avarice caused.

Congress is now working on raising BP’s liability cap from $75 million to $10 billion, a proposal I think we could all get behind.  I’ll be eagerly waiting to see what becomes of it.

Written by pavanvan

May 5, 2010 at 5:20 pm

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Exxon-Valdez Spill “Pales in Comparison” to Current Louisiana Spill

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It’s true. From the BBC:

Five times as much oil as previously thought could be leaking from the well beneath where a rig exploded and sank last week, US officials said earlier.

The slick is 45 miles (72km) by 105 miles (169km) – almost the size of Jamaica – and heading for the US coast.

A third leak has been discovered, and a fire-fighting expert said the disaster may become the biggest oil spill ever.

“Probably the only thing comparable to this is the Kuwait fires [following the Gulf War in 1991],” Mike Miller, head of Canadian oil well fire-fighting company Safety Boss, told the BBC World Service.

“The Exxon Valdez [tanker disaster off Alaska in 1989] is going to pale [into insignificance] in comparison to this as it goes on.”

Scientists say only a quarter of local marine wildlife survived the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Written by pavanvan

April 29, 2010 at 3:29 pm

This Week in Good Ideas

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Finally harnessing offshore wind power:

The Cape Wind project, the nation’s first offshore wind farm, is go for launch. After nine years of controversy and heated negotiations, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that Nantucket Sound, about five miles off the coast of Massachusetts’s Cape Cod, will host a 130-turbine wind farm covering 24 square miles that will begin generating electricity as early as 2012. Salazar made the announcement from the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston and was joined by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a big supporter of the project.

Salazar included a few modifications to help protect the historical, cultural, and environmental assets of Nantucket Sound. The farm was originally intended to include 170 turbines, but he dropped the number to 130 to help reduce visual impact. He also stipulated that developers need to take additional marine archaeological surveys and other “commonsense measures” to “minimize and mitigate” potential adverse effects of the project.

Written by pavanvan

April 28, 2010 at 4:44 pm

Senate Climate “Compromise”

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I guess I have to support pretty much anything we can get on the climate change front, and I admit this bill looks pretty good, despite Reuters’ obvious attempts to slander it. The gasoline tax is bound to cause inflation and more Tea Party unrest, but any climate legislation is to some extent inflationary, and I don’t think there’s very much that wouldn’t spark more Tea Party unrest at this point.

But I wanted to point out the one aspect of the bill Reuters mentioned that I think is a major mistake:

On Wednesday, a Senate source told Reuters the legislation would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions. It would also end state and regional carbon-trading programs, such as the one several Northeastern states participate in, to be replaced by a national carbon reduction policy.

One of the big benefits of the EPA is that it’s an Executive department, and thus its dictates don’t have to go through Congresses’ butchery to become implemented. As Christopher Parenti explains in exhaustive detail, the EPA already has the power to singlehandedly dictate carbon emissions via the Clean Air Act. Whatever this bill recommends will no doubt be much lighter on the pollution industry than whatever the EPA could have come up with.

In fact, given that the EPA had recently signaled it was going to move on climate change with or without Congress’ approval, the timing of this Bill, and its clauses that strip the EPA of most of its power, are suspect. That the current bill enormously benefits industry interests is undeniable.

Written by pavanvan

April 18, 2010 at 11:30 pm

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MSNBC: Peak Oil in 2014

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The “Peak Oil Theory”, as President Obama likes to refer to it, has been what you would call a fringe idea for about a decade now, something only loony conspiracy theorists believed in and which Serious Adults dismissed without a second thought. But opinions on the matter have changed in recent years, and we can now see even a staid establishment mouthpiece such as MSNBC reporting that oil production could hit its peak and decline irreversibly as early as 2014:

Predicting the end of oil has proven tricky and often controversial, but Kuwaiti scientists now say that global oil production will peak in 2014.Their work represents an updated version of the famous Hubbert model, which correctly predicted in 1956 that U.S. oil reserves would peak within 20 years. Many researchers have since tried using the model to predict when worldwide oil production might peak.


For now, Kuwaiti scientists say that the world continues to consume its oil reserves at a rate of about 2.1 percent each year. They plan to continue including new data that can refine the model as time goes by.

Written by pavanvan

April 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Mountaintop Removal: The EPA Finally Shows Some Guts

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Great news, via The Washington Independent:

The White House on Thursday took a giant leap toward eliminating new mountaintop coal mining projects in the Appalachian states, issuing strict new guidelines designed to protect headwater streams by curbing the practice of dumping waste in neighboring valleys.

Announcing the changes, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said the guidelines are intended to make the standards governing new mountaintop projects “clear and consistent,” following a series of EPA decisions over the past year that stakeholders on all sides of the debate found contradictory.

Written by pavanvan

April 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Ghosts of Vietnam

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I want to draw attention to the Chicago Tribune’s fantastic investigative series on the long-term effects of our chemical warfare in Vietnam (euphemistically, “Agent Orange”). Millions of Vietnamese and thousands of former US infantry continue to suffer the effects of our indiscriminate spraying of “herbicides” throughout Vietnam during the ’70s, with birth defects, limb amputations, mental degradation and premature death.

An excerpt from their flagship article:

In central Indiana, two sisters struggle through another day, afflicted by a painful condition in which their brains are wedged against their spinal cords. They are in their 30s, but their bodies are slowly shutting down.

Thousands of miles away, amid the rice paddies of Vietnam, a father holds down his 19-year-old daughter as she writhes in pain from a seizure brought on by fluid in her skull, which has been drained four times in the past four years.

“The doctors said that they were sorry, but they could not cure her,” the father says. “They told me I should take her home and that she would pass away very soon.”

These women come from different cultures, from nations separated by more than 8,300 miles. Their fathers fought on opposite sides of the Vietnam War, but they are linked by the stubborn legacy of Agent Orange and other defoliants sprayed by the U.S. military decades ago.

Contaminated with dioxin, a chemical now considered the most toxic ever created by man, the defoliants are linked to a higher risk of multiple cancers, birth defects and other conditions that are contributing to a dramatic increase in financial compensation for U.S. veterans and their families.

Remember when we invaded Iraq because we thought Saddam Hussein was planning to manufacture chemical weapons?

Written by pavanvan

March 31, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Majority of NYT Science Editors Disbelieve in Climate Change

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(via Fair Blog)

John Horgan over at Scientific American came out last week with the stunning revelation that a majority of the editors of the Science Times section of NYT do not believe in climate change:

Two sources at the Science Times section of the New York Times have told me that a majority of the section’s editorial staff doubts  that human-induced global warming represents a serious threat to humanity.

My brain just exploded.

Oh, also:

Written by pavanvan

March 30, 2010 at 6:35 pm

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Oilman T.Boone Pickens Says Peak Oil is Here

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Via the Christian Science Monitor:

Speaking in a Senate committee hearing, the legendary Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens said that world crude oil production has topped out.

“I do believe you have peaked out at 85 million barrels a day globally,” he told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday, according to Reuters.

He noted that the United States is consuming “21 million barrels of the 85 million and producing about 7 of the 21, so if I could take just a minute on this point, the demand is about 86.4 million barrels a day, and when the demand is greater than the supply, the price has to go up until it kills demand.”

And when Mr. Pickens speaks about energy, the world listens. His ability to read markets has vaulted him into the ranks of the world’s wealthiest people. His hedge fund, BP Capital, manages more than $4 billion in assets.

This is about a year and a half old, but the trends Mr. Pickens identified have only progressed since he made his pronouncement. The Obama Administration, on the other hand, refuses to believe in the “Peak Oil theory”, instead plumping for something called the “undulating plateau”, which has absolutely no scientific basis. So naturally, he’s doing nothing about reducing our reliance on liquid fuels.

Folks, we are in a lot of trouble.

Written by pavanvan

March 30, 2010 at 9:45 am

Students devise 2,487 MPG Car

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Via The Oil Drum:

Extreme mileage was the goal this weekend on the streets of downtown Houston as 42 student teams competed in the 2010 Shell Eco-marathon Americas®, a challenge for students to design, build and test fuel-efficient vehicles that travel the farthest distance using the least amount of energy. More than 400 students were on hand to stretch the boundaries of fuel efficiency and participate in the first-ever street course challenge for the Americas eventSo who came out on top? For the second year in a row, the student team from Laval University in Quebec, Canada took home the grand prize with an astonishing 2,487.5 miles per gallon, equivalent to 1,057.5 kilometres per liter, in the “Prototype” category. And in the “UrbanConcept” category, the team from Mater Dei High School in Evansville, IN took the grand prize for the second year in a row by achieving 437.2 mpg, equivalent to 185.87 km/l.

I wonder if  Exxon-Mobil will kill this like they did the electric car.

Written by pavanvan

March 30, 2010 at 9:16 am

US Client in Indonesia Uses Slash and Burn Deforestation for US Exports

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Our client in Indonesia has a novel “food estate” idea that involves cutting down what precious little forest still remains in that country in order to grow corn, soybeans, sugar and palm oil, which they will then export to the US.

Under the project expected to start this year, 1.6 million hectares of land in Merauke district will be converted to grow crops such as rice, corn, soybean, sugar and palm oil as part of the government’s efforts to reduce dependence on imports and turn Indonesia into a global food producer.

Merauke is virtually the last forested island in Indonesia, with more than 95% forest cover. The Indonesian government claims that “no forests will be cut down”, but this is impossible since their plan also stipulates the use of “millions of hectares”. The land simply isn’t there unless you count forest cover.

Anyone interested in the pernicious relationship between Washington and Indonesia would do well to read this article in last week’s The Nation, which helpfully details our current exploitation of that archipelagic state. Keep in mind this has been going on since 1965.

Written by pavanvan

March 30, 2010 at 9:11 am

The Pakistani Water Mafia

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Alex Rodriguez (no, not the baseball player) has a superb article in the Los Angeles Times on organized crime and water in Karachi:

The illegal operations, routinely referred to as mafias, are everywhere. There’s a land mafia that commandeers prime real estate, a sugar mafia that conspires to control sugar prices, and even a railway mafia that forges train tickets and pilfers locomotive parts.

For those on the city’s bottom rung, however, the underworld entity they revile the most is the water tanker mafia, a network of trucking firms that teams up with corrupt bureaucrats to turn water into liquid gold worth tens of millions of dollars each year.

The water tanker mafia’s prey can be found in slums like Karachi’s Gulshan-Sikanderabad neighborhood, where every morning people buy water from the tankers, lug the plastic jugs back to their homes on wooden carts, then come back three or four more times in the afternoon and evening to buy more.

A family that makes $100 a month can spend as much as a quarter of that on water, which, elsewhere in Pakistan, costs pennies and flows out of household taps.

This is the kind of reporting out of Pakistan I think we need to see a lot more of from the US press.

Written by pavanvan

March 17, 2010 at 8:50 pm

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US Sewers and Water Systems in Dismal Disrepair

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The Times continues its fantastic series on the state of our water delivery systems:

Today, a significant water line bursts on average every two minutes somewhere in the country, according to a New York Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data.In Washington alone there is a pipe break every day, on average, and this weekend’s intense rains overwhelmed the city’s system, causing untreated sewage to flow into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

State and federal studies indicate that thousands of water and sewer systems may be too old to function properly.

For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 10:31 pm

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The Swine Flu Panic

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Spiegel has a good article on how Swine Flu, a non-lethal strain of influenza indistinguishable from the regular variant, captivated the world for a few months in 2009 and then mysteriously disappeared.

The Mexican boy’s infection was mild, like an overwhelming majority of the millions of cases that would occur worldwide in the coming months. The new virus would probably have attracted far less attention if it hadn’t been for modern molecular medicine, with its genetic analyses, antibody tests and reference laboratories. The swine flu would have conquered the world, and no doctor would have noticed.

But the world did notice, largely because of high-tech medicine and the vaccine industry. From Ebola to SARS to the avian flu, epidemiologists, the media, doctors and the pharmaceutical lobby have systematically attuned the world to grim catastrophic scenarios and the dangers of new, menacing infectious diseases.

Now turned up, the machinery was set into motion. Researchers got to work examining the molecular structure of the virus. The pharmaceutical industry started to develop vaccines. Government agencies laid out disaster plans. There was only one thing that everyone was ignoring: The new pathogen was, in fact, relatively harmless.

Written by pavanvan

March 15, 2010 at 5:39 pm

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80% of US Corn and 90% of Soybeans Genetically Modified

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The Times has a pretty good rundown of agri-corporation Monsanto’s  monopolistic practices, and it drops a bombshell halfway through the article:

Today more than 90 percent of soybeans and more than 80 percent of the corn grown in this country are genetically engineered. A majority of those crops contain one or more Monsanto genes.

I certainly didn’t know that.

The rest of the article goes on to describe in some detail Monsanto’s illegal, monopolistic business strategy, something on which I’ve done some peripheral reporting here in India. I recommend checking it out.

Written by pavanvan

March 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm

General Electric and the Unholy Contamination

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David Gargill from Harper’s gives us a harrowing account of decades of carcinogenic pollution from GE to the Hudson River, and its effects today (subscription only):

Before these “probable human carcinogens” were banned in 1977, PCBs [Polychlorine Biphenyl, a known carcinogen] were wantonly spewed from GE’s plants, and they continue to be detected at high levels in riverbed sediments and fish. For years, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had abrogated its enforcement authority, unofficially sanctioning GE’s malfeasance. But pressure from several national NGOs headquartered in New York, as well as from Hudson-centric groups downriver from the plants, furnished a fresh impetus to act. Environmentalists had seized upon dredging the riverbed as the surest cure for the Hudson’s ills, and by the early 1980s the DEC warmed to the idea of doing its job, pushing for a dredging remedy to be paid for by GE. When the corporation and its unlikely allies in Fort Edward and Hudson Falls—company towns distrustful of bureaucracies—proved immovable objects for the state, the EPA stepped in, bringing the full force of the federal government to bear. In 2002, the agency issued a formal decision that called for dredging, ending GE’s overt resistance and getting the ball rolling (albeit in the manner of Rube Goldberg) toward the $780 million project that commenced this past spring. Over the next six years, some 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment containing roughly 250,000 pounds of PCBs will be removed from 490 acres of riverbed.

Written by pavanvan

March 11, 2010 at 3:15 pm

The Re-Colonization of Africa

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Alternet out with a grim report on Africa. It would appear that much of the land in the Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Ethiopia, and many other nations is being bought up by billionaires and multi-national corporations in a 21st century “scramble for Africa”. All of this is being done, of course, though shady backroom deals between business executives and US-installed dictators – without the permission or even notification  of the indigenous peoples already living there.

As a few locals remark:

“The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.

“All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared. People now have to work for an Indian company. Their land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation. People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.”

It looks like this is mainly agribusiness, commodity traders, investment banks and hedge funds. They’re quite plainly “hedging” against future environmental disaster by cornering virtually the last untouched, sparsely populated and cheap land to be had. And they’re making a killing – leases go for $1 per year per 2.5 acres.

Written by pavanvan

March 10, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Greenpeace and Dirty Money

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Johann Hari has a typically excellent piece in The Nation detailing the millions of dollars “Environmental Organizations” such as Sierra Club and Greenpeace have accepted from “Big Oil” and “Big Coal” – leaving them in a very clear conflict of interest:

Environmental groups used to be funded largely by their members and wealthy individual supporters. They had only one goal: to prevent environmental destruction. Their funds were small, but they played a crucial role in saving vast tracts of wilderness and in pushing into law strict rules forbidding air and water pollution. But Jay Hair–president of the National Wildlife Federation from 1981 to 1995–was dissatisfied. He identified a huge new source of revenue: the worst polluters.

Hair found that the big oil and gas companies were happy to give money to conservation groups. Yes, they were destroying many of the world’s pristine places. Yes, by the late 1980s it had become clear that they were dramatically destabilizing the climate–the very basis of life itself. But for Hair, that didn’t make them the enemy; he said they sincerely wanted to right their wrongs and pay to preserve the environment. He began to suck millions from them, and in return his organization and others, like The Nature Conservancy (TNC), gave them awards for “environmental stewardship.”

Companies like Shell and British Petroleum (BP) were delighted. They saw it as valuable “reputation insurance”: every time they were criticized for their massive emissions of warming gases, or for being involved in the killing of dissidents who wanted oil funds to go to the local population, or an oil spill that had caused irreparable damage, they wheeled out their shiny green awards, purchased with “charitable” donations, to ward off the prospect of government regulation. At first, this behavior scandalized the environmental community. Hair was vehemently condemned as a sellout and a charlatan. But slowly, the other groups saw themselves shrink while the corporate-fattened groups swelled–so they, too, started to take the checks.

Remember – If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em!

Written by pavanvan

March 8, 2010 at 10:10 am

Climate Denial and OJ Simpson

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Bill McKibben has a great analogy in this week’s The Nation that explains the success of our staid climate change deniers:

The campaign against climate science has been enormously clever, and enormously effective. It’s worth trying to understand how they’ve done it. The best analogy, I think, is to the O.J. Simpson trial, an event that’s begun to recede in our collective memory. For those who were conscious in 1995, however, I imagine that just a few names will make it come back to life. Kato Kaelin, anyone? Lance Ito?

The Dream Team of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: it was pretty clear their guy was guilty. Nicole Brown’s blood was all over his socks, and that was just the beginning. So Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian et al. decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt, and doubt, of course, was all they needed. Hence, those days of cross-examination about exactly how Dennis Fung had transported blood samples, or the fact that Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman had used racial slurs when talking to a screenwriter in 1986.

If anything, they were actually helped by the mountain of evidence. If a haystack gets big enough, the odds only increase that there will be a few needles hidden inside. Whatever they managed to find, they made the most of: in closing arguments, for instance, Cochran compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler and called him “a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America’s worst nightmare, and the personification of evil.” His only real audience was the jury, many of whom had good reason to dislike the Los Angeles Police Department, but the team managed to instill considerable doubt in lots of Americans tuning in on TV as well. That’s what happens when you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in a case, no matter how small they may be.

Bill McKibben has done some fantastic journalism on this issue, and I highly recommend reading his article in full.

Written by pavanvan

February 27, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Is There Enough Food for 9 Billion People?

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Science has a fantastic paper on food scarcity in the 21st century:

A threefold challenge now faces the world (9): Match the rapidly changing demand for food from a larger and more affluent population to its supply; do so in ways that are environmentally and socially sustainable; and ensure that the world’s poorest people are no longer hungry. This challenge requires changes in the way food is produced, stored, processed, distributed, and accessed that are as radical as those that occurred during the 18th- and 19th-century Industrial and Agricultural Revolutions and the 20th-century Green Revolution. Increases in production will have an important part to play, but they will be constrained as never before by the finite resources provided by Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere (10).

Any optimism must be tempered by the enormous challenges of making food production sustainable while controlling greenhouse gas emission and conserving dwindling water supplies, as well as meeting the Millennium Development Goal of ending hunger. Moreover, we must avoid the temptation to further sacrifice Earth’s already hugely depleted biodiversity for easy gains in food production, not only because biodiversity provides many of the public goods on which mankind relies but also because we do not have the right to deprive future generations of its economic and cultural benefits. Together, these challenges amount to a perfect storm.

Science studiously avoids giving a definite answer to the question implied in their article, instead plumping for various methods by which we can increase food production (aquaculture, reducing waste, changing diets, etc). The article definitely deserves points for putting sustainable agriculture front-and-center. As most of you know, our food is currently made of oil. Oil makes the fertilizer that makes the crops we eat. Nitrogen is generally the limiting factor in any agricultural enterprise, and without oil it remains unclear how we will be able to fix the massive amounts of atmospheric nitrogen that currently go into our fertilizers.

As always, the crux of this problem comes down to overpopulation. Cost-saving methods and changing diets may hold off the inevitable famines until after we’re all dead (2100) – but that does nothing for future generations. Unless we can remove the implacable human urge (some would say “right”) to breed, its clear that hard times are on the horizon. I don’t admit to know the solution to overpopulation; any answer one might give raises all sorts of ethical problems: Who should be allowed to have children? How many? How to regulate it?

These and kindred questions need answering, and fast – but for the time being our policymakers and even our general populations are content to have as many children as they can afford. This is not a solution.

Written by pavanvan

February 21, 2010 at 11:11 am

Climate Change and the Political Impasse

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Bradford Plumer over at The New Republic has an excellent review up on a leading climate scientist’s latest book. Things are looking mighty grim:

I’m not trying to start a nerdy parlor game, but if we were to list the most important climate scientists of the past fifty years, James Hansen would have to be in the mix. Three decades ago, he helped create one of the world’s first climate models to predict how the Earth would heat up in response to rising greenhouse gases. (Many of his early forecasts held up well.) He stepped into the spotlight again in 1988, issuing one of the first climate warnings to Congress. And, in the 2000s, when Bush appointees tried to downplay the severity of global warming, Hansen was the one blowing the whistle. The director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies is hardly infallible, but as would-be Cassandras go, his record has proven awfully solid.

Like many global-warming skeptics, Hansen has sharp disagreements with the mainstream scientific consensus on climate change. Unlike the deniers, however, he believes that the consensus view actually downplays the problem. The computer models used to project future warming, for example, seem to be too conservative: they failed to predict, among other things, the rapid collapse of summertime Arctic sea ice since 2007.

Written by pavanvan

February 14, 2010 at 10:41 pm

The Problem With ‘Green Jobs’

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Bloomberg makes a lot of sense on Obama’s “green jobs” initiative. The problem? Most of those jobs are going to Asia.

Obama is giving billions of dollars in tax breaks to the wind and solar industries to create jobs in the U.S. even as production expands faster overseas. First Solar Inc., the world’s largest maker of thin-film solar-power modules, won $16.3 million to add 200 manufacturing jobs at its Ohio plant, yet 71 percent of its planned factory growth will go to Malaysia. The company employs 4,500 globally.

“The cost of manufacturing here is too expensive compared to Asia,” said Guy Chaffin, chief executive officer of Elite Search International, a Roseville, California-based executive search firm that has found employees for Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar and Solar Millennium AG. “As far as a flood of good jobs coming to the U.S., we’re not seeing it.”

Written by pavanvan

February 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Finally, Peak Oil Goes Mainstream

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Kudos to The Wall Street Journal for finally taking this seriously:

Against the gloomy economic backdrop that Europe currently provides, siren voices shrieking that a potential energy crisis is imminent and could be worse than the credit crunch are liable to be dismissed as scaremongers. Since they are led by Sir Richard Branson, whose Virgin group runs an energy-guzzling airline, and include Brian Souter, who runs Stagecoach, another energy-hungry transport business, they are also at risk of being seen as self-interested scaremongers.

But the work of the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security shouldn’t be disparagingly dismissed. Its arguments are well founded and lead it to the conclusion that, while the global downturn may have delayed it by a couple of years, peak oil—the point at which global production reaches its maximum—is no more than five years away. Governments and corporations need to use the intervening years to speed up the development of and move toward other energy sources and increased energy efficiency.

Some dubious emails and slightly dodgy dossiers have cast a new, and unflattering, light on the global-warming debate, raising the risk of a return to the belief that we can go on consuming oil with impunity. Being a “climate-change denier” is in danger of becoming almost fashionable. But whatever the risk to the climate, scarce and expensive oil would be a threat to established economies.

We need alternatives.

Written by pavanvan

February 12, 2010 at 3:47 pm

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Cell Phone Cancer

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Christopher Ketcham has a fantastic article in this issue of GQ, wherein he explores the dangers of prolonged cell-phone use. Long story short, the dangers are real, but of course no one in the US government (notably the FDA) wants to consider this anything more than an vague “conspiracy theory”. One recalls the decades of industry and government denial over the dangers of  cigarette use.


It’s hard to talk about the dangers of cell-phone radiation without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. This is especially true in the United States, where non-industry-funded studies are rare, where legislation protecting the wireless industry from legal challenges has long been in place, and where our lives have been so thoroughly integrated with wireless technology that to suggest it might be a problem—maybe, eventually, a very big public-health problem—is like saying our shoes might be killing us.

Though the scientific debate is heated and far from resolved, there are multiple reports, mostly out of Europe’s premier research institutions, of cell-phone and PDA use being linked to “brain aging,” brain damage, early-onset Alz­heimer’s, senility, DNA damage, and even sperm die-offs (many men, after all, keep their cell phones in their pants pockets or attached at the hip). In September 2007, the European Union’s environmental watchdog, the European Environment Agency, warned that cell-phone technology “could lead to a health crisis similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking, and lead in petrol.”

Interphone researchers reported in 2008 that after a decade of cell-phone use, the chance of getting a brain tumor—specifically on the side of the head where you use the phone—goes up as much as 40 percent for adults. Interphone researchers in Israel have found that cell phones can cause tumors of the parotid gland (the salivary gland in the cheek), and an independent study in Sweden last year concluded that people who started using a cell phone before the age of 20 were five times as likely to develop a brain tumor. Another Interphone study reported a nearly 300 percent increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a tumor of the acoustic nerve.

In college I knew someone who swore off cell phones for good, calling them “devil machines”. We laughed at him then, but he probably had the right idea.

It’s hard to talk about the dangers of cell-phone radiation without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. This is especially true in the United States, where non-industry-funded studies are rare, where legislation protecting the wireless industry from legal challenges has long been in place, and where our lives have been so thoroughly integrated with wireless technology that to suggest it might be a problem—maybe, eventually, a very big public-health problem—is like saying our shoes might be killing us.

Except our shoes don’t send microwaves directly into our brains. And cell phones do—a fact that has increasingly alarmed the rest of the world. Consider, for instance, the following headlines that have appeared in highly reputable international newspapers and journals over the past few years. From summer 2006, in the Hamburg Morgenpost: are we telephoning ourselves to death? That fall, in the Danish journal Dagens Medicin: mobile phones affect the brain’s metabolism. December 2007, from Agence France-Presse: israeli study says regular mobile use increases tumour risk. January 2008, in London’s Independent: mobile phone radiation wrecks your sleep. September 2008, in Australia’s The Age: scientists warn of mobile phone cancer risk.

Though the scientific debate is heated and far from resolved, there are multiple reports, mostly out of Europe’s premier research institutions, of cell-phone and PDA use being linked to “brain aging,” brain damage, early-onset Alz­heimer’s, senility, DNA damage, and even sperm die-offs (many men, after all, keep their cell phones in their pants pockets or attached at the hip). In September 2007, the European Union’s environmental watchdog, the European Environment Agency, warned that cell-phone technology “could lead to a health crisis similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking, and lead in petrol.”

Perhaps most worrisome, though, are the preliminary results of the multinational Interphone study sponsored by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in Lyon, France. (Scientists from thirteen countries took part in the study, the United States conspicuously not among them.) Interphone researchers reported in 2008 that after a decade of cell-phone use, the chance of getting a brain tumor—specifically on the side of the head where you use the phone—goes up as much as 40 percent for adults. Interphone researchers in Israel have found that cell phones can cause tumors of the parotid gland (the salivary gland in the cheek), and an independent study in Sweden last year concluded that people who started using a cell phone before the age of 20 were five times as likely to develop a brain tumor. Another Interphone study reported a nearly 300 percent increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a tumor of the acoustic nerve.

Written by pavanvan

February 9, 2010 at 11:18 am


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