Monthly Archives: April 2007

Cutting grass without gas

I mentioned in my last post that I had ordered a new gas-less reel mower and now that I’ve used it twice I’m happy to report that it works much better than I expected. We live out in the woods with 5 acres of mostly woodland and about 1/2 acre of grass. Of that 1/2 acre half is heavily shaded and the grass is very thin and is as much moss and wild flowers as grass. The other part of the lawn, is regular grass that gets plenty of sun. The reel mower handled it with ease and in about the same time it takes with a gas mower. It will tend to miss grass or weeds such as dandelions that have gotten too tall but if I cut every 5-6 days it won’t be a problem. Aside from the fact that it does not use gas the other two things I really like about it is its light weight and very quiet operation. I detest the sound of gas mowers almost as much as the carbon they spew into the atmosphere, this reel mower makes grass cutting an almost pleasant experience.

This was $120 very well spent.

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Of bees and flowers

While this is not a honeybee it is a bee and one of many that pollinates the flowers in our little garden. At the moment there are not many flowers blooming in the garden but there are plenty of dandelions in the lawn!

Speaking of lawns, I’ve ordered a new non-gasoline 20″ reel mower so that the gas mower can be retired. I should have done this three years ago when I returned to Missouri but I can, at the very least, say that I’ve been shrinking the lawn substantially and replacing it with natives. Thus far I’ve added around 30 native species and 90 plants which have since multiplied by many, particularly Butterfly Weed, Purple Coneflower, Orange Coneflower, and Columbine.

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Where Have the Honey Bees Gone?

Where have the honey bees gone? It’s a question I’ve been pondering and I think it is certainly something we should be greatly concerned about. This is one of those many “little” details that isn’t on the radar of most people yet it may prove to be very significant in the story of our survival as well as the story of our destruction of our planet. We humans are not very good at noticing the important details of the ecological systems we are destroying. We go about our lives and we assume that everything will be okay. In the U.S. we don’t think much about where our food comes from and we assume that the store shelves will be fully stocked. We assume that the chemical pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on crops or that we spray on our lawns are safe for us and the environment.

For many years we have assumed that the “civilized” world we were creating was of benefit, that it was “good”. Most people trusted that those in power, government and capital, knew what they were doing, that they generally looked out for the public good. If we will pay close attention to what’s happening to the honey bees we will ultimately find out that we have assumed far too much about our own survival. We’ll discover that industrial processes, the technologies, that form the foundation of a consumption-based life, were never intended to be safe or sustainable. We’ve put our own survival in question as well as the survival of the other species that we share this planet with.

We’ll start with a brief excerpt from an interview with May Berenbaum. An Entomology professor and department head at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she recently wrote an Op-Ed article in the New York Times about the collapse of honey bee populations.

How bad is the current decline in honey bee populations?
Honey bees have been through the wringer since the early 1980s, when a species of parasitic mite was accidentally introduced into North America. As of 2005, we had about one-third fewer honey-producing colonies than we did before the introduction of the mite. Between 2005 and 2006 there was another marked decline, and now it looks like the numbers are dropping precipitously. What makes the situation particularly critical is the fact that the demand for pollination services – not honey, per se, but pollination services – is exploding.

Have you ever seen anything like this before?
No, this is without precedent on this scale. Bees have died before, in vast numbers, but generally they leave bodies behind. Now, there are no bodies. That’s what’s so puzzling. People have suggested that colony collapse disorder could be the result of the combined effects of parasites, pesticide exposure and fungal disease. But where are the bodies? It is very strange, very sad.

Next we have two excellent articles by Craig Mackintosh of Celsias who has been following the story with great care. Colony Collapse Disorder – a Moment for Reflection?:

And, again, when considering the plight of the bee – let’s remove our blinders, and look around a little more. How are other creatures (some of them also pollinators, like butterflies and birds) being affected by our pesticides, our mechanisation, and our specialist systems? We focus on the honeybee only because of its direct and immediate threat to our livelihoods, and indeed our food supply – but, there’s a whole other world out there that’s suffering under our (mis)management. We’re just not paying attention.

If enough spokes in a wheel get bent or broken, the wheel will eventually collapse (there’s that word again). From appearances, at the moment, the livelihoods of beekeepers, farmers and agricultural industries are the immediate concern (estimates of 14 billion dollars worth of agricultural produce is at risk in the U.S. alone), but even this will become inconsequential if this problem progresses into a kind of biological meltdown. Insects, plants and animals, are all interdependent, and we rely on them (despite popular belief, and contrary to the PR broadcasts of the chemical companies). If pollinators are indicators of the health of our environment – our current canary-in-the-cage, so to speak – then isn’t it time we moved to safety?

Bee Colony Collapse Disorder – Where is it Heading?:

Here is an update to the brief bee story we did a few weeks ago. I’ve been keeping an eye on the Colony Collapse Disorder phenomenon that is causing a lot of furrowed brows in the U.S., as this may well become the biggest issue of 2007.

Things are getting dire on the U.S. agricultural front, and there are similar reports beginning to filter through from countries in Europe.

Huge monocrop farming systems and specialisations, and the spread of suburbia across natural habitat, are removing natural diversity. Bees have been lumped together in the millions, in a factory farm type environment not so unlike that of our chickens and other livestock animals. Many of these bees are transported across several states to perform pollinations in orchards and farms around the country. Today they are in contact with substances they shouldn’t have to deal with – pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and pollen from genetically modified crops. Researchers are scrambling to find answers, and as the spring season is upon us, time is running out.

Honey bees, which are not native to the U.S. incidentally (they were imported for crop pollination), are tasked with the pollination of approximately one third of all U.S. crops.

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Climate Change Round-up

I suppose it is a good sign that I’m having a hard time keeping up with all of the recent media coverage of climate change. I would like to point out though that while the coverage is now consistent via the web I’m not seeing it nearly as much on the television. I don’t watch much but when I do flip on the TV and CNN I’m much more likely to see discussion of stupid, irrelevant celebrity gossip than I am discussion of climate change. That’s just plain fucked up. Until the corporate media stop the daily bullshit coverage of Anna Nicole’s baby’s daddy and replace it with daily discussion of peak oil, climate change, and sustainable development they are as much a part of the problem as they have always been.

Summary of the latest installment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report: Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability [PDF – 547KB]

Billions face climate change risk:

Billions face climate change risk

The impact of climate change has been a major source of dispute
Billions of people face shortages of food and water and increased risk of flooding, experts at a major climate change conference have warned.

Damage already done for some natural wonders

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) — While governments grapple with the politics of global warming, some of the world’s greatest treasures already are being damaged and threatened with destruction.

Conservationists have drawn up priorities for action to salvage some of nature’s wonders that are feeling the heat of climate change — from the Himalayan glaciers to the Amazon rain forests and the unique ecosystem of the Mexican desert.

Many of the regions at risk were singled out in a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an authoritative body of 2,500 scientists. The report is undergoing governmental review at a five-day conference in Brussels.

On Thursday, diplomats and scientists were negotiating the text of a 21-page summary of the full 1,572-page scientific report. It projects specific consequences for each degree of rising global temperatures, which the IPCC agrees is largely caused by human activity.

On the sidelines of the conference, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature issued a list of 10 regions suffering irreversible damage from climate change. The group also listed where it has projects to limit further damage or help people adapt to new conditions.

“What we are talking about are the faces of the impacts of climate change,” said Lara Hansen, WWF’s chief scientist on climate issues.

The WWF is among the largest of many nongovernment organizations to take up the challenge of climate change.

The Nature Conservancy, based in Arlington, Virginia, is another. It has projects to protect coral reefs off Florida, in the coral triangle of Indonesia and in Papua New Guinea. It also is trying to preserve native alpine meadows in China and conserve vegetation in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

Though climate change has been discussed for decades, Hansen said the effects were now becoming visible. “It’s only in the past decade that we can go outside and see for ourselves what’s happening,” she told The Associated Press.

Some damage is reversible, Hansen said. Although melted glaciers cannot be restored, some coral reefs can recover.

But as natural landmarks deteriorate, she said more attention will have to be paid to adapting to change, not only trying to prevent it, and not enough experts are being trained to help people acclimatize.

“There’s a massive void ahead of us in getting new people,” she said.

U.N.: Warming ruining society, nature:

Top climate experts warned on Friday that global warming will cause faster and wider damage than previously forecast, ranging from hunger in Africa and Asia to extinctions and rising ocean levels.

Study: Climate change could bring new U.S. Dust Bowl

Changing climate will mean increasing drought in the southwestern United States, where water already is in short supply, according to a new study.

“The bottom line message for the average person and also for the states and federal government is that they’d better start planning for a Southwest region in which the water resources are increasingly stretched,” said Richard Seager of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.

Seager is lead author of the study published online Thursday by the journal Science.

Researchers studied 19 computer models of the climate, using data dating back to 1860 and projecting into the future. The same models were used in preparing the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The consensus of the models was that climate in the southwestern United States and parts of northern Mexico began a transition to drier conditions late in the 20th century and is continuing the trend in this century, as climate change alters the movement of storms and moisture in the atmosphere.

The reduction in rainfall could reach levels of the 1930s Dust Bowl that ranged throughout the Midwestern United States, Seager said in a telephone interview.

Arctic lost part of its perennial sea ice in 2005: NASA

Global warming may already be having an effect on the Arctic which in 2005 only replaced a little of the thick sea ice it loses and usually replenishes annually, a NASA study said Tuesday.

Scientists from the US space agency used satellite images to analyze six annual cycles of Arctic sea ice from 2000 to 2006.

Sea ice is essential to maintaining and stabilizing the Arctic’s ice cover during its warmer summer months.

But “recent studies indicate Arctic perennial ice is declining seven to 10 percent each decade,” said Ron Kwok from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“Our study gives the first reliable estimates of how perennial ice replenishment varies each year at the end of the summer.

“The amount of first-year ice that survives the summer directly influences how thick the ice cover will be at the start of the next melt season.”

The team observed that only 4.0 percent, about 2.5 million square kilometers (965,000 square miles) of thin ice survived the 2005 summer melt to replenish the perennial cover.

It was the weakest ice cover since 2000, and so there was 14 percent less permanent ice cover in January 2006 than in the corresponding period the year before.

“The winters and summers before fall 2005 were unusually warm,” Kwok said. “The low replenishment seen in 2005 is potentially a cumulative effect of these trends.

“If the correlations between replenishment area and numbers of freezing and melting temperature days hold long-term, it is expected the perennial ice coverage will continue to decline.”

Records dating back to 1958 have shown a gradual warming of Arctic temperatures which speeded up in the 1980s.

“Our study suggests that on average the area of seasonal ice that survives the summer may no longer be large enough to sustain a stable, perennial ice cover, especially in the face of accelerating climate warming and Arctic sea ice thinning,” Kwok added.

Scientists say Antarctic ice sheet is thinning

A Texas-sized piece of the Antarctic ice sheet is thinning, possibly due to global warming, and could cause the world’s oceans to rise significantly, polar ice experts said on Wednesday.

They said “surprisingly rapid changes” were occurring in Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea Embayment, which faces the southern Pacific Ocean, but that more study was needed to know how fast it was melting and how much it could cause the sea level to rise.

The warning came in a joint statement issued at the end of a conference of U.S. and European polar ice experts at the University of Texas in Austin.

The scientists blamed the melting ice on changing winds around Antarctica that they said were causing warmer waters to flow beneath ice shelves.

The wind change, they said, appeared to be the result of several factors, including global warming, ozone depletion in the atmosphere and natural variability.

The thinning in the two-mile-(3.2-km)- thick ice shelf is being observed mostly from satellites, but it is not known how much ice has been lost because data is difficult to obtain on the remote ice shelves, they said.

Study is focusing on the Amundsen Sea Embayment because it has been melting quickly and holds enough water to raise world sea levels six meters, or close to 20 feet, the scientists said.

Antarctic Glaciers’ Sloughing Of Ice Has Scientists at a Loss

Some of the largest glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are moving in unusual ways and are losing increased amounts of ice to the sea, researchers said yesterday.

Complicating the situation for those studying Antarctica, some parts of the continent are gaining ice depth through snowfall while temperatures on the tip of the Antarctic peninsula, the continent’s closest point to South America, are rising faster than almost anywhere else on the planet. The surprisingly fast-moving glaciers are largely on the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Wingham, of University College London, and Andrew Shepherd of the University of Edinburgh said satellite radar readings show that overall, each year the ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica amounts to about 10 percent of the rise in the global sea level, which totals about one-tenth of an inch per year. The net loss of Antarctic ice is estimated to be 25 billion metric tons a year, despite the growth of the ice sheet in East Antarctica.

Because such a large percentage of the world’s ice is found in those two locations, scientists are carefully watching for signs of increased ice loss. If that process accelerates, researchers say, it could result in a substantial, and highly disruptive, increase in sea levels worldwide.

In Greenland, glaciers appear to be moving more quickly to sea because melting ice has allowed the sheet to slide more easily over the rock and dirt below. In Antarctica, the loss is believed to be associated with the breaking off into seawater of ice deep under the ice sheet with little-understood internal dynamics that put increased pressure on the massive ice streams.

Southern Ocean current faces slowdown threat

The impact of global warming on the vast Southern Ocean around Antarctica is starting to pose a threat to ocean currents that distribute heat around the world, Australian scientists say, citing new deep-water data.

Melting ice-sheets and glaciers in Antarctica are releasing fresh water, interfering with the formation of dense “bottom water,” which sinks 4-5 kilometers to the ocean floor and helps drive the world’s ocean circulation system.

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John McCain’s Iraq Delusions

It’s been awhile since I posted about Iraq. I just have to ask, is the situation in Iraq really getting better? Is it? Have a look at the first 4 months of 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007:

Or, put another way:

Yeah, I know it is a simplistic analysis, just one aspect of the whole. So I suppose McCain has decided to throw in with the rest of the nest of lying White House war criminals.

I’ve estimated April 07 based on the first 9 days. Source of Data: Iraq Coalition Casualty Count

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Fly Away

It’s been five days now since winter decided to return with lows near 20 and highs just above 40. I took this photo last Monday just before the cold set in.

I’ve kept my little veggie garden covered every night and it looks like most things have survived. Looking around the larger garden of wild natives and most things have survived but many do appear to have suffered a good bit of damage. Will be interesting to see how these damaged plants recover as spring returns. I’m also wondering about the frog and salamander eggs in our little pond which had a thin layer of ice a couple of mornings.

I’m looking forward to this week as the weather is supposed to warm a bit back towards “normal” but I cannot help but think that with climate change we can expect that normal is now a thing of the past.

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Climate Change Roundup

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be issuing another installment of its 4 part series of reports on Friday, April 6, 2007. It seems that with each day the mainstream media continues to report on climate change which I’m happy to see. More reporting means an increased awareness and in theory that means more people that will change the way they live their lives. If we don’t we’re fucked and it’s as simple as that.

Via Yahoo/AP Panel: Warming will end some species

From the micro to the macro, from plankton in the oceans to polar bears in the far north and seals in the far south, global warming has begun changing life on Earth, international scientists will report next Friday.

“Changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent,” says a draft obtained by The Associated Press of a report on warming’s impacts, to be issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the authoritative U.N. network of 2,000 scientists and more than 100 governments.

In February the panel declared it “very likely” most global warming has been caused by manmade emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Animal and plant life in the Arctic and Antarctic is undergoing substantial change, scientists say. Rising sea levels elsewhere are damaging coastal wetlands. Warmer waters are bleaching and killing coral reefs, pushing marine species toward the poles, reducing fish populations in African lakes, research finds.

“Hundreds of species have already changed their ranges, and ecosystems are being disrupted,” said University of Michigan ecologist Rosina Bierbaum, former head of the U.S. IPCC delegation. “It is clear that a number of species are going to be lost.”

The IPCC draft estimates that if temperatures rise approximately 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit more, one-third of species will be lost from their current range, either moved elsewhere or vanished.

CNN and the AP report on Draft of climate report maps out ‘highway to extinction’

WASHINGTON (AP) — A key element of the second major report on climate change being released Friday in Belgium is a chart that maps out the effects of global warming, most of them bad, with every degree of temperature rise.

However, the number of species going extinct rises with the heat, as does the number of people who may starve, or face water shortages, or floods, according to the projections in the draft report obtained by The Associated Press

Some scientists are calling this degree-by-degree projection a “highway to extinction.”

It’s likely to be the source of sharp closed-door debate, some scientists say, along with a multitude of other issues in the 20-chapter draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While the wording in the draft is almost guaranteed to change at this week’s meeting in Brussels, several scientists say the focus won’t.

The final document will be the product of a United Nations network of 2,000 scientists as authors and reviewers, along with representatives of more than 120 governments as last-minute editors. It will be the second volume of a four-volume authoritative assessment of Earth’s climate being released this year. The last such effort was in 2001. (Volume 1: Humans ‘very likely’ cause warming)

Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist with the University of Victoria in British Columbia, said the chart of results from various temperature levels is “a highway to extinction, but on this highway there are many turnoffs. This is showing you where the road is heading. The road is heading toward extinction.”

From the Guardian Unlimited, World breaks temperature records:

The world experienced its warmest period on record during this year’s northern hemisphere winter, the US government said today.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report said the globally averaged combined land and sea surface temperature for December to February was the highest since records began in 1880.

During the three-month period, known as boreal winter, temperatures were above average worldwide, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and areas in central United States.

Michael Byrnes reports for Reuters Antarctic melting may be speeding up

HOBART (Reuters) – Rising sea levels and melting polar ice-sheets are at upper limits of projections, leaving some human population centers already unable to cope, top world scientists say as they analyze latest satellite data.

A United Nations report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in February projected sea level gains of 18-59 centimeters (7-23 inches) this century from temperature rises of 1.8-4.0 Celsius (3.2-7.8 Fahrenheit).

“Observations are in the very upper edge of the projections,” leading Australian marine scientist John Church told Reuters.

“I feel that we’re getting uncomfortably close to threshold,” said Church, of Australia’s CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research said.

Past this level, parts of the Antarctic and Greenland would approach a virtually irreversible melting that would produce sea level rises of meters, he said.

There has been no repeat in the Antarctic of the 2002 break-up of part of the Larsen ice shelf that created a 500 billion ton iceberg as big as Luxembourg.

But the Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, and glaciers are in massive retreat

Back to CNN/APReport outlines global warming’s effects

The harmful effects of global warming on daily life are already showing up, and within a couple of decades hundreds of millions of people won’t have enough water, top scientists will say next month at a meeting in Belgium.

At the same time, tens of millions of others will be flooded out of their homes each year as the Earth reels from rising temperatures and sea levels, according to portions of a draft of an international scientific report obtained by The Associated Press.

Tropical diseases like malaria will spread. By 2050, polar bears will mostly be found in zoos, their habitats gone. Pests like fire ants will thrive.

For a time, food will be plentiful because of the longer growing season in northern regions. But by 2080, hundreds of millions of people could face starvation, according to the report, which is still being revised.

The draft document by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focuses on global warming’s effects and is the second in a series of four being issued this year. Written and reviewed by more than 1,000 scientists from dozens of countries, it still must be edited by government officials.

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