Big News: Interior Dept. to be Split

From the Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—The Interior Department plans to split the Minerals Management Service into two divisions, one focusing on gathering royalties from oil and gas companies and another focused on safety inspections.

Well, this is some clever thinking. Yes really. Read more.

Go Ahead, it’s your Earth Day

It’s kind of a silly holiday to our minds, especially when the New York Times – of all the things it could report – concentrates on the fact that at 40, Earth Day has reached its middle age and is focusing on making a profit.

“This ridiculous perverted marketing has cheapened the concept of what is really green,” said Denis Hayes, who was national coordinator of the first Earth Day and is returning to organize this year’s activities in Washington. “It is tragic.”

Do us a favor. Keep away from the tribal drum circles, forget about the Earth Day Brand green plushie tree-frogs, and don’t feel deliriously enthusiastic that PepsiCo is installing recycling kiosks around Manhattan for its plastic bottles. We’ve now got an Atlantic plastic vortex to compete with the Pacific version.

No, what we want you to do this Earth Day is rummage in your sock drawer, get your loose change together, and invest in something like wind turbines. That’s the economics of Earth Day we want to see.

It’s Not Just Nazca! Ankgor Downfall Tied to Water, Drought

Ta Prohm, Angkor / Photo: Robert Clark for National Geographic

A while ago, we told you how the ancient Nasca civilization of Peru (which created the famous Nazca Lines) fell because of bad water management. Just like the ancient builders of the Moai on Easter Island. Now, there is scientific evidence that a similar fate befell Angkor, the great religious city of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia.

It wasn’t their fault, though: this immense spiritual metropolis (pop. 1 million, the largest city in the world 1,000 years ago) was a “Hydraulic City” carefully designed to collect water – with miles of dikes, irrigation canals, reservoirs, and diverted rivers. Tree-ring analysis of immense banyans like the one above has shown, however, that even the most advanced schemes are under the thumb of Mother Nature. Two huge droughts (in the 13th-14th centuries and in the 15th-16th centuries) alternated with vicious monsoon backlashes. The combination destroyed the infrastructure. The full story is available at Discover Magazine‘s superb Not Exactly Rocket Science blog.

Water catastrophes didn’t completely seal Angkor’s fate – “by the time the droughts kicked in,” says Not Exactly Rocket Science, “the city was already weakened by social, economic and political strife.” It’s clear, though, that in the recent revelations about Easter Island, the Nazca, and Angkor as well, science is revealing history we need to learn: that social values and cultural practices, in combination with natural-resource management and climate, is what makes civilizations – and what breaks them too.

The Dangers of Overeating

When you eat too much, too quickly, you fart. And what comes out of your ass is methane, aka a greenhouse gas. What’s true for the human and the cow is also true for the Earth: the planet has eaten too much crap, and now it’s farting – SBDs. The other day we reported that the Siberian permafrost is melting, with the effect of leaching gargantuan amounts of methane into the atmosphere.

Now, according to the New York Times, the undersea permafrost is “already sending surprising amounts of methane into the atmosphere.” Scientists at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (you know, the university of the state that produced Sarah Palin, another kind of gaseous windbag – the kind that denies global warming) have been studying the seabed to the west of the Bering Strait, and it confirms there’s a whole hella lot of methane rising up into the atmosphere.

Scientists in Germany and Scandinavia have been working this problem too, with similar conclusions. While some scientists say the release of undersea methane is “negligible,” the seabed west of the Bering Strait is farting nearly eight million tons of methane annually. The total output from the oceans is likely to be in the range of 550 million tons of methane into the atmosphere. While scientists don’t know yet whether this is an increase (because the issue simply hasn’t been studied with any regularity) it is relatively simple to put 2+2 together and get a whole lot of stinky air filling our home and trapping the sun’s heat.

Now that’s some Silent But Deadly. Excuse me for sending my loud fart ripping through this space, but maybe this will light a flame to clear the air. Read more at the New York Times.

~ David Schneider

Sana’a, Yemen first world capital to run out of water. ETA 20 years.

Sana’a, Yemen is home to 2 million people and has been around since the 6th century B.C. In 20 years it will be a ghost town. It is drying up. It is drying up because of demand for the mild stimulant Qat. In other words, Sana’a has a drug problem, which means it has a water problem, which means it has an existential problem. Follow the story at Alternet.

Age of the Bug

Susan Milius writes for science news

Summertime and the insect breeding is easy.

That old song rings especially true for 44 species of moths and butterflies in Central Europe, according to an analysis by ecologist Florian Altermatt of the University of California, Davis. As the region has warmed since the 1980s, some of these species have added an extra generation during the summer for the first time on record in that location.

Among the 263 species already known to have a second or third generation there during toasty times, 190 have grown more likely to do so since 1980, Altermatt reports online December 22 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Only a rough third or so of all the species Altermatt reviewed show the capacity to breed more than once a year. What warming is probably doing for them, he speculates, is jolting the insects’ overwintering form into action early and also speeding up insect development. These head starts may allow time for a bonus generation before a non-temperature cue, atumnal day length, plays its role in shutting down insects for winter.

“From a pest perspective it’s an important issue,” says population ecologist Patrick Tobin based in Morgantown, W.Va., for the Forest Service Northern Research Station. Tobin has studied a warmth-related extra generation in a North American pest, the grape berry moth. He points out that an extra surge of attacking pests in the growing season means yet another headache, expense and round of damage for farmers.

read more at Science News

Nazca Lines Point to Deforestation, Water as Civ’s Downfall

Nazca monkaay

Between 1,500 BC and around AD 500, the Nasca civilization prospered in Peru. Their famous remnants are the Nazca Lines – vast line drawings of animals (right photo) and abstract figures that can be seen from Space. But these Nascans, they disappeared suddenly. And no one knows why. Today, a couple of researchers have an idea.

Looks like they fell into the same pickle the Easter Islanders did, at least according to that analysis by Jared Diamond. Deforestation, yo. They cleared out the huarango forests to make way for agricultural clearances of cotton and maize. Trouble was, the huarango tree underpinned the entire ecosystem – which, in due time, collapsed, destroying the natural irrigation ecosystem that provided the water to grow the crops in the first place. Resource war! Resource war! Goodbye good, big-thinking Nasca folks. Here’s the full story if you wan’ it.

Weekend Update Sept 13

IMG_0488First up we have a serious oil spill off the coast of Australia. Read more at the BBC.

Next, we mourn the passing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. He lead the green revolution, helping engineer important crops for poor nations, and was a large force behind the world’s doubling of food production from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. Some folks credit him for preventing a billion people from starving to death during his 95 year life.

Finally an update on the cap and trade bill in Washington. It looks like Senator Max Baucus from Montana has been quietly grabbing the reigns. Let’s hope he does better than his unfortunate performance with health care reform.

Weekend Update: September 5, 2009

IMG_0488In order to keep up with the times, I will be doing a weekend update every Saturday to hand you the important news of the week that I haven’t had a chance to write about.

Things are in motion and I want to keep us in the present.

First up, Truth is Stranger than fiction. That means California just had a first class garage sale. Also in the sun-raisin state is a review of current water laws. Being that the fire season lasts so long in Cali, one has to wonder if that cause has anything but apt moments for it to be addressed

Also on the waterfront, India continues to manage a disappointing monsoon season. Agriculture is a major employment factor in this enormous country, and with the world economy bent over a curb, they are forced to continue relying on growth.

Next we have some banks repaying back their bailout loans. Questions remain such as will profits will keep up with impeding inflation? And what about the fact that these big banks who’ve failed are actually becoming bigger?

Finally we have a new world record. The Arctic has now reached it’s warmest temperature in 2000 years! An achievement made even more impressive due to an ice age that may or may not be happening nowish.

That’s it for now, but I will continue catching up next week. Have faith folks.

Taken for Granted

A city with a standing population in excess of the big apple, the capitol of India has been forced to seriously ration water to it’s citizens this summer. A light monsoon season is the culprit, but the damages of a disappointing year for the earth’s most productive wet season extend far beyond the kitchen sink.

The rainy season in India is directly tied to 20 percent of its economy, deeply affecting  agriculture and the 300 million people who depend on it for employment.

Beyond economics, there is the question of confidence during a world wide economic downturn. The monsoon season is synonymous with a number  of Hindu festivals and celebrations that are deeply rooted in this country’s culture.

For an emerging world power who has thus far stood strong against the financial crisis, bad weather could turn out to be a very dangerous spiritual double cross with deep implications.

The Bees on Penn. Ave

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” – Albert Einstein

When the subject of bee colony collapse comes up in this country, it is often in the same sentence as pork-barrel spending, but the epidemic striking our country is hardly a waste of our attention. That’s why it matters that for the first time since FDR, our president is keeping a hive at the White House.

Bright Ideas from Maine, #1

A couple of our WHA provocateurs are proud Mainers. Here’s a good reason for them to be proud: the Maine State Legislature just passed a law – the nation’s first! – requiring manufacturers of compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to set up recycling programs for the cool, energy-efficient doohickeys. By 2011, a system will be in place for the collection and recycling of CFLs, which is kind of awesome since CFLs have one serious nervous-making downside: they’re made with mercury, a heavy metal that’s way more dangerous to your kids’ mental health than Metallica. The law also requires limits on the amount of mercury that can be used in the light bulbs. Now, since we all know that mercury in the environment tends to find its way into fish, and the coast of Maine has a lot of fish – well, this is all rather sensible, isn’t it? Mainers have a reputation for that.