Thursday, March 05, 2009

Friday Hope Blogging

The Obama admininstration has reversed an insane BushCo decision on the Endangered Species Act:

The rule change, which was made final in mid-December last year, left it up to government agencies to decide on their own whether new dams, logging or mining operations posed a threat to endangered species or their habitat.

The rule also said that a project's impact on climate change should no longer be a factor when taking into account its impact on wildlife. The Bush-era changes amounted to rolling back the clock on 35 years of protocol.
The Senate has taken further action in defense of the ESA:
In the waning days of the Bush presidency, the administration pushed through two species-related rules, one that scaled back scientific reviews for endangered species and another that limited protections for the polar bear specifically. The Obama administration wants to undo those rules, and congressional leaders have stepped up to help, adding language to an omnibus spending bill that gives the admin 60 days to withdraw the rules. The House passed the bill with that language last week.

But earlier this week, Alaskan Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D) -- no fans of polar-bear protections -- introduced an amendment that would remove that language. On Thursday, their fellow senators voted down that amendment 52 to 42.
Obama has also pledged to change how government contracts are awarded:
President Barack Obama plans to change how government contracts are awarded and who can earn them, a move his aides say would save taxpayers about $40 billion a year by making the process more competitive.

Obama will sign a presidential memo Wednesday that changes government contracting procedures, an administration official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the decision before it was announced.
In Washington DC, activists shut down the Capital Power Plant:
Today, climate activists from across the country braved a snowstorm and freezing temperatures to successfully block and shut down the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C. Thousands of people of every age and race participated in the action, the largest act of peaceful civil disobedience on climate change in U.S. history.
A company in Oakland, CA has come up with an interesting new solar panel:
The panels snap together, so people will be able to buy just one to start and add more later on if they like. The solar inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) electricity from the panels to alternating current (AC) electricity that can be used in the electric grid, plugs right into a wall socket.

One of the biggest problems with solar panels is the high cost. Before rebates, the price can easily exceed $30,000 to outfit a residential roof. J'neva began asking who really wanted to have solar power and realized it was the 20-something generation--people who typically have smaller budgets but aspire to live greener lifestyles. Most of the interested customers she knows over 30 are looking to spend $2,400 to $4,000 on panels; folks in their twenties will spend much less.
A Swedish city has given up most uses of fossil fuels:
The city of 60,000—and its surrounding 12-town region, with a quarter-million people—has traded in most of its oil, gas and electric furnaces for community "district heat," produced at plants that burn sawdust and wood waste left by timber companies. Hydropower, nuclear power and windmills now provide more than 90 percent of the region's electricity.
A "cash for clunkers" program is doing well in Germany:
The idea is simple: local governments offer cash incentives for people to get their old, low-mileage, high-emissions cars off the road in exchange for buying new, inherently more efficient cars....

While globally car sales are tanking, the BBC reports German car sales are actually up 22 percent right now due to the help of this program which offers a 2,500-euro incentive for participating. In fact, Germany just had its strongest February car sales in 10 years!
The New York Times has been floating the theory that because incandescent bulbs generate heat, switching over to CFLs will require more central heating, which means more greenhouse emissions. There are many problems with that idea; Lloyd Alter mentions the biggest one:
Does it seem logical to burn fossil fuels to make heat that boils water that makes steam that turns turbines that generates electricity that gets transported long distances to simply turn it back into heat? No.

Coal fired electrical plants generate between 200 and 230 pounds of CO2 per million BTUS, whereas natural gas releases 116 pounds per MMBtu. So burning that bulb for heat generates twice as much CO2 and we haven't even accounted for transmission losses.
Geologists are mapping rock formations that may be able to absorb excess CO2 from the air:
The report, by scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the U.S. Geological Survey, shows 6,000 square miles of ultramafic rocks at or near the surface. Originating deep in the earth, these rocks contain minerals that react naturally with carbon dioxide to form solid minerals. Earth Institute scientists are experimenting with ways to speed this natural process, called mineral carbonation. If the technology takes off, geologic formations around the world could provide a vast sink for heat-trapping carbon dioxide released by humans.
A new program in Washington state helps victims of domestic violence use technology safely:
"Domestic violence is built around control, not anger, and an abusive partner often limits a woman's access to information and support. Monitoring computer activity is one of many ways to control a spouse. In a shelter a woman needs to keep her identity secret, but a fax number can be tracked to her location. Abusive partners also can track their victim's cell phone calls or can use a keystroke logger on a computer to intercept and read e-mail. This program shows women ways in which they might be monitored and steps they can take to prevent being stalked and tracked."
An anti-gay adoption agency has stopped doing business in New York:
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that Arizona-based internet companies Adoption Profiles and Adoption Media have stopped doing business in New York.

The Attorney General’s announcement follows a complaint filed last year by Lambda Legal on behalf of a New York gay couple who were barred from posting their on-line adoptive-parent profile solely because they are a same-sex couple. The complaint said that the companies were violating New York laws prohibiting such discrimination.
Papua New Guinea has created its first nature reserve:
Unique in structure, the park is owned by 35 surrounding indigenous villages which have agreed unanimously to prohibit hunting, logging, mining, and other development within the park. The villages have also created a community organization that will oversee management of the park.
In related news that will probably be of interest to Bryan Finoki, conservationists are discussing the fascinating idea of a nomadic sanctuary:
Getting protected areas drawn on a map is hard enough...Establishing one that moves or adjusts with changing conditions — a roving [marine protection area] — will be harder still.

But some are already thinking about how to design MPAs that still function as climates change. Maybe they’re bigger, say scientists, or spaced like stepping stones so species can hopscotch to higher latitudes. Perhaps they’re not tied to a geographic location at all, but follow conditions scientists know are important.

New technologies for tracking marine species and people, and more sensors to monitor conditions at sea now make what was once impossible at least theoretically possible. Questions of governance and human bureaucracy are the greater challenge, scientists say.
In Brazil, deforestation has dropped by 70 percent:
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell to 291 square miles (754 square kilometers) in the November 2008-January 2009 window, a drop of 70 percent compared to the year earlier period when 976 sq mi (2,527 sq km), said Environment Minister Carlos Minc.

A decrease in forest clearing had been expected. Economic turmoil, which has reduced the availability of credit, and collapsing commodity prices — especially beef and soy — have undermined the main drivers of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Minc also credited government efforts, including increased vigilance and new loan policies, for the decline.
Researchers have identified a more efficient way of fertilizing Chinese crops:
[A]verage fertiliser use — around 600 kilograms per hectare — can be cut by 30—60 per cent, with farmers retaining the same yields.

By efficiently recycling manures and crop residues, and rotating crops with nitrogen-producing leguminous plants, it is possible to reduce reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilisers....
I may have blogged on this before, or not...but either way, here's a merry-go-round that doubles as a water pump:
We all know kids have boundless amounts of energy and a need to play - so why not channel some of that energy into much needed rural infrastructure? That was the brilliant idea behind the PlayPump: a humanitarian design project that consists of a water pump hooked up to a small village merry-go-round. Access to clean drinking water is a huge concern in developing regions of the world, and now the PlayPump system is bringing clean water into the hardest hit regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, where it has been installed in rural villages and primary schools, so that kids can have fun while pumping all the clean, potable water that their families need.
Here's another idea that seems kinda obvious: two-way envelopes.
Are you a business (or person) that frequently mails envelopes inside of envelopes in order to get a customer to ship something back or for reply mail? Seems kind of like a waste of envelopes, eh? Well now EcoEnvelopes has come up with a solution - a USPS approved "eco-indicia" stamp that is bi-directional. Considering that over a billion reply envelopes are sent in credit card, bank statements, utility bills and other reminders, reusing the same envelope saves more than just paper.
But for really, really obvious ideas, nothing beats this:
Every day, 500,000 gallons get sucked up from a limestone basin in northern Florida by the Nestle Water Co. Every hour of each of those days, the water fills 102,000 plastic bottles at a nearby bottling plant. Nestle, and the 22 other bottled water companies in Florida, make a profit anywhere between 10 and 100 times the cost of each bottle. So how much does Nestle pay for the water it drains from the state's natural resources? Nothing. Oh, excuse me — the company had to pay a one-time fee of $150 dollars for a local water permit. The water they use isn't even taxed a single cent — but the Governor's looking to change that, big time.

In an attempt to correct this free reign, water supply depletin' madness, Republican Governor Charlie Crist is proposing a 6 cent per gallon state tax on all water usurped from aquifers by commercial water bottlers — a tax that could land $56 million in state coffers its first year in effect alone, according to the Miami Herald.
Let's hope Nestle doesn't decide to go Galt.

There's lots of medical news this week. Children's exposure to lead has dropped dramatically:
In a stunning improvement in children's health, far fewer kids have high lead levels than 20 years ago, government research shows -- a testament to aggressive efforts to get lead out of paint, water and soil....

Federal researchers found that just 1.4% of young children had elevated lead levels in their blood in 2004, the latest data available. That compares with almost 9% in 1988.
A doctor in Canada is distributing unused prescription drugs to the homeless:
Dr. Jeff Turnbull, chief of staff at the Ottawa Hospital in Ottawa, acknowledges the practice is controversial but says it is one way to ensure that homeless people get the medication they desperately need.

He and Dr. Ron MacCormick, an oncologist in Sydney, N.S., want provincial governments to establish regulations that would guide doctors who want to recycle unused prescription drugs that would otherwise be thrown out.
A combination of existing drugs may be effective against drug-resistant tuberculosis:
Blanchard's team tested whether administering clavulanate might make TB vulnerable to other antibiotics — and found a combination that in laboratory tests blocked the growth of 13 different drug-resistant TB strains.

The combo: Clavulanate to drop TB's shield, plus a long-sold injected antibiotic — meropenem, part of that penicillin-style family — that then attacks the bacteria.
Researchers have unraveled the workings of C. difficile:
Professor Julian Rood from the Department of Microbiology and lead author, microbiologist Dr Dena Lyras, made a major scientific breakthrough which allowed mutants of the superbug to be made. They then identified which of two suspected toxic proteins was essential for the bacterium to cause severe disease.
This is odd:
A new discovery published online in the FASEB Journal ( shows that cellular mechanisms used by the blind mole rat to survive the very low oxygen environment of its subterranean niche are the same as those that tumors use to thrive deep in our tissues. The net effect of this discovery is two-fold: first the blind mole rat can serve a "living tumor" in cancer research; and—perhaps more important—that unique gene in the blind mole rat becomes a prime target for new anti-cancer drugs that can "suffocate" tumors.
A pair of deadly tropical viruses turn out to be susceptible to the common drug chloroquine:
The researchers, based in Weill Cornell's pediatrics department, were surprised by their discovery that chloroquine, a safe, low-cost agent that has been used to combat malaria for more than 50 years, is a highly active inhibitor of infection by Hendra and Nipah.

"The fact that chloroquine is safe and widely used in humans means that it may bypass the usual barriers associated with drug development and move quickly into clinical trials," says Dr. Anne Moscona, professor of pediatrics and microbiology & immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College and senior author of the study.
Scientists have reconstructed an ancient musical instrument:
[A] team based in Salerno and Catania, Italy, has reconstructed the “epigonion,” a harp-like, stringed instrument used in ancient Greece. With data from numerous sources, including pictures on urns, fragments from excavations and written descriptions, the team has been able to model what the instrument would have looked and sounded like. Their model has become sophisticated enough to be used by musicians of the Conservatories of Music of Salerno and Parma in concerts.
I'm tired of sitting indoors, so you'll forgive me if I wrap things up in a hurry.

Mapping Mutual Incomprehension. Stereo daguerreotypes and ultrasonic ringtones. Covers from nurse romance novels.

One hundred horror film posters, and other graphic design ephemera. Tender scenes of subaqueous domesticity. A collection of found photos from Hamtramck and Detroit.

The unconscionable suppression of Earthquake deniers. An abandoned shipyard, taken over by vegetation (via Plep). And more urban archaeology, courtesy of Kingston Lounge (via Eli.)

And this.

(Photo at top by Matt Callow.)


Anonymous said...

matt callow: best flickr page ever.

Anonymous said...

I guess lifting the ban on cell stem research missed your deadline.
And the thing about Charlie Crist taxing the water bottlers amazed me-wingnuts will be tearing their hair out.

Phila said...

I guess lifting the ban on cell stem research missed your deadline. that about an hour after finishing.