Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

Given that I haven't exactly held up my end of the bargain this year, I'm touched and flattered that people still read and comment from time to time. I'd like to do more in the coming year, mainly because I miss the conversation. Perhaps in the glorious sci-fi utopia of A.D. 2011, I'll find myself in a better position to fulfill my lifelong dream of prattling interminably on the Internets.

I feel as though I should say something about the past year, but my mind is blanker than usual. For me, at least, it began with a larger leap into the unknown than most, and in retrospect I begin to see how it brought me to a point where words seemed pointless. Or mine did, anyway.

Maybe I was too hasty. Or not. Who's to say?

In any case, here are a few links for Auld Lang Syne. Because as we all know, "the easy way and the inclination is toward despair and that is the great temptation."

Freshwater wildlife thrives in cleanest rivers since Industrial Revolution.

Gingrich-buster among President Obama's recess appointments.

U.S. court rules Texas cannot delay EPA-mandated greenhouse gas rules.

Paris will test a ban of high-emissions vehicles in the city center.

Far East Dallas residents welcome all neighbors – including homeless.

Seven imperiled Brazilian bird species gain endangered status.

Grazing halted to protect steelhead trout on a quarter-million acres of Malheur National Forest.

Another setback for a West Coast coal port.

Massachusetts to get "pay as you drive" auto insurance.

New study shows death penalty in decline nationwide.

Mobile technology gives Zimbabweans a voice.

Local Community Radio Act was passed.
Feel free to add more in comments. Best wishes for the new year to all of yez. See you when I get there!

(Photo at top: Eternal Flame Waterfall.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

The European Court on Human Rights has ruled against Ireland's abortion ban:

Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion violates the rights of pregnant women to receive proper medical care in life-threatening cases, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday in a judgment that harshly criticized Ireland's long inaction on the issue.

The judgment from the Strasbourg, France-based court will put Ireland under pressure to draft a law extending limited abortion rights to women whose pregnancies represent a potentially fatal threat to their own health.

The U.S. government has filed a lawsuit against BP:
The federal government today filed suit against BP under the Clean Water Act and other laws, seeking civil penalties for the discharge of millions of gallons of oil and other pollutants into the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The lawsuit will join hundreds of other lawsuits over the Gulf oil spill disaster, including the Center for Biological Diversity’s $19 billion Clean Water Act, suit filed against the oil giant in June.

“We’ve been waiting for months for the federal government to file suit against BP for the devastating oil spill in the Gulf,” said Charlie Tebbutt, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “With all the players now at the table, we look forward to co-prosecuting this case with the federal government to hold BP accountable for the worst environmental disaster in American history.”

Mexico is undertaking an ambitious LED streetlight project:

LED lights are coming to Mexico in a big way — Quintana Roo’s Estate Governor Félix González Canto recently announced during the UN climate change conference in Cancun that the municipality of Othón Blanco will replace 25,507 streetlights with energy-efficient LED versions. The announcement, which was made in conjunction with GE (all light bulbs will be GE Evolve LED cobrahead street lights), marks the largest LED street lighting project in Latin America.

Paterson, NJ hopes to turn an old industrial area into a public attraction:

A 10-member team of archeologists, architects and engineers in May dug under the dense brush and weeds covering the old Allied Textile Printing site to find out how many of the 40 structures and water channels could be restored and incorporated into a national historic park.

What they found was encouraging, researchers said. It included two stories of the Colt Gun Mill, home of the nation's first revolver, as well as remnants of a support base that marked where a wooden flume once carried water to power the gun mill before plunging over a bluff as a 30-foot waterfall.

Australia has issued new restrictions on illegally harvested timber:
The Australian government has announced the creation of new legislation which will put further restrictions on the import of foreign wood products in effort to halt the flow of illegally logged timber. Taking effect next year, the laws will require importers to disclose the sources of all timber products, even paper.
Researchers have found a new lemur in Madagascar:
The squirrel-sized beast is a type of fork-marked lemur, a nocturnal species that feeds on nectar and bark. It belongs to the Phaner genus (which includes four other species) and lives in Daraina, a region in northeast Madagascar that is being pillaged for rosewood, a valuable timber used for making luxury furniture in China.

Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier
A fish thought be be extinct has been rediscovered:
[A] new discovery suggests that a small population of kokanee salmon may have survived.

"I was really surprised," Tetsuji Nakabo, a professor at Kyoto University who led the team that made the discovery said, "this is a very interesting fish—it's a treasure. We have to protect it and not let it disappear again."

Finland will protect most of its remaining northern forests:

Metsahallitus, a forest enterprise controlled by the Finnish government, have agreed to preserve 80 percent of 107,000 hectares of pine forests in northern Finland. The area, which serves as a grazing land for the reindeer, includes tracts of old growth forest.

The decision comes after an 8-year battle by Greenpeace and Finland's indigenous Saami reindeer herders.

California has approved cap-and-trade regulations:
The California Air Resources Board voted 9-1 to adopt cap and trade regulations for AB32, California's 2006 climate law. The move, which establishes the first compliance carbon trading system in the United States, opens the door for carbon offsets generated via forest conservation projects.

The new rules will allow polluting industries to buy and sell emissions allowances. 90 percent of allowances would be free during the early stages of the program, but as the cap tightens, fewer allowances will be available. By 2020 the cap would limit emissions to 1990 levels.
San Jose, CA is the latest city to ban shopping bags:

In a sweeping 10-1 verdict, the San Jose City Council has officially banned all single use plastic shopping bags and barred retailers from giving away paper bags yesterday. The ban will take effect on January 1st 2012 and was pushed along by a mighty campaign by non-profit Save the Bay who estimates that over 1 million single use shopping bags end up in San Francisco Bay every year. San Jose is California’s third largest city making this the largest plastic bag ban in the state.

Also in California, a new agreement will protect 1 million acres of roadless areas from development:

Under the agreement, federal and state agencies, conservationists and ORV users will work together to improve and protect the roadless areas. The Forest Service will reconsider protecting several of the areas permanently as wilderness. Parties will identify roads and trails that are degrading roadless areas; the Forest Service will prioritize these for decommissioning and restoration. While the agency reconsiders the management plans, it will protect all roadless areas from harmful activities, including those that could prevent them from being recommended as wilderness in the future.

And the first molten salt power plant is about to be built:

The most common complaint lodged against solar power is that -- say it with me now -- it's only able to provide power when it's light outside. Solar developers have tried to solve this problem a number of ways, and using molten salt to store the heat is one of the most promising. And the technology is now ready to move beyond the drawing board -- California just approved its first molten salt solar power plant.

And the 100-watt incandescent bulb is about to be banned.

So long 100-watt incandescent light bulbs -- California is ordering them off store shelves starting Jan. 1 in an energy-saving move....

California is starting its phase-out a year early because of state regulations to reduce energy consumption.

Believe it or not, this is happening despite the disapproval of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

New research suggests that wind turbines have the potential to benefit crops:
Wind turbines in Midwestern farm fields may be doing more than churning out electricity. The giant turbine blades that generate renewable energy might also help corn and soybean crops stay cooler and dryer, help them fend off fungal infestations and improve their ability to extract growth-enhancing carbon dioxide from the air and soil.
Black segregation is at a 100-year low:
New Census figures from 2005 to that black residential segregation has decreased since to a 100-year low. The average black person lives in a neighborhood that is 46 percent black (down from 49 percent in 2000). Residential segregation is by no means a thing of the past—it actually increased in 25 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas—but the numbers are encouraging.
The EPA is accepting public comments on a proposed ban on triclosan:
Triclosan is an antimicrobial substance used in pesticide products, hand sanitizers, toothpaste, and other consumer products. The petitioners claim that the "pervasive and widespread use'' of triclosan poses significant risks to human health and the environment. In addition, the petitioners claim that the agency failed to address the impacts posed by triclosan's degradation products on human health and the environment, failed to conduct separate assessments for triclosan residues in contaminated drinking water and food, and is complacent in seriously addressing concerns related to antibacterial resistance and endocrine disruption. EPA has established a public docket, which contains a copy of the petition and will contain all comments received in response to this notice.
A new study emphasizes the importance of Social Security for women:
Without Social Security, research indicates that about half of women age 65 and older would be living in poverty. With the program in place, the poverty rate for women falls to 12 percent.
History's shadow. The true history of Deacon Giles' Distillery. Photos by Candace Plummer Gaudiani. Photos by Lucy Helton. And assorted frost crystals.

Chalk talk. Photos by Terry Evans. Images from the Abita Mystery House. An early vocoder. Niagara Falls, minus the water. A Thump over the Head with Sampson’s Jawbone. And photos by Maria Gruzdeva.

The Shellackophile. Lunar reconaissance. Sounds of Enceladus. A deserted colony. Retrofuturological prognostications (via Peacay). And photos by Sabine Delcour.

Also, a short seasonal film.

And a much shorter bonus feature.

Alright? Alright.

(Photo at top: "A mixture of 'Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), Borax, and the stain Orange G' between crossed polars" by Richard Howey.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

Florida's tomato pickers have won an important battle:

Fair trade is finally coming to the tomato fields of Florida, where farmworkers have won a remarkable victory in a 15-year struggle for better pay and working conditions. Last month, they struck a deal with growers to raise workers’ pay and to create an industry code of conduct, a health and safety program and a system to resolve worker complaints.
An Amazon tribe has created an indigenous forest carbon fund:
“Indigenous peoples have an outstanding track record in terms of forest stewardship, as has been demonstrated time and again by studies of conservation and deforestation rates, but they generally have less experience with managing the sorts of finance and investments that carbon market transactions entail,” says Jacob Olander, who is providing technical support as head of the Katoomba Incubator, a project of environmental non-profit Forest Trends (publisher of Ecosystem Marketplace). The incubator is designed to help local groups around the world develop expertise in payments for ecosystem services (PES), which are schemes designed to reward good land stewardship by recognizing the economic value of nature’s services.
A Canadian federal judge has ruled "that the Canadian government cannot rely on voluntary protocols and guidelines to protect orca critical habitat."
The judge brought acoustics into his decision by stressing that critical habitat protections must include ecosystem features, including prey availability and and noise impacts.
Apropos of which, Canada's House of Commons has voted to ban oil supertankers from the coast of British Columbia:

British Columbia is now one step closer to having a full legislated ban on supertankers off its north and central coasts. The opposition is sending a clear message to the Conservatives to legislate a formal moratorium.

Today's ban could seriously impact Enbridge, who has plans to develop a $5.5 billion 1,170-kilometre pipeline to carry dirty tar sands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., where it would be loaded onto supertankers bound for growing energy markets in Asia.

And a federal appeals court has ruled that California air regulators can impose fees on developers to maintain air quality:
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the local air district's rule requiring developers to reduce emissions from new housing projects by building features like bicycle lanes and energy-efficient cooling systems. If they don't do enough to preserve air quality, they must pay fees that have averaged about $500 per house.

A species of albatross previously thought to be extinct is alive and well and living in Hawaii:
For the first time ever, the birds have been found nesting on two tiny islands in the U.S., in the northwestern Hawaiian island chain. One nest with a couple of eggs inside was found on the Kule atoll, accompanied by two female birds; the other, on Midway atoll, contained fresh eggs and was guarded by both a male and female albatross.

The vermilion darter has won habitat protections in Alabama:
In response to litigation brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 13 miles of stream in the Turkey Creek watershed in Jefferson County, Alabama, as critical habitat for the endangered vermilion darter, a beautiful, brightly colored fish....

Alabama’s rivers contain more unique species than anywhere else in the country, hosting hundreds of endemic freshwater species, including fish, mussels, snails, crayfish and turtles. The state also ranks second in the nation in terms of the number of species that have been lost to extinction.
Mountain gorilla populations have increased in the Virunga massif region:
"The survey results provide us with an excellent demonstration of how strong law enforcement efforts put in place to safeguard flagship species can advance species conservation, benefit local communities, and provide important revenue to governments," David Greer, African Great Ape Coordinator with WWF said.

The census, conducted between March and April of this year, found 480 gorillas, whereas 7 years ago there were only 380. The only other population of mountain gorillas occurs in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southern Uganda, which is thought to number 302 individuals and 4 orphans, making a total of 786 wild mountain gorillas surviving.
An Israeli company is attempting to harvest energy from passing trains:

Piezoelectric technology generates energy from pressure and stress on certain surfaces, and we’ve seen it harvest electricity from roads and dance floors to power lights and signs. Recently Israeli company Innowattech unveiled a new use for this versatile energy tech – they’re planning to install piezoelectric pads throughout the country’s railways to generate electricity....

A prototype of the energy-generating system was installed last year by the Technion University and Israel Railways in order to show the benefits of the technology. The project discovered that a railway track with trafficked by 10 to 20 ten-car trains could produce as much as 120 kWh, which could be used to power infrastructural systems such as signs and lights. Any surplus energy would then be uploaded to the country’s power grid.

Sail-powered cargo ships seem to be making a comeback:
Initially intended to operate within European waters, particularly in the North Sea and Baltic, the ship will carry 9,000 tons of cargo--about one-tenth of typical modern container ships but roughly five times the capacity of typical sail-powered cargo vessels at the height of the age of sail in the nineteenth century.
A huge PV plant has opened in Nevada:
The plant is located 40 miles southeast of Las Vegas, in Boulder City and features more than 775,000 First Solar panels spread out over an area of 380 acres. The project was so large that it required 350 workers to fully install the units. The plant’s completion means that it has now broken the country’s previous record of the largest PV plant which was held by the 20-MW DeSoto PV plant in Arcadia, Florida.
The tobacco mosaic virus may increase the storage capacity of lithium batteries:

Scientists in the U.S. had already worked out how to coat the tiny rod-like cells of the virus with conductive materials. But the recent breakthrough has seen the nanorods incorporated into battery technology, with astonishingly beneficial results. The tobacco mosaic virus is a perfect candidate because it's the right size and shape to aid construction of battery electrodes, and it's self-replicating and self-assembling and can bind to metal.

Tierstimmen. An official global warming debunking tool. High-speed photos by Edward Horsford. A working Lego version of the Antikythera Mechanism. And a very small chameleon:

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka movies, 1929-1947. Yokohama prints, 1859–1870s. CriticalPast (via The Bioscope). Related: The biggest girl. Cartoons from the Weekly Freeman. Tree windmills and automata. And photos by Elliot Erwitt:

Greasy Christmas. Exploding cameras. Sun Ra's 1971 Berkeley lectures. The ghost of subways past. Filling the Frame. Sunrise at the Spiral Jetty. And a 1969 photo essay on IBM computers.

And not only that, but also — in addition — here's a movie as well, too.

(Photo at top: "Seasons change and people change" by chomdee.)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday Hope Blogging

It's another busy week for yours truly, but I'm going to see how many stories I can get listed in the next hour or two. As always, you're welcome — if not obliged — to add links of your own in comments.

Sixty-nine women were elected to the Afghan parliament:

Women candidates in particular faced threats, violence, and intimidation from insurgents during this parliamentary election, which was the fourth election since the Taliban's fall. The Independent Election Commission deemed nearly one quarter of the ballots invalid and received nearly 5,000 complaints about election irregularities.

Nevertheless, Fazel Ahmad Manawi, Chairman of the Independent Election Commission, clarified, "With all the shortcomings, it was a major success for us, the Afghan government, people of Afghanistan and our international friends."
The U.S. Senate has passed a bill against child marriage:

This morning, the U.S. Senate passed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, an important bill which would help change the fact that every day girls as young as eight or nine are forced to marry men who are often decades older....

It might seem like passing this bill would be a no-brainer, but folks have actually been working really hard in DC for six years just to get this thing passed. It’s a big day for women’s rights groups on the Hill, and I congratulate them on this big win.

The Illinois senate has passed a civil union bill:

Increased rights include the right to inherit, the right to visit partners in a hospital, the ability to share a room in a nursing home and the power to make end-of-life decisions for a partner.

Some people were against it, of course. Here's an entertaining response to them from Sen. Ricky Hendon (via Truth Wins Out).

NASA has discovered a new life form in Mono Lake:

A team of NASA scientists studying bacteria in Mono Lake in California have discovered a microorganism that substitutes arsenic — a chemical that is toxic to almost all living organisms — for all parts of a cell that in every other life form are built from phosphate. Not only has this discovery made it necessary to re-edit every science textbook in use, but researchers say it could revolutionize green energy and toxic waste cleanup.

It's interesting news, definitely, but the description is a bit overwrought for my tastes. Cheryl has a more...measured response.

This is a pretty amazing statistic, if true:
Just 15 of the worlds largest ships pump out as much pollution as every car on earth (760 million cars). The reason is that these ships burn enormous amounts of very very dirty fuel.
And this is a pretty good idea regardless:
[The] EPA is setting up a 230 mile buffer zone around the US, with Canada expected to follow, that would keep this pollution farther out to sea....

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the buffer zone, which could be in place by next year, will save more than 8,000 lives a year with new air quality standards cutting sulfur in fuel by 98%, particulate matter by 85% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%.
Apropos of which, the world's largest solar-powered boat has crossed the Atlantic.
The vessel is completely fuelled by renewable energy, with its solar cells having a 22% efficiency rate. These are the highest rated cells available for purchase on the market, and the cells cover over 500 square meters of the ship. The solar cells are able to power two electric motors which are found in the hull, giving the ship at a top speed of 14 knots. Most notably, the large surface area of solar cells means that the catamaran can travel for up to three full days, even without direct sunlight – any excess energy is stored in a state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery.
In California, a rare plant has received habitat protection.
[T]he U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 783 acres of critical habitat for the endangered San Diego ambrosia, a plant that only grows in small parts of California and Mexico. Critical habitat is essential for recovery of this rare plant, whose numbers have declined drastically from more than 50 populations to just 18. This final designation includes three general areas in the western part of Riverside County, covering 189 acres, and four general areas, covering 594 acres, in San Diego County.

“With protection of its habitat, the San Diego ambrosia now has a chance at survival,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
So has a threatened fish:
Responding to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated additional critical habitat for the federally threatened Santa Ana sucker, a fish that lives only in Southern California. Today’s revised designation includes 9,331 acres of critical habitat, up from 8,305 acres in the previous designation. Importantly, this new designation includes stretches of the Santa Ana River and its tributaries that are currently occupied by the fish but had been removed from the previous flawed designation.
Polar bears won some tentative habitat protections as well:
More than 187,000 square miles (approximately 120 million acres) along the north coast of Alaska were designated today as “critical habitat” for the polar bear as a result of a partial settlement in an ongoing lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Greenpeace against the Department of the Interior. This designation under the Endangered Species Act is intended to safeguard those coastal lands and waters under U.S. jurisdiction that are vital to the polar bears’ survival and recovery.
In Tennessee, Cracker Barrel restaurants are installing charging stations for electric cars:
Cracker Barrel is going to install electric vehicle charging stations at 24 of its restaurants along three Tennessee freeways. Twelve of them will be Blink chargers that can get a Chevy Volt from dead to 80 percent in 20 minutes.
I can't wait for David Brooks to explain What It All Means.

The rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has slowed dramatically:
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon fell to the lowest rate on record, putting Brazil well on track to meet its targets for reducing rainforest destruction.

Analysis of satellite imagery by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows that 6,450 square kilometers of rainforest were cleared in the Amazon in the 12 months ended July 31, 2010, a 14 percent drop from the year earlier period.
In related news:
The burgeoning global program REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) could do more than mitigate climate change, according to a new study in Conservation Letters by scientists with Conservation International (CI). Analyzing a sample of 2,500 forest animals, including mammals, birds and amphibians, researchers found that REDD+ could reduce the rate of extinction among these species by 46-82% over five years. The wide range in the study's findings depends on the amount of funds devoted to REDD+: more funds means greater forest preservation and, thereby, less extinction.
The World Wildlife Fund has created a new digital file format that can't be printed:
Drop by Save as WWF, Save a Tree to download software that will add a "Save as WWF" option to your print menu. Any WWFs you create can be opened by programs that open PDFs—but can't be printed.

Will you really save a tree every time you use this new file format? Obviously not. But the campaign does provide an effective reminder that a lot of paper gets wasted out of plain old carelessness.

Also: Impossibly beautiful antique radio tuning dials (via Coudal). Earth as art. A close-up view of Prunella vulgaris. Photos by Dirk Kirchner. And Phobos near the limb of Mars:

Zero to 10 in 85 seconds. Vintage Japanese political posters. A Portrait of LA. Antique circles (via Peacay). And Le Grand Blanc.

I think we have time for a movie, as well:

(Illustration at top: "vintage 19th c. marbled paper, antique straight pattern" via BibliOdyssey.)