Hurricane harvest from global warming: further claims

Yet another leading British scientist, this time it is Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, is claiming evidence for global warming increasing the frequency of severe hurrincanes:

Super-powerful hurricanes now hitting the United States are the "smoking gun" of global warming, one of Britain's leading scientists believes.

The growing violence of storms such as Katrina, which wrecked New Orleans, and Rita, now threatening Texas, is very probably caused by climate change, said Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. Hurricanes were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because of the rising temperature of the sea, he said. "The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming."
He is not shy about speaking his mind about environmental politics either:
Sir John hit out at neoconservatives in the US who still deny the reality of climate change.

Referring to the arrival of Hurricane Rita he said: "If this makes the climate loonies in the States realise we've got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation."
Asked what conclusion the Bush administration should draw from two hurricanes of such high intensity hitting the US in quick succession, Sir John said: "If what looks like is going to be a horrible mess causes the extreme sceptics about climate change in the US to reconsider their opinion, that would be an extremely valuable outcome."

Asked about characterising them as "loonies", he said: "There are a group of people in various parts of the world ... who simply don't want to accept human activities can change climate and are changing the climate."

"I'd liken them to the people who denied that smoking causes lung cancer."

With his comments, Sir John becomes the third of the leaders of Britain's scientific establishment to attack the US over the Bush government's determination to cast doubt on global warming as a real phenomenon.

Sir John's comments follow and support recent research, much of it from America itself, showing that hurricanes are getting more violent and suggesting climate change is the cause.

A paper by US researchers, last week in the US journal Science, showed that storms of the intensity of Hurricane Katrina have become almost twice as common in the past 35 years.

Although the overall frequency of tropical storms worldwide has remained broadly level since 1970, the number of extreme category 4 and 5 events has sharply risen. In the 1970s, there was an average of about 10 category 4 and 5 hurricanes per year but, since 1990, they have nearly doubled to an average of about 18 a year. During the same period, sea surface temperatures, among the key drivers of hurricane intensity, have increased by an average of 0.5C (0.9F).

Sir John said: "Increasingly it looks like a smoking gun. It's a fair conclusion to draw that global warming, caused to a substantial extent by people, is driving increased sea surface temperatures and increasing the violence of hurricanes."


Dead Cats ain't Dead Cats

A German inventor says he's found a way to make cheap diesel fuel out of dead cats. It takes 20 cats to full his tanks up. He says he has driven 105,000 miles on his home diesel mixture without any problems.

"Ja, she just purrs along.".

Jeez, you could drive the circumference of Australia powered by roadkill.

Australia's energy big picture needs review

The Government energy policies are coming under scrutiny at a time when it is also defending high Petrol Prices:

This week the Government stonewalled public concern about high fuel costs, its belief in market forces transcending its populism. Even those who agree that cutting fuel excise is not the answer say there's a lot the Government should be doing but isn't.
So when do we know to start knocking off the neighbourhood cats to process into kitty-diesel?
"The price of oil is key," said Dr John Wright, head of CSIRO's Energy Futures Forum. "At $US70 [$91] a barrel we can make biofuels and liquid fuels out of gas cost-effectively. But if it drops back to $US50 a barrel the economics get dicey at that point."

Wright's personal view is that the Government should set a price on carbon emissions, which would reduce the risk of investing in renewables and wean the economy off its dependence on oil, particularly for land transport.
And the big picture? Who knows where we should be? Check out Greg Bourne's credentials; he has danced with the devils and slept with the angels ...
The former president of BP Australasia, Greg Bourne, who is now head of World Wildlife Fund-Australia, said rigid free-market orthodoxy could be dangerous if it inhibited policies aimed at reducing dependence on expensive imports and building energy security.

"Greater energy security and resilience to oil shocks requires political leadership," Bourne said. "We need tax and other incentives to make people use more gas at home and in our cars. Bringing North-West Shelf gas onshore for domestic use is probably the most important option we have to rapidly build resilience."
Put that in your exhaust pipe and smoke it.

Global warming increases intensity of hurricanes and cyclones

The debate so far. Using computer modeling conventional scientific wisdom had it that the .5 degree increase in ocean surface temperatures over the past 50 years was not causing an increase in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes.

I checked this up after Hurricane Katrina, curious to know whether global warming was making weather events more extreme. The conventional wisdom was that this would not really happen until 2050 at the current rate of the ocean's surface temperature increase.

Then I heard that someone decided to compare the results of the computer modeling with real historical weather data, getting results that challenge this conventional wisdom:

The analysis by climatologist Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows for the first time that major storms spinning in both the Atlantic and the Pacific since the 1970s have increased in duration and intensity by about 50 percent.
This conclusion is also being backed up by independent new research conclusions:
Global warming could be behind a dramatic rise in the number of ferocious hurricanes and tropical cyclones, new research suggests.

As the oceans have warmed, the incidence of Category 4 and 5 storms like Hurricane Katrina has almost doubled.

"What we found was rather astonishing," said Peter Webster, of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, whose team studied the number, duration and intensity of hurricanes worldwide in the past 35 years.

In the 1970s there were, on average, 10 intense storms with winds above 200 kilometres an hour each year. Since 1990 this figure has risen to 18.

Professor Webster said the findings established a link between sea surface temperature, which has risen by about half a degree since 1970, and increasing storm intensity.
Professor Webster also pointed that the link is not simple and that more research was needed. The debate continues.


Carbon credits stimulate cleaner fuel technology race

A breathless rendering about a Montreal mad professor who has come up with a box that gets hydrogen into the engine chamber of the combustion engine for a cleaner burn and 97% fuel efficiency, way up from the current 35% fuel efficiency of the internal combustion engine.

In fact, it could make the Kyoto protocol obsolete. Basically, the H2N-Gen contains a small reservoir of distilled water and other chemicals such as potassium hydroxide. A current is run from the car battery through the liquid. This process of electrolysis creates hydrogen and oxygen gases which are then fed into the engine's intake manifold where they mix with the gasoline vapours.

It's a scientific fact that adding hydrogen to a combustion chamber will cause a cleaner burn. The challenge has always been to find a way to get the hydrogen gas into the combustion chamber in a safe, reliable and cost-effective way
Joe Williams Snr also wants to meet Bill Gates.
Because if Joe Williams turns out to be right, "I think Bill Gates and our group will be shaking hands," he says. "It's that big."
While the journalist may be given to the hyperbole that the H2N-Gen could make Kyoto obsolete, Joe Williams keeps his eyes on his fries.
Furthermore, he would hope to get his hands on carbon credits promised by the Kyoto Protocol. The trade in carbon credits is predicted to be a multi-billion-dollar business as countries attempt to meet their 2012 obligations of cutting greenhouse gases to below 1990 levels.


1,3-butadiene and carbon monoxide car emmissions cancer link

London: The development of cancer in childhood is strongly linked to pollution from engine exhausts, says a British researcher.

Professor George Knox, from the University of Birmingham, said yesterday that youngsters were at higher risk if they lived near emissions hotspots, such as transport depots.

But the statistical information manager at Cancer Research UK, Ruth Yates, said the results should be interpreted with considerable caution, saying much more research was needed to show what level of exposure posed a threat.

Permafrost semiperming

Bugger. This from New Scientist:

A vast expanse of western Siberia is undergoing an unprecedented thaw that could greatly increase the rate of global warming, climate scientists warn.

Researchers found that an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres - the size of France and Germany combined - has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.

The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world's largest frozen peat bog, and scientists fear that, as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

It is a scenario climate scientists have feared since first identifying tipping points - delicate thresholds where a slight rise in the Earth's temperature can cause a big change in the environment that itself triggers a far greater rise in global temperatures.

Afghanistan's famous Bamiyan Buddhas rebirth

The idea of sustainability is eloqently expressed in the rebirth of the 1600 year old Bamiyan Buddhas blown up by the Taliban in 2001:

Los Angeles: An elaborate laser show plans to "recreate" Afghanistan's famous Bamiyan Buddhas, the towering, 1600-year-old statues destroyed by the Taliban amid international outrage in 2001.

The life-size, lurid images will be projected on to the clay cliff faces of the Bamiyan Valley where the archaeological treasures originally stood on the Silk Road linking Europe and Central Asia.

Some 140 "statues" will make up the installation, due to premiere in June 2007, subject to approval by UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organisation.

Hiro Yamagata, 58, a Japanese-born California artist, wants to use wind and solar power to project the images on to 6.5 kilometres of the cliffs in the central Hindu Kush mountains, about 150 kilometres from Kabul. The Afghan Government supports the project.


Populate or perish?

I know I keep getting my stuff from the SMH, but that is all I have time to read. Besides, they do a good job covering green issue. I guess Gaia is just in the news a lot, lately.

Anyway Paul Sheehan caught the countrylink to Bathurst, hopped in the Cessna of George King who preoceeded to fly him to his two cattle properties in the Northern Territory. The parched, drought-struck country below seemed to soak up the words of King expounding the views of Allen Savoy in his book Holistic Management:

"Ecosystems function as a whole so we need to manage the whole. The role of animals in an environment like ours is critical. The Earth's surface is 70 per cent brittle-tending, and it used to support infinitely more animals than it does now. Australia has lost 94 per cent of its mega-fauna since humans have been introduced...

"In a naturally functioning ecosystem the herbivores are held in tight mobs by predators. When they get onto an area of land they graze it down heavily, trample a lot of grass, which forms a protective mulch on the soil surface; they defecate and urinate. No animal will eat fouled ground, so the plants get both fertiliser and a recovery period before being grazed again. The herbivores move on, in a tight mob for safety from predators. For millions of years, brittle environments have evolved with this herbivore-predator relationship."


Solar generated hydrogen fuel experiments reported next week

Interesting developments:

London: The dream of using hydrogen, the most plentiful element in the universe, as a green fuel has moved a step closer with the announcement that it can be made with the help of sunlight.

Nearly all hydrogen used at present is produced by expensive processes that require the burning of polluting fossil fuels.

Now the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, has tested the environmentally friendly solar method on a large scale.

The results of its experiments will be reported in Orlando, Florida, next week to the world congress of the International Solar Energy Society

Oil is set to rise again

I bet the biodiesel brigade feel smug now.

Petrol too high? Make your own

A underground of an estimated 1000 strong across Australia are making their own biodiesel and not registering with the ATO to avoid having to pay the 38c per litre government exercise imposed recently:

"An underground movement of motorists is making fuel in their backyards and saving up to $1 a litre to run their diesel engines.

As oil prices continue to soar to historic highs, they are following an easy recipe available on the internet for making biodiesel fuel and putting it straight into their engines without modification.

Concocted from used vegetable oil that fish and chip shops give away, the fuel is hailed as being almost smog-free, extremely cheap and almost limitless in supply because it comes from a crop rather than an oil well.

Few are willing to admit publicly that they make the brew because the Federal Government imposed a new tax and costly tests."

"Small businessman Luke Williams admits he is breaking the law when he mixes a batch of biodiesel without registering with the Tax Office. He pays about 20 cents a litre for the ingredients instead of at least $1.20 for diesel from the bowser. Instead of sooty fumes, his car emits a slight odour reminiscent of the fish and chip shop from which it came."

"Mr Williams said fellow biodiesel-makers were too concerned about Australian Tax Office checks to speak publicly but enthusiasts believe about 1000 people across the country make their own fuel.

Under the federal laws, even backyard producers must pay $1400 for a test to ensure that every batch meets Australian standards. They must also pay a fuel excise of 38 cents a litre."


GM mutant runaway superweeds immune to herbicide

The adage "You reap what you sow" rings acutely true for those that seek to jumper the natural DNA in our food with herbicide resistant genes. A report from the Gardian details another blow for the GM industry:

Modified rape crosses with wild plant to create tough pesticide-resistant strain

Modified genes from crops in a GM crop trial have transferred into local wild plants, creating a form of herbicide-resistant "superweed", the Guardian can reveal.
The cross-fertilisation between GM oilseed rape, a brassica, and a distantly related plant, charlock, had been discounted as virtually impossible by scientists with the environment department. It was found during a follow up to the government's three-year trials of GM crops which ended two years ago.

The new form of charlock was growing among many others in a field which had been used to grow GM rape. When scientists treated it with lethal herbicide it showed no ill-effects.
It is actually not too hard to make a mutant according to the theorists and a French experiment:
Brian Johnson, an ecological geneticist and member of the government's specialist scientific group which assessed the farm trials, has no doubt of the significance. "You only need one event in several million. As soon as it has taken place the new plant has a huge selective advantage. That plant will multiply rapidly."

Dr Johnson, who is head of the biotechnology advisory unit and head of the land management technologies group at English Nature, the government nature advisers, said: "Unlike the researchers I am not surprised by this. If you apply herbicide to plants which is lethal, eventually a resistant survivor will turn up."

The glufosinate-ammonium herbicide used in this case put "huge selective pressure likely to cause rapid evolution of resistance".

To assess the potential of herbicide-resistant weeds as a danger to crops, a French researcher placed a single triazine-resistant weed, known as fat hen, in maize fields where atrazine was being used to control weeds. After four years the plants had multiplied to an average of 103,000 plants, Dr Johnson said.
Look on the bright side, this puts the kibosh on the "Intelligent Design" theory that President Bush has announced he wants taught alongside The Theory of Evolution. No sign of any intelligent designer on this planet so far, not if you are looking in the labs of Monsanto and the like.


Nice one Ma'am

When the British (and Australian ... go figure?) Queen decides that it is her turn to do something about reducing her energy footprint, she shows us how it is done:

London: The Queen is to go green after full planning permission was granted to run Windsor Castle on hydro-electric power.

The $2.3 million, four-turbine plant will be built at Romney Weir on the River Thames.
Charles has obviously been chewing on HRH's ear. His green credentials go way back.
The 56-year-old supported organic farming as far back as 1984, long before it became a mass consumer issue and his vociferous belief in conservation has often been ahead of the times

The Queen has her own army of devoted fans, and her going green in this way is a powerfull message to them.
Buckingham Palace said the royal household was pleased the project had been approved. "We're constantly looking at ways of saving energy," a spokesman for the Queen said. "We use energy-efficient lightbulbs at Buckingham Palace and recycle 99 per cent of green waste."

The electricity from the new plant will be fed straight into the Queen's Berkshire castle and not into the local grid. The plant will be the biggest of its kind in southern England.
HRH gets my vote, even though she does not run.


Why doesn't Carr Govt. consider recycling?

The opposition is gaining ground on the water recycling opion. It makes sense to me as this seems like a smarter place to look for a solution. Selling the idea of drinking recycled water should not be hard, if you know what research questions to ask.

A private survey two years ago by the group commissioned to explore attitudes to recycled water for the State Government found 87 per cent support for the concept.

Phone polling this month by the same company on behalf of the Government showed high levels of discomfort with drinking recycled water, but the survey did not ask about using recycled water for other purposes
The politics behind is starting to emerge
The survey two years ago by UMR Research was for the recycling proponent Services Sydney, which is locked in a legal battle over access to Sydney Water's sewerage system. It wants to supply sewerage services to big companies in competition with Sydney Water, treat their sewage and then sell the recycled water for non-potable uses.

The State Government is refusing to support the proposal because it says there is an insufficient market for non-potable recycled water.

The 2002 UMR research, based on telephone interviews with 900 people in three marginal state electorates, found that 76 per cent said they were worried about the amount of waste being discharged out to sea. After prompting they expressed concern with Sydney Water's plans for the future, and 87 per cent said they wanted recycling.

Greens MPs have said the latest UMR study used loaded questions. People were asked about their comfort levels with drinking "recycled sewage including toilet water treated to drinkable standards".

Anne Davies
I am to understand that the drinking water in London has already passed through 9 sets of kidneys. It tastes fine.

Sydney - home of desalination nation?

The spot where English explorers first set foot on Australia is potentially set for the rebirth of a new Australia - the desalination nation.

I must admit the supposedly green NSW Premier's proposal for a carbon intensive desalination plant at Kurnell, Sydney caught me by surprise.

Yes we have a water crisis, an immediate one and a bigger looming one, but I am just not sure that putting more carbon into the atmosphere is the way to go. Bob Carr knows this, right?

For the green premier who once called desalination "bottled electricity", it's a potentially poisonous issue because recycling is a kind of motherhood concept, and desalination is an energy-intensive option that will increase the state's greenhouse emissions.

What is really needed is a dialogue with the locals.
Going to Dubai last week to announce the home of Sydney's first desalination plant may have provided Bob Carr with a telegenic backdrop, but it has also proved a politically expensive stunt.

As the Premier travelled to the Middle East and London, the desalination issue spun out of control.

Local groups at Kurnell were not happy; environmentalists branded it a breach of his promise to tackle carbon emissions; and the Opposition gained ground on its preferred option of a recycling plant .

My first question is, 'why, when the Sydney basin is geographically designed as a smog trap, do we want to increase the amount of emmitants into the atmosphere?'.


Study: Those bullied by life bully nature

Let me get this straight. So the rich (in Sydney) don't chop down the trees in their areas because somehow the notion of watching the jungle reclaim their upsized backyards helps ease their consciences about having too much power? And the poor get to take their powerlessness out by dominating nature with the backyard chainsaw?

Wealthy Sydney professionals live in leafy North Shore suburbs because the trees on the streets make them feel comfortable with their power in society, according to a new study.
This week's Institute of Australian Geographers conference will hear that tree cover in city suburbs is closely related to authority and alienation.
Jamie Kirkpatrick, a geographer at the University of Tasmania, thinks less affluent urban dwellers often feel powerless in their work and personal lives, so they exert authority by removing the flora around their homes.
Middle-class home owners, on the other hand, want a break from being in charge, and enjoy returning to a wilder, more out-of-control environment.
What bizzare behaviour ... I usually find that getting a jolly good flogging from Mistress Amanda to be a surefire salve when I start fretting about the heady power (courtesy of this blog) that I wield.

Interesting theory, but I don't think this applies where a tree comes between a property owner and their harbour view. The Sun Herald reported on 29/10/2000 that
Professional hit men target harbour trees
WEALTHY residents in Sydney's eastern suburbs are allegedly using "hit men" to poison trees and enhance their harbour views. One of Australia's wealthiest suburbs, Point Piper, has had 41 protected trees poisoned, lopped, or removed without permission over the past 18 months.
This must have galvanised some sort of action because there has been only one newspaper report on the subject in the Fairfax press since:
$110,000 fine threat to harbourside gardeners with view to a kill
Harbourside residents have been put on notice that they face hefty fines if caught cutting trees to improve their water views.
Sydney Morning Herald 20/09/2001

Karl Rove - what a snake!

It looks like Karl Rove is up to his armpits. Good, it makes me ill to think that he compromised one of his country's intelligence agents, Valerie Plame (I suppose it is OK I use her name now), for the noble end of protecting a conjured up casus belli:

Only the Special Counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald, and his staff have all the facts on their investigation at this point, but there is increasing evidence that Rove (and others) may have violated one or more federal laws. At this time, it would be speculation to predict whether indictments will be forthcoming....

Site Review: Ecological Footprint Quiz

The Ecological Footprint Quiz (©Redefining Progress) seeks to give you its best answer to the question of how much "nature" your lifestyle requires?

The Ecological Footprint Quiz estimates how much productive land and water you need to support what you use and what you discard. After answering 15 easy questions you'll be able to compare your Ecological Footprint to what other people use and to what is available on this planet.

The concept behind an ecological footprint has been around for at least a millennium and a half; back in 5th century Anglo-Saxon England environmental footprints were known as 'hides' and 'hundreds'. A hide describes the amount of arable land it takes to feed a single family for a year, and a hundred describes how much land it would take to feed a hundred families.

I digress. I answered the quiz questions. They break down your Ecological Footprint into Food, Goods, Shelter and Mobility footprints. Press the button and Bob's your uncle:
CATEGORY --------------------- GLOBAL HECTARES
FOOD ........................................................ 3.1
MOBILITY ................................................. 1.9
SHELTER ................................................... 0.9
GOODS/SERVICES ....................................... 2.9
TOTAL FOOTPRINT ..................................... 8.8
8.8 hectares distributed globally in little furlongs, plots and parcels - so I'm not doing too badly, right?



Alright already! I hear you. It's not enough that they admonish me, they graphically drive home the point by whipping up 5.9 planets side by side. So? At least I have room to improve. Multiple global room it seems.

My Food Footprint has the biggest global hectarage (3.1) of all my categories. That's because I eat a lot of meat and dairy. Love it. I am a southern hemisphere born and bred carnivore who emigrated from one barbecue culture to another. I didn't spend evolution clawing my way up the food chain just to eat carrots and pumpkin forever. Nevertheless there are a few sound reasons to cut back on meat and dairy, including the looking after your heart and bowel. I wonder, how many global hectares could I cut back on if:

I cut back on rate of meat and dairy consumption to something more healthy, from Almost always to Often
A. How often do you eat animal based products? (beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy products)
  1. Never (vegan)
  2. Infrequently (no meat, and eggs/dairy a few times a week) (strict
  3. Occasionally (no meat or occasional meat, but eggs/dairy almost daily)
  4. Often (meat once or twice a week)
  5. Very often (meat daily)
  6. Almost always (meat and eggs/dairy in almost every meal)
and conscienciously cut back on processed and packaged food, especially that from far away and thus reducing the impact of transportation?
B. How much of the food that you eat is processed, packaged and imported?
  1. Most of the food I eat is processed, packaged, and from far away
  2. Three quarters
  3. Half
  4. One quarter
  5. Very little.
  6. Most of the food I eat is unprocessed, unpackaged and locally grown.
Well my Food Footprint reduced a whole global hectare, from 3.1 to 0 2.1. And this seemed to have a positive effect on my Mobility Footprint, down from 1.9 to 1.8 (please explain?), and my Goods/Services Footprint, down from 2.9 to 2.8. I guess here I generate less landfill. Best of all I bring my Total Footprint in line with the national average of 7.6, a full 1.2 global hectares improvement. I am instantly rewarded from my aspiring good global citizenship by knowing that:
I rate Ecological Footprint Quiz 4.9 planets out of a possible 5 (I'm taking .1 off for being rude) assuming it employs an accurate methodology in its calculations. It does get one thinking, and potentially acting. You could find yourself involved in an email campaign to your local council to get them to consider commissioning an Ecological Footprint index for the community from the good people at Redefining Progress.

Breakthrough could make biodiesel commercially viable

What's all this about? In today's Letters to the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald:

I read of various politicians pressing for the legislated inclusion of ethanol in petrol. Shouldn't they instead be calling for the use of the new technology announced by the University of Wisconsin that produces high-grade diesel from plants?

It was reported to be twice as efficient as ethanol production.

Chris Horn Summer Hill

I Googled myself up some encouraging news. It seems these University of Wisconsin scientists believe they are not far off the point where producing biofuels will be cost competitive to petrofuels:
Eco-dreamers have long hoped for a way to drive around without contributing to global warming, but the slow pace of progress in alternative fuel technologies has kept that vision from materializing. Now, a promising new process, designed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin and outlined in a paper that appeared in the journal Science on June 2, could be a significant step toward turning that dream into a reality.

The paper details a new way to produce biodiesel fuel, which is made out of plant matter. Traditional biodiesel refining uses only the fatty acids of a plant, which typically make up less than 10 percent of the mass of dried plants. Rather than converting only the fat, this new method promises to turn all of the dried plant material, including roots, stems, leaves, and fruit, into biodiesel or heat energy.

Ethanol, the most popular and commercial biofuel, has long been refined out of plant matter, but it requires the costly, energy-intensive step of distilling every molecule of water out of the solution. In contrast, the new biodiesel process is based on aqueous phase reactions, which don't need to go through the expensive distillation phase.

"The biggest advance we have to offer is the lack of that distillation process," says George Huber, one of the paper's authors and a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin who will soon be teaching at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "That means that our process is exothermic." In other words, it doesn't need a lot of extra energy. And that's important, because the largest cost in the current biofuel refining process is energy.


Measure your ecological footprint

I found this little gem; a website that will work out your annual impact on the planet. Tomorrow I'll have a closer look.

Food-chains: it's poisonous at the top

Peregrine petral poo pollutes pristine parklands:

Washington: Seabirds can spread pollutants such as mercury and pesticides across the Arctic in their droppings.

The finding, published in the journal Science, surprised experts, who had presumed that the chemicals were being spread only by atmospheric winds.

It could help explain the high levels of such pollutants found in the bodies of people living in and near the Arctic region, far from the industries that produce them.

The birds eat fish, squid and other animals that concentrate the chemicals in their bodies. The chemicals are concentrated even more in the bodies of the birds.

The birds, some of which range for thousands of kilometres, then rain polluted guano onto once-pristine environments, Jules Blais of the University of Ottawa and colleagues found.

"The effect is to elevate concentrations of pollutants such as mercury and DDT to as much as 60 times that of areas not influenced by seabird populations," said John Smol, a biology professor at Queen's University in Ontario.

Aren't we humans on the top of our food chain and thereby subject to the same problems of toxic accumulation?

Mercury; a planet, an ancient Greek god, or gum rot?

To answer my own question:

Aren't we humans on the top of our food chain and thereby subject to the
same problems of toxic accumulation?

A quick google reveals that gold mining is a mercury intensive activity. Patterns of high mercury accumulation have been showing up in people directly affected, by mining, and people indirectly affected, by eating contaminated food. As this abstract by Marcello M. Veiga and John A. Meech University of British Columbia, Department of Mining & Mineral Process Engineering explains:


Mercury accumulation in humans has two main pathways in the Amazon: a) occupational exposure to vapours and b) methylmercury transferred by the fish.

Inhalation of mercury vapours is more significant for "garimpeiros" and gold shop workers. Once in the lungs, Hg is readily oxidized forming Hg (II) complexes which are soluble in many body fluids. As well, metallic Hg is also soluble in lipids allowing a rapid diffusion through the cell membranes (alveolar walls) followed by transport by blood lipids to sensitive tissues, such as the brain. The ultimate effect of Hg and related compounds is the inhibition of enzyme action.

From knowledge of metabolism and human experience with Hg inhalation, the critical organs are: (Suzuki, 1979)

lungs in short-term exposure to high levels,
kidneys in an exposure of moderate duration to considerable levels
brain in long-term exposure to moderate levels

Total elimination can take several years. The half-life of mercury in the brain is longer than in the kidney, thus urine Hg levels would not be expected to correlate with neurological findings once exposure has stopped. Short-term exposure to high levels causes clinical symptoms which mainly involve the respiratory tract. Hg levels in the urine of new workers should be lower than those of workers with a longer duration of exposure. (Suzuki, 1979; Stopford, 1979).

The symptoms usually associated with mercurialism are erethism (exaggerated emotional response), gingivitis, and muscular tremors. A person suffering from a mild case of Hg poisoning is usually unaware of the illness because the symptoms are psycho-pathological, such as irritability. Such ambiguous symptoms can lead to incorrect diagnosis (Jones, 1971; Cassidy and Furr, 1978).

A level of 60,000 µg/m³ was measured by Malm (1991) in the air when amalgam is burnt in pans. Urine samples have shown Hg levels >20 ppb for "garimpeiros" burning amalgam daily, whereas levels between 10 and 20 ppb were observed for those burning amalgams 2 or 3 times per week. Normal levels are below 10 ppb. Symptoms such as visual constriction, irritability, decreased memory and metallic taste were detected among the workers of gold shops in Alta Floresta (CETEM, 1991).

When intoxication takes places via food, in particular fish, most mercury is accumulated in methylated form (Huckabee, 1979, Padberg, 1990). High Hg levels (21 to 206 µg/l) have been found in the blood of individuals living distant of mining activities in the Amazon (GEDEBAM, 1992). Normal blood levels for unexposed people is 6 to 12 µg/l. A level of 200 µg/l (ppb) is reported as the lowest blood level observed in the Niigata incident in Japan, at which significant symptoms were observed (Nelson et al., 1971).

Fish caught in one Amazonian city showed Hg levels ranging from 0.009 to 2.75 mg/kg (ppm). If fish containing 0.5 ppm Me-Hg are eaten daily, the Allowable Daily Intake of 30 µg/day would be reached for a 70-kg person by the daily consumption of 60 g of fish. Considering the Canadian limit of 13 µg/day of any kind of Hg, 60 g of a fish with 0.2 ppm of Hg are enough to reach the limit (Kurland, 1973; GEDEBAM, 1992; CWQG, 1987).

Poisoning is not restricted to miners and high Hg concentrations in the blood of children (>100 ppb Hg) have been measured. Mercurialism symptoms are not clearly identified owing to differences in the amount of Hg burnt, fish consumed, fish origin as well other masking effects such as tropical diseases, alcohol consumption, etc. A level of 6 µg/g Hg in hair is reported as the typical concentration derived from weekly ingestion of 0.2 mg Me-Hg or a daily dose of 20 µg for adults. Fish-eating people living in remote areas in the Amazon not impacted directly by mining activity, show levels as high as 150 µg/g Hg in hair, but no classical Minamata disease has yet been recognized (Malm, 1991).

Fish and other seafood have long been recognised as sources of mercury, with the highest concentration confined to species that grow to relatively large size and/or have a relatively long lifespan,19 in particular, large predators such as tuna and shark. The government guidelines recommend that any shark over 18 kilo should not be caught, as it would contain mercury above the accepted safe level. Crustacea which feed on the sea-bed, where pollution tends to accumulate, may also have high levels. At present in Australia, the legal maximum limit for mercury content of fish is one half part per million (0.5 mg/kg averaged over a multiple sample of fish).

It's not easy being yellow on blue.

Once commencing the Blogger process they ask you for a name. Right at Step 2, actually. I just wanted to blog on like everyone else is. Mine? About how I would like to live a greener lifestyle.

A name? Bloody hell. How about one that connotes a blog devoted to valiantly 'winning back the environment? Something like "greenback"? One word. That's good, there's a conscientious consumer angle in it. It doesn't matter that people don't refer to $100 notes as 'green backs' anymore, I am at Step 2 and need a name.

greenback.blogspot.com is not available, Blogger tell me matter-of-factly; your wacko idea has already been taken mate. So then, something straightforward; like greenliving.blogspot.com.

Taken again. Just how feral is Blogger? Time to get lateral. Yellow and blue? My blog will be a broad green church. blueandyellow.blogspot.com is not available.

So ... yellow on blue it is! Hope you like it.

Step 3 is to write. They just push you out the door.