Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

From Jonathan Amos. Science correspondent, BBC News

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay

Thwaites Glacier is a huge ice stream draining into the Amundsen Bay

 

In a finding which will add heat to the ongoing climate change debate, key glaciers in West Antarctica are in an irreversible retreat, a study team led by the US space agency (Nasa) says. It analysed 40 years of observations of six big ice streams draining into the Amundsen Bay and concluded that nothing now can stop them melting away.

Although these are abrupt changes, the timescales involved are likely measured in centuries, the researchers add. If the glaciers really do disappear, they would add roughly 1.2m to global sea level rise.

The new study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, but Nasa held a teleconference on Monday to brief reporters on the findings.

Prof Eric Rignot said warm ocean water was relentlessly eating away at the glaciers’ fronts and that the geometry of the sea bed in the area meant that this erosion had now entered a runaway process.

West Antarctica is one of the least accessible parts of the planet and it takes a huge effort to research the changes under way there. Now the scientists involved have the benefit of repeated flights, copious satellite images and data from field trips to work on. There is still a lot they do not understand about the pace of change and therefore the speed with which the melt will contribute to sea level rise. But the more detailed the research, the sharper the picture of rapid change.

“We present observational evidence that a large section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has gone into a state of irreversible retreat; it has passed the point of no return,” the agency glaciologist explained.

“This retreat will have major consequences for sea level rise worldwide. It will raise sea levels by 1.2m, or 4ft, but its retreat will also influence adjacent sectors of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which could triple this contribution to sea level.”

The Amundsen Bay sector includes some of the biggest and fastest moving glaciers on Earth.

Other glaciers melting too

Pine Island Glacier (PIG), over which there has been intense research interest of late, covers about 160,000 sq km, or about two-thirds the area of the UK.

Like the Thwaites, Smith, Haynes, Pope, Smith and Kohler Glaciers in this region – the PIG has also been thinning rapidly.

And its grounding line – the zone where the glacier enters the sea and lifts up and floats – has also reversed tens of km over recent decades.

What makes the group of glaciers especially vulnerable is that their bulk actually sits below current sea level with the rock bed sloping inland towards the continent. This is a geometry, say scientists, that invites further melting and further retreat.

The new study includes radar observations that map the underlying rock in the region, and this finds no ridge or significant elevation in topography that could act as a barrier to the glaciers’ reverse.

“In our new study, we present additional data that the junction of the glaciers with the ocean – the grounding line – has been retreating at record speeds unmatched anywhere in the Antarctic,” said Prof Rignot.

Recent European Space Agency satellite data has also recorded the glaciers’ thinning and retreat.

“We also present new evidence that there is no large hill at the back of these glaciers that could create a barrier and hold the retreat back. This is why we conclude that the disappearance of ice in this sector is unstoppable.”

The researcher, who is also affiliated to the University of California, Irvine, attributed the underlying driver of these changes to global warming.

This, together with atmospheric behaviours influenced by a loss of ozone in the stratosphere, had created stronger winds in the Southern Ocean that were now drawing more warm water towards and under the glaciers.

Dr Tom Wagner, the cryosphere program scientist with Nasa, said it was clear that, in the case of these six glaciers, a threshold had been crossed.

“The results are not based on computer simulations or numerical models; they are based on the interpretation of observations,” he told reporters.

“And I think this is an important point because this sometimes can get lost on the general public when they’re trying to understand climate change and the implications.”

Prof Rignot and colleagues put no real timescales on events, but a paper released by the journal Science to coincide with the Nasa media conference tries to do just this.

It does include computer modelling and was led by Dr Ian Joughin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. The study considers the particular case of Thwaites Glacier.

Collapse “inevitable”

In the model, Dr Joughin’s team is able to reproduce very accurately the behaviour of the glacier over the past 20 years. The group then runs the model forwards to try to forecast future trends. This, likewise, indicates that a collapse of the glacier is inevitable, and suggests it will most likely occur in the next 200 to 500 years.

Prof Andy Shepherd, from Leeds University, UK, is connected with neither Rignot’s nor Joughin’s work.

He told BBC News: “[Joughin's] new simulations are a game changing result, as they shine a spotlight on Thwaites Glacier, which has until now played second fiddle to its neighbour Pine Island Glacier in terms of ice losses. There is now little doubt that this sector of West Antarctica is in a state of rapid retreat, and the burning question is whether and how soon this retreat might escalate into irreversible collapse. Thankfully, we now have an array of satellites capable of detecting the tell-tale signs, and their observations will allow us to monitor the progress and establish which particular scenario Thwaites Glacier will follow.”

Prof Shepherd said the EU’s newly launched Sentinel-1a radar satellite would have a unique capability to assess the glaciers’ grounding lines. “As soon as the satellite reaches its nominal orbit, we will turn its eye on Thwaites Glacier to see whether it has indeed changed as predicted.”

Wellthisiswhatithink says:

This finding is particularly significant because it effectively adds 1 metre of sea level rise to most current forecasts. At 1 metre (the sea level rise most people accept as inevitable by 2100) the damage to coastal areas is relatively slight. But each additional metre causes more problems for humanity. As you can see here:

http://www.globalwarmingart.com/sealevel?lat=NaN&lng=NaN&zoom=2


									

This astonishing photograph was taken by Sarah Haddid, flying into Melbourne last night.

What is most terrifying for me is that our house is so close to all that. You can actually put your finger at the end of the Eastern Freeway and pretty much cover the Wellthisiswhatithink compound. The flames came to within two blocks of our local shopping centre. Friends in the middle of it all had to evacuate to us.

And yet, bizarrely, were it not for the emergency authority website, Facebook and radio, we would not have known it was happening. The wind was in the other direction – no smoke or embers. Bizarre.

Melbourne dodged a major bullet this weekend. I find it hard to summon up enough praise for the fire authorities and the volunteers and paid firies who keep us safe, at great risk to themselves.

Incredibly, it was five years to the day since Black Saturday, which very nearly impacted, perhaps fatally, on my family, and which brought death and destruction to so many others.

This is a beautiful land. It is also very frightening, sometimes.

As we write, there are still 26 out of control fires in Victoria. Our prayers and concern go out to everyone involved.

UPDATED

Oh, and by the way, please note that 2013 was the hottest year Australia has ever endured, since records began.

Begins …

'Polar Vortex' Creates Huge Temperature Difference …

Air temperatures varied by more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit across the United States Monday morning. A blast of Arctic air pushing south as far as Atlanta has caused air temperatures across the United States to plunge, creating a massive 140-degree Fahrenheit (77 degrees Celsius) temperature difference between the chilly Dakotas and balmy Florida yesterday (Jan. 5).

The pulse of frigid air, called a polar vortex, whirled into the United States this weekend on the heels of a major winter storm. But unlike that storm, the polar vortex won’t bring heavy snowfall. (The snowstorm dropped nearly 2 feet, or 60 centimeters, of snow in Boston last week.) Instead, the National Weather Service is forecasting dangerous cold and wind-chills. The cold temperatures are expected to last through Wednesday.

The polar vortex is a low-pressure system that circulates from west to east in the Arctic during winter. Late last week, a high-pressure system — called an atmospheric block — situated over northeastern Canada and Greenland stopped this circulation pattern, pushing the cold air into the United States. On Sunday afternoon, temperatures ranged from minus 55 F to 85 F (minus 48 C to 29 C).

On Monday morning, air temperatures in North Dakota and South Florida were still more than 100 F apart. Chicago set a new record low of minus 16 F (minus 27 C) Monday morning, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, broke a 102-year record with a new low of minus 1 F (minus 18 C) recorded at 7:14 a.m. local time, the NWS said.

Climate change scientists labour to explain to skeptics that global warming can produce extremes of cold, wind and rain as well as hotter zones. For some reason, this simple fact seems to elude numbers of climate change deniers … many of whom are funded by high polluting industries, such as oil, coal, and others. Other blogs such as the Raw Story have noticed what looks awfully like a co-ordinated conservative howl of trolling on the topic.

Our answer to that? We can do no better than this twitterer …

If you think snow disproves global warming, I’m going to assume you think jumping disproves gravity.
Well said @GrandOldParody …

The new normal. God help us.

Angry summer indeed ...

Angry summer indeed …

This has been going on all summer. We smashed heat records in January. And then in February. This is March: South-eastern Australia has been sweltering for well over a week, with the strongest pulse of heat just before the end. This is from Rob Sharpe at the Weather Bureau, about 15 minutes ago. (It’s now 6.30 pm approx AEST on 12/3/13)

South Australia

The heat pushed into South Australia almost two weeks ago beginning an eleven day run of over 30 degree temperatures. This is the third longest run of March heat in over 120 years of records.

Mt Gambier smashed the March record for consecutive days above 30 degrees with eleven. This is five more than the record and is also equal to the summer record set in 1956.

Victoria

Melbourne has broken multiple records in this run of heat despite having records dating back 156 years. It has had the longest ever run of days above 30 and 32 degrees with nine days reaching 32.7 and above. The previous records were eight days above 30 and seven above 32, set in the same run in February 1961.

Nights have also been very warm in Melbourne meaning that buildings without air conditioning have struggled to cool from the daytime heat. The city has equaled the record of six mornings in a row failing to drop below 20 degrees. Tonight is likely to break the record with the mercury likely to be in the low 30’s or high 20’s most of the night. There is a chance that tonight will break the record for the warmest March minimum of 26.3 degrees.

All of Victoria has been bombarded by this heat with temperatures rising as high as 40 degrees at Cape Nelson. This is 19 degrees above the March average and half a degree short of the March record.

Tasmania

Records have been equaled and they have been doubled in Australia’s southern most state.

Launceston has been staggering in its consistently hot temperatures. It has doubled its record run of four days above 30 degrees with a staggering eight days, including a new record March temperature of 33 degrees.

Hobart came very close to its longstanding March record of 37.3 degrees today, reaching a top of 36.7 degrees. Just inland of Hobart, Bushy Park succeeded in equaling its 47 year old March record of 37.6 degrees. Strathgorden and Strathan had their hottest March day in at least 30 years.

Meanwhile, the northern hemisphere shivers, ironically, in appalling cold and snow, which is, of course, equally due to the chaotic disruption of the planet’s man-made warming.

What will it take before people realise we need to take meaningful action now? Yes, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to affect our lifestyles. It’s going to mean business will have to “box smarter”. And no, it’s not all bad news – climate change will produce winners as well as losers. But the scale of change is going to be massive, even if the effect is at the lowest end of what is predicted.

But we can do it – think of the great efforts made by humanity in times of peril before. We can stop it getting worse than it has to be, and we can ameliorate the effects. Just can we please stop arguing and get started?

This is unbearable.

I am indebted to the food section of Yahoo for raising this topic, which is fascinating.

If only because forewarned is forearmed. On the basis of this news, the Wellthisiswhatithink clan is going to start hoarding tins of Stag Chilli and Fray Bentos meat pies forthwith. If our home is suddenly subsumed by some nearby Pompeii-like eruption future archaeologists will surmise the modern Australian diet considered of nothing else. Well, and coffee, of course.

The domesticated cow is going to fart itself to oblivion if it's not careful.

The domesticated cow is going to fart itself to oblivion if it’s not careful.

For all sorts of very good reasons, you see, Dear Reader, meat is going to play a lesser part in our diet moving forward. For one thing, all sorts of domesticated animals, and especially cows, burp and fart a lot.

And we mean, a lot*.

Methane, primarily. From their gut.

As one of the most potent greenhouse gases there is, if we could rid the world of farting cows we could all afford to drive gas guzzling SUVs back and forth to the shops till the, er, well, till the cows come home, and the world wouldn’t be affected much at all.

(One of the great myths of global climate change is that cars are strongly implicated – they aren’t, really, as engines become ever more efficient, and hybrid technology grows. Other factors are much more serious. Cars are just “in our face”: an easy target.)

Plus it takes an awful lot of grass – and water – and time and effort (and more greenhouse gases) – to “grow” meat protein compared to, say, veggies.

And our environment also suffers from the deleterious effect of cloven-hoofed animals wandering pristine grasslands digging up the surface soil so it can blow away to end up in the sea.

All in all, we can expect to see the price of beef and lamb/mutton especially climb to exorbitant levels. It will become an occasional luxury, and an environmentally unsustainable one at that.

Insects will probably play a much more central role in our diet ... like these dung beetles.

Insects will probably play a much more central role in our diet … like these dung beetles. Just don’t think too hard about what they eat.

OK, meat’s out. What next?

So what can we change our diet to? All sorts of yummy items. Not.

Insects are already a common source of protein in some parts of the world less wealthy, and less squeamish, than the West.

With the world’s population predicted to hit 9 billion by 2050, our diet will have to change as food production struggles to keep pace with the boom.

And there are lots of good reasons why we should consider ordering a dung beetle burger next time we’re at the pub.

Not only would insect farming be kinder on the environment than our current agricultural industry with its focus on factory farming large animals such as cattle and sheep (just think of all the methane produced as a side effect of our love affair with beef), insects are surprisingly nutritious too.

According to a BBC report, 100g of ground dung beetle contains 17.2g of protein, 30.9mg of calcium and 7.7mg of iron. A 100g serving of minced beef provided 27.4g of protein, 3.5mg of iron and negligible amounts of calcium.

Deep fried grasshoppers. Well, er. OK. If I must.

Deep fried grasshoppers. Well, er. OK. If I must.

Now we just need someone to tell us they taste just like chicken, and we’re in.

Visiting China (amongst other places) one often sees skewers of deep fried grasshoppers on offer from street stalls, along with a lot of other little beasties that one can’t even identify without a biology manual.

Indeed, over 1000 species of insects are eaten by people around the world, like these Thai deep-fried grasshoppers.

Artificial meat?

Of course, we might not be able to give up our addiction to flipping hamburgers on the BBQ and scientists may have one answer. Artificial meat grown from stem cells could solve the problems caused by the huge amount of water and energy required in traditional animal production.

But while scientists are in theory able to create a lab-grown burger that looks like the real deal, taste is another matter.

The taste of meat is created by blood and fat, and is difficult to recreate in an artificial setting. Not to mention, presumably, the mouth-soothing sensation of fat, which is one of the most obvious reasons that we all love eating marbled meat, ice cream, buttered bread and so forth.

Then again, watching the way clever chefs can use other ingredients to mimic the flavour they are searching for, one supposes that anything’s possible.

There is, presumably, a chemical formula for every type of taste sensation, so if we want to keep chowing down on beef we may have to accept that it means munching bowls of noxious chemicals too.

Don't look in their eyes. Just don't look in their eyes.

Don’t look in their eyes. Just don’t look in their eyes. Awwwwww.

“Here Skippy, here boy …”

Well, in Australia, at least one very obvious opportunity presents itself.

Kangaroo meat is lean (2 per cent fat) and protein-rich, and its harvesting is more sustainable than beef and lamb, requiring less water and emitting far less methane than introduced breeds of livestock.

Selling kangaroo meat for human consumption is a relatively new development in Australia, having only been legalised in 1993.

Yet kangaroo meat is already now exported to 55 countries around the world, and has even given rise to a new diet dubbed ‘kangatarianism’ – an otherwise meat-free diet that permits consumption of kangaroo due to its eco-friendly status.

It’s sometimes hard to explain to non-Australians just how sensible a switch to roo meat would be.

For one thing, they are incredibly common, without any farming whatsoever. No one is quite sure how many roos are out there – it’s a big country, guys, and mainly un-populated – but the 2002 population estimate for the commercially harvested kangaroo species released by the federal government puts their numbers at 58.6 million. This means there are more than twice as many kangaroos in Australia as there are cattle (28.7 million). It also means the total kangaroo population is a little more than half that of the Australian sheep population (113.3 million).

That’s one helluva lot of roo stew waiting to be made. And if you think they’re just too cute to eat, then have you looked in the big brown eye of a calf recently?

Personally, I think we should be exporting breeding pairs of roos all over the world and you can all grown your own. And before you ask, darker than beef, quite a strong gamey flavour which puts some people off, the tail is the part most usually eaten, and in sausages, pates, terrines and pies, where is it “cut” with cereals and other items that reduce the gamey-ness of its flesh, it is truly delicious. “Kanga bangers” (that’s link sausages to our America readers) do really well here; kids love ‘em.

Repeat after me: "I love Brussel sprouts. I do. I love Brussel sprouts."

Repeat after me: “I love Brussel sprouts. I do. I love Brussel sprouts.” Hey, this is what they look like growing? Who knew?

Plants scream too, you know

If you don’t want beetles, grasshoppers or kangaroos for tea, then the obvious answer: grow your dreadlocks and slap on the sandals. Let’s all become vegetarians.

Not only are veggies less environmentally harmful to grow (although pesticides and fertilisers need to be used with considerably more regard to the overall safety of the biosphere, with an acceptance of lower yields as a result) but we could all do with learning a lot more about how they can be prepared and presented to be truly delicious.

On the principle that human beings rarely do anything until push comes to shove, maybe rump steak at $200 a pound might be the incentive we need to learn how to make eggplant parmigiana properly.

Because the incentive is obvious. At least one 2012 study, from Sweden, argued that a global water shortage could mean that by 2050 animal production for food, which uses five to 10 times more water than plant-based food farming, could become a distant memory.

And while we are learning to love the lettuce, let’s remember that the plant kingdom offers many opportunities that, as a planet, we don’t make the best of.

How do you like your algae, Sir, braised or baked?

How do you like your algae, Sir, braised or baked?

I am referring, of course, to the harvest of the oceans.

We’ve pretty much eaten all the fish – surely a complete ban on commercial fishing for three years to return stocks to sustainable levels could unite the world? I would gladly pay more taxes to support the fishermen if it meant I could still enjoy a feed of flathead or Atlantic cod before I die – but fish are just the beginning of what’s on offer in the deep blue yonder.

One of the most useful products to come out of the seas are some of the most basic lifeforms yet discovered.

Algae: simple, single-cell organisms, can be cultivated in areas unsuitable for conventional farming, such deserts and the ocean. Algae also offers a cleaner source of energy than plant-derived ethanol, and can be used to feed animals and as a fertiliser for crops.

And if algae doesn’t float your boat (sorry about the dreadful pun, Ed.)then as some societies have known for years common-or-garden seaweed is totally yummy, prepared in all sorts of different ways.

Already a regular on Japanese plates, it is eco-friendly, great for digestive health and is packed full of nutrients, including calcium, iodine, folate and magnesium. (In fact, the current Western craze for sushi is leading to one unexpected problem – a few people are getting iodine overload from eating too many sushi rolls while wandering shopping malls. The best advice is apparently the most obvious – moderation in everything.)

Everything worthwhile in life is free.

Everything worthwhile in life is free.

Deep in the last millennium, I had a mother-in-law who would love to wander the seashore, grabbing scraps of seaweed off the rocks and munching it happily, reminiscent of her childhood in Ireland. “Dillisk”, as she was brought up to call it, is a reddish seaweed from the Atlantic coast of Ireland, collected at full moon, when the tide was lowest, and dried on huge sheets in the garden.

As Wikipedia kindly reveals: Palmaria palmata (Linnaeus) Kuntze, also called dulse, dillisk, dilsk, red dulse, sea lettuce flakes or creathnach, is a red alga (Rhodophyta) previously referred to as Rhodymenia palmata (Linnaeus) Greville. It grows on the northern coasts of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and is a well-known snack food. In Iceland, where it is known as söl, it has been an important source of fiber throughout the centuries.

is a good source of minerals and vitamins compared with other vegetables, contains all trace elements needed by humans, and has a high protein content.

It is commonly found from June to September and can be picked by hand when the tide is out. When picked, small snails, shell pieces and other small particles can be washed or shaken off and the plant then spread to dry. Some gatherers may turn it once and roll it into large bales to be packaged later. It is also used as fodder for animals in some countries.

It is commonly used in Ireland, Iceland, Atlantic Canada and the Northeast United States both as food and medicine. It can be found in many health food stores or fish markets and can be ordered directly from local distributors. In Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, it is traditionally sold at the Ould Lammas Fair. It is particularly popular along the Causeway Coast. Although a fast-dying tradition in today’s McDonald’s-ridden world,there are many who still gather their own dulse. Along the Ulster coastline from County Antrim to County Donegal, it is eaten dried and uncooked in a manner similar to that in which one would eat snacks at a drinks party. It is also used in cooking. (Its properties are similar to those of a flavour-enhancer). It is commonly referred to as dillisk on the west coast of Ireland. Dillisk is usually dried and sold as a snack food from stalls in seaside towns by periwinkle-sellers.

Fresh dulse can be eaten directly off the rocks before sun-drying. Sun-dried dulse is eaten as is or is ground to flakes or a powder. In Iceland the tradition is to eat it with butter. It can also be pan fried quickly into chips, baked in the oven covered with cheese, with salsa, or simply microwaved briefly. It can also be used in soups, chowders, sandwiches and salads, or added to bread/pizza dough. Finely diced, it can also be used as a flavour enhancer in meat dishes, such as chili, in place of monosodium glutamate.

The earliest record of this species is of St Columba’s monks harvesting it 1,400 years ago.

Or as my old Mum was wont to say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.

Well, she would have said it, if she spoke French.

So now you know. Rib-eye and french fries is doomed. Ah well. We all might live a little longer, perhaps.Or as in the famous old joke, it might just seem that way.

And just remember, everyone. “Soylent Green is people!”**

*Much more than you ever wanted to know about belching and farting animals
Agriculture is responsible for an estimated 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. A significant portion of these emissions come from methane, which, in terms of its contribution to global warming, is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization says that agricultural methane output could increase by 60 percent by 2030 [Source: Times Online]. The world’s 1.5 billion cows and billions of other grazing animals emit dozens of polluting gases, including lots of methane. Two-thirds of all ammonia comes from cows.Cows emit a massive amount of methane through belching, with a lesser amount through flatulence. Statistics vary regarding how much methane the average dairy cow expels. Some experts say 100 liters to 200 liters a day (or about 26 gallons to about 53 gallons), while others say it’s up to 500 liters (about 132 gallons) a day. In any case, that’s a lot of methane, an amount comparable to the pollution produced by a car in a day.To understand why cows produce methane, it’s important to know a bit more about how they work. Cows, goats, sheep and several other animals belong to a class of animals called ruminants. Ruminants have four stomachs and digest their food in their stomachs instead of in their intestines, as humans do. Ruminants eat food, regurgitate it as cud and eat it again. The stomachs are filled with bacteria that aid in digestion, but also produce methane.With millions of ruminants in Britain, including 10 million cows, a strong push is underway to curb methane emissions there. Cows contribute 3 percent of Britain’s overall greenhouse gas emissions and 25 to 30 percent of its methane. In New Zealand, where cattle and sheep farming are major industries, 34 percent of greenhouse gases come from livestock. A three-year study, begun in April 2007 by Welsh scientists, is examining if adding garlic to cow feed can reduce their methane production. The study is ongoing, but early results indicate that garlic cuts cow flatulence in half by attacking methane-producing microbes living in cows’ stomachs [Source: BBC News]. The researchers are also looking to see if the addition of garlic affects the quality of the meat or milk produced and even if the animals get bad breath.Another study at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, is tracking quantities of methane and nitrogen produced by sheep, which provide a good comparison model for cows because they have similar digestive systems, but are less unruly. The sheep in the study are living in plastic tunnels where their methan­e production is monitored across a variety of diets.Many other efforts are underway to reduce ruminant methane production, such as attempting to breed cows that live longer and have better digestive systems. At the University of Hohenheim in Germany, scientists created a pill to trap gas in a cow’s rumen — its first stomach — and convert the methane into glucose. However, the pill requires a strict diet and structured feeding times, something that may not lend itself well to grazing.In 2003, the government of New Zealand proposed a flatulence tax, which was not adopted because of public protest.

With the development of large-scale agriculture in the mid-20th century, farming became a big business for some companies. Farms became consolidated into large enterprises with many thousands of animals across large acreages.

Initially, grazing areas were filled with a variety of grasses and flowers that grew naturally, offering a diverse diet for cows and other ruminants. However, in order to improve the efficiency of feeding livestock, many of these pastures became reseeded with perennial ryegrass. With the aid of artificial fertilizers, perennial ryegrass grows quickly and in huge quantities. The downside is that it lacks the nutritious content of other grasses and prevents more nutritious plants from growing. One commentator called it the “fast food” of grasses.

This simple diet allows many cows to be fed, but it inhibits digestion. A perennial ryegrass diet also results in a significant number of weak and infertile cows, which have to be killed at a young age. This is where the methane comes in. The difficult-to-digest grass ferments in the cows’ stomachs, where it interacts with microbes and produces gas. The exact details of the process are still being studied, and more information may allow scientists to reduce cows’ methane output.

A study at the University of Bristol compared three types of naturally grown pastures to ryegrass pasture grown with chemical fertilizers. Lambs were fed on each type of pasture. The meat from lambs fed on natural pastures had less saturated fat, more omega-3 fatty acids, more vitamin E and higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a “good fat” that is believed to fight cancer. The meat from these lambs was considered very high quality and scored well in flavor tests.

Because of concerns about ruminant diets, many researchers are investigating ways to alter what livestock eat and to mix the best of old cow pastures – diverse, naturally growing, nutrient rich grasses and plants – with the best of the new – fast-growing and resistant to invasive species. One possibility is to increase the ability of beneficial, nutrient-rich plants and flowers to grow alongside the fast-growing grasses commonly used in pastures. Another branch of research focuses on plants that are high in tannins, which are believed to lower methane levels in ruminants and to boost milk production – although excessively high level of tannins are harmful to a ruminant’s growth.

A study by researchers in New Zealand recommends the use of plants like birdsfoot trefoil that are high in alpha-linoleic acid, which boosts CLA levels. Planting legumes and genetically engineered plants to trap airborne nitrogen will also improve nitrogen levels in the soil, which is important for rich soil and healthy plants.

Some dairy farmers use processing systems to harvest methane from cow manure. The energy is used to power the farm while excess is often sold back to the local electrical grid.

Believers in naturally grown, mixed-species pastures say that the use of them will reduce greenhouse gases, improve animal health and meat quality and reduce the use of artificial fertilizers. Efforts like methane-reducing pills or the addition of garlic may just be stopgap measures that fail to address some of the core problems of livestock, namely ground and air pollution, cutting down of forests, the production of weak animals that later have to be culled and the use of artificial fertilizers and steroids.

Another possibility exists in trapping the methane gas and using it as energy or selling it back to the electrical grid. Some farmers already extract methane from livestock waste, but that does not solve the bigger problem of belched methane. Harnessing that methane would mean trapping it in the air, perhaps by housing cattle indoors or outfitting them with special muzzles that may inhibit eating.

(The above information on the digestive system of ruminants was copied from howstuffworks.com)

**http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soylent_Green

As we fiddle about twiddling our intellectual thumbs deciding just how bad global climate change is and what to do about it, time may already have run out for a vital part of the food chain.

Say Goodbye to me.

Say Goodbye to me.

And me.

And me.

And me.

And me.

And me.

And me.

As David Horsey of the LA Times reports, our oceans are not just in danger of becoming murderously acid, it’s happening right now.

He writes:

If the prospect of coastal cities sinking into the sea 100 years from now does not motivate Americans (read, the world) to do something dramatic to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, there is something happening at this very moment that should be setting off sirens. Rising CO2 levels are making the oceans more acidic and that change in the chemistry of the seas is disrupting the food chain that ends with you and me.

For years, as scientists watched the carbon emissions from our tailpipes and smokestacks spew into the sky and goose temperatures higher, there was one mitigating factor that was keeping a brake on global warming: The oceans were absorbing a whole lot of that CO2.

Now, though, it turns out that is not such a blessing. Carbon dioxide welling up from the cold, deep ocean is shifting the pH balance in shallower coastal waters. That rise in acidity is affecting organisms that depend on calcium carbonate to form protective shells and exoskeletons – creatures such as crabs and oysters and clams, as well as coral reefs that provide crucial habitat for many kinds of sea life.

Acidification dissolves shells and coral. There is evidence it also screws up the instinctual guidance systems of at least some types of fish, making them unable to discern the difference between predators and prey. Scientists suspected something bad like this might happen as the oceans grew more sour, but they did not expect it to be happening already.

Researchers are finding that, in several locales, the shells of tiny creatures called pteropods are being thinned and broken down by acidity. People do not eat pteropods, but plenty of fish do. They supply 50% of the diet of pink salmon, and people do eat salmon. It is not hard to understand the biology: If pteropods disappear, salmon and other fish get scarce.

In an interview with the Seattle Times, Gretchen Hofmann, a biologist at UC Santa Barbara stressed how crucial little creatures like pteropods are in maintaining the food chain. “They’re small but carry an enormous amount of nutrition and are eaten even by very big fish. If you’re in the Antarctic and see a beautiful emperor penguin, it exists by eating fish under the sea ice. And those fish eat pteropods.”

Moved to action by a massive die-off of oyster larvae that was traced to acidification, Washington became the first state to establish a blue-ribbon panel to come up with a plan to cope with ocean acidification. The panel released its findings on Tuesday and recommended 42 steps toward adaptation, remediation, monitoring and education.

For now, such efforts may help protect the seafood industry that brings $1.7 billion annually to Washington, but one state cannot fix this problem permanently.

The threat is global. A report by the United Nations Environment Program said, “Fish, including shellfish, contribute 15% of animal protein for three billion people worldwide. A further one billion people rely on fisheries for their primary source of protein. Fish stocks, already declining in many areas due to over-fishing and habitat destruction now face the new threats posed by ocean acidification.”

Each and every day, humans loft 70 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, and the seas absorb one quarter of that. Unless we are feeling suicidal, it is time to change our way of doing business. This is not a matter of finding empathy for our grandchildren who will be stuck living on a simmering, stormy planet because we refuse to end our carbon-burning ways, this is a matter of killing off species that feed us today.

Global warming is the foreboding thunder in the distance. Ocean acidification is the lightning strike in our front yard, right here, right now.

I confess I really have a hard time finding common ground with those on the right, even though I know that civility demands that I do – and possibly the survival of liberal democracy insists that I must.

It’s not that I think all right wingers are bad and evil people – clearly they are not. I mean, I have right wing friends.

(Why does that feel like you could add the word “Black”, “Jewish” or “French” in there?)

It is just that my experience of right wing politicians and their apparatchiks is that they never truly compromise – that they have no concomitant respect for the other side of politics, and any accommodations they arrive at with people like me are merely tactical, and never of the heart.

Putting it simply, they are not to be trusted. They hate progressive thought, and they despise those who engage in it. They mistrust innovation, they dislike equality, and they don’t really believe that anyone but them should be running things. Ever. It’s been called the “born to rule” mentality, and I have seen it everywhere for as many of my 55 years as I have actually been attuned to such things. I prefer “born to exploit”, but then, that’s me*.

And then I came across this little cartoon and it explained it eloquently, and simply, and, er, well, forever I guess. Recent right wing opposition to healthcare reform in the USA, to the mining super-profits tax and carbon pricing in Australia, and to rescuing the planet from man-fuelled climate change generally around the world, have merely confirmed me in my view.

So I don’t expect I will be offering much compromise anytime soon, unless the right changes its stripes, which I am frankly not expecting. So much as I love my right wing friends, please don’t ask me to change which side of the barricades are on. Because until we are met halfway, I won’t.

And to my left wing friends, the message is “Maintain the rage”.

Er, yup. That’s about it, right there.

*I exclude genuine entrepreneurs from this judgement, those who actually make something, make it at a price that can be afforded, and sell it to people who gratefully receive it. They are the lifeblood of liberal democracy, and I salute them.

There’s a persistent urban legends that the American snack cake, Twinkies, actually last forever due to the amount of preservatives they contain.  This myth seems to have been de-bunked and most estimates claim the real number is 25 days.

Canned Spam, on the other hands, is apparently good for around 10 years. I suspect this is an under-estimate. In the Well This Is What I Think household we recently ate some where the can label was printed in runes, and it was just fine.

“Fresh as the day she was landed, guv. Stand on me. Would I lie to you?”

Joking aside, food spoilage is a significant problem: 30% of all food in America, for example, spoils before being eaten and estimates are as high as 70% in developing nations.  Imagine if we could increase the amount of available food in the developing world by that 70%! Conquering this problem would not only mean a lot more people wouldn’t go hungry, but also the huge amounts of energy used in food production and transportation would not be burned off to no good purpose.

Spoilage is usually caused by bacteria.  New techniques for controlling bacteria place food in a plastic pouch and subject it to very high pressure (87,000 psi).  According to a recent Time article, fruit treated this way remained fresh for three years and a pork chop tasted ‘normal’ seven years later. The bride recently enjoyed a piece of cajun salmon which was suck-wrapped in a container that took fully ten minutes to get into and pronounced it delicious. Just think of all the extra exercise we’d get opening the packaging, too.

This technique could not only improve food safety but also significantly reduce the vast amount of energy we use to cool and store foods. Instead of all the bleating we hear in favour or against carbon taxes – or even, still, whether or not man-made global climate change is real (as my mother used to say, “There is none so blind as those who will not see”) – our governments and industries would do the world a big favour if they were to invest in such technologies, make them “tax advantageous” to overcome short-term cost implications for the food manufacturers, and thus see them used more widely.

The new packaging could also reduce – or eliminate the reason for – young people’s recent enthusiasm for “dumpster diving”. We have at least two nearby families whose young adults delight in invading the rubbish bins of nearby supermarkets for food that is past its “Use By” date but which they consider still edible. Some dumpster divers, who self-identify as freegans, aim to reduce their ecological footprint by living exclusively from dumpster dived goods.

We applaud the practical morality of these young people. Bravo. We just don’t visit their folks for dinner any more. Salmonella is such an unpleasant take-home gift.

Mind you, dumpster divers highlight a serious problem that would be addressed by breakthroughs in sterile packaging.

Irregular, blemished, or damaged items that are still otherwise functional are regularly thrown away. Discarded food that might have slight imperfections, that is near its expiration date, or that is simply being replaced by newer stock is often thrown away despite being still edible. Many retailers are reluctant to sell this stock at reduced prices due to the belief that people will buy it instead of the higher priced newer stock, that extra handling time is required, and that there are liability risks.

There now, bet you never knew an article on packaging could be interesting, right?

Nom, nom, nom.

PS  Here are some other popular myths about Twinkies for our American readers.

  1. Myth: Twinkies aren’t baked, but extruded in a process where sponge cake is made from a chemical reaction that causes a cake-like material to foam up, then coloured dark brown at the bottom to give the appearance of being baked.
    Fact:
    Twinkies are in fact baked and their primary ingredients are flour, sugar, and eggs.
  2. Myth: Twinkies contain a chemical used in embalming fluid which helps account for some of their extreme longevity.
    Fact: No, they don’t have any such thing.
  3. Myth: The Twinkie will last longer than the cellophane wrapper they’re wrapped in.
    Fact: After 25 days they get stale and go bad in a similar fashion to any other bread (supports the baked fact also).

Coal - its a worldwide solution. It's also one very big worldwide problem.

OK, no environmentalist is actually proposing to shut the coal industry down. But is it really that strange or irresponsible or revolutionary that some people should express concern about the largest (and pretty much un-checked) mining investment boom in Australia’s history?

At present Australia digs up around 400 million tonnes of coal every year.

While that raw number means little to most people, consider this: each year Australia digs up enough coal to make a pile one metre deep, and 10 metres wide, by more than 40,000km.

And we are planning to more than double that.

If Clive Palmer’s accurately named ‘China First’ mine goes ahead then Australia’s coal exports will rise by 25 per cent. This one single mine will increase our exports by a quarter. And there are another eight mines of similar scale on the drawing board.

The flood of new Queensland coal will travel on a flotilla of coal ships through the Great Barrier Reef. Indeed, it is estimated that a ship laden with coal will depart every hour of every day by 2020.

Is that the “low carbon economy” you thought the Labor government was talking about?

And what do we do, by the way, when the coal runs out? (Assuming we are all still breathing and haven’t melted or drowned.)

Oh, that’s right, silly me. Nuclear energy.

Unsafe, waste-producing, and hideously expensive, and with only enough uranium on the earth to last maybe another 50 years at current rates of consumption anyway.

So, never mind that our Japanese veggies and fish will glow in the dark for a while yet. What do we do when the uranium runs out?

Um, oil? Gas? No, that’s all going to run out, too.

Er.

Look. What is it going to take for the right wing and the left wing to join hands and actually tackle our need to develop renewable, non-polluting energy sources, including longer-lasting high capacity battery technology to store the electricity thus generated?

The sun’s shining brightly on Melbourne today.  What a shame the Government cut the subsidy for solar panels.

Oh well, let’s dig another hole … and bury our heads in it when we’ve got the coal out of it.

Those interested in coal, whether for or against it at the moment, will find some useful anti coal discussions and resources at the “Coal is Dirty” website in the States. Head to http://www.coal-is-dirty.com/, and you might also like to see the new Greenpeace site, Quit Coal, at http://quitcoal.org/

What is surely clear is that coal is not a long-term option for the world, no matter how big an industry it is now. If you disagree, visit any Chinese city and walk, coughing and wheezing, as I have, down the main street. And it’s not their recent love affair with the car that has caused it. Right across Asia, BILLIONS of people live in a disgusting permanent fog/smog of pollutants, actually unable to see the sky for years on end, if ever. The overhead shroud persists way out into country areas.

That’s wrong. I simply don’t care what some economics professor or government official says. It’s wrong. We are the most innovative and intelligent animals on the planet. We have to be able to dream up a better plan than this.

And incidentally, The Australia Institute will host two events in Queensland in the coming fortnight to discuss the impact of the mining boom on the State’s tourism, manufacturing and agriculture industries. The events will focus on the 99 per cent of Queenslanders who don’t work in mining. To find out more jump to: https://www.tai.org.au/node/449

The paper claimed mainstream climate models misunderstood the role of clouds

The paper claimed mainstream climate models misunderstood the role of clouds

OK: that paper that delighted climate sceptics recently jumped on to prove that global warming isn’t as bad as we thought, and might not be man made?

Well, despite the author’s claim that he stands by it, it turns out it’s almost certainly bollocks. Well there’s a surprise.

Oh, and it’s from a scientist who is also on the board of directors of the George C Marshall Institute, a right-wing thinktank critical of mainstream climate science, and an advisor to the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an evangelical Christian organisation that claims policies to curb climate change “would destroy jobs and impose trillions of dollars in costs” and “could be implemented only by enormous and dangerous expansion of government control over private life”.

Bags of unbiased scientific credibility there, then.

Don’t worry, right wing loonies around the world will still be quoting his work ad nauseam. Because those who promote climate change scepticism for their own dark reasons know the truth: the bigger and more audacious the lie, the easier it is for the masses to swallow it.

So relax, people. Be calm, there’s nothing to this climate change stuff, relax, go to sleep … go to sleeeeeeeep.

Or, get the facts here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14768574