Wednesday, April 28, 2010

5 arrested in Boulder anti-coal protest

Protesters were arrested and charged with trespassing after climbing onto a coal pile at a power plant in Boulder (Photo courtesy: / April 27, 2010)

By Annette Espinoza
The Denver Post

Posted: 04/27/2010 04:07:09 PM MDT
Updated: 04/27/2010 04:55:46 PM MDT

Five people were arrested today by Boulder Police officers and Boulder County sheriff's deputies during a protest at the Valmont Industries Inc. coal plant at 1800 63rd St.

The five joined about 20 protestors from the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center who gathered around 12:55 p.m. to protest against use of coal at the plant by Xcel Energy. Officials said they did not know whether the five were associated with the Peace and Justice Center.

The environmental activists climbed atop a large coal pile in front of the plant, put up two mock wind turbines and a large banner that read: "RENEWABLES NOW."

The protestors stood atop the coal pile for nearly two hours before authorities arrived, organizers said in a press release.

"Boulder is ready to move forward with 100 percent renewable electricity. If Xcel is not willing to partner with the city to make this happen, then Boulder officials and citizens need to take our energy future into our own hands," said protestor Tom Weis. …

5 arrested in Boulder anti-coal protest

Police continue ‘complex investigation’ of Climategate hack

From The Legend of Pine Ridge:

I wrote to the Norfolk Constabulary to ask them about about their investigation into the theft of the e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU). This scandal precipitated the so-called "Climategate" scandal.

Here is what they felt they could say:

Please find below our latest statement regarding the UEA investigation.

Detective Superintendent Julian Gregory who is leading the investigation said:

“This is a complex investigation and as a consequence will take some time to conclude. …”

Norfolk Constabulary Continues Its Investigations into the Data Breach at the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit (CRU)

James Cameron: Oil and coal lobbies engaged in ‘disinformation campaign to discredit science’

James Cameron appears on the CNN International special, 'The Special Debate for Earth's Frontiers: The Future of Energy'. CNN

Okay, so this is hardly news: it's been apparent for quite some time that coal and oil companies have been funding an ongoing campaign to confuse the public about climate science. Nothing revolutionary there; who would be surprised that fossil fuel industries are protecting their interests? What's surprising is how depressingly effective they've been. Which is why it's encouraging to see a smart, science-savvy public figure like James Cameron -- who also just happened to make the biggest grossing movie in history -- recognizing the travesty perpetrated on the American public.

Cameron is appearing on a CNN International special that's airing this Thursday, called The Special Debate for Earth's Frontiers: The Future of Energy. The debate, which also featured Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, and Changhua Wu, the Greater China Director of the Climate Group , and others, saw Cameron enter the fray, no-holds barred.

He dropped a couple astute truth-bombs, like this one:

What I see in the U.S is the oil and coal lobbies spending massive amounts of money on a disinformation campaign that is used to discredit science and steer public opinion away from any sense of social responsibility about climate change.
What he sees in the US is the same thing we all see, if we're willing to follow the money…

Cameron also commented on the need to price carbon, and the damage our too-low gas prices are doing…

James Cameron: Oil and Coal Lobbies Engaged in "Disinformation Campaign to Discredit Science"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Amazon tribes embrace technology to protect their rainforest home

An indigenous team gathers GPS data on a mapping expedition in the Amazon. Rhett Butler

By Rhett Butler

Deep in the most remote jungles of South America, Amazon Indians are using GPS units, Android handheld devices, Google Earth and other technologies to protect their fast-dwindling home through “cultural mapping.” Tribes in Suriname, Brazil and Colombia are combining their traditional knowledge of the rainforest with western technology to conserve forests and maintain ties to their history and cultural traditions, which include profound knowledge of the forest ecosystem and medicinal plants. …

Amazon Tribes Embrace Technology to Protect their Rainforest Home

Monday, April 26, 2010

Location chosen for European Extremely Large Telescope

“So powerful it will be able to image directly rocky planets beyond our Solar System.”

The 5,500-tonne European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) could be operating by 2018.  Image: ESO

By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News

Europe has chosen the place it wants to build the biggest telescope the world.

The observatory will be constructed on Cerro Armazones, a 3,000m-high mountain in Chile's Atacama Desert.

The E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope) will have a primary mirror 42m in diameter - about five times the width of today's best telescopes.

Astronomers say the next-generation observatory will be so powerful it will be able to image directly rocky planets beyond our Solar System.

It should also be able to provide major insights into the nature of black holes, galaxy formation, the mysterious "dark matter" that pervades the Universe, and the even more mysterious "dark energy" which appears to be pushing the cosmos apart at an accelerating rate.

Final go-ahead for the E-ELT is expected at the end of this year.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) organisation which is managing the project says it hopes the telescope can be operational by 2018.

The estimated cost is in the region of a billion euros. …

Location chosen for European Extremely Large Telescope

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Nudges gone wrong: A program designed to reduce energy consumption persuaded some Republicans to consume more

OPOWER electricity utilization report.

By Ray Fisman
Posted Friday, April 23, 2010, at 10:01 AM ET

It's a sad statistical reality: Half of us are below average. But that doesn't stop most of us from clinging to delusions of superiority: We like to believe we're better-looking, smarter, funnier, and more honest than those around us. Now and then, when presented with evidence of our shortcomings, we set to work catching up with—and getting ahead of—the Joneses. A decade ago, I caved in and bought a cell phone when I read that the median American owned one.

Psychologists and behavioral economists hope that our tendency to benchmark our own achievements using the performance of others might provide a way to encourage Americans to become better citizens. Can the fear of being below average persuade us to reduce our electricity consumption, increase our charitable contributions, and otherwise compete to be better citizens?

One problem with this approach is that we all define "better" differently, as a new study emphasizes. UCLA economists Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn analyzed the impact of an energy-conservation program in California that informed households about how their energy use compared with that of their neighbors. While the program succeeded in encouraging Democrats and environmentalists to lower their consumption, Republicans had the opposite reaction. When told of their relative thrift, they started cranking up the thermostat and leaving the lights on more often. …

Why would some energy-conscious Republicans all of a sudden become power hogs? One explanation is that many conservatives don't believe that burning energy harms the planet, so when they learn that they're better than average, they become less vigilant about turning the lights off. That is, they're simply moving closer to what they now know is the norm (what psychologists call the boomerang effect). Costa and Kahn also look for guidance from the patron saint of right-wing fundamentalists, Rush Limbaugh, who encouraged his listeners to turn on all their lights during Earth Hour. Costa and Kahn suggest that ardently right-wing electricity customers might respond to paternalistic nudges by burning more energy, just to thumb their noses at Big Brother. …

Nudges Gone Wrong

Friday, April 23, 2010

Climate scientist launches libel action against National Post for publishing ‘grossly irresponsible falsehoods’

Finally, science fights back against the forces of ignorance.


By David Adam, environment correspondent, Thursday 22 April 2010 17.01 BST

One of the world's leading climate scientists has launched a libel lawsuit against a Canadian newspaper for publishing articles that he says "poison" the debate on global warming.

In a case with potentially huge consequences for online publishers, lawyers acting for Andrew Weaver, a climate modeller at the University of Victoria, Canada, have demanded the National Post removes the articles not only from its own websites, but also from the numerous blogs and sites where they were reposted.

Weaver says the articles, published at the height of several recent controversies over the reliability of climate science in recent months, contain "grossly irresponsible falsehoods". He said he filed the suit after the newspaper refused to retract the articles.

Weaver said: "If I sit back and do nothing to clear my name, these libels will stay on the internet forever. They'll poison the factual record, misleading people who are looking for reliable scientific information about global warming."

The four articles, published from December to February, claimed that Weaver cherrypicked data to support his climate research, and that he tried to blame the "evil fossil fuel" industry for break-ins at his office in 2008 to divert attention from reported mistakes in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on which he was lead author.

The lawsuit also highlights several claims in the articles that attempt to question or undermine the scientific consensus on climate change, including that annual global mean temperatures have stopped increasing in the last decade and that climate models are "falling apart".

Such statements, the lawsuit says, would lead readers to conclude that Weaver "is so strongly motivated by a corrupt interest in receiving government funding that he willfully conceals scientific climate data which refutes global warming in order to keep alarming the public so that it welcomes... funding for climate scientists such as himself."

Weaver said: "I asked the National Post to do the right thing, to retract a number of recent articles that attributed to me statements I never made, accused me of things I never did, and attacked me for views I never held. To my absolute astonishment, the newspaper refused."

A spokesman for the National Post said: "Beyond saying that we intend to defend the article, we do not comment on such suits." …

Climate scientist sues newspaper for 'poisoning' global warming debate

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Climategate coverage: unfair and unbalanced


Around November 19, 2009, stolen emails and computer code from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) were uploaded to a publicly accessible Russian Web server.  Very soon afterward, the stolen emails were announced to the world by the anti-science blogosphere.  The controversy went viral and was dubbed Climategate.  Climategate was an obvious attempt to subvert the UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen a few weeks later and I blogged on the CRU Hack on November 24 to show why these stolen emails did not undermine the integrity of climate science.

The main targets of the anti-science crowd were Dr. Phil Jones, Director of the CRU, and Dr. Michael Mann of The Pennsylvania State University.  These highly respected scientists were accused of hiding data, fudging data, avoiding requests for information, and purposefully blocking peer-reviewed journals from IPCC reviewers.  Furthermore, the “big guns” of the climate change denialosphere such as Marc Morano of Climate Depot, Anthony Watts of WattsUpWithThat, and conservative “think tanks” such as Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, and Competitive Enterprise Institute, among others, attempted to spin these emails as somehow proving that there was a massive international conspiracy to promote global warming.

There have been several investigations into the allegations of misconduct by Drs. Jones and Mann and every one has shown that the allegations were baseless.  Dr. Michael Mann was exonerated on February 3, 2010 after an exhaustive investigation.  Dr. Jones has been exonerated by the UK Parliament (March 31, 2010) and also exonerated by The University of East Anglia (April 14, 2010).

Did these exonerations receive the same coverage as the groundless accusations?


Not even close.

Web Coverage:

I used Google to search the Web for the following phrases:

“phil jones” climatic research unit

“michael mann” climatic research unit

For each search I used two filters.  1)  Web hits in the first two weeks after the Climategate story broke (11/19/09 – 12/03/09) and 2) Web hits in the first two weeks after Dr. Jones’ exoneration (03/31/2010 to 04/14/2010) and the first two weeks after Dr. Mann’s exoneration (02/03/2010 to 02/17/2010).  It should be noted that using the term climate research unit instead of climatic research unit (a common mistake) did not alter the results significantly.  The results appear above …

Climategate Coverage: Unfair & Unbalanced

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Columbia University joins ‘Synthetic Tree’ venture -- devices would pull carbon from air

'Synthetic trees': an artist's conception Credit: GRT Technologies

posted: 2010-03-15

Columbia University and a research company have entered into a collaboration and licensing agreement for technology that extracts carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, it was announced today. The company, Global Research Technologies, hopes to have units within two years that would capture up to a ton of CO2 a day.

Today, only living plants, atmospheric chemical cycles and other natural systems can pull large volumes of CO2 out of the air. Efforts to snare manmade CO2, released primarily from the combustion of fossil fuels, are not yet viable at a large scale, but some scientists think they hold great promise in tackling climate change. Most financial support so far has gone to projects that capture CO2 at large point-sources such as coal plants--not from the atmosphere at large--and policy makers have focused mainly on reducing emissions by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

The technology to be commercialized by GRT has been called a “synthetic tree.” It uses proprietary resins and processes to absorb CO2 from the air, potentially at a rate a thousand times faster than natural trees. The company says that the trees, with a predicted lifespan of 15 years, consume minimal energy during the carbon capture process, and share with other carbon-capture technologies similar energy requirements for storing the resulting carbon. GRT’s founders are Klaus Lackner, director of the Earth Institute’s Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy, and Allen Wright, a senior staff associate also at the Earth Institute.

“With this technology, we can enter today’s CO2 markets and build for tomorrow’s demand for climate management technologies,” says GRT’s CEO, William Gridley. Gridley sees air capture as economically competitive and complementary to other forms of carbon capture now being developed. He estimates that initial units will be able to capture up one ton of CO2 per day at a cost of less than $100 per ton. GRT plans to sell diluted captured gas as a nutrient for greenhouses and algae farms, and to eventually sell compressed gas for drink carbonation, to make dry ice, and for other niche markets that today total $1 billion to $2 billion per year.

In the long run, Lackner predicts carbon regulation could transform carbon capture into a multibillion dollar market. “By driving cost down to $50 a ton or less, carbon capture can become a cost-effective option for companies looking to meet regulations emerging in Europe, North America and elsewhere,” said Lackner. He hopes the trees can be manufactured in dormant auto plants, restoring lost jobs and breathing new life into local economies, for both national and global economic and environmental benefit.

“One of the unique advantages of this technology is that it makes possible the capture of CO2 from the air anywhere in the world. Unlike the few existing carbon capture approaches, it’s not necessary to co-locate these units with sources of CO2 emissions,” said James Aloise, who manages a portfolio of intellectual property relating to green technology for Columbia Technology Ventures, the university’s technology transfer office, which announced the agreement. “This inherent flexibility and mobility improves access to the technology, which has true potential to make a global impact.”

University Joins 'Synthetic Tree' Venture

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Brazil suspends Amazon dam project targeted by Avatar director

This is just neat.

James Cameron was received warmly by Volta Grande indigenous communities. Photo: Amazon Watch
April 15, 2010

A Brazilian judge on Wednesday suspended the preliminary license for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, a controversial project in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, citing "danger of irreparable harm," reports the Amazon Watch, an NGO that has been campaigning on the issue. The move comes just days after a high-profile visit by James Cameron, director of the box office hit Avatar, and Sigourney Weaver, one of the stars of Avatar, to indigenous communities potentially affected by the dam.

Judge Antonio Carlos de Almeida Campelo also cancelled the construction auction for the project scheduled for April 20 and ruled that IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, refrain from issuing a new license for the project.

"It remains proven, unequivocally, that Belo Monte's plant will exploit the hydroelectric potential of areas occupied by Indigenous people who would be directly affected by the construction and development of the project," wrote the judge in the decision.

The judge also warned that "while merits of this complaint have not been judged," companies involved in the project could be prosecuted for "environmental crime." …

Brazil suspends Amazon dam project targeted by Avatar director

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver protest against Amazon dam

Director James Cameron and actress Sigourney Weaver march in Brasilia during a protest against a proposed dam in the Amazon. Photo: AP

Director James Cameron says a real-life Avatar battle is playing out in Brazil's Amazon rain forest, where indigenous groups are trying to halt the construction of a huge hydroelectric project.

Cameron and actress Sigourney Weaver are in Brazil to protest against a proposed dam in the Amazon that would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric project.

The Hollywood celebrities joined about 1000 demonstrators in Brasilia's streets on Monday as they urged the government to halt the planned Belo Monte project.

Cameron said he was in Brazil's capital to support Indian and environmental groups.

Cameron attended an environmental summit in the Amazon with former US Vice-President Al Gore last month.

He returned to Sao Paulo this week to promote the DVD version of his blockbuster movie Avatar, in which the fictitious Na'vi race fights to protect their homeland, the forest-covered moon Pandora, from mining.

He said he came to Brasilia on his own initiative because he was drawn to the activists' plight.

Avatar has struck a chord with environmentalists worldwide, from China, where millions have been displaced by major infrastructure projects, to Bolivia, where Evo Morales, the nation's first indigenous president, praised the film for sending the message of saving the environment from exploitation.

"I'm drawn into a situation where a real-life Avatar confrontation is in progress," Cameron said in a telephone interview while en route to protests taking place in front of the Mines and Energy Ministry. …

Cameron, Weaver protest against Amazon dam

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‘No malpractice’ by climate unit

This is the second investigation to clear climate scientists of wrongdoing. If only as much effort were taken to find the hacker and his sponsors *cough*ClimateAudit*cough* we could discover something really interesting. 

There was no scientific malpractice at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, which was at the centre of the "Climategate" affair.

This is according to an independent panel chaired by Lord Oxburgh, which was convened to examine the research published by the unit.

It began its review after e-mails from CRU scientists were published online.

The panel said it might be helpful if researchers worked more closely with professional statisticians.

This would ensure the best methods were used when analysing the complex and often "messy" data on climate, the report said.

"We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians," the panel remarked in its conclusions.

The e-mails issue came to light in November last year, when hundreds of messages between CRU scientists and their peers around the world were posted on the world wide web, along with other documents.

Critics said that the e-mail exchanges revealed an attempt by the researchers involved to manipulate data.

But a recent House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report into the e-mails concluded that the scientists involved had no intention to deceive.

And Lord Oxburgh said that he hoped these further "resounding affirmations" of the unit's scientific practice would put those suspicions to bed.

He stated: "We found absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever. That doesn't mean that we agreed with all of their conclusions, but scientists people were doing their jobs honestly." …

'No malpractice' by climate unit

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nine new exoplanets found, some with retrograde and highly inclined orbits

Exoplanets, discovered by WASP together with ESO telescopes, that unexpectedly have been found to have retrograde orbits are shown here. In all cases the star is shown to scale, with its rotation axis pointing up and with realistic colours. The exoplanets are shown during the transit of their parent star, just before mid-transit. The last object at the lower right is for comparison and has a “normal” orbital direction. The size of each image is three solar diameters. (Credit: ESO / A. C. Cameron)

Astronomers have discovered nine new transiting exoplanets. Surprisingly, six out of a larger sample of 27 were found to be orbiting in the opposite direction to the rotation of their host star -- the exact reverse of what is seen in our own solar system.

"This is a real bomb we are dropping into the field of exoplanets," says Amaury Triaud, a PhD student at the Geneva Observatory who, with Andrew Cameron and Didier Queloz, leads a major part of the observational campaign.

Planets are thought to form in the disc of gas and dust encircling a young star. This proto-planetary disc rotates in the same direction as the star itself, and up to now it was expected that planets that form from the disc would all orbit in more or less the same plane, and that they would move along their orbits in the same direction as the star's rotation. This is the case for the planets in the Solar System.

After the initial detection of the nine new exoplanets [1] with the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP, [2]), the team of astronomers used the HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-metre ESO telescope at the La Silla observatory in Chile, along with data from the Swiss Euler telescope, also at La Silla, and data from other telescopes to confirm the discoveries and characterise the transiting exoplanets [3] found in both the new and older surveys.

Surprisingly, when the team combined the new data with older observations they found that more than half of all the hot Jupiters [4] studied have orbits that are misaligned with the rotation axis of their parent stars. They even found that six exoplanets in this extended study (of which two are new discoveries) have retrograde motion: they orbit their star in the "wrong" direction. …

Turning planetary theory upside down: Nine new exoplanets found, some with retrograde orbits

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Hexapod robot moves in the right direction by controlling chaos

By Larry Greenemeier

Given that robots generally lack muscles, they can't rely on muscle memory (the trick that allows our bodies to become familiar over time with movements such as walking or breathing) to help them more easily complete repetitive tasks. For autonomous robots, this can be a bit of a problem, since they may have to accommodate changing terrain in real time or risk getting stuck or losing their balance.

One way around this is to create a robot that can process information from a variety of sensors positioned near its "legs" and identify different patterns as it moves, a team of researchers report Sunday in Nature Physics. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)

Some scientists rely on small neural circuits called "central pattern generators" (CPG) to create walking robots that are aware of their surroundings. One of the challenges is that the robot typically needs a separate CPG for each leg in order to sense obstacles and take the appropriate action (such as stepping around a chair leg or over a rock). …

Hexapod robot moves in the right direction by controlling chaos

Confidential document reveals Obama's hardline US climate talk strategy

Document outlines key messages the Obama administration wants to convey in the run-up to UN climate talks in Mexico in November

The document outlines key messages the Obama administration wants to convey in the run-up to UN climate talks in Mexico in November. Photograph: Anja Niedringhaus / AP

By John Vidal in Bonn, Monday 12 April 2010 10.05 BST   

A document accidentally left on a European hotel computer and passed to the Guardian reveals the US government's increasingly controversial strategy in the global UN climate talks.

Titled Strategic communications objectives and dated 11 March 2010, it outlines the key messages that the Obama administration wants to convey to its critics and to the world media in the run-up to the vital UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico in November. (You can read the document text below).

Top of the list of objectives is to: "Reinforce the perception that the US is constructively engaged in UN negotiations in an effort to produce a global regime to combat climate change." It also talks of "managing expectations" of the outcome of the Cancun meeting and bypassing traditional media outlets by using podcasts and "intimate meetings" with the chief US negotiator to disarm the US's harsher critics.

But the key phrase is in paragraph three where the author writes: "Create a clear understanding of the CA's [Copenhagen accord's] standing and the importance of operationalising ALL elements."

This is the clearest signal that the US will refuse to negotiate on separate elements of the controversial accord, but intends to push it through the UN process as a single "take it or leave it" text. The accord is the last-minute agreement reached at the chaotic Copenhagen summit in December. Over 110 countries are now "associated" with the accord but it has not been adopted by the 192-nation UN climate convention. The US has denied aid to some countries that do not support the accord. …

Confidential document reveals Obama's hardline US climate talk strategy

Southern California Edison blankets roofs with solar panels

Workers install solar panels on a warehouse rooftop in California. Eventually there will be 33,700 on the structure. Courtesy of Southern California Edison

By Julie Schmit, USA TODAY

FONTANA, Calif. — The view from a warehouse roof here is consistent. In every direction, there are blocks and blocks of warehouse roofs baking in the Southern California sun. Rather than letting them sit bare, a California utility hopes to blanket roofs like these with solar panels to produce enough electricity to power 162,000 homes.

Southern California Edison has installed solar on two warehouse roofs and is working on another in the Los Angeles region. The utility expects to do 100 to 125 more, totaling about 1.5 square miles of roof space in the next five years.

The program, in which the utility owns the solar, is the largest of its kind in the nation, not surprising since California is the No. 1 solar market. But utilities in other states, including North Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona and New Jersey, have smaller plans to rent roofs for their own mini-solar-power plants, too.

The phenomenon, while in its infancy, presents another way for solar to spread in a bigger way than it has historically done when home and business owners put solar on roofs. The deep-pocketed utilities are planning bigger installations. Yet the systems don't consume green land or require new power-transmission links, as do some massive solar farms planned for deserts in California, Arizona and Nevada. As such, rooftop solar is likely to face fewer environmental hurdles than the farms and can get permits and be built much faster. …

Southern California Edison blankets roofs with solar panels

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

MIT researchers harness viruses to split water

Crucial step toward turning water into hydrogen fuel

M13 bacteriophage CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A team of MIT researchers has found a novel way to mimic the process by which plants use the power of sunlight to split water and make chemical fuel to power their growth. In this case, the team used a modified virus as a kind of biological scaffold that can assemble the nanoscale components needed to split a water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Splitting water is one way to solve the basic problem of solar energy: It's only available when the sun shines. By using sunlight to make hydrogen from water, the hydrogen can then be stored and used at any time to generate electricity using a fuel cell, or to make liquid fuels (or be used directly) for cars and trucks.

Other researchers have made systems that use electricity, which can be provided by solar panels, to split water molecules, but the new biologically based system skips the intermediate steps and uses sunlight to power the reaction directly. The advance is described in a paper published on April 11 in Nature Nanotechnology.

The team, led by Angela Belcher, the Germeshausen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biological Engineering, engineered a common, harmless bacterial virus called M13 so that it would attract and bind with molecules of a catalyst (the team used iridium oxide) and a biological pigment (zinc porphyrins). The viruses became wire-like devices that could very efficiently split the oxygen from water molecules.

Over time, however, the virus-wires would clump together and lose their effectiveness, so the researchers added an extra step: encapsulating them in a microgel matrix, so they maintained their uniform arrangement and kept their stability and efficiency.

While hydrogen obtained from water is the gas that would be used as a fuel, the splitting of oxygen from water is the more technically challenging "half-reaction" in the process, Belcher explains, so her team focused on this part. Plants and cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae), she says, "have evolved highly organized photosynthetic systems for the efficient oxidation of water." Other researchers have tried to use the photosynthetic parts of plants directly for harnessing sunlight, but these materials can have structural stability issues.

Belcher decided that instead of borrowing plants' components, she would borrow their methods. In plant cells, natural pigments are used to absorb sunlight, while catalysts then promote the water-splitting reaction. That's the process Belcher and her team, including doctoral student Yoon Sung Nam, the lead author of the new paper, decided to imitate.

In the team's system, the viruses simply act as a kind of scaffolding, causing the pigments and catalysts to line up with the right kind of spacing to trigger the water-splitting reaction. The role of the pigments is "to act as an antenna to capture the light," Belcher explains, "and then transfer the energy down the length of the virus, like a wire. The virus is a very efficient harvester of light, with these porphyrins attached.

"We use components people have used before," she adds, "but we use biology to organize them for us, so you get better efficiency." …

MIT researchers harness viruses to split water

Friday, April 9, 2010

George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent’

Two detainees are escorted to interrogation by US military guards at Guantánamo Bay (Andres Leighton / AP).

By Tim Reid, Washington

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Colonel Wilkerson, who was General Powell’s chief of staff when he ran the State Department, was most critical of Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld. He claimed that the former Vice-President and Defence Secretary knew that the majority of the initial 742 detainees sent to Guantánamo in 2002 were innocent but believed that it was “politically impossible to release them”.

General Powell, who left the Bush Administration in 2005, angry about the misinformation that he unwittingly gave the world when he made the case for the invasion of Iraq at the UN, is understood to have backed Colonel Wilkerson’s declaration.

Colonel Wilkerson, a long-time critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to counter-terrorism and the war in Iraq, claimed that the majority of detainees — children as young as 12 and men as old as 93, he said — never saw a US soldier when they were captured. He said that many were turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis for up to $5,000. Little or no evidence was produced as to why they had been taken.

He also claimed that one reason Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld did not want the innocent detainees released was because “the detention efforts would be revealed as the incredibly confused operation that they were”. This was “not acceptable to the Administration and would have been severely detrimental to the leadership at DoD [Mr Rumsfeld at the Defence Department]”.

Referring to Mr Cheney, Colonel Wilkerson, who served 31 years in the US Army, asserted: “He had absolutely no concern that the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent ... If hundreds of innocent individuals had to suffer in order to detain a handful of hardcore terrorists, so be it.”

He alleged that for Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld “innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader War on Terror and the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks”.

He added: “I discussed the issue of the Guantánamo detainees with Secretary Powell. I learnt that it was his view that it was not just Vice-President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld, but also President Bush who was involved in all of the Guantánamo decision making.”

George W. Bush 'knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent'

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Exotic antimatter detected at Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)

Scientists report discovery of heaviest known antinucleus and first antinucleus containing an anti-strange quark, laying the first stake in a new frontier of physics

This diagram is known as the 3-D chart of the nuclides. The familiar Periodic Table arranges the elements according to their atomic number, Z, which determines the chemical properties of each element. The vertical axis represents strangeness, S, which is zero for all naturally occurring matter, but could be non-zero in the core of collapsed stars. Antinuclei lie at negative Z and N in the above chart, and the newly discovered antinucleus (magenta) extends the 3-D chart into the region of strange antimatter.

UPTON, NY — An international team of scientists studying high-energy collisions of gold ions at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a 2.4-mile-circumference particle accelerator located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, has published evidence of the most massive antinucleus discovered to date. The new antinucleus, discovered at RHIC’s STAR detector, is a negatively charged state of antimatter containing an antiproton, an antineutron, and an anti-Lambda particle. It is also the first antinucleus containing an anti-strange quark. The results will be published online by Science Express on March 4, 2010.

“This experimental discovery may have unprecedented consequences for our view of the world,” commented theoretical physicist Horst Stoecker, Vice President of the Helmholtz Association of German National Laboratories. “This antimatter pushes open the door to new dimensions in the nuclear chart — an idea that just a few years ago, would have been viewed as impossible.”

The discovery may help elucidate models of neutron stars and opens up exploration of fundamental asymmetries in the early universe.

All terrestrial nuclei are made of protons and neutrons (which in turn contain only up and down quarks). The standard Periodic Table of Elements is arranged according to the number of protons, which determine each element’s chemical properties. Physicists use a more complex, three-dimensional chart to also convey information on the number of neutrons, which may change in different isotopes of the same element, and a quantum number known as “strangeness,” which depends on the presence of strange quarks (see diagram). Nuclei containing one or more strange quarks are called hypernuclei.

For all ordinary matter, with no strange quarks, the strangeness value is zero and the chart is flat. Hypernuclei appear above the plane of the chart. The new discovery of strange antimatter with an antistrange quark (an antihypernucleus) marks the first entry below the plane. …

Exotic Antimatter Detected at Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC)

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Climate-change skeptics have it wrong: memo from scientists to Canada environment minister

People stop to look at a snow-covered 'Cool Globe' part of an exhibition about combating global warming and climate change in the Kongens Nytorv area in the center of Copenhagen on December 19, 2009 at the end of the COP15 UN Climate Change Conference. Photograph by: Getty Images

By Mike De Souza, Canwest News Service
April 5, 2010 7:02 AM

OTTAWA — Canadian scientists from six different federal departments have shot down a recent controversy that raised doubts about whether humans are causing global warming and have urged the government to base its climate-change policies on peer-reviewed research.

In a memorandum, prepared for Environment Minister Jim Prentice prior to his participation at the Copenhagen conference last December, the top-ranking official at Environment Canada said a controversy surrounding stolen e-mails from a climate-research centre in the United Kingdom does not call into question the reliability of the science.

The personal e-mails exchanged by climate scientists wound up in the hands of special-interest groups who say they are skeptical about peer-reviewed research that concludes humans are causing global warming. Many skeptics, including Conservative MPs such as Maxime Bernier and Colin Mayes, have suggested the messages in the e-mails prove a massive conspiracy to manipulate or hide evidence by climate scientists.

But in the memorandum obtained by Canwest News Service, Environment Canada's deputy minister, Ian Shugart, suggested the skeptics had it wrong. He explained the scientific information in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest assessment of climate-change research was still the best reference tool for the negotiations.

"Recent media reports in the aftermath of the hacking incident at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia . . . has raised some concerns about the reliability and robustness of some of the science considered in the (fourth assessment of climate science released in 2007 by the) IPCC," said the memorandum to Prentice from his deputy minister, released following an Access to Information request by the Pembina Institute, an environmental research group.

"Despite these developments, the department continues to view the IPCC (fourth assessment) as the most comprehensive and rigorous source of scientific information for climate-change negotiations." …

Climate-change skeptics have it wrong, memo to minister says

Pakistan moves further toward democracy; could become a role model for other Muslim states

“None of these achievements is being praised by the right-of-center US press or the liberal imperialists.  That is because the United States did not spur these developments. The Pakistani public (including humble street crowds) did it themselves, and if anything the US was nervous about losing its favorite military dictator and terrified that democracy would bring instability…”

The Pakistani government on Friday tabled a proposed 18th amendment to the constitution, which if enacted will be an enormous advance toward democratization in the country.

I was watching Bill Maher last week and Christopher Hitchens remarked on the Iraqi elections that they "didn't used to happen" under Saddam Hussein. Likewise, free elections did not happen under Gen. Zia ul-Haq in 1980s Pakistan, or in 1999-2007 under Gen. Pervez Musharraf. And in the 1990s, presidents kept using the martial law amendments to the constitution of Gen. Zia to arbitrarily dismiss elected prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

But US hawks and Neoconservatives are not celebrating this epochal bill in Pakistan. I ask myself why.

I think it is because Neoconservatism and the arguments of all those who favor democratization at the barrel of a gun are fundamentally Orientalist in character. In some ways they go back to Karl Marx, who in his journalism on India argued that the capitalist British Empire was necessary to shake Indian villages out of their millennia-long sluggishness, from which they could never escape on their own.

During the past 3 years, the Pakistani public has demonstrated repeatedly and on a large scale in favor of the rule of law and the reinstatement of the Supreme Court justices dismissed by dictator Gen. Musharraf. Mind you, they are making a case for civil law and the civil supreme court, not for sharia or Islamic law. They voted in the center-left Pakistan People's Party in February 2008, and the return to parliamentary rule ultimately, in August 2008, allowed the political parties to unite to toss out of office Gen. Musharraf, who had had himself declared a civilian 'president' and was in danger of being impeached for alleged corruption.

That is, the Pakistani public has conducted a 'color revolution' of its own, in the teeth of opposition or skittishness in Washington, and managed to overturn a military dictatorship that had been backed to the hilt by Bush-Cheney, restoring parliamentary governance. …

Pakistan Moves Further Toward Democracy; Could become a Role Model for Other Muslim states

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

National Catholic Reporter: Pope needs to answer questions on child rape

We now face the largest institutional crisis in centuries, possibly in church history

Peter Isely, left, speaks to journalists as Barbara Blaine displays a picture of herself as a child and a banner saying, 'Expose the Truth! Stop Secrecy,' as they take part in a demonstration against child sexual abuse by clergy, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican March 25. (CNS photo / Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

Mar. 26, 2010
An NCR Editorial

The Holy Father needs to directly answer questions, in a credible forum, about his role -- as archbishop of Munich (1977-82), as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (1982-2005), and as pope (2005-present) -- in the mismanagement of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

We urge this not primarily as journalists seeking a story, but as Catholics who appreciate that extraordinary circumstances require an extraordinary response. Nothing less than a full, personal and public accounting will begin to address the crisis that is engulfing the worldwide church. It is that serious.

To date, as revelations about administrative actions resulting in the shifting of clergy abusers from parish to parish emerge throughout Europe, Pope Benedict XVI's personal response has been limited to a letter to the Irish church. Such epistles are customary and necessary, but insufficient.

With the further revelations March 26 by The New York Times that memos and meeting minutes exist showing that Benedict had to be at least minimally informed that an abuser priest was coming into the archdiocese of Munich and that he further had been assigned without restrictions to pastoral duties, it becomes even more difficult to reconcile the strong language of the pope in his letter to Irish bishops and his own conduct while head of a major see.

No longer can the Vatican simply issue papal messages -- subject to nearly infinite interpretations and highly nuanced constructions -- that are passively "received" by the faithful. No longer can secondary Vatican officials, those who serve the pope, issue statements and expect them to be accepted at face value.

We were originally told by Vatican officials, for example, that in the matter of Fr. Peter Hullermann, Munich Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger approved the priest's transfer to the archdiocese, but had no role in the priest's return to parish ministry, where he again molested children. Rather, it was Fr. Gerhard Gruber, archdiocesan vicar general at the time, who, according to a March 12 Vatican statement, has taken "full responsibility" for restoring the priest to ministry. Gruber, subsequent to his statement, has not made himself available for questions.

We are told, moreover, that the case of Hullermann is the single instance during Ratzinger's tenure in Munich where a sexually errant priest was relocated to a parish where he could molest again. If true, this would be a great exception to what, in the two-and-a-half decades NCR has covered clergy abuse in the church, has been an ironclad rule: Where there is one instance of hierarchical administrative malfeasance, there are more.

Given memos and minutes placing the pope amid the discussions of the matter, we are asked to suspend disbelief even further. …

Credibility gap: Pope needs to answer questions

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Missing link between man and apes found

 Homo habilis lived 2.0-1.6 million years ago and had a wide distribution in Africa. Photo: SPL

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent
Published: 9:00PM BST 03 Apr 2010

A "missing link" between humans and their apelike ancestors has been discovered.

The new species of hominid, the evolutionary branch of primates that includes humans, is to be revealed when the two-million-year-old skeleton of a child is unveiled this week.

Scientists believe the almost-complete fossilised skeleton belonged to a previously-unknown type of early human ancestor that may have been a intermediate stage as ape-men evolved into the first species of advanced humans, Homo habilis.

Experts who have seen the skeleton say it shares characteristics with Homo habilis, whose emergence 2.5 million years ago is seen as a key stage in the evolution of our species.

The new discovery could help to rewrite the history of human evolution by filling in crucial gaps in the scientific knowledge.

Most fossilised hominid remains are little more than scattered fragments of bone, so the discovery of an almost-complete skeleton will allow scientists to answer key questions about what our early ancestors looked like and when they began walking upright on two legs.

Palaeontologists and human evolutionary experts behind the discovery have remained silent about the exact details of what they have uncovered, but the scientific community is already abuzz with anticipation of the announcement of the find when it is made on Thursday.

The skeleton was found by Professor Lee Berger, from the University of the Witwatersrand, while exploring cave systems in the Sterkfontein region of South Africa, near Johannesburg, an area known as "the Cradle of Humanity".

The find is deemed to be so significant that Jacob Zuma, the South African president, has visited the university to view the fossils and a major media campaign with television documentaries is planned.

Professor Phillip Tobias, an eminent human anatomist and anthropologist at the university who was one of three experts to first identify Homo habilis as a new species of human in 1964, described the latest discovery as "wonderful" and "exciting". …

Missing link between man and apes found

Canada approves Enviropig™ -- piglets inherit genetic modifications for cleaner manure

pig genetic alteration is inherited photo

 Image: Scott Bauer, ARS.USDA

Piglets Inherit Genetic Modification Canada has approved limited production of animals dubbed "enviropigs™," a genetically modified breed of pigs producing up to 65% less phosphorous in pig poo and urine. The pigs pass the genetic modification along to their young, as well. The very idea that a genetically modified animal rates the moniker "enviro-" points to the severity of the issue addressed by the science behind these pigs. Phosphorous is a fertilizer. Phosphorous in animal and human wastes runs off or discharges to surface waters, where it spurs large algal blooms. The algae use up the oxygen in the water, leaving behind a "dead zone," an area of lake, river, or ocean where nothing can live due to the hypoxic conditions. …

Canada Approves Enviropig™, Piglets Inherit Genetic Modifications for Clean Manure

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Microbial answer to plastic pollution in the oceans?

These are microbes from the coastal seabed attached to plastic, as seen through a microscope. (Credit: Jesse Harrison)

ScienceDaily (Mar. 31, 2010) — Fragments of plastic in the ocean are not just unsightly but potentially lethal to marine life. Coastal microbes may offer a smart solution to clean up plastic contamination, according to Jesse Harrison presenting his research at the Society for General Microbiology's spring meeting in Edinburgh.

The researchers from the University of Sheffield and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science have shown that the combination of marine microbes that can grow on plastic waste varies significantly from microbial groups that colonise surfaces in the wider environment. This raises the possibility that the plastic-associated marine microbes have different activities that could contribute to the breakdown of these plastics or the toxic chemicals associated with them.

Plastic waste is a long-term problem as its breakdown in the environment may require thousands of years. "Plastics form a daily part of our lives and are treated as disposable by consumers. As such plastics comprise the most abundant and rapidly growing component of man-made litter entering the oceans," explained Jesse Harrison.

Over time the size of plastic fragments in the oceans decreases as a result of exposure to natural forces. Tiny fragments of 5 mm or less are called "microplastics" and are particularly dangerous as they can absorb toxic chemicals which are transported to marine animals when ingested. …

Microbial Answer to Plastic Pollution?

Friday, April 2, 2010

James Cameron, in real life, fights to save indigenous groups from massive dam construction in Brazil

By Jeremy Hance,
April 01, 2010

After creating a hugely successful science-fiction film about a mega-corporation destroying the indigenous culture of another planet, James Cameron has become a surprisingly noteworthy voice on environmental issues, especially those dealing with the very non-fantastical situation of indigenous cultures fighting exploitation.

This week Cameron traveled to Brazil for a three-day visit to the Big Bend (Volta Grande) region of the Xingu River to see the people and rainforests that would be affected by the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam. Long-condemned by environmentalists and indigenous-rights groups, the dam would destroy 500 square kilometers of pristine rainforest and force the relocation of some 12,000 people.

"For people living on the banks of the river, as they have for thousands of years, the damage done (by the dam) would destroy their way of life," Cameron said in a press conference following his trip, according to Agencia EFE. He asked the Lula Administration of Brazil to reconsider their decision to build the dam.

"There are always other solutions when good leaders play their part to solve a problem," added Cameron.

Earlier at a Forum in Manuas, Cameron pointed to a WWF Brazil study: "If Brazil were to invest a fraction of the cost of the dam in energy efficiency it could generate 14 times the energy of the Belo Monte Dam and have electricity savings of up to US$19 billion."

During his trip, Cameron met with several representatives of indigenous groups including the Juruna, Xipaia, Xikrin Kayapó. …

James Cameron, in real life, fights to save indigenous groups from massive dam construction in Brazil

Researchers conclude 100 per cent renewable electricity supply is feasible

European report "debunks" criticism of renewable energy supplies as unreliable and costly

Solar farm

By James Murray, BusinessGreen, 29 Mar 2010

Europe could generate all the electricity it needs from renewable sources by the middle of the century, according to a major new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) that rejects concerns about the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources.

The report – which was contributed to by researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the European Climate Forum – concludes it is technically feasible to produce a pan-continental supersmart grid powered by solar farms in North Africa, hydro electric plants in Scandinavia and the European Alps, onshore and offshore wind farms in the Baltic and North Sea, marine energy, and biomass power facilities.

Richard Gledhill, partner for sustainability and climate change at PwC, said the report "debunks some of the conventional criticisms of large-scale renewables" by demonstrating how "geographic and technological diversification can help address cost and security of supply concerns".

Significantly, the report predicts that the rapid deployment of renewable energy capacity at scale will bring down the cost of low-carbon technologies, resulting in energy that is cost competitive and can provide affordable electricity across the region.

The report accepts that nuclear power and carbon capture and storage are also likely to play a central role in decarbonising Europe's electricity supply, but argues that renewable energy could meet all the continent's electricity requirements if need be. "The technological capability for developing renewable forms of power generation is already in place, or emerging and envisaged, and the economics of the key technologies is improving, albeit in a difficult financing environment," it states.

The study includes a policy road map which outlines how Europe's leaders could transition away from fossil fuel-based power over the next four decades. ...

Researchers conclude 100 per cent renewable electricity supply is feasible

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Toads can 'predict earthquakes' and seismic activity

Common toads sense earthquake danger 

By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News 

Common toads appear to be able to sense an impending earthquake and will flee their colony days before the seismic activity strikes.

The evidence comes from a population of toads which left their breeding colony three days before an earthquake that struck L'Aquila in Italy in 2009.

How toads sensed the quake is unclear, but most breeding pairs and males fled.

They reacted despite the colony being 74km from the quake's epicentre, say biologists in the Journal of Zoology.

It is hard to objectively and quantifiably study how animals respond to seismic activity, in part because earthquakes are rare and unpredictable.

Some studies have been done on how domestic animals respond, but measuring the response of wild animals is more difficult. …

 Toads can 'predict earthquakes' and seismic activity

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