Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Extinction cascades can be prevented, scientists find

Rescuing ecosystems. Diagram by Zina Deretsky courtesy National Science Foundation via

EVANSTON, Illinois, January 25, 2011 (ENS) - Extinction cascades are often observed following the loss of a key species within an ecosystem. As the system changes to compensate for the loss, availability of food, territory and other resources to each of the remaining species can fluctuate wildly, creating a boom-or-bust environment that can lead to even more extinctions.

New research at Northwestern University has found that more than 70 percent of these extinctions are preventable, assuming that the ecosystem can be brought into balance and no new factors are introduced.

Northwestern University physics professor Adilson Motter and his student, Sagar Sahasrabudhe, have developed a mathematical model to describe interactions within ecological food webs that could rescue fragile ecosystems and halt complex cascade events.

Published in the January 25 issue of the journal Nature Communications, their study illustrates how human intervention may be effective in species conservation.

"Our study provides a theoretical basis for management efforts that would aim to mitigate extinction cascades in food web networks," Motter said.

The scientists found evidence that some extinctions are caused not by a primary disturbance but as the result of a cascade.

"We find that extinction cascades can often be mitigated by suppressing, rather than enhancing, the populations of specific species," he said.

Motter and his team conclude that large-scale failures can be avoided by focusing on preventing the waves of failure that follow the initial event. …

Extinction Cascades Can Be Prevented, Scientists Find

Waxman presses climate skeptic on industry funds

January 25, 2011, 12:58 pm

In February 2009, Patrick Michaels, a former climatologist at the University of Virginia who is now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, appeared before a House subcommittee to testify on the issue of climate change.

He stated that current climate models “can no longer be relied upon” in predicting future warming and that drastic action to curb emissions was unwarranted — conclusions welcomed by Republicans already disinclined to support the Democrats’ cap-and-trade bill, which was approved by the House that June.

Now Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat who served as chairman of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce and co-sponsored the bill, is demanding answers on whether the scientist misled the committee on the sources of his financing.

Along with his written testimony for the 2009 hearing, Dr. Michaels submitted to Congress a document detailing roughly $4.2 million in funds he has received for his scientific work. Only 3 percent of the funding listed came from energy-sector sources.

After the hearing, Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont — citing reports that Dr. Michaels had received substantial funds from the coal, oil and gas industry — questioned him on the record about what he received from the energy sector, but he declined to amend his statements.

During an appearance on CNN last year, however, Dr. Michaels was pressed on the sources of his funding by Fareed Zakaria.

“Can I ask you what percentage of your work is funded by the petroleum industry?” Mr. Zakaria said.

“I don’t know — 40 percent? I don’t know,” Dr. Michaels responded.

The interview, which was recorded in August but appears to have only recently come to Mr. Waxman’s attention, elicited a sharp response from the former committee chairman. In a letter to his Republican successor as chairman, Fred Upton of Michigan, Mr. Waxman demanded an inquiry into whether Dr. Michaels deceived Congress about his financial background.

“It would be a serious matter if Dr. Michaels misled the committee about his financial backers and evaded Representative Welch’s attempt to seek clarification,” Mr. Waxman wrote.

“I hope you will agree that all witnesses need to provide accurate disclosures to the Committee and will work with me in resolving the issues raised by Dr. Michaels’s testimony,” he added.

Dr. Michaels did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

In an e-mail to Politico, a Republican committee aide wrote that under Mr. Upton’s leadership, the committee would “adhere to both the letter and the spirit of truth-in-testimony requirements and other committee rules and practices.”

Waxman Presses Climate Skeptic on Industry Funds

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Incredible Sahara Forest Project moves from concept to reality with major development deal

Latest visualisation for Sahara Forest Project demonstration centre in Aqaba Jordan by the Red Sea. Image via Exploration Architecture

By Leonora Oppenheim, London, UK 

There's great news for sustainable design innovation this week as the Sahara Forest Project gets backing from a development deal between Norway and Jordan. We wrote about this incredible proposal to create carbon neutral energy, fresh water, food and fuel crops through symbiotic technologies back in 2008. Now, after years of hard work and persistence from the collaborative Sahara Forest Project team, this large scale concept is going to become a big reality. Here is the new vision...

A quick recap of the Sahara Forest Project
The Sahara Forest Project proposes to use two separate technologies together, Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and Seawater Greenhouses, to provide an array of sustainable energy and agricultural solutions, in the usually inhospitable desert environment, through the desalination of seawater into freshwater.

International Collaboration between Norway and Jordan
After joining forces with the Norwegian environmental group the Bellona Foundation in 2009 The Sahara Forest Project team, including biomimicry architect Michael Pawlyn, Seawater Greenhouse designer Charlie Paton and structural engineer Bill Watts, presented their proposal at COP15.

Having been well received in Copenhagen the fast rising profile of the project lead to an audience with Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan in Oslo in June 2010. The King was so impressed he invited the SFP team to visit Jordan in October 2010 to scope out a feasibility study. The result of these fast moving developments is the deal that was signed last week between Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and The Sahara Forest Project in Amman, Jordan.

A Test and Demonstration Centre in Jordan
The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) is the catchy name for the Jordanian Government's strategic development zone by the Red Sea. A perfect location for the Sahara Forest Project, which needs to be located very specifically near the coastline in order to pump seawater to the power plant. …

Incredible Sahara Forest Project Moves From Concept To Reality With Major Development Deal

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WikiLeaks reveals international intrigue over science and environment

A Japanese harpoon ship pursues a Sea Shepherd inflatable boat. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society / Flickr

By Brandon Keim Email Author
January 12, 2011 

While most of the attention around WikiLeaks' diplomatic cable release involved high-profile geopolitical intrigue, some of the documents involved science and the environment.

Sea Shepherd Whale Deal

The latest of these, reported Jan. 6 by the Guardian newspaper, involve discussions in late 2009 and early 2010 between the United States and Japan over Sea Shepherd, an antiwhaling group that has fought Japan's ongoing hunts on the open seas.

Japan, admitting that Sea Shepherd had effectively limited its kills, asked the United States to investigate the group. The United States agreed and asked Japan to lower its quotas, and to help negotiate lower quotas with Iceland, another whale-killing nation.

The United States eventually asked the International Whaling Commission to pass laws to "guarantee security in the seas," a veiled reference to groups like Sea Shepherd. According to the Guardian, Great Britain and other European countries defeated the proposal. …

WikiLeaks Reveals International Intrigue Over Science and Environment

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Trial of British climate protesters collapses as police provocateur revealed

Constable Mark Kennedy in his undercover role as Mark Stone. The tattooed environmentalist, known to fellow activists as 'Flash' because of his supply of ready money, had a secret: he was an undercover policeman who had spent years infiltrating the movement. British prosecutors on Monday, 10 January 2010, dropped charges against six environmental protesters after their lawyer said Kennedy had offered to help the accused.

Associated Press
Monday, January 10, 2011 8:23 am

The tattooed environmentalist, known to fellow activists as "Flash" because of his supply of ready money, had a secret – he was an undercover policeman who had spent years infiltrating the movement.

At some point, Constable Mark Kennedy had second thoughts about his mission.

British prosecutors on Monday dropped charges against six environmental protesters after their lawyer said Kennedy had offered to help the accused.

Activists and politicians called for an investigation into the clandestine police operation, saying Kennedy had played a key role in organizing and encouraging the protest that led to the arrests.

The defendants' lawyer, Mike Schwarz, said the case raised "serious questions" about the role of the police.

"One expects there to be undercover police on serious operations to investigate serious crime," he said. "This was quite the opposite. This is civil disobedience which has a long history in this country and should be protected."

The defendants were picked up in a controversial sweep of 114 activists in 2009 and charged with plotting to shut down one of Britain's biggest power stations.

Their trial had been due to start Monday, but at the last minute, public prosecutors said new information had come to light that "significantly undermined the prosecution's case."

The Crown Prosecution Service said in a statement that there was "no longer sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction." The charges were formally dropped at a court hearing in Nottingham, central England.

Schwarz said the trial collapsed after attorneys pressed for information about the role of Kennedy, who spent several years inside the protest group. Schwarz said Kennedy had been "willing to speak to me with a view to assisting the defense."

"It is no coincidence that, just 48 hours after we told (prosecutors) our clients could not receive a fair trial unless they disclosed material about Kennedy, they halted the prosecution," he said. …

Trial of British climate protesters collapses

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

We can feed 9 billion people in 2050

INRA international.inra.frBy Debora Mackenzie
17:16 11 January 2011

The 9 billion people projected to inhabit the Earth by 2050 need not starve in order to preserve the environment, says a major report on sustainability out this week.

Agrimonde describes the findings of a huge five-year modelling exercise by the French national agricultural and development research agencies, INRA and CIRAD. It is the second report on sustainability launched this week to provide a healthy dose of good news.

The French team began with a goal – 3000 calories per day for everyone, including 500 from animal sources – then ran a global food model repeatedly, with and without environmental limits on farming. The aim was to see how the calorie goal could be achieved.

"We found three main conditions," says Hervé Guyomard of INRA. "The biggest surprise was that some regions will depend even more on imports", even as their production rises. This, he says, means that we will need to find ways to counter excessive fluctuations in world prices so that imports are not hindered.

In addition, says Guyomard, "the rich must stop consuming so much". He points out that food amounting to 800 calories is lost per person each day as waste in richer nations.

The model suggested that realistic yield increases could feed everyone, even as farms take measures to protect the environment, such as preserving forests or cutting down on the use of fossil fuels. The key will be to tailor detailed solutions to different regions.

These are the main challenges for research, says Guyomard. For example, high-yield farming typically means large expanses of one crop, which encourages crop diseases and requires more pesticides.

Instead, researchers could find ways for farmers to raise yields while maintaining biodiversity. Guyomard says food scientists will need to organise globally, as climate scientists have done.

We can feed 9 billion people in 2050

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Are superconductors finally coming of age?

Amperium wire architecture: Transmission electron micrograph of yttria nanodots in the YCBO matrix.

By Stephen Lacey, Editor
January 6, 2011 

Massachusetts -- Every technology must compete against an incumbent: Transistors fought vacuum tubes; optical fibers fought copper wires in communications; and today, superconductors are facing off against copper cables in the electricity transmission space. 

Superconductor technologies have made significant advancements in the last decade; however, there are still some hurdles to get over before they are implemented en masse.

At very low temperatures – between -320 degrees F (-196 C) and -460 degrees F (-273 C) – certain metal and ceramic materials conduct electricity with virtually no resistance. Wires made of these superconducting materials can transmit 100-150 times more electricity than traditional copper wires without any losses in efficiency. (Wires that operate in the -320 degree F range are called “high-temperature” superconductors, or HTS).

Scientists have known about superconductivity since the early 1900's. But it's only in recent years that companies have produced wires and cables that are becoming cost-competitive with traditional technologies.

Greg Yurek, CEO of American Superconductor (AMSC), thinks that the time is right for HTS technologies to penetrate the market. Last year, the company received an order for 10 million feet (3 million meters) of wire from the South Korean company LS Cable. This is the first in a series of orders that could bring more than 30 miles of superconductor cable to South Korea. The company expects numerous orders to come from China in the coming years as well.

“I think it's a marker of the transition into the age of superconductors,” says Yurek.

On a wire to wire basis, superconductors can cost multiples more than copper. But on the system level – when factoring in capacity, lifetime, efficiency and maintenance – Yurek says that superconducting cables are cost-competitive with conventional cables. And because they're buried underground, HTS cables avoid problems associated with weather or visual impact. ...

Are Superconductors Finally Coming of Age?

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dow Chemical pushing for sustainable Olympic Games


The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE:DOW), chairman and CEO Andrew Liveris announced today that the Company has become an official Worldwide Olympic Partner as part of The Olympic Partners Program (TOP).

As the official “Chemistry Company” of the Olympic Movement, Dow will partner with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and National Olympic Committees around the world through 2020.

“With our long-standing commitment to global sustainability, innovation, scientific excellence and addressing world challenges, we believe Dow is perfectly matched to the vision of the Olympic Movement, which is about peace, progress and the world coming together to celebrate our common humanity,” said Liveris. “In addition, our association with the Olympics will present Dow with tremendous new business opportunities, making this partnership a powerful growth catalyst that comes at the right time in our Company's strategic transformation.”

IOC president Dr. Jacques Rogge joined Liveris at today's press conference to unveil the joint logo - joining Dow's red diamond with the Olympic rings - and to welcome Dow as the newest member of the TOP program.

“We are delighted to welcome Dow to the TOP Program,” said Dr. Rogge. “As a global leader in the chemical industry and an innovator in sustainability, Dow will provide much more than critical financial support to the Olympic Movement. They will also bring industry-leading expertise and innovation to the Games themselves. Dow will be an important partner in making our vision for sustainability and global cooperation a reality.” …

The Dow Chemical Company Becomes Worldwide Olympic Partner via Shades of Green

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