Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sustainability news for the week ending 10/15/11


Yes, I eventually got around to reinstituting the sustainability news linkspams. With the revival of the series, I've replaced the sustainability spheres logo I was using before with the new one I promised I'd use a long time ago. Note that I've moved technology from the environment section to the economy section, in accordance with the new logo.

Most of the stories below were orginally posted in Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Sweetest Day 2011 edition) on Daily Kos.

General Sustainability

Agence France Presse via BP, Transocean, Halliburton cited for violations
October 13, 2011
The US government slapped BP, Transocean and Halliburton with citations for violating oil industry regulations in what is expected to lead to massive fines for the deadly 2010 oil spill.

The decision to also cite BP's subcontractors could strengthen the British energy giant's legal case for recovering some of the multi-billion dollar costs of the spill from Halliburton, which performed the cement job, and drilling rig owner Transocean.

"The issuance today of notices of non-compliance to BP, Transocean and Halliburton makes clear that contractors, like operators, are responsible for properly conducting their deepwater drilling activities and are accountable to the US government and the American public for their conduct," BP said in a statement.

"We continue to encourage other parties, including Transocean and Halliburton, to acknowledge their responsibilities in the accident, make changes to help prevent similar accidents in the future, and step forward to fulfill their obligations to Gulf communities."
This story is really at the intersection of society and economics, but I used it as the headline story on Daily Kos last night, so it gets pride of place here.

Daily Kos: Scientists Revolt
by notdarkyet
Why do Republicans even spend money on scientific studies when they don’t believe in science? Do they have them done just so they can do some creative writing in the name of science, like they did with history? If that was the intention of Texas’ attempt to purge a scientific study on Galveston Bay of the words “climate change”, then they have set in motion the law of unintended consequences. Scientists are revolting at being made climate change denial pawns in disregard to the evidence.
Science, politics, and economics all intersect in this diary, which quotes an article in The Guardian.

Environment, including science

McGill University (Canada) via Feeding the world while protecting the planet
October 12, 2011
The problem is stark: One billion people on earth don't have enough food right now. It's estimated that by 2050 there will be more than nine billion people living on the planet.

Meanwhile, current agricultural practices are amongst the biggest threats to the global environment. This means that if we don't develop more sustainable practices, the planet will become even less able to feed its growing population than it is today.

But now a team of researchers from Canada, the U.S., Sweden and Germany has come up with a plan to double the world's food production while reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture. Their findings were recently published in the journal Nature.
The suggestions are as much about economic policy as they are about science, so up at the top in the "starting the circle" position this article goes.

Michigan Technological University via Ecosystem management must consider human impact too
By Jennifer Donovan
October 14, 2011
For a long time, ecologists have believed—and others accepted—that when it comes to whether a land mass is covered with forests or grasslands, climate controls the show. They thought that the amount of rain, temperature and frequency of wildfires determine whether the ground will be covered with trees or grasses.

Maybe not, say two scientists writing in the Oct. 14, 2011, issue of the journal Science. In a review of their papers in a Perspectives article in the same issue of Science, Michigan Technological University researcher Audrey Mayer suggests that future studies also need to consider other factors—specifically, grazing patterns and human activities—when planning for sustainable management of the world’s forests and savannas or prairies.

“Humans like to think everything is linear,” says Mayer, an assistant professor of ecology and environmental policy with joint appointments in Michigan Tech’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and the College of Sciences and Arts Department of Social Science. “So we have assumed that if we want to restore a forest where there is now savanna, that we just need to plant some trees and the spaces between them will fill in with trees. Not so.”
If I were doing a sustainability news linkspam from Michigan's research universities, this would be in there. I'd rather blog about Occupy Detroit.

McMaster University (Canada) via Eating your greens can change the effect of your genes on heart disease, say researchers
October 11, 2011
A long-held mantra suggests that you can't change your family, the genes they pass on, or the effect of these genes. Now, an international team of scientists, led by researchers at McMaster and McGill universities, is attacking that belief.

The researchers discovered the gene that is the strongest marker for heart disease can actually be modified by generous amounts of fruit and raw vegetables. The results of their study are published in the current issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.
The research, which represents one of the largest gene-diet interaction studies ever conducted on cardiovascular disease, involved the analysis of more than 27,000 individuals from five ethnicities -- European, South Asian, Chinese, Latin American and Arab -- and the affect that their diets had on the effect of the 9p21 gene. The results suggest that individuals with the high risk genotype who consumed a prudent diet, composed mainly of raw vegetables, fruits and berries, had a similar risk of heart attack to those with the low risk genotype.
Why is this here? One of the "Sustainability Dozen" ideas is to eat less meat. This article fits right in with that suggestion.

Agence France Presse via Environmentalists call for toilets on Everest
October 13, 2011
An environmental group is asking the Nepal government to consider installing portable toilets on Mount Everest for climbers caught short at the roof of the world.

Eco Himal says the thousands of trekkers who set off from the South Base Camp in Nepal each year would do a better job of keeping the place clean if they and their porters had somewhere civilised to go when nature called.

"Human waste is a problem, of course," said the group's director, Phinjo Sherpa. "I am merely suggesting that if we have public toilets they can be used."
This would have been a good one for Silly Sustainability Saturday. That series will return in November. I have way too much happening on Saturdays for the next month to revive it now.

Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres via Pesticides pollute European waterbodies more than previously thought
October 13, 2011
Pesticides are a bigger problem than had long been assumed. This is the conclusion of a study in which scientists analysed data on 500 organic substances in the basins of four major European rivers. It was revealed that 38 per cent of these chemicals are present in concentrations which could potentially have an effect on organisms. According to scientists writing in the journal Science of the Total Environment, this conclusion clearly shows that contamination by organic chemicals is a problem throughout Europe. Most of the substances classified as a risk to the environment in the study were pesticides; the majority of these are not on the European list of priority substances which have to be monitored regularly. They therefore believe that the list of chemicals specified by the EU Water Framework Directive as having to be monitored by national authorities urgently needs to be revised.
Is is also as much about policy as science, so into the transition spot it goes.

Society, including culture and politics

St. Petersburg Times: Anthropologists take aim at Gov. Scott
October 11, 2011
The American Anthropological Association this afternoon released a letter is has sent to Gov. Rick Scott over comments he made Monday that Florida "doesn't need a lot more anthropologists in this state." "We don't need them here," he told a Daytona Beach radio host.

Scott's larger point was that Florida students would have an easier time finding jobs and help fulfill his campaign promise if they studied science, technology, engineering or math. In a move universities will oppose, Scott wants to move state money from liberal arts programs to other degrees he says will give students a better chance of finding work.
Science education policy makes for a good transition between science and culture, especially when it involves anthropology, a major part of which is the science of culture.

St. Petersburg Times: USF anthropology students to Scott: We matter
By Kim Wilmath, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — Justin Shiver came away from a year in Iraq with one overriding thought: We need more anthropologists.

They are the ones really making a difference over there, said Shiver, who worked as a combat medic. They help soldiers and locals work together. They are the reason Americans haven't been rejected as enemies. More than anyone with a gun, Shiver says, anthropologists save lives.

That's why the 26-year-old University of South Florida student, who's studying to become an anthropologist himself, was so confused by Gov. Rick Scott's comments this week.

While promoting his jobs plan, Scott said the state doesn't need a whole lot more anthropologists. Rather, Florida should prioritize degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM fields), the governor said.
The party that doesn't believe in science wants more scientists. Yeah, right. Also it turns out that Scott's daughter has an anthropology degree, so he's taking a swipe at her. As Bill Maher says, there is no bottom when it comes to Republicans.

Agence France Presse via Australian parliament passes divisive carbon tax
by Madeleine Coorey
October 12, 2011
Australia's lower house on Wednesday passed a contentious new tax on carbon pollution to combat climate change which has angered many voters and threatens Prime Minister Julia Gillard's hold on power.

After years of heated debate, the government won the count on what it said was the most important environmental and economic reform in a generation.

"Today is a significant day for Australians and the Australians of the future who want to see a better environment," Gillard said ahead of the parliamentary vote, which must now win approval in the upper house Senate.
Other countries are making progress on their environmental problems. Are we?

Speaking of which...

Agence France Presse via China invests billions to avert water crisis
October 12, 2011
China is to invest up to 4 trillion yuan ($600 billion) over the next decade to overcome a huge water shortage that threatens the country's economic growth, a senior official said on Wednesday.

The vice minister of water resources said China's unbridled economic growth had left up to 40 percent of its rivers badly polluted and the country faced "huge pressures" on supplies of water.

"Industrialisation and urbanisation, including ensuring grain and food security, are exerting higher demands on water supplies... while our water use remains crude and wasteful," Jiao Yong said at a press briefing.
A policy directive to invest money to solve an environmental problem makes for a good transition to economy. It's also one that would belong in the CoDominion series. Watch for me to re-blog it.

Economy, including technology

American Chemical Society via New Saudi Arabias of solar energy: Himalaya Mountains, Andes, Antarctica
October 12, 2011
Mention prime geography for generation of solar energy, and people tend to think of hot deserts. But a new study concludes that some of the world's coldest landscapes -- including the Himalaya Mountains, the Andes, and even Antarctica -- could become Saudi Arabias of solar. The research appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Kotaro Kawajiri and colleagues explain that the potential for generating electricity with renewable solar energy depends heavily on geographic location. Arid and semi-arid areas with plenty of sunshine long have been recognized as good solar sites. However, the scientists point out that, as a result of the limited data available for critical weather-related conditions on a global scale, gaps still exist in knowledge about the best geographical locations for producing solar energy.
This is as much about science and the environment as economy, so into the "completing the circle" spot it fits.

That's it for this week!

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