Monday, December 24, 2012

Eat mealworms to save the planet

The first crunchy bite of an inch-long fried grasshopper in a chapulines taco is surprisingly palatable.  The reddish-brown bug is coated in Oaxacan-style spices that pepper the tongue and enhance the underlying nutty, earthy flavor of the grasshopper itself.  Admittedly, the most difficult part of eating the bug is taking that first bite.

“It isn’t as much an assault on the senses as it is an assault on the mind,” said Dan Childs, managing editor of the ABC News Medical Unit, who along with several other staff members resigned themselves to taste testing the little critters.

The practice of insect-eating or, entomophagy, as it is formally called, has been commonly touted in the media as an eco-friendly source of protein for a human population increasingly hungry for animal meat. Yet no published scientific studies have ever examined the full environmental effect of mass insect production from start to finish.  That is, until now.

In a new study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers in The Netherlands examined the environmental effect of mealworm production and compared it to that of more traditional animal products.  They found that production of one kilogram of edible mealworm protein created significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions and required much less land, when compared to beef, pork, chicken and milk production.

More than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide, consuming more than one-fourth of the Earth’s land, according to a 2010 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in collaboration with several other leading environmental organizations.

The entire livestock sector accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which are often produced in the intestinal tracts of animals like cattle and sheep and then released into the air during the digestive process.  It is estimated that emissions from the livestock industry are  greater than the total amount created by the world’s transportation sector, which accounts for 14 percent.  These emissions are thought to be an important cause of global warming.

“The livestock industry is huge,” said Harold Mooney, senior fellow at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment and one of the key editors of the 2010 collaboration. He points out that excessive gas emissions along with large land and energy requirements are all problematic for the industry’s long-term sustainability.

Eating mealworms might help solve some of these problems, according to Dennis Oonincx and Imke de Boer, the new study’s authors. The researchers calculated that mealworm farming cut both carbon dioxide emissions and land use by about one-half to two-thirds when compared with milk, chicken, and pork production and by about 90 percent when compared with beef production.


Deadly cold snap sweeps across Eastern Europe

Global cooling!

A vicious cold snap has claimed nearly 200 lives across Russia and eastern Europe, and forecasters say the freeze could last until Christmas Eve.

In Russia, the cold has killed two people in the past 24 hours, the Ria-Novosti agency reported, citing medical sources, bringing the total number of deaths over the past week to 56.

Thermometers have been stuck below minus 20 degrees Celsius in Moscow and below minus 50 degrees in some parts of Siberia for a week.

Russian weather forecasters said the temperature in the Khabarovsk region in eastern Russia had dropped to minus 43 Celsius, while Krasnoyarsk in Siberia reported minus 47.

This "abnormal" frost would last till Monday because of a persistent anticyclone, they added.

In Russia's European region, meanwhile, the mercury is expected to fall to minus 31 degrees Celsius on Christmas Eve before rising rapidly afterwards.

Other European countries hit hard by the extreme temperatures were counting the toll as temperatures gradually started to return to normal.

In Ukraine, where heavy snowfall has been falling for weeks, authorities said 83 people have died of cold including 57 who were found on the street.

Homeless people are often the hardest-hit by the region's bitter winters.

Another 526 cold victims were reportedly receiving hospital treatment in Ukraine.

Overnight temperatures in Ukraine reached an average minus 15 degrees Celsius, which is common at this time of year.

Ukrainian authorities said 93 villages - mainly on the Crimean peninsula in the south of the country - were still hit by a power outage.

In Poland temperatures plunged to minus 10 degrees Celsius. Polish police said 49 people had died of cold exposures this month, with most of the victims homeless.

At least six people have died of exposure in Lithuania in the past weeks, police and emergency services said there.

In Latvia, temperatures reached minus 14 Celsius on Friday morning. In the capital Riga, authorities decided to drop public transport fares to encourage drivers to leave their cars at home and prevent crashes and jams.

On Christmas Eve temperatures in Latvia are expected to drop to minus 28 Celsius, a record low.


Some more examples of government false prophecy

A Summary Evaluation of the National Intelligence Council's report "Global Trends 2010"

Last week NightWatch promised to review the earliest Global Trends report it could find. The first report was published in 1997 and was entitled, Global Trends 2010.

NightWatch has been spending a lot of time just trying to understand the prolix and vague political science jargon of 1997, not to mention the meanings of judgments or predictions written in that language.

The language is imprecise, centered on the word "agendas" which is used repeatedly without definition. Every nation's agenda was to have been changed by 2010, the report asserts.  It never explains to what that metaphor refers.

NightWatch knows from long experience that the only way to improve intelligence judgments is to evaluate their accuracy in hindsight. No one knowingly goes to a doctor who has a 60% cure rate.  In that spirit, NightWatch is confident in asserting that it is hard to imagine a trends assessment that could be so wrong as Global Trends 2010.

If the world had not changed much between 1997 and 2010, some of the forecasts in the report might have been marginally accurate. But the world did change, but not fundamentally.  The nation-state system did not decline, as the report predicted. The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 made nation-state safety nets even more important than ever. It was a world-wide catastrophe that made almost every prediction in the report wrong.

Global Trends 2010 contains an underlying assumption of continuing world economic growth. Almost all of its judgments assumed that without articulating that. The document never examined that assumption. Thus, when the world economy contracted, that assumption failed and every judgment extrapolated from it did as well.

It is not the fault of the writers, necessarily, because US intelligence and most US bankers, high-end investors and financiers failed to predict the economic contraction of 2008. Almost no one saw the train-wreck as early as 1997, but that is the lesson of this retrospective look.  Analysts profess greater confidence about the next 18 years than they do about the next 18 days.

The economic crisis in 2008 was a true Black Swan in 1997, in the terms that Taleb defined in his seminal study, The Black Swan. A Black Swan is an unknown event that makes wrong all predictions based on extrapolations from the present and recent past. Thus, the ability to name and define a high impact-low probability threat means by definition that it is not a Black Swan, as Taleb wrote about the topic.

The report Global Trends 2010 report contains no conditions or caveats to its predictions, no examination of low probability-high impact threats. The Global Trends 2030 report, just released, boasts that it has identified six Black Swans during the next 18 years. That assertion should warn NightWatch Readers that the intelligence writers of Global Trends 2030 missed Taleb's lesson.

The second major shortcoming of Gobal Trends 2010, in hindsight, is its insistence that the US was in decline at that time and would be restrained by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the breakdown of the nation-state system. Neither prediction proved accurate. The reasoning for these assertions might have been obvious to readers in 1997, but it is not presented.

Looking back from 2012 one wonders what were they talking about. The contraction of the world economy in 2007-2008 doomed NGOs, who have always depended on handouts from more prosperous nations. Despite world-wide economic contraction, the US remained the only safe investment and the importance of US economic and military strength grew, precisely the opposite of what was predicted in 1997.

A NightWatch check found that every Global Trends report conveys the theme of steady US decline. The reasons for the decline are different in every report, but the facts show the US is still the only indispensable power in the world, the only super power.

There are many more incorrect forecasts in 2010, a significant number of important omissions - things the 2010 report just failed to appreciate as important -- and a handful of accurate extrapolations. There is little point in going over them all, unless readers are interested.

Global Trends 2010 is a cautionary lesson in the hazards and hubris of long term forecasting and scenario-casting without using better techniques than were in use in 1997. The effort might have seemed worthwhile at the time, but the happy world future that the analysts and academics in 1997 predicted would arrive by 2010 never happened. In fact, most of the world trends they described went backwards because of the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008.


Obama Uses Monument Act in Another Western Land Grab

New Mexico is once again on the bottom of the list—or the top, depending on your perspective. Forbes recently announced the “death spiral” states. New Mexico was the worst “with 1.53 takers for every maker” (Forbes defines “takers” and “makers” this way: “A taker is someone who draws money from the government, as an employee, pensioner or welfare recipient. A maker is someone gainfully employed in the private sector”). It seems New Mexico can’t get a break from Washington. Instead of unleashing the state’s biggest single private-sector employer, the essential job-creating giant is impeded at every opportunity.

And we wonder why the economy is teetering.

In New Mexico nearly 50% of the state revenue comes from oil-and-gas activity. More than 11,000 people are directly employed in the industry. Schools, hospitals, and other government functions are funded as a result of oil-and-gas receipts that go into the Severance Tax and Land Grant Permanent Funds. The state has other resources such as copper, rare earth elements, and uranium. Their extraction often faces such stiff opposition that companies interested in investing in New Mexico give up, or run out of money fighting for the right to access the resource, before they ever get past the exploration phase.

There are myriad ways obstructionists slow or stop energy projects.

My first experience with the obstructionist’s model was with the battle over Mount Taylor’s Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) designation. I spent several years with the residents of Grants, New Mexico, fighting for their right to the economic freedom the proposed uranium mines could have given them. All of Mount Taylor was declared a TCP. The original TCP was 660 square miles—though public involvement did reduce it slightly. As a result, proposed uranium mining has never happened. Katherine Slick, the state employee, under Governor Richardson, who spearheaded the activities that led to locking up the public lands, was rewarded with a new job in Washington, DC.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, I was engaged in the very public debate regarding the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of the sand dune lizard. Rallies were held and hearings were attended in the Permian Basin region of New Mexico and Texas. Had the little lizard been listed, extraction and economic development in the oil-and-gas-rich region could have been severely curtailed—not to mention ranching. Fortunately, six months ago the decision came down on the side of the citizens—something I am confident wouldn’t have happened had the people ignored the threat to their livelihoods.

Within the last twelve months, I’ve called attention to another area: the Organ Mountains and the adjacent Otero Mesa—which has known natural gas reserves. This part of south/central New Mexico has repeatedly been proposed for some federal designation that would prevent resource extraction, kick out ranching families who’ve held grazing permits for more than a century, and block recreational vehicle access. Thanks to Congressman Steve Pearce, the efforts have mostly been beaten back—though threatened again by National Monument requests that would be created by executive order and prevent Congressional review and local discussion.

Last week, a new threat was brought to my attention, and—surprise—once again, the proposed federal land grab has potential energy development. This time the “monument” in question has a high emotional quotient: the retirement of long-time New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman (an ardent supporter of renewable energy and opponent of New Mexico’s rich natural resources). He has been unsuccessful in his attempts to get Congress to pass the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act before he retires at the end of 2012. A National Monument designation would be a reward for his efforts, a Bingaman bonus.

Why the sudden concern?

In late October, buried in election news, New Mexico’s two Senators, Bingaman and Udall, wrote a letter to President Obama asking him to use his authority to establish both the Organ Mountains and Rio Grande Gorge, near Taos, as National Monuments. The effort to establish the area around the Rio Grande Gorge as a National Monument is reported to have 100% support, “there’s no opposition”—which, of course, is not true (though Northern New Mexico doesn’t have a freedom-fighter Congressman like Pearce on its side).

Then, on December 14, in the midst of the fiscal cliff news and the public’s holiday preparations, it was announced that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar would “visit Taos on Saturday, December 15th to host a public meeting and listening session on exploring the best ways to protect the Río Grande del Norte in Northern New Mexico.” Salazar’s trip was in response to Senators Bingaman and Udall’s letter to establish the National Monument.

National monument designations were originally created for historical landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest as provided for in the Antiquities Act. However, because the monument designations can be made solely at the discretion of the Administration, they have been used, when the desired results cannot be achieved through Congress, as an excuse to reduce access and multiple-use of public lands.

The BLM website says the following about National Monuments: “The Antiquities Act of 1906 grants the President authority to designate national monuments in order to protect ‘objects of historic or scientific interest.’” Yet, the area proposed for (presumably the same as the NCA that Congress hasn’t passed) has no such features. Known as the Taos Plateau, it is a large swath of barren land; a vast flat plain with a thin layer of soil over volcanic flows. The proposed monument is to protect the Rio Grande Gorge’s narrow canyon, but it runs from just north of Santa Fe to the Colorado border where it is 25 miles wide. It conveniently sucks up all the BLM public land in the region.

While there are no features of “historic or scientific interest” in the proposed land grab, there are potential oil-and-gas resources that would provide economic benefit to the state and the residents in the form of good-paying jobs, local spending, and revenues for government functions, such as schools. The monument area lies between two known and very important natural-gas reserves—the San Juan Basin (which provides 15% of the natural gas used in America) and the Raton Basin. The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources calls the region a “frontier” area, saying: “Several of these frontier areas, although presently nonproductive and poorly explored, have many geologic characteristics in common with producing basins and hopefully represent a significant part of future oil-and-gas production.”

If New Mexico’s proposed National Monuments truly had public support, an executive-order end-run evading Congressional approval wouldn’t be needed. Senator Bingaman’s retirement and pending legacy provides obstructionists with the perfect excuse to ask for the monuments in his honor.

Since the national monument designation does not allow for public comment, unlike the Mount Taylor and sand dune lizard issues,  which had extensive public input, what can American citizens concerned about the administration’s proclivity toward federal land grabs do? What can New Mexicans who want economic development for the state do?

We can let Ken Salazar know that there is opposition—even though the lacking-lead-time December 15 meeting may not have netted a public challenge. We can let him know that the public is watching. A recreational vehicle access advocacy group (Americans for Responsible Recreational Access) has set up an electronic letter to Secretary Salazar, which can easily be customized to include concerns over access to energy resources on public lands and the benefit from their use.

A National Monument designation for both the Organ Mountains in south/central New Mexico and the Northern New Mexico Taos Plateau would be like a going-away gift for retiring Senator Bingaman that would achieve his goals of locking up New Mexico’s energy resources and would keep the state dependent on the federal government—funded by tax dollars from all Americans.

And the death spiral continues.


WA ocean heatwave -- with cool pockets

You mean it's not global?  Pesky!  Where did I get the idea that there was no such thing as a natural climate change?

The West Australian Department of Fisheries says it will conduct further research on a marine heatwave that has been linked to a recent spate of fatal shark attacks in Western Australia.

Scientists say the unprecedented heatwave occurred off the WA coast between 2010 and 2011, and could be responsible for declining fish stocks and increased shark activity.

Ocean temperatures rose up to five degrees last summer, and the Department says that has led to pockets of cooler water developing near the coastline.

The Department's research director, Dr Rick Fletcher, says this may be causing sharks to move closer to shore.

"If there is a relatively smaller area of cooler water inshore, then the sharks could be concentrated in that smaller area," he said.

Dr Fletcher says further studies will be carried out to determine the long-term effects of the heatwave on fish stocks and shark activity.

"If we actually understand a little bit more about what conditions are more or less likely to have concentrations of White Sharks or Tiger Sharks, than we can inform the public about what the conditions are likely to be," he said.

"Two years post that initial heatwave, what's happened both to the stocks but also what's happened to the oceanographic conditions, have they returned? Or has that change dissipated over the past two years."

There have been five fatal shark attacks along the WA coast in the past two years, prompting a raft of research aimed at trying to better understand the animals.


Legal aid cuts a blow for anti-gas groups

(The Australian State of NSW has a recently-elected conservative government)

FARMERS and community groups will have to seek private funding for public interest court cases against coalminers and gas drillers, after a crackdown on Legal Aid funding by the NSW government.

The Attorney-General, Greg Smith, announced changes this week to stop the funding being used on behalf of "activists" and "lobbyists" who could impede minerals industries.

But Mr Smith refused to say what he meant by "lobbyist" and "activist", or say what means or merit tests would be applied.

Asked by Fairfax Media whether a farmer could still seek help over land access during a coal seam gas dispute, he declined to comment.

The new guidelines say any Legal Aid funding must not be used for "providing legal advice to activists and lobby groups".

The ruling is likely to mean that many groups, including the Environmental Defender's Office of NSW, can no longer perform their primary jobs.

"Most of our work is for rural community groups, most of those groups would be incorporated in some way, and most of them would have a constitution with a clause about protecting the environment where they live," said its executive director, Jeff Smith.

"It's not difficult to see them being caught. But it's difficult to know, because a lot of the answers will depend on details of how the government defines 'lobby groups'."

The office has had its resources cut, with reduced funding available only until March. It had received about $1.2 million a year from the Law Society's Public Purpose Fund, which is based on interest from unclaimed solicitors' fees. The office's staff of 25 would have to be cut to three people unless previous funding from the public purpose fund was restored, Mr Smith said.

Members of the public and the legal community, including 59 environmental law academics, have asked the state government to maintain funding for the office.

The office has achieved wins on behalf of community groups, including reversing the Catherine Hill Bay housing development bordering Lake Macquarie, in which a Labor Party donor had been granted approval to build on environmentally sensitive land. Others have been stopping pollution in the Sydney drinking water catchment and improving remediation of the Barangaroo development site.

The new rules will affect 36 community legal centres across the state. They received more than $18 million last year, including $5.26 million from the Public Purpose Fund.

The rule changes specify that funding should primarily be used to give legal advice to socially and economically disadvantaged people, and that these people should be subject to a means and merit test.

The Attorney-General's position on environmental campaigning has previously been endorsed by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell. The Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, has accused the Environmental Defender's Office of supporting "the left agenda to destroy the economy".

Asked if the Attorney-General's office had produced or vetted the guidelines, or whether they had been developed by lawyers within the department, a spokeswoman for Greg Smith did not comment.

"The funding principles will be applied by the trustees of the Public Purpose Fund and Legal Aid NSW when making decisions about the future allocation of moneys from a pool of funds which is diminishing as interest rates continue to fall," the spokeswoman said.




Preserving the graphics:  Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here and here


No comments: