05.09.08

Lakes

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development, Health, Pollution at 9:15 am by justakim

There have been a slew of stories lately related to different bodies of water.

For instance, there is a report on the rapid warming of Lake Baikal, the largest lake in the world. There have been changes to the plankton communities and it is causing concern for all the other, particularly endemic, life in the lake. This includes the Baikal seal.

There are also concerns about the impacts of a soda plant planned in Tanzania. Despite its move to 22 miles away from Lake Natron, there are still worries that the facility will impact the population of lesser flamingo. 3/4 of them migrate here to breed.

In Canada, hundreds of ducks died by settling into a wastewater pond of an oil sands plant. Apparently, the ‘sound cannon’ which is supposed to scare off birds by simulating gunshots was not put into place. I have my doubts as to the effectiveness of these devices.

On Sunday, another oil sands developer, ConocoPhillips, said its workers noticed a growing number of waterfowl on a settling pond at its Surmont project, south of Syncrude, last week.

After trying unsuccessfully to scare them away with air horns, two were captured and taken to a veterinarian in Fort McMurray, Alberta, for examination.

Sinking deeper into the gutter, traces of drugs can be found in sewage water, giving a surprising amount of detail on drug use.

The Milanese are partial to a line or two of cocaine. The same goes for many drug users in London, although they dabble in heroin more than their Italian counterparts. Both cities like ecstasy at the weekends and cannabis pretty much every day. Welcome to the results from a new branch of public health: sewage epidemiology.

But wait! It gets better. All sorts of chemicals can be found in our water systems.

Think Zoloft and other mood-enhancers. Anti-depressants are some of the compounds found in treated wastewater. Scientists have also discovered trace amounts of everything from Ibuprofen to antibiotics. Dana Kolpin, of the U.S. Geological Survey, says the government is just beginning to study the effects of this drug cocktail on marine life, and we don’t know a lot yet, but the risks of not finding out are huge.

As of February, Teleosis has collected 700 lb of pharmaceuticals in 6 months…. And what is the pharmaceutical response to that?

According to the Marketplace interview:

“We think that’s a solution that’s actually looking for a problem.”

Marjorie Powell represents the industry’s main lobbying group. Powell says one, pill-flushing is a minor contributor to pharmaceuticals in the waterways. Two, she argues, consumers can safely dispose of unused drugs by throwing them in the garbage in tightly sealed containers.

“Therefore, we think that focusing on creating a take-back program is establishing an enormous level of effort for very little return.”

05.04.08

The Value of Vultures

Posted in Conservation, Health, Pollution at 1:30 pm by justakim

The Asian vultures, the oriental white-backed, long-billed, and slender-billed vultures, are declining rapidly in numbers, by at least 97% each since 1992.

The painkiller diclofenac is used on humans and animals and are poisonous to vultures, When ingested, it shuts down their livers. While India has banned their production, diclofenac is still used in that country through imports and applying the human formulation. It does not take much; just 1% of contaminated carcasses can drive these species to extinction. About 10% of carcasses were found to be contaminated.

These species may be on the verge of extinction within the decade One may think that the loss of a few scavengers will make little difference, but these birds provide a vital environmental service.

The birds are critical to the ecosystem and for human health in India because they are the primary means of getting rid of animal carcasses in the nation of some 1.12 billion people, added Andrew Cunningham, who worked on the study.

Their demise is has led to a sharp increase in dead animals around villages and towns, which has boosted the numbers of disease-carrying rats and rabid stray dogs, he said.

This role is so important that there has been convergent evolution, producing unrelated Old World and New World vultures.

Is it worth saving these guys?

“Ironically, even though it is farmers using diclofenac that are killing the birds, when we say we are working on vultures, farmers thank us and ask us to bring them back,” says Cunningham.

Sounds like a yes to me.

Among other efforts, the Peregrine Fund is monitoring their locations.
Bombay Natural History Society

04.27.08

Notes on Biodiversity

Posted in Book, Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development, Energy, Health, Pollution at 12:29 pm by justakim

There is a new book explaining how the loss of biodiversity will impact the discovery and development of new drugs. What makes this notable is that this is not just E.O. Wilson’s Discovery of Life. This book, Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity is composed not by environmentalists or entomologists, but by medical doctors at Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment.

The book demonstrates the value of biodiversity in previous discoveries, and covers several areas that show promise for new drugs, including cases where the species went extinct before the drug potential could be realized, and more cases where this may yet happen. Time to put a few frogs aside. It looks like it has a solid overview of what biodiversity is, why it matters, and what affects it. The book will be out in June.

One species that was not on the list for drug potential is the finless porpoise. While it has a pretty wide range along the coast, there is only one freshwater population that lives in the Yangtze River and two connected Poyang and Dongting Lakes. In addition to habitat degradation, a recent study finds that they are suffering from high levels of pollution.

While the focus of this study was on pollution, the situation is quite precarious. Dongting Lake relies on overflow from the Yangtze River and it swells and shrinks with the seasons. The Three Gorges Dam, which was built upstream of the lake, also has the function of flood control. Regulated flow and trapping of sediment must have drastically changed the functioning of the lake.

What makes this news so unpleasant to me is that I didn’t even know they existed. The extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin was pretty much expected when the Three Gorges Dam project began. It is probably more significant to lose a species than a population, but I was not aware there was much else of note. To lose something only as you learn it is there…

05.21.07

Adding More Corn Fuel to the Fire

Posted in Energy, Health, Politics, Resources at 10:19 am by justakim

As I guiltily sip my soda, I spied a post by David Reevely over at Ecolibertarian on feeding pigs junk food because of they ‘can’t afford’ to feed them corn anymore, because, get this–the ethanol subsidies on top of the corn farming subsidies. Well, I’ll let him go where I dare to tread.

A Twist in the Allocation of Corn

Posted in Energy, Health, Politics, Resources at 9:27 am by justakim

The Economist explains why high fructose corn syrup is bad for you. Most of this article is about the health effects of high fructose corn syrup and the difference between it and cane and beet sugar. It also explains how the invention of a technique and a corn glut resulted in our switch to corn syrup.

At any rate, it is not just the cost of beef and corn on the cob that will be affected by ethanol production. We use corn byproducts in so many things, both as corn syrup additives, and other uses. If ethanol is the way we’re going, the allocation of corn is going to change.

Trees are Cool

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Health, Resources at 9:07 am by justakim

I saw this while actually taking class outside: parks could lower city temperatures. Putting aside the climate change predictions, it makes a lot of sense that parks and greenery would reduce the temperature of the nearby environment. I can attest to this as I sit under the shade of trees on cool, moist grass on a fairly hot, moderately humid day. But the article says building new parks is not necessary; you can roll out strips of green geraniums on your roofs, and this would make a difference.

If that doesn’t suit your fancy, or you’re having flashbacks of spray-painted grass, asian apartment dwellers have a more aesthetically pleasing alternative. For the many asians living in concrete-lined apartments, having a small garden in their balcony offers many benefits, only part of which is cooling.

Beijing has pledged to add 100,000 square meters of roof gardens every year from 2007-2010. And last month Singapore, the “garden city”, unveiled its first “green” housing estate, with walls of cooling greenery hardwired into its architecture.

“From the scientific point of view, every plant produces a cooling effect,” said Professor Nyuk Hien Wong, of the Department of Building at the National University of Singapore, who designs the green walls.

“The rule of thumb is one degree less is a five percent (energy) saving”.

Against this backdrop, Asia’s apartment gardeners are taking a small, but important, step in the right direction, he said.

“If you look at it as one individual unit doing that, it may not be that significant. But if everybody is doing it, there may be a very big impact”.

If roll-out turf does not appeal to you, or perhaps you have a bank of solar panels already, a garden in a small space can make a difference. You just have to balance out the time required for this hobby, and the cost of watering them potted trees.

Mm, I think the sun had an impact on my post count last week.

05.10.07

Bottled Water: an unlikely case in environmental economics

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Health, Pollution, Resources at 10:09 pm by justakim

With a cough, I took a gulp from my water bottle and coincidentally browsed this article on the externalities of tap water, As one considers the fastest growing beverage market, one can see how it is at the same time, the most ludicrus thing and the most natural outcome of modern tastes.

Water, that is often of no higher quality than local tap water, is bottled in disposable plastic containers, chilled in vending machines, and sold at a price, while at the same time, that much water won’t make a dent in your utility bill.. And don’t forget the cost of transport.

But it makes so much sense! Health-conscious Americans are trying to drink more water and less soda. The bottles provide the conveinience that carrying around your own bottle lacks. And who wants to drink from a public fountain? There’s no telling what people have been doing with the spout. And recycling is just so inconvenient. If one was going to recycle, one would have brought one’s own bottle… And so it goes.

Plus the fancy mineral spring waters, brand names, vintages, what have you. I understand that different water tastes different certainly. But these fancy springs can run dry. They should be demanding fancier prices.

Tap water and bottled water are by no means perfect substitutes. Among other differences, real and perceived, people are willing to pay for the bottle that holds the water, and for the ability to dispose of it.

This problem, this logical culmination of desires and incentives, leads me to two thoughts.

First, perhaps people are not paying enough, either for the bottles or for the delivery.

Second, if it costs more for disposable bottles, we’d be willing to buy better water bottles. Things that are more conveinient to carry around, or store cold better, or weigh less. If it were easier to carry around your own tap water, the appeal of the disposable bottle will diminish. Picture a flask that keeps your water cold all day long, then packs away into a 1″ cube when empty. Who’d pay for these if a cheap one’s just fine?

I don’t know to what extent externalities are generated from bottled water, but I find it unlikely that shipping in someone else’s bottled tap water is the best use of the resources we have. But given current gas prices, disposal costs, and water subsidies, it’s just not worth our while to work out something better yet.

05.09.07

Water Woes: What California and China have in common

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development, Energy, Health, Politics, Pollution, Resources at 8:21 pm by justakim

California could lose a vast amount of its snowpack due to global warming by the end of the century. The percentage ranges are so wide, that I will leave those to the article.

Right on the heels of this interview, with the knowledge of snowpack being at its lowest point in 20 years, Governor Schwarzenegger requests $5.9 billion in bonds for water related projects including two dams.

Where could you possibly put the dams and have them be effective? We’ve damed all the good places where the geography lends itself to a stable structure and an opportunity for hydropower exploitation. Not too long ago, the project to dam the American River was buried. It is hard to believe that there are any better options.

Meanwhile, China is investing a little shy of $4 billion to reinforce reservoirs and improve drinking water while pondering projects to transfer water from the wet south to the parched north. Investing in current dams is a different story. Dams with high levels of siltation may have a lifespan, depending on how fast they can keep up with the dredging. That could obviously be cut short if the dam fails before dredging becomes an issue. The concern for drinking water is a good sign.

It is of little surprise that there are also complaints about dams in recent news as well. For instance, a group lawsuit vs. PacifiCorp over Klamath dams where just about everyone except the farmers have banded together, addressing toxic algae blooms, recreation, and fishing.

The U.S. Department of the Interior last year recommended removing the dams or building “ladders” for the spawning fish if PacifiCorp wants to keep them.

China has its own problems as they encounter problems while trying to protect the endangered Yangtze alligator. The article makes mention of the Yangtze river dolphin, which had been declared functionally extinct. Few of these unique creatures existed even before the Three Gorges Dam was built. That was merely the nail in the coffin.

It feels like we are stuck in some sort of time warp, returning to the days when it was not widely known that all the good dam spots had been taken and additional dams were often not worth the bother. We need to better allocate the water that we have, rather than pretend that if you build [the dam], [water] will come.

04.30.07

California vs…

Posted in Health, Politics, Resources at 8:30 am by justakim

California seems to be on a roll. Where’s this handbasket going?

One day after Governor Schwarzenegger threatens the EPA with a lawsuit over car regulations, California filed one against the Department of Energy because their request for a waiver that would allow them to have stricter standards for washing machines were denied. The regulation proposed in 2004 would require washing machines to use no more than 8.5 gallons of water by 2007 and even less by 2010 [1].

The DOE said the proposal didn’t qualify for a waiver because it had to be”economically feasible and technologically justified,” [2] Well, perhaps it would have been feasible in 2004, while the latter part could be argued… particularly in California where water is relatively scarce.

In addition, Califronia also set up tougher restrictions on formaldehyde. They claim that this will reduce incidents of cancer caused by vapors.

And then there.s solar. In this article, a correspondent from The Economist runs into the problem of too much shade from her trees. State rebates and federal tax credits are available that can cover up to half the cost of installation, and they will not raise property taxes (whew). Home builders have to offer solar options in California now. But you still need to have light.

I am somewhat concerned to the extent of which California is trying to set itself apart with restrictions that could possibly not be worth the bother, especially in other parts of the country, where resources may be cheaper and utility curves vastly different. If it costs more to have less formaldehyde in your wood to keep it together with another substance or new technology, how much would the added cost to your housing have bought you in health care?

I like requiring thought put into solar panels and think if you have trees in the way, you’re better off with them cooling your home than the panels, don’t know about the formaldehyde, and wish the market would make water-efficient washing machines feasible. Would California have a right to tax washing machines that are not of a certain water efficiency, or would they have to sue someone over that too? It would be a tax to compensate for the subsidies on the cost of water…

1. California washing wachines
2. More on the washing machine situation.
3. Califronia vs. formaldehyde.
4. California solar vs.shade.

04.13.07

Odds and Ends: Diabetes, Tickets, and Immigrants

Posted in Health, Politics, Pollution at 11:16 pm by justakim

An amusing quote I ran across in Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers in the chapter on Malthus and Ricardo:

“Actually, birth control seems to have been practiced by the upper classes all through history, which is one reason why the rich got richer and the poor got children.”

There’s more evidence that there is a link between Diabetes and pollutants. Regardless of their weight, there was a relationship between the levels of some of these chemicals and insulin resistance. This relationship could be for many reasons, but it’s possible stored pollutants cause diabetes.

The farther away you live, the more costly your traffic tickets. Also on the first page of that link is the cost of WoW characters by race.

In California, immigrants increase wages because they don’t compete directly for the same jobs, instead taking on complementary jobs. I think that’s a nice way of saying they’ll do things no one else wants to do. Don’t forget this Onion video about losing jobs to illegal immigrants.

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