East Coast of Vancouver Island

East Coast of Vancouver Island
Natural Beauty is Worth Preserving

Monday, 7 July 2014

Superweeds Choke Out Farm in Iowa

B. McPherson

Superweeds are a new reality for N. American farmers. Weeds capable of resisting the herbicide glyphosate are sprouting in all the wrong places after years of inadvertent selection by farmers depending on chemicals to keep weeds down. Since the ‘70s when Roundup was introduced, farmers and homeowners alike have used the liquid to kill plants that they didn’t like.

Mother Nature has surprises for the unwary. What seemed like a quick, cost effective solution to elimination of weeds in soy and corn fields has turned out superweeds instead. Iowa is finding more and more Palmer amaranth(pig weed)  infestations. This weed is capable of putting out half a million seeds for each plant. And it’s only one of a plethora of superweeds washing back over croplands that have been sprayed with glyphosate
Glyphosate(Roundup Ready) resistant crops are genetically modified(GM) to not die when sprayed with the chemical.

Palmer pigweeds can produce up to half a million seeds per plant. And they are easily carried by water, wind, tillage tools, combines; even on your clothes,” Steinkamp says. In Michigan, where the weed was first detected in 2010, the tiny seeds were probably transported in cottonseed fed to dairy cattle and spread to fields in the manure.  Corn and Bean Digest

The superweeds compete with the corn and soy crops reducing the yield by as much as 90%. At stake is billions of dollars in agricultural sales.

As European nations and the UK are pondering the spread of herbicide resistant crops, the very real spectre of superweeds should give them pause.

Superweeds Found in N.America (incomplete list)
·         Giant ragweed
·         Marestail(horsetail)
·         Waterhemp
·         Kochia
·         Rigid ryegrass
·         Hairy fleabane
·         Johnson grass
·         Coca (yes, that coca plant)
The New York Times reported that in 1996, "Dennis C. Vacco, the Attorney General of New York, ordered the company to pull ads that said Roundup was "safer than table salt" and "practically nontoxic" to mammals, birds and fish. The company withdrew the spots, but also said that the phrase in question was permissible under E.P.A. guidelines."[123] Wikipedia


Civil Eats   

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Wildfire Season in California Starts Early

B. McPherson

A wildfire outside of Bakersfield California has forced a mandatory evacuation of 500 homes. The fire, dubbed the Shirley Fire, is currently out of control and spreading fast. It currently has consumed 2200 acres on the Alta Sierra Mountains.  Gusty winds on the weekend helped spread the fire.

Currently, over 1000 firefighters are on the job there, helped with planes and helicopters. With only 10% of the fire contained, workers are employing  overlapping duty/shift changes in order to maintain the fight. The firefighting may get more difficult later this week as the weather is expected to trend to hotter and drier. The rugged terrain is hampering the use of heavy ground equipment.

The cost of fighting this fire so far has been pegged at over $4 million. California is facing increasing costs in fighting wild fires. One of the reasons for the increase is the huge efforts to save people’s homes in areas of interface between the wild land and the urban. Where scrub land and forest land may have been allowed to burn in the past, now, with whole neighbourhoods at risk this can no longer be allowed.

In the US, nearly $2 billion annually is spent fighting wildfires, much of it in Montana and California. The Headwaters Economics research group predicts a doubling or tripling of the costs if the urban interface is allowed to spread further. That group calls for financial disincentives to building there.

 By spending large sums every year to protect homes from wildfires, the federal government is subsidizing the true cost of development. Without financial disincentives to building homes on dangerous, fire-prone lands, the problem will get worse. Headwaters Economics

Other factors contribute to the wildfire risks. A higher average temperature, an increasing number of windy days, lower humidity, lightning strikes are a few of the natural factors that contribute to the number and seriousness of wild fires.Those are beyond human control.
USA Today   
Headwaters  Economics  

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Rising Seas Expose WWII Skeletons

Their South Pacific paradise is disappearing under the waves.
B. McPherson

As Europe is recognizing the 70th year since D-Day, the successful establishment of a beachhead on France’s beaches by Allied Forces, a macabre scene is playing out in the Pacific Ocean. Rising sea levels in the South Pacific have washed away soil covering graves of 26 soldiers believed to be Japanese. The Marshall Islands were the scene of fierce fighting in the Pacific Theatre during WWII. Experts will attempt to confirm and return the remains to their country of origin.

Sea level increases have been more pronounced in the tropical areas, and the S. Pacific islands have been hard hit in some areas. An island in the Marshalls, is now underwater. Some of the S. Pacific islands are based on coral atolls and have very little elevation. Others, more fortunate, are the peaks of volcanoes and have higher ground. The Marshalls have an average elevation of only 2 metres(7ft).

Sea levels are creeping up generally around the world. While some areas are still rebounding from the last ice-age, others are getting the full brunt of the changes. Ocean levels increase because more water is in the seas as more ice melts. Also as the Earth warms, the water expands, taking up more room. Salt water flooding of low lying areas can also occur when earthquakes jostle the land and storm surges may cause higher than normal tidal action.

Even when the ocean retreats, damage is done and people may be forced to move.
Tony de Brum, minister of foreign affairs, Marshall Islands is quoted by Bloomberg News.

“The atoll ecosystem is very fragile so that if you have a severe inundation of salt, if it doesn’t rain every day for a year, recovery is probably doubtful,” he said. Then “the island loses all its vegetation and becomes very susceptible to wind and tides and more winds and the next thing you know it’s not there anymore.”

South Pacific islands are subject to spring tides that are higher than normal. Dubbed King Tides, they regularly wash over areas formerly safe from inundation. A state of emergency has been called in the Marshall Islands’ capital city of Majuro after king tides rolled into the streets, displacing about 1000 people.
To see what the king tides are doing in the Marshalls, check out the You Tube footage.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Greenpeace makes move on Arctic drillers

B. McPherson

Greenpeace activists made a couple of bold moves this week in their efforts to save the Arctic from oil pollution. They have boarded two vessels that were on their way to drill during the short Arctic summer.

The drill rig GSP Saturn was boarded when it was in a Netherlands harbour, preventing its departure to drill for the Russian firm Gazprom. You may remember that when the Greenpeace activists attempted to board a drill rig once it was drilling in the Arctic, they were arrested and their ship was impounded. Many were kept in questionable circumstances until Russian president Putin pardoned them just before the Winter Olympics and just before seizing the Crimean Peninsula. This time, the move was made in Europe where the courts are more hospitable to defenders of the environment.

The other vessel boarded was the Norwegian Transocean Spitsbergen owned by Statoil. It is stationed in the Barents Sea.

It is believed that a bonanza of oil lies beneath the Arctic Ocean. While the area is claimed by a number of northern countries, some boundary disputes remain. We have become too familiar with massive oil spills in tropical and semi-tropical waters. The warmer waters support microbes that will eventually break down the petroleum. The case is not the same in cold water and the colder the water the slower the natural cleaning effect. The Exxon Valdes spilled its cargo in the cold Alaskan waters more than 20 years ago and great globs of oil remain under shore rocks. The frigid Arctic would probably have to wait thousands of years to self clean. The fragile life doesn’t have thousands of years to cope with an oil spill.

The US has halted drilling by Dutch Royal Shell after courts ruled that the area of Beaufort and Chukchi Seas were illegally opened to drilling. Shell is into the Arctic for $5 billion to date with little to show for it but some embarrassing mishaps. Politicians there are split between saving the environment and achieving energy independence. The energy independence argument is used for the rationale to frack for natural gas in the lower 48 states. Much of that natural gas is now compressed and exported.

To show the Greenpeace Organization your support for their work, you can sign their petition to stop Arctic drilling here:  https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/bear-island


Monday, 26 May 2014

HRW Exposes American Tobacco Fields Use of Child Labour

B. McPherson

Human Rights Watch has issued a report exposing the plight of child farm workers on America’s tobacco farms. Children as young as seven  have been found working  in the tobacco industry.  As HRW points out in its May report Tobacco’s Hidden Children the law in the States prohibits the purchase and consumption of tobacco products to those under 18, but allows field workers as young as 12 to work tobacco. The usual age for the children to begin work in the fields is 13, usually to help the family earn enough to live.

Most children were paid minimum wage for the area, usually $7.25 an hour, but others were paid piecework depending on productivity. Deductions in the pay were made for drinking water or other unexplained reasons.

All tobacco workers are exposed to nicotine and pesticides. A sickness known as Green Tobacco Sickness which causes nausea, vomiting and headaches is consistent with nicotine poisoning. Those youngsters who are still growing and developing are the most seriously affected. Their nicotine levels in their blood are consistent with an adult tobacco smoker’s readings.

HRW report states that 76% of the tobacco field workers are Hispanic. While labour laws prohibit those younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions and also limit the number of hours in a week for those in industries such as fast food restaurants, no such protections is afforded the agricultural worker. So in addition to being exposed to toxins, the young farm worker can be expected to handle sharp instruments, climb to dangerous heights without fall protection and operate dangerous machinery.

For example, in agriculture, children under 16 can work at heights of up to 20 feet (over one story) without any fall protection, and 16 and 17-year-olds can work at any height without protection. By contrast, in construction, employers must ensure fall protections for any work taking place over six feet (two meters). Human Rights Watch

The majority of the US tobacco crop is grown in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virgina. From there the tobacco is purchased by brokers and sold to Cigarette makers around the world.

Tobacco is also grown in Canada in Ontario where it is a lucrative cash crop. The federal government’s effort to push the crop into the history books has failed with a rebound in the acreage devoted to it. Much of the harvest is snapped up by Chinese buyers for their growing markets.
Gardening Tip
Tobacco makes an excellent pesticide. If you take a cigarette, strip off the paper and shred the tobacco into about a litre of water, you can spray it on your aphids or other pesky bugs. They die quickly. Makes you think about the wisdom of sucking burning tobacco smoke into your lungs.

Ontario Ministry of Labour   

Thursday, 22 May 2014

CFL’s Dirty Little Secret

B. McPherson

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are in most people’s homes in Europe and Canada. Governments mandated the switch from conventional incandescent light bulbs to the CFLs in order to save electricity. Incandescent bulbs are no longer available for sale.

There was a bit of a hullaballoo about infringement on choice, but generally the old style hot bulbs were consigned to history. Some people bought lifetime supplies of their favorite hot bulbs. They were generally regarded as slightly touched. Perhaps it was ourselves who were.

Environmentalists pointed out that the CFLs contained mercury, a toxic heavy metal. The safe disposal of the new bulbs was going to be a problem. We were assured that there was so little mercury in them that it would never be a problem. Your old light bulbs main hazard was the possibility of broken glass, so wrapping in newspaper and placing in the garbage was sufficient.

In the province where I live, BC, the electrical company advises consumers to take their burnt out bulbs to the nearest recycling centre. For me that is about a half hour drive away. But as I check some of the small towns outside of the urban centres, the recycle centres are as scarce as hen’s teeth. You can guess where the burnt out bulbs will go. Public Health England has stated that the amount of mercury released in an accidental break won’t hurt you but they do have specific directions about the clean-up procedure, including ventilation of the room for 15 minutes.

Now word is leaking out about the ultraviolet radiation that these curly bulbs are emitting. The fixtures heat slightly, which excites the argon, mercury vapour mixture inside which generates ultraviolet light. This radiation hits the coating on the inside of the bulb and it fluoresces making light. Unfortunately some of the ultraviolet energy can leak out of the fixture.

Did you ever think that your reading lamp would contribute to wrinkles, brown spots, skin cancers, seizures, migraines, blindness…? Of course not. You were saving electricity. Ultra-violet light is linked to all these afflictions.

While governments are quick to assure us that CFLs are safe, our Canadian government has conducted tests on them and advises to keep them at least 30 cm away from your body and to use for no longer than three consecutive hours.
The following is from the Daily Mail UK

Anne Vick, the communications director of Lighting Europe, the industry association representing leading lighting manufacturers, maintains 'there is no risk from ultra- violet light exposure emitted by  CFLs as their UVA and UVB rays are well within the limits that guarantee consumer protection'.
She adds: 'European scientific experts have not found any health impact from UV rays emitted by energy-saving bulbs in normal conditions


Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Climate Warming Will Change Our Coastlines

B. McPherson

There continues to be a small minority of people who refuse to recognize the changes in our world’s climate. The change is not consistent world wide, but the trend is towards a warmer world. Because much of our planet is covered by oceans, the ability to plan for a warmer world is extremely important.

As long as humans have been trading, the importance of sea ports has grown. With the predictions of sea level change by the end of this century reaching at least 8 inches(0.2m) and possibly as much as 6.6ft.(2m) coastal cities need to start preparations now for the changes that are coming. Some have in Europe with London and Venice installing barriers to protect against storm surges.

According to NOAA’s predictions some US areas will be affected more than others by rising sea levels. Alaska and the US Pacific Northwest are still rebounding from the last ice-age, so the land is rising. Other areas of the US are not so lucky. Chesapeake Bay area is subsiding as is the Gulf Coast. They will be affected to a greater degree.

A years long report on the effects of climate warming on the USA was released last week by their National Climate Assessment Committee. It has dire warnings for Gulf cities such as Mobile Alabama. Yet, some of the state’s legislators are still refusing to recognize that change is already here and to take steps to help mitigate damage to their important port.

Alabama was among 12 states that had done nothing to address climate change, according to an April 2012 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based nonprofit that supports environmental conservation.Bloomberg

Alabama’s official climatologist John Christy, has told legislators that the situation is not worrisome. People on the sandy, barrier islands around Mobile Bay are reporting more ocean flooding and greater storm surges than ever before experienced. One weather event is not indicative of climate change, but a series of them is establishing a pattern.

For those people outside the USA and Puerto Rico, all it takes is a map and a little common sense to see what would happen to the coast lines if the seas climb a minimum of 0.2m. There is an interactive map available at Global Flood Map where you can enter your own town and choose different levels of ocean rise to see the predictions. Salt intrusion will kill land plants and make coastal wells brackish, flooding at periodic high tides will occur more frequently, storm surges will inundate greater areas and with more force, higher ocean levels will cause coastal erosion.

It is predicted that with only a 6 inch increase, over 41 million people will be displaced and will be looking for new homes.


Scenarios Global Change