Green fuel hypocrisy

12 03 2008

NewsFor years biofuel has been praised as an alternative fuel source to fossil fuels that is more readily renewable. It has also been key in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas production and potentially reverse production. However, all is not as it seems.

The use of biofuels is becoming increasingly controversial as the many side effects begin to show themselves. A majority of biofuels produced in the U.S. use crops like corn and rapeseed, which are of course grown on farms. Multiple reports show that the energy and resources used to prepare the land, grow the crops, gather them, then refine them in to fuels actually creates more pollution than is reduced by the biofuels created from the crops. In fact, some findings hint that, though biofuels may not not produce as many carbon emissions as fossil fuels, they often create more nitrous oxides, which are equally responsible for greenhouse gases.

They are also not nearly as cost effective, although that should be pretty obvious. We have to produce these ourselves, whereas fossil fuels are just waiting there underground for us to take. Our economy is already suffering (according to those who decide if the economy is suffering or not), so it’s debatable whether we should be venturing into unknown territory without first researching the multitude of consequences.

biofuel

More recently, it has been discovered that refinery plants often release oil byproducts into nearby waterways. Though the oil (in the form of glycerin) is labeled as “non-toxic,” the way it interacts with rivers and streams depletes the oxygen available to water life and wrecks the entire environment as a result. At least one endangered species (pocketbook mussels) has become extinct due to glycerin dumping by biodiesel plants.

Last but certainly not least, farms provide food for us to eat. Increasing numbers of them are disappearing as America becomes more urbanized, and more food products are being imported from other countries. As a result, food prices are rising constantly, and American deficits are ever-increasing. Is it really worth it to start a project like this that probably can’t be sustained for decades to come.

It is often called green fuel, labeled with the hype of the go-green revolution and the environmental awareness that’s all the rage right now. Perhaps the enthusiasm to encourage change and making a difference is blinding those who should be looking deeper beneath the surface to truly understand the consequences of their actions.

I am not suggesting that other better biofuels could or should not be researched. There is currently interest in algaculture, the farming of algae for use as biofuel. Unlike present fuel sources, algae grows quickly, cheaply and with little human interference. The goal right now is to be able to grow it efficiently and to be able to tap into its energy reserves, which is much more difficult than with current fuel sources. Eleven U.S. companies currently use algae in the creation of biofuels.

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Sue the sun for global warming: Part Two

11 03 2008

NewsRecently I posted Sue the sun for global warming, in which I observed the growing trend of people suing for damages caused by things completely out of their control (like the Sun). In just a few weeks, however, things have worsened much more quickly than I expected. Three conservation groups are now suing the U.S. Government (specifically the Department of the Interior) for not deciding whether polar bears should be listed as endangered or not quickly enough.

polar

They aren’t suing because the Government promised to help an endangered species and have failed to do so; The Department of the Interior is literally being sued for not deciding whether an animal is, in fact, endangered, thus (I suppose) endangering it. “Doing nothing means extinction for the polar bear,” the groups have said, backing their actions. Likewise, if a doctor initially said he would know whether a patient has cancer or not in a week, and if when that date arrives, he says he needs one more day, he’d better just give up now, because the patient will die of cancer.

Speaking of patients, what about patience? Putting polar bears on an endangered species list won’t automatically cause them to survive longer. Research must be done anyway, and research takes time. Deadline dates for decisions to either put or not put an animal on an endangered species list seem trivial.

Most important of all, suing? They are suing the government for money? “You told me that you would know whether one of the millions of animal species was endangered by today! But you still don’t know. Give me a million bucks to cope with the trauma you have caused.” Yes, I admit conservation is expensive, but this just seems like a scheme to steal from the government when they slip up a little. Give the government a break and let them decide if any of your efforts to save an animal from extinction are even necessary (and in effect, if your suing is necessary). That is, after all, what you asked them to do.





Saving the world one extinct species at a time

10 03 2008

NewsI try not to focus on politics too much in the blog, but it seems I completely failed last week. Politics are just so controversial.

So to lighten up the mood a little bit, I have very exciting news. Pygmy hippos, previously feared extinct, have been rediscovered in the wild. Thanks to the Zoological Society of London, hidden cameras were planted in Liberia and successfully taped the adorable little animals (you know you want one).

hippo

The area has been ravaged lately by civil wars, poaching, and habitat degradation. Luckily the animals are elusive and secretive enough to stay out the public eye and survive in isolated swamps and rivers. Because they are listed on the endangered species list, conservationists are keen on assisting the animals.

However, in this instance, I would recommend just leaving them alone. Clearly the only reason they have survived so far is by pretending to be extinct. That’s probably the cleverest of tactics in world full of people crying to interfere.  Once humans are involved, their gig is up and no doubt they’ll go extinct for real.  No one would wish that upon those cute animals.





Sue the sun for global warming

27 02 2008

NewsThe native Alaskan village of Kivalina has slowly been eroding into the Chukchi Sea is recent decades. Formerly, the village was protected from storms by sea ice, but global warming and the melting of Arctic Ice has threatened their village’s existence. Though it could be considered a questionable choice to have located their village in between a lagoon, the Kivalina River, and the Chukchi Sea, they have have thrived mostly due to the hunting of salmon and other sea animals.

Kivalina
A retaining wall under construction can be seen clearly. Credit: Jim Kulas

The Kivalina Relocation Planning Committee (KRPC) was formed to address the problem and find solutions. However, estimates say that relocation could cost as much as $400,000,000. As a result, with the help of two non-profit legal firms and six law firms, they decided to sue just about as many power and oil companies as possible. The grounds on which they are basing the lawsuit, of course, is that the contribution to global warming by those companies are the greatest, and they, therefore, are most responsible for the demise of the village.

While it is fairly certain that they won’t win the lawsuit – unfortunately, there is still not enough evidence to suggest power and oil companies have directly caused arctic ice to melt – the plight of the Alaskans is sure to bring a considerable amount of attention to the future effects rising ocean waters could have. It’s extremely expensive for everyone involved.

I don’t want to suggest that the KRPC doesn’t deserve to get aid – on the contrary, I think they should receive a lot of help – but I daresay the success of this lawsuit in any way would spell disaster for the economy as we know it. Suing has already gotten out of control in this country, and the last thing we need is the ability to sue for climate change. If Florida loses a hundred yards off its beaches, the government should be the one obligated to help, not businesses that disputably have nothing to do with their plight.

People need to realize that they can’t sue the world for their every misfortune. When everyone’s just trying to survive, sometimes people get stepped on unintentionally. That’s no reason to make others’ lives more difficult just for the sake of your own.





Dinosaurs in the palm of your hand

11 02 2008

NewsThe fossil of an adult pterodactyl has sent waves of excitement across the scientific community. The pterodactyl was about the size of a sparrow, but had the fully developed bones of an adult. As the smallest pterodactyl on record, it helps to further build the bridge between dinosaurs and birds as we know them today.

Pterodactyl

Seriously, though, that’s just about the cutest dinosaur I’ve ever seen. And since our visualization of dinosaurs is purely based on artists’ creative license, pictures like this will forever be imprinted in my brain as real.  I’d like to personally thank this artist for his creativity.  The artist even stuck a ladybug in the animal’s mouth to illustrate how small it is. He also stuck a droplet of water about to fall off the tip of the leaf to symbolize how ephemeral life is. The creature evolves. The creature goes extinct. Or maybe the artist was just showing off his mad painting skills with a glistening droplet of water. I prefer to think that the artist took a cool picture with a water droplet he found on the internet and simply painted over it now including the dinosaur. That way our self-esteem isn’t lowered by the photo-realism of the picture, which must have been created in a very short time to come out in the news so quickly. Sorry, I’m bored today.





Discovery that over-harvested plants are slowly disappearing concerns some

19 01 2008

NewsBBC News has just released a dispiriting article on the gradual disappearance of many important medicinal plants. After collecting information from over six hundred members of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, it was revealed that 400 plants are at risk of becoming extinct. Local cultures as well as worldwide medicine-producing companies are worried about the disappearance of the plants. And we have no idea why they are disappearing…

Oh, wait, yes we do! They are being harvested by the same companies that are worried about their gradual depletion. And this was just discovered now? Someone finally realized that the Earth doesn’t have an infinite supply of everything? This reminds me of a certain oil crisis that is rocking the world at the present. Something extremely valuable to nearly every citizen of the planet is being destroyed voluntarily. It’s unfortunate that they both are so nonrenewable.

Oh, wait, plants are! In fact, I am fairly certain that a majority of them take a relatively short time to grow. I am also fairly certain that they are inexpensive to grow and for the most part easy to replace. Why is this news being reported as if the entire future of medicine is at risk when there is an obvious cure sitting before us? Who are the company owners insisting that plants necessary for company survival be harvested to extinction before realizing that they probably should have grown some replacements?

It’s like if an old-fashioned farmer grew his crops and sold them, only to discover he forgot to keep any seeds to plant for the next season. Only this time around, the lives on the line and the money involved are thousands of times greater. Considering this is an international effort, I’m surprised the entire future is being overlooked just for the sake of some quick money.

Oh, wait, no I’m not.





Mighty morphing parasites wreaking havoc

18 01 2008

NewsGod has just unveiled His latest cruel and unforgiving smiting technique to the world. Far away in Central and South America, the black ant community has made the unfortunate discovery that its brothers and sisters are turning into fruit. Or at least it appears that way, and the birds preying on them don’t seem to notice the difference.

The cause is a tiny parasitic nematode (more commonly known as a roundworm) that has found refuge inside the ants’ bodies. In a twist of fate, the the ants black exoskeleton becomes increasingly translucent revealing the red and shiny layer beneath, almost perfectly mimicking the red berries found in their natural habitat. What the black ants might have done to deserve such a bitter fate remains undetermined. Regardless, no one can deny the parasites’ antics are disturbingly human-like in their mercilessness.

antberry

Perhaps even more disturbing and more noticeably human than their desire to live at the expense of others is the complexity of the parasites’ overall plan. After causing the ants to morph into a berry delights that are eating by birds, their eggs proceed through the birds digestive system unharmed and back out into the unknowing world freshly fertilized and ready to attack when an unsuspecting ant victim comes too near. We must remind ourselves how small these creatures are and how very limited their perception of their environment is. It is borderline inspirational that such simple organisms can contrive in such sadistic ways. It almost makes us question whether other intelligent life already exists in our universe, and we’re simply overlooking it because it’s on our own planet.