Mangrove Loss in Myanmar Greatly Intensified Cyclone Damage

A natural buffer to disaster.

Recent large-scale destruction of mangroves contributed heavily to the damage inflicted by the cyclone Nargis that ripped through Myanmar last week, says the UN.

Myanmar is home to the eight-largest mangrove forest in the world, but it had lost large areas of mangroves over the last four decades. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated in 2005 that the losses were around 70,000 hectares from 1972 to 2005, and 2008 estimates suggest a much higher loss.

The Irwaddy delta, the largest mangrove area in Myanmar, is exactly where cyclone Nargis struck, and it is precisely where the largest losses of mangroves had occured prior to the cyclone.

In dense mangroves, the tree’s trunks, branches and roots offer resistance to the force of waves and reduce the impact. Mangroves also trap and stabilize sediments and reduce the risk of shoreline erosion, while ground vegetation can protect against smaller waves.

The mangroves in Myanmar were destroyed for conversion into rice fields, large-scale shrimp and prawn farming introduced in 1995, extraction of fuelwood and charcoal, and expansion of human settlements.
Coastal planning to ensure a protective buffer zone where habitation is discouraged is one way to reduce damage from future cyclones, says the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Department of the Interior Lists Polar Bear as “Threatened” Species: A Big Success in the Long Fight Ahead

A Dwindling Species

In a landmark decision that makes a lot of us want to shout “Finally!”, the Department of the Interior announced this afternoon that the Polar Bear would be added to the list of “Threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s about time! However, the oh-so-qualified Secretary of the Interior has done everything in his power to down-play the decision, stating that the decision should not be cause for more global warming “alarmism.”

Why the heck not, Mr. Kempthorne?

For the full story:

Polar bear now listed as ‘threatened’ -[CNN]

Missing the Point Again: Congress Defies Bush on Oil Reserve, Nothing Solved

The Pelosis and Anderson Cooper

The Pelosis and Anderson Cooper, appreciating the Frozen North.

Many people have never heard of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. If you look it up on “Google” you’ll find a few blurry aerial photos and an official explanation of what it is, but not much else. The SPR, which is spaced across several different sites, is America’s “Emergency Plan” when it comes to oil. Four salt-domes in the Gulf Coast play host to America’s back-up supply of oil, a reserve meant for Americans, well, the American government, if ever the emergency need arises.

As of May 07, 2008, the current inventory was 702.0 million barrels (111,610,000 m³). At current market prices ($125 a barrel) the SPR holds over $88 billion worth of petroleum. Each day 70,000 barrels of oil are shipped to the SPR for storage, well, until now.

Despite vigorous complaints about “national security issues” from George W. Bush, Congress voted yesterday, almost unianimously, to suspend the stockpiling of more oil in the SPR until the end of 2008.

President Bush opposes the reserve measure because, he said, limiting supplies to the reserve could have national security consequences in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. He is expected to veto the bill.

Republican leaders in the House said the bill was a good “first step” to addressing gas prices, but used the vote as an opportunity to push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Author’s note: NO!)

Drilling in the refuge could produce a million barrels of oil a day and “reduce gasoline prices by 14 times the price reduction achieved by redirecting oil from the SPR,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Republican Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri in a letter Monday to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

However, Pelosi argued that more drilling is not the answer, saying drilling on federal lands has increased over the years without affecting gas prices. She also said opening ANWR for drilling would only provide six months of oil — 10 years from now. (Related article)

While we agree with everything that Congress is trying to do with this vote to ease the economic strain of the American people, we still maintain our stance that making it easier for people to afford gas is really the last thing this country needs. Legislation aimed at increasing dependence on oil, funding alternative energy, or rewarding companies who have made an attempt to go green would be a much better use of Congress’ time, and a solution rather than a temporary patch like suspending shipments to SPR.

Problems of Biblical Proportions: Afghanistan Sees Plague of Locusts

In an unprecedented turn of events, Afghanistan has recently become host to a locust infestation that has prompted many local authorities to offer rewards for killing large numbers of the flying insects.

Already, 300 metric tons of locusts have been killed by residents of the northwestern province of Badghis in recent weeks. The province, which is already suffering from drought, has had acres of land devastated by the insect infestation, and can not afford to see any more ruined by the plague.

Local officials in Badghis and neighboring Herat have promised residents 15 lbs of wheat per bounty of 1 kg of locusts, amid a global surge in food prices that has hit Afghanistan hard, such is the urgency of the insect-killing campaign.

It is too soon to know what long-term effects the infestation will have on Afghani wheat crops, but a drastic reduction of the already precious supply is imminent in the poverty-stricken country.

At It Again: New Metal Ore Quests in Northern Minnesota, and the Resources Are Fading Away

We’ve all seen “North Country,” and we all know what Northern Minnesota is famous for as far as resources are concerned- iron. While a great much of the iron is MN is gone, new mining quests of untapped iron, nickel, and copper veins are pending, and could bring a new boom to the Iron Range. However, a whole new set of environmental hazards for the North Woods would follow.

For the full story, as seen in this week’s Minneapolis/ St. Paul City Pages, click here.

A New Meaning to “Greasy Thieves”

Someone once said that the true sucess of anything can be measured by how much crime stems out of it- and apparently alternative fuel is no exception. A new job among the criminal population has recently emerged: the grease theif.

With the demand for biodiesel on the rise, the market value of the type of grease used to make it has skyrocketed in recent years. Therefore, “grease bandits” are stealing fry grease from restaurants and purifying centers in order to sell it back to biodiesel producers.

The type of grease, called “yellow grease,” (creative, we know) is the by-product left over when restaurants cook food in vegetable oil or animal fat in large-capacity fryers. (Yummmmyy)

Rendering facilities, which are located in 20 states, have begin locking up thier grease, but it does little to stop professional grease-thieves, who bend the tops of steel storage bins and “slurp” up the fat with thin stingers attached to hoses.

The increased demand for biodiesel has caused the price of yellow grease to triple in recent years, and it is now up to 32 cents a pound. A theft of 5,000 gallons can be worth several thousand dollars.

It seems McDonald’s may be fated to play a part in the green revolution after all…

Koalas Are the Latest Victims of Climate Change

It seems that, once again, “human problems” are showing how they effect non-humans as well. In the latest display of the climate change domino-effect, Australia’s native koalas are the victims.

New studies show that the rising level of carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere depeletes nutrients from the leaves of the eucalyptus tree- the primary, and often only source of food for the koala.

Researchers working on the study also found that the amount of toxicity in the leaves of eucalyptus trees rose when the level of carbon dioxide was increased.

Ian Hume, emeritus professor of biology at Sydney University, estimated that if current levels of global CO2 emissions remained stagnant, it would result in a noticeable reduction in the koala population in only 50 years.

Koalas, who have already been displaced from the most nutritous trees on fertile land due to farming and suburb production, only eat the leaves of about 25 of the 600 species of eucalyptus in Australia, a number that Hume believes will be reduced drastically in the very near future.