Blue Marble

War Comes Home as Children of Deployed Military Suffer Stress

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 7:44 PM EST

A study from the Medical College of Georgia tells a predictable yet neglected story, that the children of parents in the military during wartime have significant physical and mental health issues. Stress not only, well, stresses them, it also effectively ages them beyond their years.

Researchers looked at 121 adolescents – including 48 with civilian parents, 20 with a parent deployed to Iraq and 53 with a parent in the military but not deployed – days after Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched in March 2003 and nearly three months later when President Bush announced major hostilities had ceased.

At both points, adolescent offspring of military personnel self-reported higher levels of stress and measures of blood pressure and heart rates supported that.

"We expected stress levels would push up blood pressure and heart rates," says Dr. Vernon Barnes, physiologist at the Medical College of Georgia and principal author of a paper published in the January issue of Military Medicine.

Dr. Barnes and his colleagues used a posttraumatic stress disorder questionnaire developed by the military for personnel and modified for adolescents, a survey to assess psychosocial concerns such as sense of well-being and faith in government as well as more objective heart rate and blood pressure measures.

Not surprisingly, they found that particularly adolescents with deployed parents had higher rates than their classmates. Studies were done at the Academy of Richmond County, a high school in Augusta, Ga., attended by many children whose parents are stationed at Fort Gordon.

Casualties without boundaries.

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Another PR Firm Poses as an Activist Group

| Tue Feb. 13, 2007 4:41 PM EST

The California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights feels your pain. You've been upset about eminent domain abuse—when cities take land from the little guys and pass it to developers of chain stores, car dealerships, and golf courses—haven't you? It's so un-American. Well, the Alliance sympathizes, and it wants to channel your feelings into… opening up nature preserves and greenbelts to developers.

Up close, the "Alliance" doesn't look like much an alliance. It looks more like a public relations firm. The man running the show, Marko Mlikotin, might be on Wal-Mart's payroll. He was spotted recently drumming up community support for two Wal-Mart supercenters in Chico, Calif. But public relations is a tough job, and he's having a rough go at it. Reporter Tom Gascoyne writes, "When I asked him questions, he would say, 'I'm not sure,' or 'Don't quote me.'"

Anyway, "Marko the Mysterious" just sent out a press release trumpeting a recent survey. The pollster is the Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm which says, "As our roots are in political campaign management, our research is focused on producing information…." Doesn't sound so objective.

You can guess the poll results: People don't like eminent domain abuse. They would support a law to protect homeowners. But the survey didn't differentiate between the private property rights of homeowners and those of Wal-Mart. And what people weren't asked about is how much they value open space and greenbelts and nature preserves. People don't want a law like Prop 90, which citizens smartly defeated in November, because it would have crippled environmental regulation and cost the states billions of dollars. A "pay-or-waive scheme," Prop 90 would have required the government to compensate landowners for new regulations that devalue their property, or waive the regulations altogether. (In Oregon, which has pay-or-waive, property owners in three months last summer filed more than $5 billion in claims).

As far as I can tell, no news agencies have picked up the survey, which means folks are onto Marko and his "alliance." But the point is, they're back. Special interests behind this "alliance" are drumming up support for another Prop 90. Get ready.

Update on Sea Shepherd Pursuit of Japanese Whaling Ship

| Fri Feb. 9, 2007 6:24 PM EST

Pirate excitement continues during the long days of the austral summer in the stormy Southern Ocean. Sea Shepherd crews aboard the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter continue in hot pursuit of the Japanese factory whaling ship the Nisshin Maru. For a while disaster loomed, as two crewmen went adrift in a Zodiak chase boat crippled after its confrontation with the Japanese whaler.

The Zodiac inflatable carrying 2nd Officer Karl Neilsen, 29, of Australia, and Engineer John Gravois, 24, of the United States, fell back from the other Sea Shepherd ships after its fiberglass hull cracked and filled with water. The damage was caused when the inflatable struck the steel hull of the whaling vessel Nisshin Maru in heavy seas. The two were quickly lost as heavy fog, snow, and sleet conditions suddenly occurred.

Captain Paul Watson immediately put the Farley Mowat into a search grid and then issued a maritime distress call and was joined by the Sea Shepherd ship Robert Hunter. Because it was an official distress, the Japanese factory vessel was obligated to participate and joined in the search. The search lasted eight hours.

The crewmembers were found by the Farley Mowat; both were unharmed and slightly cold. They were spotted by Farley Mowat Quartermaster Jaime Brown of New Zealand. They were both wearing wetsuits under survival suits. Karl and John were glad to be rescued and were not suffering any ill effects.

Captain Paul Watson called the Nisshin Maru to thank them for their assistance in the search and then said, "We're all back on schedule." At this point, the two Sea Shepherd ships resumed their pursuit of the Japanese whaling fleet as conditions continue to worsen, and winds and swells increase.

Yet fair maritime play was soon followed by foul, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society says, as the Nisshin Maru claimed injury of two crew from the butyric acid attack. Not possible, swabbies, says Captain Watson.

"My crew did not injure anyone," said Captain Watson. "This is just a spin designed to get public sympathy for men who are themselves vicious and ruthless killers of whales."

The Japanese claim that two whalers were injured when six liters of butyric acid were tossed onto the flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru.

According to Japan's Fisheries Agency spokesman, Hideki Moronuki, the two Japanese crewmen sustained injuries from the attack after one was hit by an empty container of acid and the other had acid squirted in his eye.

"Nice try, but a total fabrication," said Captain Watson. "The butyric acid is contained in one-liter glass bottles, all of which broke upon contact with the flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru. These bottles are sealed and the acid released after being broke, so it is impossible to be hit by an empty bottle. Secondly, no one squirted butyric acid into anyone's eye, and even if they did, this is a simple non-toxic butter acid, basically rancid butter. It will not cause eye injury. If we had tossed marshmallows on the deck of the Nisshin Maru, I'm sure the whalers would try to claim they were injured by them"

Every minute the whaling fleet runs from the Sea Shepherd ships is a minute less spent hunting whales. And, no, the whalers won't just hunt longer or raise prices dockside in response because there isn't any market in Japan for whale meat anymore. Greenpeace describes how that other pirate whaling nation, Iceland, can't figure out what to do with its tons of whale meat it hoped to sell to Japan.

In Iceland we have discovered an unprecedented amount of the whale meat from the recent hunt has not been used. Even whaling captain Sigurður Njálsson has said the meat is unfit for domestic consumption. 200 tonnes of the meat is in storage with a further 179 tonnes of entrails buried at a landfill site. But despite demand for whale meat plummeting, Japan and Iceland continue to hunt whales. An icy landfill site has been used to dump a vast proportion of the fin whale remains. Underneath the snowy floor around 179 tonnes of bones and entrails have been left to rot. Around 200 tonnes of meat and blubber - a vast proportion of the total yield - are sitting elsewhere in storage waiting to be tested for chemical contamination.

"Iceland claims their commercial whaling is sustainable – but how can they justify it when they are hunting endangered species, without domestic demand, and an over-supply of whale products in Japan?" said Greenpeace Nordic Oceans campaigner, Frode Pleym. "Both Iceland and Japan continue to whale in the face of domestic and international opposition, even though there is no scientific, economic or environmental justification for it," added Pleym.

The Icelandic meat and blubber in storage is intended for export to Japan, despite the fact that Japan already has 4962 tonnes of whale meat stockpiled (as of October 2006) according to the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Last year, 5500 tons of whale meat was supplied to the Japanese market. This includes whale meat which does not get eaten and is simply thrown away because it didn't sell. Even if we generously assume all of the meat was in fact eaten, that is only about 46g of whale meat per person , as opposed to 5.6kg of beef, 12.1kg of pork, and 10.5kg of chicken.

"It is no surprise that there are massive stockpiles of whale meat, when a recent survey shows that 95 percent of Japanese people never or have rarely eaten whale meat. It is time for all governments to make a commitment to the whales and not an outdated, unwanted and pointless industry," said Greenpeace Japan's campaign director, Junichi Sato.

Talk about outlaw nations, axes of evil. Add Norway to the list and you've got a Triumvirate of Terror that Ahab would be proud of.

Sea Shepherd Ships Attack Japanese Whaling Fleet in Antarctic Waters

| Thu Feb. 8, 2007 7:36 PM EST

This just in from the Sydney Morning Herald. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's two ships, the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter, have found the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters after six weeks of searching and attacked them.

Sea Shepherd's president, Paul Watson, told the SMH online that his ships evaded satellite surveillance in order to pounce on the fleet near the Balleny Islands, far south-west of Tasmania. "I ran the ships through the ice fields south of the Balleny Islands and came up on them from the other side," Captain Watson said. "We took a pounding in the ice, but the satellite cannot track a ship and wake through ice nor would they be looking there. "The Robert Hunter is easily keeping up with the factory ship. The Nisshin Maru was fleeing the Robert Hunter and came directly towards the Farley Mowat. At two miles, they turned and fled in the other direction."

In their first attack, Captain Watson said his crew cleared the whale-flensing deck of the Nisshin Maru, when they threw a non-toxic "butter acid" on it from an inflatable dinghy. Activists in inflatables armed with nail guns were also fixing steel plates over drain outlets in the side of the fleeing factory ship, preventing the escape of whale blood from the flensing deck. He said the fleet had scattered and the Robert Hunter was still in contact with Nisshin Maru, which was steaming away at high speed and attempting to use its water cannon on the activists. "They are easily avoided," he said.

The attack came almost five weeks after Sea Shepherd began searching for the fleet in the Ross Sea, and with their vessels beginning to run low on fuel. The group has begun negotiations to enter Australia or New Zealand ports, a decision complicated by their status as "pirate" whalers.

Well, the SMH's got it wrong there. The Japanese ships are the only pirate whalers in the Antarctic just now, since their claim of "scientific whaling" is laughably bogus if it weren't so frackin' tragic. Watson's fleet is made up of pirate ships, flying without a flag, as Reuters via the Alaska Report reports.

"We haven't broken any law or regulation, but now we're not registered anywhere -- we're technically a pirate ship without a flag," said Captain Paul Watson from the Farley Mowat. "It means that we could be attacked and confiscated at will by any nation including the Japanese," he said.

All this righteousness from that pirating-nation-of olde, Britain, over butter acid? Back to the SMH:

The Farley Mowat has been stripped of its Belizean registration, and Britain is to de-register the Robert Hunter in 10 days' time. Talks are under way with both the Australian and New Zealand Governments in a bid to avoid arrest.

Greenpeace's ship Esperanza, which had hoped to be first to reach the whalers, was about a day's sailing away from the position where Sea Shepherd found them, and approaching from the west, a Greenpeace spokesman said. The Japanese Government's Institute for Cetacean Research, which owns the fleet, is harpooning up to 935 minke whales and 10 fin whales under its program of "scientific research".

Meanwhile, Watson delivered this message to the Japanese pirate whalers:

Nisshin Maru, this is Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd vessel Farley Mowat. Please be advised that you are killing whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. You are targeting endangered species of whales in violation of international conservation law. You are killing whales in violation of the IWC global moratorium on commercial whaling. Please cease and desist your illegal whaling operations and leave the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. We are acting in accordance with the principles of the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The Charter authorizes non-governmental organizations and individuals to uphold international conservation law.

Aye aye.

Orangutans Losing Their Forests Faster Than Expected, Extinction Draws Near, & How You Can Avoid Making Their Prognosis Worse

| Wed Feb. 7, 2007 9:43 PM EST

Broken heart time. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has an environmental forum underway in Nairobi. Their Rapid Response report offers a bleak assessment of the future of our Asian cousins, the orangutans, or "people of the forest" in the local languages of Indonesia and Malaysia.

The report says that natural rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo are being cleared so rapidly that up to 98% may be destroyed by 2022 without urgent action. The rate of loss, which has accelerated in the past five years, outstrips a previous UNEP report released in 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) Then, experts estimated that most of the suitable orangutan habitat would be lost by 2032.

The illegal logging, driven by global demands, accounts for tens of millions of cubic metres annually and an estimated more than 73% of all logging in Indonesia. Approximately 20% of the logs are smuggled directly out of Indonesia, the remaining is used to support an extensive international and local wood industry, and then exported to the international markets by well-organized, but elusive commercial networks.

New satellite imagery reveals that the illegal logging is now entering a new critical phase: As the demands grow, the industry and international market are running out of cheap illegal timber and are now entering the national parks where the only remaining timber available in commercial amounts is found.

Satellite images confirm, together with data from the Indonesian Government, that illegal logging is now taking place in 37 out of 41 national parks, and likely growing. "At current rates of intrusions, it is likely that some parks may become severely degraded in as little as three to five years, that is by 2012", says the new study "The last stand of the orangutan: State of emergency."

Overall the report is concluding that loss of orangutan habitat is happening at a rate up to 30% higher than previously thought.

Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are classed as Endangered and Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and are listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It doesn't get much worse than this. Orangutans also share their forests with other threatened and ecologically important species including the Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros and Asian elephant.

The Orangutan Conservancy, headed by such luminaries as Jane Goodall, Suwanna B. Gauntlett, and Edward O. Wilson, describes orangutans as among our closest relatives, sharing 97 percent of our DNA, while embracing a different lifestyle.

Some might say orangutans have four hands instead of two hands and two feet. This makes them graceful and agile while climbing through the trees but it makes walking on the ground somewhat slow and awkward. That is why the orangutan is at a great disadvantage on the ground, and why the orangutan rarely comes down from the treetops. Their food is there, their home is there and they are safer there.

But the trees are disappearing, largely to support the Western demand for tropical hardwoods, tropical plywood, rayon, and palm-oil products. The Orangutan Conservancy suggests how we can help.

"Let us remember, always, that we are the consumers. By exercising free choice, by choosing what to buy, what not to buy, we have the power, collectively to change the ethics of business of industry. We have the potential to exert immense power for good–we each carry it with us, in our purses, checkbooks, and credit cards." —Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope

Many items sold today originating from Indonesia are made from materials that come from these vanishing rainforests or are related to the endangered species that are fast disappearing from these forests. As you shop, you can avoid these items by asking yourself:

* Do I really need that picture frame or piece of furniture crafted from tropical hardwood?

* Do I really need a suit made of rayon?

* Do I want to make palm oil a part of my diet?

* Is it really fair to keep an endangered animal such as a primate in captivity as a pet?

* Is there proof that this exotic wood product has come from well-managed forests by an accredited certifier of the Forest Stewardship Council?

The Sierra Club provides a list of thing of things you and I can do to make our consumption of forest products more sustainable.

* reduce consumption by using both sides of your paper, using email, and reading newspapers online

* reduce junk mail by writing to Mail Preference Service, c/o Direct Marketing Association, P.O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008

* complete the circle: purchase recycled and tree-free products

* buy only certified forest products and certified or salvaged wood for construction and furnishings

* avoid purchasing rayon viscose clothing

* purchase certified shade grown and organic coffee

In your local community

* ask local stores to carry tree free and recycled products

* support (or start) community recycling programs, for mixed paper as well as newspaper

* encourage local stores to stock sustainably certified, salvaged or recycled wood.

* request that office-supply stores stock recycled and tree-free paper.

* ask local building contractors to use certified wood products.

At work or school

* do not print unnecessary documents and proofread to reduce the need to re-print papers

* program photocopiers to default to two-sided copying

* begin a recycling program and provide bins for all departments and rooms

* purchase recycled, chlorine-free, and/or alternative fiber products

Public policy activism

* ban road building and logging in National Forests (McKinney-Leach bill)

* remove or reverse subsidies to timber harvesting

* ask elected officials to use only recycled or alternative fiber papers in their offices

Bush's Budget: Hello Petroleum, Goodbye Endangered Species, Clean Water, Amtrak...

| Wed Feb. 7, 2007 3:25 PM EST

Despite a seemingly robust support for alternative, environmentally-friendly fuels in his State of the Union address, President Bush is anything but green. The President's $2.9 trillion budget, submitted to Congress Monday, included the one-two punch of cutting conservation while increasing gas and coal-powered industries.

Here are just a few ways the President is trying "to promote energy independence for our country, while dramatically improving the environment."

Clean power:

  • $385 million for "clean" power derived from coal
  • Nearly $500 million for a nuclear waste dump
  • $114 million to expand the U.S.'s nuclear power facilities
  • $405 million for the U.S. to reprocess nuclear reactor fuel for sale to foreign nations
  • $5.8 million increase for the Bureau of Land Management's oil and gas operations
  • Doubles the capacity of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve over 20 years.
  • $400 million cut from Amtrak's passenger services
  • Conservation:

  • $44 million cut from clean water initiatives
  • $9 million decrease for the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences
  • $85 million cut from the Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • Proposes selling $800 million of National Forests
  • 950 million acres of public lands to be sold over 10 years
  • Wildlife:

  • $5.5 million cut from the endangered species recovery program
  • funding for private landowners to help conserve at-risk wildlife, cut entirely
  • Budget assumes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be used for oil and gas drilling
  • National Wildlife Refuge System receives a small increase in funding, but still less than FY 2004 level
  • Bureau of Land Management's wildlife program, cut entirely
  • All this may sound dire, but not to worry. The President's budget also calls for a 10-year plan to get the National Parks rehabilitated in time for their 2016 centennial--by selling private companies the rights to name trails and facilities. An idea he cribbed from his buddy, Richard Pombo, who, after his November whuppin' is nonetheless probably quite pleased with this budget scenario.

    —Jen Phillips

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    Beware the Smelly Orange Snow Falling on Russia

    | Tue Feb. 6, 2007 8:49 PM EST

    The BBC reports on the newest environmental plague to hit Siberia: smelly orange and (yes) yellow snow—but not the kind you're used to. Something way grosser.

    Oily yellow and orange snowflakes fell over an area of more than 1,500sq km (570sq miles) in the Omsk region on Wednesday [31 Jan], Russian officials said. Chemical tests were under way to determine the cause, they said. Residents have been advised not to use the snow for household tasks or let animals graze on it.

    "So far we cannot explain the snow, which is oily to the touch and has a pronounced rotten smell," said Omsk environmental prosecutor Anton German, quoted by the Russian news agency Itar-Tass on Thursday. "We are waiting for the results of a thorough test on samples."

    But Vladimir Gurzhey, an official with the civil defence ministry in Omsk, told the Russia TV channel that the snow had four times the normal levels of iron in it. The TV also reported that coloured snow had fallen in the neighbouring regions of Tomsk and Tyumen. Omsk, in western Siberia, is a centre of Russia's oil industry. About 27,000 people live in the areas affected by the snow, Russian officials said.

    Exxon Valdez Oil-Spill Toxins Undiminished 16 Years On

    | Tue Feb. 6, 2007 8:33 PM EST

    1989. Seems like a long time ago. The other GW was the new guy in the White House. The first Gulf War was only a glimmer in his eye. The Soviet Union officially announced its troops had left Afghanistan. Pan Am flight 103 investigators announced the crash was caused by a bomb hidden inside a radio-cassette player (remember radio-cassette players?). The Exxon Valdez's drunken skipper contributed to running the tanker aground, dumping at least 11 million gallons into Alaska's once-pristine Prince William Sound.

    Well, all these years later and Jeffrey W. Short of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and colleagues, find that oil from that spill persists in an only slightly weathered form below the surface at beaches along the Gulf of Alaska—and may persist for decades more, ScienceDaily reports.

    Earlier research demonstrated that buried oil could retain toxic components for years if buried in anoxic (oxygen-depleted) sediments where little decomposition from weathering occurs. The new study identified a different mechanism in which oil can be preserved in sediments that do contain oxygen. The oil persists because it exists in a thick, emulsified form sometimes termed "oil mousse" that resists weathering.

    "Such persistence can pose a contact hazard to inter-tidally foraging sea otters, sea ducks, and shorebirds, create a chronic source of low-level contamination, discourage subsistence in a region where use is heavy and degrade the wilderness character of protected lands," the researchers conclude.

    Wikipedia notes the short- and medium-term effects of one the largest manmade environmental disasters ever to occur at sea:

    Thousands of animals died immediately; the best estimates include 250,000 - 500,000 sea birds, 2,800 - 5,000 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 orcas, and billions of salmon and herring eggs. Due to a thorough cleanup, little visual evidence of the event remained in areas frequented by humans just one year later, but the effects of the spill continue to be felt today. In the long term, reductions in population have been seen in various ocean animals, including stunted growth in pink salmon populations. Sea otters and ducks also showed higher death rates in following years, partly because they ingested contaminated creatures. The animals also were exposed to oil when they dug up their prey in dirty soil. Researchers said some shoreline habitats, such as contaminated mussel beds, could take up to 30 years to recover.

    Hasn't hurt Exxon, though. Profits are astronomical and durable, just like the oil mousse.

    Remember the Exxon Valdez when you shop for your electric scooter.

    For the First Time Ever, a U.S. Court Halts a GMO Field Trial

    | Tue Feb. 6, 2007 8:26 PM EST

    In a ruling that could make it more difficult for the USDA to speed through permits for the testing of genetically engineered crops, a federal judge halted field trials of several controversial GMOs yesterday pending a more detailed review of their potential environmental hazards. It was the first time a field trial of a GE crop has been stopped by a U.S. court. Judge Harold Kennedy found the USDA should have required environmental impact statements before approving field trials of pesticide-resistant creeping bentgrass and Kentucky bluegrass in Oregon. Last year, pollen from the grasses escaped from the test area and fertilized plants several miles away in a national grassland.

    The ruling was a rebuke to a common practice at the USDA of approving GMO field trials under a "categorical exclusion"--basically, an argument that field trials are too environmentally insignificant to merit detailed oversight. Although the judicial pounding has by no means driven a nail in the coffin of GMOs, it's certainly a sign that the USDA is starting to face rebukes for years of lax policies on a very poorly understood area of science.


    Is a Deal with Dingell a Deal with the Devil?

    | Tue Feb. 6, 2007 7:56 PM EST

    Over the past month, the biggest threat to climate change legislation seems not to come from Exxon Mobil-sponsored think-tanks nor Texas Republicans; rather, it has been infighting between Democrats. Since becoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has done everything but challenge John Dingell to a bout of mud-wrestling in order to take control of climate change legislation away from the House Committee on Energy and Commerce the Michigan Democrat chairs.

    That's because Dingell is infamous for being in the pocket of the Auto Industry: He has long opposed tougher CAFE standards and his wife is currently a senior executive at GM. Many see him as an obstructionist to action on climate change. (See this interview with Grist, where Dingell expresses Inhofe-esque views on global warming.)

    Dingell has been outspoken in his opposition to a new committee, telling the AP in January: "We're just empowering a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs to go around and make speeches and make commitments that will be very difficult to honor."

    Bygones may not yet be bygones, but Pelosi and Dingell seem to have come to a compromise, clearing the way for the new committee--albeit a weaker one than Pelosi would probably have liked. In a letter sent to the Speaker yesterday, Dingell agreed not to challenge a new committee on climate change in exchange for Pelosi's concession that the new committee will not be granted legislative authority and will expire in October of 2008. U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, chair of the Oversight and Government Reform committee, co-signed the letter, agreeing not to challenge the formation of the select committee. You're not alone if you're not sure whether to chalk this one up as a win or a defeat for the planet.

    --Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell