Archive | July, 2012

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A Climate Premonition

Posted on 22 July 2012 by Jerry

Camp Dadaab is the world’s largest and most extreme example of humanity’s failure to provide solutions to the problem of climate caused  mass migration.  We have to multiply Dadaab’s population of 500,000 by 300, however, to get a sense of the 150 million climate refugees the world will face in 2050.   The camp provides an unsettling premonition of what the future might hold if we don’t step up to more effectively manage migration.

Dadaab is a refugee camp in Kenya which has been in existence for 20 years.  Until 2011 it provided a haven largely for people fleeing the violence in Somalia.  In 2011 its numbers swelled by an additional 160,000 refugees to 500,000 people, with the new migrants seeking shelter from the drought in Africa.

Administered by the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, Dadaab’s increase in population by roughly 30% was not anticipated and has overwhelmed the resources donated by a number of aid organizations and the United Nations.  Obviously, any and all donations would be helpful.  Targeted relief organizations are identified below.

Not only is the Dadaab warehousing of refugees not working but it clearly will fail to address the upcoming needs when the number of people is hundreds of times larger.  At present, out of the camp’s 500,000 people, about 230,000 are children which reflects that in most of Africa another child is viewed as a positive economic asset, e.g. more hands to mind the animals, perform chores, work to support the family. Seventy percent of these children at Dadaab are not in school and consequently not developing skills that can be put to use in the future.

Some 130,000 refugees are forced to live in tents which deteriorate rapidly in the harsh climate.  At present there is funding for the construction of only 4,000 semi-permanent shelters when some 30,000 are needed.  Water, sanitation, and medical services are falling woefully behind the burgeoning demands.  Camps such as these must be viewed as only temporary way-stations not a permanent home in themselves.  They must serve as a jumping off point for migration to a more permanent location.

In the November 2011 post, “Weather Goest Thou?” we discussed the inevitable large scale human migration as a result of climate change and the woeful lack of planning for how the world should respond.  Two groups were cited as attempting to plan ahead, the government of the U.K. and a panel of scientists under the auspices of Columbia University (see links below).

Part of the climate migration problem is the need to give legitimacy to climate refugees by changing laws to reflect this source of migration as valid and deserving of assistance.   There are two Australian attorneys, David Hodgkinson and Tess Burton, who have articulated the problem and recommended steps be taken to recognize, validate, and care for these refugees.

In part by quoting Etienne Piguet, a climate change activist and Professor of Human Geography at the University of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, these attorneys assign responsibility for the refugees directly by saying “These principles encapsulate our sense that an urgent issue is as follows ‘if environmental deteriorations due to human influence on the climate generate forced migration flows, the question of the rights of victims to a form of protection will become unavoidable.’  Our solution is to base the convention of the normative claim that high-emitting nations should take responsibility for the lives affected by the over-use of the climate commons.”  In other words, those countries responsible for emissions which cause global climate change should be held responsible to bear the expense and effort required to deal with climate refugees.

Studies of past migrations have shown that rural populations invariably migrate to nearby major cities as their first option on the assumption there will be services to take care of them.  This will probably not represent the best alternative in climate change affected regions.  This is because the nearest city will, in all likelihood, be under the same climate change conditions as the surrounding territory.

We know of the failure of isolated camps like Dadaab.  They will not provide for the needs of this migrating population.  Assuming the countries contributing most to climate change will own up to their responsibilities, we must begin the planning for this migration. It has been suggested each country begin to study its options.  Each country should, and probably will, look at their own territory to determine if they will experience climate change population migration.

In the history of the U.S. the most recent and possibly largest example of a managed rapid migration of people occurred as a result of hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Over a million people were relocated around the country.  As is true in all migrations, the highest numbers of people migrated to nearby large population areas with, as an example, Texas receiving 200,000 people, Arkansas 50,000 and Alabama 24,000.  More distant relocations included 6,000 to Chicago, 807 families to California, over 2,000 people to Ohio, 200 to Massachusetts, and 100 to Rhode Island.

The point of this example is that large migrations can be managed in very short periods of time when many more locations participate in receiving the refugees.  At 150 million people, the climate refugees will represent a significantly larger number of people.  On the plus side however, is that we have decades to manage this number.  In addition, if the developed nations step up to assist refugees we will have the entire world in which to resettle these people.

We have two options; we can delay this effort until the world’s climate refugees number many millions and we are forced to take emergency action, like in Katrina and Dadaab.  Conversely, we can urge our governments, universities, and non profits around the world to start their studies now and implement relocation plans early, when our and their actions can keep pace with the growing numbers of migrating people.

Use the following links to obtain more information on climate change migration, Dadaab and official recognition for climate refugees.  In addition, a variety of links are provided for your donation to organizations fighting for resources for the half million people in Dadaab.

Dadaab Camp:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/journalists/sally-williams/8762161/famine-in-africa-inside-dadaab-the-worlds-largest-refugee-camp.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-18801914

http://allafrica.com/download/resource/main/main/idatcs/00040581:78882d75b21d0da477a354c108e248ac.pdf

Dadaab Donations:

http://oxfam.org/

http://www.msf.org/msf/donations/donations_home.cfm (Doctors Without Borders)

http://savethechildren.org/

http://www.nrc.no/?aid-9179192 (Norwegian Refugee Council)

http://www.drc.dk/about-drc/relief-work/ (Danish Refugee Council)

http://donate.unhcr.org/ (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees)

Planning for Migration:

http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/foresight/docs/migration/11-1116-migration-and-global-environmental-change.pdf

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6055/456.summary

Australian Attorneys:

http://uk.oneworld.net/article/view/162390/1/?printableversion=enabled

http://www.hodgkinsongroup.com/documents/AdaptationAndDisplacement.pdf

Etienne Piguet:

UN Research Paper No. 153 – http://www.unhcr.org/47a316182.html

Katrina Migration:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0912/p01s01-ussc.html

 

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What Makes a Brilliant Mammal?

Posted on 21 July 2012 by Jerry

Before the decoding of the genetic content of animal chromosomes, if we wanted to investigate why some animals are more intelligent than others, there were only a few things we could do.  We could observe and test animal behavior under a variety of circumstances.  This might identify which animals are smarter than others.  Then to determine why they are smarter we might surgically dissect them to see if there are physical differences that might explain their enhanced intelligence.

This is exactly what was done in the past.  Through the use of the mirror and mark tests, we identified four mammals (human beings, great apes not including gorillas, bottle nose dolphins, and Asian elephants) that were thought to have greater intelligence and had achieved self recognition.  Upon dissecting and analyzing their brains it was found they each had a highly developed right prefrontal cortex when compared to other animals.  This was assumed to be the origin of their self recognition and enhanced intelligence.  It was also thought to be the reason for their heightened self evaluation, episodic (autobiographical) memory, introspection, humor and empathy.

Today’s geneticists are pioneering the newest methodology.  They compare the decoded genomes of a variety of large brained animals with highly developed cognitive abilities to see if they can determine the genetic roots of the size of their brains and their superior intelligence.  The results of a recent study comparing the genomes of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) with nine other mammals, has shown remarkable genetic similarity among “intelligent” species including primates and elephants.

Although the research, reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in the U.K. on June 26, 2012, is still a work-in-progress, it has helped the researchers identify 228 genes that are potentially under positive selection within the dolphin lineage.  This means these genes are becoming more common in the population of cetaceans (dolphins and whales) due to natural selection.  It can also be demonstrated that the overall substitution rate of one base for another inside these genes, in other words the rate of genetic change, has slowed compared to other mammals in the study.  This substitution has slowed to be within the range shown in primates and elephants.  At this point the hypothesis of the study is that the identified 228 genes demonstrate the parallel molecular direction of cetaceans with other mammals possessing large brains.

The study entitled “Dolphin genome provides evidence for adaptive evolution of nervous system genes and a molecular rate slowdown” by Messrs. Michael R. McGowen, Lawrence I. Grossman, and Derek E. Wildman observes that “One aspect of cetacean biology that is striking is the relative size and complexity of the brain, especially in toothed whales (odontocetes).  Similar to anthropoid primates, odontocetes have evolved brains that are larger than expected for their body size….relative brain size….such as in the bottlenose dolphin is greater than in all non-human primates, and sperm whales possess the largest brains in absolute terms.”

This type of research shows great promise for our eventual understanding of the evolution of intelligence.  It also will identify the genetic basis of human evolution that allowed us to become the dominant species on our planet.  It may also one day help us to understand how to insure normal human development or reverse the negative genetic anomalies that cause much hardship for some human beings.

Use the following links to obtain more information on these topics.  I have included an article on the bird species, corvids, because even though we do not understand the avian brain they have shown development of self recognition, hence the use of the picture of a crow in the blog to introduce evolutionary subjects.

http://www.pnas.org/content/98/10/5937.full?sid=ec83b504-9962-4b0d-83f5-e737adf45b7f

http://www.pnas.org/content/103/45/17053.full?sid=466e60df-243c-4d45-a802-ca1905d4ab20

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pbio.0060201

http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info%3adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pbio.0060202

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/07/18/rspb.2012.0869.abstract

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Chernobyl 2012: the Disaster that Keeps Reminding

Posted on 15 July 2012 by Jerry

In you need a reminder of how bad nuclear fallout and contamination can be just think about how panicked the world was about the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown.  Of course the world’s worst nuclear accident with the largest area of contamination was the April 26, 1986 catastrophic accident at Chernobyl, in the Ukrainian SSR.  Fukushima, at least up to this point, pales by comparison (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13050228 ).  Let us check in on the aftermath of that 25+ year old disaster to remind ourselves of why we cannot allow the use of a single nuclear weapon, let alone the 3100 launch ready warheads allowed the United States and Russia by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed on April 8, 2010.

After the accident at Chernobyl there was a race to bury the Unit 4 nuclear reactor and the remaining 95% of its radioactive inventory under steel pipes, steel panels, and concrete.  The structure that was created was officially called the Object Shelter, also known as the sarcophagus.  When constructed, workers faced extreme radiation and had little time in which to complete their work.  Put together as best they could, this structure has been steadily deteriorating in the last 25+ years.  This has forced the construction of a New Safe Confinement (NSC or New Shelter).

This new structure is being built in the sixteen mile exclusion zone around the facility that remains sealed because of the continuing severe radiation levels.  The NSC is scheduled to be completed in the 2014 – 2015 timeframe and is estimated to cost about $1.5 billion dollars.  Funded by a consortium of countries, the U.S. is the largest single contributor.  The NSC is designed to contain the radiation for at least 100 years while future generations decide how to handle the ongoing problem. A video animation at http://www.wimp.com/encasechernobyl/ provides an excellent description of the NSC and demonstrates the significant scale of the project.

Also within the sixteen mile sealed exclusion zone is a pine forest which poses a unique problem.  Some of this forest is so badly contaminated that a forest fire could create a sizable smoke cloud that could carry radioactive particles across the European continent.  The problem is “these dying radioactive plantations are considered too dangerous and expensive to clear.” Fire fighters in Chernobyl maintain a watch on the surrounding forests and lumber forth in traditional soviet fire engines to put out a fire when one is spotted.  This is very dangerous work for the fire fighters who are the first, and possibly last, line of defense protecting an unsuspecting European continent from a radioactive smoke cloud.

It is difficult to compare the damage done at Chernobyl with that which would occur as a result of an explosion of a contemporary nuclear warhead.  We shouldn’t doubt that a comparison has been conducted, but it is undoubtedly classified.  Our last public use of a nuclear weapon was on the city of Nagasaki, Japan on the 9th of August 1945. 

It is safe to assume the power of today’s nuclear warhead dwarfs that of the Nagasaki weapon.  Even with the release of the radioactive cloud that Chernobyl created, a containment structure was quickly constructed that confined 95% of the nuclear material that was in that reactor.  An above ground detonation of a nuclear warhead would release all of its radioactive material into the atmosphere.  When the radioactive material from the two sources is compared, it is very different; different isotopes with different half lives and different types of contamination.  Most experts believe today’s nuclear warheads would be worse than Chernobyl by some orders of magnitude.

Seeing Chernobyl and the ongoing effort to prevent further damage, and recalling the worldwide concerns caused by the Fukushima meltdown should reinforce our commitment to seek the elimination of all nuclear weapons.  We need to stop minimizing our view of these horrible weapons by assuming they are just one more arrow in our diplomatic and negotiating quiver.  They are much more serious than just an instrument of foreign policy.  They have outlived their usefulness and could literally end life on our planet.  We must redouble our efforts to maintain constant pressure on the two nuclear super powers to disarm.

Use the following links to obtain more information on this topic:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-13050228

http://www.wimp.com/encasechernobyl/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18721292

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Record Warmest Year in U.S.

Posted on 05 July 2012 by Jerry

The April 2012 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center declares that when April is added to the first three months of 2012 or when it is added to the previous 11 months stretching into 2011, they calculate it “to be the warmest year-to-date and 12 months periods since record keeping began in 1895,” or one hundred and seventeen years.  If you compare the one year average U. S. temperature with the average temperature between the years 1901 to 2000, this year has a higher average temperature, up 2.8°F.  Comparing the first four months of this year with the long-term annual average, the first four months of 2012 were 5.4°F higher.

Given the national temperatures, extended drought, and heat wave engulfing the U.S. in May – June and continuing this month, 2012 may yet again set a record. This graphic evidence cannot be lost on climate deniers. Paraphrasing a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act III, scene II, “Me thinks they protesteth too much.”  The lengths to which they are going to suppress reminders of the problem is significant.  To some of us it indicates they privately know there is a problem.

An article in the June 28, 2012 edition of Nature magazine, entitled “Sea Versus Senators” focuses on just one small aspect of how local and state governments and their business communities are trying to hide the validity of climate science. The North Carolina House of Representatives rejected a law passed in the state senate forbidding scientists in state agencies from using exponential extrapolation to predict sea-level rise.  They compromised however, by limiting the scientists to only linear extrapolation for the next three to four years while the state conducts a new sea-level study.  Similarly, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality removed all references to rising sea levels from a study of Galveston Bay in the Gulf.  In addition, the Virginia General Assembly commissioned a study of rising sea levels only after references to sea-level rise and climate change had been removed from the bill.

What all of these locations have in common is active real estate and tourist businesses. Legislators and businessmen are afraid of further depression in their coastal real estate markets and future reduced tourism because of the fear of rising waters.  This is called “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.”  To the extent that avoiding reminders of climate change, which they know is real, lulls the larger population into ignoring the worsening problem, these businessmen and legislators put off initiation of real solutions which makes their ultimate catastrophe even worse.

Use the following links to obtain more information on these developments:

http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/summary-info/national/2012/4

http://www.nature.com/news/sea-versus-senators-1.10893

 

 

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