February 29, 2008

Hurricanes, Fisheries, Maps, Oh My!

Hurricane Dean Lingers
Hurricane Dean passed by Dominica packing 100 mph+ winds and torrential rain in the middle of last August. The island suffered extensive damage as did many other island nations in the Caribbean and Mexico. Initial impact assessments pegged a nearly total loss of the seasons banana crop and severe impacts in other areas of the economy such as tourism. The IMF tallied the damage on the island at around 20% of GDP.

Initial reports of the long term impacts of Dean are starting percolating in and the reports are not promising. The AP reports that "Agricultural exports plunged 18 percent in the first three quarters of 2007 over the year–ago period" and growth on the island has slowed to a crawl, down to a projected 1% compared to the 4% of the previous year. Why are these numbers important and concerning? Besides the obvious, these reports could (crossing fingers) lead the government, under pressure from the people, to open up a flood of poor decisions that will hurt the island worse in the long run.

There is the big issue of the refinery, but in an effort to secure cash for the country to stimulate recovery, Dominica could align itself with more questionable entities thus draping the noose around its own neck. Its a tough spot to be in and the concerns of the people must be met, but I hope short term solutions do not destroy long term prosperity for the wonderful people of Dominica. PM Skerritt will give his State of the Union type speech this weekend, hopefully some of the Dominica blogs will post what he brings to the table, hopefully promising news is on the horizon.

...Not a Drop to Drink
A few weeks back an interesting map caught my eye about the impacts of humans on the worlds oceans. The researchers for this project found that only 4% of the worlds oceans has "very low" impacts. On the flip side, nearly 40% of the worlds oceans have "very high impacts." The coasts of China, North Sea, the South, and East China Seas are concentrated areas of high impact as well as the coastal area of Europe, North America, the Caribbean. The poles, not surprisingly, show the least measurable impact as well as some of the tropical Pacific.

A combination of various data sets were used to examine the human impact on the ocean. These include fishing and shipping lanes, oil and gas drilling and exploration and pollution. If you have Google Earth, be sure to get the KML (warning, link will download KML) and play around with the image. For me, the most striking impacts were how clearly some of the shipping lanes stand out. The stark realization at how much stuff is shipped and where most of it is getting shipped (the US :-( ) shows how one country can influence the impacts of the whole ocean.

February 28, 2008


50 best Eco-Blogs
The Times (The UK version, not the NY Times) released its "Top 50" ecoblogs on the web. I have started to go through the list, but have not dug to deep into what all the list includes. There are a couple of good ones up that I enjoy, maybe I will soon have some more "Favorite Blogs" to post about!

China 1 Child Policy
I have not written about China in awhile and frankly I'm getting pumped for this years summer Olympics. But the 24/7 all things Olympics posts will come soon enough, but its time to talk about babies! China has had the controversial "One Child" policy since the 1970's but are exploring the possibility of easing the policy in the next few years. With a quickly growing older population, the government is worried about having enough base population (us young guns) to be able to support the elders. There is also a worrisome gender gap, as the propensity for wanting a boy has been the tradition. It will be interesting to see what China decides to do. If nothing else they could just have a National Day of Conception like their next door neighbor. Dasvidania

February 27, 2008

Hangin High with Oil

Hanging Climate Change out to DRY!
This topic has been swirling around my mind like my socks on Sunday wash day. I first picked up this topic a couple of months back with a report in the NYTimes about a guy who was fighting against neighborhood planning commissions over the right to hang up laundry in ones back yard. Finally, with the help of TreeHugger, I have the article in which to formulate my thoughts!

One of my most vivid childhood memories is that of helping my mom hang up the laundry on the clothes line in the back yard. Five lines were strung between two T poles at either end of the yard and nearly our entire weeks worth of wash could fit on the line at the same time. I can still smell the clothes line smell of the fresh air that dried the clothes. I will admit that I HATED having my jeans dried on the line, but that is but a small inconvenience. The only items that were dried were the personal items (socks and underwear) or when the temperature was to crappy in which to utilize the line.

Electric clothes dryers using between 5-10% of residential electricity each year and the benefits of hanging clothes outside clearly outweigh the negatives. First and foremost, the weather for nearly all of the US is ideal for hanging clothes whether in the summer or in winter. There are locations in which the temperature is below freezing for much of the winter and its nearly impossible to hang clothes outside during this time. But if you hang clothes indoor during the winter, it can act as a humidifier for the dry air in the home. Plus, clothes last longer, sunlight is a natural disinfectant, and the smell is something that no chemical can beat! Best of all...its FREE, minus the small purchase of a piece of rope, or a drying rack for the indoors!

I am flabbergasted to find that many community organizations ban the presence of a clotheslines from a persons private property. It is hard to believe that anyone would be opposed to something that is so environmentally friendly and easy to do. It screams comfy down home American neighborhood, yet, many developments ban such lines and fine homeowners if they are found to have a clothes line. I think, with the current downturn in the economy, that these communities would be more willing to allow clotheslines, they are defiantly more appealing than row after row of For Sale signs that dot the landscape now.

High Oil
I really should just stop writing about high oil prices, since everyone else seems to be writing about it now as well. So, unless oil tops $110 (US) or is something interesting that I feel I should pass along, oil is officially dead in this blog. I am tired of the media feeding the speculation, which has driven prices higher. In a way, I am for higher prices for fuel, as I am ashamed at how wasteful our society has become on the cheap fuel that we have become addicted to. But when the fundamentals of supply and demand no longer dictate the price of a particular item, I just don't buy it. This weeks EIA report shows that US stocks of oil rose for the eighth straight week and gasoline inventories are at least 8% higher than the running 5 year average. This doesn't have as big of an impact on gas prices as one would hope as oil is running $40 (US) higher than a year ago and the drastic increase in the price of oil is just now really starting to be pushed onto the consumer. Diesel fuel is at an all time high and gas prices will soon follow suit. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of months. We, can for the sake of our pocketbooks, hope that the Fed doesn't decide to lower interest rates any more and investors pull profits and oil prices recede some. But don't hold your breath on that, it is oil by the way, and no matter how high it goes, we're all still sucking it down like a fine bottle of whine!

February 26, 2008

Grande Venti Low Fat No Whip Rethinking Pt. 2

Delay of Latte
I first discussed the issue of Starbucks about a month ago (here) when former CEO and founder Howard Shultz retook the reins of the fledgling company. In what appears to be a first of many moves by the company, Starbucks closed all of its company owned stores at 5:30 p.m. local time. The goal was to rejuvenate and pump up its 135,000 baristas to serve a better cup of joe and to rekindle the Starbuckian experience that is, or was, Starbucks

I was anxious to find out if the local Starbucks stores near where I live here in the Rouge were going to be partaking in the barista training day. I had no idea if the two that are closest to me are company or franchisee stores, but I was greated with the "We are closed..." sign on the door. I was hoping there was going to be a mass gathering of barista's being nerdy over the espresso maker, but I was disappointed. Only a lonely girl mopping the floor was visible in both Starbucks. Perhaps I missed the party by arriving early, or maybe she drew the short straw while everyone else enjoyed a free three hours off on company time

I do think, if this move proves successful, in a sort of twisted way that the slowing economy could be OK for Starbucks. Granted, a slowing economy means more people will not hit up the stores everyday, but if the company is able to go back to its core values and product and deliver the experience that first brought people into the stores, it could provide the boost that it needs. The "Starbuckian Experience" was, as I mentioned in my earlier post, a place between work and home where people came to meet and share time together. If the economy continues to slow, Starbucks may again become that special escape from the everyday mundane and the onslaught of doom and gloom from the media, and not the "fast food of coffee" that many of us think of Starbucks now. After all, this is was made Starbucks famous, the escape from the crap in a can (aka Folgers) that delighted the senses with that wonderful smell of espresso being poured. Only time will tell though and we'll have to wait and see what else Mr. Shultz has up his sleeve...

Seeds of the Future
I'm a huge fan of Terminator: The Sara Conner Chronicles on Fox as I talked about here. I do not get Fox, but I'm able to watch every episode for free online the following day of the premiere of the episode. Its a great show with several intricate story lines being drawn from the first two Terminator movies. One theme though, remains the same, the apocalypse that is to come, the end of the human race. Need not worry though, if the apocalypse does come to fruition and your MacBook Air decides to go crazy on you and start knocking off your kin, there is still hope for post-apocalyptic mankind.

Norway has just opened in $9 million (US) world seed bank in the frozen mountains in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told attendees to the opening ceremony that the seed bank was "the Noah's Ark for securing biological diversity for future generations."

The first deposit into the bank was that of rice from 104 different countries. The main goal is to maintain a viable collection of plant species diversity in the even that global climate change or war destroys some crop species. Any country can deposit seeds free of charge and withdraw them as need be. The vault is designed to withstand earthquakes (tested last week) and a direct nuclear blast. It is kept at -0.4 degree F (-18 C) which, according to scientists, should keep the seeds healthy for nearly a thousand years. The facility has yet to be tested on whether or not it can withstand the onslaught of Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alikes...at least not yet!


February 25, 2008

Throwing Caution to the Wind

Winds of Change
Today is all about wind. My home town is under a sever wind warning, so I decided to dedicate this day to the wind. Plus, its really kind of slow today, so I figured a little bit on renewable energy would be good

Wind farms are one of those few things made by man that is pleasant (this is my opinion) to look at. The rhythm at which the huge blades turn is peaceful,powerful, yet tranquil. I know many proponents despise wind farms for their aesthetic destroying potential (Cape Cod for example), but it sure beats having a coal power plant in your back yard.

Texas is now the nations leading producer of wind derived power. They have the current capacity to generate roughly three percent of their total energy needs from wind. The sparse population and "lax" regulations allow for major investments in wind technology, spurring the boom of wind projects in Texas. Many attribute it to the early oil booms of years gone by, and for good reason too. The Great Plains, stretching from Texas to North Dakota are, as some people call it, the Saudi Arabia of wind. The problem with wind power, however, is the sporadic nature of which it blows. New technology being developed tries to convert the energy into some sort of "storable" mechanical energy for use when the wind does not blow.

The most interesting of these is the use of wind power to transfer water from a series of reservoirs with water and when the water does not blow, or energy demand exceeds capacity, the water in the reservoirs is released, causing a hydroelectric generator to turn. These systems would use gravity as the transfer mechanism of the mechanical energy from the power derived from the wind. These are usually closed systems, with the water flowing to transfer catchments to be pumped back to the storage reservoirs when the wind blows, completing the cycle. I am all for turbine technology, so bring on the windmills!

Watch out Below
The only caveat about wind power is demonstrated in this video, which I snagged from Green Daily. Wind turbines have brakes to slow the blades, in the windiest of conditions, to their optimal operating RPM's. This particular units brake failed which was not a great thing during a good windy storm. The unit was particularly small, most of the components were made of fiberglass, but it does make you think twice about putting one up! Eh...what the heck, it makes for a great story, put one up in my backyard now please!

February 24, 2008

Sunday Travel Section

Blog Update:
With my travels this past weekend I was unable to post till today. You can find the following days here:
Wednesday (2/20)
Thursday (2/21)
Friday (2/22)
Saturday (2/23)
As usual, all comments are greatly welcomed and I thank you all for your continued readership and support. If any of you find something that you would love me to share, just drop me a line at

Weekend Recap!
This weekend I spent my time bouncing around between Indiana and Ohio. Rachel lives near the border so we were running illegal moonshine across the border. Oh...wait, no we didn't! Ha It was good to get back to the area where I spent a little bit of my life. Grad school was a great time and I miss being an active Redhawk, but like all things, life moves on.

The change in what I'm accustomed to (weather wise) has been about as drastic as it can be. As I mentioned previously, when I left "The Rouge" on Thursday, it was 70 degrees (F) and 20 degrees (F) when I arrived in Indy. The temp was never above freezing while I was there, which made me CONSTANTLY cold! But I got a good refresher course on driving in wonderful wintry conditions of freezing rain and snow! The best was coming back to "The Rouge" today and the ground crews were in shorts and penny loafers! Southern suck, but the winters are a nice break sometimes!

Finally, its the Sunday ritual of my weekend quest to expand my new found joy in photography. On Saturday, Rachel and I journeyed to Oldenberg, IN, also known as the Village of Spires. It is a quaint and neat little two with a homey feel to it. The best part, for me at least, was finding the painted fire hydrants that are spread around town. After finding as many as we could in the cold, I came to the conclusion that all fire hydrants should be painted something unique...the red ones are just so, well, red! More photos here.