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Sunday, June 10, 2012

May I have your attention please?

This one is for all those people out there - talk show hosts like Redi Thlabi, for example - who frequently voice the concept that "fat people just have no willpower, they could easliy lose weight if they wanted to". I would like you to note the following quote (and this blogger has seen similar comments from obesity experts worldwide): "Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable, regardless of one's willpower, knowledge, and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as 'fat' are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink our approaches to, and views of, weight and obesity."

Female fat prejudice persists even after weight loss, study finds

Overweight women may never escape the painful stigma of obesity – even after they have shed the pounds, new research suggests.

The study, by the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, The University of Manchester, and Monash University, examined whether anti-fat prejudice against women persisted even after they had lost significant weight and were now thin.

The researchers asked young men and women to read vignettes describing a woman who had either lost weight (70 pounds/32 kilograms) or had remained weight stable, and who was either currently obese or currently thin. Participants were then asked their opinions about this woman on a number of attributes, such as how attractive they found her, and their overall dislike for fat people.

The team found that participants in the study – published in the journal Obesity – expressed greater bias against obese people after reading about women who had lost weight than after reading about women who had remained weight stable, regardless of whether the weight-stable woman was thin or obese.

"We were surprised to find that currently thin women were viewed differently depending on their weight history," said Dr Janet Latner, study lead at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, US. "Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight."

One of the more disturbing findings from the study, the researchers noted, was that negative attitudes towards obese people increase when participants are falsely told that body weight is easily controllable.

Co-author, Dr Kerry O'Brien, from the University of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, said: "The message we often hear from society is that weight is highly controllable, but the best science in the obesity field at the moment suggests that one's physiology and genetics, as well as the food environment, are the really big players in one's weight status and weight-loss.

"Weight status actually appears rather uncontrollable, regardless of one's willpower, knowledge, and dedication. Yet many people who are perceived as 'fat' are struggling in vain to lose weight in order to escape this painful social stigma. We need to rethink our approaches to, and views of, weight and obesity."

The findings, say the authors, demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight. Obesity stigma is so powerful and enduring that it appears to even outlast the obesity itself.

Dr Latner added: "Descriptions of weight loss, such as those often promoted on television, may significantly worsen obesity stigma. Believing that obese people can easily lose weight may make individuals blame and dislike obese people more.

"The findings demonstrate that residual obesity stigma persists against individuals who have ever been obese, even when they have lost substantial amounts of weight. Obesity stigma is so powerful and enduring that it may even outlast the obesity itself. Given the great number of people who may be negatively affected by this prejudice, obesity discrimination clearly needs to be reduced on a societal level."
(Published by EurekAlert, 29 May 2012)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Oh bugger...

China spurred a jump in global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to their highest ever recorded level in 2011, offsetting falls in the United States and Europe, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday.

CO2 emissions rose by 3.2 percent last year to 31.6 billion metric tons (34.83 billion tons), preliminary estimates from the Paris-based IEA showed.

China, the world's biggest emitter of CO2, made the largest contribution to the global rise, its emissions increasing by 9.3 percent, the body said, driven mainly by higher coal use.

"When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius (by 2050), which would have devastating consequences for the planet," Fatih Birol, IEA's chief economist told Reuters.

Scientists say ensuring global average temperatures this century do not rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is needed to limit devastating climate effects like crop failure and melting glaciers.
(Reuters, 25 May 2012)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Diabetes: rethink necessary?

The Swedes have done some of the most interesting research on diet and nutrition in recent years. Here, reported by AlpahGalileo Alerts this week, is something that adds weight (pardon the pun) to the low-carb/high fat lobby. I must say, the science is beginning to mount up.
High-fat diet lowered blood sugar and improved blood lipids in diabetics
11 May 2012 Linköping Universitet
People with Type 2 diabetes are usually advised to keep a low-fat diet. Now, a study at Linköping University shows that food with a lot of fat and few carbohydrates could have a better effect on blood sugar levels and blood lipids.
The results of a two-year dietary study led by Hans Guldbrand, general practitioner, and Fredrik Nyström, professor of Internal Medicine, are being published in the prestigious journal Diabetologia. 61 patients were included in the study of Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes. They were randomized into two groups, where they followed either a low-carbohydrate (high fat) diet or a low-fat diet.
In both groups, the participants lost approximately 4 kg on average. In addition, a clear improvement in the glycaemic control was seen in the low-carbohydrate group after six months. Their average blood sugar level dropped from 58.5 to 53.7 mmol/mol (the unit for average blood glucose). This means that the intensity of the treatment for diabetes could also be reduced, and the amounts of insulin were lowered by 30%.
Despite the increased fat intake with a larger portion of saturated fatty acids, their lipoproteins did not get worse. Quite the contrary – the HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol, content increased on the high fat diet.
No statistically certain improvements, either of the glycaemic controls or the lipoproteins, were seen in the low-fat group, despite the weight loss.

Here's how they ate (the low-carb group was getting quite a lot of their daily intake from carbs, actually):
In the low-carbohydrate diet, 50% of the energy came from fat, 20% from carbohydrates, and 30% from protein. For the low-fat group the distribution was 30% from fat, 55-60% from carbohydrates, and 10-15% from protein, which corresponds to the diet recommended by the Swedish National Food Agency.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Why can't it rain?

NAIROBI, Kenya—In the sprawling hills of the Kangundo district in Kenya’s Eastern Province, just a few hours outside of capital city Nairobi, Fred Kiambaa has been farming the same small, steep plot of land for more than 20 years.
Born and raised just outside Kathiini Village in Kangundo, Kiambaa knows the ups and downs of agriculture in this semi-arid region. He walks up a set of switchbacks to Kangundo’s plateaus to tend his fields each morning and seldom travels further than a few miles from his plot.
Right now, all that remains of his maize crop are rows of dry husks. Harvest season finished just two weeks ago, and the haul was meager this time around.
“Water is the big problem, it’s always water. We have many boreholes, but when there is no rain, it’s still difficult,” he said.
Kiambaa and his wife, Mary, only harvested 440 pounds of maize this season, compared to their usual 2,200. They have six children, meaning there will be many lean months before the next harvest, and worse: Though March is Kenya’s rainiest month, it’s been mostly dry so far.
“The rain surely is not coming well this year. Rain is the key. We can only pray,” he said.

The future - our African future - is here. Never mind the cautious weather service spoksepeople saying on air, "It's not unprecedented to have such warm weather in May," or "Of course, we do have years when rainfall is down" - this is a trend. It's years of unusual weather, months when the maxiumum temperatures rise daily (and I mean every day, day after day after day) up to four degrees celsius above normal. Radio presenters burble on about "such fabulous weather!" but we are starting to pay the price - for the global north's and our own South Africa's profligate use of fossil fuels - in poor crops and hunger. (I do hope the myriad stories like Fred Kimabaa's will be taken into account when the rich and powerful put their heads together at Rio+20.)
Last year, I saw a local atmospheric scientist present models of southern African climate for the next 80 years or so. It was one of the defining moments of my life. This is how I described it in the July issue of Skyways magazine:
Pretoria: a lecture room at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on a sunny late winter day. The equipment is modern and streamlined, the lecturer is an atmospheric modeller who speaks dispassionately, temperately, calmly, explaining the features of the map on-screen that shows southern Africa. And then he presses a key on his laptop, and all of a sudden, the audience is in a horror movie.
On the screen, the map ticks over with the regularity of a metronome, year by year, decade by decade: 2020, 2030, 2040, 2050… The colours that indicate temperature and rainfall change. Blue turns to peach which deepens to orange, to russet, to scarlet. I scrawl on my notepad, “Namibia, Angola, Botswana, gone, gone, gone!”
It’s been known for a long time that Africa would be one of the hardest-hit regions as climate change kicks in. But somehow, seeing the changes visually represented like this has a visceral effect. It’s got the heart-breaking impact and inevitability of a Greek tragedy.
Dr Francois Englebrecht, an atmospheric modeller at the CSIR, has done a range of models that peek into the future. Six simulations were performed in what is the largest experiment of its kind yet done on African terrain. Each of them gives slightly different results, but all show the same trends in the same areas.
Climatic features of our region dictate that we will buck the trend elsewhere in the world, in which a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture. Southern Africa is going to be warmer and drier. We’re special in yet another way: actual observation shows that over the last century, our temperatures have risen in tandem with the rising temperatures around the world – but our increase is always almost exactly double that of the rest of the world’s average. The models mercilessly show this trend continuing into the far, foreseeable future.

Here’s a telling quote from one of Dr Engelbrecht's colleagues, quoted on
Dr Constansia Musvoto from the Council for Scientific and industrial Research (CSIR) told members of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) that agricultural production in Southern Africa is projected to be halved within the next 70 years as a result of climate change.
“Temperatures will increase by up to 6ºC, while rainfall will drop by as much as 40 percent in some parts of the region.”

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Smart Alec... NOT!

Caption: Clever monkey

Am I glad I live in South Africa, where laws like this have not been passed (yet). This is a law in Tennessee which will govern how climate change is taught in classrooms.
"...the Tennessee bill is based on an ALEC model bill passed in May 2000. We explained at the time,

'The bill's opening clause reads [PDF], 'The purpose of this act is to enhance and improve the environmental literacy of students and citizens in the state by requiring that all environmental education programs and activities conducted by schools, universities, and agencies shall…'

Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner.

Provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific and economic controversies.

Be presented in language appropriate for education rather than for propagandizing.

Encourage students to explore different perspectives and form their own opinions.

Encourage an atmosphere of respect for different opinions and open-mindedness to new ideas.

Not be designed to change student behavior, attitudes or values.

Not include instruction in political action skills nor encourage political action activities.'

To summarize, under this model bill and its relatives, global warming will be taught as a "theory" among other "credible theories," including those unscientific "theories" peddled by the well-paid "merchants of doubt."

This, of course, flies in the face of the well-accepted scientific consensus, which has proven global warming as the harsh reality, time and time again. The science speaks for itself, and thefossil fuel money funding climate change deniers speaks for itself.

The Tennessee Bill

Key portions of the Tennessee bills are as follows (emphases mine):

"The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to,biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and humancloning, can cause controversy."

"The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to…respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues."

Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught."

Look familar? It should.

The bill was opposed by a broad-based coalition, including the National Association of Biology Teachers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Nashville Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and all eight Tennessee members of the National Academy of Sciences.

These voices of reason were no opposition to ALEC, its corporate backers, and the politicians who serve them, which saw the bill pass with little opposition whatsoever."
(From )

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stormy weather

Waiver: these are NOT tropical storm clouds!

The South-West Indian Ocean Basin is apparently one of the most dangerous tropical storm regions in the world, with an average of 80 deaths a year. Apparently Hurricane Irina, which just caused havoc along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, brings the death toll for this year so far to 164 - and there are still at least two months of the season to go.
is this fall-out from warmer seas due to climate change, one wonders?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

That's not the way!

Caption: Unmodified plum blossom

Dear Bill Gates. He so wants a techie solution for everyone. After all he's invested in TerraPower, the travelling wave reactor company (which he touts as the solution to our energy problems, even though it's decades off becoming a reality).
Now here he is, going all GM on us. (And pro-geo-engineering, heaven save us - see the end of the article...)

Published on Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Common Dreams
Bill Gates: We Need Genetically Modified Seeds
Gates' yield-increasing claims widely refuted by studies
- Common Dreams staff

At a forum of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates pressed the need for genetically modified seeds in the developing world, and the need for a "digital revolution" to meet the needs of the world's farmers. Gates' claims that genetically modified crops double or triple smaller farmers' yields have been challenged by recent research.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates on Thursday called for a "digital revolution" to alleviate world hunger by increasing agricultural productivity through satellites and genetically-engineered seed varieties.

"We have to think hard about how to start taking advantage of the digital revolution that is driving innovation including in farming," the U.S. billionaire philanthropist said in a speech at the UN rural poverty agency IFAD in Rome.

"If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. We believe that it's possible for small farmers to double and in some cases even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land," Gates said. [...]

AFP adds that Gates announced $200 million (150 million euros) in new grants from his foundation to finance research on a new type of drought-resistant maize. [...]

As John Vidal reported for the Guardian, the claims that genetically modified seeds can increase gains have been challenged by research:

Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of "superweeds", according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.

And a 2009 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that genetically modified seeds failed to increase yields in U.S. crops:

Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

"The biotech industry has spent billions on research and public relations hype, but genetically engineered food and feed crops haven't enabled American farmers to grow significantly more crops per acre of land," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and author of the report. "In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results."

Ronnie Cummins, International Director of the Organic Consumers Association, told Common Dreams:

“Bill Gates may be a smart guy in terms of computer programming, and an expert on how to become a billionaire, but he obviously knows nothing about agriculture other than what Monsanto and the biotech industry have told him. Eighteen years after the introduction of the first genetically engineered crops, there is no evidence, including data from the pro-biotech USDA, that these energy and chemical-intensive crops increase yield, improve nutrition, or provide greater yields under adverse weather conditions of drought or heavily rains. On the contrary hundreds of studies, including those by peer-reviewed scientists and the U.N.’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) indicate that organic crops provide significantly higher levels of vitamins, nutrients, and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants; that organic crops have significantly higher yields during periods of drought and torrential rain; and that agro-ecological or organic farms produce 2-10 times great yields than industrial-scale chemical and GMO farms. In others words, not only can organic farming and ranching feed the world, but in fact it is the only way that we will ever be able to feed the world.”

* * *

Recent reports also show Gates behind climate engineering efforts, as he is among other wealthy individuals financially backing scientists to lobby governments to push geoengineering, raising concerns that this small group may have a large impact on further decisions on geoengineering.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Environmental pollutants - could they be causing weight gain?

There's been quite a lot of research in recent years on the impact of various pollutants on weight gain. About four years ago, a Spanish study linked exposure to hexachlorobenzene (HCB) in the umblicial cords of newborns, and found that those who'd been exposed in the womb were more likely to be overwieght at six. (This chemical is mainly used to treat seeds, so it had implications for those living in and around agricultural areas.)
Now there's new evidence that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) may also be linked to weight gain. PFOA is ubiquitous - it's found even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and all the inhabited continents, and is now found in animals, poor sods. It's been made since 1951, and was used in non-stick surfaces (they say it's not anymore), outdoor clothing, treatments for carpets and tiles and more.

Environmental pollutant linked with overweight

The levels of the environmental pollutant perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that mothers had in their blood during pregnancy increased the risk of obesity in their daughters at 20 years of age. The findings come from a recent study of Danish women in which the Norwegian Institute of Public Health participated.

In recent decades, there has been a sharp increase in the number of overweight children and adults worldwide. It is suspected that diet and exercise alone cannot explain this large weight increase.

Researchers suggest that the increasing levels of endocrine disrupters in the environment may be a possible contributing factor. Therefore, this study was established and discovered the following:

Daughters of mothers with the highest concentrations of PFOA in the blood during pregnancy were three times as likely to be overweight at the age of about 20 years as daughters of mothers with the lowest PFOA levels.
The calculations took into account many variables, such as maternal weight and lifestyle factors.
An association was also found between PFOA exposure before birth and elevated levels of insulin and leptin, two hormones that are linked to obesity.
Levels of insulin and leptin were also elevated in the sons of mothers with high PFOA, but the relationship was weaker than for girls.
There was no increased risk of development of obesity among the sons.

What does this mean for us?

It is still too early to say what this might mean for us. The study indicates that factors such as environmental pollutants, in addition to diet and physical activity, play a role in the obesity epidemic seen today although this remains to be confirmed by similar studies.
EurekAlert, 22 February 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Summer temperatures and food security

Summer temperatures will rise (or rise and fall) to a point where you can't grow certain crops. And the losers are? Wait, I have the envelope right here: "the biggest impacts will be on Europe, Africa and South America.

Models underestimate future temperature variability; Food security at risk

Climate warming caused by greenhouse gases is very likely to increase the variability of summertime temperatures around the world by the end of this century, a University of Washington climate scientist said Friday. The findings have major implications for food production.

Current climate models do not adequately reflect feedbacks from the relationship between the atmosphere and soil, which causes them to underestimate the increase of variability in summertime temperatures, said David Battisti, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences.

While warmer temperatures already have implications for food production in the tropics, the new findings suggest the increase in the volatility of summertime temperatures will have serious effects in grain-growing regions of Europe and North and South America, Battisti said.

"If there's greater variability, the odds of the temperature being so high that you can't grow a crop are greater," he said.

"In terms of regional and global food security, it's not good news."


Earlier research has shown that by the end of this century, the increase in average growing season temperature, if other factors remain the same, will likely reduce yields of rice, corn and soybean 30 to 40 percent. Already rice yields in the tropics are being affected by higher temperatures, affecting nations such as Indonesia, which frequently imports rice to stabilize prices, Battisti said.

In addition, the scientists say global warming will have greater impacts than previously thought on the El Niño Southern Oscillation, a tropical phenomenon that has global impact on climate and food production. Their conclusions are based on geological and other proxy records of climate and El Niño from the last 10,000 years, plus recent analyses of long-term climate changes because of global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body conducting ongoing assessments of climate change, has estimated that future month-to-month temperature variability during summer months is likely to be greater in some places and less in some places, but should stay roughly constant in many places.

But the new modeling work, Battisti said, shows most areas can expect to see greater variability in summer temperatures between now and 2085, with the biggest impacts in Europe, Africa and South America.

"The increased variability will be pretty ubiquitous. You will see it pretty much everywhere."

Increased temperature variability compounds the loss of production because of higher average temperatures, Battisti said. Add higher fertilizer prices and other market pressures to the mix "and food insecurity is likely to be higher than it has been for some time."
(EurekAlert 17 Feb 2012)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stormy weather

Did you know that the South-West Indian Ocean cyclone basin is one of the deadliest in the world, with about 80 people dying a year? The season begins in mid-November and ends around end April - although it can linger for a month more around Mauritius and Reunion. Apparently it averages about 10 storms a year. There's a new one brewing, and NASA caught footage of it. It's expectd to make landfall in Madagascar on 13 Feburary. I wonder if this cyclone basin is becoming more active?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thalassa, oh thalassa!

Unprecedented, man-made trends in ocean's acidity

Oh, the sea! Though not unexpected, this is such awful news:

Nearly one-third of CO2 emissions due to human activities enters the world's oceans. By reacting with seawater, CO2 increases the water's acidity, which may significantly reduce the calcification rate of such marine organisms as corals and mollusks. The extent to which human activities have raised the surface level of acidity, however, has been difficult to detect on regional scales because it varies naturally from one season and one year to the next, and between regions, and direct observations go back only 30 years.

Combining computer modeling with observations, an international team of scientists concluded that anthropogenic CO2 emissions over the last 100 to 200 years have already raised ocean acidity far beyond the range of natural variations. The study is published in the January 22 online issue of Nature Climate Change.
EurekAlert, 22 January 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Our oldest friend

Dog skull dates back 33,000 years

An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event.

In other words, man's best friends may have originated from more than one ancient ancestor, contrary to what some DNA evidence previously has indicated.

"Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological characteristics," said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and co-author of the study that reports the find.

"Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth."

The Altai Mountain skull is extraordinarily well preserved, said Hodgins, enabling scientists to make multiple measurements of the skull, teeth and mandibles that might not be possible on less well-preserved remains. "The argument that it is domesticated is pretty solid," said Hodgins. "What's interesting is that it doesn't appear to be an ancestor of modern dogs." [...]

At 33,000 years old, the Siberian skull predates a period known as the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM, which occurred between about 26,000 and 19,000 years ago when the ice sheets of Earth's last ice age reached their greatest extent and severely disrupted the living patterns of humans and animals alive during that time. Neither the Belgian nor the Siberian domesticated lineages appear to have survived the LGM.

However, the two skulls indicate that the domestication of dogs by humans occurred repeatedly throughout early human history at different geographical locations, which could mean that modern dogs have multiple ancestors rather than a single common ancestor.

"In terms of human history, before the last glacial maximum people were living with wolves or canid species in widely separated geographical areas of Euro-Asia, and had been living with them long enough that they were actually changing evolutionarily," said Hodgins. "And then climate change happened, human habitation patterns changed and those relationships with those particular lineages of animals apparently didn't survive."

"The interesting thing is that typically we think of domestication as being cows, sheep and goats, things that produce food through meat or secondary agricultural products such as milk, cheese and wool and things like that," said Hodgins.

"Those are different relationships than humans may have with dogs. The dogs are not necessarily providing products or meat. They are probably providing protection, companionship and perhaps helping on the hunt. And it's really interesting that this appears to have happened first out of all human relationships with animals."
(From EurekAlert, 24 January 2012)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Over the peak: the limits of fossil fuel

Caption: Trips to the Kruger National Park are getting more expensive!

Sometime back in 2008, I think, I wrote about the shocking things that had happened to oil prices - they'd leapt from a 'norm' of $35-40 a barrel a couple of years earlier to a new norm of around $70-80. Now the new norm seems to be around $100. All just as predicted by peak-oil experts. Here's some new corroborating evidence:

Commentary in Nature: Can economy bear what oil prices have in store?

Stop wrangling over global warming and instead reduce fossil-fuel use for the sake of the global economy.

That's the message from two scientists, one from the University of Washington and one from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who say in the current issue of the journal Nature (Jan. 26) that the economic pain of a flattening oil supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels.

"Given our fossil-fuel dependent economies, this is more urgent and has a shorter time frame than global climate change," says James W. Murray, UW professor of oceanography, who wrote the Nature commentary with David King, director of Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

The "tipping point" for oil supply appears to have occurred around 2005, says Murray, who compared world crude oil production with world prices going back to 1998. Before 2005, supply of regular crude oil was elastic and increased in response to price increases. Since then, production appears to have hit a wall at 75 million barrels per day in spite of price increases of 15 percent each year.

"As a result, prices swing wildly in response to small changes in demand," the co-authors wrote. "Others have remarked on this step change in the economies of oil around the year 2005, but the point needs to be lodged more firmly in the minds of policy makers."

For those who argue that oil reserves have been increasing, that more crude oil will be available in the future, the co-authors wrote: "The true volume of global proved reserves is clouded by secrecy; forecasts by state oil companies are not audited and appear to be exaggerated. More importantly, reserves often take 6 - 10 years to drill and develop before they become part of the supply, by which time older fields have become depleted." Production at oil fields around the world is declining between 4.5 percent and 6.7 percent per year, they wrote.

"For the economy, it's production that matters, not how much oil might be in the ground," Murray says. In the U.S., for example, production as a percentage of total reserves went from 9 percent to 6 percent in the last 30 years.

"We've already gotten the easy oil, the oil that can be produced cheaply," he says. "It used to be we'd drill a well and the oil would flow out, now we have to go through all these complicated and expensive procedures to produce the oil."

The same is true of alternative sources such as tar sands or "fracking" for shale gas, Murray says, where supplies may be exaggerated and production is expensive. Take the promise of shale gas and oil: A New York Times investigative piece last June reported that "the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells."

Production at shale gas wells can drop 60 to 90 percent in the first year of operation, according to a world expert on shale gas who was one of the sources for the commentary piece. Murray and King built their commentary using data and information from more than 15 international and U.S. government reports, peer-reviewed journal articles, reports from groups such as the National Research Council and Brookings Institution and association findings.

Stagnant oil supplies and volatile prices take a toll on the world economy. Of the 11 recessions in the U.S. since World War II, ten were preceded by a spike in oil prices, the commentary noted.

"Historically, there has been a tight link between oil production and global economic growth," the co-authors wrote. "If oil production can't grow, the implication is that the economy can't grow either."

Calculations from the International Monetary Fund, for example, say that to achieve a 4 percent growth in the global economy in the next five years, oil production must increase about 3 percent a year.

"Yet to achieve that will require either an heroic increase in oil production, ... increased efficiency of oil use, more energy-efficient growth or rapid substitution of other fuel sources," according to the commentary. "Economists and politicians continually debate policies that will lead to a return to economic growth. But because they have failed to recognize that the high price of energy is a central problem, they haven't identified the necessary solutions: weaning society off fossil fuel."

The commentary concludes: "This will be a decades-long transformation and we need to start immediately. Emphasizing the short-term economic imperative from oil prices must be enough to push governments into action now."

Cyclone Funso

Here's the beast that caused all the trouble in Hoedspruit and the Lowveld of South Africa. NASA published a stunning satellite image here:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Who Owns the World?

World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, 2011

By Nick Buxton, Transnational Institute, January 27, 2012

This week as the world's elites met in the swiss skiing village of Davos, Transational Institute's (TNI) Corporate Power project launched a series of powerful infographics, to expose the Global 0.001%, the corporations they run and the cost of corporate power.

The infographics can be seen here:

Some of the most compelling stats that stand out from the infographics are:
• 8 of the top 10 richest companies in the world are fossil fuel companies
• 1% of the world's companies, almost all banks, control 40% of the shares of the world's major corporations
• 0.15% of the world's population control two-thirds of world GDP, and with their assets could pay the costs of universal and primary school education for 190 year.
• A tiny percentage of the global population, 0.001%, control $15.4 trillion dollars.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sweet difference

Yes, there IS a difference between sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup:

CU School of Medicine researchers look at effects of 2 common sweeteners on the body

AURORA, Colo. (Jan. 23, 2012) - With growing concern that excessive levels of fructose may pose a great health risk – causing high blood pressure, kidney disease and diabetes – researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, along with their colleagues at the University of Florida, set out to see if two common sweeteners in western diets differ in their effects on the body in the first few hours after ingestion. The study, recently published in the journal Metabolism, took a closer look at high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and table sugar (sucrose) and was led by Dr MyPhuong Le (now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Colorado) and Dr Julie Johnson, a Professor of Pharmacogenomics at the University of Florida.

Both HFCS and sucrose have historically been considered to have nearly identical effects on the body. But this study finds that indeed there is a difference between the two. They found that the makeup of the sugars resulted in differences in how much fructose was absorbed into the circulation, and which could have potential impact on one's health. Sucrose is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose that is bonded together as a disaccharide (complex carbohydrate) and HFCS is a mixture of free fructose (55%) and free glucose (45%). It's the difference in fructose amount that appears to create the ill health effects on the body.

Their study was conducted at the University of Florida, where they evaluated 40 men and women who were given 24 ounces of HFCS- or sugar-sweetened soft drinks. Careful measurements showed that the HFCS sweetened soft drinks resulted in significantly higher fructose levels than the sugar-sweetened drinks. Fructose is also known to increase uric acid levels that have been implicated in blood pressure, and the HFCS-sweetened drinks also resulted in a higher uric acid level and a 3 mm Hg greater rise in systolic blood pressure.

Dr Richard Johnson, a coauthor in the study and Chief of the Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension at the University of Colorado, commented "Although both sweeteners are often considered the same in terms of their biological effects, this study demonstrates that there are subtle differences. Soft drinks containing HFCS result in slightly higher blood levels of fructose than sucrose-sweetened drinks, "said Johnson. "The next step is for new studies to address whether the long-term effects of these two sweeteners are different."

Friday, January 20, 2012


Now I can eat a little dairy again, I'm dying to make my favourite salad:

Marvellous mielie salad
If your guests like blue cheeses, this is very moreish.
Serves 4
1 red onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 red pepper, deseeded and diced
3 baby cucumbers, sliced lengthways into quarters and then sliced
10-20 black olives, cut into quarters
½ cup fresh mielies, stripped from the cob and lightly cooked (you can also heat frozen mielies)
Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled – this really is to taste. Some people love this cheese, others find it too much, so you might want to serve it on the side instead of mixing in.
1/3 cup avocado or grapeseed oil
1/6 cup white balsamic vinegar
A dash of Turkish-fig-infused balsamic vinegar or
A dash of raspberry vinegar
1/3 tspn brown sugar

Mix all the salad ingredients together (leaving out the cheese if preferred). Mix the vinaigrette and stir into the salad just before serving (don’t use it all; the salad should not be overly wet). Serve with crusty fresh bread.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Call me a tree hugger, would you?

The first tree huggers were 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730, died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace. They literally clung to the trees, while being slaughtered by the foresters. But their action led to a royal decree prohibiting the cutting of trees in any Bishnoi village. And now those villages are virtual wooded oases amidst an otherwise desert landscape. Not only that, the Bishnois inspired the Chipko movement (which means “to cling”) that started in the 1970s, when a group of peasant women in Northeast India threw their arms around trees designated to be cut down. Within a few years, this tactic, also known as tree satyagraha, had spread across India, ultimately forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.
Bryan Farrell, Waging Nonviolence
Posted on January 9, 2012, Alternet