Selective logging leads to clear-cutting in the Amazon rainforest

(07/31/2006) A new study links selective logging to clear-cutting in the Amazon rainforest. The research is significant because it identifies an important indicator of rain forest vulnerability to clear-cutting in Brazil. A team of scientists, led by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, found that 16% of selectively logged rainforests were completely cleared within one year and 32% were totally deforested within four years. The researchers also found high correlation between the presence of roads and deforestation, with virtually no selective logging occurring at distances greater than 15 miles from roads.
Amazon | Deforestation | Rainforests

New green building material could cut wood demand in China, India

(07/31/2006) Australian researchers have developed a strong, lightweight building material that they believe could serve as the base for "green construction" in countries like as China and India. Dr Obada Kayali and Mr Karl Shaw of the University of New South Wales have developed building materials that can be manufactured entirely from waste fly ash, a fine powder that is a byproduct of coal-burning power plants. The researchers say that their "unique manufacturing method traps any harmful chemicals, creating an eco-friendly construction material that saves on construction costs and reduces generation of greenhouse gases." Further, the building materials are at least twenty percent lighter and stronger than comparable products made from clay, and take less time to manufacture.
Green design

NASA to study how African winds and dust influence hurricanes

(07/31/2006) Scientists from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, universities and international agencies will study how winds and dust conditions from Africa influence the birth of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean.

Global warming link to hurricanes challenged

(07/31/2006) Last week a leading meteorologist challenged a proposed link between global warming and hurricane intensity, based on inaccuracies in the historical data used in the studies.
Climate Change | Hurricanes

Biomimicry of Scorpion Venom Fights Cancer

(07/31/2006) A new method of delivering a dose of radioactive iodine -- using a man-made version of scorpion venom as a carrier -- targets deadly brain tumors called gliomas without affecting neighboring tissue or body organs.

Primate evolution linked to global warming says new study

(07/31/2006) New research suggests the ancient climate change fueled early primate evolution.
Primates | Climate Change

Coral reef parks established by locals more effective than government reserves

(07/31/2006) Coral reef marine protected areas established by local people for traditional use can be far more effective at protecting fish and wildlife than reserves set up by governments expressly for conservation purposes, according to a study by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and other groups.
Marine | Coral Reefs


I will be without internet access in the California Sierra Nevadas until the first of August. I will not be updating the site until I return.

Thank you for your patience, understanding, and interest.

Rhett Butler,

July 25, 2006

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to make a pitch to "Mike," a top executive of a major energy company, about climate change and green energy. Mike said he didn't believe humans are influencing climate or that green energy is a key factor in the future business of his firm, "EnergyCo." I tried to persuade him otherwise, not by focusing on the science of climate change but on economics and market opportunities. It's not that science isn't important--I just didn't want to get caught up in an argument about core beliefs, which is akin to arguing over religion.

Sebastian Mallaby, a columnist with the Washington Post, notes that the cost of stabilizing carbon emissions may be much lower than we've been lead to believe. He cites a 2004 Energy Information Administration analysis of a carbon-cutting plan advanced by John McCain and Joe Lieberman that found stabilizing greenhouse emissions would reduce U.S. GDP by only 0.4 percent. "Since GDP was projected to grow by 90 percent between the time of the study and that year, this meant that the nation could address climate change and still experience growth of 89.6 percent over the period," writes Mallaby.

The Government of Northern Ireland has proposed regulations making the use of renewable energy compulsory in all new buildings starting in 2008.

Global climate change poses a serious threat to endemic wildlife populations in Australia's tropical forests according to research out of James Cook University and the Earthwatch Institute.

New research found that elephants avoid hills whenever possible. Scientists believe this behavior is an energy conservation technique. On a separate note, the Wildlife Conservation Society is promoting a new "Elephant-safe" hot sauce.

The Amazon rainforest appears headed towards a second straight year of drought Last year's drought was the worst on record.

Brazilian soy crushers and exporters will implement a two-year moratorium on trading soybeans grown on newly deforested lands in the Amazon basin. The governance program takes effect in October 2006 and "seeks to reconcile environmental conservation with economic development, through the responsible and sustainable use of Brazil's natural resources."

July 24, 2006

A common sight throughout much of Iceland is large fields of vibrant purple nootka, or Alaskan lupine. The flower looks at home in this landscape, but was actually introduced in 1945 to lowland areas as a means to add nitrogen to the soil and also to function as an anchor for organic matter. Lupine has since flourished here, spreading like a wildfire, in almost effortless competition with the other species already in residence. Critics of this initiative view the flower as an invasive species -- one of 10,000 introduced to Iceland -- that is threatening low-growing mosses and other native plants.

The diversity of bees and of the flowers they pollinate, has declined significantly in Britain and the Netherlands over the last 25 years according to research led by the University of Leeds and published in Science last Friday. The paper is the first evidence of a widespread decline in bee diversity.

A group of scientists urged governments of tropical Asia to take steps to stem biodiversity loss across the region. At the annual meeting for the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, hosted at the Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the Yunnan province of China, scientists said that population growth and booming economic expansion are fueling illegal logging, wildlife poaching, and habitat destruction. The scientists noted that populations of elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, sun bears, orangutans, and other species unique to tropical Asia have fallen significantly in recent years as a result of these activities.

July 23, 2006

A new paper argues that bicycling may be more damaging to the environment than driving a car, but not for the reason you might think. Karl T. Ulrich, a professor at the Wharton School of the Business at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that there are environmental costs associated with increased longevity of those who engage in physical activity. Ulrich reasons that because cyclists live longer they will produce more carbon emissions over the course of their extended life.

Thursday Brazil and the U.S. renewed two Amazon forest research agreements. Brazilian Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Luis Manuel Rebelo Fernandes signed two continuation agreements for research on the Amazon: the Large-Scale Biosphere - Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA) and Biological Determinants of Forest Fragments Program (BDFFP). Implementation of the programs will be lead by Brazil's INPA, or the Brazilian Institute for Research in the Amazon.

July 22, 2006

Big Basin Creek
Thursday I spent some time in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, where we spotted a Western rattlesnake and the endangered San Francisco garter snake stalking a small mouse.

The ability to spot venomous snakes may have played a major role in the evolution of monkeys, apes and humans, according to a new hypothesis by Lynne Isbell, professor of anthropology at UC Davis.

The New York Times reports that NASA modified its mission statement in early February 2006, deleting the phrase "to understand and protect our home planet". The shift dismays some NASA scientists, who fear reduced emphasis on planetary issues like global warming.

July 21, 2006

The high diversity of leaf-eating insect species in tropical forests results from the large number of plant species that exist in these ecosystems, according to new research published in the current issue of the journal Science.

The Wall Street Journal today reported that TXU, a Dallas-based utility, is building 11 power plants that use pulverized coal. The paper notes that pulverized coal "releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide, the most worrisome of several heat-trapping gases widely blamed for global warming." The 11 new plants would more than double the company's carbon-dioxide emissions, from 55 million tons in 2004 to more 133 million tons in 2011. The WSJ says TXU may be building the plants to take advantage of future restrictions on carbon-dioxide emissions. By building the plants, TXU could earn "allowances" based on its levels of carbon-dioxide emissions -- the higher the emissions, the larger the pollution allowances. Critics say the system essentially "rewards" firms that produce higher emissions before regulations go into effect.

July 20, 2006

The number of people living within 60 miles (100 km) of a coastline is "expected to increase by 35 percent over 1995 population levels, exposing 2.75 billion people worldwide to the effects of sea level rise and other coastal threats posed by global warming," according to a new map showing projected population change for the year 2025. The map, developed by researchers at the Center for Climate Systems Research, a part of The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, shows "that the greatest increases in population density through 2025 are likely to occur in areas of developing countries that are already quite densely populated," according to a release from The Earth Institute.

Economists need to play "a bigger and more constructive role in dealing with the threat of climate change" said Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, the academy of sciences of the United Kingdom.

The most comprehensive scientific study of tiger habitats ever done finds that the big cats reside in 40 percent less habitat than they were thought to a decade ago. The tigers now occupy only 7 percent of their historic range.

July 19, 2006

A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency links climate change and energy security to fuel efficiency, while noting that despite record nominal gas prices, American automakers continue to make cars that are less fuel efficient than 20 years ago. American consumers continue to purchase gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and other light trucks at a steady rate.

China plans to spend about $175 billion protecting its environment over the next five years according to a report from BBC News. The money will be used to reduce pollution, improve water quality, and cut soil erosion.

July 18, 2006

As former US president Bill Clinton arrives in Liberia to meet with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, it's time to take a look at the state of the forests in the country. While Liberia's brutal civil war delayed the commercial exploitation of its tropical forests during the 1990s, 'conflict timber' was a key source of revenue for warring factions. The harvesting of this wood, combined with collateral damage from military operations and wildlife poaching, took a heavy toll on Liberia's forests. With the end of the war, Liberia's new government--which took power at end of the war in 1998--immediately established forestry as a national priority and instituted a five-year tax holiday on timber industries. This policy, combined with the return of commercial interests to the country, repopulation, and reconstruction efforts, has put pressure on Liberia's remaining forest resources. Since the close of the 1990s, deforestation rates have increased by 17 percent, and primary forest cover in the country has fallen to just over 1.3 percent of the total land area (or 4.1 percent of the forest cover).

Recent surveys conducted by IUCN in northern Cameroon found no evidence of the West African black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes). The organization fears the sub-species is now extinct in the wild.

An article in The Wall Street Journal said that some Greenlanders are looking forward to climate change.

July 17, 2006

The average temperature for the continental United States from January through June 2006 was the warmest first half of any year since records began in 1895, according to scientists at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). NOAA data showed that the average January-June temperature for the contiguous United States was 51.8°F (11.0°C) -- 3.4°F (1.8°C) above the 20th century (1901-2000) average. The government agency noted that five states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri) experienced record warmth for the period while no state was cooler than average. NOAA also reported that last month was the second warmest June on record and national precipitation was below average. It said that continued below-normal-levels of precipitation combined with warmer-than-average temperatures expanded drought conditions across the country.

Paleoclimatologist Michael Mann criticized a report challenging the familiar "hockey stick" temperature record of the past thousand years. The report, commissioned by Texas Representative Joe Barton, chairman of the House Energy Committee, and championed in an op-ed piece appearing in last Friday's issue of The Wall Street Journal said that there is no evidence that the 1990s were the warmest decade in a millennium or that 1998 was the warmest year in the last 1,000.

July 16, 2006 contributor, Tina Butler, just returned from a trip to Iceland. Here are her pictures.

July 14, 2006

For the first time researchers have found evidence that natural exposure to a contaminant damages the brain of a wild animal. Scientists at the University of Alberta discovered that the regions in robins' brains responsible for singing and mating shrink when exposed to high levels of DDT. The new study, published in the current issue of Behavioural Brain Research, suggests that exposure to DDT can cause significant changes in the brains of songbirds.

A team of scientists from Cambridge University has found that adult meerkats directly teach their young how to obtain food. The findings which are significant because they depart from the more commonly observed behavior whereby young learn simply by observing older members of their group. Evidence of true "teaching" with the sole intent of instructing young has been rare in animal research.

July 13, 2006

A rare lemur known for its haunting whale-like call has given birth in a reserve outside its native forest. The news is significant because the Indri, as the world's largest living lemur is known, has traditionally done poorly when kept in captivity or introduced outside its montane forest habitat in Madagascar. The birth occurred at Palmarium, a small private reserve of lowland tropical forest established by a tour operator in Madagascar, and provides further hope for the successful conservation of the endangered species..

July 12, 2006

Last month Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva decreed three new protected areas in the Amazon basin, placing 1.84 million hectares (4.55 million acres) of rainforest off-limits for development. The environmental ministry said that since 2002 President Silva has created 57 protected areas in the Amazon preserving some 19.3 million hectare of rainforest. More than twice that area -- at least 55 million hectares -- has been cleared since 1978, mostly as a result of forest conversion for cattle pasture and settlement.

The first comprehensive analysis of the full life cycles of soybean biodiesel and corn grain ethanol shows that biodiesel has much less of an impact on the environment and a much higher net energy benefit than corn ethanol, but that neither can do much to meet U.S. energy demand.

July 11, 2006

Almost three quarters of Japan's tropical timber imports come from the endangered rainforests of Borneo according to figures from the International Tropical Timber Organization, an industry group. Meanwhile, ITTO says that China remains, by a large margin, the largest consumer of tropical logs.

An oil recovery technique using steam injection could add "tens of billion of barrels" to Saudi Arabia's reserves said Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. The paper reports that earlier this year U.S.-based Chevron Corp. began a field test of a technique that could pump heavy crude oil that previously considered unrecoverable. The story shows that high oil prices will continue to drive drillers to pursue traditionally marginal sources of energy, even ones that a particularly difficult to recover and refine.

July 10, 2006

A mammal that embarks on the longest remaining overland migration in the continental United States could vanish from the ecosystem that includes Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, according to a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the National Park Service. The pronghorn antelope, which travels more than 400 miles between fawning grounds and wintering areas, could disappear because of continued development and human disturbance outside the parks according to the study.

The European Alps could lose 80 percent of their glacier cover by the year 2100, if summer air temperatures increase by three degrees Celsius according to a study published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. The research, based on modeling experiments by Swiss scientists, found that should in summer temperature rise more than three degree Celsius, only the largest glaciers and those on the highest mountain peaks could survive into next century.

July 9, 2006

Last week British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking suggested that humans should colonize outer space to escape the problems we have helped create on Earth. "It is important for the human species to spread out into space for the survival of the species," said Hawking at a news conference in Hong Kong. "Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of." While Hawking may be one of the most respected and preeminent scientists in the world, his comments taken at face value seem off base, since at worst, they suggest that instead of addressing problems here on Earth, we should start over on another planet, essentially discarding our planet like a used candy wrapper or soda can.

July 8, 2006

Bushmeat from wild primates in Africa is ending up on plates in North America and western Europe according to an article published in the current issue of New Scientist. Justin Brashares, a wildlife biologist at the University of California at Berkeley who carried out a survey of clandestine markets in seven major cities, says that the meat, which includes chimpanzee and gorilla parts, makes up nearly a third of the illegal international trade in bushmeat killed in Africa.

New research says the frequency of large forest fires has increased in the western United States since the mid-1980s as spring temperatures climbed, mountain snows melted earlier and summers got hotter. The new findings, published in the July 6 issue of Science Express, suggest that climate change, not fire suppression policies and forest accumulation, is the primary driver of recent increases in large forest fires.

July 7, 2006

The world's leading amphibian experts are calling for dramatic steps, including the formation of an Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA), to prevent the massive extinction of amphibians worldwide. Scientists say amphibians -- cold-blooded animals that include frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians -- are under grave threat due to climate change, pollution, and the emergence of a deadly and infectious fungal disease, which has been linked to global warming. According to the Global Amphibian Assessment, a comprehensive status assessment of the world's amphibian species, one-third of the world's 5,918 known amphibian species are classified as threatened with extinction. Further, at least 9, and perhaps 122, have gone extinct since 1980.

While scientists warn that increasing ocean acidity will doom marine animals that build skeletons and structural elements out of calcium carbonate, new research has found that corals can change their skeletons, building them out of different minerals depending on the chemical composition of the seawater around them. However, the research provides further evidence that corals are extremely sensitive to rapid environmental change and will be negatively affected by increased carbon dioxide levels in the short-term.

July 6, 2006

Lots of people more intelligent than I am have theorized ways to "save the world" in terms of the preserving the environment in its current condition for future generations. Without getting too specific I believe there are six key concepts to address in advancing toward a future where I won't have to apologize to my grandchildren. These include full cost economic analysis, education, small population, creative approaches to poverty reduction, corruption, and protection and restoration of wildlands.

A new program that calls for a 50 percent increase in tiger numbers in key areas over the next decade blends a business model with hard science and has already attracted $10 million from venture capitalists according to an article published in the current issue of the journal Nature.

Yesterday the web site was mentioned in a San Francisco Chronicle article written by Jessica Guynn

July 5, 2006

In June I spent time in the East African country of Uganda, a country home to about half the world's population of critically endangered mountain gorillas. While Uganda is perhaps best known for its great apes, it is also an excellent destination for traditional safari animals including elephants, lions, and hippos. I have now posted some of my pictures of Uganda.

Carbon dioxide emissions are altering ocean chemistry and putting sea life at risk according to a report released today. Oceans worldwide absorbed approximately 118 billion metric tons of carbon between 1800 and 1994 according to the report, resulting in increased ocean acidity, which reduces the availability of carbonate ions needed for the production of calcium carbonate structures. "It is clear that seawater chemistry will change in coming decades and centuries in ways that will dramatically alter marine life," said Joan Kleypas, the report's lead author.

July 4, 2006

Two new studies paint a mixed future for the world's bird populations, one suggesting that 12 percent of existing species could be extinct by 2100 and the other finding shifts in migration patterns among birds that migrate long distances. Nevertheless, the growing body of research suggest that bird populations will likely face upheaval in coming years, with some species benefiting from climatic shifts while other flirt with extinction.

Caribbean sea temperatures have reached their annual high two months ahead of schedule according to a report from The Associated Press. Scientists are concerned that the region's coral reefs may suffer even worse damage than last year when 70 percent of coral was bleached in some areas.

Half of British consumers want to see energy inefficient products banned from the market according to a new survey by Energy Saving Trust, a UK-based non-profit organization. The group also found that more than 80 percent of people said they tried saving energy on a day-to-day basis.

July 3, 2006

I created a 52-photo slide show that provides an overview of tropical rainforests. While the show is part of the rainforest information site for kids, it is also suitable for adults with content on topics ranging from deforestation to background on individual animal species. The show includes images from my latest travels in Africa, southeast Asia, and South America.

I added some options for filtering news articles that appear on the site.

July 1, 2006

Scientists from NASA and other agencies have concluded that the ozone hole over the Antarctic will recover around 2068, nearly 20 years later than previously believed.

One of the two ranchers accused of killing Dorothy Stang, an American missionary who worked with the rural poor in the Amazon, has been released from prison in Brazil. Brazil's Supreme Court ruled that the rancher's pretrial imprisonment was illegal because he did not represent a threat to society. So far three men have been convicted in connection with Stang's murder.