May 8, 2002

Special thanks to the Forest Conservation Portal for its continued effort in organizing conservation news articles, information, and resources.


May 7, 2002

I apologize for the lack of posts. I've been traveling and putting in lots of hours at the office. This past weekend, E.O. Wilson wrote an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled What is nature worth? - There's a powerful economic argument for preserving our living natural environment. An excerpt:

    To evaluate individual species solely by their known practical value at the present time is business accounting in the service of barbarism.

    In 1973, the economist Colin W. Clark made this point persuasively in the case of the blue whale, Balaenopterus musculus. At 100 feet and 150 tons in full maturity, the species is the largest animal that ever lived on the land or in the sea. It is also among the easiest to hunt and kill. More than 300, 000 blue whales were harvested during the 20th century, with a peak haul of 29, 649 in the 1930-'31 season. By the early 1970s, the population had plummeted to several hundred individuals. The Japanese were especially eager to continue the hunt even at the risk of total extinction. So Clark asked what practice would yield the whalers and humanity the most money: Cease hunting and let the blue whales recover in numbers and then harvest them sustainably forever, or kill the rest off as quickly as possible and invest the profits in growth stocks? The disconcerting answer for annual discount rates of more than 21 percent: Kill them all and invest the money.

    TAKING THE LONG VIEW
    Now, let us ask, what is wrong with that argument? Colin Clark's implicit answer is simple. The dollars-and-cents value of a dead blue whale was based only on the measures relevant to the existing market -- that is, on the going price per unit weight of whale oil and meat. There are many other values, destined to grow along with our knowledge of living Balaenopterus musculus in science, medicine and aesthetics, in dimensions and magnitudes still unforeseen. What was the value of the blue whale in A.D. 1000? Close to zero. What will be its value in A.D. 3000? Essentially limitless, plus the gratitude of the generation then alive to those who, in their wisdom, saved the whale from extinction.


April 10, 2002

CNN featured an article on carbon dioxide emissions from rivers of the Amazon Basin. Scientists found that the

    amount of carbon dioxide naturally coming off rivers, streams and flooded areas in the vast Amazon basin is triple what they expected to find . . . [further suggesting that] tropical rainforests are not carbon 'sinks' . . . Using the Amazon findings, the researchers calculate that tropical forest waterways worldwide are emitting 2 trillion pounds (1 trillion kilograms) of carbon dioxide annually. That's equal to about one-fifth the amount of carbon dioxide generated every year by deforestation, burning fossil fuels and other human activities.


April 4, 2002

Doing some site maintenance on A Place Out of Time. Madagascar image collection should be up soon. In the meantime, here's a story on a system of indentured servitude in the Brazilian logging industry (from the New York Times).


March 8, 2002

A team of researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID) announced the discovery of how the Ebola virus attacks human cells. In "Lipid Raft Microdomains" (Journal of Experimental Medicine), the group explains that Ebola virus "targets tiny fat platforms called 'lipid rafts' that float atop the membrane of human cells. These cholesterol-rich rafts are the viruses' gateway into cells, the assembly platform for making new virus particles, and the exit point where new virus particles bud" (Marilyn Chase - WSJ.com). Identifying these rafts as the gateway for viruses may assist in the development of treatment/vaccines against Ebola and other filoviruses.


March 3, 2002

According to Simon Montlake in "Indonesia battles illegal timber trade" (The Christian Science Monitor), illegal logging in Indonesia has rapidly expanded since the fall of President Suharto in 1998:

    Forestry officials in Jakarta say they recognize the scale of the problem and want to act, but are frequently blocked by provincial officials who collude with illegal loggers and profit from the trade.
    Since the fall of President Suharto in 1998, his centralized, military-backed regime has given way to looser political ties between Jakarta and the provinces, sparking a feeding frenzy in resource-rich areas.
    "Instead of one Suharto, you now have 300 Suhartos, and all they know is how to rape and pillage the forests," says Timothy Nolan, director of a European Union-funded bureau that supports sustainable forestry in Indonesia.
Recently Jakarta has moved to take matters into its own hands by enlisting the Indonesia Navy. The Navy intercepted the Chinese ships suspected of carrying illegal timber and "impounded the vessels in Jakarta along with their illegal logs, far from the timber bosses . . . [who] want the case to be handled locally, where their grip is solid, instead of in Jakarta.


February 28, 2002

In his Christian Science Monitor editorial, Voodoo environmentalism,William G. Moseley argues that the concept of wealth-induced environmental conservation is questionable in practice. His reasons:

  • "Economic growth tends to create as much environmental degradation as it potentially resolves . . . [in] that increased wealth tends to foster increased consumption and its attendant pollution."
  • While "wealth may give consumers the means to purchase low-polluting technologies, such as hybrid cars, the demand for manufacturers to develop these advanced technologies simply doesn't exist."
  • "The growth-induced environmental conservation argument often is supported by cross-national studies suggesting a correlation between wealth (or GNP) and environmental standards. In most instances, these studies have focused on industrial emissions as a proxy for all environmental variables." The focus on emmissions misses the shift of dirty industries from wealthier to poorer countries.
  • "The flip side of the wealth-induced environmental conservation argument is that poverty is one of the major causes of environmental destruction. My own research with rural farmers in West Africa suggests that poor farmers tend to engage in more environmentally friendly practices than their wealthier counterparts . . . [who] tend to contribute more to environmental degradation because they are more likely to grow cash crops, and invest more heavily in crop- production technologies that are harmful to the environment."


February 27, 2002

The US may be preparing for military action. in former Soviet republic of Georgia against Chechen rebels suspected of having ties to al Qaeda.


February 23, 2002

Recently a university student requested an interview. Here is the interview.


February 22, 2002

Daniel Pearl (1964-2002)


February 21, 2002

Colombia has broken off talks with FARC rebels and initiated a new military campaign aiming to reclaim the rebel controlled regions of the country (a region the size of Switzerland). The change in strategy follows a kidnapping of Liberal Party senator. The US has provided equipment and training for the operation.


February 19, 2002

The complete version of the tropical fish site should be ready by 3/12/02.


February 16, 2002

Slobodan Milosevic, former leader of Serbia, told the war crimes tribunal that the U.S. was an "unwitting ally of Osama bin Laden" during the Kosovo operation against Serb forces in 1998-1999. Milosevic claimed "al Qaeda was 'one of the fundamentalist groups which sent a unit to fight in Kosovo' alongside Muslim Kosovo Albanians.'"


February 6, 2002

The tropical fish beta site is up. A complete version should be ready by 2/22/02.


February 4, 2002

I apologize for the lack of postings - things have been absurdly busy of late and I'm also working on adding a section on tropical freshwater aquarium fish.


January 17, 2002

Officials are tightening security at the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club in case terrorists decide to target Punxsutawney Phil at this year's Groundhog Day celebration. It's good to see top priority is being on such an urgent matter of national security (though in truth security is probably not much different than most other years - an AP writer needed a story to tie meaningless Groundhog Day to 9/11).


January 16, 2002

In a Washington Post editorial this past Sunday, professor Jared Diamond writes that the best means for "combating the forces of poverty and hopelessness on which international terrorism feeds . . . [are] providing basic health care, supporting family planning and addressing such widespread environmental problems as deforestation -- that, even in crude economic terms, would cost the United States far less than another Sept. 11." An editorial worth reading.


January 15, 2002

A couple of new interesting revelations in the Enron case. Jeffrey Skilling, the Enron CEO who resigned in mid-August, sold short $30 million dollars worth of AES Corp, a major rival of Enron. His speculative trading suggests that he expected a fall in the price of AES and implies that he also expected the price of Enron to tumble (being similar companies). Using his inside information on the financial condition of Enron, he may have made as much as $15 million off the AES position.

In an article on lessons learned from the Enron collapse ( What's Been Learned From the Enron Saga? At the Very Least, These Six Crucial Lessons ), the writers from The Wall Street Journal noted that Enron CEO Kenneth Lay favored the Kyoto global-warming agreement and asked President Bush not to oppose the treaty. Enron stood to gain from the agreement with increase in energy/pollution credit trading.


January 14, 2002

While watching a football game, president George W. Bush choked on a pretzel and briefly lost consciousness. Had bin Laden known he could have taken out the leader of the free world with a strategically placed pretzel, we might be in trouble ...

The pretzel incident surpasses Clinton's knee injury -- suffered from a drunken fall at golfer Greg Norman's house in 1997 -- in terms of embarrassing presidential accidents.


January 12, 2002

AOL will write-off $40-60 billion when it reports earnings -- the largest write-off in corporate history.

George Bush is putting his life (and political future) on the line with his George Bush Sr-esq response to the question of raising taxes: "Not over my dead body." Those words could come back to haunt him if the economy continues to struggle.

To save time in replying to emails I will answer the most frequently asked personal questions by users of mongabay.com.
1) Why rainforests?
  Read the forward to A Place Out of Time.
2) How old are you?
  I was born in 1978
3) What do you think should be done to address terrorism?
  Reduce our dependence on oil -- especially foreign oil.
4) To what political party do you belong?
  I don't consistently support a particular political party
5) Do you accept advertisers?
  No

Rhett Butler


January 11, 2002

Monday EarthVision Environmental News featured an article on a technique that inhibits corrosion in ship ballast tanks. The process "involves bubbling nitrogen gas into ballast water to remove oxygen, thereby preventing oxidation or rust in the tanks." Over the life of a large cargo ship. the process can save $100,000 per year in maintenance costs. What makes this deoxygenation scheme particularly interesting is the environmental implications.

Ballast water often contains exotic species which are released into new environments when ballast tanks are emptied in foreign ports. These "aliens" cause severe damage to native species and the local economy. For example, the government estimates it will cost $5 billion to remove the zebra mussel from the Great Lakes. The range of the zebra mussel in the U.S. has rapidly expanded. USGS provides an excellent overview of Zebra mussels in North America:

    By the late 18th and early 19th centuries, zebra mussels had spread to most all major drainages of Europe because of widespread construction of canal systems. They first appeared in Great Britain in 1824 where they are now well established. Since then, zebra mussels have expanded their range into Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Italy, and the rest of western Europe.

    Zebra mussels were first discovered in North America in 1988. The first account of an established population came from Canadian waters of Lake St. Clair, a small water body connecting Lake Huron and Lake Erie. By 1990, zebra mussels had been found in all the Great Lakes. The following year, zebra mussels escaped the Great Lakes basin and found their way into the Illinois and Hudson rivers. The Illinois River was the key to their introduction into the Mississippi River drainage which covers over 1.2 million square miles. By 1992, the following rivers had established populations of zebra mussels: Arkansas, Cumberland, Hudson, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee. By 1994, the following states had reported records of zebra mussels within their borders or in water bodies adjacent to their borders: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. More recently, Connecticut has been added to the list of states where zebra mussels have been found.

    Method of Introduction: It is highly likely that the presence of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes was a result of a ballast water introduction. Its rapid dispersal throughout the Great Lakes and major river systems was due to its ability to attach to boats navigating these lakes and rivers. Its rapid range expansion into connected waterways was probably due to barge traffic where it is theorized that attached mussels were scraped or fell off during routine navigationOverland dispersal is also a possibility for aiding zebra mussel range expansion. Many small lakes in proximity of the Great Lakes, unconnected by waterways but accessed by individuals trailering their boats from infested waters, have populations of zebra mussels living in them. At least eight trailered boats crossing into California had zebra mussels attached to their hulls or in motor compartments; all were found during inspections at the agricultural inspection stations. Under cool, humid conditions, zebra mussels can stay alive for several days out of water.

The deoxygenation process kills ballast stowaways -- like the Zebra mussel -- by depriving them of oxygen.


January 10, 2002

Historical author Stephen Ambrose is accused of plagiarizing more works. Four books (including The Wild Blue, Crazy Horse and Custer, and Citizen Soldiers) have been called into question. Last week, Ambrose admitted "that his current best seller, 'The Wild Blue,' included passages from Thomas Childers 'Wings of Morning'" (Author Ambrose Faces More Questions).


January 9, 2002

This past weekend The San Francisco Chronicle featured an editorial calling into question the validity of AIDS death estimates. In "Megadeath and Megahype - The numbers for AIDS in Africa don't add up," Rian Malan suggests that World Health Organization/UNAIDS projections of the number infected with and killed by HIV/AIDS are probably way off. He cites death rates in South Africa as an example:

    Deaths registered in South Africa in 1996 were 363,238. Deaths registered in 2000 -- 457,335 . . .
    Local actuarial models say 352,000 South Africans have died from AIDS since the epidemic began. The Medical Research Council says 517,000. The figure from the United Nations Population Division is double that -- 1.06 million -- and the unofficial WHO/UNAIDS projections are even higher . . .
    Checking the number of registered deaths in South Africa was the surest way of assessing the statistics from Geneva, so I dug out the figures. Geneva's computer models suggested that AIDS deaths here had tripled in three years, surging from 80,000-odd in 1996 to 250,000 in 1999. But no such rise was discernible in total registered deaths, which went from 294,703 to 343,535 within roughly the same period . . .
    I attempted to bring my unanswered questions to the man who was there when the epidemic first hit this continent, Dr. Peter Piot, who has today risen to the role of chief of UNAIDS. But my call was directed instead to his chief epidemiologist, Dr. Bernhard Schwartlander.
    The UNAIDS computer model of Africa's epidemic is in fact completely dependable, Dr. Schwartlander says, because it relies on what he calls a very simple formula . . .
    Why, then, I asked, do we have so many different estimates of AIDS deaths in South Africa?
    "The models may completely disagree at a particular point in time, but in the end the curves look incredibly similar. They're goddamn consistent," he said.
    If that's true, I said, then why would we have 457,000 registered deaths here last year when the U.N. says 400,000 of them died of AIDS [87.5% of registered deaths]? One of those numbers must be wrong.
    "You say there are 457,000 registered deaths in South Africa?" Schwartlander said, momentarily nonplussed. "This is an estimate based on projections."
    "No," said I, "it's the actual number of registered deaths last year."
    "We don't really know," he replied. "Things are moving very fast. What is the total number of people who actually die? For all we know, it could be much higher. HIV has never existed in mankind before.
    "The UNAIDS numbers are, after all, only estimates. We are not saying this is the number. We are saying this is our best estimate. Ten years from now, we won't have these problems. Ten years from now, we'll know everything."

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