Friday, December 21, 2007

MRSA - honey bees - and a new riddle

"Our Decrepit Food Factories" is the title of the New York Times article by Michael Pollan published Dec. 16/2007 which highlights how dangerously far we have wandered from the sustainability path.

He compares two important news stories that have cropped up this past decade which may have profoundly serious impact on our future. He begins with the first, discussing an urgent subject that really hasn't received the attention it deserves -- namely community-acquired MRSA:
...the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria that is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Back in June of this year I wrote a draft copy of a very detailed article on the subject of MRSA, complete with links, but never had time to complete it. I'll bring it to you early in the new year.

What does MRSA have to do with food factories (aka CAFOs)?

According to the article:
No one is yet sure how or where this strain evolved, but it is sufficiently different from the hospital-bred strains to have some researchers looking elsewhere for its origin, to another environment where the heavy use of antibiotics is selecting for the evolution of a lethal new microbe: the concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.
More specifically, pig operations are receiving the closest scrutinity after a recent "European study found that 60 percent of pig farms that routinely used antibiotics had MRSA-positive pigs (compared with 5 percent of farms that did not feed pigs antibiotics)."

On December 13/2007, the CDC also published a study showing that a strain of “MRSA from an animal reservoir has recently entered the human population and is now responsible for [more than] 20 percent of all MRSA in the Netherlands.” The study stated:
The density of NT-MRSA isolates corresponds to the density of pig farming, whereas the density of typable strains corresponds to the density of the human population. The density of cattle farms is more or less identical to the density of pig farms.
Further study is underway.

For the record, Michael Pollan admits:
Scientists have not established that any of the strains of MRSA presently killing Americans originated on factory farms. But given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not.
Meanwhile, what about the honey bees?

I had another post about the colony collapse disorder affecting honey bee populations around the world but never had a chance to publish it. However, I did mention the subject here.

Michael's article focusses more on how we're treating bee populations rather than the full background story on CCD.

It is the second news item that Michael Pollan draws our attention to with respect to the unsustainable methods growing within Big AG practices today.
We're asking a lot of our bees. We're asking a lot of our pigs too. That seems to be a hallmark of industrial agriculture: to maximize production and keep food as cheap as possible, it pushes natural systems and organisms to their limit, asking them to function as efficiently as machines. When the inevitable problems crop up — when bees or pigs remind us they are not machines — the system can be ingenious in finding "solutions," whether in the form of antibiotics to keep pigs healthy or foreign bees to help pollinate the almonds. But this year's solutions have a way of becoming next year's problems. That is to say, they aren't "sustainable."
I'm just the messenger, bringing attention to the story. How you choose to take the message is entirely up to you.

And now... the new riddle.

QUESTION: What are scientists watching closely as we near January 30/2008 that is: big (about 50 meters in diameter), flies at a speed of 1.2 km per second (8 miles/second) and carries the potential to unleash energy equivalent to a 15-megaton nuclear bomb?

ANSWER: coming tomorrow.

Until then, stay safe and be healthy!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lakota Indians set new borders?

A delegation for the Lakota Indians are unilaterally withdrawing from treaties they signed with the federal government of the U.S., declaring their independence from the USA. Here are a few articles relating to the news:

Descendants of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse break away from US

Lakota Indians Withdraw Treaties Signed With U.S. 150 Years Ago

Some might wonder if this is what the CIA might call "blowback" ...following a long trail of events surrounding the mining of resources (among other treaty violations) from Black Hills and other areas of what was supposed to be Sioux/Lakota land.

The Black Hills (originally part of the Pine Ridge Reservation) in South Dakota contain the largest gold mine in the country. Back in 1868, a treaty conferred ownership of the Black Hills to the Sioux, but in the 1870s when gold was discovered (supposedly when General Custer found gold in a river in the area), the great gold rush that followed sparked off what was called the Black Hills War. Remember the Battle of the Little Big Horn?

After defeating the Indians in the late 1870s, the US govt. took control of the area but in 1980 the USA Supreme Court ruled the Black Hills had been taken illegally. Restitution was ordered in the form of nearly $106 million but the Lakota refused the monetary compensation, insisting instead on the return of the land.

The money, held in trust, is now worth approximately $757 million.

Incidentally, the Black Hills also include the Mount Rushmore National Memorial, with its famous giant sculptures of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

The Pine Ridge Reservation ("the eighth-largest reservation in the United States"), which was originally part of the Great Sioux Reservation established in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, is also rich in uranium currently being mined today... something which the native Americans tried to stop without success.

In fact, in the 1970s, the area saw a great deal of violence, culminating in the death of Anna Mae Aquash, a Mi'kmaq activist and member of American Indian Movement (AIM) on February 24, 1976. (If you're curious, and want to learn more about the murder of AIM member, Anna Mae Pictou Aquash originally from Canada, here's one side of the story.)

A WikiPedia article notes: "One of the murders during that period involved a civil rights activist, Ray Robinson, who worked with Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young in the 1960s. His body has not been found."

Interestingly, according to the USDA, "in 2002 there was nearly 33 million dollars in receipts from agricultural production on Pine Ridge, yet less than 1/3rd of that income went to members of the tribe."

When you look at all the resources being hauled out of there -- gold, uranium, water, agriculture -- why is it that it is the poorest reservation in the USA?

The Pine Ridge Reservation " probably easily comparable to the least developed countries of the Third World."

Based on the history of the region, things could get messy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

FutureGen Update

Within hours of the announcement that Mattoon won the FutureGen bid, the call to stall came out. Here's an excerpt from one news article on the reasoning behind the DOE's decision:
"The biggest concern this past week for FutureGen Texas was the bickering between the DOE and the FutureGen Alliance over the timing of the announcement," said Hoxie Smith, who served as coordinator of the Permian Basin FutureGen Task Force.

Following this morning's selection of Mattoon, the DOE -- which had requested a delay in the announcement to let the agency evaluate public comments on the environmental impact statements -- issued a statement warning that projected cost overruns involving the plant "require a reassessment of FutureGen's design."
What puzzled me most about this entire project was -- why even pursue coal? Why not solar? Why not wind power? Why not other sources for hydrogen? In this enlightened age, why are we not considering renewable sources of energy rather than continued focus on using fossil fuels?

So... I'm reading through the huge EIS, and I come across this little section titled, "Technology Options Eliminated from Further Consideration," and I find what I think is the answer:
Pursuant to the President's FutureGen Initiative, DOE determined that all project alternatives must use coal as fuel, produce electricity, produce H2, meet very low target emission rates, and capture and store emissions of GHGs.
Well, that explains why maybe this technology -- the algae farm solution by Dr. Berzin, a rocket scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- was not even considered.
    His technology meets all but one of the criteria. It
  • does use coal (sort of)
  • does produce electricity
  • does meet very low target emission rates
  • does capture and store emissions of Green House Gases (sort of - actually it converts most of them rather than storing them)
but what it doesn't do is produce H2 (hydrogen). Instead, his technology produces bio-diesel and ethanol -- in abundance -- far more than either soy beans or corn, and with much greater efficiency from what I understand.

In addition, Dr. Berzin's technology also cleans existing coal plant emissions -- by up to 40% of CO2 emissions and up to 86% of nitrous oxide emissions. It can be added to almost any coal power plant and act like a powerful scrubber, sucking up a large portion of those GHGs already being belched into our air.

Now, if we reduced all our aging coal plant CO2 emissions by 40%, that gives us a far larger cut than the Kyoto treaty mandates ...putting us years ahead!

But what is the cost for such a technology?

Well, the algae needs to be harvested daily, so I'm guessing that would up maintenance costs for the power plants but considering the alternative fuels output (bio-diesel and ethanol), according to Dr. Berzin, the power plants can actually make a tidy profit.

And, unlike the almost $1.8 billion price tag for the FutureGen solution decided upon by our DOE, for the algae pilot project using a 1,000 megawatt power plant owned by one southwestern power company, the cost was $11 million in venture capital.

Now, you can imagine how many power plants could be modified if, say, the DOE's original budget agreed for FutureGen to the tune of $950 million were applied to Dr. Berzin's technology instead, right?

Hmmmm... affordable, ...sustainable, ...and profitable?

But for some bizarre reason, the DOE has its heart set on sequestering CO2. They have stricken from the list of consideration any renewable resource technologies, including wind power, wave power, geothermal energy, solar energy, and biomass combustion (which do not use coal and do not allow an opportunity to demonstrate the capture and storage of GHG emissions).

In fact, they're determined to use our tax dollars to sequester (meaning store) the green house gases. And equally determined that hydrogen be a product of the technology chosen, the way I read it in the EIS.

So, how many hundred, thousand, or million years into the future will it be when all that sequestered GHG starts bubbling to the surface?

Well, if you haven't already heard about all that methane bubbling up in the Pacific Ocean and from some of the newly thawing areas of permafrost, you might imagine like me that eventually, somewhere and at some time in the distant future, it's bound to find a way up.

When future generations look back in history at us -- what will they think?

Maybe that's too far into the future. So let's look to today's future generation. Here's a pretty good article that might tell you how they feel about how tax dollars are deployed in this country...

For a change of pace, and some insight for the coming 2008 election year, take a quick read through this insightful article: "10-round rumble: Generational 'fight of the century' looms as taxpayers revolt"

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

And the FutureGen Winner is Mattoon

Mattoon, Illinois was officially chosen as the final designated site for the massive FutureGen power plant -- which is supposed to become "the World's Cleanest Coal Plant."

Mattoon is just a quick hop and a skip over the border East of Terre Haute, Indiana.

Never heard about FutureGen, you say?

Well, then, you might be interested in reading the DOE Environmental Impact Study on the subject which you can find here.

I have a few mixed feelings on this massive undertaking which is sure to suck quite a few tax dollars up over the next couple years... possibly beyond; a lot of tax dollars... for something that would only be in operation "for at least 20 to 30 years, and potentially up to 50 years."

Besides the enormous costs, of which DOE would provide 74% of the net (about $1,077,760,230), there are other details that make me nervous, particularly with respect to -- the transportation by pipeline and "sequestration" of -- 1.1 million tons of CO2 per year -- below ground.

This pic from the DOE Environmental Impact Study might give you an idea:

click for larger pic

Now, supposedly the facility will be constructed on 444 acres, 97% of which is farmland and 3% of which is public Right-of-Ways.

Okay... that's the -- above ground -- space, but looking at their sample image above, I'm thinking, hey, aren't they actually using quite a bit larger space below ground for all that CO2 "sequestration" as they call it? I wonder what the neighbors will think?

And, what happens when you keep pumping that kind of pressure 1.3 to 1.6 miles below ground, year after year, for a period of anywhere between 20 and 50 years? And how does the saline solution that far below ground help solve the CO2 issues?

And, ummmm, exactly how much water will this plant require per day that will be drawn indirectly from the aquifer(from the Mattoon public water system and possibly Chesterton)?

And what about the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which they're planning to convert to useable by-products such as fertilizers and soil enhancers.

Well, with a document that is 152 pages long, I'm guessing if I want my questions answered I'll be reading quite a bit over the next couple days. However, according to the ENS news article, even the Environmental Impact Study leaves a few questions unanswered.

Why am I so curious? Check out this quote from the Environment News Service article on the subject:
"The ability to effectively and economically capture CO2 emissions from existing power plants could spur the construction of new CO2 pipelines across the country to geologic formations suitable for CO2 sequestration," the EIS says.
For more on the four towns that were considered for the project, check out this AP article which lists the pros and cons for each site.

Notice the cons for Mattoon -- "Greatest population around potential site, potentially putting more people at risk if there is a chemical release."

And, considering many of our prevailing winds during summer come from the southwest, where does that leave us?

But check out on the map where Indianapolis is located in relation to the site.

Hmmmmm.... we live in interesting times, indeed.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Indiana Road Conditions Today

With the huge snowfall that hit us last night, you would think the worst is over, right? Well, it's not the fallen snow that's causing trouble so much today as it is the blowing snow. Check out those winds whipping through the state. Br-r-r-r-rrr!

We were lucky to have that short 2-day drying spell after the rains hit us last week. So, with the exception of blowing snow and drifting in spots, the roads are looking pretty good in our area of Northwest Indiana, even if they are snow covered. But if you're travelling elsewhere in the State, you'd best check the Indiana State Police website for current road conditions first. I hear many of the State and secondary roads are in pretty rough shape in some areas.

Now for something totally off track...

I found this cool website a few weeks back. If you're wondering which presidential candidate best matches your views and ideals, take the quick survey at their site and after answering a few brief questions, the site will pop up the best matches based on your answers.

I thought, what the heck, I'll give it a whirl.

Surprise, surprise, the best matches for me were only in the 69% match range... and they were so low in the polls for either party (yes, both democrats and republicans matched me to the 69% range) that the chances of any of them even making it to the race were slim at best. In fact, I hadn't even heard of the one that the site said was my best match.

Until last night -- when I found out about the Tea Party going on today.

Wow. The guy I thought didn't stand a hope in h--- has come a long way since I took the survey. Imagine my surprise.

Who is he?

To learn more about his views, watch this YouTube video.

Or, here's another video that is a bit shorter.

To learn more about the Tea Party going on today, watch this YouTube video and visit the Tea Party site here.

Yeah, he probably won't win, at least not in his party, since his views are so far against what the Republican party has evolved into... but I gotta tell 'ya, he sure is resonating with a lot of folks out there. It will be interesting to watch him.

Here in Jasper County (and surrounding areas) at least one Union is backing Edwards on the Democratic side of things. My husband came home with the brochure last week.

Interesting... both Edwards and Paul are pushing for people's rights with respect to their property. You'd almost think they both are anti-CAFO -- and one of them is a doctor. Imagine that.

By the way, did you know that today is the Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Neighbors kept in the dark?

I was reading an interesting, and dare I say, revealing article about the State of Indiana tonight. One quote in the "Food security and public health" section of this very long article caught me:
And although Easterly has said that he wants timely resolution of enforcement actions, an investigation by Dan Stockman [see sidebar on pg. 17] published in July in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette found that IDEM's Voluntary Remediation Program is "marked by delays, years-long cleanups and neighbors kept in the dark about the polluted soil and water nearby." [Emphasis added.]
The article reminded me that this 'tis the season when people are very busy, the time of year when many (IMHO) less than savory characters love to hold public meetings for which they believe few, if any, will turn out.

Keeping this in mind, don't forget that Senator Paul has authored Bill 61 (not posted on yet) which you might want to take some time out of your busy schedule to support.

The Bill is said to be the same as the one Senator Gard would not let go to vote last year, and calls for a 3 Year Moratorium on building CAFOs in the State and would be effective July 1.

You'll want to contact Senator Long to request that this Bill be heard. And don't forget to also email your area Rep/Senator and let them know your feelings with respect to CAFOs and support for the moratorium.

They do track the numbers, folks. So, the more the merrier.

And, though I truly believe it won't do much good, you can haunt the Gov with an email or call on the issue. 317-232-4567

Personally, I'm hoping both he and Becky have ticked off enough people in this State that their reign in the Mansion will be coming to an end soon... you gotta love election years!!! hehehe

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tough Questions for 2008

It's been hectic here, what with all the freezing rain and icy roads... school delays and closures ...and Christmas baking (yummy!). This morning is the first time in over a month that I've been able to return to blogging. Did you miss me?

The pro-CAFO side are probably thinking, "Oh no! She's back!"

The anti-CAFO side are probably thinking, "Finally! She's back!"

Well, I'm probably going to disappoint both sides with today's post... because even though there's plenty to talk about on the CAFO side of bad science and politics, there's an even bigger mess going on in the financial industry -- and I gotta tell 'ya, it's not pretty.

For those not up to speed on what's been happening in sub-prime mortgages, you might be scratching your heads right now wondering -- "What's up?"

(Not our dollar, that's for sure! Have you seen the tumble it's taken?)

Take comfort in knowing there are a lot of others who DO KNOW what's going on in the sub-prime mess that are probably wondering the very same thing -- "What's up?" -- but I'm guessing they're more worried about who is being investigated and who isn't right now.

You see, the tough question is really... "Who knew what?"

This article puts things into perspective and suggests our very own Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, the brainchild behind the Gov plans for saving Aunt Millie's home, needs to be answering that very same question.

Ever since the big Enron debacle, one can't help thinking along the lines of conspiracy and fraud theories when it comes to the financial industry as a whole, but what happens to the innocent, hardworking taxpayers across America? How much deeper will they have to dig into their pockets to pay for the messes created by the profiteers hiding in their castles hosting private meetings with the drawbridge closed to all of us peasants?

There are some tough questions that need to be asked in 2008. I wonder who will have the courage to ask them?

On the lighter side, for a comical look at our "financial crisis" ...check out this video from across the ocean in the Queen's English. It might bring some laughter to the gloomy picture:

The Last Laugh - George Parr - Subprime