Archive for August, 2005

Eco-terrorism–the virtual edition

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

The FBI now considers eco-terrorists a larger threat to US domestic security than right wing groups. This despite no one being killed by radical environmentalists who espouse violence. Compare this to the over 100 people killed by right wing militias and the radical wing of the anti-abortionist movement. Environmentalists, take note. As a result of this new designation, Internet activism will receive the scrutiny normally reserved for its physical counterparts. Any activity geared towards disruption of services, from virtual marches to denial of web services, could be construed as terrorist attacks. Use of encryption to protect the content of email will continue to be suspect.

US National Parks serving technological needs of their human visitors

Friday, August 26th, 2005

Revisions to the US National Park System would allow cellphone towers and low-flying tour planes, permit snowmobiles to travel over any national park road, authorize activities such as grazing and mining, and tolerate higher levels of air pollution. Understandably, current and former park employees are furious and leaked the proposed amendments.

Instead of recognizing the needs of animals and vegetation and protecting the parks for future generations, the amendments would narrow the focus to the needs of people right now. I guess we really need to use our cell phones from anywhere inside a national park.

Irish Cat Blogging

Friday, August 26th, 2005

From a B&B I stayed at in County Clare. Which explains the lack of blogging as I’ve been on holiday to Ireland. But I’m baaaack. Now to spruce up the content.

pre-emptive cat blogging

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

lazy day

lazy days at the end of summer

some climate buzz

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

Dissenting opinions among the climate scientists working for the Bush administration’s 10-year climate report have driven apart colleagues, and propelled one scientist out the door. Quite simply put:

“A scientist who has long disagreed with the dominant view that global warming stems mainly from human activity has resigned from a panel that is completing a report for the Bush administration on temperature trends in the atmosphere.”

The report has at its core the question of disparity between tropospheric and surface-level temperatures (some explanation from the US Climate Change Science Program). Outburts such as these make a clear statement, but unfortunately, little directional change in governmental climate science can be seen through the media after such instances. A year ago, when a collaborative effort from the Union of Concerned Scientists – including many Nobel prize laureates – declared the Bush administration a science-phobic ostrich, that was it. So too with the recent “hockey stick” controversy.

When the report is published, it will fall prey to heavy scrutiny… but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will be up for revisions.

An aside: The Markets keep on truckin’… fleets once became economically viable by adding airdams to the tops of their truck cabs, back when oil prices were too high in the 70’s. Now, BioDiesel is becoming a close competitor for diesel. It’s happening in Oregon.

style trumps sustainable

Sunday, August 14th, 2005

The best friends environmentalism can turn to, time and time again, are fashion and marketing. Occasionally, they might stab it in the back, but not with green roofs.

From many standpoints, a green roof can pay off quick and easy as well as in the long term.

The hard sciences insist on a bevy of benefits. A green roof can act as a sink for CO2 and volatile organic compounds (just like spider plants in your kitchen), it can control temperature in the building and offset heating and cooling expenses, and it can sponge up much of the rain water that causes millions of dollars in damages in Montreal when the drainage system overflows. With a layers of soils and bedding and plastics, the roof superstructure gains added integrity. The roof also needs less roof tarring, from every five years to, well…

Remember the line from T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” that goes:

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The phrases like ‘green buildings’ and ‘sustainable living’ come together over coffee with this sort of parlour talk. Citing these sort of benefits is quick and easy, and with enough people talking this way, city funds will start to pour in to these projects – not just because of the economic reasoning behind the money saved with these projects, though this does make for an added conversation piece.

Nonetheless, from the purely economic standpoint, it is not surprising that so many grant givers and foundations are actively supporting projects, such as Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE), part of Natural Resources Canada, Green Municipal Enabling Fund (GMEF), and the ever-popular EcoAction program of Environment Canada.

Also, a giant databank of articles and contacts can be found at Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and

For a densely-populated area with plenty of flat rooftops, Montreal makes for a good base for such initiatives, and the people are all abuzz.

At a recent formal event for the green roof installed by the Urban Ecology Centre between avenue du Parc and rue Jeanne-Mance attracted a variety of upstanding citizens, well dressed and one lady with a parot on her shoulder. Last week was also an info-night at the UEC,
Called “Green Roofs 101” (call (514) 281-8381 for the next event).

A week earlier, Santropol had a party for its own rooftop garden project. Read more in this Montrel Mirror article.

As for the community aspect of green building, an interesting wrinkle develops: with more rooftops covered in greenery, a city might lower the degree of its well-documented island heating effect. In Manhattan, the average temperature is 10 degrees hotter. Therefore, panoramic solutions are the best, in both senses of the word.

Some institutions and commercial businesses have expressed little interest so far in pitching green roofs on their buildings, one source at the UEC tells me, and I suspect that maybe the social standing and social circles the decision makers live within have clouded them from the trendiness of it as well as the sensability. They likely don’t have a membership to the sustainable style foundation* (look fabulous, live well, do good). And, to quote Albert Camus from “The Fall”:

…what else can one say for man, other than he fornicated and read the papers.

Thus, an article from the New York Times.

Bluetooth Flirting

Saturday, August 13th, 2005

CNN has an article about people in Saudi Arabia using bluetooth enabled phones and laptops to evade the restrictions on conversing with the opposite sex. We’ve already mentioned the possibilities for similar technology to evade political oppression, this takes it to a more… personal level.

It still seems to me that technology will not be the answer in this case, even if I’d like to believe so, if this truly becomes a widespread means for Saudi’s to evade the religious police, I could imagine them either banning such personal wireless devices, coming up with a monitoring or control system, or even limiting some wireless technologies to one gender. It brings up some interesting questions about how interpersonal behavioural restrictions will evolve as technology does. If you don’t know the gender/religion/race of the person you’re talking to, how can you restrict it?

Damn Yankees

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

The scenario has risen again: the science and policy surrounding energy policy have had a hard time coming through. And so, the same question as before comes hard on its heels: a blend of scientists and policy makers are being listened to… but which ones? And why?

The long-standing logic of switching to zero-emission energy sources was written in a bill signed by President Bush (CNN) which included new nuclear power plants, and encouraged domestic coal, oil and natural gas production (ENS). (See NYTimes for good measure.)

Now, it’s a matter of patriotism.

The Yankee Ingenuity of yore was what inspired drawings of Uncle Sam and was fueled by a booming USA. Suffice it to say, this sentiment is still strong in the US, but with the last 20 years of technology specialization by foreign countries, there has been less and less dominance. Of course, dependency on foreign oil fits in here as well. But, so does keeping jobs domestic, and keeping jobs with longevity and security.

Thus, the mission of the Apollo Alliance has been one of a blend of environment and labour. A quick glance through their material (and having heard them speak at last summer’s Democratic National Convention and an energy conference) invokes patriotic pride. This is to say that it communicates through the right channel.

If coal miners are most concerned with their job security, then clean-burning coal turned into a competitive industry option will attract more attention for that reason, and less directly for reasons of environmental cleanliness. It’s a sustainable job either way, and both sides are excited for it. So too with wind and solar power gaining grants and therefore proposals from engineers and construction.

This is mimicked in the formation of the Nova Scotia Environment and Labour. Interestingly, it is next to impossible to navigate to anything mentioning energy science or policy, or greenhouse gas emissions. But the grouping of bodies is still wise for getting things done.

Back to the bill. There were criticism that came from all over the scope… The top Democrat on the Energy Committee, Sen. Jeff Bingham, praised the passage of the bill but said more must be done to tap the potential of renewable energy, address global warming and use less oil from overseas. Rep. Edward J. Markey said much of the same, highlighting the lack of boosts for renewables over fossil fuels, and called the bill “a historic failure.”

So for all the bill promised vis-à-vis a Stronger America, there was no help for tax incentives for renewable energy resources, a renewable electricity standard, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, reducing global warming, and installing a federal ban on MTBE. Anna Aurilio of U.S. PIRG doubted that the dependency and linkages to dirty sources and foreign sources of energy would be weakened by the bill.

With the Apollo Alliance, it is impossible to say whether or not there has been a mis-step. The Death of Environmentalism paper (see some background here) heralds the Alliance as a breakthrough of the ilk desperately needed to keep environmentalism from slipping into the mechanisms of science and society it is trying to re-define. With such attention to The Markets as the solution, and a host of proponents springing up to do combat with Market Tools, it is expected that such a group would gain so much applause and perform so well… they boast and attractive track record. TIME magazine runs articles like this one all the time, as does Newsweek and cohorts.

One hopes that the sentiment for Americana doesn’t blind people (like me a week or two ago) to fall in step with the Yankee Ingenuity spirit and disregard the poor oversights that bills like this one offer in spades.

Footprints across the U.S.

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005

The Wildlife Conservation Society and Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) have just completed a comprehensive assessment of human impacts on wildlife across the globe. Part of their goal was to find the most untouched or pristine places in the world. The most pristine place in the U.S.? Alaska, although that may not be for long if developments like drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) take place.

A nice graphic in the NYTimes article shows the varied impacts.

As posted previously on the Famine Early Warning Systems, this system also relies more on the data quality than the data analysis. Unlike FEWS, this is an entirely remoted sensed project. The NYTimes report mentions land use but it’s actually land cover, a subtle yet important distinction (see below). And the resolution in these types of analyses is small. Smaller resolutions equal big pixels. The bigger the pixel the more difficult it is to see small activities.

To give you a sense of how difficult it is to work at this scale with the data at hand, it’s as if all your data has the resolution of baseball stadiums. You’re trying to infer hotdog and beer sales from a baseball stadium sized snapshot. To get a sense of land use-land cover. The covered stadium is the akin to the land cover; what you’re trying to determine is the activity taking place under the dome–the land use.