Rice riots soon?

"Across Asia the suddenly stratospheric rice prices have prompted countries to ban exports amid fears that shortages could provoke food riots.

While prices of wheat, corn and other agricultural commodities have surged since the end of 2006, partly because of extra demand for biofuels to offset rising oil prices, rice held fairly steady.

However, prices for the staple food of about 2.5 billion Asian people rocketed two months ago. Thai rice, the global benchmark, which was quoted at just below $400 (£200) a tonne in January rose to $760 (£380) last week.

Aware that shortages of such a vital staple could spell trouble at home, Asian governments have moved to ensure their people get enough to eat at a price they could afford, an insurance policy which has in turn raised prices further."

Just in case you thought that big splash earlier was 'awesome'.

"Chinstrap penguins perch on top of an eroded blue iceberg near Candlemas Island. Icebergs are simply fragments of glaciers, and last October an iceberg half the size of Greater London ‘calved’ from the vast Pine Island Glacier (Pig). Over the past 20 years, Pig has been thinning at 40 times the previous stable rate. Antarctica holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by 57m. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected sea level rises by 2100 of between 20 and 80cm" LINK


"A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even greater portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said Tuesday..." CNN

"Vast Antarctic ice shelf on verge of collapse
Latest sign of global warming’s impact shocks scientists
A vast ice shelf hanging on by a thin strip looks to be the next chunk to break off from the Antarctic Peninsula, the latest sign of global warming’s impact on Earth's southernmost continent.Scientists are shocked by the rapid change of events.
Glaciologist Ted Scambos of the University of Colorado was monitoring satellite images of the Wilkins Ice Shelf and spotted a huge iceberg measuring 25 miles by 1.5 miles (about the area of Manhattan) that appeared to have broken away from the shelf.
Scambos alerted colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) that it looked like the entire ice shelf — about 6,180 square miles (about the size of Northern Ireland)— was at risk of collapsing.
David Vaughan of the BAS had predicted in 1993 that the northern part of the Wilkins Ice Shelf was likely to be lost within 30 years if warming on the Peninsula continued at the same rate."Wilkins is the largest ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula yet to be threatened," he said. "I didn't expect to see things happen this quickly. The ice shelf is hanging by a thread — we'll know in the next few days and weeks what its fate will be."" MSNBC

Spring in England- headed out?

For some reason, as a child, I was obsessed-ish with the books of Noel Streatfield. One of them, Traveling Shoes, made repeated references to the poem Home Thoughts, from Abroad by Robert Browning, that I (obsessively) memorized. I can't imagine why I did this, but it left a deep imprint on my psyche.

Home Thoughts, from Abroad by Robert Browning

O, TO be in England
Now that April 's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom'd pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That 's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower—
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Now, I had some reason to feel a connect with this, but I don't want to make this personal. All I want to emphasize is that Spring, in England, is magnificent. And it's heading out- or at least moving fast away from April. Robert Browning wouldn't know what to think.

"According to documented observations throughout 2007 and 2008, events in the natural world that used to be key spring indicators, from the blooming of flowers to the appearance of insects, are now increasingly happening in what used to be thought of as mid-winter, as Britain's temperatures steadily rise.

Although many people may see the changes as quaint or charming – butterflies certainly brighten up a January day – they are actually among the first concrete signs that the world is indeed set on a global warming course which is likely to prove disastrous if not checked...
It is happening so quickly, and without people realising its true significance, because, in Britain, the major effects of climate change are initially being felt as less cold winters, rather than as hotter summers.
Those are substantial rises. Although there is always natural variation in temperatures, recent winters taken together show a remarkable warming trend.
It has meant that many of what used to be thought of as the traditional signs of spring are happening very much earlier, causing primroses, for example, spring flowers par excellence, to bloom in some parts of the country as early as November. Other traditional spring plants, such as dog's mercury and the lesser celandine (a favourite of Wordsworth's) can be seen in January rather than March.
And in what is perhaps an even more vivid change, dandelions and daisies, which used to come into flower in spring on lawns (where they were permitted), now flower in many places all winter long. " LINK

Bats- headed out?

Horrifying story here.

"In what is one of the worst calamities to hit bat populations in the United States, on average 90 percent of the hibernating bats in four caves and mines in New York have died since last winter.
Wildlife biologists fear a significant die-off in about 15 caves and mines in New York, as well as at sites in Massachusetts and Vermont. Whatever is killing the bats leaves them unusually thin and, in some cases, dotted with a white fungus. Bat experts fear that what they call White Nose Syndrome may spell doom for several species that keep insect pests under control. " LINK to full NYT article

Did you dye eggs this year? Know how much it cost?

"Egg prices have risen steadily over the last few years: nationwide last week, the average supermarket price of a dozen grade A eggs was $1.55, compared with 71 cents during the same week in 2003, according to the Agriculture Department. Most observers blame the rising cost of poultry feed for that price increase." LINK

Climate migrants- now.

This is just another phenomenon that was predicted to start being a problem- just not yet. But here it is.

"“Floods,” he tells me. “In my village. Village underwater.” Finally the penny drops – he’s not just an economic migrant, he’s also a “climate migrant.”

Few countries in the world are more acutely threatened by climate-related disasters and climate change than Bangladesh. The country (70 percent of which consists of flood plain) is already sinking – within the next two decades Bangladesh may lose as much as 20 percent of its land to rising sea levels and melting Himalayan glaciers. This is not good news in a country of 150 million people - even a relatively moderate 10 or 20 centimeters rise in sea level could displace millions within the next 15 years. Population density is already high, with approximately 1045 Bangladeshis crammed into each square kilometer of land.
Following last year’s scientific breakthrough (and the publication of the IPCC climate change report), it’s no longer possible for anyone to deny that global warming is happening. It’s also pretty clear that the biggest polluters are not poor countries like Bangladesh, but wealthy nations like the United States, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Canada. " LINK to great short NYT piece with wonderful photos.


Hey, it's Easter.
A little less doom-y, with robots!
LINK to xkcd

Even the freaking trees are running away.

"Forty years ago, this part of the mountain would have been blanketed with cold-loving red spruce and balsam fir trees. But today, warmer-loving northern hardwoods such as sugar maples and American beech are taking over. the transition zone, where northern hardwoods quickly give way to the dark spruce-fir forest, the change was dramatic.

...a study published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found that the boundary between northern hardwoods and colder-loving trees shifted about 350 feet uphill in the last 40 years in response to warming temperatures." LINK

Hey, speaking of high oil and gas prices, what will ehtanol do for us today? Oh, kill the Gulf of Mexico? Fill 'er up!

"Increasing production of corn-based ethanol to meet alternative fuel goals will worsen the "dead zone" that plagues the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new study that adds to the growing list of concerns over the fuel...

Previous research has shown that corn, one of the three staple crops grown on U.S. croplands, accounts for the bulk of the nitrogen pollution that fuels the dead zone, said study leader Simon Donner of the University of British Columbia...

..."This biofuels policy, particularly the fact that they're stressing corn, is just a death knell for efforts to mitigate the Gulf of Mexico problem."

Studies have shown that producing ethanol could consume more energy than the fuel creates, strain water resources, and possibly pose a threat to public health." LINK to article about dead zone and corn based ethanol crops

And don't forget the food riots!

Well, it's been 5 years.

MSNBC just turned my stomach with the following headline:" Total cost of Iraq war hinges on oil question
Some estimates exceed $2 trillion, including impact on energy prices"
LINK to MSNBC article

Our troops deserve better.

We deserve better.

Anyway, Nobel prize winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has calculated the 'cost' to be 3 trillion dollars. Imagine what we could have done as a country with that money.

But no. Anyway, just to clarify a little here- sure this war has apparently cost 3 trillion dollars. But here's a little more of the 'total cost' of the war.

3,987 dead US armed forces.

Between 100,000 - 150,000 Iraqis (including civilians) have been killed.

Coalition Forces:
As of January 10, 2008 there were 307 total deaths. Breakdown: Australia 2. Bulgaria 13. Czech Republic 1. Denmark 7. El Salvador 5. Estonia 2. Georgia 1. Hungary 1. Italy 33. Kazakhstan 1. Latvia 3. Netherlands 2. Poland 23. Romania 3. Slovakia 4. South Korea 1. Spain 11. Thailand 2. Ukraine 18. United Kingdom 174.

Civilian Contractors
At least 1,016 deaths between March 2003 and January 2008. 236 of those are from the USA.

Among other confirmed contractors killed are: 47 British, 34 Turkish, 23 South African, 20 Fijian, 19 Nepali, 14 Filipino, 7 Pakistani, 6 Bulgarian, 6 Jordanian, 5 Australian, 5 Canadian, 5 Egyptian, 4 Lebanese, 4 New Zealander, 4 Russian, 4 South Korean, 3 Croatian, 3 French, 3 German, 3 Macedonian, 3 Polish, 2 Bosnian, 2 Finnish, 2 Hungarian, 2 Indian, 1 Brazilian, 1 Colombian, 1 Japanese, 1 Czech, 1 Danish, 1 Dutch, 1 Guam, 1 Honduran, 1 Indonesian, 1 Italian, 1 Kuwaiti, 1 Portuguese, 1 Romanian, 1 Somali, 1 Swedish, 1 Syrian, 1 Ukrainian. The rest are presumed to be Iraqi.

Wounded US forces
As of January 12, 2007, 500 U.S. troops have undergone amputations due to the Iraq War. Toes and fingers aren't counted.

A 2006 study by Walter Reed Medical Center which serves more critically injured soldiers than most VA hospitals, concluded that 62 percent of patients there had suffered a brain injury.

In March 2003, U.S. military personnel were wounded in action at a rate averaging about 350 per month. As of September 2007, this rate has increased to about 675 per month.

LINK to wikipedia, who cites every source.

So long and thanks for all the fish, take 2. Different dolphins, headed out.

And it's not in China.

The tiny vaquita, the smallest known porpoise, which is found only in the waters of Mexico's Sea of Cortez, is now on the edge of extinction. Go humans- we're #1!

"A drop in vaquita numbers to as few as 150 from around 600 at the start of the decade could see the famously shy animal go the same way as the Chinese river dolphin, which was declared all but extinct in 2006.

The drop in numbers suggests they are getting tangled in fishing nets at a faster rate than they can reproduce.

Female vaquitas only produce young once every two years and the genetic pool is now too small for effective breeding.

Meanwhile mesh gillnets used to catch sea bass, mackerel, shrimp and sharks also trap and drown air-breathing vaquitas, whose name is Spanish for "little cow."

The government is trying to persuade some fishermen to ditch their nets and start conservation-based tourism businesses, like boat trips to see marine life.
But one person in four in the area lives off fishing..." LINK

And some cheery economic news.

"One UK economist warned that the world is now close to a 1930s-like Great Depression, while New York traders said they had never experienced such fear. The Fed's emergency funding procedure was first used in the Depression and has rarely been used since.
A Goldman Sachs trader in New York said: "Everyone is in a total state of shock, aghast at what is happening. No one wants to talk, let alone deal; we're just standing by waiting. Everyone is nervous about what is going to emerge when trading starts tomorrow."

Mmmm salmon! Oh, no. I guess not.

For the fish? They are gone. This is a terribly sad story- one that's probably not going to get a lot of looks what with the collapsing economy, rising gas prices, increased unemployment, ever more desperate and stupid ideas from politicians for how to fix it all (hey, who wants $300?), Chinese slaughter of monks, and tornadoes destroying a good chunk of Atlanta, for Christ's sake, but it is something. It certainly is something. Good NYT article. Heartbreaking.

"The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations — and coming up dry." link

weird little earthquakes in New Jersey and New York.

Ok, so that's 7 little earthquakes in the past week in New Jersey, and 1 in Connecticut- it's nothing huge, but it's a little spooky.

LINK to USGS US earthquake map

Atlanta - 14 tornados. Holy sh*t.

"ATLANTA -- The storms that hit metro Atlanta and north Georgia were even worse than most people thought.
There were four and possibly as many 14 tornadoes spawned over the weekend, officials at the National Weather Service said Monday afternoon." LINK

Grain, grain everywhere and not a kernel to eat.

"Everywhere, the cost of food is rising sharply. Whether the world is in for a long period of continued increases has become one of the most urgent issues in economics.
“Everyone wants to eat like an American on this globe,” said Daniel W. Basse of the AgResource Company, a Chicago consultancy. “But if they do, we’re going to need another two or three globes to grow it all.”
Rising food prices in the United States are already helping to fuel inflation reminiscent of the 1970s.
And the increases could become an even bigger problem overseas. The increases that have already occurred are depriving poor people of food, setting off social unrest and even spurring riots in some countries.
In seven of the last eight years, world wheat consumption has outpaced production. Stockpiles are at their lowest point in decades.
Around the world, wheat is becoming a precious commodity. In Pakistan, thousands of paramilitary troops have been deployed since January to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Malaysia, trying to keep its commodities at home, has made it a crime to export flour and other products without a license.
In the United States, the price of dry pasta has risen 20 percent since October, according to government data. Flour is up 19 percent since last summer. Over all, food and beverage prices are rising 4 percent a year, the fastest pace in nearly two decades."

some more bad signs for (my) local economy

A couple of restaurants are closing. Big, breaking news? Not so much. But, every little drop...

Goodbye Giro's. From the article "After a 75-year run, Giro’s restaurant in the South Kingstown village of Peace Dale will close its doors tomorrow night.
Owner Dan Driscoll said increasing competition, rising costs and an expanding regulatory burden have combined to make business untenable.
...He gave eggs as an example, up 35 percent in price in the last year.
“It’s tough to run a small business in Rhode Island,” Driscoll said. “I gave it a shot.” " LINK

"In October 2005, New England Travel and Life named Raphael’s Providence’s best restaurant, citing its outstanding Italian cuisine and its “fashionably urbane dining experience.”
Raphael Bar Risto, in the Union Station complex owned by the Rhode Island Foundation, filed a petition for receivership late last month in Providence Superior Court.
The owner, Ralph C. Conte Jr., “indicated that business has fallen off, expenses have risen and he wasn’t able to pay rent and other expenses,” Shine said." LINK

Yeah, this all adds up to No Good.

A really weird and offhanded part of an article about college applications and admissions - "The demographic changes include sharp geographic, social and economic variations. Experts anticipate, for example, a decline in affluent high school graduates, and an increase in poor and working-class ones." Link to NYT

"U.S. average retail gasoline prices have reached a new high of almost $3.20 per gallon and will likely jump another 20 to 30 cents in the next month, worsening the pain of consumers struggling to make ends meet in an economic downturn...." Link to MSNBC

"On Friday March 7th the Bureau of Labour Statistics announced that the economy lost 63,000 non-farm jobs in February, following a smaller decline in employment in January. Even with all the bearish talk recently, these results were unexpectedly bad; forecasters had projected a small increase, not the largest drop in five years...
On the same day the Federal Reserve announced that it would make additional loans of up to $100 billion available to prevent renewed strains in money markets from hurting the economy....
The worst jobs news is still in the house-building sector, which is reeling from the effects of plummeting home prices. Since an industry high point in 2006 some 209,000 trade jobs (such as plumbers and electricians) and 137,000 construction jobs have melted away. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported on Thursday that foreclosures are up by 71% from a year ago...." LINK to The Economist

Free drugs!

"A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows. " LINK to article

The decline of the suburbs- the new slums?

Great articles from the Atlantic Monthly and The Guardian. Fascinating stuff. The AM article especially will feed that growing paranoia. Pair it with the article about the epic and global shift to city living for a lovely, thought provoking reading experience. My, this wine does go well with the chicken!

"At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in....
At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied. Susan McDonald, president of the local residents’ association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.” ...
If gasoline and heating costs continue to rise, conventional suburban living may not be much of a bargain in the future. And as more Americans, particularly affluent Americans, move into urban communities, families may find that some of the suburbs’ other big advantages—better schools and safer communities—have eroded. Schooling and safety are likely to improve in urban areas, as those areas continue to gentrify; they may worsen in many suburbs if the tax base—often highly dependent on house values and new development—deteriorates. Many of the fringe counties in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, for instance, are projecting big budget deficits in 2008. Only Washington itself is expecting a large surplus. Fifteen years ago, this budget situation was reversed. " LINK to Atlantic Montly article

"The world is changing faster now than ever before. The dispossessed, and the ambitious are flooding into cities swollen out of all recognition. Poor cities are struggling to cope. Rich cities are reconfiguring themselves at breakneck speed. ...
The fastest-growing cities are all well outside the comfort zone of the Western world. Lagos, the fastest growing of them all, is adding 58 people every hour; Mumbai is growing by 42 every hour.
A score of cities including Los Angeles, Shanghai and Mexico City, which were still tiny in the 19th century, have all passed the once unimaginable 18 million mark. That puts them well ahead of all but eight of the 27 nations of the European Union..." LINK to Guardian article

Actual headline: Coal cost soars in supply 'apocalypse'


"FLOODING in Queensland's Bowen Basin has resulted in a "supply apocalypse'' for coking coal, with contract prices likely to hit $US300 per tonne - three times the price in 2007 - as steel mills scramble for the key ingredient...
Tight supply has been exacerbated by China withdrawing from coking coal exports, as internal demand soars and coke stockpiles decline to historically low levels,'' Merril Lynch said....
Brokerage Goldman Sachs JBWere said the supply squeeze has prompted one Asian steel mill to acquire coking coal on the spot market at $US400 per tonne..."

Wow- freaky freaky meteorologist's post- scary? weird?

"Storm from Arctic Circle to West Coast?
Friday, March 07, 2008
During my 23-year career, I've seen many strange things on the forecast weather maps, many of which ultimately never happened (which is why they're called forecast maps, not this is exactly what's going to happen maps), but I'm not sure that I've ever seen this particular scenario on the charts. A computer model is forecasting a storm system to move from above the arctic circle in northern Canada westward through Alaska (and into the eastern Pacific) and then eastward into the Pacific Northwest. People often joke about taking the arctic route when talking about an indirect track somewhere; perhaps a storm is going to take that route! "
LINK to Paul Yeager's Accuweather blog- he's their Western Weather Expert.


Heather Havrilesky, in a breathtakingly funny/sad detour in her column, which is the tv review on Salon-
"The talking heads want us to think that it's all our fault for charging a 52-inch plasma flat-screen TV on our credit cards, but we're not buying that song and dance anymore. A pound of chicken breast is $7 at my grocery store. I live in a working-class neighborhood. What the hell are people eating out there? The federal minimum wage is $5.85 an hour! Can you imagine working over an hour for a fucking chicken sandwich? What is this, Zimbabwe?

In troubled times like these, I like to tune in to "The Suze Orman Show" (9 p.m. EST on CNBC) so Suze and her befuddled crowds and I can sigh heavily together over the sorry state of the U.S. economy. I love how Suze talks about good things to do with money I don't have. I like putting imaginary money into IRAs and then saving some more imaginary money for a 529 college fund. It feels reassuring, somehow, to know that if I stumbled on $10,000 or $15,000, I'd know lots of things to do with it that wouldn't involve Cabo San Lucas or high-grade cocaine at all."

US to cut food aid to poorest nations due to ethanol caused 41% increase in cost of grain. Ta dah!

"THE US will drastically reduce emergency food aid to some of the poorest countries this year due to soaring food prices, The Washington Post reports today.
Citing unnamed officials, the newspaper said the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was drafting plans to cut down the number of recipient nations and the amount of food provided to them.
A 41 per cent surge in prices of wheat, corn, rice and other cereals over the past six months has generated a $US120 million ($126.5 million) budget shortfall that will force the USAID to reduce emergency operations, the report said. " LINK

Quite possibly the saddest thing I have posted on here.

James Lovelock, genius father of the Gaia concept, has a breathtaking interview in today's Guardian. He is someone I have so much respect for, and this is a hell of an interview.

"Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger challenge will be food...

What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: "Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan." LINK

More problems with biofuels.

"In 2005, America used 15% of its corn crop to replace just 2% of its gasoline. Two new studies say use of biofuels will leave the world a warmer and hungrier place.
We are witnessing the beginnings of one of the great tragedies of history," Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, said in a written statement. "The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before."" LINK