Saturday, May 24, 2008

N. Pacific humpback whale population rises

HONOLULU (AP) -- Once hunted to the brink of extinction, humpback whales have made a dramatic comeback in the North Pacific Ocean over the past four decades, a new study says.

The study released Thursday by SPLASH, an international organization of more than 400 whale watchers, estimates there were between 18,000 and 20,000 of the majestic mammals in the North Pacific in 2004-2006.

Their population had dwindled to less than 1,500 before hunting of humpbacks was banned worldwide in 1966.

"It's not a complete success, but it's definitely very encouraging in terms of the recovery of the species," said Jeff Walters, co-manager of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The study, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is the most comprehensive analysis ever of any large whale population, said David Mattila, science coordinator for the sanctuary.

At least half of the humpback whales migrate between Alaska and Hawaii, and that population is the healthiest, Mattila said.

But isolated populations that migrate from Japan and the Philippines to Russia are taking a longer to recover after whaling operations ceased, he said.

"Whales are long-lived and give birth one at a time .... so if the population gets pushed too low, it may take quite awhile to come back. Maybe that's what's happening in the west," Mattila said.

The whales are protected under federal laws that include the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Their resurgence could spark a debate over whether they should still be considered endangered, said Naomi McIntosh, superintendent for the humpback sanctuary.

"Those discussions are bound to happen, and we knew that going into the study, we anticipated it," she said. "I think it's too early to make that call."

The number of collisions between whales and boats has been increasing, probably because the population is larger, Walters said. Whale entanglements in marine debris, fishing gear and aquaculture structures also are a growing concern.

The whale count was made based on data collected from Hawaii, Mexico, Asia, Central America, Russia, the Aleutians, Canada and the United States' northwest coast.

The study used a system of photographing whale flukes - the lobes of a whale's tail - in six different feeding and breeding areas around the world, and then matching the pictures with whale flukes photographed in wintering areas.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Ban on Plastic Bags Broadened in San Francisco

by Ashley Schiller on May 22nd, 2008

Post a comment San Francisco’s unique plastic bag ban extended Tuesday to include pharmacies operating five or more locations in the city, according to NBC.

The ordinance went into effect in November, first banning grocery stores from giving customers non-biodegradable plastic bags. The stores must use recyclable paper bags, reusable bags, or bio-plastic bags made of corn or potato starch.

Now the ban also applies to multiple-location pharmacies such as Walgreens, Longs and Rite Aid.

According to the article, San Francisco’s ban is the first of its kind in the country.

To learn where you can recycle plastic bags in your area, use Earth 911’s recycling locator.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

California Reaches Record Recycling Levels

Breaking News: California Reaches Record Recycling Levels - Legislation Proposes Recycling Expansion

The California Department of Conservation today unveiled a new report showing that Californians are recycling a record number of beverage containers. More than 14.7 billion beverage containers were recycled by Californians in 2007, an 11% increase over 2006 levels, and 50% more than were recycled just five years ago.

Overall, nearly one million tons of glass, aluminum, and plastic beverage containers are now recycled in California under the state's 20 year old Container Recycling Law. No other state comes close to matching this level of container recycling.

"We attribute the surge in container recycling levels to several factors," said Mark Murray, executive director of the environmental group Californians Against Waste. "There is an increased concern for the environment and a desire by the public to do something-- including growing awareness of the role recycling can play in combating climate change. But certainly a huge factor in this recent surge has been legislation to increase the consumer refund value on containers to 5 and 10 cents."

In 2006, AB 3056 by Assembly Member Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), enacted a package of reforms and updates to the Container Recycling Law, including an increase in consumer refund values from 4 cents, to 5 cents on containers under 24 ounces, and 10 cents on containers 24 ounces and larger.

"It's great to see so many Californians responding positively to the new bottle bill. Recycling is a win-win for consumers and the environment," Assembly Member Loni Hancock said. "Recycling your bottles and cans saves money, reduces litter, and cuts pollution, including greenhouse gases. I'm proud to be part of such a successful policy."

Benefits of Recycling: Record high recycling levels in 2007 have:

· reduced atmospheric CO2 emissions by over 2 million tons;

· reduced other toxic air pollutants by over 1 million tons;

· reduced water pollution by almost 5 thousand tons;

· saved enough energy to power roughly 400,000 homes for one year.

With the record growth in recycling and the affirmation of recycling program success, legislation has been introduced to expand the scope of containers covered by the consumer recycling incentives.

Senate Bill 1625 by State Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) will expand California's recycling program to cover all plastic bottles regardless of contents or container type, which would add 6.5 billion containers to the program.

"Plastics are the fastest growing part of California's waste stream," said Senator Corbett. "By expanding the program to include additional plastics we significantly reduce our carbon dioxide levels and keep a significant amount of plastics out of our waterways and oceans."

Critical Recycling Vote Tomorrow (May 22)

SB 1625 (Corbett) faces a key vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, May 22. The measure must then pass off the floor of the State Senate by Friday, May 30.

SB 1625 tracks 2007 recommendations by Governor Schwarzenegger's Ocean Protection Council, which proposed expanding the scope of plastic containers covered by the Container Recycling Law as a strategy for combating plastic litter, waste and marine debris.

The measure is supported by local governments, recycling companies, and environmental organizations.

SB 1625 is opposed by plastic bottle manufacturers and resin producers, as well as consumer product companies (Clorox, Procter & Gamble).

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In a Landfill, How Long Does Trash Really Last?

By: Brie Cadman (View Profile)

We’ve all been there—at the beach, empty beer bottle in hand, a trash can, but no recycling bin in sight. So we dump the bottle in the normal trash, perhaps feeling guilty we weren’t able to recycle it, perhaps not. Most likely, we rapidly forget about it—out of sight, out of mind, and onto the next beer.

The bottle, like the rest of our trash, may slip easily from our hands and minds, but it doesn’t leave our collective refuse piles so quickly. Landfills, which are lined with clay and plastic, layered with soil, and capped, are not extremely hospitable when it comes to microbial degradation. The three necessary components for decomposition—sunlight, moisture, oxygen—are hard to come by in a landfill; items are more likely to mummify than to break down.

But how long do things last? These rough estimates, compiled from U.S. National Park Service, United States Composting Council, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences, and the New York City government, give an idea of how long our consumables remain after we’ve kissed them goodbye.

Glass Bottle—One Million Years
Okay, we don’t really know whether a glass bottle takes a million years, two million years, or a million years and one day to degrade since no one has been monitoring them for that long. But suffice it to say, when a glass bottle isn’t recycled, it sticks around for a really, really long time. Glass is primarily of composed of silica—the same material as sand—and doesn’t break down even under the harshest environments. Given the relatively inert conditions of a landfill, it’s likely the bottle of beer our forefathers sipped is still at large.

Plastic Bags—Unknown, Possibly 500+ Years
Plastic bags also have a hard time decomposing; estimates range from ten to twenty years when exposed to air to 500–1,000 years in a landfill. Since microbes don’t recognize polyethylene—the major component of plastic bags—as food, breakdown rates by this means in landfills is virtually nil. Though plastic bags can photodegrade, sunlight in landfills is scarce. Made with petroleum and rarely recycled, many cities have banned them in order to curb consumption and prevent their long-lasting presence in litter (e.g., the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—an island you don’t want to visit).

Plastic Beverage Bottles—Unknown, Possible 500+ years
Bottles face the same problem as plastic bags. Most soda and water bottles are composed of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a petroleum-based product that tends to last a long time in a landfill. Even newer bottles that claim to be biodegradable or photodegradable may take much longer than advertised. According to the Air and Waste Association, biodegradable plastics made with the addition of starch may just simply disintegrate into smaller non-degradable pieces: they don’t break down; they break up.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

top The Ten Most Important Satellites Orbiting Earth Now

Today, a satellite was involved in your life. Whether you checked a weather report, watched SportsCenter or looked for your mom's house on Google Maps, you did something that would have been impossible without an automated spacecraft orbiting hundreds of miles above your head. But how many of these satellites do you know by name? Here are the ten you need to know, because they make modern life possible.

First, two caveats: most of these satellites are representative of an entire class of satellites. There may be others that serve similar functions, but the satellites listed are exemplars. Also, the list is obviously U.S.-centric. If you live in Europe or Asia, there are likely different satellites that fill the roles of these all-star orbiters.

Hubble Space Telescope - By taking thousands of breathtaking photos unhindered by the blurring effects of Earth's atmosphere, the Hubble has brought the beauty and mystery of space to more people than any other observatory, not to mention the massive amount of scientific research accomplished with it.

Galaxy 14 - This communications relay carries digital TV signals for much of the east coast, including ESPN, Lifetime, Sci-Fi, CNN, A&E and my personal favorite, the History Channel.

GOES-12 - From its high-altitude geosynchronous orbit, GOES-12 keeps a constant watch on weather conditions in most of North America.

The Moon - Tides, werewolves, the Apollo Program: without our natural satellite, we'd have none of these things.

KH-13 - This U.S. spy satellite is so secret, even the name is probably wrong (the government started giving them random names after people caught onto to the KH numbering system). Who knows what black budget, cutting edge satellite intelligence gathering devices are capable of these days?

GPS IIR11 - The U.S. government's NAVSTAR program brought global positioning abilities first to the military, then to the general public. It takes a constellation of these things for the system to work, so IIR11 is just one cog among many. Without it, there'd be no geocaching!

GoldenEye - With the ability to fire an EM pulse that could have wiped out an entire nation's financial records, GoldenEye is typical of fictional satellites and representative of our fears of orbiting weapons.

International Space Station - It's a symbol of international cooperation and a frontier outpost in the quest to colonize space. The low orbit maintained by the ISS makes it one of the easiest satellites to spot with the naked eye.

NOAA 17 - Unlike the GOES satellites, the NOAA satellites have asynchronous orbits, spinning around the globe to spot developing weather patterns that affect billions of people.

LANDSAT 7 - NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey teamed up in the 1970s to create a catalogue of Earth images shot from space. Since then, not only has the data improved with huge advances in digital photography, but numerous companies (including Google) have licensed the images for their mapping software.

Huh, I didn't realize Hubble was so close. I expected it to be much further out.

I'll admit it. I laughed at the GoldenEye joke. It brings up an interesting question though: Is James Bond sci-fi? Daniel Craig version not so much, but Roger Moore version yes.

The Moon is also where the alien civilization that built Stonehenge and colonized Atlantis keeps their robotic heads full of secret alien information about the crystal skulls and the Mayan apocalypse.

I feel like the Moon should get double booking, and not just because of all the reasons Braak listed. Tides are really damn important. Werewolves, less so, though they do form a vital part of the pet shampoo industry.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Medical Records: Good or Bad

Here are two stories covering the good and bad of personal health records (phr). While the idea of having all your medical records in one place sounds good on paper, I am unconvinced that it is worth the loss of privacy it comes with. It isn't the fear of the system being hacked as much as the number of people who will have access to it.

For the system to be of any value every doctors office, laboratory, clinic, and hospital in America will have access. That means every health care worker has access and no system with that many people can be secured.

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