Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidaze From Persona Non Grata!

US Person will take a well deserved break from PNG for the holidaze season.  Come back in the New Year for more high-impact blog in this space!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rising Seas Are Killing Southern Forests

Saltwater intrusions into low-lying fresh water ecosystems are killing stands of hardwood trees like red cedar, live oak and wax myrtles turning once vibrant, diverse fresh water ecosystems into salt-water "ghost forests".  A visit into the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve in the Big Bend region of Florida's Gulf Coast by journalist Roger Drouhin is reported at He viewed hummock islands that once were populated by hardwood trees, that are now infested with salt-water tolerant plants and dead or dying trees.  The US Geological Survey is studying dying Cypress trees in the swampland along the Savannah River. Besides killing trees, species that depend on hardwood stands such as woodpeckers are also affected. The same phenomenon is occurring throughout the coastal floodplains in the south and as far north as New Jersey and Delaware, as sea levels rise due to global warming.

NOAA estimates that since 1992 sea levels are rising 1.2 inches per decade, caused by the waters' thermal expansion, and the loss of land-based ice to the oceans.  The oceans are absorbing more than 90% of increased atmospheric heat due to emissions from human activity.

Albemarle Sound, North Carolina
Low levels of salt penetrating the soil slows down hardwood growth and fewer seeds are produced.  Salt also breaks down peat, partially decomposed vegetation which builds up over time to create a viable growing medium at a rate of about a tenth of an inch per year.  Loss of peat causes land to subside which allows salt water to penetrate further inland. Once forest habitat transitions to salt marsh and eventually to open salt water.  Ecologists see these changes taking place now, providing an early warning of what will be in the future [photo credit: M. Ardon] The death of native species allow salt tolerant invasive species to take their place such as the salt marsh reed, Phragmites.  Scientists say the toll on freshwater marshes and bottom land hardwood forests will be severe.  An important function of coastal wetlands is the buffering of storm surges which will be lost if these lowlands eventually become open water.  When one considers that 40% of the US population lives near a coast, this is a drastic impact for the worse; see the charts below for just two southern populated regions that will be affected the most.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Emolument, Not?

Not yet ensconced in the room without corners, the Donald has probably committed a constitutional offense that in the opinion of constitutional experts constitutes an "impeachable offense".  Face it palefaces: you elected a man that comes pre-loaded with conflicts of interests because of his global business dealings.  And sure enough, he has already run afoul of the Constitution's Emoluments Clause.  US Person knows you know practically nothing about the Constitution or its contents, so pay attention: Article I, Section 9 says that payments to the President by foreign governments or dignitaries without consent of Congress are prohibited.  The reason for this provision is obvious:  the Founders did not want the nation's chief executive to be bribed by foreign powers in return for favors.

That is exactly what Trump's organization has allegedly done.  They pressured the Kuwaiti government to move its National Day celebration scheduled to take place before the election from the Four Seasons Hotel to Trump's International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue in February.  The Electoral College just recently voted to install Trump in power.  Before his inauguration on January 20th, Trump's actions could only be considered tortuous interference in contract relations, but after January 20th it could be a criminal collusion to influence the President.  This evaluation of the situation is shared by ethics experts on the both sides of the divide in Washington.  Trump promised the media to explain how he would handle his myriad conflicts while in office, but he postponed that December 15th press conference, indefinitely.  This is why that unpatriotic scofflaw, US Person says: the chap is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Obama Steps Up to Protect Arctic

Seattle activists surround Shell's Polar Pioneer, credit Getty Images
Using a law passed in 1953 (Section 12a of the Outer-Continental Shelf Lands Act), the still President Obama acted decisively to protect the Arctic from oil exploration. His announcement was joined by Canada's that also protects its Arctic waters from exploration. Canada's decision is subject to review every five years, but administration officials insist the President's decision is "permanent". Undoubtedly the Trump regime will move soon to overturn his executive action. The American Petroleum Institute insisted there is no such thing as a permanent withdrawal of public lands from oil leasing on the continental shelf, and called the decision "short-sighted". Rex Tillerson, CEO of the Earth's biggest oil company, and now the President-elect's choice for Secretary of State will play a large role in attempting to reverse the decision. An NRDC spokesman vowed his organization would legally challenge Trump's effort to reverse the decision to withdraw Arctic waters from oil leasing.  Shell's attempt this year to exploit leases it owns in the Chukchi Sea largely failed and the company called off further exploration efforts. An estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of gas remain untapped in the Arctic.

Monday, December 19, 2016

NRDC: An Organization Worth Supporting

US Person does not usually make endorsements, but given the new reality of the neo-fascist government in Washington, DC supporting effective environmental action groups like the Natural Resources Defense Counsel is more important than ever. This message is from the NRDC:

Friday, December 16, 2016

'Toontime: Will the Real Politican Please Stand Up?

credit: Gary Varvel
BC Idonwanna sez: These grapes real sour!
Unable to admit the scale of their loss and the disaffection of the 'Merican middle class with 'Crooked' Hillary and her husband 'Liar' Bill, the Democrats have resorted to laying the blame for the election results at the feet of their favorite boogey-man, Vladimir Putin.  Of course the Russians are outraged at this latest slander and their Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has called the obvious propaganda campaign, "silly rhetoric".  What is known is that hackers allegedly connected to the FSB, Russia's intelligence agency, penetrated the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta's email servers and turned over some embarrassing communications to Wikileaks. Ms. Clinton says the Mr. Putin's involvement is due to a "grudge" the Russian president holds against her from when she was Secretary of State, during which tenure she criticized the fairness of Russian elections. The soon to be Former Occupant has vowed retaliation, although how he will accomplish his revenge before he leaves office in a few weeks is murky.  Could it be the defeat of US-backed rebels in Aleppo is weighing heavily on his mind?  Mr. Putin is telling the Washington illusionists to prove Russia's direct participation in hacking efforts intended to sway the US electorate or shut up. Once again US Person finds himself in agreement with the man from Moscow.
S novvim goddahm!

COTW: Bakken Field Pipe (Dream)

The Dakota Access pipeline, which has suffered a perhaps temporary setback at the hands of "hostiles", does not make dollars and cents, and in the era of neo-facisism  that is the only bottom line.  Bakken field wells are already reaching their production peak [chart above].  Wells that produced 220bpd in 2005 are now producing only 20bpd. The usual formula that cheap transportation equals more production no longer holds true because nowadays global demand controls oil prices which in turn influence production levels.  It may be true that Bakken crude shipped by rail costs about $15 per barrel while transporting by pipeline costs about $8, that margin is a difference with substantial impact because it costs $5-15 million to spud a producing well into the tight shale of the Bakken. Only a global price increase could induce more production from an already declining field.  This chart shows that most domestic crude supply is shipped by rail:

source: EIA
North Dakota is now the second largest producer of oil in the US, producing about one of every eight barrels of crude [chart below], and nearly 60 to 70% of that has been shipped by rail.

source: EIA
So the Dakota Access pipeline is an expensive luxury not worth the environmental damage a rupture will cause.  Then why is it being built, you ask?  The answer is relatively simple: Energy Transfer Partners of which the Current Occupant-to-be is a shareholder, stands to gross $1.37 billion a year. .  CEO Kelcy Warren contributed more than $100,000 to install Trump in office.  So there you have it in dollars and cents. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Thousands of Snow Geese Die on Toxic Lake.

Exhausted by their long distance migration, thousands of snow geese (Chen caerulescens) settled to rest and recuperate on a 700 acre former open pit copper mine near Butte, Montana.  They ignored efforts by humans to shoo them off the poisonous water.  Thousands of geese died.  It is estimated 3000 to 4000 geese pass the pit on their annual trip south from breeding grounds in Canada.  Company officials say the artificial lake was snow white with resting geese. The sick water rarely freezes, so the geese naturally see it as a welcomed rest stop.  A late start on the journey induced by climate change, and a cold period in Montana froze their usual rest stops.  Some birds escaped the poisonous pit only to die later, thwarting human attempts to rescue and treat the suffering birds, and upsetting local residents.  Snow geese are protected under federal law and a fine of $5000 could be assessed for each dead goose.

BP, the same company that brought you Deepwater Horizon, is open to suggestions of how to prevent the tragedy from occurring again.   Efforts to frighten the goose off the pit with sound and a battery powered, remote controlled boat with a scary face failed in the harsh cold.  Predictably, a resort to more technology--lasers--is being considered.  Apparently cleaning up the mess is too expensive for Anaconda Company which began consuming the mountain of copper ore called the "richest hill on Earth" in 1955, creating the 1780 foot deep, Berkeley Pit.  ARCO bought the property from Anaconda in 1977 and allowed the pit to fill with water since mining operations had ceased on a large scale.  The water is acidic as vinegar and filled with toxins.  It is part of a Superfund site which so far has cost $2 billion to remediate.

The pit is not going to go away; it has become something of a local tourist attraction, but BP will have to start pumping out the bad water and treating it before it reaches Butte's groundwater supply estimated to occur by 2023.  Local officials believe the previous mass death of geese at the pit in 1995 should have been an alarm bell signaling action. But when money is involved and corporate profits at stake, NOT.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Toontime: Trump Cries "Conspiracy''

This is what happens when an already paranoid government is to be led by a minority president that does not have a mandate from the masses.  Political insiders are attempting to discredit the Trump administration before it begins by claiming Russia manipulated the election.  Even if there were hacking incidents by quasi-Russian intelligence nerds, to claim that the election was steered to Trump by Russia discounts all the worthless rubes in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc. that voted for the one-time TV star.  He's less qualified than Ronnie Ray-gun, and they voted for him too.  The system is rigged, but it is not the Russians rigging it.  (Hint: Just ask James Madison!)

Frankly, US Person is encouraged that Trump has enough sense not to let the hot-house atmosphere of Washington overly sway his political evaluations.  The intelligence establishment has only one real client: itself.  If it cannot sow fear and loathing among the people, what is its raison d'être?   Trump is good a one thing: making business deals.  He allegedly wrote a book about the subject*.  It is past time to make a geopolitical deal with the Russians for peaceful cooperation in all realms of bilateral relations including security matters before this destructive competition ends in perpetual radioactive winter.  Trump has the right business instinct to deal with Mr. Putin, an eminently practical guy, no matter he is a KGB man.  Even Ronnie went to Reykjavik. The naysayers and Chicken-littles at the CIA have been wrong before (Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, etc.) and they are wrong now. Of course, it all depends on who is doing the rigging. 

credit: John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune
Wackydoodle sez: Houston, We have a problem!

*US Person is solely responsible for his content.

New Effort to Help Bees

The Xerces Society, a non-profit that specializes in the conservation of invertebrates, announced recently that it is a partner with General Mills in a program to reestablish healthy habitat for pollinators on American farms.  The certification program will allow farmers to tout their bee friendly operations upon completing the program.  General Mills and the Department of Agriculture have agreed to fund the $4million initiative.  The program will provide technical assistance to farmers who plant and protect flowering field edges and hedgerows.  Modern industrialized agriculture has all but eliminated these natural oasis from producing farmland.  Two-thirds of America's land is privately owned, so it is essential that owners play a prominent role in pollinator protection.  Even more so when their contribution to the agricultural bottom line is considered; pollinators contribute an estimated $25 billion in agricultural production annually.  The partnership has an initial goal of planting 100,000 acres of pollinator habitat.  It will provide teams of biologists from Xerces and the Natural Resources Conservation Service based in the various regions it serves to evaluate habitat, consult on restoration and compatible farm practices.

This is important work.  Last year the nation lost about a third of its honeybee population which alone contribute $15 annually in pollination services for flowering crops.  Mass die offs of honeybee and wild bee populations are under investigation by science.  Most informed observers think that the overuse and abuse of pesticides in commercial agriculture is to blame.  Chronic use of these substances for over a century has weakened and degraded bee health to the point they can no longer resist natural diseases and pests.  In turn, their genetic code has been altered from the wild state making them less robust.  Restoration of natural, healthy habitat is an effective means of assisting bee population to flourish.  The Current Occupant established a task force in 2014 that committed to restoring 7 million acres of habitat. With restoration comes unwanted species of course.  Part of the Xerces-USDA project will be to identify plants that do not attract "pests" and accordingly advise farmers engaged in restoration projects.  Insects are often genetically adapted to feed on a limited number of plant species.  Tolerance of natural processes that may inflict some commercial losses but increase pollinator health will also assist sustainability.  Restoration is not an inexpensive effort.  Dense flowering areas with a variety of wild plants can cost $1000 to $2000 an acre. Preparing the soil and planting the right plants and shrubs in the right place is labor intensive which surprises modern farmers: you just don't hook up the disc and blaze down the ruler strait rows in your air-conditioned tractor.

Xerces has planted about 400,000 acres of habitat since its restoration efforts began in 2008.  It will measure success of the program based on the total area of land restored.  The biologists will also, at some point, walk the fields and count the variety and number of bees.  A good mix in nature, as always, is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem.

Friday, December 09, 2016

COTW: A Correlation That Cannot Be Denied

This chart courtesy of the US Geological Survey and the University of Idaho shows the unmistakable correlation between human population growth and the extinction of other species on Earth.  As the global population of humans reaches 15 billion in this century, animals will be forced to exist in smaller and smaller pockets of still wild land where the will face eventual starvation and disease.  Only if man has the compassion to set aside enough intact habitat for his fellow creatures will they have a chance to co-exist.  US Person is not optimistic given the profit-driven economic systems which depend on unlimited exploitation of the natural world human's are willing to tolerate for their own increasingly uncomfortable survival.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Lions On the Brink

Cecil, credit: Oxford U.
The killing of Cecil the Lion King near Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park brought international attention to a long standing crisis: Africa's most prominent big cat is running out of living space.  Experts estimate that only 20,000 African lions remain in the wild and their decline has not been halted.  The outrage over the merciless killing of an iconic male who was collared for research purposes on the edge of a protected zone focused debate on how to preserve lions from extinction.  A scientist was recently publicly derided for his suggestion that continued trophy hunting could be the lions unexpected salvation.  NOT.  It is a profit motivated commercial masquerading as a conservation policy.  What is needed is more law enforcement against poaching and an expansion of protected areas for lions and other iconic species to naturally multiply unmolested.  Repeated research has shown that if a species is given a chance to survive in the wild, it will respond by increasing its population given enough food and water supplies.  The buffalo, the tiger, the whale, the eagle and the wolf are all examples of iconic species that have made a resurgence after legal protection was granted them.

Tanzania male, credit: US Person
The situation around Hwange is a good example of human encroachment on areas protected for wildlife.  Hwange is the only remaining protected area for lions in Zimbabwe, explains The Standard, but it is bounded by private farms such as the Antoinette owned by Honest Ndlovu, a beneficiary of Robert Mugabe's controversial policy of land acquisition in the Lower Dete Valley.  Cecil died on this farm, adjacent to the park boundary.  Residents say about fifty lions a year meet the same fate as Cecil did.  Another controversial hunt occurred on Railway Farm 31, because it had no lion quota for the entire 2015 season.  Once again a rich American bow-hunting doctor, this time a gynecologist, was escorted to his prey by a professional hunter and former warden, Headman Sibanda.  Sibanda lost his license over the episode, but he has filed an appeal in Bulawayo High Court where it is still pending. Sibanda spends much of his time these days hanging around the Bulawayo hotel hustling for business.  Theo Bronkhorst, who led dentist Walter Palmer to Cecil was recently acquitted of any wrongdoing during his hunt.  They hung Cecil's collar in a nearby tree after dispatching the suffering lion with a gunshot.  Some sport. 

Etosha couple, credit: US Person
A hunting ban imposed after these two infamous episodes lasted two weeks.  It collapsed under political pressure from newly created farmers with connections to the Mugabe regime.  But it did create the public impression that the Zimbabwe government was doing something about rampant poaching.  NOT.  Business is not booming because of the lack of suitable mature lions for killing.  Leopards have also disappeared from the valley.  Hunters resort to baiting lions to lure them outside the Park's boundaries, to satisfy the blood thirst of their rich, foreign clients.  Baiting is effective since lions move in prides so entire family can be lured to a sure death in a single operation.  Lions who lack prey and are starving resort to livestock raiding.  This is also a sure means to meet death prematurely since lions suspected of cattle raids are summarily shot.

Marsh Pride members, credit: US Person
Despite Cecil's apparently meaningless persecution at the hands of unscrupulous profit seekers, his passing has spurred renewed efforts to protect remaining wild lions.  Oxford University's Conservation Research Unit, which is monitoring Cecil's pride, convened a summit in September and produced a five point declaration for African lion conservation that calls for restoration of range land that was given over to settlers by Mugabe.  Combined lion range has shrunk to just over 1 million square kilometers over the last century.  Conservation can be done in a way the restores local people's pride in their natural heritage by ensuring social and economic value in protected lands.  Hopefully such programs will ensure the king of beasts still lives on planet Earth.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Mexico Acts to Protect Coasts

The President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, declared at the UN's conference of parties to the Biological Diversity Convention much of Mexico's Caribbean, Baja coasts and deep ocean will become protected areas.  The meeting is being held in Cancun this week.  He also signed a decree creating three new marine biosphere reserves.  One of these areas encompasses almost half of the Mezoamerican Reef that stretches from the northern tip of the Yucatan through Belize to Honduras and Guatemala and includes reefs and coastal lagoons that are inhabited by 500 species of fish and over 1900 species of plants and animals.

The two Pacific reserves cover both near shore islands inhabited by sea birds and marine mammals and the deep sea water column below 800 meters down to the seabed.  In the core areas, sea bed trawling is prohibited to protect fragile ecosystems that live there.  Mexico's Navy will enforce the protected reserves and Germany is helping Mexico with funding the new reserves estimated to cost 130 million pesos annually.  The new reserves help Mexico meet its commitment under the Aichi Target 11 of the Convention to preserve  at least 17% of terrestrial and inland waters and 10% of coastal and marine areas.  The new reserves brings Mexico's total to 22% of its entire coastal and marine area.

In contrast to Mexico's demonstrated commitment to biological diversity, critics of the outgoing Obama administration are urging Trump to rescind the several National Monument declarations he has made in the closing days of his administration. No president has rescinded declarations made by his predecessor in office, so such a move will definitely trigger a legal battle to determine the extent of a President's authority to make such declarations permanent law.  Critics say Obama has abused his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act.  At one time Congress took an active role in creating national monuments, but its authority has fallen into disuse during a decades-long political gridlock in Washington.  It has also abolished over the years several  monuments designated by a President.  Resource extraction is the primary motivation behind the move to have Trump rescind the designations.  No new resource extraction may take place in a National Monument and existing, valid claims may only be exploited to the extent Monument lands are not degraded in the process.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Indians 1, Dakota Access 0

Breaking: In a rare environmental victory for Native Americans, the United States Army denied a permit to Energy Transfer Partners for drilling a pipeline right of way under Lake Oahe and the Missouri River. The Corps of Engineers control the piece of land needed for the current route. The twelve hundred mile pipeline is nearly complete except for the lake section. The Corps will conduct another environmental impact assessment to identify an alternate route for the pipeline. Native Americans led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe have been protesting in sometimes violent demonstrations against the pipeline, saying "the black snake" poses a health threat to the tribe and other users of the Missouri River watershed. Hundreds of veterans have joined the protest in bitterly cold weather as of late as opposition escalated and more public attention was focused on the dispute. President-elect Trump supports building the pipeline; he also owns stock in the Dallas-based company.  The companies behind the project are confident they will have their way under the new fascist government. North Dakota's governor, who said he supported police action against the Native Americans, said it is now time to talk of a peaceful resolution to the problem of who owns the land.  Watch this BBC video:

Friday, December 02, 2016

Newly Discovered Tiny Crab

A pea-sized crab described as a parasite has been discovered living inside a large mussel collected from the Solomon Islands.  The crab, named Serenotheres janus, lives on the food filtered by the golden date mussel and also relies on it for protection.  The newly described crab is only the second species in the genus that is parasitic to rock boring mussels.  US Person thinks that the relationship between the crab and mussel will prove to be more symbiotic than parasitic, with the tiny housekeeper providing cleaning services for its host.