Tuesday, August 03, 2010
The Sun's surface erupted early Sunday morning, blasting tons of plasma into interplanetary space -- directly towards the Earth.
That wall of ionized atoms should hit the planet tonight, say scientists, creating a geomagnetic storm and a spectacular light show and possibly threatening satellites in orbit.
"This eruption is directed right at us and is expected to get here early in the day on Aug. 4th," said Leon Golub of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "It's the first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time."
The solar eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, was spotted by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which captures high-definition views of the sun at a variety of wavelengths. SDO was launched in February and peers deep into the layers of the sun, investigating the mysteries of its inner workings.
"We got a beautiful view of this eruption," Golub said. "And there might be more beautiful views to come if it triggers aurorae."
Views of aurorae are usually associated with Canada and Alaska, but even skywatchers in the northern U.S. mainland are being told they can look toward the north Tuesday and Wednesday evenings for rippling "curtains" of green and red light.
When a coronal mass ejection reaches Earth, solar particles stream down our planet's magnetic field lines toward the poles. In the process, the particles collide with atoms of nitrogen and oxygen in the Earth's atmosphere, which then glow, creating an effect similar to miniature neon signs.
The interaction of the solar particles with our planet's magnetic field has the potential to create geomagnetic storms, or disturbances in Earth's magnetosphere. And while aurorae are normally visible only at high latitudes, they can light up the sky even at lower latitudes during a geomagnetic storm.
The solar particles could also affect satellites, though scientists think that possibility is remote. Orbital Sciences Corp. believe a similar blast may have been knocked its Galaxy 15 satellite permanently out of action.
The sun's activity usually ebbs and flows on a fairly predictable cycle. Typically, a cycle lasts about 11 years, taking roughly 5.5 years to move from a solar minimum, a period of time when there are few sunspots, to peak at the solar maximum, during which sunspot activity is amplified.
The last solar maximum occurred in 2001. The latest minimum was particularly weak and long- lasting. The most recent solar eruption is one of the first signs that the sun is waking up and heading toward another maximum.
Peru's health minister says an outbreak of plague has killed a 14-year-old boy and infected at least 31 people in a northern coastal province.
Health Minister Oscar Ugarte says authorities are screening sugar and fish meal exports from Ascope province, located about 325 miles (520 kms) northwest of Lima. Popular Chicama beach isn't far away.
Ugarte says the boy, who had Down syndrome, died of bubonic plague July 26.
He said Monday that most of the infections are bubonic plague, with four cases of pneumonic plague. The former is transmitted by flea bites, the latter by airborne contagion. The disease is curable if treated early with antibiotics.
The first recorded plague outbreak in Peru was in 1903. The last, in 1994, killed 35 people.
Sunday, August 01, 2010
“The World Has Divided into Rich and Poor as at No Time in History”
As world leaders gathered in Toronto for the G20 summit last week, leading activists from around the world joined thousands in Toronto's Massey Hall to oppose the G20 agenda. Among those who spoke was Maude Barlow. She heads the Council of Canadians, Canada's largest public advocacy organization. She's founder of the Blue Planet Project. This is a part of what she had to say.
MAUDE BARLOW: On the eve of this G-20 gathering, let's look at a few facts. Fact, the world has divided into rich and poor as at no time in our history. The richest 2% own more than half the household wealth in the world. The richest 10% hold 85% of total global assets and the bottom half of humanity owns less than 1% of the wealth in the world. The three richest men in the world have more money than the poorest 48 countries. Fact, while those responsible for the 2008 global financial crisis were bailed out and even rewarded by the G-20 government's gathering here, the International Labor Organization tells us that in 2009, 34 million people were added to the global unemployed, swelling those ranks to 239 million, the highest ever recorded.
Another 200 million are at risk in precarious jobs and the World Bank tells us that at the end of 2010, another 64 million will have lost their jobs. By 2030, more than half the population of the megacities of the Global South will be slumdwellers with no access to education, health care, water, or sanitation. Fact, global climate change is rapidly advancing, claiming at
least 300,000 lives and $125 billion in damages every year. Called the silent crisis, climate change is melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban centers. Almost every victim lives in the Global South in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and not represented here at the summit.
The atmosphere has already warmed up a full degree in the last several decades and is on course to warm up another two degrees by 2100. Fact, half the tropical forests in the world, the lungs of our ecosystem, are gone. By 2030, at the present rate of extraction or so-called harvest, only 10% will be left standing. 90% of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practice. Says a prominent scientist studying their demise, there is no blue frontier left. Half the world's wetlands, the kidneys of our ecosystem, have been destroyed in the 20th century.
Species extinction is taking place at a rate 1,000 times greater than before humans existed. According to a Smithsonian scientist, we are headed toward of biodiversity deficit in which species and ecosystems will be destroyed at a rate faster than nature can replace them with new ones. Fact, we are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, two million tons of sewage and industrial agricultural waste are discharged into the world's water. That's the equivalent of the entire human population of 6.8 billion people. The amount of waste water produced annually is about six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world. We are minding our ground water faster than we can replenish it, sucking it to grow water guzzling chemical-fed crops in deserts or to water thirsty cities who dump an astounding 700 trillion liters of land-based water into oceans every year as waste.
The global mining industry sucks up another 800 trillion liters which it also leaves behind as poison and fully one-third of global water withdrawals are now used to produce biofuels, enough water to feed the world. Nearly three billion people on our planet do not have running water within a kilometer of their home and every eight seconds, somewhere in our world, a child is dying of waterborne disease. The global water crisis is getting steadily worse with reports of countries from India to Pakistan to Yemen facing depletion. The World Bank says that by 2030, demand for water will outstrip supply by 40%. This may sound just like a statistic, but the suffering behind that is absolutely unspeakable. Fact, knowing there will not be enough food and water for all in the near future, wealthy countries and global investment pension and hedge funds are buying up land and water, fields and forests in the Global South, creating a new wave of invasive colonialism that will have huge geopolitical ramifications.
Rich countries faced by food shortages have already bought up an area in Africa alone more than twice the size of the United Kingdom. Now I don't think I exaggerate if I say that our world has never faced a greater set of threats and issues than it does today. So what are the twenty leaders who have gathered here, some already here and the others coming in tonight, what are they going to talk about over the next two days? By the way, their summit costs $1 million a minute. By the way, we figure it's going to be closer to $2 billion when it's finished, and the annual budget to run the United Nations is $1.9 billion. I assure you, they are not going to tackle the above issues in any serious way. The declarations have already been drafted, the failures already spun.
Instead, this global royalty who have more in common with one another than they do with their own citizens and they are here really to advance the issues and interest of their class are also here just to advance the status quo that serves the interest of the elite in their own countries and the business community or the B-20, the new term, a community that will get
private and privileged access to advance their free market solutions to these eager leaders. The agenda is more of the bad medicine that made the world sick in the first place. Environmental deregulation, unbridled financial speculation, unlimited growth, unregulated free trade, relentless resource exploitation, tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to Social Security and a war on working people. In other words, savage capitalism. Now let's look at our own country here and the assault that has been launched on the work of generations of Canadians toward a just society. Stephen Harper's government has cut the heart out of any group that dissents, from First Nations people, to women, to international agencies and church groups like KAIROS, Alternative, and the Canadian Council for International Cooperation.
AMY GOODMAN: Maude Barlow, one of the major speakers at the event at Massey Hall on Friday night. Three thousand people packed-in to the Toronto event. This was at the same time the G8 and then the G20 met. Between 900 and 1,000 people are believed to have been arrested, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Among them, many journalists. More than a billion dollars, it's believed, were spent on so-called security, the most expensive security event in Canadian history.
The human species during its brief time on Earth has exhibited a remarkable capacity to kill itself off. Modern industrial warfare in the 20th century took at least 100 million lives, most of them civilians. And now we sit passive and dumb as corporations and the leaders of industrialized nations ensure that climate change will accelerate to levels that could mean the extinction of our species. Homo sapiens, as the biologist Tim Flannery points out, are the "future-eaters."
In the past when civilizations went belly up through greed, mismanagement and the exhaustion of natural resources, human beings migrated somewhere else to pillage anew. But this time the game is over. There is nowhere else to go. The industrialized nations spent the last century seizing half the planet and dominating most of the other half. We giddily exhausted our natural capital, especially fossil fuel, to engage in an orgy of consumption and waste that poisoned the Earth and attacked the ecosystem on which human life depends. It was quite a party if you were a member of the industrialized elite. But it was pretty stupid.
Collapse this time around will be global. We will disintegrate together. And there is no way out. The 10,000-year experiment of settled life is about to come to a crashing halt. And humankind, which thought it was given dominion over the Earth and all living things, will be taught a painful lesson in the necessity of balance, restraint and humility. There is no human monument or city ruin that is more than 5,000 years old. Civilization, Ronald Wright notes in "A Short History of Progress," "occupies a mere 0.2 percent of the two and a half million years since our first ancestor sharpened a stone." Bye-bye, Paris. Bye-bye, New York. Bye-bye, Tokyo. Welcome to the new experience of human existence, in which rooting around for grubs on islands in northern latitudes is the prerequisite for survival.
We view ourselves as rational creatures. But is it rational to wait like sheep in a pen as oil and natural gas companies, coal companies, chemical industries, plastics manufacturers, the automotive industry, arms manufacturers and the leaders of the industrial world, as they did in Copenhagen, take us to mass extinction? It is too late to prevent profound climate change. But why add fuel to the fire? Why allow our ruling elite, driven by the lust for profits, to accelerate the death spiral? Why continue to obey the laws and dictates of our executioners?
The news is grim. The accelerating disintegration of Arctic Sea ice means that summer ice will probably disappear within the next decade. The open water will absorb more solar radiation, significantly increasing the rate of global warming. The Siberian permafrost will disappear, sending up plumes of methane gas from underground. The Greenland ice sheet and the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers will melt. Jay Zwally, a NASA climate scientist, declared in December 2007: "The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming. Now, as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines."
But reality is rarely an impediment to human folly. The world's greenhouse gases have continued to grow since Zwally's statement. Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO22) from burning fossil fuels since 2000 have increased by 3 per cent a year. At that rate annual emissions will double every 25 years. James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world's foremost climate experts, has warned that if we keep warming the planet it will be "a recipe for global disaster." The safe level of CO22 in the atmosphere, Hansen estimates, is no more than 350 parts per million (ppm). The current level of CO22 is 385 ppm and climbing. This already guarantees terrible consequences even if we act immediately to cut carbon emissions.
The natural carbon cycle for 3 million years has ensured that the atmosphere contained less than 300 ppm of CO22, which sustained the wide variety of life on the planet. The idea now championed by our corporate elite, at least those in contact with the reality of global warming, is that we will intentionally overshoot 350 ppm and then return to a safer climate through rapid and dramatic emission cuts. But as Clive Hamilton in his book "Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change" writes, even "if carbon dioxide concentrations reach 550 ppm, after which emissions fell to zero, the global temperatures would continue to rise for at least another century."
Copenhagen was perhaps the last chance to save ourselves. Barack Obama and the other leaders of the industrialized nations blew it. Radical climate change is certain. It is only a question now of how bad it will become. The engines of climate change will, climate scientists have warned, soon create a domino effect that could thrust the Earth into a chaotic state for thousands of years before it regains equilibrium. "Whether human beings would still be a force on the planet, or even survive, is a moot point," Hamilton writes. "One thing is certain: there will be far fewer of us."
We have fallen prey to the illusion that we can modify and control our environment, that human ingenuity ensures the inevitability of human progress and that our secular god of science will save us. The "intoxicating belief that we can conquer all has come up against a greater force, the Earth itself," Hamilton writes. "The prospect of runaway climate change challenges our technological hubris, our Enlightenment faith in reason and the whole modernist project. The Earth may soon demonstrate that, ultimately, it cannot be tamed and that the human urge to master nature has only roused a slumbering beast."
We face a terrible political truth. Those who hold power will not act with the urgency required to protect human life and the ecosystem. Decisions about the fate of the planet and human civilization are in the hands of moral and intellectual trolls such as BP's Tony Hayward. These political and corporate masters are driven by a craven desire to accumulate wealth at the expense of human life. They do this in the Gulf of Mexico. They do this in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, where the export-oriented industry is booming. China's transformation into totalitarian capitalism, done so world markets can be flooded with cheap consumer goods, is contributing to a dramatic rise in carbon dioxide emissions, which in China are expected to more than double by 2030, from a little over 5 billion metric tons to just under 12 billion.
This degradation of the planet by corporations is accompanied by a degradation of human beings. In the factories in Guangdong we see the face of our adversaries. The sociologist Ching Kwan Lee found "satanic mills" in China's industrial southeast that run "at such a nerve-racking pace that worker's physical limits and bodily strength are put to the test on a daily basis." Some employees put in workdays of 14 to 16 hours with no rest day during the month until payday. In these factories it is normal for an employee to work 400 hours or more a month, especially those in garment industry.
The leaders of these corporations now determine our fate. They are not endowed with human decency or compassion. Yet their lobbyists make the laws. Their public relations firms craft the propaganda and trivia pumped out through systems of mass communication. Their money determines elections. Their greed turns workers into global serfs and our planet into a wasteland.
As climate change advances we will face a choice between obeying the rules put in place by corporations or rebellion. Those who work human beings to death in overcrowded factories in China and turn the Gulf of Mexico into a dead zone are the enemy. They serve systems of death. They cannot be reformed or trusted.
The climate crisis is a political crisis. We will either defy the corporate elite, which will mean civil disobedience, a rejection of traditional politics for a new radicalism and the systematic breaking of laws, or see ourselves consumed. Time is not on our side. The longer we wait, the more assured our destruction becomes. The future, if we remain passive, will be wrested from us by events. Our moral obligation is not to structures of power, but life.