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EU Scientists Withdraw From Research Project

There’s a fascinating new story doing  the rounds at the moment about the huge scientific research centre – Heimholtz Research, which has withdrawn from a project due to political pressure.  In many ways this sounds quite controversial in itself, a research body being pressurized into not researching something!  However many might believe this is understandable due to the topic concerned.

The research in question was focussed on developing technologies to help reduce the environmental damage caused by exploiting the vast oil sand reserves in Canada. If you’ve not heard of these it refers to the loose sand or shale that are saturated with a dense and very thick form of petrol (also known as tar or bitumen).  These are found in huge quantities in Canada and contain a substantial amount of oil.

These deposits have been known about for many years, however the extraction was always too expensive to be viable commercially.  Now rising oil costs and the introduction of new technologies have made the extraction commercially viable but not ethical in many peoples opinion.

Protesters claim that tar sands cause numerous environmental problems including vast amounts of deforestation to clear the areas and access to the deposits.  They also point out that the mining of tar sands releases over three times as much CO2 as normal oil production.  Many estimates point towards mining of these tar sand deposits becoming the biggest single contributor in North America to climate change.

Scary stuff, it is this sort of press that has led Helmholtz to withdraw from the research project.  The argument is of course does the withdrawing of technical expertise help in any way, should researchers be drawn into political and environmental battles.  Their role after all was to help minimize the environmental impact of a the project.  It may be the problems for Helmholtz may be due to  the upcoming EU designations of companies involved in producing high pollution oil reserves.

At the very best scenario it was seen as a huge risk to the companies reputation.  On numerous TV documentaries the involvement was highlighted – check out the online versions of ARD and ZDF.  If you’re outside the country you’ll need a French proxy to access these shows (and of course speaking French would help), try here for help.

It’s a very stark example of how research companies need to be careful about what projects they get involved with especially highly commercial and controversial ones.

Further Reading: http://www.uktv-online.com/bbc-iplayer-on-the-ipad-abroad/

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Useful Links

Anonymity is important when you’re online particularly if you have views or opinions that are deemed inappropriate by the government you live under.  These links below will help you maintain some sort of privacy and a low profile in environments where it’s dangerous to speak the truth where the environment is concerned.

Anonymous  Torrenting  – much of the best environmental information, from speech transcripts to documentaries is sometimes difficult to obtain online depending on your location.  Although torrents are often simply used for pirating the latest movies and music the technology also offers a method of downloading large files from anywhere.  Beware though the default mode for most torrent clients is completely transparent so you can easily be tracked down by your IP address, use a VPN such as the one in this post to hide your identity.  Remember many VPN services don’t allow the use of torrents so make sure you get one that works.

BBC World News Streaming – there are of course very few sources of news which are completely unbiased.  In fact, many consider the BBC to have some political agendas which affect their reporting.  However in contrast with many other news agencies which are often owned directly by the state or independent companies – a publicly funded, well respected organisation like the BBC has to be worth considering.  They are very active in reporting environmental information, you will need to use a VPN outside the UK for actual TV broadcasts including the World News.

Netflix VPN Ban – although being able to access Netflix is hardly an important environmental awareness tool, although there are some great documentaries online.  The latest move by the media giant demonstrates how important it is to control the internet.  Netflix has recently implemented a very effective block on people accessing their site using virtual private networks or proxy servers. This is supposed to be to protect copyright holders rights, but it does seem a way for Netflix to be able to split their markets and operate traditional profit maximisation techniques.   The VPN in the link still works though.

IP Cloaker – one of the most important factors to consider when trying to keep a low profiles online is that of your IP address.  If it is used from your home, college or workplace there is a high probability that any web activity can be tracked down to you specifically.  It is safer to use anonymous wifi or public access points although these carry there own security risks.  Most experts consider using an IP cloaker device is essential for any true anonymity online.

The Ninja Proxy – is a general security and news site which focuses on anonymity and security issues.  It has been around for many years and is a good place to start to find out about any online privacy issues you may have.  The author is from a technical background so there’s lots of specific technology related stories.  Worth grabbing the Ninja proxy RSS feed if you want to keep up to date.

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The World Keeps Getting Warmer

There’s a definite tendency for climate change to get shuffled back to the back of the political agenda whenever possible.  This is probably because it’s difficult and expensive to correct the damage we continue to do to our planet.   For democratically elected governments it’s simpler to push decisions into the future in order to allow some other leaders to deal with the problems.

The problem is that global warming doesn’t stop for these political events, the planet get’s hotter and any solutions become more and more difficult to achieve.  It was estimated in the UK that the majority of Government time over the next five to ten years will be focused on the withdrawal from Europe. Unfortunately although it seems a big deal – Brexit is really a minor political issue compared with the global challenges facing the planet.

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One of the challenges is to ensure people really appreciate that there are a myriad of effects of global warming happening right now all across the planet.   For example in Siberia, the permafrost has started meting for the first time in decades in certain areas.  This has resulted in a serious outbreak of anthrax which was previously  frozen in a reindeer carcass from years ago.

In Iraq, the government has been suspended frequently simply because it is too hot – is there a temperature where democracy starts to melt away?  Kuwait has seen the thermometers hit 129F (54C) over the Summer, which is simply too hot for humans to survive for any length of time without air conditioning.

These are just a very small subset of the sort of problems  that will only increase. They’re obviously not just the big cataclysmic events you might catch in a disaster movie, although than to Netflix blocking proxies I don’t see that many of those any more.  It’s more about a myriad of local problems which can cause lots of damage and will slowly lead to mass migrations as much of planet becomes slowly uninhabitable.   The economic and human costs will be enormous, the political ramifications will eventually dwarf any other issue – which is why it’s incredible that global warming get’s sidelined so often.

It is a global change, it’s supported by pretty much all the available climatic evidence.  It’s worth remembering that when someone points out that they haven’t been to the beach or had the barbecue out in order to disprove global warming.  This year has seen the hottest July since records began, that’s highest average temperature across the globe.  The records are from the end of the 19th century but there’s reason to believe that this record predates that for some time.

James Collins

Blogger, Commentator – Using a Proxy for Netflix

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Shell Admits Defeat on Artic Drillling

The statement from the Shell official, was simple yet it masked a complex and difficult situation for the oil giant.  “We had hoped for more,” he stated as it was announcing the company was pulling out of it’s multi billion dollar Artic drilling project.

Environmental groups across the world, were jubilant and rightly so as this represents a huge victory for the hundreds of protesters and lobbyists who have campaigned against the ill-advised exploration.  There is no doubt that this pressure was a huge influence in the decision irrespective of the prospect of oil and gas within the region.

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The last results came from a test drill of the coast of Alaska, and it represents the end of the company’s interest in the area for the immediate future. Of course this was still primary a commercial decision, the idea that the oil company is interested in the massive ecological risks that were involved is unlikely.

The main reasons are that not enough oil was found combined with the huge ‘operating costs of drilling in such an area.  This of course could easily change,  the oil price is currently at a decade long low, drilling technology will change and of course our reliance on fossil fuels is likely to increase as they dwindle.

We are still addicted to burning fossil fuels and as such the Artic Ice is still at risk, let’s still remember that up to 13% of the world’s reserves of oil still lie in this region.  When profit is concerned, the environmental arguments are likely to be brushed aside.  The “Shell NO” campaign has undoubtedly  has had an impact, it would have been a huge risk for the company’s reputation to push forward.

We should thank all those who protested – from the Kayakers who risked their safety in the port of Seattle to the thousands of other protesters who have campaigned in a myriad away to stop the huge risks to this extremely environmentally sensitive region.

Who knows what finally made Shell pull the plug on the billion dollar exploration projects.   You can see some of the announcement and reactions from various campaign groups on the UK media – the BBC is a good start and you can use this UK TV application- here to access the programmes irrespective of your location.

Further Information on Watching British TV Online

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Looking Back to the Kyoto Protocol Extension

Possibly the most important climate talks in a generation have just finished in Doha, Qatar.  The climate talks were hosted by the UN and have seen an unparalleled shift in principle from some of the richest and polluting countries on the planet.  This will be remembered as the summit were for the first time, richer countries agreed that compensation should be paid to poorer countries for lost growth and productivity linked to climate change.

This is no small, fringe deal but includes over 200 countries and the Kyoto agreement is extended to 2020.  It could be easy to criticise this protocol, and many do citing the lack of genuine cuts as opposed to the high ideals.  But the reality is that Kyoto is the only game in town, it is the only vaguely legally binding agreement for reducing emissions and combating global warming.

The latest deal covers both Europe and Australia, although these areas only cause 15% of the world’s emissions. There is an urgent undertaking to update the protocol with a new treaty which bound all nations rich and poor and the expectation that will be implemented by 2015.

There were no strict financial resources allocated through this meeting, there is a suggested figure of 10 billion dollars to be spent every year in order to combat global warming.  There are still rifts within the organisations in the agreement though, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus nearly derailed the agreement by insisting on credits for their previous emissions cuts.  Fortunately the chairman restarted the meeting and swiftly bypassed all the objections by Russia, Poland and the linked states.

The key passage is referred to in the protocol as the Loss and Damage mechanism, it holds the key to bringing all countries on board.  Many envrionmentalists see this as a key watershed and a vital point in the talks.  There is more information on the meeting on the BBC website and the Iplayer application – if  you have trouble viewing the site because of your location then check this out, if you enabled a proxy server based in the UK then you should have full access.  There is also still a clip of the applause when the chair stifled the Russian led revolt – his name is Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah – ironically a former head of the OPEC oil cartel.

 

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New and Surprising Results from Cryosat

The European Cryosat mission has been focussing on analysing the sea-ice cover in the Arctic recently.  New data has been produced from the spacecraft which uses it’s radar to estimate the thickness of the ices has noticed some alarming results.  The data points at a very substantial reduction in the volume of the ice particularly during the months of Autumn.

In fact the amount has fallen nearly a third compared with the last known data on this, which was produced covering 2003-2008. The fall in levels for the winter months is not quite as dramatic however. Much of the loss seems to have occured in specific regions though, mainly on the Canada Archipelago and also some areas to the North of Greenland.   We obviously have much more data about these levels since we had the technology of satellites to measure them,   But the Cryosat report has only covered the last two years.  At the moment it would be difficult to tell if  these fluctuations are significant until there is enough data to look at the long term trends.

Cryosat was established by the European Space Agency in 2010. The satellite sends down a radar pulse towards the ice floes and then measure the results with a built in altimeter.  If you are interested in seeing a paper discussing the findings in depth you can find them on this site –http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50193/abstract, the report was compiled by Professor Lazon who unfortunately died in an accident at the beginning of the year.

The polar scientist is a big loss to the Cryosat mission as he has developed a lot of techniques to help the project work effectively.  We still don’t know exactly how the change in the ice cover might have an effect on the atmosphere and the Arctic ocean, but the Cryosat data will definitely play an important role in understanding this.

If you want to read more and keep up to date with this research there are lots of resources on the BBC website in the environmental section.  Also many of the documentaries and reports are viewable on the BBC Iplayer application.  Unfortunately you won’t be able to access these if you’re based outside the UK, although I found this useful method to allow me to watch Iplayer on my IPad.  It uses a VPN server to hide your IP address so even when I’m based in the US, it looks like my IP address is originating from the UK.

John Tallgrass

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Remember the Earth Hour Project

Last year, and you may remember on the Saturday 23rd March at 8:30pm, millions of people around the world will be recognising Earth Hour. At this time (your local time) people across the world will simply switch off their lights for an hour as a sign for concern for the environment. IT’s been growing in success, last year there were more than 6900 cities and towns which took part from New York to Ireland and across the globe. The astronauts on the International Space Station even joined in by turning down the power on their systems. This year it is hoped lots more countries will join in, new participants include Palestine and Rwanda.

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There are some famous building across the world which join in such as the Houses of Parliament and the Sydney Opera House. There are iconic landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, the Brandenburg Gate and even the Empire State Building.
IS it worth it?

Well the event is primarily about raising awareness of the environmental issues facing the planet. The organisers WWF appreciate in itself it has limited effect, the benefit of turning all the lights off is cancelled out by the huge strain on electricity infrastrcture when everyone turns them back on. However it is meant to be a starting point and hope that invidiuals and governments follow up the event with making real change.
You can follow the event at their web site – http://earthhourlive.org/ which will be having regular updates.

For those who would rather watch coverage on a mainstream channel, I can recommend this method for watching UK Television over the web – http://www.uktv-online.com/. It’s quite simple and involves using a secure proxy server to route your connection through giving you the appearance of being in that country.

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Studying Climate Change on the Ground

The most obvious effects of climate change are of course in the air temperature, the weather and the sea levels. However it is also known to cause other problems indirectly such as damaging the soil. There is research though particularly with a group of American scientists to investigate how this can be changed.

The study is centred around Antartica, one of the toughest environments on the face of the Earth. These areas are so barren that in fact up until a few decades ago many scientists thought it incapable of supporting life. However if you dig down underneath the icy surface, there are millions of microscopic worms called nematodes which are positively thriving here. These little creatures are helping scientists to understand the effects of climate change.

This years Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement has actually been awarded to one of these researchers – Soil scientist Diana Wall. She has spent twenty years studying these creatures mainly in the Antartic. The Nematodes capture and store the carbon which is otherwise released into the atmosphere. Unfortunately the nematode that lives in this harsh environment is struggling due to the rising temperatures and being replaced by a rival organism. The problem is that the new Nematode doesn’t store carbon which suggests more will be released into the environment.

The study of soil and the organisms that live in it, is mainly quite a new science. However advances in molecular biology and ecology, have meant that scientists are continuing to find new life forms with different functions all the time. The link in with climate change is obvious with a huge US Government project now looking at how farmers can slow climate change by conserving the release of carbon into the atmosphere by storing it into the soil.

There are also studies using salt marshes which are being used to model the effects of climate change particularly in coastal areas. The realisation is growing that climate change through it’s changes in temperature, rainfall and plant activity all have an impact on the soil’s ability to store carbon. There is hope that better soil management techniques can actually encourage the soil to store more carbon rather than impacting the already high levels in the atmosphere.

Here’s a great little video about one of the more common nematodes. Everyone should be able to see it although there may be some countries that can’t if you get the message – video not available in your country, then try using this or another proxy server or VPN to bypass the blocks. For some reason, many scientific and educational resources seem to ge blocked online depending on your location, not sure why though.

Jim Hargreaves
http://www.uktv-online.com/

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French Firms Warns Off Drilling in Artic

I can’t remember ever hearing a statement like this before, but the CEO of French Total has completely surprised many environmentalists. Christophe de Margerie stated that the environmental risks of drilling in the Artic outweighed the potential commercial benefits. He was quoted as saying that “Oil on Greenland would be disaster” and in the interview he also said that it would do much damage to their image.

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You can catch the interview on M6 Replay the French media channel if you’re quick. Outside France you need to sometimes use a French proxy for most items although sometimes you can see news stuff without being blocked. It’s a stance unfortunately not shared by most other oil companies who are drilling in the Artic area. Many companies have signed deals to look at the far North deposits too including Shell and Exxon Mobil. Other companies like BP are using partners in Russia to try and carve a niches there.

But stop and think for a moment – what does it really mean when an Oil company itself say that the environmental risk is too great. These are the guys who cause environmental damage all over the world, when one of their own says it’s risky you better take notice! Of course it’s probably driven by self preservation rather than any real care about the environment. Total have just had a massive fine for some pollution in the Erika oil disaster – so it’s likely this had some bearing.

Nobody should drill for all in the Artic, it’s too important. The eco system is too delicate, the ice is already melting due to global warming. Are massive numbers of Oil rigs burning fuel really going to do anything more than huge environmental harm. The ice at the top of the planet reflects heat back and helps keep our planet cooler. To allow companies to mess around with something as important as the Artic for the sake of their profit margins is insane. If you agree I urge you to go here and sign the petition http://www.savethearctic.org/.