Project Update

March 27, 2012

I have a meeting with Sean later this week to go over some new numbers to give us a more realistic projection of the cost of the LED lights. One has been installed on Bashford lawn as a test and will be used to collect information. I have continued to look through the literature on these lights and similar projects – and have begun to write up a report.

Step Aside Rainforests

March 27, 2012

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Grassland

A recent article in the National Geographic Daily News reveals that “Grasslands [are] More Diverse Than Rain Forests – In Small Areas.” The grassland pictured here has the highest number of plants in a square foot – though rainforests still have the largest number of plant species on a large scale,  which is to be expected considering their size. Grasslands and meadows in Eastern Europe and Argentina have been discovered to have an incredible amount of plant species – a 527 sq. foot Czech grassland has 131 vascular plant species. In just 1 sq. foot of grassland in Romania (Cluj-Napoca), 43 species were cataloged. This is in comparison to the 942 species found in 2.5 acres of a rainforest in Ecuador. Biologists who conducted the study claim  mowing and grazing levels, slow growth rates and infertile soils allow “grass species to cram into small area” (Mosher). It is interesting to see that this biodiversity is only found in tropical rainforests and grasslands.

“Burning a Renaissance Painting to Cook a Meal”

March 27, 2012

Vandermeer’s Breakfast of Biodiversity raises many important points concerning tropical rainforest destruction. Few think of the extent to which the rainforest is threatened – or the extent to which a rainforest may properly operate. He begins the book by discussing the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, a region which was drastically changed when the Standard Fruit Company. This company alone was responsible for a great portion of rainforest destruction in Costa Rica – “rain forest cover in the region plummet[ed] from almost 90% in 1950 to approximately 25% today” (6). Much of this forest was destroyed to accommodate for banana plantations, a practice which is still prevalent in many Latin American countries, including Costa Rica. Since this book was published, things  have changed somewhat. There has been a greater push for biodiversity, and many small farms are encouraged to plant a variety of crops.

Costa Rica: Banana Plant

Yet, on large farms and plantations the single-crop mentality persists, which has also been a great harm to banana plants themselves (recently, there has been a new fungal virus – Tropical Race 4).

Tropical Race 4This is an image of a banana plant affected by Tropical Race 4

Vandermeer continues to discuss 6 key factors in rain forest function: biodiversity, pollination, herbivory, seed dispersal, gap dynamics/forms of disturbance, and soils. Many of these key factors may not be associated with rain forest destruction – especially soil, which is a major contributor to rain forest destruction. Soil in tropical rain forests is very nutrient-deprived, and while plants have adapted to this fact, it also  makes it difficult for regular cycles to operate when a forest is slashed & burned. In this scenario, a flood of  nutrients is released into the forest, but each year the growing season will be lessened (36). Many methods have been developed to combat soil destruction, such as the Chinampa system which catches nutrients as they run off.

Vandermeer also discusses the political economy of agriculture, which once again involves bananas – specifically the United Fruit Company. He takes care to note how intensive agriculture, integrative production, and modernization contributed to the rainforests we know today. Indeed, “the fate of the rain forest is intimately tied to various agricultural activities” (69). It is within this modernized system of agriculture that it becomes apparent how much food insecurity and poverty have impacted deforestation – a problem which will continue to grow as long as the economy and environment remain unstable. Under the current capitalist system, these problems will not be addressed – for capitalism to survive, the peasants who live in and around rainforests, and the rainforests themselves, must be exploited. Or at least that is what is commonly accepted as fact. However, other options have been advocated, including plans that would improve the Brazilian economy, thereby presenting no reason for the extent of tropical deforestation.

Already Vandermeer has raised serious questions concerning rainforest destruction – primarily how we can change our behaviors to make this less of a necessity in today’s socio-political and economic realities. Should modernization be curtailed in an effort to prevent rainforest destruction? Are those who protested against the WTO right in their views of globalization? Or should we take a more moderate track that seeks to protect the rainforest while still allowing for a level of destruction? Capitalists of course argue that these resources are meant to be used, whereas environmentalists are against negotiating the destruction of the forest. However, given today’s socio-political context, it is apparent both sides must renege on their strict arguments and allow for compromise. A pragmatic approach is the only true option in preventing this:

from continuing to occur.

Gulf Dolphins Exposed to Oil are Seriously ill, Agency Says

March 26, 2012

There are still many consequences after the BP oil spill back in 2010 one of  the affect was that Dolphins in Barataria Bay off of Louisiana are seriously ill because of toxic substances from the petroleum. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) scientists performed physical check ups on 32 dolphins living in the bay during the summer and the results was that the dolphins tend to have a lower weight, low blood sugar, and some live and lungs cancer. The most common symptoms found in almost half of the dolphins being studied  have abnormally low stress hormones level, cortisol. Cortisol help regulate immune systems.

Scientist can’t confirmed the reason why the dolphins in the Barataria Bay are sick is the result of the oil spilled but there is a huge correlation for it. Since dolphins in the Florida coast didn’t experience the same problem. With 1,000 dolphins in Barataria Bay there are 180 stranded dolphins reported in February 2010 normally there will be only around 20 stranded dolphins in Louisiana.

How To Be Idle

March 26, 2012

This weeks book, How to be Idle, proved to be pretty interesting. There were many places where I found myself agreeing with Tom Hodgkinson, and other times I thought he was a little crazy, and had nothing better to do than write this book about being lazy.

His ideas about changing the time people get up and how better they may function was probably the most thought provoking part of his book. I personally as a college senior love nothing more than sleeping in and hate when classes force me to wake up before my desired time. I complain now about having to wake up most days at 9:45am for my 11:00am class but I hate even more to think that soon I will have a job that will force me to get up even earlier than 9:45am and be at work probably before 9:45.

As much as I love sleeping and sleeping until I feel like I’ve gotten enough sleep, I don’t know that I full agree with Hodgkinson that I would be more productive if I started work later or anything later than it might require. I think that if I still had to work the same amount of hours in a day that my getting up and getting to work by 11:00am, but still having to work say eight hours, would possibly make me more upset than getting up early in the first place. I think in the long run I would rather start my day, even if I am tired, and get the day rolling. It was an interesting thought on Hodgkinson’s part to propose all these ideas in his book.

At first, I was thinking while reading that this book was an interesting read, but I had no idea what it had to do with our class. To me there was nothing in here that would effect the environment, but the more I got to thinking about it it does relate to our class. If people took the time to slow down, enjoy life a little more than they do then this might actually also effect the environment we live in. Some people can think of this book as kind of a way to be lazy almost, but others could look at it as a way to slow down and live your life a little bit more to its fullest.

Algae Used to make Plastic

March 26, 2012

I read an article recently about making bio plastics, from algae.  As one knows most plastics in that we use are petroleum based, but using oil from algae to make plastics may soon be the norm.  Over the years there have been problems with using algae as an alternative, due to the fact that it is not yet as cheap as petroleum is, however the article speculates, that soon it will be.

This is a picture of a plastic disk made from algae.

The companies running at algal bio fuels today, must first find and cultivate a precise strain of algae from among thousands, harvest and dry the stuff, and then somehow extract oil from the plant.  From this the oil can be turned into diesel or jet fuel, and the waste biomass for the time being is fed to cattle.

Right now the biggest problem in this field is not the science behind it, but the supply of algae. However, it seems a step in the right direction to wean ourselves off of the nonrenewable facets of petroleum, and eventually lead to a sustainable, healthier way of living.

Robotic Jellyfish

March 21, 2012

A team at Virginia Tech are working on a robotic project and based the design and movement of the machine from the movements of jellyfish. The robot uses the same expanding and contracting of it’s bell shape upper body, made from memory shape materials, to mimic the movements of live jellyfish. The “Robojelly” as it’s called is powered by hydrogen, and it is planned to be capable of relying on a self sustaining energy system from interacting with the undersea environment. The researchers hope it can be used in the future for undersea rescue operations.

You can see a video of the Robojelly here: