Ebb & Flow

Ebb and Flow

These Roofs Last a Lawn Time
Japan - With summer temperatures rising, cities like Tokyo and Fukuoka have found a cheap, natural way to beat back the swelter of urban “heat islands.” This year, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) began “greening” Tokyo’s rooftops with 2.3 hectares of grass. The UDC has found that adding a six-inch layer of soil, water-absorbing perlite and grass to the tops of city buildings, high-rises and parking garages can cut the heat of a concrete structure by 37 C (99 F). The installation of rooftop grass offer a cheap alternative to installing 2,500 air conditioners. Korean velvetgrass and lilyturf require little irrigation and need only be weeded twice a year. Look Japan reports that these turf roofs are “providing insulation and improving the energy efficiency of buildings [while] restoring nature in an urban setting.”

Something Fishy
China - Singapore National University biologists have created transgenic zebra fish that flash fluorescent red and green when exposed to toxic chemicals. Project leader Zhiyuan Gong boasts that “biomonitoring fish” are the perfect tool “to monitor aquatic environment and water quality.” On the other fin, Richard Winn of the Aquatic Biotechnology and Environmental Lab at the University of Georgia worries that the consequences of releasing transgenic fish into the environment “could range from inconsequential to localized extinction of native species.” Since zebra fish rely on color as a “mate-attraction strategy,” these flashy man-made creatures might have an edge over nature’s originals.

Corps Demand Right to Vote
Canada - In early March, the British Columbia town of Lake Cowichan petitioned the BC government to amend the Local Government Act to allow corporations to vote in municipal elections. “The resolution threatens fundamental democratic principles and… would make a mockery of BC’s democratic process,” declared Gil Yaron, a lawyer and boardmember of BC’s Aurora Institute [123 Main St., Vancouver, BC, Canada V6A 2SS, (604) 669-5199, www.aurora.ca]. “In an era where corporations have already corrupted the democratic processes… through lobbying and campaign financing, we need less, not more corporate involvement in our electoral system.” On March 10, the proposal was massively rejected. “Had this resolution passed,” Yaron observed, Canada “would have been the only democratic nation where inanimate entities could legally vote.”

Tree-free Paper. A Staple Item?
US - Staples Inc., the $11-billion office-supply giant, will honor Earth Day (April 22) by stocking its shelves with Vanguard Living Tree printer and copier paper made from hemp, flax and post-consumer waste. Although it is only 10 percent tree-free, Living Tree President Carolyn Moran can still proudly claim that “No new trees went into this paper.” ForestEthics’ Paper Campaign Director Todd Paglia calls Staples’ gesture “corporate greenwash” since more than 90 percent of Staples’ paper is still made from trees.

Utah’s Guv Goes for the Copper
US - The Winter Olympics had three mascots - a rabbit, a bear and a coyote. The Salt Lake City Organizing Committee’s (SLOC) favorite was Copper the Coyote, whose “coyote charisma… makes him the media darling of the mascot trio.” Tell that to Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, whose administration promotes coyote hunts with cash prizes awarded to hunters who show up with the most coyote tails. Nine of the state’s 29 counties offer coyote bounties, paying out $20 for a pair of ears.

A Climate ‘Threshhold’ Looms
US - In 2001, the UN Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that Earth’s average surface temperature would gradually rise by as much as 10 F during this century - a shift larger than any seen in the past 10,000 years. The IPCC’s forecast may have been too conservative. This past winter, global temperatures increased 4.3 F - the largest jump in recorded history. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) now cautions that the theory of a gradual temperature rise may prove false. Instead, a dramatically “abrupt” shift in climate could be triggered within a matter of years, causing mass extinctions of plant and animal life. At the end of the Younger-Dryas interval, some 11,500 years ago, NAS notes, “global climate shifted dramatically… over a few years.” With CO2 emissions expected to double over the next century, the world could be edging toward an irreversible “threshold event” that could plunge the climate into chaos. Writing in the London Guardian, US author Jeremy Rifkin notes that sudden climate change could occur “within less than 10 years - as has happened many times before in geological history.” If the US continues to refuse to act on global warming, Rifkin notes, “we may already have written our epitaph.”

A Really Attractive Cooler
US - Someday soon, instead of putting magnets on your refrigerator, you may be putting magnets inside your refrigerator. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory in Iowa have teamed with the Astronautics Technology Center in Wisconsin to create a magnetic refrigeration unit. By moving packets of powdered gadolinium through the field of a permanent magnet, the scientists have been able to chill refrigerators at room temperatures. Science News predicts that “magnetic refrigerators and air conditioners promise to be more efficient than conventional ones.”

Is That a Chip in your Shoulder?
US - Applied Digital Solutions, Inc. (ADS) has invented an “identification chip” the size of a dime that can be implanted in the human body “to save lives, enhance personal security and improve quality of life.” The VeriChip’s(tm) personal ID number can be activated by “an external scanner” that can read and transmit the stored data via phone lines or satellite links to a “secure data-storage site.” While ADS promotes the VeriChip as a medical device comparable to “pacemakers [and] artificial joints,” the company admits that VeriChips could be a veritable goldmine in the “rapidly evolving marketplace” of biometric surveillance. Unlike “fingerprints, voiceprints, retina characteristics and face recognition,” an ADS document states, the VeriChip relies on “embedded, tamper-proof, microchip technology, which allows for non-invasive access to identification.” Installing a VeriChip is a simple matter that “requires only local anesthesia, a tiny incision and perhaps a small adhesive bandage.”

The Last Winter Olympics?
US - The organizers of the Winter Olympics are taking bids for the 2010 games but have they taken global warming into account? The World Resources Institute (WRI) warns that Earth’s rising temperatures mean there will be “less snow and shorter and warmer winters.” There may be enough snow for the 2006 games in Turin, Italy but (unless Iceland submits a bid) future games may be in doubt. WRI notes that Montana’s Glacier National Park “will have no glaciers by 2030.

Journal staff contribution. Can be reprinted for non-profit purposes. Please credit and notify Earth Island Journal.

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