by Barbara Fraser, via the Daily Climate
Karina Pinasco watched in dismay as flames on a hillside at the edge of town lit up the sky one night in October 2010. A farmer had intended to clear a few hectares of land to plant coffee bushes, but the fire ? set during an unusually hot, dry spell ? quickly got out of hand.
Propelled by winds and high temperatures, it burned for 10 days, charring more than 250 acres of land.
“We realized we weren’t prepared,” says Pinasco, a biologist who heads Amazónicos por la Amazonía, a local environmental organization. “The firefighters weren’t trained. It was the rain that finally put it out.”
Scientists used to think the rainforest, especially in the western Amazon, was too wet to burn. But major fire seasons in 2005 and 2010 made them reconsider.
Fires are a major source of carbon emissions in the Amazon, and scientists are beginning to worry that the region could become a net emitter, instead of a carbon sink. New findings link rising ocean temperatures off the northern coast of Brazil to changing weather patterns: As the Atlantic warms, it draws moisture away from the forest, priming the region for bigger fires.
“We are reaching a tipping point in terms of drought, beyond which these forests can catch fire,” says Daniel Nepstad, international program director at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brasília, Brazil.
The 2005 drought ? considered a once-in-a-century event ? resulted in unprecedented wildfires in Acre, the western Brazilian state bordering Peru. Flames scorched the tree canopy, and at one point the front face of the fire stretched nearly seven miles. As many as 1.2 million acres of forests were affected in Acre and the neighboring regions of Pando in Bolivia and Madre de Dios in Peru. Officials estimated upwards of $100 million in economic damages.
But the forest loss wasn’t the only concern for the Acre state government, said Foster Brown, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center and a professor at the Federal University of Acre in Rio Branco, the state capital. Choking smoke spiked respiratory ailments in the region and canceled flights.
Just five years later, another once-a-century drought struck, and fires spread out of control, especially in Acre, Bolivia’s Pando region and Brazil’s Mato Grosso state. Acre was better prepared, but in Bolivia, smoke from more than 20,000 fires reduced visibility and shut airports in several towns. The Bolivian government declared a state of emergency as more than 3.5 million acres of forest burned. In Mato Grosso, fires destroyed at least 100 homes.
The 2005 fires added 1.6 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere, according to a study by Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds, who put emissions from the more widespread 2010 fires at 2.2 gigatons.
In a normal year, the Amazon forests store 0.4 gigatons of carbon a year in the trees and soil, meaning that two bad seasons like 2005 and 2010 could wipe out a decade of gain, according to Lewis’ calculations.
And as humans push further into an increasingly drier Amazon, the problem could worsen.
In the western Amazon, humans are the chief source of sparks. With new roads being built and paved through once-inaccessible areas, Peru’s Amazonian regions now have some of the country’s highest population growth rates. Many of the newcomers clear a little land to farm, and where there are farms, there is fire.
In the Amazon, where weeds and insects run rampant, burning is the most cost-effective way for small farmers to control ticks in cattle pastures and unwanted plants in cassava fields, says Miguel Pinedo-Vásquez, director of international programs for the Columbia University Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, who also works with the Center for International Forestry Research.
Fire will limit development and poverty reduction efforts while increasing greenhouse gas emissions and food insecurity in the region, said Pinedo-Vasquez, who grew up in a small farming community outside Pucallpa, in Peru’s Amazon basin. “The risks will increase as we face climate change and demographic shifts, and as land-use changes are becoming more evident.”
Drought in the Amazon has long been associated with the large-scale weather pattern known as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation in the Pacific Ocean. During an El Niño year, the winds that usually blow from east to west across the Amazon weaken, so less moisture is carried over the basin. Drier forests pump less moisture back into the atmosphere, exacerbating the effect.
But 2005 and 2010, both record drought years in the western Amazon, were not El Niño years.
Researchers now think the key lies not in the Pacific ? or, at least, not entirely ? but in the north tropical Atlantic Ocean, off Brazil?s northern coast.
When sea surface temperatures in that area warms, moisture-bearing winds shift northward, said Katia Fernandes of Columbia University?s International Research Institute for Climate and Society. Heavier rains fall in the northern Amazon, while the southwest gets a drought.
Fernandes thinks she can predict those droughts. Looking at droughts over the past few decades, she found that ocean temperatures rose about three months before the dry spell set in ? enough time for scientists to issue a warning so governments can prohibit burning during especially dry periods.
That could help farmers tip Amazonian forests back to the carbon sink side of the scale.
In Moyobamba, Pinasco and her colleagues have launched a fire observatory to map hot spots and try to predict high-risk areas. They also teach farmers safer burning techniques, although they would like to see the San Martín region ? which has seen an influx of newcomers seeking to cash in on coffee and cacao booms ? ban burning altogether.
Pinedo-Vásquez is skeptical about the practicality of going fire free. He and other researchers are studying the behavior of both humans and fire, to make recommendations for better land-use management.
The areas near Moyobamba and Pucallpa are magnets for migrants from the Andean highlands who are new to Amazonian farming. Because escaped fires are most common in areas settled by newcomers, those are the places where fire education should focus, Pinedo-Vásquez said.
“Just blaming them, and telling them they’re the sources of fire won’t help,” he said.
by Barbara Fraser, reposted from the Daily Climate
The Taliban is claiming credit for multiple attacks on Sunday morning against western embassies and the parliament in Kabul. “These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters. At least two attackers were killed and five people wounded in the Kabul attacks. The German and British embassies and the headquarters of Afghanistan’s NATO-led force were the primary targets for the attacks but simultaneous assaults were launched in three other eastern cities.
Mitt Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie struggled to defend his campaign’s central piece of evidence supporting its claim that President Obama is waging a war on women today. The claim — that 92 percent of jobs lost under Obama where lost by women — has been called highly misleading and “mostly false” by Politifact (twice), the Washington Post’s fact checker, an AP fact checker, and even the rabidly conservative Daily Caller.
Even Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace saw the problem with the claim and pressed Gillespie when he mentioned the figure this morning. “It is not true,” Wallace said of the larger Romney argument, calling the 92 percent figure a “little bit of an accounting trick” and noting that “all the independent fact checkers have said it’s misleading.”
The best defense Gillespie could muster was to claim that some of the economists quoted by the Washington Post’s fact checker were liberal. Watch it:
Gillespie doesn’t even attempt to defend the substance of the claim because there is little substance to it.
The 92 percent figure obscures the fact that many more men than women lost jobs in the recession, as Wallaces forces Gillespie to admit. The key is timing. Men tend to be concentrated in industries that were hit first, like construction, so they lost their jobs first, while women tend to be contracted in the public sector, which had layoffs later on when state and local governments slashed their budgets.
In fact, it was Republican lawmakers and governors who led this effort, accounting for over 70 of percent state layoffs, so Romney’s claim is effectively blaming Obama for policies that Romney supports (cutting government workforces).
The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science -- and Reality by Chris Mooney
Publisher Wiley; available on Kindle
During the darkest days of the Bush era, science writer Chris Mooney made a big splash in the publishing world with his first book detailing the Republican war on science. This month his newest effort, what could be nicknamed the Republican brain on science, hit the shelves. In it you will find Mooney is a stickler for detail, always important in any book on science, especially one with a bold title. But this is no clinical read, the book is a blast right off the bat, framing the main subject marvelously in the juiciest claims and tastier bits of conservative pseudoscientific lore readers here have come to lovingly know and ridicule.
The book opens with a synopsis of Conservapedia and a zany entry on relativity, where relativistics is portrayed as some kind of neo-liberal attack on staunch conservative values rendered in math and physics. This was quickly followed by a deft series of knock out punches dispatching classic right-wing chestnuts including birtherism and climate change. Thus, Mooney had me both chuckling and hooked by page four.
Given the title readers might be forgiven for assuming this is a purely partisan pseudoscientific attack?projection being all the rage on the right these days, eh? In fact the book is quite fair, the author carefully reviews instances where non conservatives resist evidence. He writes early on and illustrates throughout it's not that liberals or independents are always right about science, it's that, lately, conservatives are wrong a lot. From all outward appearances they often seem to be sincerely unaware of how wrong they are. At times they can even make a good faith effort to grasp why they're wrong and still fail. The book also introduced something new, at least for me, called the smart idiot effect: the more educated conservatives are, the more sure they are about their false beliefs.
How is that possible? There's no way a short review is going to craft and assemble all the parts Mooney puts together in the span of 250 pages. Maybe it could be summed up?in my words?that human brains didn't evolve to be dedicated truth detectors, they are also fitness engines for a highly social species. There's more than one way to socially integrate, leading to the book's main thesis: there are personality traits correlated with conservatives and there are other traits common, on average, to non conservatives, which imply the two groups as they currently exist fundamentally process facts and beliefs a little bit differently. One manifestation is modern-day conservatives are more difficult to persuade than non-conservatives using documented facts or reasonable inferences, particularly on issues where there's a partisan axis, even in the face of a robust scientific consensus or just plain common sense.
That is a big check to write, but it's not radical and Mooney is not the only one writing it. The same general idea has been considered by researchers in one form or another for decades, it has been used convincingly by other authors like John Dean to explain the sometimes irrational beliefs of conservatives despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Whether Mooney's science-brain version leans too much to nature and not enough to nurture is something that will continue to be examined and debated by experts in the same fields of study he writes about so well. But the book is extremely well researched, and a hell of a lot of fun to read, making it a great starting point for anyone interested in the science of anti-science.
Chris Mooney is a science and political journalist, blogger, podcaster, and experienced trainer of scientists in the art of communication. He is the author of four books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science. He blogs for "Science Progress," a website of the Center for American Progress and Center for American Progress Action Fund. Chris plans to be available this morning to respond to a few comments below.
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Anyone who frequents this blog even if you don't watch Fox at all, knows how terrible a lot of their "business block" coverage is on Saturday mornings because I try to make a habit of posting at least some of it when I've got the stomach for or the time to watch any of it. This was another typically horrid segment with Cashin' In host Cheryl Casone opening up the show by saying there is a "new debate" over whether spending on "entitlements" are "doing damage to America."
The premise for why this "debate" is happening -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his recent attack on Americans receiving government "entitlements" that we covered here at C&L in these two posts:
What followed was the panel of Tracy Byrnes, Jonathan Hoenig and Wayne Rogers all repeating Christie's lines about how receiving everything from food stamps, to unemployment benefits, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, to mortgage loan modifications was somehow destroying America and turning us all into a bunch of lazy slobs that don't want to work and just sitting home waiting for their checks to arrive.
For "balance" we had former professional wrestler and conservative John Layfield actually pointing out that it might be a good idea to feed people so we don't end up having another revolution in America if massive amounts of people are starving. And milquetoast "liberal" and Fox regular Julian Epstein countering with how "reasonable" it would have been for President Obama to have made some "grand bargain" with Republicans and agreed to austerity measures in the middle of trying to recover from a recession.
And they ended the segment with regular Jonathan Hoenig, who is always reading straight from some script by Ayn Rand, saying we'd have real "freedom" in America if we just got rid of Medicaid and Medicare all together.
I have to wonder just how many people that watch these shows and take them seriously instead the sorry, sad joke that they actually are, consider themselves members of the "tea party" and are receiving Medicaid benefits. The terrible thing is segments like this would be laughable if they weren't so dangerous, because there are so many out there that buy into the nasty rhetoric they were spouting here.
Listening to these idiots talk about how terrible it is for the government to be feeding people reminded me of a point that Driftglass made during this week's podcast that he does every week with our other fellow C&L contributor who also happens to be his wife, Blue Gal, about why the National School Lunch Program was started and by whom.
There's a link up front for their podcast in the open thread here. At about the 25 minute mark, Driftglass points out that the National School Lunch Program was actually started by the Department of Defense. Why? Because so many people were starving in 1946 that they were unfit for military service. Here's a little more on that.
This is not the first time that the Department of Defense (DoD) has sounded an alarm about the endangered health of our nation?s youth. In fact, it was the testimony of Major General Lewis B. Hershey, then head of the U.S. Selective Service Administration, and work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that won passage of legislation that inaugurated the national school lunch program in 1946 (2). Individual states and the USDA had first responded in the early 1930s to the growing problem of malnutrition, largely a result of food shortages and distribution problems during the Great Depression, by establishing regional school breakfast and lunch programs (3). However, these programs declined during WWII, and by 1946, the DoD reported that a shocking four in five Americans were unfit for military service, the primary cause being malnutrition. In signing the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Program legislation, President Harry Truman commented that ?In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more prosperous than its farmers.? America?s youth, regardless of family income, were assured at least one healthy meal a day, and farmers were guaranteed a substantial market for their commodities. Except for an austere cost-cutting downturn in funding in the 1980s (older ASPB members may recall when ketchup was declared to be a vegetable?), the program has grown steadily to the point at which it now gives 31 million children a daily meal.
I'm quite sure the wingnuts above would look at what's in that link and only focus on the problem with obese children now that was the initial point of discussion in the post, and use it to claim it means they don't need any help, rather than acknowledging it means all they have access to is cheap, unhealthy, fattening fast food and that something needs to be done about that as well.
Conservatives have been using race baiting and trying to pit working Americans against each other with language like what was used in the segment above and paint African Americans as lazy, welfare collecting bums who just want to mooch off of the government for decades. They don't even seem to be concerned about throwing out the dog whistles these days and are just demonizing everyone now. It's quite astounding just how much of the electorate they're willing to turn off and piss off if enough people actually had a chance to watch this garbage and the hundreds of segments just like it Fox churns out every week.
Republicans like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are basically saying the same thing Hoenig did here with their goal of destroying our social safety nets. They're just a little more subtle about it.
New Captain ScarletInstrument of DestructionPart 1Part 2 below the fold. Part 2[...]
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This is about as outraged I've seen a straight news article get about the foreclosure crisis, with particular scorn reserved for Bank of America.[...]
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Cue the talk about "finishing the mission":
Gunmen launched multiple attacks in the Afghan capital Kabul on Sunday, assaulting Western embassies in the heavily guarded, central diplomatic area and at the parliament in the west, witnesses and officials said.
Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for the assault, one of the boldest on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the group from power in 2001.
Ben Farmer, reporting from the scene described the speed of the security force's response to the well planned attacks:?The Afghan forces sadly have quite a lot of experience in dealing with these attacks and moved very quickly to surround the buildings. I saw Afghan commandoes and snipers take positions around a building overlooking the diplomatic district.?
After initial bursts of gunfire and what may have been rocket propelled grenades there is now a lull in the fighting possibly suggesting that the assault on Kabul has become a siege situation.
The Guardian is live blogging events. Reportedly, Hamid Karzai's presidential palace has also been attacked.
Once more -- Hilary Rosen was right. Ann Romney is a kept woman who has never had to worry, fret, budget -- or work -- a single day of her pampered, indulged, catered-to existence.
Now we find out that her husband finds women who don't work outside the home wholly without dignity:
In case you can't watch video online, here is what he said:
"I wanted to increase the work requirement," said Romney. "I said, for instance, that even if you have a child 2 years of age, you need to go to work. And people said, 'Well that's heartless.' And I said, 'No, no, I'm willing to spend more giving day care to allow those parents to go back to work. It'll cost the state more providing that daycare, but I want the individuals to have the dignity of work."
I realize that Mitt just makes shit up and says whatever he thinks the audience he is in front of at the moment wants to hear. I realize he is totally devoid of a moral core. I realize that he has no real convictions or principles.
But even someone as banal and phony as Mitt has to realize that he's taken so many positions that if he really managed to hold them all, we would have to toss the laws of physics, starting with Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.
There is a war on women, and the GOP is waging it. But more than that, women like Ann Romney are collaborators with the enemy and won't be getting a vigorous defense from me -- or any sympathy for their plight -- when they wake up in Gilead one of these mornings.
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Somehow Wall Street always has an answer for why they're paying out more money and this year is no different. What I keep missing is all of the money they paid back for bonuses based on the garbage that was wiped off of their books. The selling went on for years yet none of them ever paid back a dime but then opened their hands for bailouts by taxpayers.
There can be absolutely no justification for any of them making money until they come clean with those payments but that will never happen. Life must be good when you own the government and you can call the shots.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein's compensation increased 14.5 percent to $16.2 million in 2011 despite a sharp decline in profits and share price during the year, leaving the bank open to more attacks on its pay policies.
Blankfein's pay boost includes stock awards from previous years that vested in 2011, and therefore does not reflect the amount that Goldman's board awarded him strictly for the company's performance last year.