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Oilsands PR battle goes after Chiquita bananas

Kenyon Wallace, Toronto Star
The public relations battle over Canada’s oilsands has reached new heights with the Harper government setting its sights on an unlikely foe: Chiquita bananas.

Several high-profile government MPs, including Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, have urged Canadians not to buy bananas distributed by Chiquita Brands International after the Ohio-based company said it would avoid using fuel for its trucks derived from Alberta’s oilsands.

And now the pro-oilsands group is taking the fight to the airwaves with the launch of a new radio ad this week urging consumers to stop buying bananas or premade salads from Chiquita, a company the group calls a “foreign bully.”

“The Chiquita banana company says it’s boycotting oil from Canada’s oilsands. Apparently they like oil from OPEC dictatorships better,” an announcer’s voice says over orchestra music. “While they boycott Canada’s oilsands, you can boycott them. Don’t buy Chiquita bananas or Fresh Express salads at your grocery store.”

The 30-second ad also reminds listeners that the company was fined $25 million in 2007 after it admitted to paying a Colombian militia that had been deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. government for protection in a farming area rife with civil unrest.

“We want to send a strong message to Chiquita that Canadians are proud of their oil industry,” said spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall. “If companies want to start targeting oil producing nations, why don’t they go after Saudi Arabia, Nigeria or Venezuela? … This is just pure and simple greenwashing. If Chiquita really cared about human rights and the environment, they would go after the real offenders.” was originally a blog highlighting arguments for oil produced from Canada’s tarsands. The blog was started by Alykhan Velshi, former communications director for Kenney who now works in a planning capacity for the Prime Minister’s Office.

Chiquita spokesman Ed Loyd characterized the campaign to boycott his company’s products as “misinformation.” He told the Star on Monday that his company is by no means boycotting Canadian oil, but merely asking transportation carriers to use fuel from sources that have a lower carbon footprint than the oil sands.
(19 December 2011)
Suggested by EB contributor gildone.

Permafrost thaw — just how scary is it?

Brad Plumer, Wonkblog, Washington Post
One of the least understood — and one of the more unnerving — facets of climate change is the question of what will happen as the Arctic region heats up and permafrost in places like Alaska and Siberia thaws out. There’s a whole lot of carbon locked up in all that frozen soil and organic matter. And, as the frost melts, that carbon will enter the atmosphere, most of it as carbon dioxide, but some of it transformed by bacteria into methane, an even more powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas. That, in turn, will warm the planet further. It’s a potent feedback mechanism, and scientists still aren’t sure just how potent it might be.

Currently, permafrost thaw isn’t very well incorporated into existing climate models. …

So how worried should we be? Over the weekend, Justin Gillis had a beautifully reported piece in The New York Times on the permafrost question that summed up what scientists do and don’t know: “In the minds of most experts, the chief worry is not that the carbon in the permafrost will break down quickly — typical estimates say that will take more than a century, perhaps several — but that once the decomposition starts, it will be impossible to stop.” There’s no looming apocalypse, but melting permafrost could make it much harder to avoid setting the planet down a path of irrevocable warming.
(19 December 2011)
From Nature: Permafrost science heats up in the United States

Melting Permafrost (Part 3)

John Carlos Baez, Azimuth
Melting permafrost is in the news! Check out this great slide show and article:

• Josh Hane, Hunting for clues to global warming, New York Times, 16 December 2011.

• Justin Gillis, As permafrost thaws, scientists study the risks, New York Times, 16 December 2011.

They track Katey M. Walter Anthony, an assistant professor at the Water and Environmental Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as she studies methane bubbling up from lakes—as shown above.

… Permafrost is rock-hard and solid. Liquid water does not pass through it, so permafrost environments tend to be poorly drained and boggy. But when permafrost starts to melt, it becomes soft. Soil sinks down into marshy hollows separated by small hills, forming a kind of terrain called thermokarst.

… So, please don’t misunderstand: I’m not trying to say that thermokarst lakes, drunken forests and the like are signs of disaster. However, as the Earth warms, new regions of permafrost are melting, and we’ll see these phenomena in new regions. We need to understand how they work, and the positive and negative feedbacks. For example, thermokarst lakes are darker than their surroundings, so they absorb more sunlight and warm the area.

Most importantly, as permafrost thaws, it releases trapped carbon in the form of carbon dioxide and methane, which are both greenhouse gases. Since there are roughly 1.7 trillion tons of carbon in northern soils, with about 90% locked in permafrost, that’s a big deal.

At least once so far, the tundra has even caught fire …

About John Baez

I’m a mathematical physicist. I teach at U.C. Riverside. I’m about to make a big career shift. I’ve been working on n-categories and fundamental physics, but now I want to work on more practical things, too.

Why? I keep realizing more and more that our little planet is in deep trouble! The deep secrets of math and physics are endlessly engrossing — but they can wait, and other things can’t.

Since July 2010 I’ve been working at the Centre for Quantum Technologies, which is located in Singapore. I’ll stay there until the end of July 2012. This will be a good time to change gears and try something new.

I plan to talk about many things on this blog: from math to physics to earth science and biology, computer science and the technologies of today and tomorrow – but in general, centered around the theme of what scientists can do to help save a planet in crisis.
(19 December 2011)
More links, photos and explanations at the original. Good luck to John in his career change! -BA

Keystone XL: The Persistent Illusion Of Jobs, Jobs And More Jobs

Tom Zeller Jr., Huffington Post
Although the Senate and the House are facing off over legislation that would extend the payroll tax cut, it now seems certain that any compromise will contain a provision — one staunchly insisted upon by Republicans in both chambers — that President Obama make a decision on the long-disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline within 60 days.

The nominal reason offered by supporters of the provision is that the project would create jobs — roughly 20,000 of them, according to the number most often used these days.

But that number, like so much else attending the Keystone XL project, has been a matter of intense debate, and it’s difficult to imagine that the real motive behind the 60-day provision is anything but partisan gamesmanship. It is at least as pure as the Obama administration’s own decision early last month to postpone any ruling on the proposed pipeline until early 2013 — which just so happened to be after next year’s presidential contest.

… To recap, the Keystone XL pipeline project, first proposed more than three years ago, would deliver heavy crude from a vast oil patch in Alberta to refineries and ports on the Texas Gulf Coast. The oil resource itself — a viscous mix of sand, rock and hydrocarbons known as “oil sands,” or more pejoratively “tar sands” — is irksome to environmentalists for a variety of reasons, from the destructive strip mining needed to extract the goop, to the vast amounts of water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions that accompany its processing into useable fuel.

… The Keystone XL tug-of-war is not really about putting Americans back to work any more than it’s about averting environmental Armageddon. The jobs would be negligible and the environmental risks are more or less on par with the thousands of pipelines, trucks, trains and tanker ships already feeding the nation’s staggering thirst for oil — which sits at nearly 20 million barrels a day, or roughly a quarter of the daily world total.

This debate pits rich and powerful fossil fuel interests, which, for both good and ill, have shaped and dominated the last century of American economic, industrial and political life, against a growing swell of citizens who insist that it’s high time — for the sake of the planet and everyone who breathes — to turn the page and support cleaner alternatives.

Both sides have drawn a line on this one, and that line is Keystone.
(21 December 2011)