by Angela Lovell

Apr 22, 2011

Radiation levels in Canada/US may be higher than we are being told.

Not the most optimistic post for Earth Day I will admit, but recently I have come across a number of online blog posts (which have been reproduced in various forms in a number of places) with startling headlines such as “DEADLY US/CANADIAN GOVERNMENT COVER-UP of DEADLY RADIATION HITTING NORTH AMERICA!”

I am apt to be highly cynical of headlines like this and generally just move on, but in this case I decided to dig a little deeper, possibly because the implications of such sensationalist headlines being true was somewhat unnerving to say the least.

My first stop was at a German website, BfS (The Federal Office for Radiation Protection) which was mentioned in one of the posts. Here I came across a graphical representation of the spread of radioactive materials released from the Fukushima nuclear plants in the days following the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, as detected by global monitoring stations. As you will see below, this, in itself, makes quite an impact in terms of the potential global consequences of the Japanese disaster - click on the image to play the animation.

Although the above graph doesn’t indicate radiation levels, other graphs on the same website show concentration levels of iodine 131 and Caesium 137 (two of the radioactive isotopes which pose the greatest health risk to humans). Elsewhere on the site there are reassurances that the levels detected pose no serious health risk in Germany and Europe (translated from the page):
“The BfS does not assume, due to the spacious distribution and dilution of the radioactive substances in the atmosphere released by the accident in Japan, that radioactive loads will enter in Germany in health-relevant levels. What radiation doses are to be expected in Europe? Radioactive substances released into the atmosphere are distributed by wind. The concentration of radioactive substances become less harmful to health and the environment with increasing distance from the site of the accident. The concentration of radioactive substances also declines as some radionuclides disintegrate over time as the materials are transported through the atmosphere over long distances. This applies, for example, to radioactive iodine. Also the washing of radioactive particles from the atmosphere with each precipitation reduces the quantity of radioactivity. This leads to the fact that in Europe the radioactivity can be measured, but no health effects are to be expected.”
I found similar assurances on Health Canada’s Radiation Monitoring Data website, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organisation, which stated:
“Thus far, there are no health risks to people living in other countries from radioactive material released into the atmosphere from the Japanese nuclear power plants. Radiation levels measured to date in other countries are far below the level of background radiation that most people are exposed to in every day circumstances.”
So how was it that I then began to unearth stories like this?

“Japan nuclear fallout radiation in US rainwater now several thousand percent above drinking water limits.”

This story presented data from no less than the US Environmental Protection Agency, which had found elevated levels of iodine-131 in rainwater in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, which it admitted exceeded normal background levels for these areas.

A press release from Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, showed radiation levels 3300% higher than the federal drinking water standard, although he was quoted as saying, “Rainwater is not typically directly consumed. However, people might get alarmed by making what would be an inappropriate connection from rainwater to drinking water. By testing the drinking water, we can assure people that the water is safe.”

Excuse me?

So, who to believe, especially in light of the information that the United States and Canada have actually raised the legal limits of acceptable radiation exposure. Why?

Then I found a video clip (below) by a geo-scientist named Leuren Moret, which went a long way to explaining a few things.

After watching this (and a number of other clips by Moret) and digging around further on the subject, I had to conclude that, sensationalist as the headlines may be, the true story behind them, whether you choose to believe it or not, is just outright chilling.

Moret asserts that the levels of radiation reaching the Northern Hemisphere (and which will eventually permeate the Southern Hemisphere too) are grossly understated and that the western coast of the United States and Canada have received levels that are far in excess of safe limits and will have devastating implications for human health in the years ahead.

“We in North America are facing a terrible tragedy that will affect all of us and in the years to come there will be a very serious health crisis in the western regions of North America,” says Moret.
In an earlier video clip from March 20 (see below) she explains in detail the sequence of events that occurred in the nuclear reactors at Fukushima following the earthquake and tsunami, how events unfolded and what that means in terms of wider, global consequences for the environment and human health.

Moret has calculated that in just one of the nuclear reactors that exploded at Fukushima (and there were three in total) there was material equivalent to 96,000 nuclear bombs of the intensity used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That radioactive material has been released into the atmosphere and poses a much greater risk than governments are trying to present, says Moret.

“What is happening is that radioactive particles, particulates, gases and liquids released from Fukushima are being transported across the Pacific Ocean and are then moving down the Pacific coast. What these plumes and clouds are made of are billions...of radioactive particles...and depending on the half life of the element that forms the particulate...these tracks represent, under the right circumstances, a cancer, each one of them.”
Moret goes on to predict that eventually the incidence of diseases and illnesses around the world, as a result of the fallout from Fukushima, will be worse than Chernobyl. This radiation, she says, will eventually affect the whole globe and will contaminate everything in it, bacteria, plants, fish, animals and humans. The severity will depend on wind patterns and weather conditions in a particular region, and rainfall or snow (which she describes as a particularly effective scavenger of radioactive particles) will introduce the radioactive contaminants into lake, rivers and groundwater.

Grim stuff indeed.

Moret also expounds some interesting theories about the cause of the earthquake (and other similar events that have occurred worldwide). I don’t want to open that debate here, not because her arguments aren’t plausible, but because of the abject causal inhumanity that acceptance of them precludes. I’m not sure I am ready to deal with that realisation as yet. You must judge for yourself.

What is extremely plausible, however, coming from an accomplished and knowledgeable geo-scientist, with years of experience in the world of nuclear physics, is the extent of the accident at Fukushima and its global consequences in terms of environmental contamination and human health.

I would dearly like to dismiss Moret and her ilk as, at best alarmists and at worst, complete kooks, but I can’t. In fact I haven’t been able to find too many people who can or have, which is odd in itself.

In my own mind all I can know is that I have ample proof that self-interested governments lie and conspire with the powerful “friends” who help them get elected. So it’s not much of a stretch to believe the cover-up part of this story.

Motivation? That’s a bit harder to figure out. Perhaps not wanting to alarm the population and the need to keep people blissfully unaware, consuming and paying taxes outweighs the percentage of the population that needs to be sacrificed to do this.

After all, again we have plenty of evidence that making people sick can be immensely profitable to some and treating their illnesses is fairly lucrative too.

And maintaining the status quo in terms of energy has some pretty big players yielding some intimidating chess pieces.

Meanwhile the pawns should maybe invest in Geiger counters.

Copyright2011, Angela Lovell.

Apr 19, 2011

Where is our Green Energy Policy?

I read a really good post on the David Suzuki Foundation website a few days ago about the lack of discussion in the debates amongst our wannabe political leaders on the subject of renewable energy. The article points out the dismally small amount of investment that Canada has so far made in "greener" energy alternatives.

"Data from a recent study shows that U.S. and China have spent the equivalent of about $360 and $187 per capita respectively in climate change-related infrastructure projects in 2009, while Canada only invested $87 per capita. Canada's failure to match U.S. clean energy investments in recent years has cost our country 66,000 jobs."

Meanwhile: According to Climate Change Network, the Canadian Government provides around $1.38 billion a year in oil production subsidies.

$1.38 billion per year means:

$3,780,822 per day.
$157,534 per hour.
$2,625.57 per minute.
$43.76 per second

Meanwhile: According to the Canadian Oilsands 2010 Annual Report, net income for the year was up 105% to $886 million. This, says the report was thanks to "Higher revenue from strong oil prices and increased  sales volumes". Sales volumes were up 4.3% thanks to "Higher reliability and less extensive upgrader maintenance".

Image: Canadian Oil

In other words, thanks for all the public investment you generous Canadians, now it's just getting cheaper for us corporations to extract the black stuff.

But, given that without a profit incentive there is no investment, it's hard to understand why the Canadian government isn't taking a long, hard look at the economic activity and jobs that would be created as a result of developing a "green" energy economy.

Meanwhile: China and other countries aren't being as short-sighted. According to the WWF World Energy Report 2011:
"China recently announced plans to invest five trillion yuan (around 580 billion Euros) in a new 10-year alternative energy programme that will create 15 million jobs. Germany already employs about 300,000 people in the renewable energy sector."
Meanwhile: The one political leader who has so far been excluded from the televised election debates represents the only party with a good record when it comes to advocating green energy policies.

In an Election Report Card released today by Sierra Club Canada gives the Green Party of Canada an A Grade when it comes to environmental issues. The Conservative party gets a D-, the Liberals a C, and the NDP and Bloc Quebecois both scored a B-.

Meanwhile: The clock keeps ticking towards a world where oil isn't going to be any where near as abundant or cheap as it is now.

Meanwhile: Politicians keep burying their heads in the oil-soaked sand in the reassuring certainty that it will be someone else's problem after their elected term is over.

Meanwhile: Corporate executives gleefully report record profits to their shareholders so they can keep warm and snug in their Lexus on the way to the airport for their holiday in the Bahamas.

Meanwhile: What colour are you going to vote on May 2?

Copyright2011, Angela Lovell.

Apr 16, 2011

Texans are in a rush

With Peak Oil looming somewhere on the not-too-distant horizon it would appear that the US state of Texas is in a race to get there sooner than anyone else.

According to a recent article at Treehugger, Texans may soon be able to hurtle along in their longhorn-adorned Chevvie Silverados at 85 miles per hour.

Says author, Lloyd Alter: 
One might think that in an era of dependence on foreign sources of gasoline, and the wars being fought in oil-rich countries like Iraq or Libya, that it might be in everyone's interest to use a little bit less of the stuff. Or that we should perhaps be reducing our output of greenhouse gases a bit because it is getting awfully hot and dry in Texas. Or one might even give a thought to the fact that in an era of rising health care costs, measures that reduced the carnage on the roads might be welcome.

Raising the speed limit (as Texans are considering doing) to 85 mph isn't exactly going to do much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Data from the EPA shows that fuel efficiency of automobiles generally peaks at around 55 mph and that "gas mileage usually decreses rapidly at speeds over 60 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas."

It has been suggested that reducing the speed limit back to 55 mph could reduce CO2 emissions by 30% , but it's hard to sell that kind of austerity to a nation as car-obsessed as the USA. Could there be a deeper psychology at work here?

I'll let Joe Diffie here tell ya'll about that:

Copyright2011, Angela Lovell.

Apr 15, 2011

Does Voluntourism Help or Hurt?

A guest post by Alexis Bonari.

Voluntourism -- the practice of combining travel opportunities with volunteer opportunities -- has become an increasingly popular phenomenon, with travel agents and charities both promoting the opportunities. Many see it as a great way to meet the demands of their busy schedules by combining their desire to travel with their desire to do something helpful. However, there is a growing chorus of criticism about the practice, which some decry as more harmful than helpful. Here is a look at some of the arguments:

The Cons

Ill-equipped volunteers. Many short-term volunteers are sent to countries whose culture and language they know little or nothing about, making them unable to contribute or to interact in a meaningful way. Volunteers also do not often have meaningful skills to help make real change. Most volunteers are relegated to labor-intensive tasks such as renovating public buildings or helping with new construction.

No long-term payoff. Because many voluntourism projects are by nature short-term -- even if they last several months -- it is difficult for any work they do to affect real change. For example, volunteers who teach English for a week or even a couple of weeks will only realistically help students practice their conversational skills. However, revolving staff creates instability in the curriculum and degrades the quality of education the students receive.

Impact on local economy. A steady stream of volunteers can actually displace local workers, taking jobs from them and contributing to poor economic conditions in the region.

The bottom line. Organizing and hosting volunteers can create more overhead costs for charitable organizations and can strain local resources. Volunteers would do better to take the money they spend on the trip and donate it to local aid organizations, which would make a more significant impact on long-term aid and development.

The Benefits

Better awareness. Volunteers -- even those working on short-term projects -- get a unique opportunity to learn more about the local conditions and needs of the people in the country in which they volunteer. This insight can help them set up future projects that can have lasting impact, and it can motivate them to spread awareness about the problems in the country. Even if volunteers only come home and get others inspired to donate or to get involved, that will help lead to progress.

Meets needs. People who otherwise would not have time to volunteer are able to find a way to be helpful by combining their travel and their philanthropic pursuits. If done thoughtfully and properly, this volunteer work can provide some short-term relief.

Overall, any volunteer activity needs to be considered carefully before you commit. Be sure that your contribution will not be doing more harm than good, and be sure that you are just indulging in activity that will make you feel good about the idea of doing good. Look for real ways to make an impact -- even if it means writing a check from the comfort of your home and spending your week of vacation in Hawaii instead!

Alexis Bonari is currently a resident blogger at College Scholarships, where recently she’s been researching asthma scholarships as well as tips on getting at risk student scholarships for at risk students. Whenever this WAHM gets some free time she enjoys doing yoga, cooking with the freshest organic in-season fare, and practicing the art of coupon clipping.

Apr 13, 2011

Our cows are greener than your cows

Canadian cattle are greener than their counterparts in warmer climates, according to a new study that has found cattle emit less methane in the winter than in the summer.
The study was conducted at the University of Manitoba by former master's student, Jenilee Bernier, who grew up on a cattle farm in the north interlake region of Manitoba, and who is now a forage and beef specialist with the provincial government.

The groundbreaking study showed that cattle emit 27 per cent less methane in the winter months, partly due to physiological changes that have evolved to acclimatize cattle to extended periods of time outside during cold, prairie winters.

It also discovered that cows pee less in winter - producing on average 1.3 litres less urine per day than during the fall.

All of which goes some way to vindicating the much vilified cow, which, considering the amount of nutrition it gives us, has taken more than its fair share of heat for everything from greenhouse gas emissions to groundwater contamination.

Whilst our bovine friends (on the Canadian Prairies at least) are basking in their new-found glory, it might be a good time to remind ourselves that the environmental degradation and health scares often associated with the products they give us are more often a result of the people who raise and process them than the poor animals themselves.

Copyright2011, Angela Lovell.

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