Quicker than ever

Dr Schmidt of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences said: “Ocean acidification has happened before sometimes with large consequences for marine ecosystems.  But within the last 300 million years, never has the rate of ocean acidification been comparable to the ongoing acidification.” She added that the most comparable event, most likely 10 times slower than the current acidification, was 55 million years ago. “At that time, species responded to the warming, acidification, change in nutrient input and loss of oxygen – the  same processes that we now see in our oceans.  The geological record shows changes in species distribution, changes in species composition, changes in calcification and growth and in a few cases extinction,” she said. “Our current acidification rates are unparalleled in Earth history and lead most ecosystems into unknown territory.” That rate of change was echoed by Dr Claudine Hauri, an oceanographer from the University of Alaska Fairbanks: “The waters up and down the coast from our conference site here in Monterey Bay are particularly prone to the effects of ocean acidification.  The chemistry of these waters is changing at such a rapid pace that organisms now experience conditions that are different from what they have experienced in the past. And within about 20 or 30 years, the chemistry again will be different from that of even today.” Source


Prerequisites for climbing Everest: “enthusiasm” and “the potential to walk”

Lakpa Rita, the top sherpa for Seattle-based Alpine Ascents, was the first to see it. Just visible in the glow of his frost-covered headlamp, a body dangled from a fixed line. This was the second corpse his team had met on their overnight summit bid.

It was 4:30 a.m. on May 20, just beyond Everest’s South Summit, the dramatic rise and dip at 28,700 feet where climbers swap in fresh oxygen cylinders for the final push to the top. The frozen body hung from a line strung along the knife-edge ridge that leads to the Hillary Step, a 40-foot cliff 100 feet below the summit. Lakpa Rita, 47, and Garrett Madison, 33, the company’s head guide, paused to consider the unfortunate soul for a moment. The wind whipped by at nearly gale force. The sun, still below the horizon, barely brightened the fierce lenticular cloud that wrapped the upper mountain.

In tight formation with Madison and Lakpa Rita were six clients from the U.S., Britain, and Australia, a third guide, 46-year-old Jose Luis Peralvo of Ecuador, and six veteran climbing Sherpas. Later they would learn that the dead man was a German doctor named Eberhard Schaaf, who’d arrived at the summit the previous afternoon. Schaaf, 61, was guided by two Sherpas from a Nepal-based outfitter called Asian Trekking, and he likely succumbed to cerebral edema during his descent. The Sherpas had stayed with him for hours before one and then the other left to save themselves.

Madison’s group had avoided the crowds by going up on the night of the 19th, in worsening weather. For them, Schaaf presented a different kind of problem: he was blocking the way. “Lakpa went up and cut him off the fixed line,” Madison recalls. Schaaf’s body tumbled 15 feet down Everest’s southwest face, stopping among some rocks.

All night, the Alpine Ascents group had met with the carnage of the previous day, when four climbers died along the 29,035-foot mountain’s most popular route—the Southeast Ridge, which ascends the Nepalese side from the foot of the Khumbu Glacier. In addition to Schaaf, they were Nepali-Canadian Shriya Shah, 33, Korean Song Won-bin, 44, and Chinese Ha Wenyi, 55. There were other fatalities as well—two on the mountain’s north side and four earlier in the season—along with serious injuries that resulted in roughly two dozen helicopter evacuations. In all, 10 people perished on Everest in April and May of 2012, making it the third deadliest spring season on record, behind 1996’s total of 12 and 2006’s total of 11.

The Alpine Ascents team encountered all four of the doomed May 19 climbers on its way up, either dead (Schaaf and Shah), too far gone to rescue (Song), or not yet in distress (Ha). Had Madison and Lakpa Rita believed they could help Song, they would have been duty-bound to try. “Since there was nothing we could do,” client Rob Sobecki later blogged, “we carried on climbing upwards.”

In the days that followed, the international media would seize upon these deaths as the latest proof of a now familiar claim: that the climbing scene on Everest is out of control. Flocks of ill-prepared novices were crowding into Base Camp, paying outfitters between $30,000 and $120,000 for what, to a lot of sane people, looked like assisted suicide.

Comparisons between this single-day tragedy and the one that claimed the lives of five clients and three guides in 1996—and led to Outside’s publication of Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air”—were on the lips of commentators from CNN to NPR. Even in the climbing community, which is still deeply divided by the differing accounts of the 1996 episode, people began to ask: Has anything changed?

I was embedded on Everest with a team of climbers, the four Americans of the Eddie Bauer First Ascent West Ridge expedition: David Morton, Jake Norton, Charley Mace, and Brent Bishop. Unlike Krakauer in ’96, I wasn’t trying to climb the mountain, which left me free to roam Base Camp reporting on the season’s events.

What I saw was a situation that resembled ’96 in some respects but in most ways did not. As happened back then, some of the 2012 teams lost precious time waiting in long lines in the Death Zone, above 26,000 feet, and summited too late in the day. But 2012’s victims weren’t caught by a freak, fast-moving storm. Their deaths were the result of exhaustion, climbing too slowly, ignoring serious altitude sickness, and refusing to turn around—which is to say, the steady toll of human error. Nobody was killed by the mountain’s roulette wheel of hazards such as rockfall, avalanches, and blizzards.

This matters because it points to a new status quo on Everest: the routinization of high-altitude death. By and large, the people running the show these days on the south side of Everest—the professional guides, climbing Sherpas, and Nepali officials who control permits—do an excellent job of getting climbers to the top and down again. Indeed, a week after this year’s blowup, another hundred people summited on a single bluebird day, without a single death or serious injury.

But that doesn’t mean Everest is being run rationally. There are no prerequisites for how much experience would-be climbers must have and no rules to say who can be an outfitter. Many of the best alpinists in the world still show up in Base Camp every spring. But, increasingly, so do untrained, unfit people who’ve decided to try their hand at climbing and believe that Everest is the most exciting place to start. And while some of the more established outfitters might turn them away, novices are actively courted by cut-rate start-up companies that aren’t about to refuse the cash.

It’s a recipe that doesn’t require a storm to kill people. In this regard, things are much different now than in the past: they’re worse.


Going down right now

Here is a summary of where the world stands:


‘I feel more fulfilled without the internet’

The last time I was allowed to access the internet was several moments before the police came through my door in the Shetland Isles, over a year ago. During the past 12 months I have pleaded guilty to computer misuse under the banners of “Internet Feds”, “Anonymous” and “LulzSec”. One of my co-defendants and I have also been indicted with the same charge in the United States, where we may possibly be extradited, and if found guilty I could face several decades in an American prison. Now I am on conditional bail and have to wear an electronic tag around my ankle. I’m forbidden from accessing the internet.

I’m often asked: what is life like without the net? It seems strange that humans have evolved and adapted for thousands of years without this simple connectivity, and now we in modern society struggle to comprehend existence without it. In a word, life is serene. I now find myself reading newspapers as though they weren’t ancient scrolls; entering real shops with real money in order to buy real products, and not wishing to Photoshop a cosmic being of unspeakable horror into every possible social situation. Nothing needs to be captioned or made into an elaborate joke to impress a citizenry whose every emotion is represented by a sequence of keystrokes.

Things are calmer, slower and at times, I’ll admit, more dull. I do very much miss the instant companionship of online life, the innocent chatroom palaver, and the ease with which circles with similar interests can be found. Of course, there are no search terms in real life – one actually has to search. However, there is something oddly endearing about being disconnected from the digital horde.

It is not so much the sudden simplicity of daily life – as you can imagine, trivial tasks have been made much more difficult – but the feeling of being able to close my eyes without being bombarded with flashing shapes or constant buzzing sounds, which had occurred frequently since my early teens and could only be attributed to perpetual computer marathons. Sleep is now tranquil and uninterrupted and books seem far more interesting. The paranoia has certainly vanished. I can only describe this sensation as the long-awaited renewal of a previously diminished attention span.

For it is our attention spans that have suffered the most. Our lives are compressed into short, advertisement-like bursts or “tweets”. The constant stream of drivel fills page after page, eating away at our creativity. If hashtags were rice grains, do you know how many starving families we could feed? Neither do I – I can’t Google it.

A miracle cure or some kind of therapeutic brilliance are not something I could give, but I can confidently say that a permanent lack of internet has made me a more fulfilled individual. And as one of many kids glued to their screens every day, I would never before have imagined myself even thinking those words. Before, the idea of no internet was inconceivable, but now – not to sound as though it’s some kind of childish and predictable revelation spawned as a result of going cold turkey – I look back on the transcripts of my online chats (produced as legal evidence in my case, in great numbers) and wonder what all the fuss was about.

It’s not my place to speculate on whether or not the hacker community should stop taking itself so seriously, but I certainly became entangled within it and had forgotten how easy it was simply to close a laptop lid.

I hope, then, that others in a similar situation may decide to take a short break from the web (perhaps just for a week) and see if similar effects are found. It can’t hurt to try.

via My life after LulzSec: 'I feel more fulfilled without the internet' | Technology | The Observer.

Weekend Walk 39 – Beaulieu to Lymington – The Solent Way

From the Hampshire village of Beaulieu to the town of Lymington, the Solent Way proceeds south then west. At first it follows the bank of the Beaulieu River to Bucklers Hard, where many of Nelson’s fleet was built. Two unique terraces of Georgian houses survive. The path then head inland to St Leonards Grange, Sowley and Walhampton, with its oversized monument. The walk finishes in maritime Lymington, with cobbled streets and historic quay. It was surprising to see the wild (if owned) donkeys of the New Forest right there on the streets of Beaulieu. While much of this stage is on tarmac, the lanes were quiet even on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Ramsdean Walk

Wanting to explore the area to the north of Butser Hill, east of East Meon, south of Stroud, we parked in the small Hampshire village of Ramsdean. The area is more varied than is often found around the South Downs, with small streams, undulating countryside and ancient lanes between meadows and copses. The track from Ramsdean to Stroud (pr. strood) is a delight, with warn stone underfoot and steep banks up to beeches overhanging the path. Very hobbit-like. We turned north off the track towards Langrish, up through meadows with great views of Butser Hill behind us. Then down through Mustercoombe Copse almost as far as Stroud, meeting a herd of cows, both curious and literally shit scared of us. Then it was back onto the ancient track to the village with its cottages and farms.

AllAfrica.com: “We produce sufficiently for everyone on earth to have enough food, yet despite this cornucopia a significant proportion of people cannot afford to eat properly. Why?”

Food prices are rapidly heading toward new record territory, with far more at play than a simple drought in the US Midwest. There are serious implications, especially for nations with high rates of inequality and poverty. We will almost certainly face a potentially catastrophic, global scale famine in the next couple of decades.

The main reason there are now over seven billion people on earth is largely due to the emergence of two separate technologies. Firstly, cheap fossil fuels have enabled us to grow food on industrial scales. We presently require around 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of food. A century ago each calorie of energy expended produced two calories of food. Secondly, advances in health care, primarily antibiotics and vaccines, have increased human life-spans.

It is an increasing challenge to feed this exponentially increasing population. We produce sufficiently for everyone on earth to have enough food, yet despite this cornucopia a significant proportion of people cannot afford to eat properly. Why?

There are three major reasons for this. Firstly, unequal wealth distribution. Secondly, meat consumption has grown as wealth has increased. Grazing area for meat production, mainly beef, uses more than a quarter of ice-free land surface. Additionally, more than a third of all cropland is used to grow crops to feed livestock. These are produced using energy intensive, industrial agricultural practices.

Third, the risks associated with diminishing energy supplies has encouraged wealthy governments to promote the production and consumption of “biofuels”. These are produced from agricultural resources such as sugar cane, beet, maize, soy, and oil crops such as palm oil and canola.

This focus on biofuels – which opponents prefer to call agro-fuels because of their propensity to divert scarce agricultural resources toward fuel crops – has caused an unprecedented shift in focus in agricultural production from food production to growing fuel crops.

As a result swathes of sensitive ecosystems have been destroyed to be planted by monocultures like palm oil, sugar cane, maize and soy. High oil prices have provided a potent economic incentive to underpin this ecologically disastrous shift. This destruction is occurring from the jungles of Indonesia – displacing iconic species like ourang-outang – to West Africa, where local communities are expelled in order to attract “foreign investment” and plant agrofuel crops.

Biofuel production has a clear impact on global food reserves, which are presently approaching historical lows. Last year nearly 40% of the US maize crop went into ethanol for fuel. Because the US is the world’s largest maize producer this has serious implications for global food trade. This is especially so in light of this year’s serious drought across the Midwest. Maize prices have risen to record levels, nearly double that of last year.

High oil prices will maintain demand for maize ethanol, perpetuating the insanity of food for fuel. The global trade in these commodity crops is dominated by three corporations – Cargill, Bunge and Archer Daniel Midland – each deeply involved in both ethanol production and market hedging and speculation.

This commodification of food leaves food security at the mercy of the market. There is no central global oversight or planning to secure sufficient food stocks as a buffer. Food is controlled by the market, not by logic, and certainly not by benevolence.

One solution proposed by the neo-liberal interests such as the G8 and the elitist World Economic Forum is to modernise agriculture throughout the developing world, particularly in Africa, where production has historically lagged international norms. This solution is modelled on imposing high-cost, high-input agricultural practices, reliant on fertilisers, hybrid and genetically modified sees, increased mechanisation and use of pesticides and chemicals on vulnerable economic and agricultural systems.

The poor inevitably fall victim to this inequity. Peasant farmers are forced to seek loans to secure their position on the industrial agricultural treadmill. When crops fail, their land is lost to consolidated industrial agricultural interests which wrings profits from the land at the cost of biodiversity and social stability.

Huge swathes of land have already been absorbed in land grabs by foreign governments, private entities and speculators to grow biofuel or feed and fodder crops. Displaced farmers migrate to urban areas to seek work as jobs are lost to mechanisation.

The poor majority are consequently forced into an ever bleaker reality in order to accept these market-oriented solutions to hunger, which in turn annihilates the delicate social and economic dynamics that has sustained them for countless generations.

In the West families, spend 15% of income on food – in the global South this rises to 80%. Yet the dominant economic model claims that small-scale, self-sufficient farmers do not provide any income to tax or the national balance of payments. Therefore the neo-liberal dogma insists these “worthless” farmers must modernise and adopt high input agriculture. And remember, these worthless farmers represent nearly a third of the world’s population and feed even more.

These changes add to the already profound threats to food security, social cohesion and to poverty reduction goals such as the millennium development goals. Ironically, small farming projects are far more resilient to climate instability than the intensive, industrial model being promoted.

In turn, climate change is increasingly related to instability in agricultural productivity. Sharply increased levels of carbon dioxide and more recently, methane released as the arctic fringe rapidly thaws, has exacerbated this uncertainty. This feedback spiral places agricultural production at further, direct risks.

Climate change is more about increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather events than pure “warming.” The harbingers of these changes are events like droughts in the US Midwest, Russia, South Asia, melting of the Arctic ice cap and permafrost and floods in Pakistan, Burma and North Korea.

Add to this volatile mix the predatory instincts of commodity traders seeking short-term profits in the real-time casino economy and it is clear that the poor are exposed to ever increasing, cynical levels of risk. Activism against this exploitation has brought CommerzBank and several other German banks to cease this immoral trade. However speculative traders elsewhere have no such qualms.

All of these factors add up to a perfect storm. Maize and soy prices are at record levels, above even the speculative bubble prices they reached in 2008. Wheat is headed in the same direction, as are many other key crops.

All of us will feel the impact of this perfect storm but yet again it will be the poorest amongst us who are most seriously affected. This has serious implications for social stability, especially in nations beset by the twin challenges of poverty and inequality.

Climate Change: An Information Statement of the American Meteorological Society

Here’s the final remarks from the full statement

Final remarks

There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities. This scientific finding is based on a large and persuasive body of research. The observed warming will be irreversible for many years into the future, and even larger temperature increases will occur as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. Avoiding this future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions. The ongoing warming will increase risks and stresses to human societies, economies, ecosystems, and wildlife through the 21st century and beyond, making it imperative that society respond to a changing climate. To inform decisions on adaptation and mitigation, it is critical that we improve our understanding of the global climate system and our ability to project future climate through continued and improved monitoring and research. This is especially true for smaller (seasonal and regional) scales and weather and climate extremes, and for important hydroclimatic variables such as precipitation and water availability.

Technological, economic, and policy choices in the near future will determine the extent of future impacts of climate change. Science-based decisions are seldom made in a context of absolute certainty. National and international policy discussions should include consideration of the best ways to both adapt to and mitigate climate change. Mitigation will reduce the amount of future climate change and the risk of impacts that are potentially large and dangerous. At the same time, some continued climate change is inevitable, and policy responses should include adaptation to climate change. Prudence dictates extreme care in accounting for our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life.


September is here and after the relative lull of the summer holidays, shit is going down.

The central bank of Spain just released the net capital outflow numbers and they are disastrous. During the month of June alone $70.90 billion left the Spanish banks and in July it was worse at $92.88 billion which is 4.7% of total bank deposits in Spain. For the first seven months of the year the outflow adds up to $368.80 billion or 17.7% of the total bank deposits of Spain and the trajectory of the outflow is increasing dramatically. Reality is reality and Spain is experiencing a full-fledged run on its banks whether anyone in Europe wants to admit it or not.

Moments ago the French government suddenly announced the nationalization of troubled mortgage lender Credit Immobilier de France, which is also the country’s second lagrest mortgage specialist after an attempt to find a buyer for the company failed. “To allow the CIF group to respect its overall commitments, the state decided to respond favourably to its request to grant it a guarantee,” Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said according to Reuters. What he really meant was that in order to avoid a bank run following the realization that the housing crisis has finally come home, his boss, socialist Hollande, has decided to renege on his core campaign promise, and bail out an “evil, evil” bank.

Euro-Zone youth unemployment has now ticked back up to its euro-era record-high of 22.6% (18-year highs). Only Portugal saw an improvement is the rate of unemployment among the Under-25 age group (from 37.6% to 36.4%) though it remains anarchically high. Italy was the hardest hit, back above 35% with its largest rise in youth joblessness in 5 months, Ireland rose back above 30% for its biggest rise in 11 months as France jumped to two-year highs and Spain and Greece are practically deadlocked with ~53% of their younger-generation out of work – new all-time records.

Spain’s national bank rescue fund said on Friday it will inject emergency liquidity into troubled lender Bankia immediately after the bank reported losses of over 4 billion euros ($5 billion) in the first half of 2012



The beginning of one of my favourite months of the year.

Evening at Chithurst monastery with two friends for the dhamma talk which follows some chanting (in English tonight) and forty minutes quiet sitting. Probably about fifty lay people and twenty monks. The talk was by the Abbott, some pointers for meditation practice. He always surprises me with his worldliness, speaking of browsing the internet, walking through London. A monk’s life is not entirely how I imagine. I get distracted a little from the talk by the monk’s heads. They fascinate me, their shape and hairlessness.

Afternoon at home. Made another intros video. That’s musical intros not dating intros. Discovered that youtube let it be if you use less than 30 seconds of a song, and anything over that gets picked up by their musical analysis algorithms and a copyright notice is given. They seem to let that slide to a large extent too, saying there is a claim but they will allow the video and that they might put an add next to the video. This is just a download link to iTunes. I’m enjoying selecting the music, discounting anything with vocals or voice samples in the intro, and doing it letter by letter. Today artists beginning with D.

This morning hiking with Roland who is visiting Brockwood for a little while. We drove to West Meon then hiked along the old railway then up to Old Winchester Hill. Our usual route. Chatting about this and that, seriously and light heartedly. Usually we are talking about women by the time we reach the top of the hill. After a break, we posed for photos up on the old hill fort.



Alarm is set for 0630. Want to try a regular wake up time now that it’s only getting a little light around then. Starting an Iyengar home course – more about which soon.