Subsidizing Protests

BBC News – Colombia troops to patrol Bogotá after protests.

Clashes broke out on Thursday afternoon after tens of thousands of people marched peacefully in support of a 10-day protest by small-scale farmers.

Colombia’s government deployed the military after protests became violent.  Small-scale subsistence farmers, along with students, teachers, and healthcare workers, have been protesting against the importation of cheap food from the EU and the US.

Because both the EU and the US subsidize agricultural production with payments to farmers and big agricultural producers, they are able to sell their products cheaper than most smallholders.  And countries with free-trade agreements have a hard time competing with the lost-cost products. So the Colombian government is negotiating with its farmers and has

promised more protection from products imported at lower prices from countries with free-trade agreements with Colombia.

It’s very hard for the small-scale farmers.

They say that free trade agreements with the European Union and the US, which have recently come into force, are flooding the market with agricultural products at prices they are unable to match.
They also complain that rising fuel and production costs have turned small-scale farming into a loss-making business.

Once they can’t make a living, they move into city slums, creating more hardship for themselves and their government.  How will this end?  Who will end up benefiting?  Probably not the poor farmers and those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

What the heck is Syria?


9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask

9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask.

You should read the whole article (its pretty short), and it explains the conflict.


Sierra Water-Pure No More

Rim Fire pushes deeper into Yosemite, threatens Bay Area water source - San Jose Mercury News

The largest wildfire in the United States continued its destructive march through the Sierra Nevada on Tuesday, pushing further into Yosemite National Park and for the first time burning nearly to the edge of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the linchpin of the water supply for 2.6 million Bay Area residents from San Francisco to Silicon Valley.

via Rim Fire pushes deeper into Yosemite, threatens Bay Area water source – San Jose Mercury News.

The fire has burned up almost to the lake, and ash is accumulating on the surface.  But the intake pipe for San Francisco’s water is 260 ft below the surface.  It could take a while for the ash to filter down that far.

In a race against the fire, the agency has increased water releases from Hetch Hetchy to the maximum rate possible– 302 million gallons a day. The water flows down 160 miles of gravity-fed pipes and tunnels to the Bay Area, where it is stored in Bay Area reservoirs like Crystal Springs in San Mateo County and San Antonio in Alameda County.

Because the water comes mainly from snowmelt in the Sierras, it is only treated with chloramine and ultra-violet light, but  is not filtered.  Depending on the amount of ash and the runoff from burned areas, that could change.  San Francisco does have some filtering capabilities, but is it enough for all the water they use?

Meanwhile, the fire continues to spread east  into Yosemite.

By Tuesday it had burned 41,000 acres inside the park, nearly twice as much as the day before. Most of the charred area is in the remote, northwestern corner of the park.

Much of the park remains open for visitors, but there have been fewer people entering the park.

Missing Water in the West

The recession of the massive lake that straddles Nevada and Arizona is symbolic of a long-standing problem that just got a lot worse: The Colorado River’s record-low flows and the shrunken reservoirs of lakes Mead and Powell (pictured above) for the first time have triggered big cuts in the amount of water allowed to flow downstream.

via Feds Slash Colorado River Release to Historic Lows.

Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico depend on the Colorado River water to supply electricity to light the towns and run the air conditioners, and the water to green up the desert and grow crops.  And for the past 14 years, there is less water in the river than any time in the past 1,200 years.

Lake Powell, upstream on the river, is losing most of its water to drought.  Farther down the river, Lake Mead is being sucked dry by Las Vegas and agricultural use.  Over two year’s worth of water is “missing” – 16 million acre-feet.

The Colorado River Basin “is one of the most critical sources of water in the West,” Connor said in written comments submitted to a Senate subcommittee hearing in July. The river and its tributaries quench the thirsts of 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland, plus seven national wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and 11 national parks.

If it rains and snows in above normal amounts next year, the crisis might be delayed for a while.  Several years of above-average precipitation could help to refill the lakes.  But at this point, that appears unlikely.

By current river law, Lake Mead must deliver a certain amount of water downstream, but the lake is draining faster than its refilling. At some point, if the situation doesn’t improve, the fear is it may come to deciding this: Do we cut off water supply to Las Vegas to two million people because the reservoir has dropped too low? Or does someone else pay?

Because most of the water goes to agriculture, if the drought continues there will be hard choices.  Who will win?  Who will lose?  Will people still want to move there if water usage is restricted?  What new technologies will be developed to deal with this situation?  What are you doing to conserve our natural resources?

Radioactive Japan

BBC News – Japan nuclear agency upgrades Fukushima alert level.

TEPCO and Japan have finally acknowledged the severity of the leaks from storage tanks at the severely damaged plant.  The radiation from the leak is the equivalent of getting a 5 year dose of radiation in one hour – pretty scary.

The March 2011 tsunami knocked out cooling systems to the reactors at the plant, three of which melted down.

Water is now being pumped in to cool the reactors but this means that a large amount of contaminated water has to be stored on site.

The storage tanks are leaking – into the ground.  And because the plant is situated next to the ocean, that contaminated water is flowing into the seas.

Teams of workers at the plant have surrounded the leaking tank with sandbags and have been attempting to suck up large puddles of radioactive water.

But our correspondent says it is a difficult and dangerous job. The water is so radioactive that teams must be constantly rotated and it is clear that most of the toxic water has already disappeared into the ground.

With no other options, the operators of the plant must continue to pump water in to cool the nuclear materials.  Something has to be done with all the contaminated cooling water.
What can we learn from this disaster?  Are US nuclear reactors prepared for whatever natural disasters might befall them?

iPhone, the Cloud, and Your Refrigerator


Your iPhone uses more energy than a refrigerator – The Week.

As we become more and more connected across the web, and through our phones and tablets, the cost to the environment rises accordingly.

According to a new paper by Mark Mills, CEO of Digital Power Group

The average iPhone uses more energy than a midsize refrigerator.

The paper, rather ominously titled “The Cloud Begins With Coal: Big Data, Big Networks, Big Infrastructure, and Big Power,” details how the world’s Information Communication Technology (ITC) ecosystem — which includes smartphones, those high-powered Bloomberg terminals on trading floors, and server farms that span the size of seven football fields — are taking up a larger and larger slice of the world’s energy pie.

Since coal is still the largest source of electrical power generation in the world, the rising use of electricity to stay connected is taking a toll.

Will we develop new technologies to decrease our energy use?  How will we pay for it?  Who will control it?  And what are you doing now to decrease your energy consumption?

1 Out of 10


ColaLife: Simon Berry is trying to make medicine as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola in rural Africa. – Slate Magazine.

One out of every 10 children here don’t live to see their 5th birthday.  10% of Zambian children, Malawian children, sub-Saharan African children – and after respiratory diseases

 the second biggest killer was dehydration—from diarrhea—which can be stopped with oral rehydration salts (ORS) and zinc.

So an enterprising young man has made it his mission to change those numbers.  Simon Berry realized that

I was working in a remote part of Zambia and I could always get a Coca-Cola.

So he asked mothers what kind of kit they could use to help their sick children.

We went out and asked people what their problems were in treating diarrhea. I don’t think anyone had ever done that before; the kits are designed not for poor people, but with them. 

The original idea was to deliver the kits inside the crates of CocaCola, but that has changed.

In the end, hardly any of our kits have been put into crates. Instead, what has worked is copying Coca-Cola’s business techniques: create a desirable product, market it like mad, and put the product in a distribution system at a price so that everyone can make a profit. If there is demand and retailers can make a profit, then they will do anything to meet that demand.

Now the company is branching out.

You could imagine a “tough toddlers kit” containing vitamins, nutritional supplements and deworming tablets. A parent could buy it for their child’s third birthday.

Improving children’s health, one entrepreneur at a time.


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