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Los Niños

Inscribed on a brass plaque at the base of The Statue of Liberty is “… Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.” Is it time to rip the plaque off and melt it down for scrap?

Apparently some in this country feel this way – to the point that there are armed men and women prepared to turn away the children of Central America. Some fear that this tide of illegal immigration will bring with it a host of problems including epidemics; Tuberculosis, Dengue Fever, even Ebola. What’s the reality? Should we be so fearful?

The actual estimated rates of illegal immigration are down from a high in 2007. This is most likely due to the weakness of the economy to supply jobs, hence making the U.S. less attractive. Also President Obama has overseen a considerable increase in deportations, particularly for those who have committed violent crimes.

The real change that has come about recently is the increase in unaccompanied minors. For the most part they are simply showing up at the border and turning themselves in. The number is on the rise with most of the children are coming from Central America, principally El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Interviews with the children by the press both here in the US and in their country of origin indicate that they are not so much attracted here as fleeing there. Both abject poverty and in the case of Honduras, the world’s highest murder rate are driving the children to seek refuge in the U.S. and other countries such as Costa Rica and Mexico.

Photo credit New York Times

Photo credit New York Times

Further complicating the matter is a requirement, signed into law by President Bush in 2006, that the children be given due process. The law requires that they be brought before an immigration judge for consideration of refugee status. Because the immigration service is woefully underfunded and hence understaffed, there is a several year backlog for hearings.

The United Nations High Commission on Refuges recently found that the majority of immigrant children they interviewed were adjudged to be “forcibly displaced. This means that to refuse these children would be to breach United Nations Conventions.

Surely in a nation of over 300 million people, in a nation many claim to be a Christian nation, in a nation with close to 10 million millionaires, we can find it in our hearts and especially our pocketbooks to find a way to accommodate these refugee children, who number this year to less than a hundred thousand.

That’s 100 millionaires per child. We can live up to our boast on that brass plaque on the Statue of Liberty. “These are not somebody else’s kids. These are our kids,” Joe Biden


Arsenic Anyone?

A popular talk show doctor recently had several brands of Apple juice tested and claimed to have found Arsenic. Whereas nobody wants poison in her food, the question of the amount and its relevance is important. First a little background on Arsenic.

One of the first things that come to mind in association with Arsenic is poison. And indeed it is poisonous. It has been used as a pesticide because it is generally poisonous to all forms of life, rats, cockroaches, even some fungi succumb to it. Ironically it is also known to be an essential trace element for some organisms and possibly humans in tiny, tiny amounts.
Arsenic has been known since antiquity and is poisonous to varying degrees depending on its form. As important as the potency of a poison is the amount of the poison. A seventeenth century physician-chemist by the name of Paracelsus famously proclaimed “everything is poisonous, nothing is poisonous, the dose makes the poison”. One example is lima beans which naturally contain toxic cyanide ion, but lima beans aren’t toxic as the dose of cyanide is too small.
Arsenic has historically been a component of intrigue. In 15th century Italy the Borgia family waxed powerful. Lucrezia and Cesare were among the children of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (who became Pope Alexander VI- obviously things in the church were different in those days!) Lucrezia was said to be a very effective poisoner as she had learned how to concoct lethal Arsenic potions which were undetectable in food or drink. Arsenic-laden wallpaper
Napoleon may have been done in by Arsenic, but not by an intentional poisoning. His villa on the island of St Helena had wallpaper colored with Sheele’s Green, a pigment made from Arsenic. In moist air a mold can grow on the wallpaper and convert the Arsenic to a volatile form. It appears at least for Napoleon that not the butler but rather the wallpaper did it. Another Arsenic pigment called Emerald Green may have impaired the health of Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Monet among others.

Emerald Green Paint Pigment

Emerald Green Paint Pigment

Some women in the Victorian era would eat small amounts of Arsenic to produce a pale complexion. Tanned skin in those days indicated that one worked in the fields and was therefore of a lower class.
Now back to Apple juice. Any Arsenic in juice is an issue if for no other reason that juice is a mainstay of many children. Two questions come to mind. Where did the arsenic come from and is there enough Arsenic in the right form to be a risk to health?

 Generally speaking the Arsenic is coming from the soil in which the fruit is grown. It can be in the soil naturally or due to use of Arsenical pesticides applied to the soil. Lead Arsenate was used in the United States until the seventies. Arsenic is very stable and could persist in soils for many years. Another source may be China, where environmental regulations are lax at best. Over half of the Apple juice sold in the United States now comes from China.

The amount of Arsenic measured recently in some of the juice samples does exceed the World Health Organisation’s suggested limit for safety. However the method of measurement included both toxic inorganic and relatively nontoxic organic Arsenic. When only the toxic form is considered the level appears to be safe. The FDA has been monitoring arsenic in Apple juice for decades and sees no threat to public safety based on these findings.


Renewable Energy Around the World

Because of the fracking boom the United States has recently become the number one producer of natural gas, and is shooting for number one in oil production. The problem with this is two-fold. First, fossil fuel use contributes to global warming and a range of untoward health effects for both humans and the environment. Second, it is only a temporary solution to meeting our long term energy needs. We must develop truly sustainable energy supply for the future.

How are we doing on this front, especially with respect to our global economic competitors? Not so hot. One common argument for staying with the tried and true – but limited – fossil fuel industry is that it is the cheapest and therefore most economic resource base. This is only true if you completely ignore the cost of externalities such as cost to society of global warming and the cost of degraded health among the population.

There are many ways to measure a countries renewable energy production. Total produced, amount produced by various methodologies, percentage of total energy needs to mention just a few. Just about everybody needs electricity so for simplicity let’s compare renewable electrical energy production.

Countries with pronounced volcanic activity are well situated to produce geothermal energy. Iceland produces essentially 100 % of it electrical energy needs via geothermal processes. But Iceland is tiny, with a population not much larger than Little Rock.

Iceland geothermal

Iceland geothermal

Mountainous countries or those with with high rainfall have the potential for large amounts of hydropower. Norway produces over 100% of its electrical needs from hydropower. Excess power is exported to nearby European countries. Brazil has recently completed some large scale hydropower projects and now meets just over 90% of its needs. For comparison the United States produces about 7 % and China about 3 %.

Hydropower is a mature clean source of electrical energy so the developed countries have gone about as far as they can go with large scale hydropower. The real potential for expansion of renewable energy is wind and solar. First wind.

On a windy day Denmark, an island nation, can meet 100 % of its energy needs. On average however, they produce 30 % of electrical needs from wind and project to be at 50 % by 2020. The United States produces slightly more than 1 % and China slightly less than 1 % of total electrical energy production from wind.

Denmark wind

Denmark wind

Lastly but for the future maybe most importantly is solar. Current technology allows photovoltaic (PV) panels to capture about 15 % of the incident sunlight. By the way this is a couple of orders of magnitude more efficient than photosynthesis, so biomass is not considered in this analysis.



The world leader for solar is Germany where close to 5 % of their total electrical energy production comes from roof top solar arrays. The United States, 0.02 % and China 0.01 %. Our long term future on this planet depends to a large degree on our ability to develop sustainable energy supplies. Some countries, especially those in the western European community get it, the United States, not so much – at least not yet.


IPCC Report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is body of thousands of scientists from around the world who are collaborating on an understanding of global warming, its causes, and how we as a society should address the risk of climate change. It was formed in 1988 under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Program. It is preposterous to think that this international group of scientists have any hidden agenda or are manipulating the data they gather for nefarious means.

The data they gather, the conclusions they reach, and the policy recommendations they make are all determined by consensus among the many scientists and open to the public for scrutiny. Every five years they issue an update on the current state of knowledge concerning global warming. The Fifth Assessment Report(AR5) provides a clear and most up to date view of the current state of scientific knowledge relevant to climate change.



The new report shows that global emissions of greenhouse gases have risen to unprecedented levels despite a growing number of policies to reduce climate change. Emissions grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in each of the three previous decades.

The emission of green house gases is causally linked to global warming, and the outlook is challenging if not down right grim. To reverse the effects of global warming or to at least limit the rise in global temperature to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) will require major institutional and technological change to give a better than even chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold.



There is a clear message from the scientists, “to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.” Simply to hold the temperature rise to 2 degrees will require reductions of green house gases from 40 to 70 per cent compared with 2010 by mid-century, and to near-zero by the end of this century.

Economic analysis for a business as usual scenario suggests consumption will increase between 0.6 to 3.0 per cent per year. With controls to meet the aforementioned goals that growth will be lowered by .06 percent per year. Growth will not disappear, but rather be reduced by 10 to 20 per cent from business as usual. This analysis does not consider the beneficial effects of a more stable environment and cleaner air.

A large share of the goal can be met by reducing electricity production from fossil fuel sources to near zero. A range of technologies are available but wind and solar strategies alone can meet the goal, assuming the development of a more robust system of transmission and storage for these intermittent energy sources.

The alternative to action will be a hotter world with more severe storms. Both droughts and floods can follow changes in climate. The ocean will continue to acidify creating an inexorable die off of significant numbers of species. Climate instability will stress political stability as countries vie for resources threatened by climate change.

Crop production will fall. As climate shifts so will food production, from locales with ideal conditions to locales with poorer soil and or moisture conditions.

Each and every one of us needs to ask ourselves just what are we willing to do to ensure that the future we leave to our descendants is as stable and prosperous as that we inherited from our ancestors.

Buffalo National River

The Buffalo National River

Yet another fight to “save the Buffalo” is brewing near Mt Judea in Newton County. The first fight ended when the Corps’s of Engineers plans to build a dam near Gilbert Arkansas were abandoned. In 1972 Republican Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt sought federal protection and the nation’s first national river was created.

The Buffalo National River is is a national park which consists of a narrow band of land surrounding about one hundred thirty five miles of the river from Boxley at the upper end to its confluence with the White River. The land within the park boundaries, about one hundred fifty square miles, is managed as a natural environment.

Waterfall on a tributary of the Buffalo Rive

Waterfall on a tributary of the Buffalo River

The problem is that the park is only eleven per cent of the watershed, some one thousand four hundred square miles. Both Air and water pollution in the watershed but outside the park can easily enter the park, so preserving the natural environment becomes a much greater challenge.

The most recent challenge now comes from a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). C and H Hog Farm has be granted a general permit to maintain a six thousand five hundred animal feeder pig operation near Mt Judea. Issuance of a General Permit as apposed to a Individual Permit, is easier as it doesn’t have stringent requirements for public notice, or environmental impact assessment. There is also no consideration of local geology or proximity to public places such as parks or schools.

The farm is operated for Cargill, the largest privately held company in the United States. The farm, really an industrial operation, consists of the hog houses, lagoons for temporary containment of the liquid wastes, and several hundred acres of spray fields where the raw urine and feces will be dispersed.

And there is a lot to be dispersed. Each hog produces over a gallon of manure per day. The factory farm produces close to ten thousand gallons of waste a day, several million gallons per year. To put that in perspective it is equivalent to two times as much waste that is produced by Atkins and Dover combined.

The farm and spray fields are near Mt Judea public schools, and in the watershed of Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo.

Morning Fog on a Gravel Bar

Morning Fog on a Gravel Bar

Rainfall after application of the manure, or failure of the lagoons can cause bacterial contamination, including multiple drug resistant strains.

Exacerbating the risk of pollution reaching the Buffalo National Park is the local geology, referred to as Karst Topography. This limestone rich subsurface is laced with caves, sinkholes, and underground streams that could rapidly transport wastes to the river.

Cave demonstrating Karst Topography of the region

Cave demonstrating Karst Topography of the region

Regardless of weather and geologic conditions the nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous will pollute the Buffalo, leading to increased algal growth.

Funding for the factory farm was aided by loan guarantees from the Farm Services Agency and the Small Business Administration. Four environmental groups are suing the United States Department of Agriculture which oversees the agencies that provided the loan guarantees. They are the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and the National Parks Conservation Association. Earth Justice is the law firm representing the coalition of the four groups.

Professor Mark Post holds the world's first lab-grown beef burger during a

Petri Patties – Lab Grown Meat

Even though we have yet to recover from the current recession, we still lead the world in economic might and that is reflected in our high rates of consumption of everything from crude oil to meat. Both of these commodities contribute to our exaggerated contribution to global warming.

As other countries expand their economies, that is become more wealthy, they tend to eat more meat. China in 1961 consumed four kilograms per person. By 2001 that jumped to fifty-four kilograms. Currently half of all pork produced in the world is consumed in China. By comparison the US eats over one hundred twenty kilos of meat per person per year. By the year 2050 global meat consumption is estimated to double, from the current 230 to 465 million tons.

The connection between meat consumption and wealth is easy to see. Protein from meat is expensive. The cheaper alternative comes from diet that balances beans and grains to provide complete protein – nutritious but bland. So what’s the harm if you can afford meat? Two factors; personal health effects such as heart disease correlate with high meat diets, and meat production contributes to global warming.

Enter the lab burger,stage left – PETA has a bounty out for the first practical lab grown meat. A study done a couple of years ago suggests that if meat could be “grown” in the lab, about 50 per cent less energy would be used, virtually no land would be needed, and ninety per cent less green house gases would be emitted compared to traditional agricultural methods. These environmental improvements result from considerable decreases in methane release from ruminants and decreased deforestation not needed for feed; corn and soybeans, and fodder; grass from pastures.

We now have a Petri patty, not practical by any measure but at least the proof of concept has been achieved. Last month a celebrity chef in London, England prepared the world’s first and only hamburger made from meat grown in cell culture in a laboratory in the Netherlands. The idea of lab meat is not new. As early as pre-world war II, Winston Churchill wrote about the possibility. He was concerned that a war which resulted in a blockade of the UK could threaten the population with starvation.

The process is simple in principle but extremely difficult in practice. The simple explanation: take a muscle cell from a cow, stimulate the cell to divide in a nutrient broth, and voilà! The lab burger. In practice the process took several years and over four million dollars. Tissue harvested from a carcass is first treated with an enzyme to remove connective tissue and release the muscle cells. The cells are cultured in fetal bovine serum, a fluid taken from slaughtered calves. Alternative cell culture media exist but performed poorly. Because the cells lack any vasculature the cells can only be grown in thin films. Also methods had to be developed to “exercise” the developing muscle tissue.

One final problem is physical, the cells are colorless and without fat so the lab meat was colored with beetroot juice and cooked in butter and oil. For cultured meat to become a real alternative it has to be a whole lot cheaper, redder and fattier.

The Anthropocene

Scientists in general and particularly geologists measure time on our planet in epochs. For example the time from two and a half million years ago until twelve thousand years ago is called the Pleistocene. This time period was characterized by a series of long glacial periods. The current epoch is called the Holocene which began with the worldwide recession of the glaciers.

Recently some scientists have called for the naming of a new epoch called the Anthropocene, characterized by human influence on the planet due to our transformation of the atmosphere over the last two hundred years. Others contend that the start of the Anthropocene should be counted as starting much earlier. Modern humans have influenced the planet by churning the biosphere for close to a hundred thousand years. Our mobility has resulted in the movement, occasionally purposely, of many many plants and animals.

Wheat originated in Near East, corn in Central America, and rice in Far East. All are purposely cultivated world wide. The inadvertent introduction of some species has been the ruination of others. The inadvertent human dispersion of the black rat is a good example. It has caused the extinction of many bird, reptile, and other small vertebrate species across the planet.

The honey bee originated in Africa, and migrated to Europe. It was brought to North America by the colonists for honey production and has been a resounding success. Annually fourteen billion dollars worth of crops are dependent on honeybee pollinationhoneybee in the United States alone. Ironically the honeybee brought to North America by humans is now threatened by humans by the use of a class of insecticides known as neonicotionoids.

Non native earthworms were also brought to North America by the colonists but this time the importation was accidental. They came as part of the ballast of ships and in the soil of potted plants. Their introduction has been a mixed bag. Whereas home gardeners and those who fish extol the virtue of the earthworm, they are actually harmful to forests of northern North America.

Glaciers advanced to about the Missouri and Ohio Rivers and wiped out earthworms, if there were any to begin with. After the glacial recession, the forests returned and adapted in the absence of earthworms. The normal condition of the forest floor is a thick layer of slowly decomposing leaves. The presence of earthwormsearthworm accelerates this decay, removing an important organic layer that serves as seed beds for saplings, ferns, and wildflowers.

One of the newest accidental imports is another ant, called the Crazy AntCRAZY ANT for its erratic behavior and tendency to swarm. It first showed up in Houston TX and has been seen in southeast TX, southern Louisiana, southern Mississippi and and much of Florida. Where it occurs it either kills or drives out most other species of insects, spiders, small reptiles and birds. They will nest just about anywhere but are particularly fond of electrical wiring, causing a 150 million dollars a year damage in Texas alone.

We certainly live in a time of dramatic global human influence. We continue to change the composition of the atmosphere and hence the climate. We are making the oceans more acidic. We are dispersing uncountable numbers of species, generally with negative impact. And all these effects are causing extinctions of flora and fauna. My question for you is should we?

High Voltage Direct Current Power Transmission

Wind generated electricity is about the cheapest and certainly the fastest growing source of energy in the United States, maybe the world. Currently there is an excess of wind power to our west but few consumers in the area. The capacity to move the clean sustainable wind generated electricity from the plains where it is abundant to other areas where the people are limits it utilization.

Both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Plains and Eastern Clean Line have held meetings in Arkansas and Oklahoma to introduce the public to a proposed 750 mile electric transmission line which may be constructed over the next few years. This power line will move wind generated electricity from the plains to southeastern states. Of the several proposed corridors, all pass through Pope county somewhere between just north of Russellville to north of Dover. The transmission line terminates at Memphis. Wherever possible they will follow established rights-of-way to minimize disturbance to land owners.

The transmission line was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) last year to move electric power from the plains- Northwest Texas, Northwest Oklahoma, and Southwest Kansas to consumers in the southeastern United States, basically the Tennessee Valley Authority.

One interesting feature of this power line is the employment of direct current transmission. One usually thinks of direct current (DC) as the type of electricity utilized in devices with batteries such as cell phones or flashlights. On the other hand alternating current (AC) is the stuff of home wiring. Virtually all transmission lines in the country are AC, but technological advances now make DC line transmission more cost effective. High voltage power moved over three hundred miles is now better done with direct current.

The high voltage direct current (HVDC) line which when complete can move 3.5 Gigawatts electric at 500 kilovolts. To put this in perspective this is enough transmission capacity to deliver the energy equivalent of about four nuclear reactors or enough electricity to power over one million homes. Little to none of this power will be “dropped off” in Arkansas for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is we don’t need it, at least right now. The other is the expense to step down and transform the HVDC to lower voltage AC so that it is compatible with our grid.

The transmission line is all about the future of electricity in the United States. A big issue of our energy future is the need to convert to cleaner sustainable energy sources but transmission and storage are impediments.

Midwestern wind power is a big part of our energy future. Theoretically electricity generated from wind farms from the Canadian border to Texas could power the whole country. It won’t because there is wind elsewhere such as the coastal areas, and of course there are other sustainable energy sources. The point is we have an abundance of clean energy potential. The future is bright and will be lit with wind, solar and other types of sustainable energy.