Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Baboons are Africa's most widespread primate. Females rule!

This post now a Google News Link and on

Chacma baboons on the road outside Skukusa in Kruger National Park, South Africa.  Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

The first time we saw baboons, they were all over the road; the males had two-inch-long fangs. Scary? No, baboons are cool. Even though they can be aggressive, for the most part they totally ignore human onlookers. Unless you have food they want....

To me, monkeys and apes bridge the gap from animal to human. Their behavior is in many ways similar to ours, but it seems so unhampered by civility. I love them for that.  In my view, they represent our own animal nature.

I fell in love with chimps in grad school, trying to teach them American Sign Language. But the chimps really did scare me. They have big teeth too. And just like human teenagers, chimps will test authority when forced to sit for lessons. They tested me during the language sessions, "accidentally" running into me and trying to bite me, sometimes succeeding. (See my previous post about the chimps and ASL.) I gave up on teaching chimps to behave like humans, and fled to the relative simplicity of studying salamanders in the field.

But I never lost my fascination with primates. This past summer I had the joy of 4 weeks in South Africa, where we saw several primate species - vervet monkeys, lesser bushbabies, thick-tailed bushbabies, and most of all, Chacma baboons.

 An adult Chacma baboon, with its long doglike face. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Baboons are the most widespread primate in Africa.
The range of some baboon species has even expanded, in spite of widespread deforestation, overgrazing, and habitat destruction. The range expansion is due to the local extinction of their predators (especially leopards),

Leopard in South Africa.  Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

and because baboons are so adaptable in their eating habits. Chacmas can forage equally well on trees or grasses, on farmland or savannas, can get most of the water they need from their food.

 A young baboon eating leaves. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

 Young baboons eating sausage fruits that fall from trees in southern Africa. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Baboons are clever; they can dig to reach water
Chacma baboons can even dig shallow wells in dry streambeds, which most animals don't do. When grasses are dry, baboons just dig up the juicier roots. They will eat almost any small animal they can catch, from fish and bird eggs to young antelope. In South Africa, Chacma baboons are a major predator of young goats and sheep.

I said that primate behavior is unhampered, but that's not really true.  According to biologist Richard D. Estes, a baboon troop is one of the most complex societies in the animal kingdom. And complexity means structure. Females and their offspring are the core of the troop, with females outnumbering males 2 or 3 to 1. The female Chacmas spend their whole lives in the troop where they were born, where they compete to attain and maintain dominance. Female rank-order is family-based: daughters inherit their mother's rank.

A female Chacma baboon with her infant and two youngsters. The older ones may be her own, or they may be others just interested in holding her baby. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Baboons' matrilineal society is complicated
Dominance relationships between matrilines are managed by alliances and by communication that's nearly as complex as that of the great apes, according to Dr. Estes.(A matriline is a line of females linked by maternal descent.)

Males in the troop are subordinate to their mothers until the age of four, when their dangerous fangs develop and they leave the troop. The males may try out several troops before settling in one, at least temporarily. Males grow much larger than females, and can weigh as much as 100 lbs. The upper limit of female weight is about 60 lbs.

A male Chacma baboon displays his genitals as a signal of his maturity and social rank or dominance. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Males play "godfather" roles
After transferring to a new troop, a male is better off if he cultivates a social bond with a mature female. Estes says that a male may play a "godfather" role to her offspring, even though he is not their father. He holds and carries them, shares food with them, grooms them. Social grooming is a major pastime for baboons, and a major bonding activity.

 Social grooming of the head is common.The recipient above seems to enjoy it! Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Grooming of the hind-end is common too. I think they're looking for fleas and ticks, but I'm not sure. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

A male "godfather" will also protect his female friend from attack and protect her young from bullies. So lots of Chacma females have one to three male friends that they roost with at night. (Chacmas generally roost in trees, where they're safer from predators.) When the female comes into estrus, one or more of these favorites, or "godfathers", usually becomes her consort.

During estrus, the sexual skin of a female is swollen and pink, as in the female at right, above. The degree of swelling and redness signals how close she is to ovulation.  Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Black-haired infants are magnets
Low-ranking females especially benefit from having male friends to protect their babies. All Chacma baboons are attracted to black-haired infants and a dominant female can hold and play with the infant of a subordinate mother, regardless of how much distress it causes the mom or the infant. But a male "godfather" will put an end to that, even though the youngster is not his own offspring. The males' larger size, and their fangs, make them excellent defenders.

Above, a newborn infant, with the black hair that all Chacmas find so attractive in infants.  Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Above, a Cape Chacma mother nursing her black-haired infant, with her older youngster alongside. The Cape Chacma baboons are a different subspecies found only at the southern tip of Africa.  It's thought that the isolated population of Cape Chacmas will be extinct in 10 years. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

The same mother grooming her older offspring, with her black-haired infant clinging to its sibling. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

A black-haired infant is such a powerful attractant for Chacma baboons that "a lower-ranking male can safely threaten and even dominate a higher-ranking one by holding out a black infant - it completely inhibits the others's attack tendencies."  So writes Richared Estes in his very useful book, The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals. Estes is a research associate of the Smithsonian Institute, an associate of the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and co-chairman of the World Conservation Unions's Antelope Specialists Group.

Almost all primates are now in danger
Virtually all the world's primates now are threatened by loss of habitat, by capture for the pet trade, for research labs, and for traditional medicines. Snaring or shooting primates and other species for bushmeat is a growing problem in impoverished areas. Most primates live short lives; very few die of old age. The Chacma is considered to be potentially threatened under C.I.T.E.S Appendix 2, if populations are not managed.

Some Chacma baboon troops forage in human neighborhoods, overturning garbage cans and entering homes looking for food. When food is in question, baboons can be aggressive and dangerous. And when they become pests to families, farmers, or herders, baboons and other wildlife are often poisoned.

A young baboon foraging in northern Kruger National Park, South Africa. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

What can you do?
When visiting an area with primates, never feed them, even if you see others doing so. Feeding them endangers their health and the safety of the entire troop. Baboons that associate humans with food can behave so aggressively that they're likely to be killed. Consider making donations to conservation organizations that protect habitat or protect primates directly, such as the Jane Goodall Institute, Traffic, World Wildlife FundAfrican Conservation Foundation, and Conservation International. Or support impoverished communities in areas where primates live. People with other opportunities to support their families are less likely to snare and sell wildlife.

Richard D. Estes. The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals.1997.

Bill Branch et al. Travellers' Wildlife Guides: Southern Africa. 2007.

My previous posts about wild, enchanting Africa: wildlife, indigenous villages, health, climate change, and ecotourism:

Famous ice caps of Kilimanjaro gone by 2022.  12/17/2009

Budding scientists assess the tiny critters of Africa 11/11/2009

New studies confirm that circumcision saves lives in Africa  10/28/2009

My visit to a traditional healer in Africa: "Call on your female ancestors" 9/28/2009

Seeing the eyes of a monkey 9/8/2009

A sustainable, locally run, and off-the-grid resort in South Africa; great for birding 8/26/2009

With a chain-saw, he cut off the rhino's valuable horn 8/15/2009

Leopard adventure: male and female clash over prey 8/4/2009

We were lucky to see lions on a kill. But are lions disappearing from Africa? 7/30/2009

In the Africa village of Hamakuya, we learned about life with limited resources. 7/24/2009

Female hyenas, all hermaphrodites, bully male hyenas and steal prey from lions. 7/17/2009

African village of Welverdiend believes in the power of good. 7/10/2009

Pope values religious dogma over African lives?  3/18/2009

Ecotourism can buffer the effects of poverty. 10/20/2008

Can a warmer planet feed us? 6/14/2008

Environmental footprints of rich nations outweigh debt 3/21/08

Violence in Darfur fueled by global warming. 11/2007

Breastfeeding gets a new review in sub-Saharan Africa. 10/25/2007

An African village seeking solutions. 8/26/2007

Plan to spend a day in the African village of Welverdiend 8/6/2007

The luminous, magical continent.  7/19/2007

Back from Africa; elephants may be culled.  7/13/2007

One African family struggles to survive  3/17/2007

Key words:: Chacma baboons primates South Africa Kruger National Park loss of habitat endangered threatened impoverished communities conservation pet trade research trade poisoning bushmeat traditional medicine

Saturday, December 26, 2009

BPA exposure in womb linked to childhood behavioral changes

I came across two articles recently (1.and 2. below) about an environmental contaminant, bisphenol-A, that can cause subtle behavioral changes in offspring when ingested during pregnancy. The articles reported on the same study, but chose somewhat different remarks to report from the researchers.

For this study, urine samples were taken from 249 pregnant women at 16 and 26 weeks of pregnancy, and BPA levels were measured in their urine. When the children were 2 years old, their behavior was assessed with the Behavioral Assessment System for Children-2 (BASC-2).   

The study of BPA exposure was published in Environmental Health Perspectives online on Oct 6, 2009, by researchers at Simon Fraser University, University of North Carolina, and Cincinnati Children's hospital.

Exposed girls may act more like boys
The researchers reported that daughters of women with higher levels of BPA in their urine during early preganancy were more likely to have aggressive and hyperactive behaviors than daughers of women with lower BPA levels. "In other words, girls whose mothers had higher BPA exposure were more likely to act like boys than girls whose mothers has lower BPA levels, especially if the exposure was seen earlier in pregancy, " said doctoral student Joe Braun, one of the study's lead authors, at the UNC School of Global Public Health.

Male offspring exposed to BPA in utero became more anxious and withdrawn than unexposed male offspring.

Early pregnancies most vulnerable
The higher the levels of BPA during mom's first 16 weeks of pregnancy, the more likely her child was to later show behavior somewhat atypical of his or her gender on the BASC-2 test.  High levels of BPA in mom's urine later than 16 weeks showed no link to behavior.

Behavioral changes in the most highly exposed babies averaged 2 to 6 points higher on the BASC-2 test (on a 100-point scale) for each 10-fold increase in mom's early urinary BPA values, Braun reports.  Said researcher Lamphear, "the magnitude of these changes is similar to the subtle IQ drops attributable to environmental lead exposures in U.S. children."

The team has continued to study the children who are now 3 to 5 years old. 

The cause for the changes are not known. But there have been growing concerns about BPA exposure for years, said Braun.  Earlier studies have shown the same effects in the offspring of mice exposed to high BPA levels during pregnancy. The changes have persisted beyond infancy in the mice.

BPA is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that are found in some kinds of plastic bottles, canned food linings, water supply pipes and medical tubing.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 93% of people in the U.S. have detectable levels of BPA in their urine.  More than 99% of the pregnant women in the study tested positive for BPA in at least one of the urine tests, usually in the low parts-per-million range.

Canada has banned BPA in baby bottles
"Canada has bannned BPA in baby bottles and other baby products but that may not be sufficient to protect children.  Although this is the first study of its kind, it suggests that we may also need to reduce exposures during pregnancy," said Dr. Bruce Lanphear, professor of children's environmental health in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and one of the study's lead authors.

Cash register receipts may be the biggest source of contamination
Janet Ratloff writing for Science News noted: Early data from the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry point to cash register and credit card receipts as "potentially rich sources of BPA.  Spot checks typically turn up between 60 and 100 milligrams of BPA per receipt, well avove the nanogram values that have been measured leaching from polycarbonate plastic foodware". Says scientist John Warner," The biggest [BPA] exposures in my opinion, will be those cash register receipts."

Alternative sources for "canned" tomatoes
I read elsewhere this week the comments of Fredrick Vom Saal, PhD, an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A.  He says: "You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that's a level that is going to impact people, especially the young.  I won't go near canned tomatoes."  One solution to the canned tomatoes is to buy tomatoes in glass bottles, which don't need resin linings, such as Bionature and Coluccio. Also available are Tetra Pak boxes such as Trader Joe's and Pomi.

1. Patric Lane. "Prenatal exposure to BPA might explain aggressive behavior in some 2-year-old girls." UNC News. October 6, 2009.   Patric Lane can be reached at 919.962.8596 or at

2. Janet Ratloff. "BPA in womb linked to childhood behavior. Found for exposure during first 16 weeks of pregnancy." Science News. November 7, 2009.

3. Joe Braun and Bruce Lanphear. Environmental Health Perspectives online. October 6, 2009.

Researcher contact info:
Braun can be reached at or at 919.951.8519.  Lanphear can be reached at or at 778.387.3939.  UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health contact is Ramona DuBose at or 919.966.7467.

Key words:: BPA bisphenol-A pregnancy contaminants

Thursday, December 24, 2009

H1N1 shot made my son vomit, but GO GET THAT SHOT

This post now a Google News Link and posted on

Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Poor lad
Yesterday, my son and I went to get H1N1 shots at our local health department.  We didn't have to wait more than five minutes, and the shot didn't hurt more than just the needle stick. But as we walked out to the car, my son (in his early 20s) said he felt sick.  We got in the car, and before we were even out of the parking lot, he told me to pull over.  He jumped out and vomited two or three times on the grass.

When we got home he vomited again, went to bed and slept for 4 hours. When he got up he still felt sick and had a bad headache.  But the sheet we'd been given at the health department said that both "nausea" and "headache" were "mild problems" that might occur after the injection.  More serious reactions would be wheezing, hives, rapid pulse, paleness, difficulty breathing - symptoms that indicate an allergic reaction.  He had none of those.  About 7 p.m. he got off the sofa, took two Tylenol, and then took a long hot shower. After that, he felt fine.  Today he's fine, and I'm fine too.

Get that shot
I'm not writing this to discourage anyone from getting a shot.  I'm glad we got our shots, and my son is too.  My point in writing this post is actually to urge everyone to get H1N1 shots now, because the CDC continues to say that the more vaccinations are given to the public, the lower the chance we will have a dangerous third wave of H1N1 later this winter.

The latest news on H1N1 from the CDC
Yesterday, Dec 22, the Centers for Disease Control gave another of their weekly press conferences on the status of H1N1.  I studied all 8 pages; below I've summarized the main points.

In the U.S., the good news about H1N1 is two-fold:
  • Less virus is circulating.
  • The vaccine is more readily available than it has been. But, the current map provided by the CDC shows that the virus is still widespread in 11 states and regionally widespread in 20 more states.
About 60 million of the 307 million people in the U.S.have been vaccinated for H1N1 thus far.  Of those, two-thirds have been children.  About half the unvaccinated people in the U.S. who have been recently polled indicate that they want to be vaccinated.  Just a month ago, interest in vaccination was higher, at 60%.  Interest in vaccination is waning because the number of cases in the current wave of infection has been declining.

The waning interest is unfortunate, say the doctors at the CDC.  Dr. Anne Schuchat of the CDC led Tuesday's press conference, and she urged against public complaisance.  She said whether or not the U.S. experiences a third and perhaps more virulent wave of the H1N1 flu after December depends in part on how many people get vaccinated in the next few weeks. "Getting vaccinated will reduce the chance of your getting sick and reduce the chance of the country going through a third wave," said Dr. Schuchat.

Who is most vulnerable to hospitalization with H1N1?
Schuchat was asked during the press conference, what pre-existing health conditions make patients more vulnerable to serious illness with H1N1? The most serious cases are generally those that develop into pneumonia.

She answered that H1N1 patients are more likely to be hospitalized if they have these pre-existing conditions:
  • asthma
  • chronic lung disease
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • chronic heart disease
  • pregnancy
She said any pregnant woman who has respiratory symptoms should be seen by a doctor and treated.

Virtually all the cases of flu in the U.S. at this time are H1N1, said Schuchat.  "Everything we're seeing in terms of the flu strains is the H1N1 virus and so it's not gone at all. None of us know what the weeks and months ahead will bring in terms of influenza activity."

How to find the vaccines for H1N1 and seasonal influenzas
For those who are interested in the seasonal flu vaccine, Schuchat said, "there's a little bit of seasonal flu vaccine around.  It will be spotty place to place....the vast majority has already been used."  She recommended checking with your doctor or pharmacy.

As for locating the vaccine for H1N1, Schuchat said about 2/3 of the states have carried out school vaccination programs.  As of Dec 22, 111 million doses of H1N1 vaccine have become available for order by states. This vaccine is available through doctors' offices, hospitals, and health departments.

Schuchat said emphatically that children under the age of 10 need two doses of the H1N1 shot, a month apart. Five or six weeks apart is okay, she said.

Dr. Schuchat said it's true that some household pets - cats and dogs - have contracted H1N1. But she said "the rare occurrances of this virus in other species is not a general problem."

My own comments about H1N1 in animals
It's my understanding that hogs having the virus is a potential problem, because a single hog can simultaneously have two or more types of viruses that also infect people. If a particular hog has more than one type of virus, the different viruses can exchange genetic material within the hog's cells, and make recombinant forms of virus which may be more virulent (more infective, more dangerous) than either of the contributing viruses.  This is why hogs are sometimes called "mixing vessels" in discussions of avian and swine flu viruses. It's believed that hogs have been an essential component in the development of avian and swine flus that have or may in the future cause widespread infections.  Birds are called "trojan horses" in virology, carrying viruses far afield, and as I said, hogs are called "mixing vessels."

So if your hogs get H1N1....well, I don't know what to tell you.  Let's hope they don't.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Wenjun Ma et al. "The hog as a mixing vessel for influenza viruses: human and veterinary implications." J. Mol. Genet. Med. 2009.

My previous posts about Smithfield and the swine flu:
H1N1 is a swine flu and has its roots NC, the land of Smithfield  May 2, 2009

Smithfield blamed for swine flu by Mexican press   April 29, 2009

My previous posts about H1N1:
H1N1 widespread but declining. Experts disagree about a third wave of H1N1 this winter.  12/02/2009

Second wave of H1N1 declining in numbers but not severity. Third wave may be the worst  11/18/09

The most dangerous cases of H1N1  11/12/2009

My daughter says elderberry got rid of her H1N1  10/22/2009

Why is swine flu likely to return in winter? It's not because we're cooped up together in winter  5/8/2009

Keywords:: H1N1 swine flu hogs mixing vessels trojan horses avian flu vaccinations

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Thank you, readers, for voting me a winner in Wellsphere's Top Blogger Awards

Readers, I want to thank everyone who voted for me for as the Top Blogger in the Green Living Category, in Wellsphere's "People's HealthBlogger Awards." I work hard to bring the latest environmental, health, and behavioral news to this blog and to my website at and I appreciate the recognition. Thank you!!

You can see the list of winner's at Click on "Health Blogger Awards."

Thanks again :-)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Babies cry in their native language....learned in the womb

Photo by Kathy Pintair of Ambient Photography

This post now a Google News Link and on Behavioral Health Central and on

Ever wonder if babies are listening and learning while they're in the womb?  Turns out they are, say researchers from the University of Wurzburg in Germany. Their observations were published online in the November issue of Current Biology.

The research team recorded more than a thousand cries from 30 French newborns and 30 German newborns. They then analyzed the melodic patterns of the cries to look for differences between the two groups. The researchers wondered if the cries had any resemblance to the speech patterns of the infants' mothers.

French and German adults have different patterns of intonation, some of which are easily identifiable. For example, the intonation of French speakers tends to rise at the end of words or phrases. The speech of Germans tends to fall at the end of words or phrases.

The newborns in the study, who were only 2-5 days old, cried in a melodic pattern that resembled their parents' language.  The French babies' cries tended to have a rising melody as does the French language.  The German infants' cries tended to have a falling melody like the German tongue. Because the infants were so young, the researchers inferred that they had learned the melodic patterns in the womb.

Scientists already knew that, in the final months of gestation, fetuses can hear people talking, especially their mothers. Previous studies have reported that newborns prefer the sound of their mothers’ voices to the voices of other people. Wermke, a member of the University of Wurzburg research team, believes that babies try to imitate their mothers’ behaviors and to mimic the musical structure of their mothers' words in order to attract her attention and foster bonding.  Earlier research by Fernald and Simon (see "Sources" below) has shown that infants even perceive the emotional content of their mothers' speech conveyed by intonation.

The first visible effort of infants to imitate the mother is the crying, with its falling or rising intonations. Later, the tendency to imitate vocalization is incorporated into babbling, Wermke proposes. From age 3 months on, infants begin to reproduce the vowel sounds they hear from adults.

What does this mean for parents of newborns?  Crying is not only a signal of distress, it's also a baby's effort to imitate mom in order to encourage attachment. Wermke says that parents should listen more carefully and appreciate the complexity of their babies' cries. "Crying is a language itself," she says, "and the baby is really trying to communicate with us by its first sounds already."

Key words:: human behavior infant crying infant bonding listening in the womb crying in native language

Birgit Mampe, Angela D. Friederici, Anne Christophe and Kathleen Wermke
"Newborns' Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language"
Current Biology, Volume 19, Issue 23, 11/5/2009

Fernald, A., and T. Simon. "Expanded intonation contours in mothers' speech to newborns." Developmental Psychology, Volume 20, 104–113. 1984.

Bruce Bower, "Newborns may cry in their mother tongues." Science News. 12/5/2009

Neil Greenfieldboyce. "Babies may pick up language cues in womb." National Public Radio. 11/6/2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Famous ice caps of Kilimanjaro gone by 2022

All photos and text by Sally Kneidel, PhD, at

Ever read "Snows of Kilimanjaro" by Ernest Hemingway?  Some of those famous Kilimanjaro glaciers have been around  for at least 11,700 years, and survived a drought 4200 years ago that lasted 300 years. But pretty soon, those legendary snows and ice fields will be gone - another casualty of global climate change.

Or so says glaciologist Dr. Lonnie Thompson and his colleagues from Ohio State University. Thompson and his team used data from aerial surveys and field studies to assess changes in the glaciers of Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro. The field studies included glacial drilling to measure changes in depth. Writes Thompson, "Of the ice cover present in 1912, 85% has disappeared and 26% of that present in 2000 is now gone."  The rate of melting is accelerating, reports Thompson in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

The ice masses of Kilimanjaro are both receding up the peak, and they're thinning dramatically.  Kilimanjaro's Southern Ice Field, 21 meters thick in 2000, lost 5.1 meters between 2000 and 2007.

As the glaciers retreat and break into smaller pieces, the dark rocks become exposed and absorb more sunlight than the white ice, thus heating up faster than the ice and accelerating the melting of the surrounding ice. At the documented rates of melting, Kilimanjaro's ice fields could disappear by the year 2022, according to Thompson and his colleagues in their online article in the November 2 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Alan Kneidel by a stream of springtime glacial melt.
Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

The climatological phenomena occurring on Kilimanjaro are thought to be applicable to other tropical peaks, such as those in the Andes. Says Ted Pfeffer, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, these studies will help predict when other tropical glaciers will melt and disappear.  Many of these tropical glaciers provide water for people downhill, by way of seasonal glacial melt that is replenished by winter snowfall.

                     Above, a seasonal pool of  glacial melt in the Cordillera Blanca of the Peruvian Andes.  The melted snow has, for thousands of years, been replenished during normal winters. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Above, a Quechuan family in the Andes. They have depended on seasonal glacial melt for their herding and farming needs for generations, with ancient stone aqueducts to funnel the melt to their farms. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

Above, another Quechuan family of farmers and herders in the valley below Mt. Huascaran, the highest tropical peak in the world. Photo by Sally Kneidel, PhD

What will happen when glacial melt is no longer available to communities living on and below the world's peaks? Lives will change, people will move.....who knows beyond that.

Thompson's recent publication was likely one of the studies that contributed to the Copenhagen Diagnosis. One of the conclusions of the Copenhagen Diagnosis, in its Executive Summary, is as follows:
"Acceleration of melting of ice-sheets, glaciers and ice-caps: A wide array of satellite and ice measurements now demonstrate beyond doubt that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass at an increasing rate. Melting of glaciers and ice-caps in other parts of the world has also accelerated since 1990."

So...stay tuned. Let's see what the conclusions are from the climate summit in Copenhagen. Will we all be advised to give up animal products? That would be the easiest and fastest thing to do, since Worldwatch Institute concluded that 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions are from livestock. I'm waiting for President Obama to tell us what we're going to do as a nation. If he doesn't include the fact that we now eat more animal products per capita than any other country, I'm going to suspect that he's not reading all the news.

This post now a Google News Link and posted on

L.G. Thompson et al. "Glacier loss on Kilimanjaro continues unabated." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 11/2/2009.

Sid Perkins. "Mount Kilimanjaro could soon be bald: world renowned ice caps may disappear by the 2020s." Science News. 12/5/2009.

Copenhagen Diagnosis, Executive Summary. 2009

Sally Kneidel, PhD, "Livestock responsible for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions". 

Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. "Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key factors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?" Worldwatch 22(6):10-19. Nov/Dec 2009.

Key words:: melting ice caps Kilimanjaro rising sea levels climate change

Monday, December 14, 2009

Copenhagen data: ten percent of Florida underwater by end of the century

This post is now a Google News Link and is posted on Basil and Spice

This post named by Carnival of the Green #207 as "Best Green Tweet" of the week. It was posted on Twitter December 14, 2009.

I wrote a few weeks ago that ten percent of Louisiana is projected to be underwater by the year 2100. Now, it looks like Florida is in the same boat. Or perhaps I should say "in need of" the same boat.

If we apply the predictions coming from the Copenhagen climate meetings (Dec. 7-18) to the topography of Florida, then ten percent of Florida too will be inundated by the end of this century.

The new climate projections from Copenhagen are in a report called the "Copenhagen Diagnosis," composed by a group of 26 climatologists. In essence, it says that the situation is worse than we thought - glaciers and ice sheets are melting faster, oceans are rising faster. The report is a summary of hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers published in the last couple of years. The Copenhagen Diagnosis supersedes a 2007 report from the IPCC that has been the standard for reference on climate statistics since its publication a couple of years ago. Fourteen of the climatologists who compiled the Copenhagen Diagnosis were also authors of the 2007 report from the IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That IPCC report was scary enough. The IPCC chairman declared dramatically, in 2007, that action must be taken by 2012 in order to have any effect on global warming. So we should be in the midst of those corrective actions right now, which unfortunately, we are not.

Copenhagen Diagnosis more unnerving than older IPCC report

Anyway, the Copenhagen Diagnosis is even more severe than the 2-year-old IPCC report. Some specifics from the Copenhagen Diagnosis: Arctic sea ice is melting 40% faster than was projected a few years ago. The IPCC had estimated that sea levels would rise 1.9 mm per year between 1993 and 2008. We now know from satellite data that seas have risen 3.4 mm per year during that same period, which is 80% more rise than predicted. The rise is from thermal expansion (water expands as it warms) as well as melting glaciers, ice sheets, and ice caps.

According to the Copenhagen climatologists, by the end of this century global sea levels will rise at least twice as much as earlier predicted by the IPCC. If heat-trapping emissions are not reduced, the rise will be 1 to 2 meters by the year 2010. And they will keep on rising for centuries, for a total of several meters - even if global temperatures have been stabilized.

How might this affect Florida?  

What will happen in Florida when sea levels rise, say, 27 inches? Frank Ackerman, a senior economist at the Stockholm Institute, has studied that question with computer modeling. His model projects a 27-inch rise by the year 2060, just 50 years from now.

About Florida, Ackerman says, "Our map of the area vulnerable to 27 inches of sea-level rise looks like someone took a razor to the state right above Miami and sliced off everything below that, [which includes] residential real estate worth $130 billion in that, half of Florida's beaches, two nuclear reactors, three prisons, 37 nursing homes, and on and on."

What about levees, like in New Orleans and the Netherlands? Would that help?

They won't work in Florida, because the metropolitan area of South Florida is built on porous limestone.

Dr. Hal Wanless, Chairman of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami, says that rising sea levels come right up through the limestone, as was proved during Hurricane Betsy. "There's no way to put a levee around South Florida and really keep the water out."

Katy Sorenson, a County Commissioner in Miami-Dade, says "We're going to be fighting flooding year-round. And we're going to have to adapt to that." For example, building codes will have to require higher foundations, she says.

Yes, but somehow it seems that she's missing the point. Is she paying attention? When Miami is underwater, a higher foundation is not going to help.

Half the world's population live close to coasts

This issue is not restricted to Florida and Louisiana of course. Approximately 50% of the world's population live within 60 miles of a coastline. Those numbers vary a little depending upon the source; Jared Diamond says something similar in his book Collapse. And most of those people are living in developing nations with few resources and no wealth to buffer the effect of lost homes, flooded farms. This is why we'll be hearing the term "climate refuge" more and more as the years tool along.

Well. I'll be interested to hear more news from Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Diagnosis from the climatologists has certainly earned some attention. It includes general recommendations, such as this:
If global warming is to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, then global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly. Annual per-capita emissions will have to shrink by 2050 to 85-90% of what emissions from industrialized nations were in the year 2000. A formidable task indeed, given the seeming inability of governments to fight the interests of big business.

I'm ready - what's the plan??

What I want to hear next is how will our country, and the world, make such cuts in greenhouse gas emissions? What's the plan, and who's in charge of executing it?

It's one thing to hear dire predictions and daunting must-do statements. They just get our attention (hopefully) so that we're listening when the specific plans for how we're going to change are announced. I hope President Obama will do his part, as the leader of the country that generates more greenhouse-gas emissions per capita than any other country in the world. I'll be waiting, with bated breath, for our leader to take the reins when he arrives in Copenhagen next week. I want him to tell us, convincingly, how we're going to navigate this tumultuous trip through the coming decades, in order to leave a planet worth living on for our descendants.


The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science.

The Copenhagen Diagnosis. Executive Summary.

Sally Kneidel, Ph.D. " One tenth of Louisiana to be submerged by 2100." 11/9/09

Greg Allen. "Florida faces drastic change from sea level rise." All Things Considered, National Public Radio. Dec 11, 2009.

Jared Diamond. Collapse. 2004.

Additional reading on cutting emissions:

Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. "Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key factors in climate change are cows, pigs, and chickens?" Worldwatch 22(6):10-19. Nov/Dec 2009.

Sally Kneidel, PhD. " Livestock account for 51% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions." 11/2/09

Key words:: Copenhagen Diagnosis climate change sea level rise Florida flooded Florida inundated

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Irvine, CA, schools go solar: most comprehensive solar school plan in U.S.

This post now on Google News.

We're making progress! The southern California city of Irvine is taking a giant leap for "green" energy that should help other cities follow suit. All 21 schools in the Irvine Unified School District will soon be solar-powered, by rooftop photo-voltaic panels. The historic plan was approved Tuesday Dec 8 by the Irvine school district. The project, when completed, will be one of the largest solar installations for any school system in the country.

PV panels are expensive, but the project will cost taxpayers nothing. Rather, SunEdison (the local power company) will finance, build, operate and maintain the solar power systems. The Irvine school district will purchase energy with long-term predictable pricing from Sun Edison. The plan will reduce Irvine's power bill for its school by 20% right away. Over 20 years, the school district's savings will amount to $17 million!

The obvious benefits for the plan are (1) cost savings and (2) no longer creating demand for harmful or dangerous energy sources such as coal or nuclear. Just in terms of the city's carbon footprint, the school system's solar project will offset a projected 127 million pounds of carbon dioxide over 20 years – the equivalent of removing more than 12,000 cars from the road for one year, based on an average of 12,000 annual miles per vehicle. That's according to a SunEdison press release about the plan.

But the project will accomplish much more than financial and direct environmental benefits. In an email to Kelly Jad'on of, Irvine School Board member Shelly Yarbrough says that she's even more excited about the educational component of the new solar energy system.

"The school district may be installing the solar panels on the roofs, but the district is taking solar into the classroom as well, with a full complement of courses that will take advantage of all the information this system provides. That to me means math, physics, computers, technology, business, finance, and even art. I think the resources they are devoting to this is also unprecedented."

Irvine school-board member Yarbrough goes on to say that she just returned from a state-wide educational conference in San Diego, where lots of people were talking about "how they want to do that kind of thing in their school district as well."

Indeed. Precedents are so important. I applaud wildly Irvine's taking this vital step, and their taking the trouble to publicize it so broadly. I know that other schools are using PV panels to some degree (see some of them in Jeff Barrie's excellent documentary "Kilowatt Ours"; see also my review of "Kilowatt Ours"). But apparently Irvine has made a bigger commitment than predecessors. It's exactly what we need right now. I feel some momentum, with this Irvine story and with Obama on his way to Copenhagen's climate negotiations on Dec 18. I hope so much that the momentum I sense toward taking our carbon footprint seriously is real.

Personal communication from Irvine School Board member Shelly Yarbrough to Kelly Jad'on

"IUSD Board Approes Historic Solar Agreement Projected to Save $17 Million"  Press Release from SunEdison. Dec 9, 2009.

Keywords:: carbon footprint, solar power, solar schools

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Women more attractive than spouses have more supportive marriages

My daughter, Sadie Kneidel

 Remember that old song "If You Wanna Be Happy" by Jimmy Soul?
The first verse goes like this:
  • If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
  • Never make a pretty woman your wife
  • So from my personal point of view
  • Get an ugly girl to marry you
Turns out that song is all wrong.  It should be the other way around! Or so says psychologist James McNulty, writing in the Journal of Family Psychology.  My daughter emailed me a link to his article, finding it amusing. I printed it (on scratch paper!) and laid it beside my computer. Within 5 minutes my husband strolled into my office (he works at the same place), picked up the article and looked it over, then bolted into the coffee room next to my office waving the paper and announcing to all "So this is what she really thinks of me!!"  He was joking of course. He's always funny. Now that would be a good topic for a study - how women rate humor in a spouse.  I bet it's off the charts.

Anyway, the article my daughter emailed me was really interesting, and it was research-based, unlike the song! Dr. McNulty involved 82 couples in his study, taping each couple for 10 minutes as they discussed a personal problem such as job-seeking, healthier eating, or frequency of exercise. Later each tape was rated for how supportive each spouse was of the partner's issues.

"A negative husband would've said, 'This is your problem, you deal with it,'" McNulty said, "versus 'Hey, I'm here for you, what do you want me to do?, how can I help you?'"

In addition, the experimenter trained a group of "coders" to rate the facial attractiveness of each spouse from 1 to 10, with 10 being maximally good-looking.  About a third of the couples were equally attractive, a third had a more attractive husband, and a third had a more attractive wife.

Then he looked for any correlations between supportive comments and attractiveness ratings. Here's what he found:  overall, both husbands and wives were more supportive when the wife was more attractive than her husband!  

Said McNulty, "The husband who's less physically attractive than his wife is getting something more than maybe he can expect to get.  He's getting something better than he's providing at that level.  So he's going to work hard to maintain that relationship."

On the flip side, a man who is more attractive than his wife might have a "grass is greener" attitude, always aware that he could have access to women better looking than his wife.

McNulty suggested that women are more interested in a supportive spouse than in his looks. And their behavior mirrors their husbands'.  If a man is supportive, his wife is too.

In addition, McNulty and his colleagues questioned the couples on their degree of marital satisfaction.  The only association between "marital satisfaction" and attractiveness was that more attractive husbands were less satisfied.  Again, this may be a function of a handsome man's "grass is greener" perspective.

I have to say, at least part of this rings true for me.  I think women do value support and encouragement from a spouse more than they value his looks. I can't say how much men value support from a spouse.  In my experience, they appreciate it and perhaps need it, but don't actively seek it as often as women do.

What do you think?

James K.McNulty, Lisa A. Neff, Benjamin R. Karney.  "Beyond Initial Attraction: Physical Attractiveness in Newlywed Marriage." Journal of Family Psychology. March 1, 2008.

Jeanna Bryner. "Why Beautiful Women Marry Less Attractive Men."  LiveScience. April 10, 2008.

Key words:: supportive marriage attractive spouse psychological study James McNulty Journal of Family Psychology

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

H1N1 widespread but declining. Experts disagree about a 3rd wave of infection this winter.

I read some new information today about H1N1, directly from our country’s primary source. The director of the Centers for Disease Control, which is monitoring the H1N1 pandemic, gave a weekly briefing to the press on Tuesday December 1. A transcript of Dr. Frieden's comments is available on the CDC website.

Following is a condensation of his main points, where he talks about the decline in H1N1 cases over the last 4 weeks, and the uncertainty over whether we will see a third wave during the coming winter. In his remarks, he stresses repeatedly that right now is a good time to try again to get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.  Widespread vaccination could prevent the occurrence of a third wave of H1N1 infections.  In trying to make predictions, Dr. Frieden compares the H1N1 pandemic to the flu pandemic of1957-58.   I found those remarks particularly interesting.  See what he has to say!  There is no better expert on the subject in the United States than the director of the CDC. Following are the words of Dr. Frieden during his December 1 press briefing, edited for brevity:

"We are in a window of opportunity.  We're going from a time where there was lots of disease and not enough vaccines to a time where disease is gradually decreasing and we're having a steady increase in the amount of vaccine available.  That leaves a window of opportunity for people to be protected by getting the vaccine.  The flu virus is unpredictable.  We can't be sure of what will happen in the future.  There's been a decline in activity, but there's still lots of flu.  Flu is widespread in 32 states.  Although flu is going down, it’s far from gone.  And flu season lasts until May.  Only time will tell what the rest of the season will bring.  There are still lots of kids who are sick and lots of people who are at risk of getting influenza and end up getting severely ill from it.

"One question that all of us naturally have is, will we have another wave, or another large number of cases in the months to come, between now and May?  We took an informal poll of about a dozen of some of the world's leading experts in influenza.  About half of them said, yes, we think it's likely that we'll have another surge in cases.  About half said, no, we think it's not likely.  And one said, flip a coin.  We don't know what the future will hold.  What we can do is track it very closely so that as the cases develop or don't develop, we can determine where they're occurring and what their characteristics are.

"It's important to remember that in the last pandemic that behaved this way, 1957-1958, more than 50 years ago, there was a large surge in cases at the beginning of the school year, then a waning of cases, and then in December, January, February, there was a big increase in the number of people who were severely ill or who died.  We don't know if that will happen this year.  We do know that the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself.  

"With the increasing amounts of vaccine available it is a window of opportunity for protection.  There are now nearly 70 million vaccine doses available.  And we're seeing that more people are getting vaccinated. And as that happens, it's harder for the virus to spread.  Increasing supply should lead to the ease of getting vaccinated in many places, but we know it's still far too frustrating.  We know there are lots of people who wanted to get vaccinated but who haven’t been able to get vaccinated yet.  We know from polls that 9 out of 10 people who wanted to get vaccinated and didn’t receive the vaccine, said they would try again.  Now, it's a good time to try again because vaccine is increasingly available.  We're seeing variability. Some states are getting school kids vaccinated and holding back some of the vaccine from doctors' offices.  Other places are mostly working with doctors' offices and not so much with schools.  So there are differences.

"We continue to have not as much vaccine as we would like to at this point.  About a quarter of all of the vaccine that we have available is in the form of nasal spray which is available for people in the age of 2 to 49 who don't have underlying health conditions.  We heard about reluctance on the part of health-care workers and others to get the nasal spray.  There's really no reason to be any less confident in the nasal flu vaccine.

"In summary, we don't know what the future will bring.  We do know that we have more vaccine now.  It is a real window of opportunity to get vaccinated in the coming weeks and months.  And vaccination remains our best protection against the flu and for people who are sick.  It's important still to get prompt treatment.  When you're sick with flu-like symptoms, it may or not be flu, but if you're sick, see a doctor.  Or if you have an underlying health condition like diabetes, it's particularly important to see your doctor.  Thank you."  

So. What do you think? Have you tried to get vaccinated and been unable to?  I would love to hear your comments on my website at or here at

Press Briefing Transcripts
Weekly 2009 H1N1 Flu Media Briefing
December 1, 2009 1:00 p.m.

Keywords:: H1N1 vaccine swine flu CDC pandemic