Thursday, January 31, 2013

Remembering the 2003 Cedar Fire While Taking my Swedish Driver's License Test

I recently took a Driver's Road Test over here in Sweden and had an experience which brought the Fire & Health news headline into focus. The News headline was on a study of a possible health issue maybe many don't normally consider if they are some distance and seemingly un-effected by immediate fire danger and it's aftermath consequences.  In other words they probably consider themselves as a mere spectator more than anything else when such a catastrophic event takes place locally. Yet that smoke and other resulting toxic fumes can have a huge impact on health as I have personally experienced. The Cedar Fire personally touched my health almost a year afterwards.
Wiki Photo

October 2003 Cedar Fire crosses the I-15 freeway
onto Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar
The Cedar Fire was a human-caused wildfire which burned out of control through a large area of Southern California in October 2003. The blaze was driven by Santa Ana Winds and burned 280,278 acres, 2,820 buildings, and killed 15 people including one firefighter. It was the largest recorded fire in California history. The Cedar Fire was one of 15 fires throughout Southern California in October 2003 burning at once. The collection of fires burned 721,791 acres of land. The Cedar Fire forced the evacuation of the main air traffic control facility for San Diego and Los Angeles, shutting down all commercial air traffic in the area and disrupting air traffic across the United States. It was started by Sergio Martinez of West Covina, California, who claimed he was hunting in the area and had become lost. At first he stated that the fire was started accidentally by a gunshot, but later said he started the fire to signal rescuers. He was convicted of lying to a Federal Officer and sentenced to six months in jail. The total cost of damages from the 15 fires in October 2003 was around 2 billion dollars.

The article in PhysOrg and other journals brought home the very personal reminder of how deadly to one's health these mega-fires can be even when a long way off. Here is the link and forward: 


"Pollution from forest fires is impacting the health of people with asthma and other chronic obstructive lung diseases, finds a study in Biomed Central's open access journal Environmental Health. This study uses data from pharmacies and dispensaries to measure the increase in drugs needed to alleviate symptoms associated with pollution."
Indeed, I remember the morning I found out about the fire. My sister called around 5:00 in the morning saying she was told by authorities to evacuate her Lakeside place and move the horses out. She parked all her vehicles across the street from us and we stayed glued to the televisions set most of that day. That was Sunday and Monday was a work day. They were advising everyone to stay at home for health reasons, but I went to work. The company gave everyone the day off, but I wanted to work. Smoke and ash was thick everywhere, but I felt I was alright because I had one of those temporary paper dust masks you see body shop guys wearing when they're sanding the the Bondo with a power sander. I know it was dumb. It did keep the heavy dust out, but you could definitely feel the effect of the gases in the air. I went home before lunch. It was to much. There was no immediate effect, but from that time on through next summer there was a continual haze which hung in the air back then. The main reason was because the Rainy season of 2003/2004 was lousy as far as rainfall totals. Nothing really washed away all that piled up ash from Octobers fires down the flood channels to the Pacific Ocean. So every time the winds or even just a slight breeze kicked up, there was this constant grey haze in the air that you could get away from and it had a cough effect on many people.

Smoking-Induced Acute Eosinophilic Pneumonia
It was interesting that the article referenced in the link mentioned problems with people who already had health issues. But I think more work should be done on how it can create health problems with folks who previously had no health issues. For me it was miserable all that year long at work. I hated it when the dust kicked up. Even my eyes would get irritated. Then in the Hot Summer of 2004 around the 1st of August it happened. I got pneumonia and the temps had been in the high 90s Fahrenheit, or close to 40 Celsius. Who would have believed it. I had never had it before and thought this was something only caught in wintertime. I was out from work for almost 5 weeks. Even when I could come back, it really took another three months to get over the ailment. Interestingly you can Google cigarette smoke induced pneumonia and find all kinds of references, but I have found nothing on Forest Fire smoke effects. After that experience, my lungs were never the same. When I moved over here to Sweden after getting married, that summer I got what I thought was pneumonia again, but was in reality a form of bronchitis brought on by my wife's two cats. I have always had an allergy to cats all my life, but not with this type of response. I was laid up for a couple months. 

Now suddenly last week while taking my ridiculously expensive Swedish Driver's License driving test, I was required to take an alcohol breath test before we started off down the road and had to blow into a device that would click when the blowing test was finished, but it wouldn't click. I tried several times and no click. The instructor went ahead and did it for me so that the car would run. I also suddenly realized that I no longer have the deeper lung capacity I always had. I ran out of breath before the device would click and I could sense & feel this. Clearly there is more to damaging brush fire smoke fumes on all people than those who would commonly fall under a government at risk list. Hopefully one day they test this out. Watching the News of all the air pollution over in China, I can only imagine what's going on with the average person's lungs there in Beijing. 

Image: Living in a Toxic World
Well, if you are old enough here, remember what it was like in Southern California in the 1960s and driving in L.A. smog congestion ? True, often times today, this smog backs up all the way to the San Bernardino Mountains where it becomes an Inland Empire problem. Still the smog persists, but not as bad as the old days. In some ways it is equal, but only because the population is greater. Can you imagine how bad it would be with 1960s emissions technologies still running the show ? That's where China and India are now, among other third world countries. An interesting point on that smog level in the mountains in the Los Angeles photograph. Notice the smog elevation level against the mountains ? Mountain of the pine forests in Southern California no longer extend lower as they once did. True, these mega-fires have taken a toll on forest cover, but smog was always a continual problem. San Bernardino Mountains have lost numerous Ponderosa and Jeffrey Pine to smog damage. They simply need clean air, most living things do. A former Wildlife Biologist, Tom Roberts, up in Idyllwild in the early 1980s predicted that Idyllwild would loose most of it's pines and his recommendation would be the Giant Sierra Sequoia Redwood as a replacement. Fortunately this hasn't happened YET!

Now getting back to Mega-Fire emergency warnings and heading these. It's also important that you definitely head these warnings even IF you think or feel you know better. I understand the people who want to protect property, but that was a decision you made and knew the consequences of when you first chose to live in these areas. Don't risk either your life or some rescuers life for your stubbornness. You can buy new things, but you can't replace yourself, family and/or your health.

Other Reference Reading:
Science Daily, July 2012: Gas from Pollutants, Forest Fires at Potentially Toxic Levels

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Who Knew ? Trees are not only Good to Inspire You, They are Necessary for Your Health and Well Being

Credit: Me!
Gunnebo Estate in Göteborg Sweden where I visited last Spring. Evidence indicates how important trees are in the environment and to human health. Who knew that euphoric feeling you get when you surround yourself within such an environment was actually good for you and not just your imagination ? Of course this is nothing new and no one needs any science report to convince them of the truth of this fact. However, earlier in 2011 the online journal Science Daily had an article titled:
Green Environments Essential for Human Health, Research Shows
Now newer research as reported by the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station suggests that Trees and Human health go hand in hand. Funny, this is something gardeners and landscapers have known all along. There is no doubt that more study is needed as to some of the mechanical components of just how all of this works, but clearly people in such a healthy forested or at least vegetative environment health-wise fair much better. When I look at some cities around the globe that are jam packed with human beings and the total lack of any type of vegetation and the misery suffered in those areas for various reasons, it makes you wonder the "What If ?" or "Who Knew ?" questions!

Credit: Dan Herms Ohio State University
A tree lined street in Toledo, Ohio in 2006,
 before emerald ash borer infestation

Credit Dan Herms Ohio State University

Three years later in 2009, after the invasive
 spread to the neighborhood.

The Relationship Between Trees and Human Health Evidence from the Spread of the Emerald Ash Borer

Portland, Oregon January 16, 2013. 
Evidence is increasing from multiple scientific fields that exposure to the natural environment can improve human health. In a new study by the U.S. Forest Service, the presence of trees was associated with human health. 
For Geoffrey Donovan, a research forester at the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, and his colleagues, the loss of 100 million trees in the eastern and midwestern United States was an unprecedented opportunity to study the impact of a major change in natural environment on human health. 
In an analysis of 18 years of data from 1,296 counties in 15 states, researchers found that Americans living in areas infested by the emerald ash borer, a beetle that kills ash trees, suffered from an additional 15,000 deaths from Cardiovascular disease and 6,000 more deaths from lower respiratory disease when compared to uninfected areas. When emerald ash borer comes into a community, city streets lined with ash trees become treeless. 
The researchers analyzed demographic, human mortality, and forest health data at the county level between 1990 and 2007. The data came from counties in states with at least one confirmed case of emerald ash borer in 2010. The findings -- which hold true after accounting for the influence of demographic differences, like income, race, and education -- are published in the current issue of American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 
"There's a natural tendency to see our findings and conclude that, surely, the higher mortality rates are because of some confounding variable, like income or education, and not the loss of trees," said Donovan, "But we saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups." 
Although the study shows association between loss of trees and human mortality from cardiovascular and lower respiratory disease, it did not prove a causal link. The reason for the association is yet to be determined. 
The emerald ash borer was first discovered near Detroit, Michigan, in 2002. The borer attacks all 22 species of North american ash and kills virtually all of the trees it infests. - The study was conducted in collaboration with David Butry, with National Institute of Standards and Technology; Yvonne Michael, with Drexel University; and Jeffrey Prestemon, Andrew Liebold, Demetrios Gatziolis, and Megam Mao, with the Forest Service's Southern, Northern, and Pacific Northwest Research Stations."
(SOURCE): Tree and human health may be linked Contact: Jeffrey Donovan, (503) 808-2043,

Media Assistance: Yasmeen Sands, (360) 753-7716,

Despite Reports to the Contrary, Invasive Plants will Cause Natives to go Extinct

Credit: James Cornwell
Native plants on a California reserve. Most natives are on mounding islands where they are trying to hang on. Once the mycorrhizal network grid system within the chaparral plant community has been replaced by a bacterial one, this actually favours the invasive annual weeds which thrive in such an environment. The California natives simply cannot compete. Sadly, it's not just the ignorant activities of the early cattle ranching pioneers who deliberately made an irresponsible business decision to alter the chaparral & oak woodland landscape to a grassland-scape using foreign grass species from Europe to feed more cattle than the land could support, but also the irresponsible actions today by what should be educated & informed Forestry Officials utilizing bad science to control mega-fires through a  proven flawed method called prescribed burns that have actually exacerbated the problem causing invasive weeds to spread rapidly. There is a war raging across the planet to stop the invasive species  from other countries from invading other lands. There is no country or region of the planet which has not been effected. For example, for all you south-westerners who demonize the Tamarisk for destroying 10s of 1000s of acreage of riparian habits in your desert regions, you should know that your beloved Mesquite is a horrible  invasive species in Asia and Africa where Tamarisk comes from. Both trees are wonderful plants in the correct balanced setting, but put the blame where it really belongs, on human idiocy, not the plants. Agribusiness in the United States had the bright idea years ago to bring Tamarisk over to the desert regions to create windbreaks. In their ignorance they never once utilized their powers of observation to consider the actual resources available around them that nature creates natural barriers like the Mesquite Mounds which could have been replicated by the constructing of large berms running for miles along fields and/or along roads and railway right-of-ways with various native mesquites, palo verdes ironwoods, etc. 
Southern Xinjiang Railway
The example of utilizing a berm next to a railroad by use of heavy equipment has been done in China as the photo to the right proves. Extend this further back and plant with southwest natives and an artificial Mesquite dune could have been created for further height next to the Coachella Valley Southern Pacific or Interstate 10 right-of-ways. But it's the Mesquite from the southwest that has ruined the landscape in Africa and India where it has spread like an invasive weed, thanks to the bright idea of the United Nations (another inept made made organization). Here is what the Invasive Species Council based in Australia had to say on this matter.
"Aid agencies face pressure to provide quick solutions to long-term problems, so they recommend plants that thrive on degraded lands - in other words, plants with the attributes of weeds," Mr Low said today.
"Mesquite, a prickly firewood tree heavily promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, is now causing great suffering in Africa, where it is invading farmland and national parks."
"Sudan has passed a law to eradicate it, and Kenya and Ethiopia have declared it a noxious weed," Invasive species Biologist Tim Low said.
Lately I've noticed, in the face of Climate Change and Global Warming alarm, that there are a number of movements out there trying to downplay the dangers of change and invasive species as not being all that bad and we should accept the inevitable. We should learn to live with these consequences and adapt to the change. That is bunk. I'll never except human stupidity and make excuses and concessions for it. There has even been an attempt to downplay the bad role that invasives will play in destroying native species from their traditional habitats. Yet a new study came from the University of Toronto, shedding light on the reality of the serious situation and exposing the falsehood of that propaganda.
TORONTO, ONTARIO - Ecologists at the University of Toronto and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) have found that, given time, invading exotic plants will likely eliminate native plants growing in the wild despite recent reports to the contrary. 
 A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) reports that recent statements that invasive plants are not problematic are often based on incomplete information, with insufficient time having passed to observe the full effect of invasions on native biodiversity. 
 "The impacts of exotic plant invasions often take much longer to become evident than previously thought," says Benjamin Gilbert of U of t's Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and lead author of the study. "This delay can create an 'extinction debt' in native plant species, meaning that these species are going extinct but the actual extinction event occurs hundreds of years after the initial invasion." 
 Much of the debate surrounding the threat posed to biodiversity by the invasions of non-native species is fueled by recent findings that competition from introduced  plants has driven remarkably few plants to extinction. Instead, native plant species in invaded ecosystems are often relegated to patchy, marginal habitats unsuitable to their non-native competitors. 
 However, Gilbert and co-author Jonathan Levine of ETH Zurich say that it is uncertain whether colonization and extinction dynamics of the plants in marginal habitats will allow long-term native persistence. - "Of particular concern is the possibility that short term persistence of native flora in invaded habitats masks eventual extinction," says Levine. 
 The researchers conducted their research in a California reserve where much of the remaining native plant diversity exists in marginal areas surrounded by invasive grasses. They performed experiments in the reserve and coupled their results with quantitative models to determine the long term impacts of invasive grasses on native plants. 
"Invasion has created isolated 'islands of native plants' in a sea of exotics," says Gilbert. "This has decreased the size of native habitats, which reduces seed production and increases local extinction. It also makes it much harder for native plants to recolonize following a local extinction." 
"Our research also allows us to identify how new habitats for native flora could be created that would prevent extinction from happening. These habitats would still be too marginal for invaders, but placed in such a way as to create 'bridges' to other habitat patches," says Gilbert. 
The findings are reported in the paper "Plant Invasions and Extinction Debts" in PNAS Early Edition this week. The research is supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Packard Foundation. -
Credit: James Cornwell
Once again take note of the Chaparral islands which were referred to in the above article. Many of these chaparral islands also contain a native type of bi-colored sunflower called "Tidy Tips" which are also endangered as seen here in yellow on those mounds. This is the beautiful green time of year in California chaparral country. The lush looking meadows are however mostly made up of annual non-natives which will dry up and turn brown in summer. It's these plants which burn like gasoline during mega-fire season and it's generally the chaparral which gets the blame. Modern government mismanagement practices and policies have made this spread of invasives far worse as the latest article.
Image - Maureen Glimer
Many long time native Californians will remember this plant from the old days when they were once plentiful. The flower is called "Tidy Tips" (Layia platyglossa) and they were heavily growing on Rattlesnake Mountain in El Cajon when I was growing up as a kid in the 1960s. Unfortunately there is not a single plant existing up there any longer. I know because when I visited California in 2011, I made a deliberate attempt to look for it. What I remember most about the thick patches of them which grew interspersed with California Buckwheat & Coastal Sagebrush which also contained some Sea Lavender, was the biodiversity of insects, especially the butterflies population varieties which were very heavy. They too are now gone.

Credit: Me!!!
The beautiful bicoloured "Tidy Tips" were always thick and dense at the top of this street where that SUV is now parked, all the way halfway up this mountain. The yellow you now see is a mix of non-native MustardStar ThistleFoxtail grasses and so forth. Other than the coastal sage scrub, most annual wild flowers are long gone, including the Blue Bells which use to sprout the next spring after a brushfire. Above that parked SUV is a naturalized Palo Verde Tree which volunteered from a seed source of a 50 year old Palo Verde tree to the far left of the SUV, but which is out of the picture. I'll give that one a pass.
Further references:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

How the Major Historical World Empires Have "Ruined the Earth"

Credit: NPR
An aerial view of the Suncor oil sands extraction facility on the banks of the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada, in 2009. Scientists say contaminants found at the bottom of lakes in Alberta are from air pollutants from the facilities responsible for producing and processing tar sans oil. By all means read the story and click on the radio link on that page from the link below.
Deep In Canadian Lakes, Signs Of Tar Sands Pollution
The photo above of Suncor's Oil Sands Operations in Alberta Canada is certainly something very well known in the News Reports these day. While there is certainly much focus on the land desecration, water contamination and potential for eventual end result of air pollution, this wasn't necessarily the first things that came to my mind when viewing the photos and reading the article. Although the article from "npr" is informative and certainly exposes the usual irresponsible behavior by some of this world's largest Industrial Corporations, but there was something else that caught my eye in the next photograph. Take a long hard look at the photo below and what outstanding feature do you see that is rarely addressed. You'll have to look real hard. If it was a rattlesnake, you'd be dead by now. Yes of course the Oil Industry and it's obsession with continuing it's monopoly of energy production is always there. Of course the consequences of pollution in the form of higher CO2s  (everyone's flavourite topic) resulting in warmer Temps seems to be the main focus, but again, even those are minuscule compared to what is present in the background inside that photo. It's that tree line in the background which covers the entire picture from left to right. I often wonder if people really do comprehend the vast amount of forest land destruction destruction that is going on and whether all vegetation disruption is truly accounted for by those who create the data and charts which illustrate the historical magnitude of the problem.
The Shell Oil Jackpine Open Pit Mine uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh 1 million pounds and cost $7 million each. There is explosive growth in the oil field areas around Fort McMurrayAlberta, Canada.
Credit: NPR
I suppose it's easy to miss. It's simply a thin looking charcoal gray line, looking more like some meaningless vibrational resonance frequency on a Richter-Scale chart. Unfortunately people today have short attention spans and failing memories of what the natural world use to look like. Some younger generations have no clue as to what the natural world once looked like because it simply no longer exists in many areas as it once did. Even being shown some of the  historical pictures, it's still hard to impress upon them the grave seriousness of the problem. On my other blog I have documented what Science has actually discovered about how a healthy forest  is the ultimate climate driving mechanism with all of it's various complex weather modification components. Proof of this is the present Geo-engineering technologies which replicate what trees, shrubs and other vegetation actually accomplish. The Earth in the past has been able to put up with a lot of misuse and abuse. In the past most of the devastation took place in localized geographical locations. So changes to climate were mostly micro-climate oriented, from which recovery could be much more possible. Today however, countless localized disruptions taken together as a whole over the past century, have now influenced the Earth's climate on a macro level which now has proven to have effected the entire global weather mechanism. Suddenly, there is no easy fast fix. That's why so many stupid  "Fit-It-Pill" approaches have been suggested as a desperate quick fix. The Geniuses on this planet know full well it takes time to rebuild these natural systems back to their former glory, but economies cannot be touched for fear of riots and discontent in the streets. So real solutions to changing behavior are not really ever presented on the table other than the usual lip service for the public record to show they cared.

Let's look at some of the historical disastrous Empire building and maintenance issues problems from the past and compare them to today's Global World Power which is basically the USA/Britain alliance. Not long ago and I believe it was last year, the reports came out about just what killed off the Mayan and Aztec Empires. True the Spanish came and finished them off completely, but they were in decline before that and the reason was deforestation followed by severe drought which destroyed their agriculture. Do your own Google and you'll find several studies that came out last year. However for a short clip from NASA on this explanation, please view the video below. Seriously, you've got a minute & 22 seconds.

Credit Wiki

Bonito Pueblo
The Anasazi geological regions of the American Southwestern area called the Colorado Plateau also holds some pertinent clues as to their gradual demise and eventual downfall and collapse. There is a huge evidence for deforestation on that Colorado plateau area, though it may be difficult to believe when you visit this area today. Mostly it is a high desert scene, but at one time was forested by Ponderosa Pine, Pinyon Pine and Juniper. However none of these trees exist in many of these areas once formerly covered with such vegetation. A major clue comes not only from the timbers used in Pueblo construction, but also the now ancient abandoned Packrat Middens which are a collection of local site vegetation and objects. Many of these contain Pinyon needles and Ponderosa Pine cones along with other vegetation debris which indicates a wetter climate. Today mostly the vegetation covered is Silver Sagebrush.


Cyrene Libya
Getting back to Empire Building, the Ottoman Empire deforested tremendous amounts of land for utilizing wood to run their Empire's Steam Train Locomotives which connected the empire from extensive distances. The demise of Cedar of Lebanon & Aleppo Pine forests which were once vast are now today only a fraction of their former glory. But constant changing of Empires or world powers of Assyria, Babylon, Egyptian, Medo-Persia, Greece and finally Roman world empires all took their own toll. If I could just focus on the Roman Empire and a major part of it's reason for it's collapse. All World Powers are desperate for wealth creation in order to maintain their status as 'THE' prevailing World Power. Rome was no different and in many ways some of the things they did were similar to the present. But prior to Rome there was a small but powerful Kingdom of Carthage and a leader named Hannibal who fought against Rome early on. He used Elephants in his military campaign. While there is speculation and debate as to the actual breed of elephant, there was no doubt and evidence of a species of elephant in North Africa. Of course these are now extinct, along with other Savanna animals and the forests which once existed in Tunisia, Algeria and Libya. Again, back then North African was a whole different place. Sub-Tropical and Mediterranean Oak Savanna dominated along with coniferous forests in mountain regions, the remnants of which still exist in smaller geographical pockets. But Rome had ambitions of Empire Building for which Oak Forests made for excellent Ship Building for moving merchant goods and troops throughout the Mediterranean. Incredibly there are similarities to the ancient Roman Empire and the present Anglo-American world power. Take a look at this link and a quote below.
BBC News: "The Role of Deforestation in the Fall of Rome"
Deforestation in Warfare 
Finally, conquering generals such as Julius Caesar often found that native tribes in Gaul or Britain would simply escape them by running off into the forests and launching surprise attacks when they tried to set up camp. To solve the problem, many generals simply took the easy route and burned down the forest. Many thousands of acres were cleared this way by Caesar alone.

Operation Ranch Hand

Is it just me or does anyone else see an uncanny similarity by the Pax-Romana  Empire and the present ruling Pax Americana Empire to the Vietnam War and the use of Agent Orange ? There are numerous examples of deforestation, but one wonders when all the historical data is tallied, what exactly is considered deforestation criteria other than the usual logging estimates ? Are all the wars and the forest fires included on those lists ? At the present moment there are once again devastating wildfires in Australia. Every year the same situation exists in the southwestern United States. Are these also included as deforestation ? How about the millions of acres burned in Russia a couple years ago ? Here's a new one. Are all the irresponsible land management policies of prescribed or control burns included ? How about Brush mastication by means of grinding, chain pulling, bulldozing etc, are these also included on those lists ? Then of course there are the usual irresponsible land management practices of millions of private landowners with weekend farms or Ranchettes ?  All of these vegetation systems are mechanisms by which our planet's entire climate structure and mechanisms are based, aside from the usual Natural Laws of physics like the Coriolis effect, High & Low Pressure centers etc. If you don't believe that forests are the reason for much of Earth's cloud formation and rainfall creation, the Google for yourself ALL of the Patents of the globes major Weather Modification Companies and the innovations they have created which mimic how nature accomplishes these things, but on a more condensed or concentrated level.

The big problem today is that the present world (USA/Britain) power is probably the last the Earth will ever see. Expansion on our globe is complete and there is basically nowhere else to explore and conquer. All that the former Imperialistic Colonizing countries can now do is manipulate the present regimes in 3rd world lands they once dominated over who are still rich in natural resources. And it's these resources which will continue to keep the present world power's economy afloat, for a while longer anyway. As the links showed, the Romans depleted their Empire's dominion of it's easiest to obtain raw materials with the technologies they had available to them at the time. No doubt their various actions across their empire did create bad localized weather anomalies which were devastating on Agricultural endeavors. And it is Agriculture more than all else that will control people's lives more than any luxury goods business ventures. Hmmmm, isn't there a  Henry Kissinger 1970  quote here somewhere ? Of course, GMOs are a whole other issue in the power grab game! But now getting back to actual subject of our above post News Report of the devastating effects of the Oil Sands/Shale Industry Operations, it doesn't appear like things will get better anytime soon. Here is a quote from a recent News article on the status of Oil or Tar Sands Projects:
BBC News: "US oil production 'to jump by a quarter by 2014'
The US will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil producer "by around 2020", an International Energy Agency (IEA) report predicted at the end of last year.
In fact, global oil production will rise, thanks to the discovery of shale oil.
 "Total oil production is about to rise," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, told the BBC.
 "We estimate total oil production to reach about 100 million barrels a day, about 20 million higher than today. 
"This growth comes from unconventional [shale] oil." 
 The discovery of shale oil means global oil production will not peak in the next 20 years, Mr Birol added. 

(Photo: Peter Essick)
A nature environmental photographer who specializes in global warming shots snapped these amazing aerials of the Athabasca Oil Sands, a crude oil mine that underlays much of the the Athabasca River in Alberta, Canada. The mine extracts tar from the sands to create synthetic oil. Don't worry though, those trees weren't a total waste. Somebody somewhere made some quick cash off the deal.
Can anyone fathom how destructive such an increase in this Tar Sands industry will have on Earth and it's ecosystems ?  Pumping oil was one thing. A hole bored into the earth in multiple locations along with the usual contaminants is certainly bad enough. But wholesale strip mining on a scale that makes old time mineral strip mines look like gopher holes by comparison. How long will it take nature's weather mechanisms for grow back and be fully functional once again ? Could any of this wholesale removal of forests had anything to do with the horrendous droughts in North America last year ? And will there truly be any improvement on those evil CO2 releases that they fight about at some of their bogus Climate Change Conferences where they usually argue about who's economy is going to out perform the others ? Does anyone believe the Nations are really serious about Climate change ? Is there as yet any historical precedent to prove they will change their Economy first at any and all costs for the sake of Earth's natural environment ? No! Too bad none of their Ideologically driven ambassadors include people with  the same opinion as Roman Poet Caecilius Statius (220 BC-166 BC) who said, 
"We plant trees not for ourselves, but for future generations."
Reading References: 

Encylopedia of Earth: "Mediterranean conifer and mixed forests"

BBC News: "The Role of Deforestation in the Fall of Rome"

University of Tennessee: "The Mysterious Disappearance of the Anasazi "

Friday, January 4, 2013


That Old Time Butcher's Block !
Remember those old time butcher blocks behind most all meat counters ? One day in the early 1990s, some new science based study suggested to the Government that they all had Coodies. Hence, at least in California, all commercial establishments had to rid themselves of those evil wooden cutting boards or be fined, shut down or both. What a sham that was and yet, there was a few University studies that revealed otherwise. That however didn't matter. A government mandate was the order of the day and the old time wooden butcher block was out. 

I remember when I owned and ran my gourmet bakery distribution business in western Riverside County. All of the restaurants I served with specialty breads in 1992 were moaning over the new law which forbid them to use wooden cutting boards in their restaurants and Butcher Shops. Some of these Butcher's Blocks were a few decades old and never a problem. Suddenly some genius comes up with the idea that wood must be unhealthy and therefore new scientific innovations in the world of plastics certainly were far superior. I remember stopping by Cahuilla Market and conversing with owner Chuck McKee who owned the Market and Deli he and his wife Jackie had just opened. He didn't much like government regulations anyway and this was one more irritation under his belt. In 1993 I found a study that was produced by the University of Wisconsin which proved wood was far far safer than the plastic cutting boards. Come to find out, wood does have antibacterial properties which bacteria cannot live on or in. Chuck brought this up to the Health Inspectors attention a couple of weeks later, but it feel on deaf ears. She said she and her supervisors had read the study and the results of their findings, but they were not budging on their opinion of no wood plastic only rules. Chuck was furious, but could do nothing.

Recently I was preparing some vegetables on our plastic cutting board and have always been conscious of super cleaning it with soap, alcohol and hot water with a brush after using each time. I remembered this study and thought I'd remind everyone who may or even may not have known about this incredible study. As time passes you forget just what is important as far as food safety, even though you may have read these before. The first is that paper from the University of Wisconsin. Pay attention closely to this report. It is both education, even if it's a refresher for some, and humorous in exposing what was conventionally thought. 


"We began our research comparing plastic and wooden cutting boards after the U.S. Department of Agriculture told us they had no scientific evidence to support their recommendation that plastic, rather than wooden cutting boards be used in home kitchens. Then and since, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Inspection Manuel (official regulations) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's 1999 Food Code (recommended regulations for restaurants and retail food sales in the various states of the U.S.) permit use of cutting boards made of Maple or similar close-grained hardwood. They do not authorize specifically acceptable plastic materials, nor do they specify how plastic surfaces must be maintained."
"Our research was first intended to develop means of disinfecting wooden cutting surfaces at home, so that they would be almost as safe as plastics. Our safety concern was that bacteria such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, which might contaminate a work surface when raw meat was prepared, ought not remain on the surface to contaminate other foods that might be eaten without further cooking, We soon found that disease bacteria such as these were not recoverable from wooden surfaces in a short time after they were applied, unless very large numbers were used. New plastic surfaces allowed the bacteria to persist, but were easily cleaned and disinfected. However, wooden boards that had been used and had many knife cuts acted almost the same as new wood, whereas plastic surfaces that were knife-scarred were impossible to clean and disinfect manually, especially when food residues such as chicken fat were present. Scanning electron micrographs  revealed highly significant damage to plastic surfaces from knife cuts."
"Although the bacteria that have disappeared from the wood surfaces are found alive inside the wood for some time after application, they evidently do not multiply, and they gradually die. They can be detected only by splitting or gouging the wood or by forcing water completely through from one surface to the other. If a sharp knife is used to cut into the work surfaces after used plastic or wood has been contaminated with bacteria and cleaned manually, more bacteria are recovered from a used plastic surface than from a wood surface."
"Manual cleaning" in our experiments has been done with a sponge, hot tapwater, and liquid dishwashing detergent. Mechanical cleaning with a dishwashing machine can be done successfully with plastic surfaces (even if knife-scarred) and wooden boards especially made for this. Wooden boards, but not plastics, that are small enough to fit into a microwave oven can be disinfected rapidly, but care must be used to prevent overheating. Work surfaces that have been cleaned can be disinfected with bleach (sodium hypochlorite) solutions; this disinfection is reliable only if cleaning has been done successfully."
"These experiments described have been conducted with more than 10 species of hardwoods and 4 plastic polymers, as well as hard rubber. Because we found essentially no differences among tested wood species, not all combinations of bacteria and wood were tested, nor were all combinations of bacteria and plastics or hard rubber. Bacteria tested, in addition to those named above, include Campylobacter jejuni, Listeria monocytogenes, and Staphylococcus aureus."
"We believe that the experiments were designed to be properly representative of conditions in a home kitchen. The may of may not be applicable to other plastic and wooden food contact surfaces or to cutting boards in commercial food processing or food service operations, but we have no reason to believe that they are not relevant, except that not all plastic surfaces are subject to knife scarring. Before our first studies had been published, they were criticized incorrectly for not having included used (knife-scarred) cutting surfaces. We had been careful to include used surfaces, and so were surprised that others who did later experiments and claimed to have refuted our findings often had used new plastics and wood. Although some established scientific laboratories say their results differ from ours, we have received multiple communications from school children who have done science projects that have reached essentially the same conclusions that we did."
"We have no commercial relationships to any company making cutting boards or other food preparation utensils. We have tested boards and cleaning and disinfection products, some of which were supplied to us by gratis (free or gift). We have not tested all of the products that have been sent to us, simply because there is not time. We are aware that there are other food preparation surfaces made of glass or of stainless steel; we have done very little with these because they are quite destructive of the sharp cutting edges of knives, and therefore introduce another class of hazard to the kitchen. We believe, on the basis of our published and to-be-published research, that food can be prepared safely on wooden cutting surfaces and that plastic and that plastic cutting surfaces present some disadvantages that had been overlooked until we found them."
"In addition to our laboratory research on this project, we learned after arriving in California in June of 1995 that a case-control study of sporadic salmonellosis had been done in this region and included cutting boards among many risk factors assessed (Kass, P.H., et al., Disease determinants of sporadic salmonellosis in four northern California counties: a case control study of older children and adults. Ann. Epidemiol. 2:683-696, 1992) The project had been conducted before our work began. It revealed that those using wooden cutting boards in their home kitchens were less than half as likely as average to contract salmonellosis (odds ratio 0.42, 95% confidence interval 0.22-0.81), those using synthetic (plastic or glass) cutting boards were about twice as likely to contract salmonellosis (O.R. 1.99, C.I. 1.03-3.85); and the effect of cleaning board regularly after preparing meat on it was not statistically significant (O.R.1.20, C.I. 0-54-2 68). We know of no similar research that has been done anywhere, so we regard it as the best epidemiological evidence available to date that wooden cutting boards are not a hazard to human health, but plastic cutting boards may be.
January 21, 1993
CONTACT: Dean Cliver, (608) 263-6937 
This research was also republished by University California Davis in the link below here:
"Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards, by Dean O. Cliver, PhD
Credit: Photoholic1

Artwork Cutting Board 
I loved reading this piece all over again and it triggers some thoughts about how things get done or not in our modern world. Despite the championing of science as that ever wonderful ever improving animal, there are some very real concerns to consider. Science is only as good and honest as those who participate. Researchers can be honest, conscientious, and disconnected to any bias or they are shackled to the big politics & corporate business special interests that hire them. As stated in paragraph #6, they were criticized by other Labs who claimed they didn't get the same results. They were accused of not using older cutting boards for the experiment. Further investigation revealed those other Labs used brand new cutting boards, and yes reached the same conclusions as Dean Cliver's study on new cutting boards. Plastics performs wonderfully when there are NO KNIFE SCARS. Gee, who wouldda thunk it ? 

Next, they had to emphatically make it clear that they had no commercial ties to any commercial producers of any products. For example *cough-cough* Weyerhaeuser Corporation, etc, etc, etc. Next, and I love this one, they also were contacted by Schools where kids and come to the same exact conclusions as they did in their Science Fair Projects. Now why was that ? How could an inexperienced child come to the same conclusions as the above study, that a high paid Lab employee with much coveted initials behind their last name couldn't even come close to ? Because kids are not shackled by big corporation interests or political dirty deals. Kids while still young have a keen innocent interest in learning and discovery and believe that is what science is all about. Too bad they have to grow up and learn the truth about how the real adult world works. As far as I know, California still doesn't allow wooden cutting boards in commercial kitchen operations. Everything is business as usual. Fortunately, Government arms don't stretch as far as the personal home kitchen, yet! Still, how much bacterial out break in commercial operations have been the result of ignoring this study ? These bacterial outbreaks have been on the increase if you have paid attention to the News Reports the last couple decades since that study. 

There are several things to keep in mind. Remember the type of wood they said worked the best. You need hardwoods like Maple, etc. The reason is obvious. Cutting boards get abused by knife cuts, all boards do anyway. Cuts on hardwood will not be as deep as if you use one home made of pine. Also, remember that bacteria were found in the pores of wood, even though they didn't multiply and even died before cleaning. Wood actually has natural antibacterial properties, but that still doesn't mean you can neglect cleaning hygiene of your kitchen. The University of Wisconsin researchers said they were given all sorts of freebies from manufacturers no doubt of cleaning products. But most safe products will work and sterilize. Given the safer properties of wooden boards over the Polyethylene Plastic boards, you may even be able to dump the more risky chemicals and opt for safer ones. Still, don't be lazy, cleaning should always be done immediately after use to ensure safety. Also keep in mind what modern plastics are made of and the danger in chemical leaching of nonylphenols and Bisphenol-As. - See: "Our Stolen Future" research website

Interestingly, I have stumbled upon some modern sites, especially some Culinary Arts websites which demonize and make little of the research that was done by Dean Clive. As an example, the study they cite  (Here)  and criticize is actually a Science News article written by a Reporter which came out a month after the University Press Release on February 6, 1993 and not the actual University Study I linked to from the U.C. Davis and the University of Wisconsin. Reporters tend to exaggerate and embellish on things that excite them. Rarely are they corrected. Only in this instance were there only critics to be found. One of the accusations was that it was later found that there were live bacteria in wood pores. Funny, in the University study they admitted that, but that unlike the plastic boards, they were incapable of multiplying, but eventually died. The Science News magazine didn't reveal this, the actual study however did. They also omit the independent other study in California of the Salmonellosis outbreaks which revealed that 50% of those using the wood were LESS LIKELY to be infected and 50% more of those using Plastic were MORE LIKELY to be infected, and again, that study had nothing to do with Dean Cliver's study. It only confirmed his findings. I hate biased dishonest Profit motive science and this is a clear case. What I do know is that many popular Culinary Arts and other Food websites do have sponsors to please. You figure it out and decide what ultimately you personally will choose. Despite such good any and all credible studies back by good science, remember this about the world & system that actually rules in real life and that little thing called the  "Golden Rule"
"Remember the 'Golden Rule', the one with the 'Gold' makes the Rules"
Although attractive designer boards are everywhere and kool looking, make sure they are made of the correct type of hardwood which will have tinier pores. Below is a good video of how to properly clean your cutting board with TV Cooking Host personality, Rachael Ray. Also another interesting video on maintenance I enjoyed.

Further Reading Info:University of Florida: "Bacteria on Cutting Boards"
This next link is from a 2008 study from the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management who, utilizing fluorescent powder which by it's tiny size and particle diameter represent to almost identical size of a bacterial organism. If you've ever noticed, staining is tougher to get out of plastic boards than wood, which should illustrate something to you.
BERNARD LEVINE'S KNIFE LORE - Wood versus Plastic Boards

The Antibacterial Effect of Wood

European Federation of Wooden Pallet and Packaging Manufacturers

Investigation of the Hygienic Properties of Wood

Wood Boards Effecting the Survival of Bacteria ?

Antimicrobial Properties of Heartwood, Bark/Sapwood and Leaves of Juniperus species

Switzerland: "Wood - An Effective Bacteria Killer" (2005)