Global warming documentary Chasing Ice to show at Princeton film festival

January 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Global Warming

Houses swept away by floodwaters; record drought, wildfire and hurricanes; melting ice caps and the hottest summer on record – how can anyone doubt global warming?

Photographer James Balog, once a skeptic, sets out to prove it through his Extreme Ice Survey, capturing photographic evidence of melting, disappearing glaciers. Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski documents the lengths to which Balog goes to prove his point – including kicking off his boots to plunge into the icy water for one chilling shot in Chasing Ice.

decaying ice, Iceland copyright JAMES BALOGDespite a bum knee, Balog hikes ice caps in Alaska, Iceland and Greenland, placing specially developed cameras that will endure the harsh conditions and record the glacier meltdown through time-lapse photography.

The Sundance Film Festival award-winner will be screened at the seventh annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival Feb. 2, 7 p.m. It is one of 35 films that will be shown over three weekends, Jan. 24 through Feb. 10, at the Princeton Public Library.

Documenting climate change

Chasing Ice “is the best visual representation of climate change I’ve ever seen,” said festival director Susan Conlon.

It took seven years for Balog to create and station his cameras and have them execute the images, yet his time-lapse videos compress those years into seconds to show ancient mountains of ice disappear before our eyes.

Observing Balog up close, “I have never met someone so dedicated to their passions,” filmmaker Orlowski said.

One of the scariest moments was watching Balog climb down the canyon and onto a broken piece of ice as he looked into a shaft in the glacier. “None of us were sure if it was going to break,” said Orlowski, 28. “Everyone was on the edge of the seats.”

Indeed the entire crew engaged in risky behavior in order to help Balog fulfill his mission. Note to Orlowski’s parents: do not read the following quote from your son. “In retrospect, there were a lot of life-threatening experiences.”

At the end of the film, Balog says he went to such lengths so his children would know he did all he could to inform the world about climate change. Those who continue to deny climate change “do not have access to the science,” said Orlowski. “Most of climate science is in numbers and graphs and in such technical terms that people don’t understand it and think it is not true. Now we have evidence that is accessible to all people.”

Our connection with nature

The theme for this year’s Princeton Environmental Film Festival is “sense of place.” When we think of environmental issues such as climate change, reckless development and green energy affecting our own state, town, even neighborhood, they become more threatening.

“Many of the films tell stories about people and places outside our state, and reveal how we are more connected than we realize,” said Conlon.

Films falling into this category are “You’ve Been Trumped” (d. Anthony Baxter) in which a group of townspeople in Scotland band together when developer Donald Trump begins construction of an elaborate golf resort on a fragile piece of wilderness in Scotland; Detropia” (d. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady), told through the eyes of people struggling to stay in post-industrial Motor City, once a grand city; “The Battle for Brooklyn” (d. Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley) about the struggle of residents fighting to preserve their neighborhood from the developer of Atlantic Yards, including Barclays Center sports arena.

Princeton resident Andrea Odezynska made Felt, Feelings and Dreams, following a small group of Kyrgyz women who pull themselves out from crushing poverty by reviving ancient traditions of making crafts and art from felt.

Against scenes of rocky mountains dotted with yurts and traditional ethnic music from the region, we see women of all ages pouring their might into shearing, soaking and beating the wool fibers, rendering it into colorful textiles.

In the six years since the festival was begun, “we have learned a lot about what makes it appealing to people returning from previous years and those just discovering it,” said Conlon.

The most important criteria for selecting films is the quality of the film, and emphasis on storytelling. “We do not set out with a list of issues or a checklist. What we want the films, on their own and as part of the whole festival, to do is encourage us to explore and expand our concepts of sustainability.”

As attendees become impassioned by what they see, “Our community organizations like Sustainable Princeton, Stonybrook-Millstone Watershed Association, DR Greenway Land Trust, school gardens, and others are great gateways for people to get involved,” said Conlon. “There are resources provided on many of the films’ websites that offer opportunities to learn more about issues explored in the films. And some people have been inspired to tell their stories by making their own films, seeking opportunities to learn about filmmaking and access equipment at Princeton’s TV-30.”

The Princeton Environmental Film Festival takes place Jan. 24-27, Jan. 31-Feb. 3 and Feb. 7-10 at the Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon St., Princeton. The complete schedule can be found at the festival’s website. Free admission to all films, thanks to support from Church Dwight, Inc., Terra Momo Restaurant Group, and The Whole Earth Center of Princeton. Doors open 30 minutes prior to screening; reservations not accepted.

For ocean critters, plastic packs double whammy

January 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Products made from the particular plastic used to make water bottles (polyethylene terephthalate, or PET) might have fewer detrimental chemical impacts than products made from other types of plastic, according to the study, published online in Environmental Science Technology.

The research, conducted for 12 months at five locations in San Diego Bay, was the first controlled, long-term field experiment measuring the absorption of contaminants by the five most common plastics:

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET): Recycling symbol #1, like water bottles.
  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE): Recycling symbol #2, like detergent bottles.
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Recycling symbol #3, like clear food packaging.
  • Low-density polyethylene (LDPE): Recycling symbol #4, like plastic shopping bags.
  • Polypropylene (PP): Recycling symbol #5, like yogurt containers, bottle caps.

The researchers deployed pellets of each plastic type in mesh bags tied to a dock at each study site. They retrieved them periodically to measure the plastics’ absorption of persistent organic pollutants.

“Consistently in our study, we found polyethylene [HDPE and LDPE] and polypropylene [PP] absorbed much greater concentrations of contaminants than PET or PVC, and those are the most commonly mass produced and consumed plastics,” says Chelsea Rochman, a doctoral student in ecology at University of California, Davis and San Diego State University. ”They are also the most commonly recovered as marine debris.”

In 2007, HDPE, LDPE, and PP accounted for 62 percent of all plastics produced globally, while PVC and PET represented only 19 percent and 7 percent, the study says.

The data imply that products made from HDPE, LDPE, and PP may pose a greater chemical risk to marine animals that ingest plastics than products made from PET and PVC. The study notes that, although PVC did not absorb as many contaminants as did other plastics, vinyl chloride is classified as carcinogenic and toxic.

Rochman expected the pellets would absorb an increasing amount of pollutants for the first several months of the study before reaching equilibrium—the point at which they could not absorb further toxic substances.

However, Rochman found that HDPE and LDPE continued to absorb contaminants throughout the 12 months. The study estimates that, at the Shelter Island study site, it would take 44 months for HDPE and 19 months for LDPE to stop absorbing toxic substances.

“It surprised us that even after a year, some plastics would continue to take up contaminants,” Rochman says. “As the plastic continues to degrade, it’s potentially getting more and more hazardous to organisms as they absorb more and more contaminants.”

The National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program funded the study, as did the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, the San Diego State University Research Foundation, and the Padi Foundation.

Source: UC Davis

NRDC: Defending Communities

January 11, 2013 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Oil and Gas Jonah field, Wyoming © EcoFlight

QA with Kate Sinding, NRDC senior attorney and deputy director of the New York urban program.

How can people in places like New Wilmington (see “Fracking the Amish“) defend themselves if they don’t want oil and gas companies to undertake massive fracking operations in their communities?

If a city or town decides it doesn’t want fracking, that community’s voice should be heard and respected. But it can be very difficult for elected officials and community leaders to challenge large corporations and get up to date quickly about the many legal and environmental issues involved with oil and gas drilling. Plus, the rules and regulations are different in each state where fracking wells are being drilled — and in a lot of states, communities have little or no power to “just say no” to the industry. That’s why NRDC launched the Community Fracking Defense Project last year. We’re offering our legal and policy assistance to local governments in five states — New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and North Carolina — that want added control over the siting of drilling in their communities, or ways to ensure their residents are protected against the harms of fracking.

What are you helping those communities do?

The practical and legal realities in each of these states are different, so it varies. We have been working with our local partners to evaluate the lay of the land and identify the opportunities that are most promising, effective, and potentially precedential in each of these states. In some places, our legal and policy staff can help local officials draft local laws and land-use plans that control the extent of fracking within their borders — even banning it outright. In others, we’re working with communities to expand their rights to protect themselves under state law. And we can help defend relevant zoning provisions and other local laws that are challenged by gas companies in court. In September, just as we launched this project, NRDC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of a number of municipalities in which we supported a lower court decision that strikes down portions of a Pennsylvania law that would severely limit the ability of local governments to use their zoning powers to control where fracking occurs. Recently, we filed another friend-of-the-court brief in New York seeking to affirm that local governments have broad powers to protect their citizens.

Why is it important to address fracking issues at the local level, in addition to the state and federal levels?

NRDC is working hard to ensure states and the federal government put sufficient rules in place to better protect against fracking’s risks. But, so far, they have fallen short. And communities need to be able to stand up for themselves. Over three quarters of a century ago, our Supreme Court held that communities have the right to enact local laws to protect “public health, safety, morals, and general welfare.” It is hard to imagine a situation where this right would be more critical than with fracking — a heavy industrial activity that dramatically alters the character of every community where wells are being drilled in substantial numbers.

Is NRDC against fracking?

NRDC opposes expanded fracking until effective safeguards are in place. Over the last decade, the oil and gas industry has drilled thousands of new wells, and they are seeking to expand across the nation as new technology makes it easier to extract gas from previously inaccessible sites. Along the way, fracking has been a suspect in polluted drinking water and a host of other environmental and public health problems in every state where it has popped up. To date, federal and state rules have proven woefully inadequate to protect against the risks. And the industry has used its political power to escape accountability for its actions at every turn. That’s why NRDC is working to protect communities across the nation from the impacts of dangerous fracking practices and help them stand up to oil and gas companies when they’ve been wronged.

Residents or elected officials interested in more information about the Community Fracking Defense Project can contact NRDC here.


Famed Roman shipwreck reveals more secrets

January 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean

Ancient artifacts resembling the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient bronze clockwork astronomical calculator, may rest amid the larger-than-expected Roman shipwreck that yielded the device in 1901.

Marine archaeologists report they have uncovered new secrets of an ancient Roman shipwreck famed for yielding an amazingly sophisticated astronomical calculator. An international survey team says the ship is twice as long as originally thought and contains many more calcified objects amid the ship’s lost cargo that hint at new discoveries.

At the Archaeological Institute of America meeting Friday in Seattle, marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution, will report on the first survey of Greece’s famed Antikythera island shipwreck since 1976. The ancient Roman shipwreck was lost off the Greek coast around 67 BC,filled with statues and the famed astronomical clock.

“The ship was huge for ancient times,” Foley says. “Divers a century ago just couldn’t conduct this kind of survey but we were surprised when we realized how big it was.”

Completed in October by a small team of divers, the survey traversed the island and the wreck site, perched on a steep undersea slope some 150 to 230 feet deep in the Mediterranean Sea.

The October survey shows the ship was more than 160 feet long, twice as long as expected. Salvaged by the Greek navy and skin divers in 1901, its stern perched too deep for its original skin-diver discoverers to find.

The wreck is best known for yielding a bronze astronomical calculator, the “Antikythera Mechanism” widely seen as the most complex device known from antiquity, along with dozens of marble and bronze statues. The mechanism apparently used 37 gear wheels, a technology reinvented a millennium later, to create a lunar calendar and predict the motion of the planets, which was important knowledge for casting horoscopes and planning festivals in the superstitious ancient world.

A lead anchor recovered in a stowed position in the new survey shows that the ship likely sank unexpectedly when “a storm blew it against an underwater cliff,” says marine archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou of Greece’s Ephorate (Department) of Underwater Antiquities. “It seems to have settled facing backwards with its stern (rear) at the deepest point,” he says.

Antikythera Mechanism

The bronze Antikythera Mechanism used 37 gear wheels, a technology reinvented a millennium later, to create a lunar calendar and predict the motion of the planets.(Photo: Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)

Scholars have long debated whether the ship held the plunder of a Roman general returning loot from Greece in the era when the Roman Republic was seizing the reins of the Mediterranean world, or merely luxury goods meant for the newly built villas of the Roman elite. The last survey of the shipwreck was led by undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, whose documentary Diving for Roman Plunder chronicled that 1976 effort, which appears to have excavated the ship’s kitchen.

The October survey team watched the 1970s documentary to help orient themselves to the wreck site. “They didn’t have the diving technology that we now have to do a very efficient survey,” Theodoulou says.

Along with vase-like amphora vessels, pottery shards and roof tiles, Foley says, the wreck also appears to have “dozens” of calcified objects resembling compacted boulders made out of hardened sand resting atop the amphorae on the sea bottom. Those boulders resemble the Antikythera mechanism before its recovery and restoration. In 2006, an X-ray tomography team reported that the mechanism contained at least 30 hand-cut bronze gears re-creating astronomical cycles useful in horoscopes and timing of the Olympic Games in the ancient world, the most elaborate mechanical device known from antiquity until the Middle Ages. “The (objects) may just be collections of bronze nails, but we won’t know until someone takes a look at them,” Foley says.

The survey effort, headed by Aggeliki Simossi of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities,will continue for the next two years. The international survey team will look in two different locales for ancient shipwrecks in that time, while Greek antiquities officials ponder further exploration. An amphora recovered from the wreck will also have its inner walls tested for DNA traces of the regular cargo, such as wine, once carried by the vessel.

Recovery of whatever cargo remains with the wreck, now covered in sand, presents a technically difficult, but not impossible, challenge for marine archaeologists.

“Obviously there are a lot of artifacts still down there, but we will need to be very careful about our next steps. This ship was not a normal one,” Theodoulou says.