Tuesday, August 31, 2010


blogSpan Source: Bloomberg News.

Today the lead story in The Guardian  trumpeted that Bjørn Lomborg, notorious for his book ‘The Sceptical Environmentalist’, calls for a massive global investment to tackle global warming. This ‘change of heart’ was hailed as a welcome boost to efforts to address climate change.

This is highly reminiscent of The Independent’s front-page story some years back when James Lovelock announced he was in favour of nuclear power – also trumpeted as a volte face.

Dramatic stuff, but as I pointed out in a Previous Post, James Lovelock: Man of the Moment [Jan 31, 2006] Lovelock had been pro-nuclear at least since the time I interviewed him in 1984 and had longstanding links with nuclear lobby groups.

Lovelock’s statements handily coincided with the publication of a new book. Lomborg’s announcement does also.

His new book is Smart Solutions to Climate Change: Comparing Costs and Benefits .Lomborg has always acknowledged global warming. This book is about how global warming spending could be more effectively supplied. Some of these solutions involve geoengineering (See: GEOENGINEERING: PAST & PRESENT

BJØRN LOMBORG: THE SCEPTICAL ENVIRONMENTALIST                                                               Read our substantial round-up of Lomborg information and videos and make up your own minds. [Posted Nov 13th, 2009]

Read these responses to The Guardian story:

But Lomborg was always a Warmist by James Delingpole [Daily Telegraph 31st Aug 2010]

Bjorn Lomborg, Climate Skeptic, Calls for Massive Global Warming Investment by Krista Mahr    [Ecocentric blog/Time magazine 31st Aug 2010]

Monday, August 30, 2010


On of the most popular posts on The Generalist is ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY 1970s: BIT Travel Guide, posted in August 2006. Many of you who used the Guide have contacted me and traffic spiked when the post was included in  a  feature on Slate entitled ‘Baboons  Are Simply Too Small for Leopard Bait: The 10 oddest travel guides ever published’ by Paul Collins (August 2008. Now, thanks to intrepid traveller Will Rogers, The Generalist Archive has acquired a copy of another BIT Guide: Overland Through Africa. The copy we have is the 4th Edition, published in July 1976. Here is the Introduction:


‘At the risk of seeming absurd we hope you'll give this guide away once you've made the decision to go since there's no such thing as a 'guide' to discovery and adventure. The only way you'll find these things is by direct personal experience. All a guide can do is point you in a fruitful direction and even then it runs the risk of becoming a leaning post and giving you pre-conceived ideas about what you will find. Having said that it would be naive to assume that you've got this far in life without being influenced in many ways by the media which is why we get these guides together - as a kind of counter-balance to the mountains of glossy tourist literature,TV and radio programmes and the like,which will take you on a whistle-stop tour of one Hilton hotel after another and leave you with little other than a numbing feeling of ennui.This guide is a collection of experiences from travellers who've tried to get out of that mould and have deliberately gone out of their way to try to experience life as it is lived by local people outside the capital cities and tourist spots. It's far from perfect since no collection of words can ever adequately convey direct experience and it is no substitute for your own initiative but it's the best we can do given these limitations.BIT AFRICA1695

Most places are far easier and cheaper to get to than Costa Lotta travel agents and discouraging Consular officials would have you believe. The hardest part is making the decision to go under your own steam. The rest is easy and you'll never regret it. Remember that wherever there are people there is food,shelter,company and transport of some description and the further off the beaten track you go, generally, the more interesting it becomes. lt's best not to have any definite plans or time schedule but to go the way the wind blows and stay as long as the inclination holds you. Don’t expect anything to be on time or to work in the way it does in Europe or North America - in many parts of Africa it's impossible to predict anything, especially during the rainy season when roads turn to rivers and bridges get washed away just for starters. Give yourself plenty of time, be willing to adjust to local customs and food, and try to see delays or forced changes of plans as an opportunity to do something else rather than waste energy moaning about them. There are few well-established travellers' routes as there are out East and, with the exception of South America, Africa is the one continent where you can still find real adventure - bearing in mind that you can find this in your own backyard: it all depends on how you approach it. Outside the capital cities it's still very uncommercialised and undeveloped and in many places its people are trying hard to develop an identity which won't usher in a Coca-Cola culture or a passive acceptance of Western techno-consumerism.

It's a very colourful continent with many different traditions and ways of life and the friendliness and hospitality that awaits you there is second to none. We receive letters from travellers all the time which go on at great length about the welcome they've received there especially in the small vill­ages and even in the cities perhaps best contained in a nutshell by one of Siri & Ebba's phrases:- "We're having nothing but the best of times and all fears are unfounded'.'

A lot of people find two is the ideal number for travelling. More than that can be unwieldy and become a constant exercise in balancing inclinat­ions. On the other hand, if you have the courage, travelling on your own is possibly the best way to go. Whichever you decide on you'll come across others who are travelling and with whom you can truck along if you feel like some company for a while. There are a number of fairly well-known crossroads where you'll meet other travellers or have the opportunity to change travelling companions. Travel as light as possible. Visas you can obtain along the way and with far less hassle and red-tape than from the Embassies in London. In many cases you can actually turn up at the border without a visa despite the fact that, officially, you're supposed to have one. Don't worry about diarrhoea and hepatitis - you'll almost certainly get the former at various points along the way if only because your body can't adjust fast enough to changes of food, but hepatitis can usually be avoided if you're reasonably fastidious and don't drink un-boiled water. The two things you must take precautions about are malaria (for which you take a preventative drug) and bilharzia (keep out of streams,rivers and lakes unless you know they're safe). Language is no real problem as you'll soon pick up enough to get you by and what you lack can be made up for in non-verbal communication. lt does help, however, to learn something of the languages of the countries you intend to visit as this makes the journ­ey far more interesting and puts you in closer touch with the culture and circumstances of people's lives. English and French will get you through most places. Arabic and Swahili will get you through the remainder. Many people will delight in teaching you their language if you show interest.

Leave your stereotyped prejudices at home where, hopefully, they'll wither and die, even if others display them - and they sometimes do. Be open-minded, honest and friendly. If things start bugging you, try to retain a sense of humour and don't lose your infinite capacity for patience - the bureaucracy in some places is incredibly complicated and moves very sluggishly. lt moves even slow­er if you start ranting and raving. At the same time, be firmly discriminating in who you trust. Lean on your intuition. Most so-called rip offs are due to the carelessness of travellers who leave valuables lying around unattended. Not all hotel managers are trustworthy. Don't leave money, passports and other valuables lying around at any time. Keep them with you and out of sight even when you go for a shower unless you're certain they're not going to walk. Best leave any­thing behind which you'd regret losing. If you act in an arrogant manner remem­ber that other travellers who come after you are going to pick up the pieces and it's a heavy number if local people are feeling resentful. Better to say little and learn a lot instead. These people have just as much right to their culture and way of life as you do to yours. Never make the mistake of thinking that a 'primitive' existence, a difference of opinion and way of going about things, or a different language is equivalent to stupidity. Please don t export this contemptible cultural superiority - they've had quite enough of that already and are still having it rammed down their long-suffering throats esp­ecially in southern Africa.

Many African countries are going through profound political and social changes which is often reflected in the instability and turbulence of national politics. They're still struggling with the legacy of colonialism particularly with regard to acculturisation and geographical boundaries which often bear little or no relation to the civilisations and tribal areas which were in existence before the arrival of the Europeans and they're having a hard time creating a sense of unity in the face of tribal rivalries, racial and linguistic differences, patterns of migration and geographical separation. Colonialist agricultural and industrial policies have also hindered development since, in many cases, they left a country with only one major export, the world price for which was still controlled from the business centres of Europe. There are, how­ever, a number of promising developments which will reduce this exploitation and eventually eliminate it such as the Ujamaa scheme in Tanzania and the land redistribution schemes in Ethiopia,Libya,Somalia and Mozambique among others. For the moment, however, many African countries are desperately poor and still very much subject to the vagaries of the weather and the availability of water. The Sahel drought, which lasted for years, on the southern edge of the Sahara desert had a disastrous effect on the countries in that area and spelt the end of a centuries-old way of life for many nomads. Famines still occur in places like Ethiopia though this undoubtedly had a lot to do with the distribution of land and crippling taxation under the feudal system before the revolution. In southern Africa there's the disgusting spectacle of apartheid and white suprem­acist regimes poisoning the air and where change must inevitably come - and the sooner the better.

Africa is not a cheap place to travel through especially if you are going to rely largely on hotels and want to travel fairly rapidly. If this is what you have in mind then six months could cost you around £500. Inflation has badly affected many African countries especially since OPEC's oil price increases. Obviously the further off the beaten track you go and the slower you travel (many travellers walk large distances especially in places like Zaire where transport is very erratic) the further your funds will go and the more hospit­ality you come across. Try to give something in return. Don't expect to be able to hitch everywhere for free. In most parts of Africa hitching a ride on a lorry is a recognised form of public transport and you'll be expected to pay for it. Generally,prices are more or less fixed on well-used routes though on lesser-used tracks you will have to bargain. Some lifts take days and in the rainy season there are frequent delays due to bridges being down or roads flooded. When there are punctures or the lorry gets bogged down in sand or mud, you’ll be expected to lend a hand along with everybody else – can be great fun.

Africa is one of the few remaining continents where there are substantial wildlife parks and reserves where you can see immense herds of zebra, antelopes and wildebeests together with Lions, elephants, rhino, giraffe, hippos, monkeys and an incredible array of bird and insect life. Give a thought for them if you are offered furs and animal skins. The demand for these puts severe pressure on their continued existence. If you want them to become a fond memory of the past carry on buying furs and skins. If not, refuse to buy them.

We wish you the best of luck for an amazing journey.’

Sunday, August 29, 2010


The idea that the death of the dinosaurs was caused by a meteorite impact first surfaced in 1980 – and captured my imagination. Now there has been a new development.

220px-Iridium_clay_layer This highly controversial hypothesis was based on the discovery by physicist Luis Alvarez and his team found an identical geological signature in sedimentary rocks all over the world - a thin layer of rock containing abnormally high concentrations of Iridium. This layer marks the K-T boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary ages which was the time when the known mass extinction of life occurred. Iridium is very rare on Earth but abundant in asteroids and comets. Hence the idea that life was extinguished by an extraterrestrial object impacting on the earth.

The following year, a University of Arizona grad student Alan R Hildebrand and his faculty adviser William V Boynton published a draft Earth-impact theory and began looking for a candidate crater which their evidence suggested should be in the Caribbean basin.

They were completely unaware that, the very same year, geophysicist Glen Penfield had presented a paper at the 1981 Society of Exploration Geophysicists conference which provided evidence of a large impact crater off the coast of Yucatan. Penfield has been prevented by Pemex, the oil company he worked for, from obtaining rock cores or other physical evidence so his case rested entirely on geophysical data sets. in addition, the conference was underattended and the report attracted little attention.

Hildebrand first learned of Penfield’s discovery from a Houston Chronicle reporter in 1990. Through their joint efforts, they  succeeded on obtaining drill samples from the site which provided the hard evidence they needed.

Chicxulub_LPI A 3D map of local gravity and magnetic field variations reveals the Chicxulub crater, now buried beneath tons of sediment. This view is looking down at the surface, from an angle of about 60°.

The Chicxulub crater, as it is now known, is buried under the Yucatan Peninsula and the ocean. The crater is more than 180 km (110 mi) in diameter, and is the second largest impact structure on earth.

It has been calculated that the 15km-wide asteroid that made it was  travelling at 20km a second when it struck the Earth with a force a billion times greater than the Hiroshima bomb.

Wikepdia reports that: ‘In March 2010, following extensive analysis of the available evidence covering 20 years' worth of data spanning the fields of palaeontology, geochemistry, climate modelling, geophysics and sedimentology, 41 international experts from 33 institutions reviewed available evidence and concluded that the impact at Chicxulub triggered the mass extinctions during K-T boundary including those of dinosaurs.’


Source: The Boltysh Meteorite Impact Crater Project

Now a new study of a meteorite impact crater at Boltysh in the Ukraine suggests a different scenario. First discovered in 1990, it has only recently been reliably dated and is now believed to have been created several thousand years before Chicxulub.

This suggests that the mass extinction of life that occurred at the end of the Cretaceous era may have been driven by multiple meteor strikes over a long period.

[See full story at Double meteorite strike 'caused dinosaur extinction' By Howard Falcon-Lang. Science reporter, BBC News. 27th August]



The Spaceguard Central Node, the web site of The Spaceguard Foundation and of the Spaceguard System, is freely opened to all people wishing to understand what is being done for observing and tracking Near-Earth Objects (NEOs): asteroids and comets that could represent a threat to the Earth's ecosystem in case of an impact.




[Above & Left]: Aerial picture and geological map of the meteoric impact crater at Ries in Germany. [Below]: Landsat image of crater at Talemzane in Algeria and 3-D modelling of same  by Dr. Carlos Roberto de Souza Filho



These images come from the Earth Impact Database, which is currently managed by John Spray (Director, Planetary and Space Science Centre, University of New Brunswick, Canada..

The Earth Impact Database is maintained as a not-for-profit source of information to assist the scientific, industrial, government and public communities around the world in furthering our collective knowledge of impact structures on Earth. It is regularly updated with new discoveries.

The database is regularly updated with new discoveries but, to be included in the listings, the proposer must provide convincing evidence of shock features or impact formations, preferably in a published form. These rigid criteria help maintain the integrity of the data. [They have a long list of currently unproven impact structures, which they are planning to publish]

The FAQ shows two structures that look like meteor impact craters but are not – in Hudson Bay and Mauritania. Crater Lake, Oregon – often mistaken for an impact crater -  is a caldera lake, the product of a St Helen’s style volcanic explosion.

There is a very interesting essay on impact craters on their site, based on a 1990 Scientific American piece by Grieves.

Our view of the importance of meteoric impacts has been radically changed in recent years by the findings from planetary exploration missions. This clearly shows that virtually all planetary surfaces are cratered from the impact of planetary bodies. It is now accepted that they have played a major role in reshaping the surface of Earth.

‘Most of the terrestrial impact craters that ever formed, however, have been obliterated by other terrestrial geological processes. Some examples however remain. To date, over 160 impact craters have been identified on Earth. Almost all known craters have been recognized since 1950 and several new structures are found each year.’

Saturday, August 21, 2010


12-header_HOME_hand_smaller The big theme of this blog is connectivity between people, places, things and ideas, and its content is often driven by chance and coincidence – as in this post.

A few days back I imagediscovered Hands off Mother Earth (HOME) -  a Stop Geoengineering protest site. You can add your photo protest pic. They are against geogineering in general and target four such projects in particular: biochar, ocean fertilisation,cloud whitening and artificial volcanoes


PLANET NEWS (Sept 2007) we noted  The Climate Engineers, an excellent and detailed essay by James R. Fleming [The Wilson Quarterly.Spring 2007]  A full pdf of the piece can be found on the writer’s website: Selected Works of James R Fleming. Fleming is Prof of Science, Technology and Society at Colby College in Maine.

‘As alarm over global warming spreads, a radical idea is gaining momentum. Forget cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, some scientists argue. Find a technological fix. Bounce sunlight
back into space by pumping reflective nanoparticles into the atmosphere. Launch mirrors into orbit around the earth. Create a planetary thermostat. But what sounds like science fiction is actually an old story. For more than a century, scientists, soldiers, and charlatans have hatched schemes to manipulate the
weather and climate. Like them, today’s aspiring climate engineers wildly exaggerate what is possible, and they scarcely consider political, military, and ethical implications of attempting to manage the worlds climate with potential consequences far greater than any their predecessors were ever likely to face.’

In STEWART BRAND: REINVENTING ENVIRONMENTAL THINKING [October 2009] we discover that Brand is in favour of geoengineering.


The coincidence part of our story stems from the fact that, later the same day I discovered HOME, I found this book in a cardboard box outside my favourite discount book store in Brighton. It was £2.  It knocked me sideways. It is about geoengineering using nuclear bombs and one particular project which I was criminally unaware of: Project Chariot. Here is the skinny:

If your mountain is not in the right place, drop us a card.’                                                                                                                  – Edward Teller.

Following the development and deployment of atomic bombs in the 1940s, both the US and Russia conducted numerous atmospheric nuclear tests during the 1950s. Concern about the negative image of nuclear weapons, a concept of Atoms for Peace was developed and championed, principally by physicist Edward Teller who successfully established his own lab – Lawrence Livermore – to further these notions.

At its height Plowshare employed 290 people and spent $18 million annually to recast the bomb as a peacetime tool. Physicists became public works engineers and set about to correct “a slightly flawed planet.”

To remedy nature’s oversights,” detonations would gouge out canals and “instant harbours".” They would slice through mountain ranges. Edward Teller spoke of “a new and important discipline,. Geographical engineering. We will change the earth’s surface to suit us.”

Project Plowshare’s principal aim was  to create a new sea-level Panama Canal. In order to fulfil such a project, they needed a test site to try out the techniques of atomic earth-moving. The point they chose was Cape Thompson in northern Alaska, where they planned to create a new  harbour.

CHARIOT2694 Project Chariot, as it was named, was spiked by the activities of a few key scientists, conservationists and organisations and the steadfast opposition of the Inuit people of Port Hope.

Dan O’Neill has done an exemplary job in presenting the story in vivid detail. In the course of his research he managed to get a huge amount of secret material declassified.

It was his research that in 1992 uncovered the fact that nuclear waste in the form of radioactive dirt had been buried at Cape Hope during Project Chariot without the knowledge of the local Inuit. This developed into a major issue and a costly clean-up.

US Biologist/activist Barry Commoner, who has been variously described as ‘the dean of the environmental movement’ and ‘the father of grass-roots environmentalism’ had this to say in 1988:

I think, in so far as I had an effect on the development of the whole movement….Project Chariot can be regarded as the ancestral birthplace of at least a large segment of the environmental movement.’

The environmental study carried about by Alaskan biologists to try and determine what effect the atomic bombs would have on the local ecosystem, was the most comprehensive environmental program ever done at that time; it can be considered the first environmental impact statement (EIS).

The Inuit of Port Hope, the population who were closest to the Chariot test site, founded Tundra Times to promote their opposition to the project. The issue of Native land claims formed a core part of their arguments and their campaign can rightly be seen as the start of a process that led to the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which conveyed 40 million acres to the Inuit people and awarded them $1 billion compensation for lands already lost.

This remarkable and important book should be more widely known.

The Firecracker Boys’ by Dan O’Neill [Basic Books/St Martin’s Press. 1994]


Sunday, August 15, 2010



(Top): Notable locations of manufacture and main trafficking routes of amphetamine group substances 2008-2009. (Below): Notable locations of manufacture and main trafficking routes of ecstasy-group substances 2008.


Source: World Drug Report 2010 [UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)]. Section 1.4 The global amphetamine-type stimulants market

The report estimates that an estimated 161-588mt of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and 55-133mt of ecstasy were manufactured in 2008. During 2008-2009, the number of amphetamine users worldwide ranged from 14-53 million; number of ecstasy users from 10-26 million.

Globally, cannabis users comprise the largest number of illicit drug users (129-190 million people). Amphetamine-group substances rank as the second most commonly used drug, exceeding the number of opiate and cocaine users combined.



Hot off the press from Los Angeles comes this capsule-shaped book – a publishing first (?) – in which Mick Farren takes the reader through a ‘fast history’ of amphetamine, first synthesised by Romanian chemist Lazar Edeleanu at the University of Berlin in 1887.

In the almost 125 years since then, its various forms and derivatives have permeated global society and culture, fuelling factory workers and truck drivers, criminals and soldiers,musicians and writers, mods and gays who desired the benefit of its side effects – alertness, euphoria, heightened physical energy, prolonged stamina, rapid verbalisation, enhanced concentration, boosted confidence and intensified sex drive.

Amongst famous users were Hitler, Jack Kennedy and Anthony Eden, Jack Kerouac, and a whole raft of singers and entertainers including Elvis, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, the Beatles and the cast of Andy Warhol’s Factory.

Mod and punk were two musical/style movements in which amphetamines played a major part. XTC or psychedelic speed fuelled club and rave culture

Amphetamines were extensively used on all sides during the second World War, were ubiquitous in Vietnam and remain in widespread use in current conflicts.

Farren tracks the development of ‘ice’ or ‘crystal meth’ and documents the involvement of the Hell’s Angels in the amphetamine trade and how this is now largely dominated by various Mexican gangs.

Also touched on is the use of Ritalin and Adderall by US schoolchildren, a supposed cure for ADD and ADHD.

Farren, lead singer of the freak 1960s/70s band the Deviants is no stranger to amphetamines and he paints vivid pictures of the scene in the back of their van when the band were coming down whilst driving back from the gig. Also of stumbling across Ladbroke Grove with Lemmy of Motorhead, a band named after a street term for speedfreak.

The book carries no health warnings but its numerous dark stories of come-downs, paranoia and violent incidents will make it clear to any reader that sustained amphetamine use comes with a hefty downside.

[‘Speed-Speed-Speedfreak: A Fast History of Amphetamine ‘ by Mick Farren is published by Feral House.]


Mick Farren/Wikipedia


image On the 4th August 2010, baseball player Alex Rodriguez became only the seventh member of the Major League Baseball’s 600 home-run club which currently stands as follows:

1) Barry Bonds – 762; 2) Hank Aaron – 755; 3) Babe Ruth – 714;  4) Willie Mays – 660;   5) Ken Griffey Jr. - 630
6) Sammy Sosa – 609; 7) Alex Rodriguez - 604*. Japanese star Sadaharu Oh holds the world major league record for career home runs with 868.

Acording to PopFi.com: Bonds, Sosa and Rodriguez are all rumoured to have used or admitted to using steroids and ‘baseball’s ban on performance enhancing drugs and amphetamines has declined hitting numbers all across the board, which explains the massive explosion of no-hitters throughout baseball this season.’

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


The Russian Fires are causing threats to nuclear facilities and the area around Chernobyl. The story is being reported around the world. Here is the story from Wired: Russia Fires Approach Nuclear Plants:


There are much bigger problems looming. The fires have approached the Red Forest, an area that suffered the worst of Chernobyl’s fallout in 1986, with the soil still heavily contaminated by cesium-137 and strontium-90.

Similarly, the Mayak nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in Chelyabinsk Oblast is also threatened by the flames, as is a nuclear research center in Sarov, which was formerly known as the secret town Arzamas-16. If any of the structures succumb, then radionuclides could be spread widely afield, generating new zones of radioactive pollution and displacing the population of those areas.

By chance discovered this story about the threat of fire to US nuclear plants from earlier this year.

Fires break out at three U.S. nuclear plants over the weekend, FACING SOUTH,  By Sue Sturgis , March 29, 2010

Emergencies were declared at two Progress Energy nuclear power plants in the Carolinas over the weekend due to fires. There was also a fire at a nuclear power plant in Ohio on Sunday that sent two firefighters to the hospital. The blazes were put out and disaster averted, but the incidents underscore concerns about U.S. nuclear plants’ failure to comply with fire safety regulations……

The emergencies “are a reminder that virtually all U.S. nuclear power plants remain in noncompliance with fire protection regulations,” says Jim Warren, executive director of the N.C. Waste Awareness and Reduction Network, an energy watchdog group.

Fire represents the leading risk factor for a US nuclear plant meltdown.

In 1975, a fire broke out at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama in an area that housed electrical cables used to power critical safety equipment.

In response to the near-disaster at Browns Ferry, the NRC adopted fire-safety regulations designed to prevent similar incidents. However, most of the nation’s commercial nuclear power plants still not have come into compliance with those regulations, according to reports by the NRC Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Source: Nuclear-News



This major news feature was published in the Sunday Times on 9th November 1980. It was an exclusive story that I sold to the paper, having been given advance access to the manuscript of Boris Komarov’s book ‘The Destruction of Nature in the Soviet Union’, which was published five days after this article’s appearance by Pluto Press in London.

It was an important story and very shocking at the time. Pollution was considered a very western phenomenon and this was the first indication that were serious similar problems in the Soviet bloc. It was my first major feature for the paper, at the age of 30 – a kind of coming of age. The Sunday Times was under the editorship of Harold Evans at that point, with offices in Gray’s Inn Road. It was a great paper at that time.


Illustration: Peter Brookes

The Poisoning of Mother Russia

The Destruction of Nature in the Soviet Union is a passionate indictment of the Soviet authorities for allowing the country's air, land, water and wildlife t be despoiled, while claiming that serious environmental damage is a capitalist phenomenon. JOHN MAY reports.

‘A FEW YEARS ago an English film was shown on our screens in which a lunatic general hunted deer with ground - to - ground missiles •quipped with heat-seeking warheads. Soviet zoologists and ornithologists commented ironically after seeing it that the English director and script-writer must have really enjoyed making their little fantasy, which ridicules the manic militarist.

"Among the divisions quartered in the Baikal area, however, hunting for deer in this manner has heen a long and serious practice (in contrast to the pure fantasy of our Englishmen). Our rocket officers reasoned quite soberly that they could find no better targets for training troops to shoot ground-to-ground heat-seeking missiles at than wild boar and deer on the run. Startled by the sound of a shot, the animals dash across the wooded hills, and the accurate rockets overtake them wherever they go. Everything is quite logical, everyone sane. . . ."

This is one of the more vivid examples of the environ­mental vandalism, which, according to Boris Komarov, is rife in the Soviet Union. Constitutionally, the state guarantees environmental protection—as well as human rights. In reality, says Komarov, the leading Soviet planning agencies connive at the widespread destruction of nature, and at covering up the disastrous effects of their policies. His assertions in­clude :

* Mining, logging, dumping and erosion have laid waste about 10 per cent of the habit­able land—an area the size of Western Europe.

*Largely because of air pollu­tion, the incidence of lung cancer doubled between the late Sixties and the late Seventies. Each year, 5 to 6 per cent more children are born with genetic defects. One city in the Urals set up a special workers' brigade to clear dirt and soot from the rooftops every three months— otherwise, the roofs would collapse.

*Newspapers and television stress how Western capitalists are polluting the world, butsay nothing about pollution in Russia. " Showcase examples " of good ecological management are used to deceive both Soviet citizens and foreign visitors.


Satellite picture of the Cheliabinsk plant. In the intervening years, the full story of the accident have come to light. Source: Global Security

*Soviet authorities covered up an explosion of nuclear wastes in 1958—a claim made four years ago by Dr Zhores Medvedev, a Russian biologist now living in London. Komarov says the explosion happened near the city of Cheliabinsk, in the industrial Urals, and that all crops, animals and homes in the area were destroyed; the popu­lation was evacuated for a radius of at least 200 kilometers. "It was only chance that the radioactive cloud did not reach Sverdlovsk a city north of
Cheliabinsk but passed over a comparatively sparsely populated region. The number of victims remains a secret to this day."

* The small Sea of Azov, ad­joining the Black Sea, has be­come " a latrine." with levels of oil pollution reaching 100 times the officially permitted maximum concentrations. It was once the most productive body of water in the world, yielding three times as much fish as the Black Sea, the Caspian, and the Baltic put together. The current yearly catch of about 3,000 tons is one ninetieth of what was taken in the postwar period.

*The poaching of wild ani­mals and birds—encouraged by the scarcity of fresh meat in the shops—is virtually uncontrolled. Wildlife reserves are routinely plundered, especially by top-ranking officials and the mili­tary. " Eagles, hobbies, kites and
other birds of prey are wiped out from military helicopters just for practice." In 1976, a commander of the Strategic Missile Forces was prosecuted for shooting I5 polar bears from a helicopter, using an automatic rifle in a special turret.

*Chemical effluents are des­troying the unique eco-system of Lake Baikal in central Sibe­ria—the deepest lake in the world, and the largest volume of freshwater. The damage will be increased by the construction of a secret industrial complex— including lead and zinc mines— on the Kholodnaia River, to the north of the lake.


baikal2 Source: Pacific Environment

“LAKE BAIKAL has inspired both poets and chroniclers of amazing phenomena. “Baikal," wrote the Soviet historian Leonid Leonov, is not only a priceless basin of living water but also a part our souls." And the Guinncss Book of Records gives it a double entry—for depth (6,365 feet) and capacity (5,520 cubic miles). The story of its pollution shows in detail how Soviet agencies collude in the destruction of natural resources, while pay­ing lip-service to environmental principles. Baikal is 25 mil­lion years old, but Komarov claims that chemical wastes have brought it to “the brink of irreversible change " in a single decade.

The public first learned of the plan to build two paper and pulp combines on the lake shores through a disquieting essay in the maga­zine October in 1963. The writer said that the plant— construction of which had already begun – was threatening to poison the lake and ruin the surrounding forests. In fact, says Komarov, scientific experts had been opposing the Baikal scheme since its proposal in the late Fifties, but the State Planning Committee had pressed on regardless. Neither Siberian nor Moscow scien­tists — let alone ordinary citizens — had been allowed up see details of the project. The real pressure to build the plant had come from the Ministry of Defence, which cited the  “strategic interests d the country.” The Ministry wanted a domestic supply of durable cord for bomber tyres, then being imported from Canada and Sweden. Only two sites could provide the huge quantities of clean water needed for the manu­facturing process: Baikal and Lake Ladoga. But Ladoga, near Leningrad, was already surrounded by industry and the chief source of drinking water for the city.

To  allay the widespread concern that followed the October article, it was announced that the most sophisticated and costly treat­ment facilities in the world would be built at the Baikal combines. A special commis­sion, set up by the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, confirmed in 1966 that the measures to protect the lake were effective, and, on the whole, adequate.

Komarov reveals, however, that the published report was a whitewash. In fact it was the fourth report produced by the commission; the three previous versions had been rejected because they failed to approve of the combine. He quotes a first-hand account from a member of the com­mission:

‘We submitted our report to the vice-president of the Academy of Sciences, A. P. Vinogradov. He took a look at our conclusions and immediately sent the report back to us. "You maintain that the Baikal com­bines will prove fatal to the lake. Rut how can this be ? The government decides to build, and you say “impossible…” Take your report and do some work on it.” That is hen the real arm-twisting began. Elementary arithmetic showed that, even after treatment, effluents con­taining dissolved matter each year would clump more than 30,000 tons of sodium sulfides and chlorides, toxic lignin, foul-smelling mercaptan com­pounds, and the like into Baikal. The concentration of mineral compounds in the waste waters after purification would be 30 to 40 times higher than the normal Baikal levels. . . . There was, it seemed, no way out. Neither the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences nor Vinogradov could object to our work. But no means were spared. To oppose our com­mission the Presidium created its own commission, consisting of chemists. At its head put Zhavoronkov, an academic­ian, secretary of the chemistry department, a government man who knew what the Presidium needed. “

At one subsequent meeting, says the commission member, " one old academician began to scream at us: ' But why are we going on so about this Baikal? Pollute it if we have to. Now we have nuclear energy, and if later we have to, we cam easily make a big pit and fill it with water, and that's it. We'll make Baikal again '."

Two more versions of the commission's report were re­jected. In a fourth report, the authors dropped their categorical conclusion that " construction would be ruin­ous for the lake." There were conditions, however: a pipe­line should be built to dis­pose of waste waters over a ridge into the Irkut river; a national park should be created; and there should be extensive restricted zones around the lake where no wood pulp would be pro­cessed. Komarov claims that at his time of writing, in 1977, almost all of these conditions were still in "the discussion and design stage."

Meanwhile  Lake Baikal had suffered a decade of defilement. A second report of the Academy of Sciences re­ported in 1975-6 that the com­bine should be shut down and re-equipped for environment­ally safe production.

The report pointed out that a tiny crustacean—epishura —formed the first link in a food chain that supported all the fauna of the lake, including whitefish, cod, grayling and seals. The ephishura lived only in Lake Baikal, dying even if kept in pure Baikal water in a laboratory test tube.

Ephisura are not only an ir­replaceable food. They also act as a potent biological filter, helping to extract about 250,000 tons of calcium a year from the waters of the rivers flowing into the lake. They are responsible for the unique purity of the Baikal water, and for its satura­tion with oxygen even in winter.

Epishura die in the (sup­posedly purified) effluents from the paper and pulp combine, even when these effluents are diluted 20, 60 and 100 times. The crustacean is becoming extinct for several square kilo­meters around the plant.

Algae are flourishing in the southern part of the lake—some­thing previously thought im­possible—and fish are becoming infested with worms. There are constant breakdowns in the combine's purification equip­ment, and at these times the sewage entering the lake is hundreds of times more toxic than usual.

" Pollution has even begun to interfere with the operations of the combine itself," writes Komarov. " It now extracts water that it has polluted itself and is unable to do the job it was built for—produce a specially durable cord for tyres. However, this no longer bothers anyone—since 1964, before the BPPC had been completed, such cord has been made from petroleum."

So, asks Komarov: " Why are we slowly but surely destroying the most precious body of water on the planet? " His answer: to produce about 160,000 tons of ordinary cord—a small propor­tion of the nation's needs; 3,000 tons of coarse packaging paper —the kind used to wrap nails; 100,000 tons of nutrient yeast for feeding pigs; and a little turpentine and oil, used in paints

The great mass of Soviet citizens remain ignorant of the pollution of Lake Baikal, thanks to three government resolutions restricting information about it since the alarm of 1963. The latest of these, in 1975, covered not only information about Baikal but any ecological infor­mation in the mass press throughout the country.

" Major ecological problems began with Baikal, but unfortu­nately they will not end with the lake," writes Komarov. " During these years ' the blue orb of Siberia' has become a symbol of hundreds of Russian lakes and rivers being ruined by pollution, a symbol of the smoke-filled sky suffocating forests and people, a symbol of perishing nature."


Boris Komarov, whoever he is, dearly has had access to much restricted information, and understands thee political factors behind environmental decisions. His British publishers, Pluto Press, believe he is " a high official in close touch with the scientific and political establishment," and that he is still living in the Soviet Union.

Harry Rothman, a senior lec­turer at the technology policy unit of the University of Aston, who wrote the foreword to the British edition of Komarov's book, describes him as " an 'insider' who believes that the causes of the Soviet ecological crisis are due to fundamental weaknesses in the socio-economic structures o£ the Soviet Union."

Zhores Medvedcv, the dissi­dent biologist whose claim of a covered-up nuclear disaster is confirmed in the book, says Komarnv is " very well-informed," particularly about chemical contamination. He believes that Komarov probably worked in the chemical indus­try, and " writes from personal experience." He thinks it unlikely that Komarov is a high-ranking official, hecause he does not quote from official documents.

Komarov's book was first pub­lished, in Russian, by Possev-Verlag, an emigre firm based in Frankfurt.




Photo of Ze’ev Wolfson on Jan 26th 2007 by David Rabkin.

All these years later, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, have today discovered who Boris Komarov is: Ze’ev Wolfson

Ze'ev Wolfson was born in 1944 in the USSR. He received a Ph.D degree in Enviromental Policy from Moscow State University in 1978. The work The Destruction of Nature in the Soviet Union (under pseudonym Boris Komarov) was published in 1979 in the West in eight editions in seven languages. The book was awarded the Gambrinus European Award (Italy) for best book on ecology in 1983. After the Chernobyl disaster he focused his interests on the consequences of developing of nuclear technology, and chemical and biological weapons in the former Soviet Union and in Russia. The author has published numerous articles on these subjects. In September 2000 his work “Syrian-FSU Military Cooperation” was published in NATIV. From 1987 he was affiliated with the Mayrock Center for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Research of the Hebrew University as a researcher and editor of the Environmental Policy Review and from 1998 as editor of CIS Environmental and Disarmament Yearbook.

Source: Ariel Center for Policy Research

Read the Foreword  by Yurii Shcherbak (Ukraine’s Former Minister of the Environment, leader of Ukraine’s “Green Movementg” and currently Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel) to Boris Komarov’s  ‘The Geography of Survival Ecology in the Post-Soviet Era’ [Published by M.E. Sharpe Inc in 1994]. Available on Google Books.



Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Greenpeace and WWF present 125,000 signatures to UNESCO to save world’s oldest, deepest and largest lake

UNESCO today received a petition of signed by 125,000 people around the world protesting against the re-opening of a paper and pulp mill on the shores of Lake Baikal, a World Heritage site in the Russian Federation.

The petition was presented to UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Francesco Bandarin, by Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), who agreed to bring it to the attention of the World Heritage Committee, when it meets in Brasilia from 25 July to 3 August.

"The World Heritage Committee will discuss the Baikal issue at its meeting in Brasilia, and will offer recommendations and support to Russia to define the most appropriate solutions," Mr Bandarin said.

"We have had, in the past, proof of the Russian Government's commitment to the conservation of World Heritage sites," he added. "We are confident that the authorities will understand that Lake Baikal requires decisions that will effectively protect its conservation."

Greenpeace Russia campaign director Ivan Blokov urged UNESCO "to do everything within it's power to protect Lake Baikal from the catastrophic consequences that would inevitably result from the re-opening of the Baikalsk Paper and Pulp Mill (BPPM) on its shores". "The 125,000 signatures on the petition we have presented to UNESCO today provide ample testimony to the concern of people the world over about this unique site," he said.

Lake Baikal is the deepest, oldest and largest lake in the world, containing 20% of the planet's unfrozen fresh water. Over 25 million years it has developed an extraordinarily rich biodioversity, including a freshwater seal, and is often referred to as the 'Galapagos of Russia'.  It was inscribed on UNESCO's World heritage List in 1996.

Source: UNESCO News



This article was published in The Guardian on March 31st 1987.

AFTER Chernobyl and the period of guilty secrecy immediately following the accident, doubts were raised in Western minds about Soviet awareness of and seriousness about ecology and conservation. Perhaps, muttered the pessimistic, it would all end not in the bang of a nuclear war, but in the whimper of radioactive poison spread by Soviet sloppiness.

Evidence that the people of the Soviet Union do care — and that it is, as ever, bureaucracies which fail to take all factors into account — comes this week with the publication of the first modern English language book on Soviet wildlife and the almost Western-style PR hype of the visit of its author to this country.

image Conservation is given great prominence in the ‘Natural History of the USSR’ and Algirdas Knystautas, the stylish, blond-haired 30-year-old ornithologist who wrote it, paints an optimistic portrait of the state of the Russian environment. The Soviets' love for the earth, as expressed so often in their literature and music, has, he says, for many years found a practical form in conservation.

"If you look at the roots of conservation," he says, "it's not a recent thing at all. The Astrakhan nature reserve,which is very important in the Volga delta, was created in 1919 by Lenin. More nature reserves are being created and recently huge territories have been withdrawn from any kind of industrial or agri­cultural activities.

"Taimyr nature reserve is about 1,500,000 hectares, an enormous territory of virgin tundra with about 3,000 red-breasted geese breeding there. They are a symbol of the USSR Ornithological Society. It is definitely improving in all ways. Aware­ness among the people, especially the people who deal with agriculture and just common people, is very important."

Dr Knystautas was born in Lithuania, in Vilnius, a town of 40,000 inhabitants, and spent his first six years in his grandparents' house "which had a big garden, old trees, many birds nesting and, of course, it was a place to explore." His love of nature is, he says, "just genetics, just inborn. I really do not think that environment had so significant an effect on me.' Birds were always my sub­ject. I've always felt like that and I'm very confident that things happen to me that way, so let them be that way."

His seriousness and his confidence are intimidating. So is his refusal to conform to cultural stereotypes. He is neither tweedy ornithologist nor baggy-suited Soviet scien­tist. Midway through his lec­ture and publicity tour of the UK and already a veteran of similar trips to Canada and the USA, he does not res­emble his unbecoming book-jacket photo. He is wearing a sharp suit and a fashionably voluminous belted overcoat. And he is talking with a pas­sion and intensity which leaves no room for small talk. And he is not smiling.


Source: www.ibisbilltours.com

His traveller's tales are full of dangers and diffi­culties, beauties and tri­umphs. There was his hunt for the Ibisbill, a rare and mysterious wading bird of the Central Asian mountains, pic­tures of which are seen in this book for the first time in the West. There was the golden eagle he watched hatch on the Aksu-Dzhabagly nature reserve in the West­ern Tien Shan mountains of Central Asia.

Blue Whistling Thrush -Wat Tham Suea

Source: Birding2Asia.com

And he almost smiles when he says: "One of the most exciting birds is the Blue-Whistling Thrush which lives on mountain waterfalls and builds the nest just near. You can imagine what sound the waterfall produces, the bird has to sing in those condi­tions so that the song is heard clearly by other birds. That is really exciting."

Photography is also a passion and one he is extremely serious about — an attitude justified by results. "My love of nature is so strong," he says, "I cannot keep it to myself. What I see I must show people. It is always with me. If I have had a joyous experience or found something very funny in a book, I must share it with someone else. The same is with nature."

There are many willing to be shared with. As in the West, nature programmes are big on Soviet television. There is The Life of Plants, Ecological Diary and, most popular, The World of Animals. There are many magazines, some national, some local. Gerald Durrell was mobbed by readers of his books when he visited the USSR and Sir Peter Scott and other Western naturalists are increasingly turning their attention eastward's for fresh material.

Knystautas stresses that the fight to save the rarer species of fauna and flora is engaged on a mass level. He says: "I think a great deal was done by establishing the Red Data Book. Every republic has its own and ordinary people can go to the authorities and say: 'Look, this bird is breeding just near and what have you done to conserve it?' This is very important."

He adds: "The main differ­ence between problems of natural conservation in the USSR and the West is the fact that in the Soviet Union there is state ownership of the land and it makes it much easier to look after the natural re­sources because we don't need to make an endless effort, as the World Wildlife Fund or the RSPB do, to buy land from private individuals for enormous, enormous prices."

But don't the layers of bu­reaucracies make it difficult to pilot ideas and proposals through the system? "You know, nothing ever goes very smoothly at all points. But in my experience a positive response is more usual than a negative one."

The Natural History of the USSR by Algirdas Knystautas is published by Century Hutchinson

Sunday, August 08, 2010



Dense, billowing white and gray smoke pours from wildfires and shrouds the ground near Nizhny Novgorod, western Russia, as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite passed overhead on July 27, 2010. The city lies at the confluence of the Oka and the Volga Rivers, just southeast of center in this image. It is the fourth largest city in Russia, the administrative center of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast and the Volga Federal District, and home to more than 1.3 million people. Although it lies in a relatively clear section of the image, the city is almost entirely obscured by haze, smoke and cloud cover.

Major fires can be seen as large red hotspots in the forests east of Nizhny Novgorod and north of the meandering Volga River, and also as a bright band of large hotspots in the western mountains. The extremely dense, billowing white smoke and large red squares in the southwest of this image marks intense infernos, where both forest and peat blaze out of control.

The fires ignited in late July, after weeks of extreme heat joined a long-standing drought to turn vegetation tinder-dry. Reported as the hottest summer since record keeping began in Russia 130 years ago, highs of 40°C (104°F) have been reported, with many days exceeding 35°C (95°F). In the region, the average high in July is only 19°C (66°F).

Although many of the fires captured in this image have come under control, weather forecasts call for continuing hot, dry conditions and “extreme” fire danger in many regions. So far this year, fires have burned over 729,761 hectares and killed at least 52 people in Russia. At least 540 homes were destroyed in the area covered by this image.


Smoke and fires across western Russia. Latest currently available image: 5th August, taken at 08 :20 UTC


Russians seek shelter as fires rage out of control‘Russian firefighters appeared to losing their battle against the wildfires even as firefighters from Italy, Germany and Bulgaria flew in to help. More fires broke out overnight with the number increasing to 853 across Russia from 831, blazing across a territory of 193,516 hectares.

By Catherine Belton in Moscow and Isabel Gorst in Nizhny Novgorod [Financial Times published: August 7 2010 15:34 ]


Global distribution of fire occurrences. Latest fire map: 10 July 2010 - 19 July 2010. Source: MODIS Rapid Response System

This extraordinary image shows forest fires burning across the globe during a ten-day period last month.

The MODIS Rapid Response System was developed to provide daily satellite images of the Earth's landmasses in near real time. True-color, photo-like imagery and false-color imagery are available within a few hours of being collected, making the system a valuable resource for organizations like the U.S. Forest Service and the international fire monitoring community, who use the images to track fires.