Art and commentary by Kimberly Harris

Posts tagged ‘pollution’

Rescued Penguins Sporting Fashionable New Sweaters

Three penguins are keeping warm with their new sweaters

Three proud penguins show off their colorful new knitted sweaters

On October 5, 2011, the 800-foot long container ship Rena struck the Astrolabe reef off New Zealand’s Port of Tauranga, causing 88 containers to fall into the sea and the release of a fuel oil spill estimated at 360 metric tons. Cleanup crews have recovered much of the oil, but at least a thousand seabirds have been killed.

It is hard to conceive how a tragedy of this magnitude could possibly occur, given that all these reefs are charted and stored in the maps contained in modern GPS systems.

Rescuers are cleaning the birds with canola oil to remove the fuel oil. Then, they are cleansed with detergent. Each bird cleaning requires about 250 gallons of water and takes about a half hour. This process eliminates the natural oils in the birds’ feathers, which makes them vulnerable to hypothermia.

A knitting shop called The Yarn Kitchen put out an appeal for knitters worldwide to make tiny sweaters for the little blue penguins most affected by the spill. Volunteers from far and wide responded to the call and produced a deluge of colorful sweaters, some of them embellished with environmental messages. The sweaters serve a dual purpose – to keep the birds warm until their natural oils are replenished, but more importantly, they prevent the birds from preening themselves and ingesting toxic oil residues.

All was not bad news for the birds. Seagulls were delighted when a broken container full of partially cooked hamburgers washed up on the shores of the Bay of Plenty and disgorged its contents onto the beach.

Illustration by Kim Harris
Story by Don Rudisuhle

Senator Claire McCaskill’s Carbon Folly

Senator Claire McCaskill as a Varga girl on the side of a B-24

Her critics are calling it “Claire Air”

Claire McCaskill, the senior U.S. Senator from Missouri has recently become mired in a sticky affair whereby allegations have been made in the news media regarding her extensive use of a chartered corporate aircraft for her air travel, some of which may have been for personal purposes, all the while billing the expense to the taxpayers. More importantly, it has been revealed that the aircraft used by the senator was registered to a Delaware corporation owned by her husband, a wealthy real estate developer whose considerable fortune came in large part from federal contracts. This would appear to be a conflict of interest of a type that politicians should always steer clear of.

In March 2007, the Senator flew from St. Louis to Hannibal, Missouri to attend an annual political event and billed taxpayers $1,220.44 for the trip. The distance between these two cities is only 116 miles and could have been driven in a couple hours, incurring a mileage cost of only $112.52 at the official government reimbursement rate of 48.5 cents per mile at the time.

Contrary to stories that have appeared in the media, the aircraft in question is not a twin-engine Piper, but rather a Swiss-made, single-engine turboprop Pilatus PC-12/45, a high-end pressurized executive transport plane with seats for 8 and a cockpit crew of 2.

This is not an environmentally-friendly way to travel. Taking into account time for start-up, taxing to and from the active runway, runup, cruise, St. Louis approach patterns and area traffic, this round trip flight could have easily taken two hours. The PC-12/45 is not very efficient for short flights at low speeds and low altitudes and can burn 500 lbs of fuel per hour under those conditions. With Jet-A fuel weighing about 6.8 lbs per gallon, this translates into about 147 gallons for the trip. A modest sedan getting 20 mpg would have required less than 12 gallons, by comparison.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that 23.9 pounds of carbon dioxide are produced for every gallon of jet fuel burned, so this short jaunt was responsible for needlessly releasing approximately 3,513 pounds of carbon dioxide into the Missouri skies.

Multiply this times the 89 flights said to have been flown, many of which were much longer in distance and a formidable carbon footprint starts to emerge, one that could have been avoided by using the humble automobile or a seat on a commercial carrier.

There was more in store for the tireless champion for transparency and fighting government waste and excess. Senator McCaskill promptly reimbursed the U.S. Treasury $88,000 this month for the 89 trips on the plane, a few of which were said to be for political purposes. In recent days it came to light that the Senator failed to pay property taxes on the aircraft after it was moved to Missouri four years ago. Its market value is estimated to be in the vicinity of $2.4 million, and St. Louis County calculated the outstanding tax bill to be $319,541, including penalties and interest. Senator McCaskill’s husband’s Delaware corporation, Timesaver LLC, paid approximately $287,000 a few days ago.

With her reelection campaign soon to be launched, it is all but certain that an in-depth investigation will follow in short order, with many additional lurid details emerging into the public venue.

The irony in this whole affair is that during the 2004 primaries for governor, then State Auditor Claire McCaskill successfully used this same argument against her opponent, incumbent Gov. William Holden, when she accused him of using the taxpayer-funded state airplane for more than 300 trips, some of which were for the purpose of attending sporting events.

Wait a minute, the Senator used to be an auditor…?

Kim Qui, The Golden Turtle God and Guardian of the Sword

Kim Qui, the sacred turtle sits on a rock with a sword

The Golden Turtle God and Guardian of the Sword

In the news today is a troubling story concerning the sacred turtle of Vietnam’s Hoan Kien Lake. This rare and endangered turtle is sick and slowly dying from pollution.

The following story from our Squidoo Lens, The Mysterious Creatures of Cryptozoology is about the legend of Kim Qui and some information on the turtle itself.

Kim Qui is a legendary turtle that has repeatedly come to the assistance of Vietnamese rulers over the millennia to help them defeat their enemies and defend their kingdoms from invaders. In a story parallel to that of King Arthur and Excalibur, there is a traditional account about how Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God, gave Emperor Le Loi a magical sword bearing the inscription “The Will of Heaven.” This sword gave the emperor great strength and was instrumental in his leading his forces to defeat the invading Ming Chinese armies in 1427. Following his victory, Le Loi was boating on Luc Thuy (“Green Water”) Lake when the turtle deity Kim Qui suddenly rose to the surface and seized the sword in his mouth and promptly vanished back into the murky depths. The emperor bemoaned the loss of this precious sword, but was eventually persuaded that now that his kingdom was again free, the sword’s rightful owners had reclaimed it. The emperor then proclaimed that Luc Thuy Lake be renamed Ho Hoan Kiem Lake, which means “Lake of the Returned Sword.”

Hoan Kiem Lake is located just west of the Song Hong River (“Red River”) in an urban setting near Hanoi’s Old Quarter and about a mile southeast of Truc Bach Lake, where John McCain landed after being shot down by a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft missile in 1967. In the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, there is a small island with a structure known as The Tortoise Tower that commemorates the Kim Qui legend.

In scientific terms, Kim Qui is a Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle, which is formally known as Rafetus swinhoei. Weighing in at around 400 pounds, it may be the largest fresh water turtle in the world. It is easily identified by its pig-like snout and nostrils.

Aside from the single specimen known to live in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi and presumed by many to be the legendary Kim Qui, there only four other known surviving members of the species. These are located at zoos in China, and several are estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old. Other individuals have recently been observed in the wild, but the species has been seriously depleted by pollution, human encroachment into its habitat, especially the damming of rivers and the mining of sand, and also from hunting for food or the supposed medical properties of its shell and bones. This has prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in Switzerland to list Rafetus swinhoei as “critically endangered.”

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