85% of existing railroad tank cars unsafe in an accident

Tens of thousands of railroad tank cars that carry flammable liquids should be phased out or retrofitted, a major rail industry group has recommended.

The Association of American Railroads also pressed for higher federal safety standards for new tank cars…

The group asked for the changes in comments to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The upgrades “will substantially decrease” the possibility of a spill if the car is involved in an accident…

AAR estimated that of the approximately 92,000 tank cars in use, some 78,000 required phase out or retrofitting. Under their proposal, the organization said another 14,000 newer tank cars that meet current safety standards also would need retrofitting.

The AAR proposes new tank cars be built with a steel jacket surrounding the car, thermal protection, shields at the front and back and pressure relief vales with high-flow capacity.

Any cars not retrofitted should be “aggressively” phased out, AAR said…

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had asked for comments on improving the safety of tank cars after an unattended train with 72 tank cars rolled down a hill and exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July, killing at least 42 people…


I wonder if they’ll ask taxpayers to subsidize the upgrade to safer tank cars. That way their profit structure will be less affected. Congress wouldn’t have a problem with that, eh?

Geeks fightback against NSA spies with super encryption

America’s Mecca for Fascist technology

Google, Facebook and Yahoo! are fighting back against the National Security Agency by using harder-to-crack code to shield their networks and online customer data from unauthorized U.S. spying.

The companies, burned by disclosures they’ve cooperated with U.S. surveillance programs, are protecting user e-mail and social-media posts with strengthened encryption that the U.S. government says won’t be easily broken until 2030…

Companies are fighting back primarily by using increasingly complex encryption, which scrambles data using a mathematical formula that can be decoded only with a special digital key. The idea is to protect sensitive information like e-mails, Internet searches and digital calls…

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has determined that known computing power won’t be able to break 2048-bit encryption until at least 2030…

“The NSA is one of the largest, most powerful, well-funded intelligence agencies in the world,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kurt Opsahl said in a phone interview. “While the government has been misusing its legal authorities to require a set of data at the front door, the NSA has been sneaking in the back door to grab all the data…”

Encrypting data can, at the least, make it harder for the NSA to gain unauthorized access to information, forcing the agency to pick targets or come out of the shadows and go before a court to obtain it legally, Opsahl said.

The other thing companies can do is lobby Congress to change the law to restrict what the NSA is able to do, according to Harvard’s Bruce Schneier.

“There is a technology component, but primarily this is a political problem,” Schneier said.

Like most every social problem in our lives, today – this is a political problem. Congress and the White House vacillate between do-nothing know-nothings on the Right and spineless do-nothings in the supposedly Liberal middle. Obama was elected to change foreign policy, end military complicity and bring our troops home, lead a constitutional fight to restore democracy and privacy to our nation. He failed. In the fight for privacy he didn’t even try – rolling over for the NSA and Homeland Insincerety.

Though pressure from below – that means you and me – we shoved half the Blue Dog Democrats out the door and replaced them with Progressives or at least Constitutionalists who will stand up for traditional rights. Pressure needs to be maintained on Congress which will likely return a significant number of populist Tea Party phonies from gerrymandered districts. Pressure needs to be increased on Democrats who have the ethical sturdiness of Jello.

Oceans suffer with acidification as part of global warming

casting a net

Global warming is causing a silent storm in the oceans by acidifying waters at a record rate, threatening marine life from coral reefs to fish stocks, an international study showed on Thursday.

The report, by 540 experts in 37 nations, said the seas could become 170 percent more acidic by 2100 compared to levels before the Industrial Revolution. Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, can become a mild acid when mixed with water.

Acidification is combining with a warming of ocean waters, also caused by a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and other man-made factors such as higher pollution and overfishing, the report said.

“It is like the silent storm – you can’t hear it, you can’t feel it,” Carol Turley, a senior scientist at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in England, told Reuters.

The study, released on the sidelines of a meeting of almost 200 nations in Warsaw on ways to slow global warming, estimated that acidity of the oceans had already increased by 26 percent since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries…

The pace of acidification was the fastest in at least 55 million years, the scientists said. Acidification undermines the ability of everything from corals to crabs to build protective shells and has knock-on effects on the food web.

“Marine ecosystems and biodiversity are likely to change as a result of ocean acidification, with far-reaching consequences for society,” according to the summary led by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme…

“If society continues on the current high emissions trajectory, cold water coral reefs, located in the deep sea, may be unsustainable and tropical coral reef erosion is likely to outpace reef building this century,” the report said.

Deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases, from power plants, factories and cars, would limit acidification.

The barriers in the way of halting – and reversing – these processes are political not technical. I keep reading and posting articles like this one to provide ammunition for those of you with the courage and fortitude to continue the struggle against politicians and pundits bought and sold by fossil fuel barons. Nothing counts more in their mean, disgusting lives than short-term profits.

Vancouver, BC, launches cigarette butt recycling program

cigarette butts by the sea

What can you say about cigarette butts? They instantly make wherever they are look seedy, they don’t biodegrade, plus they’re highly toxic to aquatic organisms. It turns out, however, that they are good for something. The City of Vancouver and TerraCycle Canada launched a first-of-its-kind pilot program this Tuesday, in which the butts will be collected for recycling.

As part of the Cigarette Waste Brigade program, 110 cigarette recycling receptacles have been installed on several blocks in downtown Vancouver. The idea is that besides keeping the butts out of landfills, they also won’t be littering the streets. People are additionally being encouraged to save up butts in their home or workplace, then send them in for processing.

And no, they’re not being recycled into new cigarette butts. Instead, the cellulose acetate in their filters is being used in the production of industrial products such as shipping pallets. Additionally, tobacco extracted from them will be composted.

Incidentally, in a study conducted at China’s Xi’an Jiaotong University, it was found that discarded cigarette butts could also be used for rust-proofing steel.

The Cigarette Waste Brigade program is part of the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, in which Vancouver is aiming to become the greenest city in the world by the year 2020. That plan has also included construction of the LEED-certified Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Center, the introduction of a car-sharing program, and the use of recycled plastic in road asphalt.

Vancouver rocks! If they weren’t sitting on an earthquake fault, I might be living there. 🙂