American Elephants

Ground Squirrels Buried the Seeds 30,000 Years Ago. by The Elephant's Child

This pretty little plant, Sylene stenophylla, was grown from a seed from a tiny fruit burrowed into the dirt by an Arctic ground squirrel, to eat later if he could remember where he had buried it. The fruit quickly froze in the cold ground and was preserved in permafrost, waiting to grow into a full-fledged flowering plant for 30,000 years. Russian scientists have now regenerated this Pleistocene plant, transplanting it into a pot in a lab.  A year later, it grew and flowered and bore fruit.

This specimen is distinctly different from the modern-day version of Sylene stenophylla, or narrow-leafed Campion. The fruits were buried about 125 feet in undisturbed, never thawed permafrost sediments at roughly 19.4° F. Radiocarbon dating showed that the fruits were 31,800 years old, give-or-take about 300 years. Imagine. Seeds store the embryo of a new plant and store it in protective material until conditions are right for it to germinate.

The Russian team led by David Gilichinsky at the Russian Academy of Sciences grew a modern-day narrow-leafed Campion as a control so they could see the differences among the two generations — the Pleistocene version put out twice as many buds, but the modern version put out roots faster. The regenerated ancient seeds had a 100 percent germination rate, while the control plants had only an 86-90 percent germination.

Needless to say, scientists are interested in the permafrost as an important new gene pool. Other ancient ground squirrel burrows have been found in Yukon territory and in Alaska.”We consider it essential to continue permafrost studies in search of an ancient genetic pool, that of pre-existing life, which hypothetically has long since vanished from the Earth’s surface,” the authors write. The paper was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Use The Gas Tax to Pay for Highways? What a Strange Idea. by The Elephant's Child

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that the House transportation bill is “the worst” measure he’s ever seen “during 35 years of public service.” Does this mean that that those crumbling roads and bridges aren’t going to be fixed after all? They have been crumbling for nearly 5 years, according to Obama, if you count the last campaign.

But no, that ‘s not the problem. The legislation would eliminate the deficit-ridden Highway Trust Fund as a funding source for transit, walking and biking projects. Those undoubtedly possibly worthy projects would have to be paid for out of the general fund.  The Highway Trust Fund, gasoline taxes collected from drivers of gasoline powered vehicles, would be restricted to paying for — highways!

The House bill assumes that there really are highway and bridge projects that need doing, and the portion of the gas tax that is set aside for that purpose should be dedicated to that purpose. In the new poorer America, the elites prefer that the proles ride on public transit or bicycles and leave the freeways for more sustainable vehicles, so they feel free to direct gas taxes to their favored projects.

There is, or should be, a distinct difference between a national transportation policy and an urban transport policy. Taxes levied on drivers should be spent to aid driving. Those politicians who don’t feel particularly restrained by law, regulation or the Constitution have no compunctions about dipping their sticky fingers into funds designated for particular purposes. The bigger government grows, the bigger the problem becomes. They regulate, you give them money, they use it as they choose. Not the way it’s supposed to work.

The biggest and most important reason for restraining the size of government is to make it more responsible to the people who grant it the power to do a modest number of specific things that are enumerated in the Constitution. The grandeur of the Capitol does give them a sense of their own importance, but that needs restraining as well.

A Perfect Storm of Regulations Descends on Craig, Colorado. by The Elephant's Child

The small town of Craig, Colorado is economically dependent on the local coal mines and the coal-fired power station. The 1,211 megawatt Craig Station is a supplier of relatively low-cost, reliable electricity. Approximately 300 people work at the plant. In 2002, the Tri-State Association embarked on a $121 million, multi-year environmental upgrade to address concerns about opacity and the mitigation of particulate matter. The upgrades were prompted by a settlement agreement reached between the Sierra Club and the five owner utilities of the Yampa Project. The plants were built between 1974 and 1984 at a cost of $1.2 billion, and receive their coal supply from two local mines, one located one mile from the plant and the other 30 miles Southwest.

The Sierra Club declared war on coal, one of our vast resources of reliable,cheap and abundant energy. According to Chris Horner, writing in 2010, the Sierra Club had budgeted $18 million at that point, and hired 100 people to promote a worldwide anti-coal campaign.

Environmentalists are members of a sect.  Once they were obsessed by population growth; now they are driven to restrict access to energy because abundant energy fuels all the industrial activities they despise. … Environmentalists are mobilizing hundreds of anti-coal groups worldwide that are pounding out the false message that coal is dirty, dangerous and unaffordable.

When environmental groups failed to obtain U.S. ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, lo and behold along came a little known outfit called the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS) claiming to be an independent, objective advisory group that helps state policymakers get a  handle on the issue of global warming and guide their exploration of policy options. They were funded by liberal foundations and were in fact an advocate for more state regulation. They said that the states were “laboratories” for climate mitigation policymaking and that states were compelled to act only because of Washington inaction.

You can sympathize a little. State governments didn’t know anything about climate change, they heard it was a big problem and they certainly didn’t want to be the ones blamed for an approaching disaster. And here was this nice group offering to run meetings and provide policy options, and get you in touch with all the other governors who were doing good things for the climate.

You would get to brag about your state’s reliance on clean green energy. Nobody paid much attention to the fact that the Earth had quit warming, or that solar energy only worked when the sun was shining and there weren’t a lot of clouds, and night, of course.  Wind energy was free and clean, and nobody really pointed out that the wind blew only very intermittently and you needed one of those dirty coal plants ready to fill in every time the wind stopped blowing.

You can probably anticipate what has happened. Colorado imposed a renewable energy mandate that stipulates that 30 percent of energy production must come from wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2020. The eligible resources are solar, wind, geothermal, biomass or hydroelectricity. Everybody says there really aren’t any places for big hydro projects where there aren’t dams, and Big Green doesn’t like dams. Biomass doesn’t work, all the plants have gone bankrupt.  And wind and solar just aren’t going to supply any 30 percent of anything.

“Society cannot have reliable power based on when the wind blows and/or when the sun shines,” said Rick Hohnson, plant manager at Craig Station. The Cimarron Solar Facility in New Mexico, for example, has a capacity to produce 30 megawatts. The Kit Carson Windpower Project in Colorado has a capacity of 51 megawatts. Capacity is what the project would produce if the wind was blowing at the right speed all the time; or, in the case of solar, if the sun was shining brightly all the time. Neither plant was operating at capacity when the video was made.

In Craig, the power station and its employees support all the other businesses in town, and, for example, revenue at the Best Western Hotel is forcing the owners to lay off workers for the first time.

“Really what’s happening in Colorado is this perfect storm of federal regulations hammering down on the energy industry and state regulations that are having a tremendous impact on the cost of electricity,” said Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. “This is happening in places all around the country where we see this attack on the very energy sources that have powered our economy and made this engine run.”

It doesn’t matter to environmental extremists that coal today is burned more cleanly that ever before.  The environmentalists find the mere act of taking it from the ground offensive to their sensibilities.  They claim that clean coal requires carbon dioxide-free combustion, a practical absurdity since coal is a carbon-based energy source — but then carbon dioxide is not the source of global warming anyway — it’s that harmless, colorless, odorless gas that we exhale every time we breathe.  And those fumes that you see coming from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants — water vapor. But never mind reality.  The war on coal rumbles on, and what state regulation doesn’t destroy, Obama’s EPA will. Remember, Obama told us he was going to bankrupt coal.

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