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One for the Money. Two for the Snow:

It’s Raining.

It’s Pouring . . . and

Snowing . . .

Formaldehyde

by Andrea Silverthorne

12/2010

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I: Introduction

In 1997, a news journalist organization, the Committee of Concerned Journalists (CCJ), commences a study to establish written principles for their profession. Before deciding on the principles, the industry reviews its own history, conducts public meetings, and surveys their own members in order to crystallize the importance of their professional ethics and role in a free and democratic society. In 2001, the CCJ publishes the “Nine Principles of Journalism. The study and its outcome are later incorporated into the book The Elements of Journalism.

It is the purpose of this effort on “Environmental Ethics,” to:

· Analyze the industry’s own journalistic principles as they apply to the state of the industry’s present day environmental reporting. The subject chosen for evaluation is the “extinction risk” of the world’s vertebrates.

Two stories by well known and respected media are selected for review, evaluation, and comparison as follows:

  • A May 25, 2009 story for the New Yorker magazine, written by award winning journalist, Elizabeth Kolbert entitled, “The Sixth Extinction?” detailing the escalating death of bats and frogs in recent decades.
  • An October 27, 2010 story by CNN on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s, (IUCN), ‘Red List’ of endangered species. A statement on the ‘Red List was released to the public at the IUCN’s “Biodiversity Summit” in Nagoya, Japan, on the occasion of their 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Other stories written and reported on, not by the media’s reporters, but by atmospheric scientists, will be analyzed for the purpose of determining possible (“the truth not told”) relevance to the environmental reporting of the first two stories. These stories detail discovered revelations of rising levels of formaldehyde gas in our atmosphere and the behavior of those rising levels of atmospheric formaldehyde − in on-going gas exchanges between the atmosphere and snow. Similar studies witnessing the same exchange in water, rain and fog are included.

II: Story Content

The CNN extinction story appears on air — and on their Internet site; it paraphrases the contents of a press release of the IUCN, a United Nations related organization that roots back to 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva Switzerland. The head of its governing body has a former association with the United Nations.

CNN’s story is seven hundred and fifty words long. It announces the beginning of the IUCN’s two week biodiversity conference in Nagoya, Japan. The press release the wire staff uses is much longer. There are no inaccuracies in the CNN account of the release; it does not deviate from the press release content, but it is a truncated version of a revealing study.

Extinction, the small CNN story says, can be attributed to “invasion” and the effects of “agriculture.” Invasion is better defined by the IUCN as invasion of alien species into a natural habitat, but like the CNN story, it also goes into no detail on just how precisely agriculture and alien invasion is rendering specific species extinct, or what they are dying from. To the side of the CNN story highlighted in blue are the main points of the story itself: the number of species threatened is rising; conservation efforts help reduce the rate of extinction; and amphibians are the most threatened species. In the body of the story the cable network does state the remarkable fact that forty-one percent of amphibians are threatened, and that data from over twenty-five thousand species was used for the study.

The CNN Internet reportage on the news of the conference also provides a link to a more comprehensive, earlier story of October 18, under CNN’s Matthew Knight’s by line. In addition to the facts featured in the October 27 story, Knight’s efforts fills us in on the ten years of failure of the countries agreeing to the previous 2002, ten year plan. They all fail to meet their promised efforts to sustain biodiversity within their borders.

Matthew Knight explains the Convention on Biological Diversity is binding on one hundred and ninety three nations. Matthew Knight fails to mention the United States is not bound to the Treaty; it was signed but has never been ratified. The U.S. is the only country who signs the original Treaty and does not go on to ratify it. Canada, Great Britain and many other western nations do ratify the Treaty.

Knight uses strong visual words such as “alarming and “tipping point,” and he tells us the goals of the conference are a new agreement for the next ten years focusing on: conservation; sustainable use of the world’s biodiversity; the finalization of a protocol for sharing the world’s resources between the haves and the have nots; and the rights of indigenous people. There is to be a monitoring body established. Success depends — according to Knight’s discussion with interested groups — on political will and the monetary contributions of privileged countries. CNN does not mention climate change as a responsible cause of extinction; the IUNC site does, although it is not in the ‘Red List” press release used by CNN.

There are also discrepancies in the IUNC’s press release quote of a figure of twenty percent, to denote the number of world species under threat, and the information on its own site. The information on the site explains that of the over fifty-five thousand species looked at over twenty three thousand are under threat to different degrees, including over eight hundred and fifty specifies that have gone extinct during the period. The site tells you that of the species looked at, they excluded well over eight thousand of them, because there is not enough available data to ascertain any threat or non treat to them; therefore, of the new sum of the species the group studied and found enough data for evaluation on, almost forty-two percent of them were found to be under some threat of extinction, not twenty percent. The iucnrelist.org site has other revealing and alarming facts not featured in either the CNN, October 27th story or their October 18th story:

  • Species that live on land decline by forty percent just between the years 1970 to 2000.
  • When it comes to species that live in fresh water, the numbers were higher; fifty percent of species in this habitat decline.
  • Fish in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean have declined sixty-six percent in the past fifty years.
  • Twenty-two percent of mammals now range from the vulnerable to the already extinct
  • The Caribbean, which had extensive hard cover coral on fifty percent of its sea bottom, is down to ten percent in just the past three decades alone.
  • The ‘Red List’ documents seventy percent of the world’s coral reefs are endanger of obliteration.
  • And in the past ten years alone sixty million hectares of forest and thirty-five of mangroves have disappeared off the face of the earth.

Elizabeth Kolbert, a staff reporter for the New Yorker magazine began reporting on the environment ten years ago. She has also written a book expanded from a series done for her magazine called Field Notes From a Catastrophe. In a review of the book by journalist Marguerite Holloway in Scientific American magazine, Holloway describes Kolbert’s writing on the environment as “pithy and powerful. The possibility that she may impact public opinion on environmental threats to the extent that Rachel Carson did in the 1960’s has been raised.

In May of 2009, New Yorker magazine publishes “The Sixth Extinction?,” Kolbert’s account of the mysterious deaths of frogs and bats. Her chronicle begins with the advent of the last decade of the twentieth century in the rain forests of Costa Rica’s Talmanca Mountains. Graduate student Karen Lips spends two years studying the area’s Golden Frog; she leaves to write her dissertation; she returns but four months later. Repeat: She returns but four months later. The frogs have all but disappeared. Kolbert says Lips sent the dead frogs she could find to a U.S. pathologist, who could not find a cause of death. The Kolbert tale does not include a tale of fungus at this point; neither the pathologist nor the graduate student, speak of finding or noticing any fungal growth on the frogs’ bodies.

Kolbert’s yarn now turns to one of carnage. Karen Lips returns just several years later at the end of the twentieth century, to continue her study of frogs. This time she selects a site in western Panama with a thriving, healthy frog population. Soon, Kolbert relates, before Lips’s eyes, the story of dead and dying frogs begins anew. They are everywhere. Again, Kolbert says Lips sends frogs to a pathologist in the United States, a different one than her first selection, but the second pathologist is also stumped; he can not find a cause of death, and no mention of fungus yet appears in Kolbert’s account of what is recognizable as a horror story.

Pausing after her succinct introduction to frog extinction, Kolbert digresses to the subject of past extinctions. She covers the notable theorists and naturalists from Thomas Jefferson, who thought that the concept of extinction was not valid— to Georges Cuvier, who first wrote of the theory of mass and sudden extinctions — through Charles Darwin, who disagreed with Cuvier and proposed that extinctions were a slow process — and then she covers modern day theorists who have proven Darwin wrong: There have been twenty mass extinctions, she learns from her research, including five cataleptic events, swiftly wiping out more than seventy-five percent of species.

Kolbert begins her story in the town of El Valle, Panama with a tale of the local folklore of their Golden Frog, and midway through her story on frogs she returns there, in person, to interview Edgardo Griffith, a herpetologist, who has established a frog conservation center to protect the frogs from their natural, remote and pristine habitat. The wave of horror hits the twenty-first century like a tsunami, moving to the east, Kolbert explains, while accompanying Griffith on a frog collecting mission in the environs of El Valle, and she learns that part of the alarm among scientists over the swift extinction of frogs lies in the fact: Frogs have been around for four hundred million years, and for two hundred and fifty million years they have pretty much looked the way they do today. Frogs pre-existed the now extinct dinosaurs; they are survivors. The problem is no longer confined to Central America; it is happening in the United States and all around the world. The problems range from drastic declines to complete extinction, in a matter of a few years. And what really has scientists scratching their heads, Kolbert says, is the fact that while remote pristine habitats are being decimated, there are habitats disturbed by man where the frogs are not under any stress at all. These facts raise peer arguments and the extinction debate rages on, and then − frogs in a zoo in Washington D.C. die.

This juncture in the story provokes another digression on the part of Elizabeth Kolbert to extinction theory. She puts forth the argument, without attribution for the source of the information: the ‘sixth extinction’ that we are now facing, and the current oddities of frog deaths, may have started fifty thousand years ago in Australia; large animals species, not the small ones, had a problem that “roughly” originated about the same time the land mass hosted the arrival of human beings, eleven thousand years ago. North America’s mammals also go extinct coincident with man’s arrival, and there are other extinctions worldwide that occur approximately coincident with man’s appearance too. Kolbert does not correlate that what is happening now is the reverse: Frogs in remote places not inhabited by man are dying. She does introduce the scientist’s decision on the cause of death for the frogs; it is a fungus, the Chytrid fungus which was isolated by pathologists examining the dead frogs from the D.C. zoo. Generally, the fungus feeds off of dead matter, but the fungus was introduced to frogs in the same zoo where the others had died, and the new frogs were dead in three weeks; however, she says, frogs in other environments, tested similarly, were unaffected by it.

Kolbert tells us an Australian scientist got applause when he found the virus has existed as far back as the nineteen thirties; he discovered it was spread by doctors importing them for pregnancy tests: frogs were widely affected and suffered no ill effects. The mystery deepens.

Yet again, Kolbert digresses to extinction theory this time to the hot debate over the end-Permian extinction: Was is or was it not a meteor? When Kolbert ends her discussions on this argument she returns to her story, but this time she is in the Northeast United States, and it is the rack and ruin of bats she is reporting on. It began in 2007 with small reports of bats behaving strangely in winter; when they should be hibernating; they were flying out of caves and dying, she says, and the next year, 2008, in some colonies, the debacle of death reached ninety-seven percent.

Kolbert quotes the recollections of Al Hicks, a biologist, remembering a phone call he received from colleagues visiting a bat cave: “They said, Holy shit, there dead bats everywhere!”

The dead and dying bats have white fuzz on their noses and sometimes on their wing and ear tips. The scientists, Kolbert says, decide: It is a fungus never identified before that is killing the bats, however, she also reveals that the scientist do not know how the fungus is killing the bats, and with scientists at a loss for an explanation, Kolbert returns for one last time to the extinction theory of scientists. This time she interviews Andrew Knoll a paleontologist from Harvard. She gets more extinction theory and a bottom line out of this respected scientist:” . . . its time to worry when the rate of change is fast.”

Kolbert ends her story with a trip to Vermont’s Aeolus Cave with more scientists: “The scene, in the dimness, was horrific,” Kolbert says about this cave that has been hibernation haunt of bats for twelve thousand years, ever since the last ice age. Dead bats and malingering bats, at deaths door, are everywhere and Kolbert concludes: “It struck me, as I stood there holding a bag filled with several dozen stiff, almost weightless bats, that I was watching mass extinction in action.”

III News Ethic Analysis

The concept of a community and its moral character is integral to ethical concepts and norms. The press of a free nation not only serves its communities, it has developed into its own professional community. Notably the press community, unlike other collective, commercial, or corporate endeavors, has developed its own view of its role, relationship, and duties to the outside community it serves − its country’s citizens. And the press, through its CCJ membership, has constructed its ethics in normative, written terms. The press holds itself in high regard and the public, despite frequent griping and venting of concerns over the press’s efforts or non efforts, as the case may be, holds the principle of free speech — and the communal concept of a free press that the media embodies as its vehicle — next to holy.

In today’s world of escalating and complex technology, the major ethical issue and the questions the press must address become: Are they up to the challenge of evaluating technical information and press releases under their own “Nine Principles of Journalism,” and more importantly are they even trying to do so? If they do not, or can not, are they and their self perceived role still relevant to the community they serve? Is the public in jeopardy because of the press’s inability or refusal to do more than read press releases of a technical nature?

The dedication of environmental reporter Elizabeth Kolbert to the United States community that reads her highly respected magazine, coast to coast, is not in question. She raises peoples’ awareness of their environmental jeopardy; she is doing a great job; her voice resonates with concern; however, the following recent, November 19 comment Kolbert made in an interview with Jen Jung of the gothamist.com blog site is perturbing:

You have people out there who have millions and millions of reams of what they call facts and they spin this kind of web of half-truths and misinterpreted truths and lies, and it's very difficult for a lay person to go through them. So I try to leave that kind of thing to the scientific community, who are really steeped in scientific literature. But just having one of these kinds of arguments, unfortunately, people like me and you and those of us who feel like this is really a big problem that we are criminally negligent in not addressing, have kind of lost that public debate right now. And that's really scary I think, to be honest.” That's the word I would use, not just depressing but downright scary. There happens to be one side, on the scientific front, that's just unassailable.

The first ‘Principle of Journalism’ listed on the CCJ web site is that of its obligation to the truth. The CCJ definition of the principle encircles the basic fact that the “journalist truth” entails: “the professional discipline of assembling and verify facts.” Elizabeth Kolbert has done an impressive job of that with one glaring omission: The test results from − and an interview with − the first two pathologists who could not ascertain a cause of death for the frogs and mentioned no fungus. It appears Elizabeth Kolbert did not obtain the reports, read them, or question the pathologists. In addition, in the case of the mysterious death of frogs in the DC zoo, she also did not obtain the pathology and toxicology results and report on them.

Elizabeth Kolbert does a fine job collecting data on extinction theory for past extinctions, and given it is theory that can never be verified with certainly, she is right to simply report the theories of scientists who have studied it for a very long time; however, all the theories offered to her clearly point to man as the cause of animal extinctions, and there are facts in the frog and bat story that clearly demonstrate a logic that disagrees with the story of a meteor or man as an interface and a cause of this particular extinction − based on the evidence. What is happening now is not like the past extinctions; we can see what is happening. The frogs in Central America are in pristine forests untouched by man. The frogs dying in the zoo in the northeast area are an exception to the rule; frogs in other localities with an abundance of human presence are just fine. The bats are also in remote areas and their habitat is not threatened. If she did ask the scientists explaining extinction theory how they can categorize and correlate the problem with frogs and bats within these past theories, she does not report it, and therefore, the logic of this otherwise finely written piece suffers.

The second principle outlined by the CCJ web site is that the media’s first loyalty is to its citizens; advertisers and shareholder must not be allowed to interfere with this second principle. The media must provide “the news without fear of favor" and clearly not with advertisers or friends taken into consideration. The second part of this principle, making sure all types of citizens are covered, does not apply; the subject is relevant to all. For the same reasons the Kolbert piece does not meet the standards of the third ‘Principle of Journalism:’ its very essence is the “discipline of verification.” Without talking to the two pathologists to determine why they did not point to a fungus — or report it on the body of the frog — it is difficult to support the hypotheses that a fungus that has been around since 1930 and has been know in the past to only grow on dead things, is now, in its current persona, killing frogs in some areas where it exists and not in others. Logic dictates that there are other factors that must be looked for.

Kolbert excels in the next two defined ‘Principles of Journalism,’ three and four. She maintains independence from those she covers and extends her independence to the monitoring of the powerful, to the extent she involves herself. Most media companies are not covering these truly significant extinction stories that suggest something is dramatically wrong in our environment, and that it logically could extend to us soon. The powerful in the United States are not paying attention to species extinction. Kolbert certainly provides the opportunity for a forum for public criticism and compromise. She goes beyond it; she creates a new forum with the piece.

The seventh principle of journalism, that of making the significant interesting is Kolbert’s ace; she has made the significant slap her readers in the face, and her story telling is more than interesting and relevant; it boggles the mind.

Because of Kolbert's stated fear of the technical and scientific, she stumbles on the CCJ principle number eight: "It Must Keep the News Comprehensive and Proportional." This principle stresses the importance of “not leaving important things out” because they are “the cornerstone of truthfulness”

Her reason for not getting the test results can be seen in her comment about her view of herself as a lay person, and not an expert, but the role of a journalist is to present all the facts and let the reader decide for themselves. A good scientist is judged on two things: their education and their logic. Logic is not something exclusive to scientists, and given Kolbert does make commentary in the piece: ". . . I was watching mass extinction in action,” it is a disappointment not to see her press for more facts. She ignores the illogical statements of scientists based on the illogical facts of the deaths of frogs and bats.

The last “Principle of Journalism,” nine, is aimed at Kolbert’s employer: “Its Practitioners Must be Allowed to Exercise Their Personal Conscience. The New Yorker magazine gets a gold star.

CNN environment reporting on the ‘Red List’ is lacking the depth and breath of Kolbert’s. Their effort contains no untruths, but there is strong evidence it is compromising journalism’s second principle: holding forth that its first loyalty is to its citizens, without fear or favor. The environment is a major story, and the ‘Red List’ itself was an incredible story, deserving of more than seven hundred and fifty words. Surely with their hours and hours of political punditry and celebrity chit chat, they can find room a story or forum chit chat on the environment every day, and a comprehensive report that explains the extinction horror story in process with the same caliber and reality that Kolbert does.

It would not be fair not to mention the lengthy “Planet in Peril” series that CNN did in 2007, three years ago, but once it is mentioned, it casts the CNN ‘Red List’ story in an even more unfavorable light. In 2007, in the much touted and later award winning series, CNN leaves the continental United States and talks of none of its problems. The stories they do cover in the U.S. are a good news story of the reintroduction of species into Yellowstone Park, and the much covered story about polar bears in the Arctic, who may or may not be threatened, but certainly not to the extent of frogs and bees and bats. Forty percent of America’s water ways and lakes are polluted, and yet the CNN team packs up and goes to China to report on a case of pollution in its waters. They talk about the impact of drought and warming on African lakes but not in United States. One of their co- sponsors was the industry that is accused by many as the culprit behind climate change, the oil and gas industry’s Conoco Phillips, one of the largest chemical oil producers in the world. Their program never discusses the energy/water debate or mentions the huge water amounts removed from Africa and other areas, for the purpose of oil production since 1909; an action which can cause drought in the first place. The CNN program never brings up green house gas methane emissions that result from fossil fuel extraction and chemical oil procedures, a much discussed topic of scientific report, such as Kvenvolden and Rogers, 2004

The CNN network reaches many more of its country’s citizens than the New Yorker magazine. Their choice of the powerful oil industry to sponsor their show clouds CNN’s merit on environmental reporting, going forward from the decision to do so. The second CCJ “Principle of Journalism” saying that it is: “the implied covenant that tells the audience the coverage is not slanted for friends or advertisers,” is undoubtedly compromised by allowing a large fossil fuel producer to co sponsor the show.

“Principle of Journalism Three,” establishing the “discipline of verifications” is nowhere evident in the 2010 CNN extinction story; they simply truncate the press release. It does not examine scientific reporting for missing facts or disputed facts, and certainly CNN, having Conoco Phillips pay for their series as a sponsor, does not qualify for maintenance of independence from those they cover, the fourth CCJ principle of journalism. CNN fails on principle five and six for the same reason; it can not serve as an independent monitor or establish a forum for public criticism and compromise when it has chosen fossil fuel sponsors to report on the environment in the very recent past. CNN choice to have no commentary panels on the ‘Red List,’ such they have on other issues, demonstrates their disregard for what others think is the preeminent story on the world agenda. Not only does CNN not meet principle seven’s criteria of making the significant interesting and relevant; it makes the annihilation of the species insignificant. CNN recently featured commentary and outside opinion on why America did not get selected by the 2012 World Cup committee.

Principle eight’s dictate to keep news comprehensive and proportional is debatable, based on CNN perception of the importance of the subject and its gauging of the relevance of the subject to its citizen listeners. Either CNN thinks the subject it is not important and relevant, or they think their viewers perceive rapid species annihilation as neither relevant nor important. Animal extinction’s possible implication for our own survival is not a question for CNN. CNN adherence to principal nine is not ascertainable based on available information.

In just the past thirty years, an obvious debacle has presented itself as a swift and astronomical decline of life on earth — by any measure. Earth is taking a fuselage of bullets in quick rat-tat-tat-tat succession. The industrial revolution’s carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions over its 300 year history cannot be solely blamed. There must be logically something new to consider, even if it is a new compounding of factors. We must devote our resources to finding what is affecting life.

IV: The Truth not Told: “Not leaving important things out.”

HYPOTHESES: If the deaths of frogs and bats are related to rising levels of formaldehyde gas in the atmosphere deposited (absorbed and adsorbed), by air and surface formaldehyde gas exchanges, in snow, rain and fog, then frogs and bats exposed to high levels of formaldehyde for a short time— or low limits for a long time— will demonstrate symptoms of formaldehyde toxicity and succumb to it.

It is widely reported (Kvenvolden and Rogers, 2005; Solomon, Susan et al., 2010; Blake and Rowland, 1988: Bousquet, P. et al.,2006; Chandler, David 2008), and disputed by some

( Dlugokencky, E. J., et al. 1998; Dlugokencky, E J,. et al, 2001), that methane gas’s rise in our atmosphere is dramatic, tripling over the past 300 years (Bousquet, P., et al., 2006). Some say there was a 11% raise from 1978 to1987 (Blake and Rowland, 1988); some (NOAA), say that it stopped raising and maintained a steady state of increase in 1999 (Dlugokencky, E.J., et al, 2001). It is generally agreed it began to rise again dramatically in 2007. ( Chandler, David, MIT 2008). ‘mum’s the word,’ on levels since the Gulf Oil blow out, whose effluence was forty percent methane. (An email correspondence was stopped when I asked David Rind of NASA’s Goddard Space Agency to comment on any new findings. Rind wrote an article on his concerns for water vapour’s rise in our atmosphere in 1998; water vapour is an oxidant of methane gas Rind, David 1998).

A myriad of news stories over the past decade report on methane in our atmosphere, attributing it to termites, cows, wetlands, rice paddies, landfills and the fossil fuel industry; however, during the time that methane has been rising — at least for the past hundred years, according to World Watch Institute, the wetlands have decreased around the world one hundred percent (Mygatt, Elizabeth 2006); termite numbers have drastically decreased through chemical pesticides and habitat lost (Alexander, K.A., et al., 2009; Evans, T.A. 2001); reports have explained rice paddies have not only declined all over the world, especially in Japan, farming methods have developed to greatly reduce the methane they produce; cows from combined dairy and beef production have reduced in numbers to their lowest in recent history levels, all over the world; they are at their lowest levels in the United States since 1959; (Stotts, Donald 2010) and landfills have learned to capture their methane and commercialize it. This only leaves the fossil fuel industry to look at for the increase, and either there is a disconnect between scientist reporting on the attribution for methane levels rising, or there is a outright attempt to divert attention form the fossil fuel industry, and in case of methane emission from our ocean the coal industry can be excluded (Kvenvolden and Rogers, 2005).

Former Mobil Oil, NASA, and USGS, retired employee Keith Kvenvolden in his 2004 paper for the Marine and Petroleum Geology Journal, explains in great detail the massive amounts of methane seeping from the ocean’s floor “where petroleum was generated” (crude and natural gas), pointing in particular to observations of “the ‘world’s most spectacular marine hydrocarbon seeps off Coal Oil Point, California, by Hornafius et al 1999” (Kvenvolden and Rogers, 2004). This is the point, just north of Catalina Island, that the mystery missile/plane was observed with the orange oil colored trail in November of 2010. Kvenvolden and Rogers also talk about the “spectacular manifestation of methane seepage” out of mud volcanoes that occur only in areas of petroleum reserves; they are formed by mud, water and methane gas. Gas hydrates coexist in the same environment, and he refers to his own estimates in 1988 which showed: “a very large amount of CH 4 is deposited in gas hydrates (Kvenvolden, 1888a)’ ( Kvenvolden and Rogers, 2004)

Scientist led by E.J. Dlugokencky, working for the United States, government’s National Ocean and Atmosphere Agency (NOAA) came up with a whole new way of looking at methane burdens complete with pseudo-sources, and they then said methane had not risen since 1984. The lead scientist noted: “Our conclusion that CH4 sources have been nearly constant from 1984 to 1996 has important implications for policy” ( Dlugokencky, E J. et al. 2001).

Back in 1972, a scientist working for the Ford Motor company tried hard to hang the increase in carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, not on our car use, but on oxidation of methane in the atmosphere, saying that carbon monoxide levels from methane oxidation were twenty-five times higher than car emissions (Weinstock B. et al. 1972). Al Gore change that view, diverting the public’s attention away from methane oxidation as the source of excess carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, both oxidants of methane.

Methane gas oxidizes in the atmosphere first to a transitory toxic substance call methanol and then moves to formaldehyde and water vapor. Both are very dangerous gases, because formaldehyde is toxic, and water vapor traps heat. (15 Austin, John et al. 2007; Chiou, E.W. 2006; European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) 2010; Oltmans, Samuel J. 2000; Seyfioglu, Remzi 2006). According to a report in a 2008 issue of Science Daily, methane levels increased by 27 million tons in just the year 2007 alone (European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) 2010). No information exists that this author can find in scientific studies to date on the subject of oxidation preference, i.e., will the OH radical supply and high level ozone radicals address excess methane first and ignore the oxidation sequence, allowing formaldehyde and water vapor to build, or vise versa. Much is not known about many things in atmospheric behavior. It is known that water vapor has actually decreased ten percent this decade and methane had not decreased, but there is no study published that addresses this oddity. ( Solomon, Susan, et al. 2010)

Authors writing in 1994 on carbon monoxide levels cite authors writing first about the gas in 1984 and then in again 1988, from the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences in Oregon. The earlier scientists said that carbon monoxide was increasing in the atmosphere. The 1994 team began writing about carbon monoxide decreasing in the atmosphere. The scientists, headed by Paul C. Novelli, released a study that showed just after 1988 the increasing trend began to reverse . . . worldwide. ( Novelli, Paul C. et al 1994). This may be another possible indication that formaldehyde is not oxidizing further, as carbon monoxide is methane’s next oxidant; if methane continued to rise until 1998 and then its rate of increase remained steady state (According to most authors this is viewed as correct, with the notable exception of NOAA), then the oxidation sequence, with some variables, should progress down the line from formaldehyde to carbon monoxide.

Another salient fact that would point in the direction of the continued increase in methane, despite the appearance of an above normal, steady state behavior, as put forth by NOAA,was a November 2000 report by a group of scientists headed by Samuel J. Oltmans. The scientist pondered over the fact: “because methane oxidation is a source of water vapor in the stratosphere [Le Texiier et al, 1988] increasing methane levels in the atmosphere [Dlugokencky, 1998] should lead to rising stratospheric water vapour amounts.” Oltmans and his colleges noted that as water vapor has continued to increase, it should be tied to a continued methane increase, but actually the growth rate of methane has slowed. (Oltmans, Samuel J. et al. 2000) The group found the results intriguing and suggested further study.

Looking back in 2003, at increasing levels of formaldehyde, as measured in 1996, Kelly Chance and Thomas P. Kurosu, of the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge Massachusetts, wrote a report on the columns of formaldehyde gas observed by satellite. They found that the levels above were consistent with ground levels, and that they were highest in the summer in hotter areas (Palmer, P.I. et al. 2003). It is worthy of note that the highest levels by far were found in Al Gore’s state of Tennessee.

Formaldehyde is a very heavy gas, one of the heaviest, along with hydrogen peroxide. Formaldehyde oxidizes out of methane at a high level; methane gas is very light. Methane’s place in the atmosphere corresponds to the area where it turns cooler. Once the oxidation is complete, the gas falls to earth, like a lucifer with a small-l, because it is so much heavier.

The Harvard authors’ report mentions methane oxidation to formaldehyde as a contributor to rising formaldehyde levels, but the report concentrates and focuses on blaming the formaldehyde gas increase on isoprene output by trees; it too oxidizes to formaldehyde. The institution focuses on trees at a time when methane, according to most scientists was increasing rapidly. Trees cannot be considered as a source of the rising formaldehyde levels, only a contributor, and how they figure into safety issues is not explained by the scientists. Trees in greater numbers have been around for a long time, and also to consider is the fact, according to Elizabeth Mygatt, at the Earth Policy Institute, forests had been decreasing at the rate of 8.9 million hectares a year worldwide during the 1990’s when the study was done. North America was one of the bigger world offenders, with Europe and South America the only continents ahead of them in hectares lost (Mygatt, Elizabeth 2006).

By the year 2000, John S. Wettlaufer and J Greg Dash, writing for Scientific American magazine, reveal the fact it did not matter how cold it was outside, there is always a film of liquid water on top of snow packs and ice. Shortly after this report, scientific reports measuring air/gas exchange for both formaldehyde and hydrogen peroxide began. In fact, the interest in the subject was described by one scientist as “considerable”(Dassau, T.M. 2002) The reports are summarized below: (Dassau, T.M. et al.2002; Jacobi, Hans-Werner, et al. 2002; Dibb, Jack E. et al. 2007; 45 Hohreiter and Rigg 2001; Seyfioglu and Remzi 2006)

Once it was thought that formaldehyde oxidized in our atmosphere during the daylight hours. In the year 2000, in Greenland scientists discovered that formaldehyde was actually the Dracula of the daylight hours, disappearing into the snow pack surface at night and re immerging when the sun came up, and it warmed (Jacobi, Hans-Werner, et al. 2002). They also found during the period studied the amounts in the snow pack were increasing dramatically, 80% in just a little over a month(June-July), and it was noted that emissions increased greatly— and for longer periods — after new snow was deposited (Jacobi, Hans-Werner, et al. 2002). The scientist noted that wind and humidity are also factors; humidity increased deposition rates by ten times; when there are high winds, the level’s decrease; however, they did not say where the formaldehyde was blown to. The conclusion was: snow provided both formaldehyde and hydrogen peroxide with temporary night time shelter (Jacobi, Hans-Werner, et al. 2002)

A group of scientists revisited Greenland and wrote an updated report in 2007 looking at activity in 2003 and 2004 and this time they looked at earlier spring levels as well as mid summer. It was clear that the warmer it got the higher the release of formaldehyde flux to the air, i.e. — snow melt (Dibb, Jack E. et al. 2007). While the scientist do not say so, this would mean that levels at points south, would peak sooner and correlate with the high levels of formaldehyde at ground level, such as the United States and Canadian levels attributed to trees by the Harvard scientists, rather than snow pack release. This leaves us to ponder where all the formaldehyde from on high headed to earth was going during the summer. Perhaps it was headed to our oceans, rivers land, ponds and streams.

Scientist working in Turkey did the same experiments with water, reporting on the results in March of 2006 , and they found that formaldehyde deposits in liquid water as well as snow. They noted that: “Wet deposit may be a significant source of HCHO to aquatic systems since concentrations in rainwater are expected to be higher than in surface waters” (Seyfioglu and Remzi 2006; Economou &Mihalopoulous, 2002; Kieber, Rines, Wiley and Brooks Avery,1999). The scientist also noted that formaldehyde reacts “significantly” with water and fluxes back and forth to the air (Seyfioglu and Remzi 2006). It forms methane diol immediately upon entering the water. Methane diol is the formal name for formalin, the toxic preservative that was used in laboratories. It was also noted in this report that wind and humidity affect deposition rates; wind decreased them; humidity increased them. The authors suggested in a report in June of the same year that HCHO degradation in water be studied further (Seyfioglu and Remzi 2006).

Elizabeth Kolbert mentions in her piece “The Sixth Extinction?” that the bats were” almost weightless. (Kolbert, New Yorker, 12) All reports on bats note abnormal weights and fat reserves in the bats. This is a symptom of formaldehyde poisoning. Studies have been done on the effects of formaldehyde on animals and humans (Sandikci, M. 2009; Morgan, Kevin T. 1984). Even in low levels it causes immune reactions. Lowered immunity allows fungi and parasites to attack; we all know that from watching the sag of the AIDS virus. As levels go higher it can cause hypothermia, asphyxiation, and ultimately acidosis, which literally eats you from the inside out. In a 1983 study done on small animals, some of the animals’ weight loss began after just two weeks, and this was an inhalation study. ( Morgan, Kevin T. 1984) A more recent study on rats done for a period of time of thirteen weeks, a period fifty percent less than the 1983 study, showed life threatening liver damage after dissection (Cikmaz, Selman, et al. 2010).

Formaldehyde can produce the dizziness and stupor exhibited by the bats and formaldehyde ingested through water is the worst form of poisoning (IPCS, 1989). The Bats drink water in dark caves. Bats put their nose, and usually tips of their ears and wings, in the water when they drink, and that is where they are exhibiting the fungus. Formaldehyde is one of the heaviest gases and it falls to the lowest point, and that includes caves. Caves are dark. There are low oxidation opportunities in caves. At low, continuous levels, formaldehyde produces immune and allergen reaction. (IPCS, 1989) Formaldehyde does not smell until it reaches .3ppm. According to a study done by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) for the United Nations in 1989, no studies on long term exposure to low levels of formaldehyde have been done, although this study is better than EPA studies and newer. The long report (171 pages), makes the following statement:

Formaldehyde is naturally formed in the troposphere during 
the oxidation of hydrocarbons.  These react with OH radicals
 and ozone to form formaldehyde and/or other aldehydes as
 intermediates in a series of reactions that ultimately lead 
to the formation of carbon monoxide and dioxide, hydrogen, 
and water (Zimmermann et al., 1978; Calvert,
1980).
    Of the hydrocarbons found in the troposphere, methane 
occurs in the highest concentration (1.18 mg/m3)   in the 
northern hemisphere.  Thus, it provides the single most 
important source of formaldehyde (Lowe et al., 1981).
    Terpenes and isoprene, emitted by foliage, react with the 
OH radicals, forming formaldehyde as an intermediate 
product (Zimmermann et al., 1978).  Because of their short 
life-times, this potentially important source of formaldehyde
is only important in the vicinity of vegetation (Lowe et al., 
1981). (IPCS 1989)
 

Remember the Harvard report tying the columns of formaldehyde high in the air to isoprene from plants? It can not be possible. The gas is heavy and falls to the ground from the leaves and dissipates quickly. The IPCS report says it stays in close proximity to the plant. More importantly foliage as noted before has been decreasing from deforestation not increasing. Aircraft observation charts in the Harvard report had to note formaldehyde falling to earth from methane oxidation above. Writing for the New Jersey government, author Heidi Mass notes that bats, at death, exhibit: “…depleted fat reserves. Bats utilize caves during the winter to hibernate since their primary food source, insects, is not available. They need their fat reserves to make it through the winter. Something is attacking these mammals, and no one knows what is causing their demise. It is a case of the chicken or the egg” (Mass, J. Heidi 2009). In the spring of 2009, Mass makes it clear experts have not definitively said that bats are being killed by the fungus and she goes on to say:

Fungi normally act as one of nature’s recyclers, helping

to decompose dead organisms. However, as we know in

humans, fungi can grow out of control when the natural

bacteria that keep them in check in our bodies are

depleted. So, it would make sense that the fungus

attacking the bats is taking advantage of an opportunity

it never had in the past. The fungus does not just grow

on the fur; it actually infiltrates the hair follicles and skin

of the bat. So the question remains, what else is

attacking the bats? This question is being asked . . . .

(Mass, J. Heidi 2009)

The same question has to be asked when looking at a fungus as the prime source or secondary source of the frogs’ death. There have not been many experiments of the effects of formaldehyde on Frogs; more have been done on fish as the chemical has been used to kill parasites of fish.

 The most recent this author could find was a study by Brazilian group of biologists that studied low levels of formaldehyde on frog’s respiratory system for sixty minutes and their conclusion was chilling: Concentrations as low as 1.25 ppm, well below the countries legal limit, caused breath impairment ( Flo-Neyret, C. 2001). One much earlier study used a level much higher but also for short periods of time. This study found 1.37 ppm had an effect, but this study was only done for thirty minutes. These same scientists found that .28 ppm had no effect for the same thirty minutes. And the study noted something else that the other did not Formaldehyde in water reduces oxygen levels. (Morgan, Kevin T. 1984) which means methane seeps in our oceans as described by Kvenvolden and Rogers are doing the same thing because it oxidizes in water too.

The question is: Are there levels of formaldehyde in the water and air within close proximity to the ground, containing just enough formaldehyde not to create an odor (.3ppm), but high enough on day after day, long term exposure to kill outright, or affect the life’s immune system and kill slowly. Is it infiltrating our homes and hanging out on the floor?

Scientists conducting a fall 2000 study striving to derive an ambient safe level for formaldehyde in water for the United States government were instructed to compile and evaluate old data. No new tests of water where aquatic animals were experiencing immune disorders and death were undertaken. The report said: “It is important to note that most of the data regarding formaldehyde toxicity to aquatic organisms was generated in the 1960s and 1970s” (Hohreiter and Rigg 2001). The goal of the study was to establish a new level for the USEPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency; the figure was lowered to 1.61 mg/l when the study was completed. The scientists pointed out little of the old data addressed chronic level toxicity, only acute, and for short term exposure, mostly for the application of pesticide to fish to kill parasites. Even the chronic tests lasted only between seven and twenty-four days. Salamanders were the exception; they were tested for ninety days. The scientist also noted that all the data was conducted in tests that predated GPL practices (good laboratory practices), and they noted much uncertainty was expressed by older scientists looking at the results of their own tests.

The tests were so inconclusive the government did authorize one new test for acute and chronic levels on a small shrimp. Old data on frogs showed that tadpoles were more sensitive, but both tadpoles and adults were only tested for seventy-two hours; therefore, no testing has been done of our fresh or salt water systems since the 1970’s. There was a bioaccumulation test done in 1985 which showed none, but it was later noted that formaldehyde does not bioaccumulate. That is a true statement because formaldehyde converts to formic acid in the body. This author views this report as reminiscent of the government reports on drilling safety for the Gulf of Mexico that mentioned walruses.

The CNN web site link from the main story discussed has many short one paragraph stories on extinctions. This author looked at two stories on extinctions, lions and fresh water turtles. In both cases it was found that the animals in the past two decades are being attacked by parasites, fungi and viruses that do not normally attack them, all compromised immune system symptoms. C. Kenneth Dodd, writing in his 2001 book on the North American Box Turtle observed in a very measured tone:

It is important to recognize that proximate symptoms of pathology, whether shown by obvious signs of disease, increased levels of parasitism, or adverse effects on reproduction, may be reflective of a problem that might be difficult to identify. Proximate symptoms do not always lead to the ultimate cause, and examination procedures need to be developed accordingly. In flattened Musk Turtles, the symptoms I observed were indicative of a more serious problem affecting the turtles. Although the turtles had different symptoms (Dodd, 1988), and may have died from more than one immediate cause, they all had compromised immune systems. The reason for the collapse of the immune system remains unknown (Dodd, 2001)

THE TURTLES 

Chinese scientists discovered symptoms indicative of formaldehyde poising also, but they called it white-spot disease; a fungus was the cause, they said; the turtles also experienced anorexia and eventual death ( Li XL 2008). Sea Turtles started to grow tumors and die, in the nineties. The disease was called, Fibropapilloma (FP). National Geographic quoted a theory of a scientist saying it was herpes caught from sewage run off. The web site Turtle Traxs supplies links to studies at the University of Florida that say this theory is unproven and that it is an immune disorder: The herpes virus has never been identified or isolated in turtles. ( Keuper-Bennett, Ursula 2003)

THE LIONS 

The CNN story on lions blames man for over hunting; ninety percent of the African lion population has disappeared in the last 25 years. Repeat: ninety percent have perished. It began in 1984. Lions that were never infected before with Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) succumbed to it. Biologist and pathologists examining dead lions found that they were infected with a water buffalo parasite in great numbers that never infected them before. The two factors combined to kill the lion (Alexander, K.A. 2009; Gowtage-Sequeira, S. 2009). Again, this is a traditional reaction to a compromised immune system, opportunistic invasion. Animal Rights Africa released a report on hunting in South Africa this past summer, and even they noted that while against hunting because of the animals’ greatly depleted numbers, that there are not enough records to confirm hunting as a cause of the high decline rates. (Pickover, Michele 2010) In January 2006, a report covering the years 1977-2004, found most African countries harvest small amounts of lions ranging between two and four percent Zimbabwe and Zambia are the exception in the years 1988-2004, hunting almost nine percent of its lion population, but they subsequently imposed five year bans. The study notes that while South Africa was about the same kill rate as the higher rate countries, it included farm raised lions, raised for the specific purpose of hunting them. The study concluded that hunting practices in Africa are prudent, although they recommended raising the age of lions allowed to be killed (Packer and Craig 2006). Lions are dying in great numbers from auto immune diseases, according to lion disease specialists. CNN did no research on the press release story attributing their astronomical decline to hunting.

THE BEES

A picture of bees’ hives sitting on snow can be seen on the examiner.com web site. http://www.examiner.com/northeast-beekeeping-in-national/how-honey-bees-survive-a-northeast-winter-part-3-beekeeper-s-tricks. The snow is two to three feet deep and snow sits on top of the hives. Recall that formaldehyde hides in the snow at night and then off gasses when the sun comes up, and that it is warmer in the Northeast in winter than Greenland; heavy off gassing would start in late February or earlier with a mild winter, and it would intensify with each new snow fall− at all times. Formaldehyde levels in American and Canadian snow should be tested.

Scientist K.-U Goss, in his 2004 report, The Air/Surface Adsorption Equilibrium of Organic Compounds Under Ambient Conditions, observed the following: “The melting of snow pack also leads to a redistribution of compounds adsorbed to the snow surface which can cause a concentration peak in the first melt water fractions” (GOSS,KAI-UWE 2004). Goss also said: “For a good understanding of all these properties we must further improve our current knowledge of snow properties, that is, specific surface area and surface interaction parameters” (GOSS,KAI-UWE 2004).

The bees are succumbing to parasites and virus where before they were not, and bees are susceptible to acidosis; they go through it safely in the larva stage. That is why there are no bee bodies to find, in all probability. They may have been literally dissolved with acid, from acidosis created by high formaldehyde levels, No EPA test has been given on bees at any level of formaldehyde gas for a long period of time that this author can find. A study done in November of 2005 concluded that bees with mites have suppressed immune responses. The scientists also concluded that the parasite suppressed the immune system of the bee (Shen, Miaoqing 2005). But as Heidi Mass said about the bats: we must ask what came first, the chicken, or the egg?

THE END 

Getting back to the 2004 report by scientist Goss, he also found:

  • “Organic vapors in the atmosphere can sorb [both adsorb and absorb] to fog/ rain, ice/snow and various kinds of aerosol particles” (GOSS, KAI-UWE 2004).

Goss felt that it was important to find out more about the percentage of adsorption and absorption in sorption. Sorption is a word used by scientist to combine the two activities of adsorption and absorption occurring simultaneously. The reason this is important, Goss said, is that sorbent capacity depends on both surface area and volume; these two factors determine what portion of sorption is adsorption, and what portion absorption is. English scientist/ teacher Mark Rothery has an excellent simple site http://www.mrothery.co.uk/exchange/exchange.htm, which explains exchange as it occurs when life on earth breaths and exchanges heat with its environment, and he brings up the size of babies to show their vulnerability. This brings us back to the plea of scientist Goss. More knowledge must be ascertained about not only the exchange mechanism in this newly discovered problem, but also the formaldehyde levels. Babies crawl on the floor; children play in the snow and sit on the ground, right where the very heavy formaldehyde gas hangs out. When we open our windows does it drop silently to the floor and hang out for the summer and then winter too? Laboratories had to discontinue use of formalin for that very reason; they could not get rid of the gas lying low on the floor; ventilation is designed to eliminate lighter gases

The Goss report is an easy and scary read. The toxic compounds are also going into our soil it seems, he says, and it has important consequences. The answer to the question on the depletion of OH radicals and their preference in oxidation mates is equally important. If methane is hogging the OH supply, then the production of isoprene by plants, also falling to the ground, and discussed by the Harvard scientists, does become an issue, especially if our OH radical supply depletes. Is it?

Under the circumstances of rising methane in the atmosphere, which enhances the production of formaldehyde and water vapour, how much formaldehyde, during its subsequent decent to earth, gets picked up by rain and snow and hail?: Are world governments launching studies testing their snow, fog, frost, dew, rivers, lakes, ponds, streams . . . and seas — at night and in the daytime to ascertain formaldehyde levels?

Are extinction theorists looking to the toxic sequence of methane oxidation — formaldehyde, water vapor, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide — as an explanation for mass extinction? Karen Lips’s frogs in the Talmanca Mountains, the first ones to die, live in a perpetual cloud forest in heavy foliage. Are they getting a formaldehyde dose from two sources, methane in the rain and mist and isoprene from the dense foliage? In days, before we could live on this planet, past methane producing volcanic activity was an issue.

Russia’s deep Lake Baikal, which has existed for between thirty-five to fifty million years and sits on a fault can release methane to fresh water.

Did it allow methane hydrate accumulation, only to later release the methane and its entrapped heat, all at once? Hydrates can hold up to 400 degrees F inside its water bride.

Did methane producing Lake Baikal and or volcanoes cause recent prior mass extinction and climate change? Are hydrates now dissociating in our ocean beds causing all the extra methane in our environment now?

Where did the hydrates come from; they must have fresh water to form? There is no natural fresh water in the deep earth; it’s highly saline and sodic.

Who puts fresh water in the deep earth? Does formaldehyde, like water, seek its own level, rising higher and higher until it floods the lungs of all living breathing life, maintaining a level of .29 ppm, so we never smell it, but die from chronic exposure?

Extinction by formaldehyde gas would explain why small animals die first as a group and then larger ones die— as a group. Is this why our children, who hang out closer to the floor, play outside and sit on the snow and ground more, are experiencing dramatically increasing immune and allergen disorders? Autism is being investigated as an immune disorder. Has it arisen out of nowhere because of this problem?

The stakes are high and they are high for all, but more people need to know more, before any further evaluation can be made. This is monumental. No one can escape a gas.

Perhaps there are now studies going on; however, there is no way for an ordinary citizen to know; it has not been in the news.

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