It’s Raining. It’s Pouring . . . and Snowing . . . Formaldehyde

By Andrea Silverthorne

Part 2  Part 1

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.

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.

bats

Bats are also being affected by the large amounts of formaldehyde in the environment. Photo: monteverdetours.com

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 continued raises 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.

Continues to Part 3 For a list of Sources click here