Blogs

The Oceans Are On the Verge of Mass Extinction. Here's How to Avoid It.

| Fri Jan. 23, 2015 6:00 AM EST
Who cranked the heat up and added acid?

We land-based creatures live in the midst of a massive extinction crisis, just the sixth one over the past half billion years. What about the oceans? A much-discussed, wide-ranging recent Science study (paywalled) has good news: Sea critters are currently faring much better than their land counterparts, which are going extinct at a rate 36 times higher. (That number is likely exaggerated, the authors note, because scientists have done a much better job of cataloging land critters than sea critters.)

Tackling the over-fishing problem will be no mean feat, given the expected rise of the human population to 9 billion by 2050, but it's probably doable.

But the report also brings horrible news: Between over-fishing and habitat destruction (think acidification, coastal development, warming, coral destruction, dead zones from fertilizer runoff, etc.), the oceans may be on the brink of their own extinction catastrophe. (The New York Times' Carl Zimmer has more details here; Vox's Brad Plumer has a good analysis here.) Today's marine extinction rates look eerily similar to the "moderate" land-based ones just before the Industrial Revolution, the authors warn. "Rates of extinction on land increased dramatically after this period, and we may now be sitting at the precipice of a similar extinction transition in the oceans."

What to do? Tackling the over-fishing problem will be no mean feat, given the expected rise of the human population to 9 billion by 2050, but it's probably doable. One place to start is smarter fish farming. Globally, about half of seafood consumed comes from farms, but much of it actually harms the oceans. Salmon farms, for example, rely on sucking up mass quantities of wild fish for feed—it takes at least three pounds of anchovies, sardines, menhaden, and other "forage fish" to deliver a pound of farmed salmon (not to mention the waste problem created when you confine thousands of big fish loose together).

And Asian shrimp farms—source of nearly 90 percent of the shrimp consumed in the US—have been plunked down atop what had been highly productive coastal ecosystems called mangrove forests. According to the United Nations, as much as a third of the globe's mangroves have been destroyed since 1980—and shrimp and other forms of aquaculture account for more than half that loss.

But there are ways to improve fish farming. Filter-feeding species like oysters and clams—which get their nutrients by filtering out plankton and other stuff suspended in the water—require no feed and can enhance coastal ecosystems. And there are farming systems (both ancient and new-fangled) that combine several species and even land-based crops to generate lots of high-quality food with few inputs and little waste. Finally, my colleagues Maddie Oatman and Brent Brownell have documented a successful effort to farm top-quality trout—normally a fish-eating fish—with vegetarian feed made mainly of (non-gross) food waste. Maddie's article here; video below.

 

Then there's that oft-repeated, little-heeded advice to choose seafood low on the trophic scare—that is, fish and other sea critters that eat plants and plankton, not other fish. Oysters, clams, and mussels are all good examples. And instead of choosing farmed salmon, go with the little fish that gets fed to them. To that end, here are two recipes for sardines—trust me, they're delicious.

Now, as tricky as it will be to cut back on overfishing by convincing fish farmers to mend their ways and consumers to change their habits, the even bigger challenge will be to stop trashing the place all of these critters call home. Habitat degradation, according to the Science authors, is the main trigger for the extinction wave we're now seeing on land, and is probably the biggest threat to cause a similar catastrophe at sea. "If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy," Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University and an author of the report, told The Times' Zimmer. "In effect, that's what we’re doing to the oceans." Of course, both warming and acidification are the direct result of our fossil fuel habit—the same force that's generating potentially catastrophic climate change up here on land. There's no saving the oceans without solving that problem.

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Mississippi Wouldn't Allow This Teacher to Show Kids How to Use a Condom. His Simple Solution Is Brilliant.

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 8:54 PM EST

In Mississippi, where education laws require "stressing" abstinence, teachers are prohibited from "any demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied." Nonetheless, 76 percent of Mississippi teenagers report having sex before the end of high school, and a third of babies in the state are born to teenage mothers. One teacher came up with a creative solution for imparting some wisdom to students about condoms—watch it below. (And read our full report on draconian sex-ed laws here.)

Netflix Just Released the Trailer for Tina Fey's New Sitcom and It Looks Incredible

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 6:18 PM EST

Welcome to your new favorite thing. Finally, a glimpse of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—the latest from Tina Fey and the team behind 30 Rock—which comes to Netflix on March 6. Reminiscent of the recent rash of reality TV shows like Breaking the Faith and Breaking Amish, the comedy series starring Ellie Kemper (The Office, Bridesmaids) follows a peppy former doomsday cult victim as she tries to make a new life in New York City, having been rescued from an Indiana bunker. Hilarity ensues. Alongside Kemper, it's a joy to see former 30 Rock stars Jane Krakowski and Tituss Burgess.

The first sitcom for Fey since 30 Rock was originally developed to air on NBC (co-written by NBC show-runner Robert Carlock), but it was bought up by Netflix last November. At a recent press conference for TV critics, Fey joked that the lack of network restrictions on streaming platforms was creatively liberating: "I think season two's gonna mostly be shower sex," she said, according to NPR.

For someone who has made network TV her career, the shift to streaming is a big move for Fey. But she told critics that the basics of any television series still apply on Netflix: "People still have that communal feeling when the next season of Orange is the New Black goes up. And they do want to talk about it, they do want to email about it and they do want to talk about it at work. So you still have the communal feeling of, like, 'Oh we want to see this and talk about it right now.'"

The only catch? "Its just not literally at that specific hour of the night."

Listen to Tom Brady Talk About His Deflated Balls...and ISIS

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 5:17 PM EST

Tom Brady would like you to know that he is innocent...also, "this isn't ISIS."

Here is a video, courtesy of our friends across the aisle at National Review.

Also, here is a Vine of just the ISIS part.

Sports!

One Perfect Tweet Sums Up Why Climate Denial in Congress Is So Dangerous

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 4:13 PM EST

Here's the good news: Yesterday the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of an amendment to the Keystone XL bill that says "climate change is real and not a hoax." Good work, ladies and gentlemen! Glad we got that on the record, only 25 years after scientists agreed on it.

Here's the bad news: Turns out the vote was just an excuse for James Inhofe (Okla.) to say, as he has many times before: Sure, climate change is real. The climate changes all the time. But humans aren't the cause.

His evidence for this dismissal of the mainstream scientific consensus? The bible.

Oy vey.

Now here's the really bad news: This same gentleman from Oklahoma recently became the chairman of the very Senate committee that oversees environmental policy. And two of his climate change-denying peers will chair other subcommittees that oversee vital climate science.

In case it isn't self-evident why these facts are so terrible, we have our lovely readers to sum it up:

Thanks, Sharon Dennis!

Terrifying Video Shows Black Man "With His Hands Raised" Shot To Death By New Jersey Cop

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 11:44 AM EST

A newly released dashcam recording shows a New Jersey police officer fatally shooting a black man whose hands were raised in the air.

The fatal encounter stems from a routine traffic stop on December 30, in which Bridgeton officers Braheme Days and Roger Worley pulled over a vehicle for running through a stop sign. 

While questioning the two men, Leroy Tutt and Jerame Reid, the video shows Days suddenly shouting to his partner, "We've got a gun in his glove compartment!"

"Show me your fucking hands," Days, who appears to recognize Reid as he his heard calling him by his first name, warns. "He's reaching for something!"  

As the situation intensifies, Reid can be heard telling the officers, "I'm not reaching for nothing. I ain't got no reason to reach for nothing." He then tells Days, "I'm getting out and getting on the ground."

Reid gets up and exits the car with his hands raised. Then the two officers fire at least six shots, killing Reid.

"The video speaks for itself that at no point was Jerame Reid a threat and he possessed no weapon on his person," Walter Hudson of the civil rights group National Awareness Alliance said Wednesday.

According to records, Reid was in prison for 13 years for shooting at a state trooper when he was a teenager. 

On Tuesday, the Bridgeton Police Department expressed its disappointment over the video's release "out of respect for the family." An investigation into the fatal shooting is being conducted. 

The recording comes amid reports the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown will be cleared of federal civil rights charges. The August shooting sparked massive protests around the country with the chant, "Hands up, don't shoot" serving as a symbolic call for justice in Brown's death. 

 

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Yet More Housekeeping

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 10:36 AM EST

I have returned to the land of the living. The last 36 hours have been pretty hellish, but the good news is that I think I know what happened, and it's not likely to happen again. I hope.

That said, I'm still pretty tired. We'll see how the rest of the day goes.

Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack? The Answer May Lie in Your Twitter Stream

| Thu Jan. 22, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Of the many illnesses that plague Americans, heart disease is the deadliest—and one of the toughest to predict. Epidemiologists have long used surveys and clinical data to tease out genetic factors from lifestyle risks such as diet, smoking, and stress, with little success. But a new study shows that there might be a better tool to assess heart disease: Twitter.

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science analyzed tweets and health data from 1,300 counties across the United States. The researchers found that negative tweets—those expressing fatigue, hostility, and stress—were associated with elevated risk of coronary heart disease (the medical term for clogged arteries) in the counties where the writers of those tweets lived. High volumes of tweets expressing optimism, excitement, ambition, and activity, meanwhile, correlated with lower than average rates of heart disease.

Here are some word clouds with examples of language that predicted higher and lower levels of disease:

Psychological Science

What's more, the researchers found that the language used in tweets correlates much more closely with heart disease rates than traditional predictive factors such as your income and education level, your weight, and even whether you are a smoker:

Psychological Science

Lead author Johannes Eichstaedt, a psychological scientist at University of Pennsylvania, described Twitter as "the perfect tool for figuring out something like heart disease." Researchers have long suspected connections between emotional states and heart disease risk. And while it's not surprising that people with high levels of stress and anger would be at higher risk than their mellower, happier peers, researchers have traditionally relied on surveys to evaluate people's psychological well being. The problem is that survey-based studies can take years, and people aren't always honest about their feelings. Which makes Twitter a researcher's treasure trove. "Twitter is where people talk about themselves, where they express their emotions candidly," Eichstaedt says.

Here's a map showing coronary heart disease deaths by county, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Psychological Science, CDC

Now compare it with this map, which predicts rates of heart disease based on tweet language:

Psychological Science, Twitter

Another bonus of using Twitter as an epidemiological tool: It's much easier and cheaper than going door to door or calling people to conduct surveys. "If I wanted to repeat this analysis I could do it in an afternoon," says Eichstaedt. "With surveys, that would take a year."

Watch Molly Redden on the GOP Women Protesting the 20-Week Abortion Ban

Thu Jan. 22, 2015 12:12 AM EST

Mother Jones reporter Molly Redden appeared on MSNBC's Last Word Wednesday night to discuss why Republican women are revolting against the 20-week abortion ban.

Federal Prosecutors Set to Clear Ferguson Cop Who Shot Michael Brown

| Wed Jan. 21, 2015 4:49 PM EST

The Department of Justice is reportedly preparing to clear Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown last August, of civil rights charges. According to the New York Times, which broke the news Wednesday afternoon, federal prosecutors are in the process of finalizing a legal memo recommending no charges be made against Wilson. The Times notes, however, a final decision has yet to be officially announced. 

A broader federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the Ferguson Police Department continues. 

The report follows November's decision by a grand jury declining to indict the officer in Brown's death. Brown was 18-years-old and unarmed at the time of the shooting. From the Times:

Three law enforcement officials discussed the details of the federal investigation on condition of anonymity because the report was incomplete and Mr. Holder and his top civil rights prosecutor, Vanita Gupta, had not formally made a decision. Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for Mr. Brown's family, said he did not want to comment on the investigation until the Justice Department made an official announcement. "We've heard speculation on cases before that didn't turn out to be true," Mr. Crump said. "It's too much to put the family through to respond to every rumor." Mr. Crump said that at the end of last year that the Justice Department had told him that it was still investigating.

The lawyer for Mr. Wilson did not return calls for comment.

The shooting prompted massive demonstrations across the country with protestors demanding charges be brought against Wilson. 

This is a developing story.