Julia Whitty

Julia Whitty

Environmental Correspondent

Julia is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction (Deep Blue Home, The Fragile Edge, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga), and a former documentary filmmaker. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

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Julia is a writer and former documentary filmmaker and the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the South Pacific, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Northern California Books Awards, and finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. Her short story collection A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga won an O. Henry and was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

The Horseshoe Crab Economy

| Mon Mar. 2, 2009 8:14 PM EST
It's also a global economy that affects millions. Notably, millions of little shorebirds known as red knots, whose numbers have declined 75 percent since the horseshoe crab fishery in Delaware Bay exploded. Prior to 1992, 100,000 crabs a year were caught. In 1997, more than 2 million. The result: 90 percent fewer crab eggs for visiting shorebirds to eat.

Here's the background: A lot of migrating shorebirds depend on Delaware Bay as a feeding stop. Red knots can't live without it. Until 1992 the Bay was a dependable fuel station on their annual 18,600-mile migration between the Arctic and the southern tip of South America and back. That's right, 18,600 miles a year. Fifty percent more flying than the average American drives per year. All from a bird weighing 6 ounces.

Now a new study has found the proportion of red knots visiting Delaware Bay who manage to pack on enough weight to survive the winter in Tierra del Fuego dropped along with the crab eggs. In fact the proportion of birds who made their target weight by their target departure date declined between 50 and 75 percent between 1997 and 2007.

This despite fisheries restrictions enacted in 1997 to help red knots recover. But, tell me, what kind of restrictions allow a 2007 horseshoe crab hunt bigger than the 1990 hunt?

Idiot restrictions. I wrote about other amazing long-distance fliers in Diet for a Warm Planet: how their thriftiness equals their prosperity. We all need to learn from these extraordinary feathered economists. Especially those who practice idiot economics.

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Your Water Bottle Is One-Quarter Oil

| Fri Feb. 27, 2009 9:12 PM EST
Still want to drink it? Because the truth is that bottle of water is up to 2,000 times more energy intensive than just turning on the tap. No one really knew that until now.

Researchers at the Pacific Institute in Oakland California ran the numbers and found that bottle production alone wastes 50 million barrels of oil a year (that's 2.5 days of US oil consumption). Add to that energy the energy needed to process the water, label the bottles, fill the bottles, seal the bottles, transport the bottles, cool them prior to sale… well, you get the idea.

Bottom line: Bottled-water drinkers in the US alone in 2007 squandered the equivalent of 32 to 54 million barrels of oil. Triple that number for worldwide use. For perspective, imagine each bottle is one-quarter full of oil.

As reported at Treehugger: Bottled-water drinkers are the new smokers.

Since oil and water don't mix, turn on the tap. Still want a container? Try reusable Nalgene or stainless steel. Not without impact but durable at least. Traveling overseas to the lands-of-unclean waters? Pony up for a Katadyn bottle/filter combination. I can personally attest that this all-in-one system is a miracle worker of good intestinal and environmental health.

Concerned about the one in six humans who must live in the lands-of-unclean waters? Consider tossing a doubloon or two at the LifeStraw people who've found a nifty and inexpensive way to survive deadly water supplies.

Ships Spew Killer Pollution

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 11:45 PM EST
In fact ships pollute nearly half as much as all the world’s cars. We're talking smog-type pollution. The kind that causes premature deaths from heart disease and asthma. A new study [pdf] estimates the total contribution of commercial maritime shipping and it adds up to about 2.2 million pounds of particle pollution a year.

Since more than 70 percent of shipping traffic takes place within 250 miles of the coastline, ship spew is a serious health issue for nearly half the people of the world—the number who live near the coast [pdf]

The problem starts with sulfates, the same gunk emitted by diesel engines on land. Sulfates already have some measure of regulations attached to them. But more than half of shipping pollution comes from organic pollutants and sooty black carbon. These aren't targeted by today’s regulations.

When you consider that our world is a giant fluid dynamics experiment, then it makes sense that what happens at sea flows ashore. And vice versa. There are all kinds of ways to address this problem. Kevin Drum talks cap and trade and that could work for shipping too. But keep in mind that one upside to the global downturn in the economy is decreased shipping and therefore cleaner air. So why not recast the recession as a long-overdue refreshment for our weary planet?

Species Invasion: Coming June 2010

| Wed Feb. 25, 2009 10:04 PM EST
We know that invasive species are now a threat to 20 percent of the endangered vertebrates of the world. Most are invading beyond their home worlds by hitchhiking on our rides: planes, trains, cars, ships, feet. Everything from bacteria to bats is doing it. I wrote in depth about the scary lionfish invasion of the Atlantic in the Jan-Feb MoJo. New research forecasts that June 2010 is likely to be the worst invasion month ever.

Why? Because that's when temperature, humidity, and rainfall are likely to converge at many distant airports. In other words, when it's hot and humid in Miami it's also likely to be hot and humid in Shanghai. Species hitching a ride at one airport will more easily survive in the other. Add to that climate synergy the increasing traffic from India and China and we're likely to have an invasive species bloom in June 2010. Including whatever diseases the invaders are carrying... So what can we do? For a start:

  • Ramp up inspection activities at airports during the 6/10 time frame. And all other time frames.

  • Redirect at least some of the war on drugs to defending against biological invasions. Seriously, can't we put sniffer dogs and their handlers to better use?

  • Feed us in the air. Agricultural pests are invading on the foodstuffs individual travelers carry because the airlines no longer feed us. (Sometimes saving money is unbelievably costly.)

  • Consider your next flight… you know, along with the CO2 footprint... factor in the your potential as the vector of a new invasion. Is the trip worth it?
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