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.

Canadian Sealer Admits Hunting is All About Fun Not Money

| Tue Apr. 24, 2007 1:21 AM EDT

The Canadian sealing fleet is still stuck in the ice off Newfoundland. The Toronto Star reports conditions are moderating, the icebreakers are free, and many of the longliners, which hunt seals on the side, may be freed tomorrow. But the Star also reports a Newfoundland sealer, Desmond Adams, as saying, "we all go out for the love of it rather than the money, which isn't there anymore." He adds, "No one's going to stop hunting if they don't have to. We need someone to tell us, 'No, this is too dangerous. You can't do it.' Newfoundlanders are good at following orders. They've told us we can't fish and we can't do this or that. And we don't."

"No one's getting rich from the seal hunt," he said, "at least not among the hunters. The price of pelts is down to about $55, about half what it used to be." That means the Canadian taxpayer is footing a bill worth millions of dollars to provide four full time ice-breakers, plus the cost of the Canadian Coast Guard flying in groceries, to assist the lads on their seasonal slaughter gone bad.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reports that over 60,000 seal pups are available under the quota of 275,000. Over 200,000 have already been clubbed or slaughtered, not taking into account the estimated 250,000 pups killed by melting ice from global warming in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last month.

The Canadian government has acted very irresponsibly in allowing vessels that are not ice-strengthened to venture into these conditions, says Sea Shepherd founder, Captain Paul Watson. "There is a double standard. My ship the Farley Mowat is an ice-class ship and I have more experience in navigating in ice conditions than most of these sealers, but the Coast Guard did everything they could to prevent us from going into the ice to save seals citing their concerns for our 'safety'."

Come on, Canada. Stop it. Stop lying about the economic necessity of the hunt. Stop awarding the permits. Stop wasting money on the seaboys with clubs and a twisted sense of fun. --Julia Whitty

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Get Toyota To Bring Its Hybrid Minivan To America

| Mon Apr. 23, 2007 8:16 PM EDT

Sadly, the trend in the U.S. car market is on producing and importing hybrid models that focus on increased muscle rather than mileage. Well, it doesn't have to be that way. The Union of Concerned Scientists says that Japanese families have a choice unavailable in America--a hybrid minivan with fuel economy as good as a compact car. They estimate that the Toyota Estima Hybrid could reach around 35 miles per gallon in the United State--a 50 percent improvement.

Even if you're a minivanophobe (like me), you want to help get this car into the U.S. market. Here's how. Toyota's aiming to sell about 8,400 Estimas in Japan this year. We can show Toyota that the demand for more fuel-economy-focused hybrids is even stronger in America. Please sign the petition here, and get others to join you by May 28, 2007. The Union of Concerned Scientists will deliver your signatures to Toyota executives on Memorial Day--the unofficial start of the summer driving and higher gas price season. Just in time for the Toyota annual shareholders' meeting.

Plus, there's a contest and prizes. --Julia Whitty

Sealing Vessels Stuck In Ice, Rescue Vessels Stuck Too

| Fri Apr. 20, 2007 1:09 PM EDT

I've spent a lot of time at sea and wish no mariner harm. But… the Canadian sealing fleet is stuck in heavy ice off Newfoundland! CTV reports the Canadian coast guard estimates that between 400 and 500 people are stranded in as many as 100 vessels. "It's a dangerous situation,'' Eldred Burden, 48-year-old skipper who is trapped aboard his 18-meter vessel, told the Canadian Press via telephone. "There's not one thing you can do ... We're getting dragged out pretty good. You're up all night and the boat is heaving and twisting.''

Supplies and fuel are running low for many of the ships -- most of them longliner fishing vessels waylaid off the coast of northeast Newfoundland and southern Labrador, while on their way home from last week's seal hunt. Even a Coast Guard ice breaker, the Sir Wilfred Grenfell, sent to help, was stuck in the ice Wednesday as the massive sheets closed in around it. It's since been freed, but another icebreaker, the Ann Harvey, is now stuck.

Some of the ships have been stuck in the ice for as long as eight days, and it appears that conditions wouldn't improve until at least next week. In total three icebreakers are working the rescue, with three helicopters delivering supplies, and another three Cormorant search and rescue helicopters on standby. As many as a dozen of the ships are extensively damaged and some could even begin to take on water as the ice pressure subsides and they begin to slip back into the water.

If only Neptune had waylaid them before the seal hunt. Altogether a bad season for sealers (and seals), since the southern slaughter grounds were decimated by ice melt earlier this spring, drowning the baby seals and forcing even the hard-hearted Canadians to call off that stage of the hunt.--Julia Whitty

Marijuana Cuts Lung Cancer Tumor Growth In Half

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

The active ingredient in marijuana cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread. This according to Harvard University researchers at who tested the chemical in both lab and mouse studies, as reported by the American Association for Cancer Research. The compound Delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits lung cancers that are usually highly aggressive and resistant to chemotherapy. Although the researchers don't know why THC inhibits tumor growth, they say the substance could be activating molecules that arrest the cell cycle. THC may also interfere with processes that promote cancer growth. --Julia Whitty

Ethanol Vehicles A Threat To Human Health

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 7:09 PM EDT

A new Stanford University study predicts that if every vehicle in the United States ran on fuel made primarily from ethanol the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations would increase. "Ethanol is being promoted as a clean and renewable fuel that will reduce global warming and air pollution," says atmospheric scientist Mark Z Jacobson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. "But our results show that a high blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater risk to public health than gasoline, which already causes significant health damage." Jacobson used a computer model to simulate air quality in 2020, when ethanol-fueled vehicles are expected to be widely available.

While E85 vehicles (those running on 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) reduced two carcinogens, benzene and butadiene, they increased two others, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. In some parts of the country, E85 also significantly increased ozone, a prime ingredient of smog. The World Health Organization estimates that 800,000 people die each year from smog. Furthermore, the deleterious health effects of E85 will be the same, whether the ethanol is made from corn, switchgrass or other plant products.

"There are alternatives, such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, whose energy can be derived from wind or solar power," Jacobson says. These vehicles produce virtually no toxic emissions or greenhouse gases and cause very little disruption to the land--unlike ethanol made from corn or switchgrass, which require millions of acres of farmland to mass-produce. "It would seem prudent, therefore, to address climate, health and energy with technologies that have known benefits."

Foresight. Wow. What a notion.--Julia Whitty

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