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.

Ancient Carvings of Nude Females Promote Wild Scientific ASSumptions

| Mon Mar. 12, 2007 2:02 PM EDT

Okay, so maybe carvings of female figurines 15,000 years old reveal the preferred body shape for women was curvy with prominent buttocks. Or maybe, as the social anthropologist says, these were spiritual images (can't they be the same thing?). But, jaysus, does anyone else ever get annoyed that no one ever even once seems to consider the possibility that maybe women carved these things?

From New Scientist magazine:

Romuald Schild of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw and colleagues have uncovered 30 flint female figurines from an ancient hunting site near the village of Wilczyce in central Poland. Hunter-gatherer men whittled these voluptuous female figures in their spare time.

Preserved in ice, the figurines were part of a haul of over 10,000 artifacts, including animal bones, beads made from Arctic fox teeth, and bone needles. The site is thought to have been an autumn or winter camp for a hunter-gatherer tribe.

All of the figurines were headless and had hugely exaggerated buttocks. Perhaps strangely, given their allure today, few of the figures had breasts.

This bottom-heavy shape ties in with northern European stone carvings and cave engravings of women from a similar period.

However, the figurines may have expressed more than just men's desires. "It is hard to say if this body shape was a social preference or if it represented a spiritual image," says Nanneke Redclift, a social anthropologist at University College London.

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Bush Administration Proposes Pennies On the Dollar In Settlement To Indians

| Fri Mar. 9, 2007 7:15 PM EST

Here's the latest in the continuation of the epic Cobell v. Kempthorne lawsuit—a veritable Odyssey for our times, chronicled in Mother Jones (Sept-Oct 2005) "Accounting Coup." Ten years and three Secretaries of the Interior have passed since Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet banker and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, filed suit against the government, in pursuit of money long overdue her and 500,000 Indians. Background from the MoJo article:

[Cobell's] fight takes the forms of Cobell v. Norton [now Kempthorne], a federal lawsuit on behalf of a half-million Indians across America whose individual property is held in trust by the Department of the Interior… Interior leases these private Indian lands to oil, timber, and agricultural corporations and other commercial entities, then pays the Indians the revenues those leases yield. But Cobell claims the government has been grossly negligent in its 118 years of managing the Individual Indian Trust, treating the Indians not as clients and beneficiaries but as easy marks.

While generations of non-Indians have become rich harvesting the abundant resources of private Indian lands—which once included virtually all the oil fields of Oklahoma—Indian landowners have been paid only erratically, and far less than their due. Consequently, even landowning Indians remain among the nation's poorest citizens, joining the 23 percent of Indians in America living in poverty, and the nearly 40 percent who are unemployed. Some tribes fare even worse, and the Blackfeet suffer a 34 percent poverty rate and a 70 percent unemployment rate. Overall, Indians are more than twice as poor as the average American.

Cobell filed her lawsuit in 1996 after years of kinder entreaties failed, demanding payment of all unpaid revenues from Indian leases for the past century, a tally of past revenues, and a new accounting system to deal with future revenues. According to Cobell's forensic accountants, the government owes $176 billion to individual Indian landowners, averaging $352,000 per plaintiff, making this monetarily the largest class-action lawsuit ever launched.

Now the government has proposed paying $7 billion. Seems like a lot, right? But with those monies Interior hopes to settle Cobell's lawsuit on behalf of the Individual Indian Trust and a whole lot more. Hey, this is the kind of accounting we should all get to practise when it comes time to pay our taxes… From IndianTrust.com:

The money would end the more than 250 tribal cases as well as the billion-dollar Cobell lawsuit over individual Indian funds. In exchange, the administration demands Congress extinguish the government's liability for all future trust claims. Not only would the money be used to resolve the lawsuits, it would be used to pay for trust reform programs at the Interior Department. In the letter, Gonzales and Kempthorne cite fractionation, information technology security and a controversial initiative to shift all management duties to tribes and individual Indians.

The proposal was immediately met with resistance from the Cobell plaintiffs. Keith Harper, a Washington, D.C., attorney for the plaintiffs, called it a "bad faith offer. You cannot say that you have a potentially $200 billion liability [for tribes] and try to settle that, plus Cobell, plus trust reform, plus IT security, for $7 billion," he said yesterday… The offer is also likely to draw objections from tribal leaders, who rejected the same proposal last fall when it was released by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

More from an update on IndianTrust.com:

Far from settling the long-running, acrimonious Cobell case, the government proposes that Indian beneficiaries further litigate the Cobell case. At the same time, the government's letter is an open invitation to more litigation.

Just consider that Interior's own experts have estimated that the government's liability in the Cobell case (excluding all other claims) to be at least $10 billion, and that it could exceed $40 billion. Now consider that the Kempthorne-Gonzales letter proposes a $7 billion cap that eliminates "all existing and potential individual and tribal claims for trust accounting, cash and land mismanagement, and other related claims, along with the resolution of other related matters . . . that permit recurrence of . . . litigation."

The scope is breathtaking, and the injury to Indians everywhere can only be described as catastrophic. The Attorney General himself has said that the tribal accounts alone are valued at $200 billion.

Notable though: the letter is the first time the administration has offered any type of number in association with the trust debacle. The AP via the Great Falls Tribune reports:

Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said he will hold hearings on the proposal and said the settlement offer is the first time the federal government has acknowledged a multibillion dollar liability for mismanagement of the trust funds over the past century.

Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe said the department looks forward to working with Congress on the proposal. Congress has attempted to wade into the dispute in recent years, but has yet to find resolution. "We believe this proposal looks to the future," he said.

Yeah, right. Same old stonewalling, double-crossing future, more like it.

Climate Change Will Affect Women More Severely Than Men

| Thu Mar. 8, 2007 2:29 PM EST

Today is International Women's Day. You'd hardly know it.

Though the IUCN (World Conservation Union) has celebrated by releasing a disturbing report on global warming predicting that the physical, economic, social, and cultural impacts of global warming will jeopardize women far more then men. Just as Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami disproportionately affected women far more then men.

The report, Gender and Climate Change (available here as a PDF), concludes that women are more severely affected by climate change and natural disasters because of their social roles and because of discrimination and poverty. To make matters worse, they're also underrepresented in decision-making about climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and, most critically, discussions and decisions about adaptation and mitigation. From the report:

For example, the 20,000 people who died in France during the extreme heat wave in Europe in 2003 included significantly more elderly women than men. In natural disasters that have occurred in recent years, both in developing and in developed countries, it is primarily the poor who have suffered—and all over the world, the majority of the poor are women, who at all levels earn less than men. In developing countries, women living in poverty bear a disproportionate burden of climate change consequences. Because of women's marginalized status and dependence on local natural resources, their domestic burdens are increased, including additional work to fetch water, or to collect fuel and fodder. In some areas, climate change generates resource shortages and unreliable job markets, which lead to increased male-out migration and more women left behind with additional agricultural and households duties. Poor women's lack of access to and control over natural resources, technologies and credit mean that they have fewer resources to cope with seasonal and episodic weather and natural disasters. Consequently traditional roles are reinforced, girls' education suffers, and women's ability to diversify their livelihoods (and therefore their capacity to access income-generating jobs) is diminished.

The report notes examples from other sources, including this:

An Oxfam Report (March 2005) on the impact of the 2004 Asia Tsunami on women raised alarms about gender imbalances since the majority of those killed and among those least able to recover were women. In Aceh, for example, more than 75 percent of those who died were women, resulting in a male-female ratio of 3:1 among the survivors. As so many mothers died, there have been major consequences with respect to infant mortality, early marriage of girls, neglect of girls' education, sexual assault, trafficking in women and prostitution. These woes, however, are largely neglected in the media coverage.

And this:

In a study executed on behalf of ACTIONAID in 1993-1994 in the Himalayan region of Nepal, it became clear that environmental degradation has compounded stress within households and pressure on scarce resources. This meant that the pressure on children, particularly girl children, to do more work and at an earlier age was increasing. Girls do the hardiest work, have the least say and the fewest education options. Programmes that concentrate only on sending more girls to school were failing as the environmental and social conditions of the families deteriorated.

Ironically, women also produce less greenhouse gas emissions than men, the report concludes. Flatulence jokes aside, this includes women in the developed world.

In Europe, in both the work and leisure contexts, women travel by car less frequently and over shorter distances, use smaller, energy-saving cars and fly considerably less frequently than men.

Women are over represented as heads of low-income households and under represented in high-income groups. In this respect, income levels play a role in CO2 emissions: the higher the income, the higher the emissions from larger houses with more electrical equipment, bigger cars and so on.

Lower income people, who happen to be—you guessed it—mostly women, also have less access to energy-efficient appliances and homes because these tend to be more costly. Most frustrating of all, women perceive global warming as a more dangerous threat than men do and would do more to address it, given the tools.

Women and men perceive the cause of climate change (including CO2 emissions) differently. In Germany, more than 50 percent of women compared to only 40 percent of men, rate climate change brought about by global warming as extremely or very dangerous. Women also believed very firmly that each individual can contribute toward protecting the climate through his/her individual actions. However, policy planning does not reflect in anyway these perceptions.

By excluding women, the world loses vital input and profound knowledge—knowledge that may prove key to adapting to climate change.

Inuit women in Northern Canada have always had a deep understanding of weather conditions, as they were responsible for assessing hunting conditions and preparing the hunters accordingly. During a drought in the small islands of the Federal States of Micronesia, it was local women, knowledgeable about island hydrology as a result of land-based work, who were able to find potable water by digging a new well that reached the freshwater lens.

The report concludes:

There is a need to refocus the thinking and the debate on energy and climate change to include a human rights perspective. Integrating a rights-based approach to access to sustainable and affordable energy is an approach that will recognise and take into account women's specific needs and women's human rights. Current economic models based primarily on privatisation strategies do not include accountability in terms of meeting people's basic needs.

The UN has established a website on gender and climate change, where you can learn more, get involved.

California's a Model in Global Warming Fight

| Mon Mar. 5, 2007 1:23 PM EST

There seems to be a strange opinion out there in public-land that California, "of all places," has no right to talk about problems with energy and climate. The assumption is that Californians drive a lot of miles between their auditions in Hollywood and their day jobs at the surf shack on the beach.

Maybe it's just left-coast envy. Or, obviously, ignorance. But let's set it right. California has a 30-year history of innovative—hell, just plain conscious—approaches to energy use. Maybe it's because we have to conserve water on a regular basis and are practiced in thinking of resources as finite.

The Washington Post ran an interesting article a few weeks back. They seem to have discovered that California might actually be a model for the rest of the gluttonous country.

Today the state uses less energy per capita than any other state in the country, defying the international image of American energy gluttony. Since 1974, California has held its per capita energy consumption essentially constant, while energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent.

California has managed that feat through a mixture of mandates, regulations and high prices. The state has been able to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, keep utility companies happy and maintain economic growth. And in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global warming, California serves as a model for other states seeking a similar path to energy reduction. Now California is pushing further in its effort to cut automobile pollution, spur use of solar energy and cap greenhouse gases.

"California really represents what the rest of the country could do if it paid a bit more attention to energy efficiency," says Greg Kats, managing principal at Capital E, an energy and clean-technology advisory firm. "California is the best argument we have about how to very cost-effectively both reduce energy consumption and cut greenhouse gases. And they've made money doing it." Kats estimates that the average Californian family spends about $800 a year less on energy than it would have without efficiency improvements over the past 20 years.

Today, as an energy consumer, California is more like thrifty Denmark than the rest of the energy-guzzling United States. While the average American burns 12,000 kilowatt-hours a year of electricity, the average Californian burns less than 7,000 -- and that's counting renewable energy sources.

California has managed to cut its contributions to global warming, too. Carbon dioxide emissions per capita in California have fallen by 30 percent since 1975, while U.S. per capita carbon dioxide emissions have remained essentially level.

There also seems to be a pernicious sense of glee outside of California over our excessively high gasoline prices. You know, it's a bummer for Hummers. First off, in my corner of the state, the police department drives Priuses. Again from the WP:

"If the history of energy consumption in the U.S. has taught us anything, it is that cost drives conservation," says Chris Cooper, executive director of the Network for New Energy Choices.

Three of the nation's most profligate users of energy -- Wyoming, Kentucky and Alabama -- have one thing in common: low prices. Their electricity prices range from 5.25 cents a kilowatt hour to 7.06 cents, according to the EIA.

As the article says, what's dirt cheap tends to get treated like dirt.

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