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.

CEOs Scold Bush on Global Warming

| Mon Jan. 22, 2007 1:44 PM PST

You know that Bush is lost in a wilderness of his own making when the CEO's of 10 major corporations set up homing beacons to call him back to reality. As the AP reports:

"We can and must take prompt action to establish a coordinated, economy-wide market-driven approach to climate protection," the executives from a broad range of industries said in a letter to the president.

Why are they doing it? We know these chieftains of major utilities, aluminum and chemical companies, and financial institutions aren't acting out of altruism. Apparently they've realized that even their own tony hides are on the line.

Members of the group, called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, include chief executives of Alcoa Inc., BP America Inc., DuPont Co., Caterpillar Inc., General Electric Co., and Duke Energy Corp.

At a news conference, the executives said that mandatory reductions of heat-trapping emissions can be imposed without economic harm and would lead to economic opportunities if done economy-wide and with provisions to mitigate costs.

Many of the companies already have voluntarily moved to curb greenhouse pollution, they said. But the executives also said they do not believe voluntary efforts will suffice.

"It must be mandatory, so there is no doubt about our actions," said Jim Rogers, chairman of Duke Energy. "The science of global warming is clear. We know enough to act now. We must act now."

Bush is expected to address global warming in his State of the Union address tomorrow. Though it's doubtful he'll exercise any leadership on the matter, instead staying the course with more calls for voluntary cuts and increased energy independence. That will seal his legacy as the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st century: appeasing the dark side and setting the stage for a new version of global mayhem.

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Cutbacks to Earth Satellites Blind Us to Global Warming, Hurricanes

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 7:11 PM PST

The Doomsday Clock just lurched two minutes closer to midnight. Yet the Bush administration thinks sending a couple of dudes back to the Moon or a handful of exiles on to Mars is more important than seeing what's going down here on Earth. The National Academy of Sciences reports that half the scientific instruments on our environmental satellites are expected to stop working by 2010. That will amount to a huge loss of data. But if the bad news isn't streaming in, we don't have to worry about tracking global warming or the arrival of pesky natural disasters. Right? The Washington Post reports:

The two-year study by the National Academy of Sciences, released yesterday, determined that NASA's earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000. It stands to fall further as funding shifts to plans for a manned mission to the moon and Mars. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, has experienced enormous cost overruns and schedule delays with its premier weather and climate mission.

"If things aren't reversed, we will have passed the high-water mark for our Earth observations," said co-chairman Richard Anthes of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "This country should not be headed in this direction. . . . We need to know more, not less, about long-term aspects of climate change, about trends in droughts and hurricanes, about what's happening in terms of fish stocks and deforestation."

Could it be those oil boys in DC have dibs on the first tickets off our failing planet? If so, do we have to wait for space colonies? Can't we send them offworld now? Then we could crank the clock back a minute or two.

Global Warming Forces Doomsday Clock Closer to Midnight

| Wed Jan. 17, 2007 5:55 PM PST

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight today. It now reads 5 minutes to midnight—for the first time reflecting global failures to solve the global climate crisis as well as problems posed by nuclear weapons. The Bulletin Online reports:

"The dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause irremediable harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival."

Stephen Hawking, a BAS sponsor, professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and a fellow of The Royal Society, said: "As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth. As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change."

Nuclear Power No Global Warming Solution, But Green SatNav Might Help

| Wed Jan. 10, 2007 4:49 PM PST

Just as we learn that 2006 was the warmest on record in the U.S., a study published in today's Nature shows that storing nuclear waste over the tens of thousands, let alone hundreds of thousands, of years will be difficult because the storage containers are transformed by the radiation. Scientists from Cambridge University found that one of the ceramiclike materials favored by engineers, zirconium silicate, turned to glass in just 1,400 years.

Because many radioactive substances continue emitting radiation for a very long time, the containment must persist for an awesome duration. Plutonium-239, one of the most deadly by-products of nuclear power, has a half-life of 24,000 years, meaning that only half of any initial batch has decayed over this time. Ideally it should stay put for about ten times as long: a quarter of a million years.

So nuclear is still a big problem for a lot of reasons, and not the no-brainer fix some would hope. Odds are, the solution will come in smaller packages cobbled inventively together. NewScientist reports that a researcher at the Lund Institute of Technology in Sweden has been testing a satnav system programmed to work out the most efficient and least polluting route to drive.

[Eva] Ericsson and her colleagues report that the average fuel saving on the 22 streets was 8.2 per cent compared with journeys planned by other methods… None of the streets was particularly congested, however, and Ericsson estimates that savings on most journeys would be closer to 4 per cent.

Many Alaskans would welcome even the immediate 4 percent savings. Patricia Cochran, director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, and chairwoman of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, reports to the BBC how native communities above the Arctic Circle are struggling to adapt.

With thinner sea ice arriving later and leaving earlier in the year, coastal communities are experiencing more intensified storms with larger waves than they have ever experienced. This threat is being compounded by the loss of permafrost which has kept river banks from eroding too quickly. The waves are larger because there is no sea ice to diminish their intensity, slamming against the west and northern shores of Alaska, causing severe storm driven coastal erosion. It has become so serious that several coastal villages are now actively trying to figure out where to move entire communities. While the world's politicians and media focus their attention on the big picture of agreeing the best way to curb global climate change, we are left to pick up the pieces from wasted years of inaction. The cost to move one small village of 300 people ranges from $130m (£66m) to a high of $200m (£102m), even if the distance is a few miles, because moving means reconstructing entire water, electrical, road, airport and/or barge landing infrastructure, as well as schools and clinics.

ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics & Personnel to Deny Climate Change

| Thu Jan. 4, 2007 2:10 PM PST

Why doesn't this make headlines? The Union of Concerned Scientists issues a report offering comprehensive documentation that ExxonMobil is adopting the tobacco industry's disinformation tactics, along with some of the same organizations and personnel, to cloud the science of climate change and delay action on fixing it. From the press release:

"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists' Director of Strategy & Policy. "A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years."

"As a scientist, I like to think that facts will prevail, and they do eventually," said Dr. James McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's working group on climate change impacts. "It's shameful that ExxonMobil has sought to obscure the facts for so long when the future of our planet depends on the steps we take now and in the coming years."

The Christian Science Monitor reports that nontheists are challenging the growing influence of religion in government and public life by forming a Washington lobbying group, the Secular Coalition for America.

Many nontheists… have decided that keeping silent in religious America no longer makes sense. They are astonished that a majority of Americans question evolution and support teaching intelligent design in the science classroom. They are distressed over polls that show that at least half of Americans are unwilling to vote for an atheist despite the Constitution's requirement that there be no religious test for public office. And they contend that in recent years, Congress has passed bills and the president has issued executive orders that have privileged religion in inappropriate and unconstitutional ways.

Thomas Jefferson summed up religious meddling in government and science nearly 200 years ago:

Whenever... preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.

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