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.

India Stands to Lose Most at Copenhagen

| Thu Oct. 22, 2009 3:32 PM EDT

Few countries have as much to lose from global climate change as India. The nation's water supply is largely dependent on rainwater from the Asian Monsoon and meltwater from Himalayan glaciers. Both are severely threatened in a changing climate.

Yet today Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India will not sacrifice its development for a new climate change deal in Copenhagen. Sadly, Singh is following a long line of short-sighted leaders failing to see that development will be not only arrested but reversed in the severe climate change scenarios looming if Copenhagen fails to yield a consequential decision.

In the next issue of MoJo, due on the stands in a few days, Bill McKibben writes that Copenhagen will be the most important diplomatic gathering in the world's history. The truth is, few people are more dependent on its outcome than the people of India—the 1 in 7 on Earth who will suffer more than you and me—even though my country produced the majority of greenhouse gases plaguing the world now.

Why? Because 1.2 billion Indians are already living at the far edge of their nation's ability to provide. There is not a molecule of buffer zone built into their supplies of water and food.

It's unfair. India should not have to sacrifice its development because my country got its development. But planetary systems are dispassionate and indiscriminate. They will make India pay for problems India did not make.

So Singh can stubbornly say he will not sacrifice his nation's economic development for a climate change deal in Copenhagen. But what he's really saying to the people of India is: Screw you.

Meanwhile, TreeHugger reports that India's Environment Minister, Jairam Ramash, is urging Singh to reduce national emission to COP15 without financial commitments and technological support from the US and other rich nations. Some in India see the future worth fighting for.

I've just returned from India, from that brief glorious moment when the monsoon switches off and the air is washed clean. But it only lasted 48 hours. The miles and miles of bumper-to-bumper coal trucks I saw snaking their way through the mountain roads of Meghalaya continued to deliver their loads. The people continued to burn this coal on their way to economic prosperity—to what may well rank as the shortest-lived economic prosperity in history. A glorious 48 hours of halcyon promise before the hammer falls.

When I flew away from India, the Asian brown cloud of coal smoke and diesel had coalesced, obscuring the sun and other stars, obscuring the sight of India from the air.
 

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Death Declines During Depressions

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 4:19 PM EDT

People live longer during depressions. A new analysis in PNAS finds that life expectancy of Americans during the Great Depression increased by a whopping 6.2 years—from 57.1 in 1929 to 63.3 years in 1932. This was true for men and women of all races, all age groups, and all causes of death—except suicide.

The researchers analyzed mortality rates from the six most prevalent causes of death in the 1930s: cardiovascular and renal diseases; cancer; influenza and pneumonia; tuberculosis; motor vehicle traffic injuries, and suicide.

Health overall improved during the four years of the Great Depression, as well as during recessions in 1921 and 1938. Conversely, death rates rose during periods of strong economic expansion, such as 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1936-1937.

Why the counterintuitive results?

Well, the study didn't tackle this question. Though the researchers have a few hunches. All related to the fact that working conditions are different during economic expansions and recessions:

  • In expansions, firms are busy and typically demand a lot from employees, including overtime and a faster work pace. This creates stress, which is associated with more drinking and smoking. [Translation: They work you to death.]
  • In expansions, inexperienced workers are hired more likely to injure or kill themselves on the job.
  • People working a lot tend to sleep less, reducing overall health.
  • People working a lot eat more poorly. Either richer, fattier foods. And/or overworking crap food. [Might I add: more meat?]
  • In recessions, because there's less work, everyone works at a more relaxed pace. People sleep more.
  • In recessions, people feel, or are, poorer and spend less on alcohol and tobacco. [ Hmm. Not sure I agree with that one. The researchers are not bar-goers, is my guess.]
  • Economic upturns are associated with increases in atmospheric pollution, with its well-documented short-term effects on cardiovascular and respiratory mortality.
  • Economic expansion may increase social isolation and decrease social support because everyone's working so hard.

So, extreme ambition, cut-throat rivalry, pointless materialism, workalholicism, and general slavery to the almighty boss and his henchman the dollar is deadly to human life?
 

Today's the Day We Overdraw Our Accounts

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 8:12 PM EDT

Thanks to Deborah Byrd blogging at EarthSky for the heads-up that today is Earth Overshoot Day. The day when we overdraw our ecological bank account.

This year it falls on 25 September. Starting today, we're utilizing resources at a rate faster than what the planet can regenerate in a calendar year.

Which means for the next 97 days, we're using up our capital investment. You know, the air, waters, oceans, forests, species, topsoil that keep us alive. The problem's called ecological overshoot.

We first went into overshoot in 1986, according to the Global Footprint Network. Before then we consumed resources and produced carbon dioxide at a rate consistent with what the planet could produce and reabsorb in a year. By 1996 we were using 15 percent more resources in a year than the planet could supply. Earth Overshoot Day fell in November that year.

Now we're now stripping resources 40 percent faster than the planet can produce them.

'Course a thrifty Homo sapiens would batten down the hatches, tighten the belt, and shift to extreme emergency savings mode. Unless he or she didn't really feel overdrawn? Like everything was still super affordable and super expendable and super infinite?
 

Just How Unflappable is Barack Obama?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 7:08 PM EDT

The man's a rock. He doesn't twitch. He doesn't sway. The wattage of his smile doesn't waver. Is this a good thing? Is it supernatural? If only he could stare down global climate change with a smile.

Seeing is believing.

 

 

Barack Obama's amazingly consistent smile from Eric Spiegelman on Vimeo.

tck tck tck Barack Obama

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 5:15 PM EDT

tck tck tck. Barack Obama are you listening? Are you a leader or a motivational speaker? Are you gonna do the hard work or Neville Chamberlain your way into the world records of spectacularly unwise mediations? tck tck tck.

 

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