Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

Kiera answers your green questions every week in her Econundrums column. She was a hypochondriac even before she started researching germ warfare.

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Kiera has written about the environment, arts and culture, and more for Columbia Journalism Review, Orion, Audubon, OnEarth, Plenty, and the Utne Reader. She lives in Berkeley and recently planted 30 onions in her backyard.

Palin Blames Spill on "Extreme Enviros" and More News From the Gulf

| Thu Jun. 3, 2010 9:28 AM EDT

On Tuesday, Sarah Palin posted a new screed on Facebook bashing environmentalists for being the cause of the Gulf oil spill. No, really. Meanwhile, back on Earth, MoJo reporters Mac McClelland and Julia Whitty continue to blog and tweet live from the Gulf beaches, while Kate Sheppard keeps tabs on the politics of the spill. And if you haven't checked out Mac's and Julia's photos yet, they're worth a gander. Trust me. Mac's are here, and Julia's shots of birds battling oil are here.  Some sample tweets and links to our recent coverage of BP and the spill that's shaping up to be the environmental disaster of the century:

@JuliaWhitty: The oil in the seawater is as tacky as wax. I'd like to give the BP bigwigs fully-body Brazilian waxes #bp #oilspill

@MacMcClelland: A big lake of concentrated #BP crude has just been spotted coming toward the coast of Grand Isle.

For more up-to-the-minute updates on the spill, check out our BP coverage and the Blue Marble blog. You can also follow Mac McClelland, Julia Whitty, Kate Sheppard, The Climate Desk, and the Blue Marble on Twitter. 

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Feds' Criminal Probe of BP, and More Oil Spill News

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

We've been keeping close tabs on the environmental horror show unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. MoJo human rights reporter Mac McClelland and environment reporter Julia Whitty are on the scene at the oil spill, tweeting and blogging as run BP's corporate blockade, while Kate Sheppard reports on the politics of the spill. The big news yesterday was the Department of Justice's announcement that it's launching a criminal probe into the oil rig explosion, and that and that the federal government is weighing both criminal and civil penalties for the disaster. Read more here.

Sample tweets from our reporters in the Gulf:

@MacMcClelland: Even on the beach we're allowed on, there are tar piles big as a 5-yr-old. And this beach was already cleaned today. #BP

@JuliaWhitty: Remember the book On the Beach? Nuclear fallout wafting towards the last survivors? That's what today on the Mississippi coast felt like.

More coverage:

  • BP Hires Cheney's Press Flack: Anne Womack Kolton will serve as the new "head of U.S. media relations" as the company deals with the PR disaster of the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf. Kolton was Cheney's press secretary during the 2004 campaign, and then moved to a job in public affairs at the Department of Energy.
  • As Hurricane Season Kicks Off, Gulf Oil Worries Grow: Tuesday was the first day of what's expected to be a bad hurricane season. Especially worrisome, since hurricanes imperil the thousands of miles of oil pipelines that snake across the Gulf. The storms also threaten to churn up the millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf, pushing the slick further on land and spreading it out over a larger area.
  • How BP, MMS Ignored Spill Warning Signs: New documents show that both BP and federal regulators at the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service had plenty of warning that the drilling operation at the Macondo well site was plauged with problems.
  • Hollywood to the Rescue: Believe it or not, Kevin Costner and James Cameron have some interesting ideas. But, um, why didn't BP think of them first?

For more up-to-the-minute updates on the spill, check out our BP coverage and the Blue Marble blog. You can also follow Mac McClelland, Julia Whitty, Kate Sheppard, and the Blue Marble on Twitter.  

What To Do With Old Lightbulbs?

| Tue Jun. 1, 2010 2:47 PM EDT

Recently switched all the lights in your house over to CFLs? Inhabitat has an idea for giving your old incandescents new life: Make them into vases. Only challenge is to support the bulbs so they stand up. Pictured left is a stand called a Potus Pot, but I imagine it wouldn't be too hard to make your own bulb support. If you filled an old tray with a bed of pebbles a few inches deep, I'm guessing you could nestle a few bulbs in there. Readymade has another idea.

Readers, have any of you found other ways to reuse old lightbulbs?

Did 9/11 Cause More Male Miscarriages?

| Thu May 27, 2010 2:55 PM EDT

More male fetuses than female were miscarried in the year after 9/11, a new UC Irvine study finds. According to a lead researcher, here's why:

In this case, women across the country were undergoing a process of "communal bereavement" -- empathizing with others, even if they hadn't experienced a direct loss during 9/11.

"It's a situation where witnessing harm, even if you don't actually suffer yourself, can actually induce harm," Bruckner said.

Female fetuses are hardier than males, because women have adapted to produce what Bruckner describes as "the alpha male." In times of prosperity and security, male fetuses are more likely to be brought to term, because there's a greater chance that they'll be healthy and robust. During periods of scarcity, however, male miscarriages are much more common.

"A woman's body faces a decision -- evolutionary, not cognitive -- of whether to carry her male baby to term, or abort the fetus," Bruckner said. "If you're pregnant in a time of low resources, there's less impetus for your body to bear that child."

So: Women were emotionally drained by 9/11, so somehow their bodies knew it'd be harder to raise an "alpha male" in such a stressful environment. Therefore, their wombs rejected the male fetuses.

I'm skeptical. For starters, how could you ever prove such a theory? For a while now another MoJo editor and I have been collecting examples of folks taking the general principle of natural selection and really just running with it, using it to explain all sorts of things. For example: Why do men prefer blondes? "Typically, young girls with light blond hair become women with brown hair. Thus, men who prefer to mate with blond women are unconsciously attempting to mate with younger women."  Why do women like the color pink? "Being drawn to men with rosy, rather than pale, complexions may also have helped them bear healthy children."

These are fun to think about, since the have a sort of a creation-myth feel about them. That's probably because we've evolved to wonder about human nature, don't you think? But seriously, this isn't science, it's speculation. And in the wrong hands, it could actually be used to undermine real evolutionary science. That could be dangerous.


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