Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

A senior editor at Mother Jones, Kiera covers health, food, and the environment. She is the author of the new book Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever (University of California Press).

 

Get my RSS |

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

| Wed Jun. 2, 2010 5:00 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.  

Advertise on MotherJones.com

What To Do With Old Lightbulbs?

| Tue Jun. 1, 2010 1:47 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 1:55 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.


"Green" Hand Sanitizer?

| Tue May 25, 2010 1:23 PM EDT

Triple Pundit reports that Purell is now offering an eco-certified hand sanitizer:

...the watery gel everyone from Dick Cheney to Barack Obama uses to keep their hands “99.9%” germ-free now is now available in a biodegradable formula made from 100 percent renewable plant-based ethanol in a completely recyclable PET plastic container. Whew!

The whole package has been certified by Ecologo, which confirms that the product meets its recently released “Instant Hand Antiseptic Products standard.” Accord to Joe Kanfer, CEO of GOJO, maker of Purell, it is the world’s first hand sanitizer to received certification from an independent eco-labeling program.

The new product’s light-weight packaging uses 30 percent less material, saving 250 tons of plastic a year.

Purell certainly deserves props for producing a biodegradable product and greening its packaging. But as Mother Jones reported in "Germ Warfare," our national obsession with cleanliness has reached a fever pitch, and some scientists think being too clean has actually made us sicker. Proponents of the "hygiene hypothesis" blame allergies and other autoimmune diseases on a lack of certain germs: In the developing world, where gut parasites are much more common, autoimmune disorders are much less common.

As the Boston Globe reports, some doctors are even experimenting with infecting allergic people with hook worms in hopes of giving their immune systems something to do besides give them allergy attacks. Infecting yourself with a parasite might seem creepier than popping a Benadryl, but the process actually sounds fairly painless. If it works? Imagine the possibilities: Less sneezing=fewer allergy drugs=fewer antihistamines in our waterways, etc. 

As Triple Pundit's BC Upham points out, Purell isn't to blame for antibiotic-resistant superbugs—it's not made with antimicrobial agents, just alcohol. But it's still an awfully effective germ killer. So what do you think, Blue Marble readers? Should Purell be allowed to call a hand sanitizer green?

Tue Aug. 12, 2014 12:35 PM EDT
Thu Jun. 26, 2014 5:42 PM EDT
Fri Apr. 25, 2014 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Nov. 11, 2013 6:00 AM EST
Mon Sep. 16, 2013 1:28 PM EDT
Mon Jul. 15, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Mon May. 13, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Thu Dec. 27, 2012 11:52 AM EST
Fri Sep. 21, 2012 1:02 PM EDT
Tue Sep. 18, 2012 3:37 PM EDT
Fri Aug. 31, 2012 10:12 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 23, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Aug. 20, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 16, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Fri Aug. 10, 2012 1:43 PM EDT
Tue Aug. 7, 2012 11:49 AM EDT
Thu Jul. 19, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Wed May. 16, 2012 2:43 PM EDT
Wed May. 16, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Tue May. 15, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Fri May. 11, 2012 2:08 PM EDT
Mon Apr. 2, 2012 5:00 AM EDT
Fri Mar. 16, 2012 1:59 PM EDT
Mon Feb. 27, 2012 6:00 AM EST