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.

Less Golf, More Water?

| Thu Feb. 21, 2008 10:05 AM PST

golf100.jpgNumber one on the New York Times' most-e-mailed list today is a story about the mass exodus from American golf courses. No one knows exactly why corporate America is abandoning its erstwhile favorite sport. Not enough time? Too lazy?

Whatever the reason for the shift, there's at least one good thing about it. Golf courses are notoriously thirsty, and developers have a nasty habit of putting them in the darnedest (driest) places. If our newfound apathy about golf translates into fewer courses built over the long haul, [insert corny golf metaphor—a la "that's a hole in one for the environment"— here].

Then again:

To help keep the Great Rock Golf Club afloat, owners erected their large climate-controlled tent near the 18th green last summer. It sat next to the restaurant, Blackwell's, already operating there.

The next question: How far into the depths of unsustainability will golf-course owners sink to win back customers?

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An-My Le: War on American Soil

| Tue Feb. 19, 2008 4:50 PM PST

small%20wars%20200.jpgYesterday at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, throngs of school vacationers made a beeline for the much-hyped Olafur Eliasson exhibit. I didn't quite have the wherewithal to spend 20 minutes on line waiting to see trippy mirrors or whatever, so instead I left the under-10s behind and headed downstairs, where I was happy to find myself in a room with, like, four decidedly sedate adults. This was a good room for me not only because of my misanthropic tendencies, but also because of the photography series I found there: An-My Lê's "Small Wars" and "29 Palms."

Both series are about something we're not used to seeing—war in an American landscape. Not real combat, but rather reenactment and rehearsal: "Small Wars" (1999-2002) chronicles Vietnam war reenactors' staged battles in Virginia, while "29 Palms" (2003-present) focuses on soldiers training for deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan at the Twentynine Palms military base in California. On a purely technical level, this is impressive work. The black-and-white photographs are full of texture and nuance, and the composition—from vast landscapes to detailed tableaus—is impeccable.

Does War Make Iraqi Teens More Self Confident?

| Thu Feb. 7, 2008 10:05 AM PST

iraq%20teens%20150.jpgIraqi teens have relatively high levels of self esteem, according to a University of Cincinnati study. Not only that, but "the higher the perceived threat of the war, the higher the teens reported their self-esteem."

The researchers say that though this finding may seem counterintuitive, it supports their theory that during a war, individuals' sense of self is tied to their sense of national identity:

"In the presence of conflict-related trauma one generally observes lower levels of psychological well-being (e.g., PTSD, grief reactions), and sometimes lower self-esteem," write the authors. "Our results, however, are consistent with a body of theory and research that predicts self-esteem striving and higher self-esteem among the individuals who face indirect threats to central components of their social identities (rather than directly facing traumatic war-related events). In other words, in a situation where we observe a broad social context involving the presence of foreign forces ( a clear violation of Muslim principles) combined with general violence throughout Baghdad and Iraq, we also observe a heightened sense of self, at least to the extent that one's self is tied to one's nation."

Campaign Ad Factoids

| Mon Feb. 4, 2008 2:26 PM PST

obama150.jpgPolitical Punch has an interesting little collection of facts about candidate advertising. Among the most interesting:

* Mitt Romney was the No. 1 advertiser in both parties—35,000 ads—and spent as much as all of his GOP opponents combined—and almost four times as much as John McCain in Florida

* Barack Obama led the Democratic pack with almost 30,000 ads, worth almost $23 million; Hillary Clinton aired more than 25,500 ads, worth well over $18 million.

* Who did the talking? Barack Obama narrated nearly 83% of his own TV ads, while Hillary Clinton narrated fewer than half (43 percent) of hers.

* McCain used images of the American flag more than any other leading candidate, with 77% of his TV ads displaying the Stars and Stripes…compared with 40% of Obama's and 33% of Clinton's.

Another interesting fact: Obama was the only candidate to air an ad during the Super Bowl. Take a look:

Us to Earth: We Will Rock You

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 3:00 PM PST

footprint150.jpgGeologically speaking, nature usually calls the shots. Historically it's been the case that major natural events—shifting tectonic plates, volcanoes, even asteroids—have shaped the trajectory of life on this planet. Not anymore. A team of researchers from the University of Leicester and the Geological Society of London is the latest group to make the case that the Holocene era is coming to an end, and the Anthropocene (meaning, basically, man-made) is on its way in. Our impact on the planet is so profound, say the scientists, we've changed our home for good. The evidence:

* Vastly altered sediment erosion and deposition patterns.
* Major disturbances to the carbon cycle and global temperature.
* Wholesale changes in biology, from altered flowering times to new migration patterns.
* Acidification of the ocean, which threatens tiny marine life that forms the bottom of the food chain.

This isn't a new idea. The term "Anthropocene Era" was coined by Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 Chemistry Nobel Prize. Crutzen identified three phases of the era—and made some guesses as to what we can expect next.

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