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.

30 Million Years to Recover From Extinction?

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 1:02 PM PST

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Scientists have been saying for a while that by the end of this century, half of all species could be extinct. And a new study says that it could take an awfully long time for Earth to recover—30 million years, to be specific.

Back in the Permian era, Earth lost more than 90 percent of all life. Scientists once thought that species rebounded quickly from the hit, but it turns out they were sort of missing the fine print, according to researchers at Bristol University:

Sahney and Benton looked at the recovery of tetrapods – animals with a backbone and four legs, such as amphibians and reptiles – and found that although globally tetrapods appeared to recover quickly, the dramatic restructuring that occurred at the community level was not permanent and communities did not recover numerically or ecologically until about 30 million years later.

And when the species were struggling to rebound back then, they didn't even have to deal with us.

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Dirty Karaoke in China

| Thu Jan. 17, 2008 11:59 AM PST

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China plans to clean up its act.

No, not that act, silly. I'm talking about China's pre-Olympics plan to crack down on its karaoke parlors, which are apparently seething with sin:

While entertainment enterprises boost consumer spending and provide jobs and tax revenue, "some are unlicensed and in some, illegal activities such as sex, gambling and drugs are taking place," the Ministry of Culture said in an apparent reference to the many massage parlors that double as brothels.

Drugs? Sex? And to think that at karaoke parlors here in the States we're all jazzed about our friends' hilarious drunk rendition of "Wonderwall."

Antarctic Sea Ice Increase: Fodder for Global Warming Skeptics?

| Thu Jan. 10, 2008 12:37 PM PST

antarctic200.jpgHold onto your hats, kids, because climate change skeptics are sure to have a field day with this one: Researchers have found that for the past 20 years, while ice in the Arctic has been rapidly decreasing, Antarctic sea ice has actually been increasing. "See?" The skeptics will say. "If the world really were getting warmer, then it wouldn't be all cold and icy in the South Pole."

But like many global warming denialist arguments, this one doesn't leave a whole lot of room for scientific nuance. Not all that science is fully understood yet, but until it is, you can fire back at doubting Thomases with a few basic facts: For starters, South Pole ice is much thicker than North Pole ice (2 miles in the Antarctic vs. 6-10 feet in the Arctic). Also, the ice in the north sits on open ocean, so it gets warmed from beneath&8212;while in the south, much of the ice sits on a continent.

Sydney Indymedia e-mailed renowned NASA climate scientist James Hansen, and he kindly put the Antarctic trends in some context:

All of the models, and the observations, have the central parts of Greenland and Antarctica growing faster because of global warming. This is a consequence of warmer air holding more moisture, thus increasing snowfall. But the net effect of warming on both continental ice sheets is mass loss, the increased melting being a larger effect than the increased snowfall.

And according to Hansen, not all of Antarctica's sea ice is increasing:

He also said "The fact that West Antarctica is shedding mass at a substantial rate, even though there is only small warming of surrounding sea surface temperatures, is a telling fact in my opinion, and a likely consequence of the warming ocean at depth, which affects the ice shelves that buttress West Antarctica, as discussed in our paper 'Dangerous human-made interference with climate: a GISS modelE study.'"

So there you have it: As usual, climate change is much more complex than skeptics would have us believe.

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