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.

Antarctica Is Melting, After All

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 1:44 PM EST

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A while back, I blogged about how global warming skeptics were all smug and glowy (and wrong) about how Antarctica's not melting. If the sea ice in the South Pole is actually increasing, the reasoning went, then how could the planet be warming? Huh? Huh? Well, for a number of reasons, that logic is false, but guess what? It may be moot point anyway, since it turns out that the western part of Antarctica is melting—and fast: Ice loss in the region has increased by 75 percent over the past ten years.

A team of researchers led by scientists from UC Irvine discovered that the underlying cause for the melting was accelerated glacier flow, which is, in turn, caused by warming oceans. All that melting means higher sea levels:

They detected a sharp jump in Antarctica's ice loss, from enough ice to raise global sea level by 0.3 millimeters (.01 inches) a year in 1996, to 0.5 millimeters (.02 inches) a year in 2006.

That level of melting puts western Antarctica almost on par with Greenland, a dubious distinction, to say the very least.

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War Dance Nominated for Oscar

| Tue Jan. 22, 2008 5:21 PM EST

wardance.jpgIt's official: War Dance—a documentary about former child soldiers who journey from their IDP camp in Northern Uganda to a music competition in the nation's capital—has been nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature. Its running mates: No End in Sight, Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, Sicko, and Taxi to the Dark Side.

Go here to read Mother Jones' interview with War Dance filmmakers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine.

A Global Recession?

| Mon Jan. 21, 2008 10:00 PM EST

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Not since 9/11 has the world seen markets tumble as quickly—or as dramatically—as they did today: While American markets were closed for the federal holiday, the MSCI World Index fell by 3 percent, and Europe's Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index plummeted by 5.7 percent.

This means a few things:

First of all, Bush and Bernanke's attempt to prevent a recession by calling for a stimulus package didn't quite do the trick. In fact, globally speaking, it probably made things worse:

The selloff followed falls on U.S. markets on Friday that ended the worst weekly performance on Wall Street for five years and a round of bloodletting in Asian markets yesterday, as investors were left underwhelmed by U.S. President George W. Bush's package of measures aimed at stimulating the world's largest economy.

Friends: Who Needs 'Em?

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 5:03 PM EST

volleyball100.jpgNo friends? No problem! Researchers at the University of Chicago say you can make them yourself out of everyday household objects.

For evidence, they say, look no further than a crappy Tom Hanks movie:

"In the movie Castaway, Tom Hanks was isolated on an island and found the social desolation to be one of the most daunting challenges with which he had to deal," said Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University of Chicago.
"He did so, in part, by anthropomorphizing a volleyball, Wilson, who became his friend and confidant while he was on the island." Although fictional, "Castaway depicts a deep truth about the irrepressibly social nature of Homo sapiens," Cacioppo said.


30 Million Years to Recover From Extinction?

| Fri Jan. 18, 2008 4:02 PM EST

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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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