Blogs

Scary New CO2 Numbers on Shipping, Plus a Hopeful Breeze

| Wed Feb. 13, 2008 12:49 AM EST

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More bad news on the real costs of all the cheap goods that come our way from all over the world via the high seas. A leaked UN report says pollution from shipping is nearly three times higher than previously thought, and that annual emissions from the world's merchant fleet have already reached nearly 4.5% of all global emissions of CO2. The report warns that shipping emissions are destined to become one of the largest single sources of manmade CO2 after cars, housing, agriculture, and industry. By comparison, the aviation industry, under heavy pressure to clean up its act, emits only half as much CO2, reports the Guardian:

The figure is highly embarrassing for the four governments, including Britain, that paid for the report. Governments and the EU have consistently played down the climate impact of shipping, saying it is less than 2% of global emissions and failing to include shipping emissions in their national estimates for CO2 emissions. Previous attempts by the industry to calculate levels of carbon emissions were largely based on the quantity of low grade fuel bought by shipowners. The latest UN figures are considered more accurate because they are based on the known engine size of the world's ships, as well as the time they spend at sea and the amount of low grade fuel sold to shipowners. The UN report also reveals that other pollutants from shipping are rising even faster than CO2 emissions. Sulphur and soot emissions, which give rise to lung cancers, acid rain and respiratory problems are expected to rise more than 30% over the next 12 years.

Here's a partial solution, at least, as reported by the BBC. The world's first commercial cargo ship partially powered by a giant kite just sailed from Germany to Venezuela. The MS Beluga Skysails—seen in the photo above—carries a computer-controlled kite, measuring 160sq m (1,722sq ft), designed to cut fuel consumption by as much as 20%.

So, how about we accept cheap goods from abroad only if they come in under sail?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Sweeps for Obama and McCain

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 9:57 PM EST

Barack Obama and John McCain both scored hat tricks tonight, taking Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

In Obama's victory speech in Madison, WI, he pointed out that tonight highlights the fact that he can win in any setting. "We have now won east and west, north and south, and across the heartland of this country," he told an excited crowd. The Clinton campaign has dismissed Obama's victories from Super Tuesday and this past weekend by saying Obama wins in caucus states (which, due to their format, favor activists and the well-to-do) and in states Democrats never win in general elections. Well, Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. were all primaries, not caucuses. Maryland and D.C. are the Democrats' territory in November, and Virginia is a swing state. As Obama was saying, "We need a new direction in this country," the Clintonites were probably thinking, "We need new spin in this campaign."

All About Light

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 9:47 PM EST

13Cribsheet.jpg The latest addition to SEED's excellent Cribsheet series: Light. On one page, everything you wanted to know or remember about the electromagnetic spectrum, wave-particle duality, how light interacts with matter, how we use light to study the size, age, and composition of the universe, how light can help provide clean energy, faster computers, and efficient space travel. Check out other Cribsheets on everything from hybrid cars to nuclear power to extinction to genetics, to name a few.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Sea Level Rise Twice As High as Current Projections

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 9:25 PM EST

New research on Greenland glaciers suggests that sea level rise will be twice as high the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate of 18 to 58 cm (0.6 to 1.9 ft) by 2100. The study, published in the Journal of Glaciology (pdf), combines important data long missing from the ice sheet models. Researchers from the University at Buffalo, Ohio State University, the University of Kansas, and NASA, combined field mapping, remote sensing, satellite imaging, and digital enhancement techniques to glean "hidden" data from historic aerial photographs, some 60 years old.

The resulting two-dimensional pictures are of limited value. But the researchers digitized them, removed the boundaries between them, and turned several pictures into a single 'mosaic' producing one data set viewable in three-dimensions. "By reprocessing old data contained in these old photographs and records, we have been able to construct a long-term record of the behavior of the [Jakobshavn Isbrae] glacier," says lead author, Beata Csatho. "This was the first time that the data from the '40s could be reused in a coherent way."

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You can see in this 1946 image how the 4-mile-wide Jakobshavn Isbrae glacier is flowing from the ice through Greenland's rocky coast. Image courtesy of University at Buffalo.

Other glacier views and data here and here.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Six Words, Six Months to Come up with Them

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 8:55 PM EST

How lovely. Six word memoirs.

I know. Me, too.

Had to be a crappy ad gimmick or college drinking game, but it's not. It's addictive and sadly beautiful when not slyly sexy or funny or enigmatic. The good kind of enigmatic, not the annoying kind usually meant just to show off.

From SMITH magazine, bathroom reading that may spoil us all for the dreck we usually settle for in...you know...there. No one can resist the challenge. Check this and this and this and this....

I'll never sleep again until I pull this off. And realize I'm depressed by the truth I've managed to tell on myself. Here's a taste (from Ron Rosenbaum's site, above):

Debra Does Don: Update (to update)

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 8:36 PM EST

I'll be doing Don Imus tomorrow (Wednesday Feb 13), 830ish. Here's a good recap on the whole Imus comeback thing. Presumably, this link will work 6-10 am (EST), when's he live.

Update: moved to Friday, same bat time, same bat channel.
Updat-ier: moved to Wed, Feb 20. (Don is sick)

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With Obama Wins, What's the New Delegate Count?

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 8:34 PM EST

Chuck Todd of MSNBC is the delegate yoda. According to his calculations, Obama will get 49 to 52 delegates out of Virginia, while Clinton will get 31 to 34. (More info on Obama's Virginia win here.)

If you add those numbers to MSNBC's pledged delegate count, you get totals of roughly 1080 for Obama and 980 for Clinton. Why is that important? Because Clinton has a superdelegate lead of 85-90 over Obama. For the first time, Obama has won enough delegates from various primaries and caucuses to overtake Clinton's advantage with superdelegates. If Obama continues to open up a lead in pledged delegates, I would suspect that more and more superdelegates would come out in support of him, despite all the pressure the Clinton campaign will inevitably bring to bear, because they do not want to create a disastrous situation where the will of the superdelegates overturns the will of the people.

But we're getting well ahead of ourselves. As the Clinton campaign is reminding everybody, Ohio and Texas loom. Heck, we don't even know who won Maryland tonight!

Healthcare as a National Security Issue

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 7:03 PM EST

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Listening to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama debate the minutiae of health insurance mandates, it's easy to forget that while both plans strive for universal insurance coverage, neither one will achieve universal health care (at least not as the term pertains to an inalienable right). Maybe you already knew that, but a two-part article over at the Campaign for America's Future blog drives home why the distinction is important. Invoking our near-mythical neighbor to the north, writer Sara Robinson points out just how dangerous our current system could be. When sick people don't go to the doctor, she says, it's not just their health that's in danger, but national security:

In Canada, people go see the doctor if they're sick for more than a day or two. It was this easy access to early treatment, along with the much tighter public health matrix that enables doctors to share information quickly, that allowed the country's health care system to detect the 2003 SARS epidemics in Toronto and Vancouver while they were still very localized, act within hours to stop them before the disease spread any further, and track down and treat exposed people before they got too sick to be helped. In both cases, the system worked flawlessly. The epidemic was stopped within days and quashed entirely in under a month, potentially saving of millions of lives.

In the U.S., that same epidemic might easily have gone unnoticed for critical days and weeks. If the first people to get sick were among those 75 million without adequate insurance, they probably would have toughed it out a few extra days before finally dragging their half-dead carcasses into an ER somewhere. Not only would they be much farther along in the course of the disease—and thus at greater risk of death themselves—every one of them could have infected dozens or even hundreds of other people in the meantime, accelerating the spread of the epidemic.

Maybe this is a tack one of the candidates should consider exploring. We may not have money for socialized medicine, but we sure have a lot for defense.

—Casey Miner

Potomac Primary: Obama Takes Virginia

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 6:54 PM EST

It's 7 pm EST and polls just closed in Virginia. CNN took about one second to call the race for Obama. That means the exit polls must show a real blowout. On the Republican side, CNN says Huckabee and McCain are in a tight race. I'll go look for some exit polls while we wait one hour for polls to close in D.C. and Maryland.

Okay, CNN exit poll numbers for Virginia Democrats. African-American voters went 90-10 for Obama, in a margin that is getting bigger and bigger. White voters went 51-48 for Clinton, in a margin that is getting smaller and smaller. And women went 58-42 for Obama, in a shocking result. (To break that down a little further, Obama won white men by 12 while Clinton won white women by 16. Obama won both black women and men by huge margins.)

More numbers for Virginia Dems. (If Maryland or D.C. is markedly different from these numbers, I'll let you know.) Obama won the over-$50,000 crowd by 63-37 and won the under-$50,000 crowd 59-40. He won the Social Security crowd by six points. These numbers drive an even bigger spike into the "50-50" theory about Clinton voters.

One of the reasons why McCain is struggling: Virginia is an open primary, meaning people of any party affiliation can vote in either race. The Democratic turnout was large today (certainly larger than the Republican turnout) and about 30 percent of the voters in the Democratic race were independents and Republicans. They went heavily for Obama. Those are potential McCain voters.

For the record, McCain won moderates in the Virginia Republican primary by a whopping margin of 34 points. Huckabee won conservatives in the primary by 23 points. The problem for McCain is that there were far more conservatives voting today.

Tapped: Senate Passes Bill Expanding Government Spy Powers

| Tue Feb. 12, 2008 5:59 PM EST

Voting 68 to 29, the Senate has passed a controverial government surveillance bill, providing telecom companies retroactive immunity.

Bill co-consponsor Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) defended the controversial bill, in a press statement: "This is a very good bill that achieves what we set out to accomplish – restore civil liberty protections through proper FISA court oversight, and allow for targeted surveillance of potential terrorists."

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid disagrees, explaining his vote against the bill in a press statement: