Blue Marble - March 2007

Global Warming Saps Halliburton Profits

| Wed Mar. 21, 2007 11:07 AM PDT

Halliburton reported yesterday that lower natural gas prices and less drilling in North America due to a late winter affected their first-quarter profits. In fact, Halliburton shares took their steepest dive in 8 months, dropping nearly 10%. The company is the "world's second-largest oilfield services company" and issues affecting them often herald industry-wide trends.

The slump in profits was caused, analyst James Halloran told Bloomberg, by a late winter (quite possibly global warming related). A late winter meant that the ground froze later, so heavy drilling rigs could not move across Canadian and northern US oilfields until later in the season. That translated into fewer completed drilling projects. Not to mention, with the warmest winter on record this year, people may be using less gas and oil to heat their homes.

"Last fall, there's no question there was a weather issue," Halloran said. "And prices have not been exactly booming for people. My guess is there's been some ongoing reluctance to get large drilling projects going again."

One of Halliburton's "large drilling projects" affected by the weather is in Alaska's North Slope, a place heralded by National Geographic as "largest remaining piece of US wilderness" Drilling in valuable wilderness areas is just one of the reasons Halliburton shareholder meetings are regularly protested. No wonder they moved their HQ to Dubai.

--Jen Phillips

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Weird Weather Watch: A Month Worth of Rain in an Afternoon

| Wed Mar. 21, 2007 9:46 AM PDT

New Delhi, India, received two-thirds of an inch of rain in seven hours last Monday, surpassing March monthly averages in a single day. The temperature plummeted to nine degrees below average for the day.

Closer to home, Baltimore surpassed record rainfall for the date by more than an inch last Friday, with 2.14 inches of the wet stuff. West of Baltimore, Maryland got heavy snow, and a vehicle in the president's motorcade was involved in one of the many accidents the storm caused, as the president headed to Camp David for the weekend.

Gore Challenged To Debate "Foofaraw of Pseudo-Science"

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 11:11 PM PDT

Okay, I know this doesn't look for reals, but Lord Monckton, a former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher, has challenged Al Gore to a Climate Change Challenge (for the fancy cursive you'll have to click on the link). Here's what Monckton recently sent to Gore's Tennessee home:

The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley presents his compliments to Vice-President Albert Gore and by these presents challenges the said former Vice-President to a head-to-head, internationally-televised debate upon the question "That our effect on climate is not dangerous," to be held in the Library of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History at a date of the Vice-President's choosing.

Forasmuch as it is His Lordship who now flings down the gauntlet to the Vice-President, it shall be the Vice-President's prerogative and right to choose his weapons by specifying the form of the Great Debate. May the Truth win! Magna est veritas, et praevalet.

Uh, yeah, truth is surely his endgame. Monckton had this to say about An Inconvenient Truth:

"A careful study of the substantial corpus of peer-reviewed science reveals that Mr. Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, is a foofaraw of pseudo-science, exaggerations, and errors, now being peddled to innocent schoolchildren worldwide."

That science is based on a solid corpus of scientific evidence backed by thousands of scientists, including those involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for starters, and there is documentation aplenty of the truths laid out in Gore's film on Exxon's involvement in climate policy for the U.S. government. How do we know? Because science writer Chris Mooney was the one to unearth the documents and write about the series of events detailed in the movie for Mother Jones in May 2005. I factchecked the article myself and have a foot-thick file of government documents backing up all of the ways ExxonMobil and the US govt have way-laid climate science. (Oh, and for those of you who want to use "foofaraw" in your next Scrabble game, find the definition here).

Monckton's is merely an effort to distract us into thinking that there is actually anything to debate (his challenge is a hot discussion topic at the official-sounding, Exxon-funded Center for Science and Public Policy.

His Lordship says,

"If Mr. Gore really believes global warming is the defining issue of our time, the greatest threat human civilization has ever faced, then he should welcome the opportunity to raise the profile of the issue before a worldwide audience of billions by defining and defending his claims against a serious, science-based challenge."

Al, tell him yes, as soon as "a serious, science based challenge" materializes, you're there.

James Hansen Testifies to Climate Science Meddling

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 5:30 PM PDT

The Bush administration once again faces charges from James Hansen, a foremost climate scientist, of interfering with science in order to downplay global warming. Hansen is director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, and was one of the first experts to warn of the threat of climate change.

The US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, during its second hearing on Monday, released a memo stating that documents "appear to portray a systematic White House effort to minimize the significance of climate change." From New Scientist:

In written testimony, Hansen said: "In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now."

The committee also heard a former White House aide attempting to defend his editing of government reports on climate change. Phil Cooney, chief of staff at the White House's Council on Environmental Quality from 2001 to 2005, said editing was part of the normal review process between agencies.

Right. Just for the record, before he joined the White House, Cooney was a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute and now works for ExxonMobil.

The committee [first] heard of this top-down pressure on climate scientists during the first hearing in January. Former government scientist Rick Piltz said that Cooney had tried to downplay the consequences of climate change in government documents.

In a 10-year policy plan, Cooney and Brian Hannegan, also at CEQ, made at least 181 edits to emphasize scientific uncertainty regarding the effects of climate change and 113 changes to minimize the importance of human contributions to global warming, according to the committee's memo.

For example, Cooney replaced "will" with "may" in the sentence: "Warming temperatures will also affect Arctic land areas." He also deleted this sentence: "Climate change has global consequences for human health and the environment."

Do these guys really think they're going to escape the mayhem? Or are they all believers of that latter-day oxymoron, Intelligent Design?

Join the Club? More Killing of the Adorable and Defenseless

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 5:12 PM PDT

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A baby polar bear, on which Jen reported earlier, isn't the only cute creature in peril this week: according to the Humane Society of the United States' countdown clock, there are only seven days left until the world's largest marine animal slaughter kicks off in Canada.

The (subsidized) seal industry's hunt, which lasts until May 15th, killed more than 300,000 seals last year, and while whitecoats are off-limits, most of those "harvested" were less than three months old.

If just the idea of baby seals being clubbed to death isn't disturbing enough, you can watch a horrifying video of fishermen chasing them around on bloody ice and bludgeoning them with hooked clubs. The hunt has been responsible for over a million allegedly inhumane seal murders since 2003, but that's just one of the animals' problems: that whole global warming thing means the ice on which they're born and grow up is melting, which, according to Canadian government estimates, was responsible for a 75% mortality rate among pups in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in 2002.

Despite claims by the Federal Fisheries Minister that the hunt is "humane and sustainable," the HSUS' year-long Canadian seafood boycott cost the country $350 million in exports to the US, and some European officials are calling for EU-wide action. Since this year's killing quota hasn't yet been released, animal rights groups are urging people to contact the Canadian government while there's still time.

- Nicole McClelland

Skywalk Over Grand Canyon Grand Opening: See it Live

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 3:49 PM PDT

I blogged a few weeks ago about the completion of a "skywalk" over the Grand Canyon on Hualapi Indian land. The walk was the brainchild of a white Los Vegas man in the tourism industry, but Native Americans hope it will bring more tourist dollars to their impoverished tribe.

CNN is running live footage of the skywalk's opening right now. Check it out.

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The UK Will Require Carbon Footprint Labels on Products

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 3:28 PM PDT

carbonlabel.jpgYou used to be able to count only the calories in your snacks owing to diet-friendly product labeling, but soon it might be just as easy go on a carbon diet—that is, if you live in the United Kingdom. The Carbon Trust in the UK recently announced the launch of a new product labeling method, which the Independent called "a green equivalent to the Fairtrade label." The logo, depicting a black 'C' wrapped around a white arrow, will document the carbon footprint of the labeled commodity. To be eligible to use the label, The Carbon Trust will require companies to do extensive analyses of their products' carbon footprints and make a commitment to reducing this footprint over a period of two years. This is just one more instance of the UK leaping ahead in the race to reduce carbon emissions.

Three British companies have committed to pioneering the label on their products, which serves as a brilliant—but currently untested—marketing strategy with the rise of eco-chic. The Fairtrade label has been doing remarkably well in the UK, as this article on Treehugger notes, which would be incentive enough for a company to hedge its bets on the success of the new carbon label. The first company to launch the label, Walkers, managed to cut the carbon footprint of their soon-to-be-labeled cheese and onion crisps by one-third after doing a thorough carbon analysis. Boots Organics shampoo and Innocent smoothies will be the other two labeling pioneers.

If you aren't lucky enough to live in a place as trailblazing as the UK, you won't be able to discover the carbon released during the production of your organic shampoo, but you can still keep an eye on your own carbon footprint with helpful online tools here and here.

—Rose Miller

Baby Polar Bear Cub, "Cute Knut," Wanted Dead by Activists

| Tue Mar. 20, 2007 10:05 AM PDT

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Meet Knut . He's a three-month-old polar bear cub, a roly-poly ball of white fuzz with bright black eyes. He enjoys hugging his soccer ball, gnawing on scrub brushes, and following his keeper around from room to room. Frank Albrecht wants him dead.

Animal rights activist Albrecht says that Knut, who was born at the Berlin Zoo in December and neglected by his mother, is having his natural instincts twisted. By raising the cub themselves, Albrecht says, zoo officials are perverting nature. "Raising him by hand is not appropriate to the species but rather a blatant violation of animal welfare laws," Albrecht told the German newspaper Bild. "In actual fact, the zoo needs to kill the bear cub." Albrecht later said that "If a polar bear mother rejected the baby, then I believe the zoo must follow the instincts of nature."

And Albrecht isn't the only one who wants to put the kibosh on Knut. Rudiger Schmiedel, director of the German Bear Foundation said, "You can't domesticate a wild animal ...When Knut reaches puberty, his keeper is going to get a whack upside the head." Activists from Germany's Green Party and Left Party also expressed opposition to the zoo's decision to hand-raise the cub.

Getting rid of Knut would be a hard sell: daily Berlin papers feature front page pics of the cub's gambolings, tv stations happily broadcast videos of him, and the city's hockey team wants the baby bruin as their mascot. Photographer Annie Liebovitz took Knut's portrait on Saturday for a wilderness conservation campaign. All this is before Knut has even made his public debut. Although fans can see pics of Knut on the Berlin Zoo's website, the real-life cub only just reached his public-display weight requirement (18 lbs) on Friday. Zoo officials say that Knut will be unveiled to Berliners in a week or so.

Zoo officials say that Knut is valuable not just as an attraction, but as part of a dwindling polar bear DNA pool. "Polar bears are under threat of extinction," said Andre Schuele, the veternarian who cares for Knut. "if we feed the bear with a bottle, it has a good chance of growing up and perhaps becoming attractive as a stud for other zoos."

—Jen Phillips

Bush Administration Endangers Species List

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 3:08 PM PDT

On Friday the Department of the Interior quietly issued a new interpretation of the Endangered Species Act on its website. In it the DOI essentially redefines what is an "endangered species," quibbling with the meaning of terms such as "significant" and "portion" and "range," which, in the original act, mandated that an "endangered species" is "any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."

Under the new opinion, an animal will no longer be classified as "endangered" if a population thrives in any part of the nation. For example, the gray wolf would be delisted in Montana and Idaho where it survives in stable populations, but remain "endangered" in Wyoming. (Never mind that Montana and Wyoming and Idaho are all neighbors and their gray wolf populations don't pay attention to borders.)

Because of this new definition of "endangered," the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 80% of current species on the federal endangered and threatened lists may be dropped, along with the protection the list provides them. (The CBD found that 77% of the 108 species that have gone extinct since the Endangered Species Act was enacted did so during the lengthy listing process.)

The opinion also makes no provisions for animals who have been driven out of prior habitats. "It's just so clearly illogical and anti-wildlife that I can't wait to get this before a federal judge," said Kieran Suckling, policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "They are rewarding industry for driving populations extinct. Because as soon as you drive a population extinct (in a certain area) it is no longer on the table. It no longer counts toward whether a species is endangered."

The opinion reasoned that:

"The phrase 'in danger' denotes a present-tense condition of being at risk of a future, undesired event. Hence, to say a species 'is in danger' in an area where it no longer exists--i.e. in its historical range--would be inconsistent with common usage .... the Secretary must consider the 'present' or 'threatened' (i.e. future), rather than the past 'destruction, modification, or curtailment' of a species' habitat or range."

Unfortunately, the DOI's opinion may stick. As a previous case dictated, if a word like "endangered" is ambiguous, the federal court must accept the department's definition, "even if the agency's reading differs from what the court believes is the best statutory interpretation." "This policy will do more to promote the purposeful killing of imperiled species than anything else this administration has ever done," said Suckling.

Possibly Suckling hasn't seen the even more questionable Endangered Species Reform Act of 2007, introduced to the Senate last month, that would require lengthy research, numerous reports, petitions, and government confirmation of all that information before a rapidly-disappearing species could even be listed as "endangered" in the first place.

—Jen Phillips

Which is Worse, Murder or Genocide?

| Mon Mar. 19, 2007 3:07 PM PDT

This is not a moral invective but a scientific fact: We care more about one murder than a genocide.

It's a truth both Joseph Stalin and Mother Teresa lived by. He said, "One man's death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." She said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at one, I will."

The mental flaw responsible for the moral one is exposed in this psychology study: "Donations to aid a starving 7-year-old child in Africa declined sharply when her image was accompanied by a statistical summary of the millions of needy children like her in other African countries. The numbers appeared to interfere with people's feelings of compassion toward the young victim," writes Paul Slovic.

So the more people dead or in danger, the less we care. It's the reason we've said, "Never again," over and over again after the Shoah, then Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kosovo, and Rwanda. But still so few Americans recognize the name, Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president who has already orchestrated the killing of at least 200,000 people. That's at least 199,999 too many to grasp—are your eyes glazing over already?

For more on "psychic numbing" or "compassion fatigue," check out Slovic's slide presentation. Also watch our photo essay on Darfur.

From a previous Blue Marble post, another explanation of our blindness to injustice is system-justification theory. People want to see the world as fair and just, so they blame the victim to help themselves feel better about the status quo.


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