Blue Marble - July 2007

The Power of Wind Energy

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 8:24 PM EDT

This Friday, the House is voting on bill H.R. 969, including the Udall-Platts Amendment that will require more of our electricity to come from renewable power sources like wind. In addition to creating jobs, the amendment is designed to keep electricity bills low, reduce our dependence on sources of power that aren't created in the U.S., and curb greenhouse gas emissions. Check it out.

Big oil & coal are fighting it. Fight them. Renewables are good for all stakeholders on planet Earth. JULIA WHITTY

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Kashmiri War Good For Wildlife

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 7:59 PM EDT

The violence that's killed thousands of people in South Asia's disputed Kashmir region has, ironically, fostered a 30 to 60 percent increase in the population of endangered Asiatic black bears. The bears are the victims of poachers, who hunt them for their fur, paws, and gall bladders, which have mythical medicinal qualities. The WorldWatch Institute reports the story by the Toronto Globe and Mail, that the presence of the Indian military and opposition fighters in Himalayan forests has discouraged poachers from entering the area, allowing the bears to recover slightly. . . Hmm. War. What is it good for? . . . Not to mention which, maybe it's kept a few from the dancing bear (aka slave) trade.

Check out some of the lucky few. JULIA WHITTY

Sharkrunners Lets You Play Marine Biologist

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

Here's a blog from publishing house O'Reilly on a Discovery Channel online game called Sharkrunners that lets you play the part of a marine biologist tracking sharks, many endangered. You get a virtual boat and virtual crew but track real-life sharks tagged with GPS receivers. When your boat encounters a shark, you're alerted via email and/or SMS. You get three hours to collect data about the shark, the goal being to collect as much data as possible. (Okay, in the real world more data is not always better, case in point: our overwhelmed intelligence agencies, but…) As Brady Forrest at O'Reilly reports:

My boat, the Roo, has just left the port of San Luis Obispo. We had our first encounter 15 minutes after leaving port. Now that I have some funding I'll probably get another crew member (which increases the likelihood of my getting data and decreases the likelihood of my crew dying) or upgrade my boat (a better craft allows me to stay out to sea longer). My single shark encounter netted me $2,200. Given that the game launched a week and players already have over $700,000, I think the players really like it.

Sounds like fun for everyone. Except the sharks. JULIA WHITTY

Simpsons Movie Takes on Environment... Well, Kind Of.

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 1:28 PM EDT

homer_mushing.jpg This weekend I was lucky enough to catch the aptly titled The Simpsons Movie at my local independent theater. With all the hype—7-11s transformed into Kwik-E-Marts complete with Squishees and Buzz Cola, annoying ads during other Fox shows—I was ready to be wowed. But what wowed me, I didn't expect—the movie took on the thorny issue of environmentalism ... well, sort of, if you count Homer fighting power-crazy environmentalists with motorcycles and dog sleds.

In the film, Lisa crusades door-to-door for the salvation of Springfield's lake and, predictably, gets many of them slammed in her face; Homer's her undoing, dumping a silo of "pig crap" into the lake that turns it into a seething, green, boiling pool of acidic sludge; and there's an interesting twist, wherein, the EPA actually cares about the environment. Humorously, the EPA puts a huge, glass dome over the city to keep the lake's toxins from spreading (they care more about the trees than the people of Springfield).

The Simpsons of course fight back and attempt to free Springfield from its doom in the dome and the EPA v Homer battle is surely amusing, but unfortunately, after 87 minutes of comedy, the sentiment that people should not drop "pig crap" into lakes is pretty much forgotten. Not that I was really expecting (okay, I kind of was) great pearls of wisdom from The Simpsons but I had hoped for more examples of criminal environmental degradation, especially since the mastermind behind everything Simpsons is from my home state of Oregon, a state with a long history of fighting the timber and fishing industries to preserve its unique natural beauty.

Musings on Light Pollution

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 2:36 AM EDT

The Pinky Show Returns. Listen to Ant. JULIA WHITTY

Alaskan Erosion Creates Oil Spill Risk

| Mon Jul. 30, 2007 9:16 PM EDT

Arctic sea ice does more than provide habitat for polar bears and reflect sunlight. It also acts as a barrier between the rough ocean and delicate coastlines, like those of Alaska. With softening permafrost and disappearing sea ice, Alaska's coast is eroding faster than ever and may result in old oil wells actually slipping into the ocean.

In particular, the coast of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (a 23 million-acre area managed by the Bureau of Land Management and a plum drilling site, according to Bush) is eroding faster than ever, a new US Geological Survey study found. The BLM has identified more than 30 oil wells in danger of being reclaimed by the ocean, each of which will cost $20 million to clean to ensure that, if they do get sucked into the ocean, they won't spill even more oil into the state's ecosystem.

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Atlantic Hurricanes Doubled Over Last Century

| Mon Jul. 30, 2007 5:57 PM EDT

About twice as many Atlantic hurricanes form each year on average than a century ago. This according to a new analysis by researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Warmer sea surface temperatures (SSTs) and altered wind patterns associated with global climate change are fueling much of the increase. The analysis identifies three periods since 1900, separated by sharp transitions, during which the average number of hurricanes and tropical storms increased dramatically and then remained elevated and relatively steady. SSTs have risen by about 1.3 degrees F in the last 100 years, and other studies indicate that most of the rise in Atlantic sea surface temps can be attributed to global warming. "Even a quiet year by today's standards would be considered normal or slightly active compared to an average year in the early part of the 20th century," says study author, Greg Holland.

By the way, the current period has not yet stabilized. So the average hurricane season could be even more active in the future. . . The planet lives and breathes in powerful ways. Here's an amazing video recap of some of the 2005 hurricane season. Stunningly beautiful. Terrifying. JULIA WHITTY

Big Squid In California Waters

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 8:58 PM EDT

The Los Angeles Times and others are reporting on the "voracious" jumbo squid "invading" California waters and "preying" on local anchovy, hake and other commercial fish populations. . . .Hmm. Sound a little hysterical? Could anything actually be more voracious, invasive, or predatory than one of our very own? JULIA WHITTY

You compare. This:


Or this:

Beijing To Build Windmills For 2008 Olympics

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 8:22 PM EDT

Beijing has started work on 33 windmills to supply clean energy in time for the 2008 Olympic Games. Reuters reports the $76 million power stations, situated on the outskirts of Beijing, are expected to produce an estimated 100 million kilowatts of electricity a year to reduce the city's reliance on polluting coal-fired generators. The windmill project, which China claims to be the 10th largest in the world, would also cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least 10 million tons a year. . . So, how to harness the muscle power of those athletes with their Olympic-sized carbon footprints? JULIA WHITTY

Low Literacy Equals Early Death Sentence

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 7:44 PM EDT

Older people with poor health literacy have a 50 percent higher mortality rate over five years than people with adequate reading skills. Low health literacy is defined as the inability to read and comprehend basic materials like prescription bottles, appointment slips, and hospital forms, according to the study from Northwestern University. Low health literacy was the top predictor of mortality after smoking, surpassing income and years of education. Most of the mortality differential was due to higher rates of death from cardiovascular disease. "When patients can't read, they are not able to do the things necessary to stay healthy," said David Baker, M.D., lead author of the study. "They don't know how to take their medications correctly, they don't understand when to seek medical care, and they don't know how to care for their diseases." This is the likely reason they're much more likely to die. . . No Elder Left Behind, anyone? JULIA WHITTY