Blue Marble - July 2007

Air Pollution Link To Clogged Arteries

| Thu Jul. 26, 2007 7:23 PM EDT

New research shows that air pollution plays a role in atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. This in turn contributes to heart attacks and/or strokes, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. The fats that clog arteries apparently work in conjunction with air pollution particles to trigger the genes behind inflammation, which leads to increased lesions in the clogged arteries, and the potential for thrombi, and resultant heart attacks or strokes. . . Listen up Dick Cheney, master of the clot. Clean air is good for you. JULIA WHITTY

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Bush/Cheney Threats To The Endangered Species Act

| Wed Jul. 25, 2007 5:27 PM EDT

Two government entities are investigating the Bush administration over the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Christian Science Monitor reports the US Interior Department is reviewing the scientific integrity of decisions made by a political appointee, Julie MacDonald, who recently resigned under fire. Fish and Wildlife Service employees complained that MacDonald bullied, insulted, and harassed the professional staff to alter their biological reporting. The inspector noted that although she has no formal educational background in biology, she nevertheless labored long and hard editing, commenting on, and reshaping the endangered species program's scientific reports from the field. Last week Fish and Wildlife announced that eight decisions MacDonald made under the ESA would be examined for scientific and legal discrepancies.

Meanwhile Congress is investigating evidence that Vice President Dick Cheney interfered with decisions involving water in California and Oregon resulting in a mass kill of Klamath River salmon, including threatened species. As the CSM reports, both episodes illustrate the Bush administration's resistance to the law. Earlier, the Washington Post ran the story of Cheney's personal interference in the water decision that killed the salmon in 2002:

In Oregon, a battleground state that the Bush-Cheney ticket had lost by less than half of 1 percent, drought-stricken farmers and ranchers were about to be cut off from the irrigation water that kept their cropland and pastures green. Federal biologists said the Endangered Species Act left the government no choice: The survival of two imperiled species of fish was at stake. Law and science seemed to be on the side of the fish. Then the vice president stepped in. First Cheney looked for a way around the law, aides said. Next he set in motion a process to challenge the science protecting the fish, according to a former Oregon congressman who lobbied for the farmers. Because of Cheney's intervention, the government reversed itself and let the water flow in time to save the 2002 growing season, declaring that there was no threat to the fish. What followed was the largest fish kill the West had ever seen, with tens of thousands of salmon rotting on the banks of the Klamath River.

Or, in the words of Bruce Barcott in MoJo's piece, What's A River For?:

On the morning of September 19, 2002, the Yurok fishermen who set their gill nets near the mouth of the Klamath River arrived to find the largest salmon run in years fully under way. The fish had returned from the ocean to the Klamath, on the Northern California coast, to begin their long trip upstream to spawn; there were thousands of them, as far as the eye could see. And they were dying. Full-grown 30-pounders lay beached on shore-line rocks. Smaller fish floated in midriver eddies. Day after day they kept washing up; by the third day, biologists were estimating that 33,000 fish had been killed [since revised upward to 70,000] in one of the largest salmon die-offs in U.S. history. The Yurok knew immediately what had happened. For months they, along with state experts and commercial fishermen, had been pleading with the federal government to stop diverting most of the river's water into the potato and alfalfa fields of Oregon's upper Klamath Basin. But the Bureau of Reclamation, the agency in charge of federal irrigation projects, refused to intervene.

The CSM reports the House Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing next week to investigate political influence on agency science and decisionmaking. As reported in the Blue Marble scientists are aware of the persistent unsciencing of their work. Thirty-eight prominent wildlife biologists and environmental ethics specialists recently signed a letter protesting a new Bush administration interpretation of the Endangered Species Act. They're concerned for the future of animals such as wolves and grizzly bears. If Interior Department Solicitor David Bernhardt has his way, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will have to protect animals and plants only where they're actually battling for survival, not where they're in good shape. That means, for instance, that Bald Eagles would never have been protected decades ago since they were doing fine in Alaska, although practically extinct in the lower 48.

During Bush/Cheney, the listing of endangered and threatened species has slowed to a fraction the number the Bush senior made in only four years (58 new listings compared with 231), and most of those were court-ordered, according to the CSM. New funding has been cut as well, and only 278 candidate species are waiting to join the list of 1,352. Mother Jones' recent piece, Gone, detailed why the presence of many kinds of life on earth is important to the survival of life itself. Seven of 10 biologists believe the sixth great extinction currently underway is a greater threat to life on earth than even global climate change.

It's ephemerally comforting to think George W. Bush might go down in history as the worst of all U.S. presidents. More realistically, Dick Cheney will get the honor. . . Assuming there's a history to come. JULIA WHITTY

Weird Weather Watch: Deadly European Heat Wave

| Wed Jul. 25, 2007 11:54 AM EDT

Remember the '80s hit by Midnight Oil, "Beds Are Burning"? The Aussie song posits with some disbelief that the "western desert lives and breathes in 45 degrees." (That's Celsius, y'all.) Singer-turned-politician Peter Garrett would be even more stunned to learn that southern Europe lived, breathed, and tried to sleep in 45 degrees this week. That's 113 Fahrenheit, in a region where air conditioners are less common even than Oreos. Greece, Bosnia, and Macedonia suffered most. In Hungary, the mercury hit 107 degrees, causing at least 500 heat-related deaths. Sound like fun? Try adding in several deadly fires and another record-breaking heat wave last month. So next time you hear "next year will be the hottest on record," don't plan on summering it away in Greece.

Tibet Warming At Twice Global Average

| Tue Jul. 24, 2007 7:23 PM EDT

The Tibetan plateau is heating up by 0.3°C each decade. At more than twice the worldwide average, according to a new study from the Tibet Meteorological Bureau, as reported by New Scientist. The research reinforces a growing realization that high altitudes in tropical regions are experiencing dramatic temperature increases similar to those at the poles. Over the last 50 years, temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctica have risen by 0.2°C and approximately 0.5°C per decade, respectively, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The reason surface temperatures at the poles are warming so quickly is because the seawater temperature around them has risen faster there than anywhere else on Earth. Warming waters also play a role in the tropics. When the already warm tropical waters heat up further, due to global warming, they evaporate even more moisture, which rises straight to the upper atmosphere.

In 2000, researchers published a study looking at temperature changes on the Tibetan plateau since the 1950s, which found that temperature was not only increasing with time, but also with elevation across the plateau. They concluded the plateau is one of the most sensitive areas in the world in its response to global climate change. A study published in 2006 in Science found similar increases in air temperature at high-elevation weather stations in the Andes.

The Tibetan Plateau is also one of John Schellnhuber's tipping points, reported on in Mother Jones "The Thirteenth Tipping Point." Check out what happens when it tips. JULIA WHITTY

Rainfall Changes Linked To Human Activity

| Tue Jul. 24, 2007 5:56 PM EDT

Greenhouse-gas emissions have made the Northern Hemisphere wetter &mdash and climate models appear to have underestimated the changes. Research from the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, published in Nature, finds that human activity has made the weather wetter in a large slice of the Northern Hemisphere, while making the regions just south of the Equator wetter, and those just north of it drier. Agriculture and human health have already been affected. The proof that human activity has altered rainfall patterns was found in comparisons of observed changes with climate models. Specifically with observed rainfall during the twentieth century compared to rainfall predicted by 14 climate models. In the zone between 40 and 70 °N, which includes much of North America and most of Europe, rainfall increased by 62 millimeters per century between 1925 and 1999. The researchers estimate that between 50 and 85% of this increase can be attributed to human activity.

So how many British naysayers have been converted in these past wet weeks? JULIA WHITTY

Man & Whale

| Tue Jul. 24, 2007 5:22 PM EDT

Greenpeace short on Japanese whaling, changing attitudes, need to change. JULIA WHITTY

Advertise on MotherJones.com

1 in 4 NYC Adults Has Elevated Blood Mercury Levels

| Tue Jul. 24, 2007 4:40 PM EDT

A quarter of adult New Yorkers have elevated blood mercury levels. According to survey results released today by the New York City Health Department (read the full stats here), the elevations are closely tied to fish consumption. Asian and higher-income New Yorkers eat more fish, and have higher average mercury levels, than others both locally and nationally. The Health Department says these levels may increase the risk of cognitive delays for children whose mothers had high mercury levels during pregnancy. The Department also claims these elevated levels pose little if any health risk for most adults. . . Hmm. Right. So how come Canada's "safe" mercury level is half that of the U.S., while Britain's and China's are one-third? JULIA WHITTY

Japanese Killed Pregnant Whales

| Tue Jul. 24, 2007 2:32 AM EDT

More than half the whales killed by Japanese whalers in the Antarctic last summer were pregnant females. The Mercury, in Hobart, Tasmania, reports on the claims of the Humane Society International that of the 505 Antarctic minke whales killed, 262 were pregnant females, while one of the three giant fin whales killed was also pregnant. The findings came from a review of Japanese reports from their most recent 2006-07 whale hunt in Antarctic waters and were released ahead of the resumption of an Australian Federal Court case the HSI is taking against Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd. "These are gruesome statistics that the Japanese government dresses up as science," HSI spokeswoman Nicola Beynon said in a statement. "The full hearing will be to determine whether Japanese whalers are in breach of Australian law when they hunt whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary in Antarctica and whether the court will issue an injunction for the hunt to be stopped," Ms Beynon said. . . Fingers crossed. JULIA WHITTY

Researchers Develop Inexpensive Solar Panels

| Fri Jul. 20, 2007 7:37 PM EDT

Researchers have developed an inexpensive solar cell that can be painted or printed on flexible plastic sheets. Someday homeowners will be able to print sheets of these solar cells with inexpensive home-based inkjet printers, say the inventors from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Consumers can then slap the finished product on a wall, roof or billboard to create their own power stations. "Imagine some day driving in your hybrid car with a solar panel painted on the roof, which is producing electricity to drive the engine," says author Somenath Mitra of NJIT. . . Bring it on. There are millions of us waiting. JULIA WHITTY

The Evil Thomas Edison

| Fri Jul. 20, 2007 6:47 PM EDT

Still paying for his evilheart in so many ways. JULIA WHITTY