Blue Marble - October 2007

Republican Candidates Lukewarm On Global Warming

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 6:14 PM EDT

499870475_97db2f3e5b_m.jpg Interesting piece in today's New York Times on global warming as the new litmus test for Republican presidential wannabes:

While many conservative commentators and editorialists have mocked concerns about climate change, a different reality is emerging among Republican presidential contenders. It is a near-unanimous recognition among the leaders of the threat posed by global warming. Within that camp, however, sharp divisions are developing. Senator John McCain of Arizona is calling for capping gas emissions linked to warming and higher fuel economy standards. Others, including Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney, are refraining from advocating such limits and are instead emphasizing a push toward clean coal and other alternative energy sources. All agree that nuclear power should be greatly expanded.

Reason enough to deny them the job, IMO.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Acid Oceans Increasing Rapidly

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 5:55 PM EDT

438038944_33e08b7ddf_m.jpg We've known for a while that ocean acidification is a bad bad thing. Now new research into corals using boron isotopes indicates the world-ocean has become about one third of a pH unit more acid over the past fifty years, reports the Australian Research Council. The acidity is caused by a CO2 buildup in the atmosphere, which then dissolves into the oceans—a development likely to be lethal for animals with chalky skeletons, who just happen to comprise more than a third of the planet's marine life.

Apparently this acidification is now taking place over decades, rather than centuries, as originally predicted, and is happening even faster in the cooler waters of the Southern Ocean than in the tropics. Corals and plankton with chalky skeletons rely on sea water saturated with calcium carbonate to form their skeletons. As acidity intensifies, it becomes harder to form their skeletons. According to Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland: "Analysis of coral cores shows a steady drop in calcification over the last 20 years. . . When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans." Atmospheric CO2 is presently 385 ppm, up from 305 in 1960. "It isn't just the coral reefs which are affected—a large part of the plankton in the Southern Ocean, the coccolithophorids, are also affected. These drive ocean productivity and are the base of the food web which supports krill, whales, tuna and our fisheries. They also play a vital role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could break down."

More alarmingly, recent experiments along Australia's Great Barrier Reef show that red calcareous algae—the glue that binds reefs together in turbulent waters—actually begin to dissolve at higher CO2 levels. "The risk is that this may begin to erode the Great Barrier Reef at a grand scale," says Hoegh-Guldberg.

So exactly where are our leaders, those slackers? What the hell is more important to attend to than this?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Breed Deadly Disease

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 3:58 PM EDT

5480425_83bfb97928_m.jpg Hundreds of troops wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan have been infected with a deadly bacterium in their bloodstream, cerebrospinal fluid, bones, and lungs. Civilians have also been infected after stays in military hospitals, reports the Los Angeles Times. Since 2003 at least 27 people in military hospitals have died after infection by Acinetobacter baumannii, an increasingly drug-resistant bacterium. The military claims it hasn't tabulated how many have been infected overall. The outbreak has spread to at least six American military hospitals, including the hospital ship Comfort, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and the Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The rise in infections has been dramatic, comprising 2 percent of admissions at the specialized burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas in 2001 and 2002, 6 percent in 2003, and 12 percent in 2005. Other military hospitals have reported similar levels.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Bumblebees Also Disappearing, Putting Crops in Peril

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 3:30 PM EDT

bumblebee.JPGWith all the to-do about the disappearing honeybees, not much has been written about the humble bumblebee. Bumblebees, though less glamorous because they don't produce much honey, are still a crucial part of nature's chain and therefore, agriculture—they pollinate 15 percent of all domestic crops, especially greenhouse-grown plants such as tomatoes and strawberries. And like honeybees, they're becoming scarce.

A recent study blames the bumblebee's demise on the combined effects of habitat loss, pesticides, pollution, and disease. A U.C. Davis professor says the Franklin's bumblebee may have gone extinct before anyone even put it on the endangered species list, and two more bumblebee species have become rare. The combined disappearance of both the honeybee and the bumblebee spells trouble for agriculture; bumblebees pollinate different crops and at different times than honeybees.

Most recently, scientists have found that a single virus is "strongly correlated" with colony collapse disorder, and is killing both bumblebees and honeybees.

EPA Slacking On Mississippi Pollutants

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 3:15 PM EDT

MRivDrainageBasinTN.gif The Environmental Protection Agency is asleep at the helm, says the National Research Council—at the expense of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The agency needs to take the leadership role it commands and implement the Clean Water Act immediately for water quality to return to "fishable and swimmable" status. In particular, the river needs to be evaluated as a single system. The 10 states along the corridor monitor their own water quality, but state efforts vary widely. EPA needs to coordinate them.

Many of the Mississippi's current problems stem from nonpoint pollution sources—nutrients and sediments entering the river through runoff. Nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers create water-quality problems in the river and an oxygen-deficient dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sediments are too plentiful in the upper Mississippi, and too scarce in the lower river, robbing the coastal wetlands of southern Louisiana.

Written between the lines: EPA needs to actually do what its name mandates, protect the environment, not the destroyers of the environment.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Tobacco Industry Cover Up

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 1:22 PM EDT

Scientists know that secondhand smoke increases risk of heart disease by 30 percent, but cigarette makers are doing their darnedest to make sure we're kept in the dark.

A report in the current issue of Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, says that the tobacco industry has repeatedly tried to suppress evidence of the detrimental effects of cigarette smoke.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Fossil Fuel Hangover

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 3:00 PM EDT

394755691_1ac74b85af_m.jpg The ocean will likely nurse a hangover from our fossil fuel use for hundreds of thousands of years. Researchers at Southampton University modeled the movement of carbon through the ocean and the atmosphere. In the model, they dosed the planet with 4000 gigatons of carbon to simulate the burning of all fossil fuel reserves between 1900 to 2300, reports Environmental Science and Technology. At first, the ocean became more acidic. But over many millennia, it became more alkaline and had higher levels of dissolved inorganic carbon, finally achieving a steady state with atmospheric CO2 levels exceeding those prior to fossil fuel burning. As a result, the researchers suggest, Earth probably won't ever completely recover, as it did in the past when CO2 levels were high. "The system converges to a new equilibrium," the authors write.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Spray Cleaners Cause Asthma

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 2:29 PM EDT

385097057_0f25ddef34_m.jpg Yet another reason to procrastinate about house cleaning. A new study from Spain shows that using household cleaning sprays and air fresheners as little as once a week can raise the risk of developing asthma in adults, reports the American Thoracic Society. The risk increased with frequency of cleaning and number of different sprays used, but on average was about 30 to 50 percent higher in people regularly exposed to cleaning sprays than in others. Air fresheners, furniture cleaners, and glass-cleaners, had a particularly nasty effect. Sprays have been associated with increased asthma in cleaning professionals, but not amateurs. Until now. Good enough reason to retire my spray gun. Or get a respirator.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Where Are The Giant Headlines? Zero Emissions Needed Now

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 9:59 PM EDT

Here's the news I never wanted to hear. The seriously tragic news. Apparently, while we dithered over god's word and Rush Limbaugh's opinions, we missed the easy targets. You know, the piddling percentages of greenhouse gas emissions we could have reduced a mere 5, 10 or 15 years ago to maintain a benevolent planet. The latest study indicates we've waited too long and now only zero emissions will avert the Big Doomsday, the 2-degree rise that the science community (you know, the real one) agrees is needed to prevent the tipping points from tipping. The same 2-degree rise our unesteemed Leader in Washington doesn't get. Why? Because he can't convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, apparently. This from New Scientist:

Andrew Weaver and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Canada . . . used a computer model to determine how much emissions must be limited in order to avoid exceeding a 2°C increase. The model is an established tool for analysing future climate change and was used in studies cited in the IPCC's reports on climate change. They modelled the reduction of industrial emissions below 2006 levels by between 20% and 100% by 2050. Only when emissions were entirely eliminated did the temperature increase remain below 2°C.

The researchers conclude that governments should consider reducing emissions to 90% below current levels and remove what is left in the atmosphere by capturing and storing carbon. There is a stark contrast between this proposal and the measures currently being considered. Under the UN's Kyoto protocol, most developed nations have agreed to limit their emissions to a minimum of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. What happens beyond this date is the subject of ongoing debate and negotiation. The European Union nations have agreed to limit their emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and support dropping global emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.

"There is a disconnect between the European Union arguing for a 2°C threshold and calling for 50% cuts at 2050 - you can't have it both ways," says Weaver, who adds: "If you're going to talk about 2°C you have got to be talking 90% emissions cuts."

As for the naysayers and their inevitable frakkin whining. What can I say. It looks like we are going to meet in hell.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Judge Slaps Feds on Border Fence

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 8:43 PM EDT

20060512233709990001.jpg The AP reports that a federal judge has temporarily delayed construction of a 1.5-mile section of a border fence in a wildlife conservation area along the Arizona-Mexico line. Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club requested a 10-day delay alleging the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies failed to conduct a thorough environmental study of the fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle granted the delay because the government did not explain why it hurried through an assessment and began building.

Huvelle repeatedly asked the government's attorney, Gregory Page, to explain why the agencies took only three weeks to do the environmental assessment. She said that amount of time was unprecedented and that the government was trying to "ram" the environmental study through and start construction "before anyone would wake up.

Ouch. Good judge. . . MoJo covered the really bad environmental aspects of this fence in GONE. Bottom line, regardless of what you think of the immigration issue: the fence won't keep people out and it will destroy the most endangered wildlife linkage in North America. Check out The Wildlands Project to learn more.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.