Blue Marble - December 2007

A Meat-and-Potatoes Kind of Candidate

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 11:20 AM PST

ad891.jpgFrom an AP list of fun facts about presidential hopefuls, Grist has culled candidates' culinary preferences, which, by and large, don't include veggies.

This, in and of itself, is not surprising. I mean, everyone knows that only girls like vegetables, and confessing your love for green beans is basically tantamount to admitting you're a little too in touch with your feminine side. You might as well get it over with and say your favorite sport is figure skating. But the extent to which the candidates shun the greens in favor of hunks o' red meat borders on the absurd. Witness the republicans' favorite foods to cook:

Giuliani: Hamburgers or steak on the grill.
Huckabee: Ribeye steak on the grill.
McCain: Baby-back ribs.
Romney: Hot dog.

But my very favorite response is buried in the middle of the piece, in the section where candidates name their least favorite foods. Huckabee, it turns out, hates carrots. I mean, he really hates carrots:

Huckabee: "Carrots. I just don't like carrots. I banned them from the governor's mansion when I was governor of Arkansas because I could."

Now that's a manly move if ever there was one. Compared to the carrot proclamation, Edwards' response looks awfully milquetoast:

Edwards: "I can't stand mushrooms. I don't want them on anything that I eat. And I have had to eat them because you get food served and it's sitting there and you're starving, so you eat."

So he's going to choke down the offending mushrooms without a fight? Then who, under Edwards' watch, may I ask, is going to save America from emasculating veggies? This could be trouble.

—Kiera Butler

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Google Earth: The Ultimate NIMBY Tool

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 3:27 PM PST

The EPA has harnessed Google Earth to give us the most detailed picture of point-source pollution ever: a Google Earth map showing every major power plant, oil field, petroleum refinery, chemical factory, cement manufacturer and paper mill in America. In short, it's a NIMBY dream. From the comfort of your home you can pull up the biggest smokestacks in the hood and imagine precise amounts of NOx, SOx, VOCs drifting down to your lawn. Fun, fun, fun!

Of course, the EPA probably hopes the fun will make you forget how it substantially weakened requirements that companies disclose toxic releases this year, and that it now offers significantly less public info in its popular Toxics Release Inventory reports. Earlier this month the GAO found that the EPA had been pressured to scale back the reports by the White House. The EPA had "expedited" the decision to satisfy the Office of Management and Budget, which wanted to reduce the paperwork burden on industry, the GAO found.

So take the maps with a grain of salt. Air, for the time being, still can't be Googled.

Wal-Mart Sells Noncompliant Gas Cans...Again

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 12:45 PM PST

walmart200.jpgWal-Mart's up to its old tricks. For the fourth time in the last few years, the company has been caught selling illegal gas cans in California. The cans, which leak hydrocarbons that create smog, have been outlawed for some time in the state. This time around, Wal-Mart paid about $250,000 for violating air quality laws.

Between 2003 and 2007, the company sold about 3,000 illegal cans. Funny, since it was during those same years that the biggest big box really pumped up the volume on its environmental PR efforts. So here's the question: How do we make sure that Wal-Mart walks its talk? Considering the fact that in 2005, the company reportedly made $20,000 a minute, it'll take a whole lot more than a $250,000 fine, that's for sure.

—Kiera Butler

Housewives Are Better Recyclers Than College Kids

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 10:59 AM PST

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When one thinks about the demographics most likely to be great at recycling, college students spring immediately to mind. I mean, come on, they were made to separate out papers from plastics, what with their boundless reserves of idealism. And if they're not putting all that wide-eyed earnestness to good ecological use, what are they doing, anyway?

Lying around. According to a recent study, college students are actually less likely to recycle than housewives. The reason? Basically, sloth:

...the researcher points out that university students "have less control over glass recycling behaviour, given they perceive it as a series of barriers and limitations hard to overcome." The container being far from home and they having to make their way to it while carrying heavy bags full of glass, for example, is viewed as a difficulty for students, and not for housewives.

Okay, so the study was pretty small—only 525 students and 154 housewives participated. And the task on which participants were evaluated—separating glass from other trash—does not an ecologist make, to say the least. And maybe the fact that college students are lazy is not exactly a groundbreaking finding. But the main point that they researchers took away from this strange little study remains, nonetheless, an interesting one: Ecological awareness does not necessarily lead to action. In other words, just because someone considers herself an environmentalist, doesn't mean she's going to get off her butt and do something about it.

The next step: figuring out how to make environmental activism more compelling than, oh I don't know, stealing music off the Internet while pounding Bud Light. Or whatever.

—Kiera Butler

Elephants Get Safe Passage

| Sat Dec. 22, 2007 1:20 PM PST

asia_india_elephant_400h.jpg More than a thousand wild elephants have officially been given safe passage. A wildlife corridor linking two reserves in Karnataka, Southern India, has been handed over by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to forest officials. WTI reports this is the first time land has been bought by a nonprofit and signed over to the government to protect the habitat of the endangered Asian elephant. "This is a great step forward for elephant conservation in India," says Vivek Menon, Executive Director of WTI and elephant biologist, "and a model I hope other wildlife groups will follow. One of the greatest threats facing Asian elephants today is the shrinking and fragmentation of their habitat. Protecting corridors that link these "inland islands" is vital to ensuring the species' survival." … Happy holidays.

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

Listen Up, Pandas, You Need to Fight

| Sat Dec. 22, 2007 12:59 PM PST

panda01.jpg Scientists in China may use a police dog to teach pandas to fight. This after the first artificially-bred panda released into the wild was apparently killed after a battle with other animals, reports Reuters. The Wolong Giant Panda Breeding Centre plans to have four pandas live with a specially trained police dog or other animals. The pandas would learn how to protect themselves by observing the dog. Five-year-old Xiang Xiang, the world's first artificially bred panda released into the wild, was found dead in the snow early this year after less than 12 months of freedom… Hmm, can we train them to attack bad people too?

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

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Hide the Condoms, Syphilis is Back!

| Fri Dec. 21, 2007 5:51 PM PST

Syphilis is making a comeback. The Associated Press reports that the all-but-forgotten STD is breaking out in major cities in Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent, the United States, which reported about 10,000 cases last year. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that reported cases of the disease increased by nearly 12 percent in 2006, mostly afflicting the South and urban areas. Considering that half of new STD cases affect 15- to 24-year-olds, you'd think that we'd be passing out condoms left and right in order to stop the resurgence of syphilis, right? Guess again.

Top 10 Science Stories of 2007

| Thu Dec. 20, 2007 7:55 PM PST

Big year all around. Many stories that will influence the future of all life on Earth, intimating just how intimately science nowadays is tied to environmental ills, inspirations, solutions. This is not your father's science. Live Science posts an insightful top 10 of 2007, which I've taken the liberty of riffing on:

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#10 Peak Oil: A new study this year predicts that global oil production could peak as soon as 2008, and likely before 2018.

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#9 Antarctica: A host of surprises this year. Satellite lasers detect a series of...

Bush Administration to California: Eff You

| Thu Dec. 20, 2007 10:44 AM PST

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You know how the Right loves states' rights? Turns out that only applies when "states rights" means "persecuting minorities." It turns out that "Trying to avert near-certain global climactic doom," is not, apparently, a "state right."

Earlier today, the EPA denied California's request for a waiver that would allow the state to regulate automobile emissions. (This comes after a court fight that forced the EPA to rule on the request). The decision, according to the lede of a must-read Washington Post story, "overruled the unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staffs." Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of course promised to take the decision to court. David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club's chief climate counsel, told the Los Angeles Times, "These guys are 0 and 4 in court," he said. "And they're about to go 0-5." That's the part of this story that really says "Eff You": The EPA knows it's going to lose in court. From the Post story:

William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents officials in 48 states. . .[said the EPA] "has issued a verdict that is legally and technically unjustified and indefensible."
EPA's lawyers and policy staff had reached the same conclusion, said several agency officials familiar with the process. In a PowerPoint presentation prepared for the administrator, aides wrote that if Johnson denied the waiver and California sued, "EPA likely to lose suit."
If he allowed California to proceed and automakers sued, the staff wrote, "EPA is almost certain to win."

So in this one, the good guys will probably win again. But victory will mean delaying important greenhouse gas regulations for a stupid, petty, pointless court fight the Bush administration already knows it will lose. Chalk up another point for auto industry lobbyists and bad government.

Bamboo Makes Better Bridges

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 4:58 PM PST

dn13107-1_400.jpg Bridges of bamboo could provide a cheaper, more environmentally sustainable engineering solution than steel. New Scientist reports that a prototype bridge has been built in China using horizontal beams made from a bamboo composite. The 33-foot span proved strong enough to support even heavy trucks. It was also cheaper to build and more environmentally friendly to make than steel or concrete, says developer Yan Xiao of the University of Southern California and Hunan University.

Pound-for-pound, bamboo is stronger than steel when stretched and more robust than concrete when compressed. Stalks mature in a few years, rather than decades for trees, so more can be harvested from the same amount of land. Plus bamboo is a grass that is harvested like mowing a lawn, leaving the roots intact to regrow. Whereas cement production releases 5-10% of total global carbon dioxide emissions, bamboo soaks it up as it grows. All this suggests a more sustainable engineering solution in China, says New Scientist... Sure, for China, but why not everywhere?

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