Blue Marble - December 2007

U.K.'s Gordon Brown Plans to Pressure China, India

| Wed Dec. 19, 2007 5:56 PM EST

china-pollution140x147.jpgThe U.N. climate change conference in Bali may be over, but China and India aren't off the hook yet. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he will press China and India for further support fighting climate change during visits the two countries next month.

China, for one, needs the pressure because, while the country faces grave ecological consequences for its rapid industrialization, the country's environmental enforcement agency, SEPA, has historically been pretty hands off.

Hopefully that's changing somewhat. This year, SEPA rejected at least $91 billion in new factories and enterprises that failed to meet environmental standards—about 30% of all projects submitted to the agency. SEPA is also resorting to publicly shaming polluting corporations, which will hopefully prove effective as fines for polluting are so low that companies often opt to pay them instead of upgrading equipment.

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W-T-Effing-F? Worst Present Ever: Siamese Fighting Fish Trapped in Your iPod Speaker

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 9:53 PM EST

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Condemned to the throb of your musical bad tastes. No room to even turn around. Can this be real? Apparently it's so real and so desired that some Australian pet stores can 't keep it in stock, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. The iPond—yes, that's right, the iPond, surely an epitome of parasitic marketing—is one-fifteenth the recommended tank size for its miserable inhabitant. The tank's water capacity is about 22 ounces. A Melbourne Aquarium spokesman said Siamese fighting fish require a minimum tank size of 2.5 gallons.

All I want for Xmas is a better world for fish.

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

Farmed Salmon on the Menu? Just Say No

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 9:26 PM EST

14salmon.650.jpg A forthcoming study in Science shows that parasitic sea lice infestations caused by salmon farms are driving nearby populations of wild salmon toward extinction. Wild pink salmon have been rapidly declining for four years, reports SeaWeb. Author Martin Krkosek, a fisheries ecologist from the University of Alberta, expects a 99% collapse in another four years, or two salmon generations, if the infestations continue. The data are from the Broughton Archipelago, a group of islands 260 miles northwest of Vancouver, environmentally, culturally, and economically dependent on wild salmon.

This study and earlier studies by the same authors shows that sea lice from fish farms infect and kill juvenile wild salmon, raising serious concerns about net pen aquaculture in general. "It shows there is a real danger to wild populations from the impact of farms," says Ray Hilborn, a fisheries biologist from the University of Washington, not involved in the study. "This paper is really about a lot more than salmon. This is the first study where we can evaluate these interactions and it certainly raises serious concerns about proposed aquaculture for other species such as cod, halibut and sablefish."

If you must, eat wild Alaskan salmon.

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

Drug-Resistant E. Coli Rampant Among Poultry Workers

| Mon Dec. 17, 2007 5:02 PM EST

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If you needed yet another reason to be grossed out by the American meat industry, consider this tantalizing tidbit: U.S. Poultry workers are much more likely than the average American—32 times more likely, in fact—to carry antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria, according to a Johns Hopkins study.

With the recent news that drug-resistant staph infections are on the rise, most people I know have become vigilant about germs in public places. Flip-flop use in gym locker rooms, I'd bet, is on the rise. But actually, we should be feeling squeamish about big ag: "One of the major implications of this study is to underscore the importance of the non-hospital environment in the origin of drug resistant infections," says Eileen K. Silbergeld, one of the study's lead authors, in the study press release. Growth-stimulating antibiotics are just another part of the daily grind (ugh, sorry) at mega-farms. In fact, it's thought that the majority of antimicrobials produced in the U.S. are used in the meat industry. And unfortunately, unlike at the gym, flip-flops probably don't offer much in the way of protection at the slaughterhouse.

De-Stuffing the Holidays

| Fri Dec. 14, 2007 5:32 PM EST

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Winter solstice

In keeping with the revelations of The Story of Stuff, maybe you've decided to transition to a non-gift holiday? ChangingThePresent floats a few ideas for weaning the greedy:

For the wine connoisseur: ($10) Clear landmines in Afghanistan with Roots of Peace and replace them with grapevines. • For the karaoke junky ($5) Help 50,000 people improve their reading skills by providing Same Language Subtitling (SLS) on Bollywood film songs on TV through PlanetRead. Your gift provides 30 minutes of weekly reading practice to 50,000 people, for one year. • For the friend who never comes to your show: ($5) A bag of concrete. This gift through KaBOOM! will provide an 80 lb bag of concrete which will be used to anchor a swingset, slide, or climbing structure for kids to play on. • And more

Grist also suggests interesting de-stuff alternatives—though their carbon offsets are questionable, as are carbon offsets in general:

Write I.O.U.s: Dust off your babysitting, pet-care, housecleaning, gardening, snow-shoveling, or haircutting skills—whatever you've got—and make someone's day just a little bit easier. • Stop junk mail: Subscribe your gift recipient to a stop-the-junk-mail service like...

Double Trouble: China and the U.S. Gang Up on the Environment

| Fri Dec. 14, 2007 3:17 PM EST

bali-conference.jpgChina and the U.S. have been quite the bosom buddies lately, both on economic and environmental issues. But is it any wonder? As we discussed in our current feature article, "The Last Empire," China's booming economy is based on a high-consumption, capitalist, American model.

Just yesterday, the two countries concluded the annual conference between high-ranking Chinese and American economic and environmental officials, the Sino-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue, in which they discussed economic policies for upcoming years. According to government-run Chinese newspaper Xinhua, during the talks the two countries set up Chinese manufacturing and inspection regulations to prevent mishaps like the tainted pet food and toy recalls. Xinhua also reports that "China and the United States agreed to conduct extensive cooperation over a 10-year period to focus on technological innovation, adoption of clean technology and sustainable natural resources."

The promise to adopt clean technology seems like nothing more than a false gesture, considering both China and the U.S. refused mandatory emissions cuts of 20 to 40 percent by 2020 at the U.N. climate change conference in Bali this week. (Japan, Russia, and several other countries also rejected mandatory emissions limits.) Instead, the U.S. suggested emissions cuts could be "voluntary." While such a response is typical for the Bush administration, it could potentially derail the Bali agreement entirely and basically tell any nation, including fast-developing ones like China and India, to keep on polluting.

European Union representatives have said they won't attend next month's American-led climate conference in Hawaii if the U.S. does not sign up for mandatory cuts because it would essentially be "meaningless."

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Reality Check From Bali

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 8:44 PM EST

This Washington Post article conveys in short and sweet style how serious the U.S.'s refusal in Bali to accept emissions caps is.

Europe: frustrated, vowing to boycott Bush's distracter tactic, the "major economies" meetings he's hosting on global warming. Brazil—home to the world's largest intact forest—threatening not to comply with rules that only apply to developing countries.

Most disturbing of all, Americans support carbon emissions caps because they're the only way of fending off catastrophic climate change.

As Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's minister for climate and energy, put it, the targets don't come from "figures taken at random," she said. Rather, the 25 percent by 2020 "reports very specifically back to what the IPCC tells us."

Compare the sanity of that remark—we're doing what the best scientists tell us we have to—to the childish churlishness of this one, made by James L. Connaughton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, explaining why the U.S. refuses to do the right thing and accept the caps: "We will lead. The U.S. will lead. But leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow."

Despite Americans' political will, our government is standing in the way of the best documented solution for the greatest problem the world has ever faced.

Gold Mines Polluting Our Parks: What Woud Ron Paul Do?

| Thu Dec. 13, 2007 2:40 PM EST

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Gold mining has retained none of its glamour from prospector days of yore, and it is still one of the dirtiest businesses around: Mile-deep open pit mines continue to emit a staggering amount of pollutants—20 tons of waste and 13 pounds of toxic emissions for a single ring's worth of gold. And who, may I ask, is being held accountable for all this damage? Well, basically, you. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that national parks, such as Grand Canyon and Yosemite, are being left to clean up after nearby mines, costing taxpayers billions of dollars a year.

Mother Jones has been keeping tabs on the gold mining industry's waste for a while now. But this time, in light of the issues raised in the L.A. Times article, let's take a look at the problem from the perspective of presidential hopeful Ron Paul, who, it seems, has no particular use for the EPA or for any other big-government efforts to protect the environment:

Governments don't have a good reputation for doing a good job protecting the environment....You should be held responsible in a court of law and you should be able to be closed down if you're damaging your neighbor's property in any way whatsoever.

Can the World Sustain the Growth of China's Capitalism?

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 8:20 PM EST

china1.2.jpgOver the past year, China's environmental devastation has quickly morphed from a future concern into an immediate crisis. The country's skyrocketing economic development, fueled by multinational corporations, has wreaked environmental havoc on the country (and the rest of us). It's now much easier for Americans to buy cheap cashmere sweaters and Ikea dining sets from China—"cheap" for consumers, at a big cost for Mother Earth.

For more on China's environmental demise and the effect it is having on the globe, see Mother Jones' January 2008 feature. And don't miss this revealing photo essay as well as various sidebars exploring Chinese citizen protests, deforestation, and other issues.

The country's environmental problems, in part, stem from governmental rule and lack of accurate information. Fortunately, international NGOs have been instrumental in gathering and disseminating trustworthy data for Chinese non-profits, and public awareness is growing on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, but it needs to grow faster. Chinese's per capita income is only 1/10 of Americans', which means if they ever reach our level of wealth and consumption, several Earths will be needed to provide resources.

Stay tuned for ongoing coverage on this subject at The Blue Marble. Here's a teaser. You won't believe which country Chinese president Hu Jintao said should be responsible for cutting the world's CO2 emissions. Take a guess in the comments.

Tibetan Ice Cores Missing A-Bomb Markers

| Wed Dec. 12, 2007 7:04 PM EST

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Ice cores drilled last year from the summit of a Himalayan ice field lack the distinctive radioactive signals that mark virtually every other ice core retrieved worldwide. That radioactivity originated as fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests during the 1950s and 1960s. These markers routinely provide researchers with benchmarks to gauge new ice accumulation. Scientists with Ohio State University's Byrd Polar Research Center believe the missing signal means the Naimona'nyi ice field has been shrinking at least since the A-bomb test half a century ago—foreshadowing serious water shortages in the future for more than 500 million people on the Indian subcontinent.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues to hamstring the Climate Change Conference in Bali, resisting emissions cuts. Doesn't this qualify as some sort of peace crime?

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