Blue Marble - March 2009

The EPA's Most Wanted

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 3:45 PM EDT
The EPA's criminal investigation division has a website where you can print out wanted posters for environmental criminals who are on the lam. Who knew? Most of these guys look so perfect for Central Casting that you've got to wonder if they were chosen more for their oily hair and trucker glasses than their rap sheets. The website's America's-Most-Wanted feel is reinforced by a big red warning that reads: "Do not attempt to apprehend any of these individuals." What, not even this guy?

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Five-Foot Sea Level Rise to Hit San Francisco by 2100

| Thu Mar. 12, 2009 3:32 PM EDT
The Chronicle ain't the only thing sinking in San Francisco. According to a new report commissioned by the state, the city will likely be 5' lower in the Bay by the end of the century.

The global warming-driven rise in sea levels will cause $100 billion in property damage, the report says, and put 480,000 people at risk of a "100-year flood event" if no actions are taken. $100 billion sounds substantial (actually, given the bank bailouts, maybe not so much) but the impact of an additional 5' of water really hits home when you see how much of land could slip beneath the waves.

The Pacific Institute, who conducted the study for the state, has a nifty online map showing exactly which areas would be at risk. With just a 5' rise, SFO airport, Alameda, parts of Silicon Valley, and the foot of the San Mateo bridge are all at increased risk for being nearly totally flooded. Ocean Beach, site of political protests, would be just ocean. In fact, if the waters keep rising as expected, and if "100-year flood events" keep increasing in frequency, the Pacific could invade Golden Gate Park 500 meters at one point, swamping its historic, water-pumping windmills and encroaching on endangered Western Snowy Plover habitat.

Of course, as in Katrina, the people suffering the most from the rising tides will be the poor. In San Francisco, the most dramatic water rise happens in the low-income, but developing, Hunter's Point neighborhood. Maybe the city can build that new Bay Bridge a little higher.

The Green View From Hong Kong

| Tue Mar. 10, 2009 10:57 PM EDT
Well, it's spectacular, 15 floors up overlooking the waterfront, complete with a skyline of mylar and mirror highrises, fleets of water taxis, ferries, more buses than I thought existed on Earth, and mountains to put Maui to shame. I haven't been to Hong Kong since the handover and it's different. There's a green theme sprouting from tarmac, billboards, newspapers. Hard to tell how much of it will stick and what's glitter—but the same could be said for the US.

One thing of interest: the Green Long March, built on the iconic Red Long March of Chinese history. It's an army of college students fanning out across the countryside each summer spreading green messages to villages, schools, orphanages, factories, farms. Two thousand students participated in 2007, the debut year, spreading awareness about water and all its issues. Five thousands students marched by foot and via trains and so on throughout 2008, carrying messages about green enterprise.

Caroline Hsiao Van, a trustee of the nonprofit Future Generations and founding member of the Green Long March movement (FutureGenerations/CHINA), tells me she's not sure how many students will march this year—but the Green Long March has become a year-round platform for students from over 50 universities to have a voice and affect change in their communities. Since it's possible that as many as 2 million of last year's 6-7 million graduating college students in China are unemployed.. and this year... well, there could be a lot of diploma-bearers, undergrads, members of the China Youth League and university environmental clubs looking for something to march toward this summer and the theme on the calendar is green energy.

Most amazing: the Green Long March has gained the support of the government of China despite its notorious skittishness about movements and students. FutureGenerations/CHINA is also partnered with dozens of Chinese universities. Corporate sponsors and foundations support students on their summer odyssey.

The idea is that the marchers bring a message, listen to the responses, and forge evidence-based decisions. The plan is to build from known successes, spread the solutions, and let the good ideas proliferate at the grassroots level. It's an approach grown from the founding father of FutureGenerations, an American, Daniel Taylor, who's been working to green and improve the lives of people in Tibet, Afghanistan, India, and Peru for decades.

So what about a Green Long March in the US? The machinery exists, left over from the Obama campaign. Why let it become landfill? Why not recycle the energy of so many eager to forge solutions? Who among us wouldn't march out to the greenless realms and talk and listen and make change?

Generals Open Up About Their Own PTSD

| Tue Mar. 10, 2009 1:28 PM EDT

It's about damn time. CNN spoke with two one-stars who are doing their part to destigmatize this oh-so-natural consequence of, you know, war and stuff:

Brig. General Gary S. Patton and Gen. Carter Ham have both sought counseling for the emotional trauma of their time in the Iraq war. "One of our soldiers in that unit, Spec. Robert Unruh, took a gunshot wound to the torso, I was involved in medevacing him off the battlefield. And in a short period of time, he died before my eyes," Patton told CNN in an exclusive interview. "That's a memory [that] will stay with me the rest of my life." Ham was the commander in Mosul when a suicide bomber blew up a mess tent. Twenty-two people died.

As bad as all the death and destruction is, imagine being the general whose day-to-day decisions put the rank and file in harm's way.

The interview's a start, but until these generals do a whole lot more to send the message down the chain of command that mental health is as important as physical health, we're going to keep seeing our soldiers come back unsalvageable.

The Future of Abortion Providers

| Tue Mar. 10, 2009 11:33 AM EDT

Today's feminists need to blog less and work more. If women want reproductive choice to remain more than rhetoric, they'd better stop assuming these clinics will be there when they need them. Because like priests and nuns, abortion doctors are not reproducing. From NYT:

"We worry about that a lot," said Sally Burgess, executive director of the Hope clinic, who is also chairwoman of the National Abortion Federation, the main professional support group for abortion providers. "Younger women have always had access to abortion care, they don’t fully appreciate the battle that was fought to have it available to them. And more important, I don’t think they know how precarious the option is at this point, even with Obama's election."..."What I observe for women in their 20s and 30s — there are fewer who really have the fire in the belly for this,” she said. At 50, Ms. Burgess is the youngest member of the Hope clinic’s leadership team, which includes Ms. Baker; Debbie Wiehardt, 57, the office supervisor; and the two doctors performing abortions (the only men on the 30-person staff), who are both in their 60s. A recent survey of 273 abortion clinics published in the journal Contraception found that 64 percent of their doctors were at least 50 years old, and 62 percent were men."

It's dangerous and gloomy. The pay sucks. Lots of people think you're a murderer. And, yeah, you might get shot. But you young chicks maybe need to go the Northern Exposure route, sending folks to med school in exchange for a few years running an abortion clinic. That feminist fire in the belly? I gotta say: Pole-dancing, walking around half-naked, posting drunk photos on Facebook, and blogging about your sex lives ain't exactly what we previous generations thought feminism was. We thought it was about taking it to the streets.

Harsh, you say? Uninformed? OK. Tell me exactly what today's feminists are doing for the struggle. Besides posting disses against old chicks like me. You got that covered.

Van Jones To Be Green Jobs Czar?

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 6:18 PM EDT

Word has it that environmental advocate Van Jones is going to be offered a position in Obama's cabinet. Not sure yet exactly what it'll be; some say green jobs czar, but Grist's source says that's "an overstatement."

Title aside, Jones has the necessary chops: He founded the green jobs nonprofit Green for All, and what with all his recent speaking gigs, book tours, and buzz, he's got the connections. When we interviewed Jones last year, he talked about government's role in creating a green economy:

MJ: How do we get to the tipping point where the rules change. Does it have to come from the very highest levels?

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Climate Change Skeptics Meet [Insert Hot-Air Joke Here]

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 2:30 PM EDT
The skeptics are coming to town! As the NY Times reports today, 600 climate-change deniers are currently holed up in a hotel in New York City for the International Conference on Climate Change. The conference's organizers? None other than the conservative Chicago-based think tank The Heartland Institute, of Exxon-Mobil funding fame (as Mother Jones reported in 2005.)

Heartland Institute president Joseph L. Bast has posted his opening remarks on the institute's website. The basic message? We ARE NOT a fringe movement:
These scientists and economists have been published thousands of times in the world’s leading scientific journals and have written hundreds of books. If you call this the fringe, where’s the center?
Hey Jim Martin, does this look like a phone booth to you?
Hey RealClimate, can you hear us now?
The skeptic doth protest too much, methinks.

The Chimps are Weaponizing

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 1:31 PM EDT

Seriously, folks, get your shotguns. Chimpanzees, which are like humans but way more willing to rip out your throat, reportedly have the ability to create and stockpile weapons. It's only a matter of time until Dr. Zaius rules us all.

Chimps have long been known to stockpile food, but a 30-year-old chimp named Santino is making news because he does far more: he finds stones in his Swedish zoo home, smashes them into throwable size, and then stores them in caches that face the viewing area on the edge of his enclosure. When tourists show up, he lets fly, throwing up to 20 rocks in rapid succession and sometimes hitting visitors standing 30 feet away across a water-filled moat. When no rocks are available for his villainy, Santino hacks chunks of concrete off the artificial boulders in his pen and assaults humans using those.

We have a super-ape on our hands, people. And frankly, I don't think this is going to help:

In order to decrease his agitation, which was fueled in part by high testosterone levels characteristic of dominant males, the animal was castrated last fall.

No video of Santino's (premeditated) war on mankind appears to be available, despite the fact that it would be the most successful YouTube video of all time.

Military Health, Face Transplant Edition

| Mon Mar. 9, 2009 1:09 PM EDT
Army Times, always a fascinating read, has a beguiling little item today on face transplants, a medical procedure well on its way to becoming military sci-fact. This quote's from Col. Robert Vandre, project director at the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine:
"You wouldn’t want like a black person to have a white person's hands, that would look weird. You wouldn’t want really hairy hands on a non-hairy person or vice versa. I guess you could wear long sleeves. The face, if you just get the skin and muscles you won’t look like the person who donated, but if you get the bones and the muscles and the skin, essentially you’re going to look like the donor," Vandre said.

Kudos for candor, but how many face and hand donors are they expecting to choose from, exactly?

Read the article, then read this one, then go here for a creepy robot video chaser.

Nalini Nadkarni Speaks for the Trees

| Fri Mar. 6, 2009 7:29 PM EST
It's not like people aren't way into trees; some embrace them, others even live in them. But arguably, neither the huggers nor the Dumpster Muffins of the world do as much for the trees as Evergreen State College ecologist Nalini Nadkarni, who has made a career of defending them. On today's TEDTalk, Nadkarni tells you stuff you probably didn't know about the tree canopy (there's a whole ecosystem up there) and explains why it deserves our attention. The president of the International Canopy Network, a nonprofit she founded in 1994, she's enlisted dancers, rappers, prisoners, and churchgoers to help her spread the tree gospel. Here's a sampling of her projects (H/T TED):

  • ICAN
    Nalini is president of the International Canopy Network, a non-profit built in 1994 to support interaction between all people with a vested interest in the state of the canopy. Clearly, scientists aren't alone in the desire to preserve our environment and this project connects them with educators, activists and more.
  • Biome
    After spending time exploring the treetops at Nalini's invitation in Costa Rica, choreographers for the innovative modern dance group Capacitor created a live show and video performance about their experience. Nalini was credited as Scientific Advisor.
  • Treetop Barbie
    Showing little girls that they can be scientists and canopy researchers too, Nalini and her graduate students collect secondhand Barbie dolls and outfit them for a day in the field before distributing them to eager young minds.