Blue Marble - June 2009

Is the US a Failed State? Or Just a Climate Rogue?

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 2:19 PM PDT

It's not a question one tosses off idly. There's no comparison between the U.S. and places like Afghanistan and Iraq, which have lost, as Max Weber put it, "the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force." Yet when it comes to America's ability to protect itself from the vicissitudes of a changing climate, many people are wondering if some kind of third-world putdown might be accurate.

"Why do we allow the U.S. to act like a failed state on climate change?" asks George Monbiot in the Guardian, lamenting the failure of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, which passed in the House today, to achieve anywhere close to the emissions cuts that scientists and European countries say are needed to avert catastrophe. "A combination of corporate money and an unregulated corporate media keeps America in the dark ages."

Over at the Thin Green Line blog, Cameron Scott expands on the idea, construing Weber a bit more broadly. "A failed state is one in which the government can no longer control destructive social forces," he writes. "The forces in question here are the powers of lobbyists to write mistruths into law." One of those mistruths being that we need not feel a sense or urgency about climate change.

Personally, I prefer the definition of a failed state offered by the experts at the Crisis States Research Center, who say, "A failed state is one that can no longer reproduce the conditions for its own existence."  A climate that can sustain us is certainly one of those conditions. Even if the U.S. survives the loss of its coastal cities and the Sierra snowpack that feeds California, it probably won't endure the ensuing global resource wars, at least not in its current form.

You can quibble over whether the U.S. is a failed state or a failing state--it really depends on when you think the world has passed the global tipping point and how much we're to blame. Perhaps we're more accurately described as a rogue state. Like Iran, but more advanced. Instead of forcibly preventing the media from covering inconvenient truths, all our ruling elite needs is the death of a pop star. Voila! The debate on climate change disappears, replaced with obeisances to the God of Pop.

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Friday Frog Blog: Fribute to Michael Jackson

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 1:26 PM PDT

To pay tribute to Michael Jackson, this week's frog blog is a photo essay dedicated to frogs with unusual skin tones:
 

7657118_28d73d5699 22556558_dc172140af    401141532_0eeb9c7f7a 1077493861_ea529a66b2 1376843326_76f9f58356

All photos are from Flickr and used under a Creative Commons License. In order, the photos come from the following Flickr users: Paul Robinson,  headexplodie,  sara j s, K<3money, and calico 13.

GOP: "The Pain in Spain Falls Mainly on US"

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 12:00 PM PDT

As House GOP opponents of Waxman-Markey continue trash-talking the climate bill, listen carefully for the name Gabriel Calzada, aka "the Spanish professor," as George Will called el gran profesor in a flim-flam of a column yesterday.

 (Calzada should not be confused with The Spanish Prisoner, a venerable con-game that...on second thought, the two Spaniards are pretty much interchangeable.)

You'll have to listen carefully, though, because key Republicans (Marsha Blackburn, TN, for example) are likely to use code, dropping oblique references to "the report from Spain." (See p. 434 in that report.)

As an indignantly redundant Ed Whitefield (R-KY) described Calzada's work, the "empirical study" uses "empirical data" to prove that for every "so-called green job" created in Spain under a cap-and-trade regime identical to Waxman-Markey, 2.2 good jobs were lost.

And that's the good news.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) says that the Spanish Prisoner Professor's study found we could lose 20 "regular" jobs (see pp. 442-3) for every green one created by the climate bill.

Scary stuff. In fact, Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) says that after talking with Calzada, the climate bill now scares him more than the 9/11 terror attacks:

"[Calzada] said, America, are you crazy? We have got 17.5 percent unemployment in Spain, and you want to model your aspects [sic] after us? You have got to be kidding me...this debate is so crazy!"

The GOP fearmongers would have me scared, too, if I didn't know how this con game worked.

Let's start with el profesor Calzada himself, who according to a recent piece in the Washington Times, hails from "one of Spain's leading universities."

Is it:

  1. The University of Salamanca, established in 1218;
  2. The University of Navarra, regarded as the best private university in Spain; or,
  3. The University of Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid campus, now celebrating its 10th anniversary.

If you guessed number 3, you're right! (Although, URJC has yet to make it on any top 10, 100, or 250 lists of Spanish universities.)

OK, it may not be the most prestigious University in the world (or Spain or Madrid), but Calzada has a wonderful record that stretches back, um, a decade, when he earned his PhD. in economics from URJC, where he is now an Associate Professor of Economics.

Perhaps Calzada has been widely published? Strong but wrong. His school website lists only two obscure and fringy journals, "The Journal of Libertarian Studies" and something called "Economic Affairs y Procesos de Mercado," for which Calzada may also serve as "assistant manager (subdirector)."

As a final accolade, the site boasts that Calzada "has been economic advisor to several companies in the tourism industry."

What's left out is Calzada's links to several right-wing groups that claim global warming is a hoax. This is the man Republican leaders cite most frequently to support their bogus claim that Waxman-Markey will lead to the destruction of millions of jobs in the United States.

Want to hear more about Calzada's sketchy background -- and why Republicans give the appearance of believing his research? Check back later. For now, I want to catch the rest of the con game as it plays out on Capitol Hill.

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Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, June 26

| Fri Jun. 26, 2009 4:01 AM PDT

Happy Friday. Before the weekend gets rolling, here are the environment, health, and energy-related stories from our other blogs.

Like a Dog who Speaks Norwegian: Sanford is a rare, rare creature: an introverted politician.

Have it Your Way: Burger King equates a big sandwich with something else... big.

The C Word: Obama talks about cap and trade bill without using the phrase "climate change."

And Now He's Dead: King of Pop dies not of mysterious ailment, but likely of a very ordinary heart attack. News arc swings wildly in response. At least for a day or two.

The Climate Bill's Biofuel Boondoggle

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 5:41 PM PDT

In what may be this week's worst amendment to the Waxman-Markey climate bill, a midwestern Congressman has introduced a provision that would ban the EPA from accounting for the full carbon footprint of biofuels.

Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the powerful chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, is expected to attach the amendment before releasing the bill to the House floor, where a vote is expected as early as tomorrow. The change would prevent the EPA from accounting for the way that growing biofuel crops in the U.S. drives food production abroad, causing deforestation that contributes to climate change. Ignoring this "indirect land-use change"--the technical term for a phenemon that can account for up to 40 percent of corn-based ethanol's carbon emissions--would allow the fuel to qualify under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, making it eligible for government subsidies.

In effect, the ethanol industry is hiding behind the difficulty of calculating its own environmental footprint. Though the EPA  has already devised a method to account for the land-use impacts of biofuels, the amendment prohibits the agency from implementing it for six years, at which point the National Academy of Sciences will have completed a study that is supposed to resolve lingering uncertanties with the method. 

 

The Internet Can Boil Pasta and Heat My Home Too!

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 2:22 PM PDT

Last November, in our "Top 20 Econudrums," we asked whether it was more environmentally friendly to read the paper in print or online. It's a question with a surprising answer: As it turns out, it's often greener to read dead trees. This is true largely because of the giant environmental impact of servers. But thanks to some techies in Zurich, that could change soon.

Here's a little background: Server farms—also known as data centers—are the enormous housing facilities that make the internet possible. A single Google data center, in Oregon consumes as much energy as a city of 200,000. That's because servers not only have to be on 24/7, they need to be kept cool 24/7.  Up to 50 percent of the power they use is just to keep them from melting down.  Overall, the internet is responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions, about the same as the aviation industry.  And as the internet becomes increasingly prevalent in China and India, well, that means a whole lot more Xiaonei pages and Orkut accounts that will need hosting.

So it is good news, nay, great news, that the IBM lab in Zurich has developed a new cooling technology by attaching teeny-weeny water pipes to the surface of each computer chip in a server. Water is piped within microns of the chip to cool it down, then the waste water is piped out hot enough to make a cup of Ramen, heat a building, or keep a swimming pool warm. The new cooling system will reduce the carbon footprint of servers by 85 percent and the energy use by 40 percent. If this technology were in MoJo's office we could ditch the electric tea kettle and just go to the server closet to steep our chai. Check out a video of the technology after the break.

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Why Great Whites Are Scared of You

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 10:37 AM PDT

Sharks are lovely. They're 400-million-year-old, perfectly designed superpredators, and they're the only creatures tough enough to take down Samuel L. Jackson. But unfortunately, according to yet another new study, they should be afraid of us.

The new report issued today is the first global study of open-ocean sharks and rays, and it says that more than a third of them are threatened with extinction due to humans. The main ways they are killed is having their top fin sliced off for shark fin soup (after which they drown, being unable to swim properly), or they get caught in long-line fishing nets along with prey they're pursuing, often tuna.

Four of the species in the study were classified as endangered, the highest extinction-risk category: the ornate eagle ray, giant devilray, scalloped hammerhead, and great hammerhead. Many others were "vulnerable," including two kinds of makos and the Great White (above), one of the ocean's most formidable carnivores and star of Jaws. To learn more, you can read the PDF of the full 92-page report here.

Eco-news Roundup for June 25

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

Stories from our other blogs you might have missed, on Blue Marble-friendly topics:

Stone cold: Quoting the Rolling Stones and talking about climate change, simultaneously.

Spin doctors: The healthcare industry's attempts to spin the media their way.

God works in mysterious ways: A climate change bill grows from 946 pages to 1,021 pages overnight without explanation.

P is for Piggie: Someone's been fattening up the Waxman-Markey climate bill with delicious farm subsidies. Soo-EY!

Sanford's speaking nixed: Apparently, people don't want you as a speaker on family values after you publicly admit cheating on your wife.

Mountaintop Removal's Fate Heads to Capitol Hill

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 5:35 PM PDT

On Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers in Washington, DC, will finally take up the fate of mountaintop removal mining, a type of surface mining that levels the summits of mountains to expose coal seams. The practice inflicts substantial damage to the surrounding environment and communities, mainly because the removed rock and soil is dumped into nearby rivers and streams, contaminating them and often burying water sources. The Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife will host the first legitimate hearing on mountaintop removal in nearly seven years, titled "The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia." Witnesses include leading experts on the subject, like Maria Gunnoe, a 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for her organizing against the mining practice; Dr. Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Sciences; and Randy Pomponio, the director of the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region, among others.

An outspoken opponent of mountaintop removal, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) called the hearing to more thoroughly review the effects of the practice, a decision that comes on the back of legislation he introduced in March with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to completely ban the mountaintop removal called the Appalachia Restoration Act. The hearing also has supporters and opponents of mountaintop removal fired up: Both coal industry-friendly and environmental groups have chartered buses to Capitol Hill for the hearing, while other organizations will be streaming video of the event. (Not to mention the recent arrests of NASA's James Hansen and others who were protesting mountaintop removal in Southern West Virginia.)

 

Congress and Health Care Spouses

| Wed Jun. 24, 2009 12:05 PM PDT

With both Congress and the White House promising to overhaul health care, a variety of reform options are now on the table. So these options have all been rigorously researched and recommended by objective third parties, right? Notes CQ Politics:

Nearly four dozen members of Congress have spouses employed in the health care industry—ties that lawmakers acknowledge are influencing their thinking about how the health system should be overhauled.
Financial disclosure forms made public in mid-June showed that at least 39 members were tied to the industry by their spouses in 2008. In addition, 13 full-voting House members are medical doctors.

Let's hope our Reps listen to all their constituents on medical issues.