Blue Marble - August 2009

ExxonMobil: "Green Company of the Year?"

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 3:03 PM EDT

Editors know that counterintuitive headlines sell magazines. They also know that making wildly exaggerated claims can damage their credibility. Writing a headline is often a balancing act between these two factors. So when you see a magazine like Forbes say that ExxonMobil is "Green Company of the Year," as it did this month, what it's really saying is that it's hurting. With advertising pages way down this year, the magazine feels the need to sell off its long-term credibility with some readers for the short-term gain of boosting page views. That, at least, is my take on what Forbes was thinking. Because there's simply no way that any serious reporter would wrap Exxon in a shroud of green.

Here's Forbes reporter Christopher Helman's argument in a nutshell: By next year, Exxon will become the world's top non-governmental producer of natural gas. Natural gas can replace coal in power plants, resulting in a 40 to 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This would be the most cost-effective way to start addressing global warming. Therefore, Exxon is "Green Company of the Year."

Helman is not wrong, until he gets to the last part. His leap in reasoning is like saying that a military dictator is "Humanitarian of the Year" because he built 10 new hospitals, but failing to consider that he conducted a genocide. If that sounds a bit harsh, then consider the truly abysmal nature of Exxon's broader environmental record:

1.  Exxon has a long history of funding climate change deniers. And despite a 2008 pledge to discontinue contributions to groups "whose position on climate change could divert attention" from the need for clean energy, the company went right on funding them.

2.  Exxon is a leading opponent of the Waxman-Markey climate bill, the very legislation that would begin to price dirty coal out of the market. In May, the Exxon-funded Heritage Foundation released a wildly exaggerated study claiming that an emissions cap will kill millions of jobs and send gas to $4 a gallon (The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found middle-class households would pay only $175 a year more in 2020 because of the legislation).  And on August 18th, 3,500 energy workers rallied against the climate bill in a Houston demonstration organized by--you guessed it--Exxon and other energy companies, a leaked memo from the American Petroleum Institute reveals.

3.  The Exxon Valdez oil spill. See dictionary entry for "environmental genocide."

4.  Exxon is an aggressive player in Canada's tar sands, the world's top producer of ultra-dirty oil.

5.  The natural gas pumped by Exxon still contributes to climate change. Indeed, natural gas is currently responsible for about 20 percent of US carbon emissions. Curtis Brainard points out in his own takedown of the Forbes piece in the Columbia Journalism Review:

A recent study by Carnegie Mellon projected that replacing all coal burning with natural gas would significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but not enough to meet scientifically recommended targets for mitigating climate change. Moreover, it’s fairly ridiculous to suggest, as Helman does in the beginning of his piece, that natural gas will replace all coal burning any time in the near future.


Brainard goes on to point out that natural gas is a "bridge fuel," tiding us over until we're able to ramp up lower carbon alternatives. The race to create those alternatives and dominate an emerging global market in clean tech will be the biggest business story of the next decade--a story that Forbes seems to have forgotten.

Of course, the Forbes' approach clearly isn't about putting forth a coherent argument or roadmap to the future. Adding another layer of weirdness, there's an accompanying editorial that argues that "environmentalism is a religion, not a science" and "the very thesis that environmental carbon is bad is a matter of faith, not science." Really? So then why is Forbes hawking a 2,000-word feature on how Exxon is so great at cutting environmental carbon? Probably for the same reason that Exxon is pumping natural gas: Because there's money in it.


 

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Eco-News Roundup: Thursday August 27

| Thu Aug. 27, 2009 5:36 AM EDT

Sugar Pills: Turns out placebos work better in some countries than others.

Ted Kennedy: With the Liberal Lion gone, healthcare reform seems even more distant.

Yellow Pages: Does anyone ever use phone books anymore? Then why does Kevin Drum get four of them every year?

Foxes in Danger: The creepy-looking, probably gamey-tasting flying foxes are in danger from legal hunting. [MongaBay]

Passing the Torch: Who will take Kennedy's seat? And when?

Put a Cork In It: There's a new campaign to get Americans to recycle their corks, just like those nice Canadians up the street. [Consumerist]

PO 101: Don't know what the Public Option is? Get a primer from Nikki Gloudeman.

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday, August 26

| Wed Aug. 26, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

A Wednesday morning question for gardeners and garden fans alike: Are heirloom tomatoes overrated? Novella Carpenter's piece on the subject will help you decide whether to ditch your old seeds. After you've got that one figured out, peruse environment, health, and science news from our other blogs and around the web:

Starring Fiji water: Will Lindsay Lohan, Diddy, Paris Hilton, and President Obama still have a taste for Fiji Water after they see this video?

Does torture work? Dick Cheney said the documents released Monday would prove that enhanced interrogation techniques were effective. Here's why he was wrong.

Cash for Clunkers, I hardly knew ye: Don't let the door hit you on your way out.

A farewell to phone books: The tomes of old are a waste of paper, energy, and space. And no one uses them. So why do we still get them?

Great creatures now small: Why polar bears are shrinking along with the ice they live on.

 A climate change Dow Jones: How an index could help us get climate under control.

Mac n' Cheese, Safer Please

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 1:24 PM EDT

Despite being somewhat lactose-intolerant, I have a weakness for the occasional Kraft blue-box of Macaroni & Cheese. It's fast, it's easy, and you can make it with soy milk even though it makes it taste a little funky. But I now hear that Europe has a better version of this American dish than we do in the States. The European version has no artificial colors or chemical sweeteners (aspartame, anyone?) because European food standards require a warning label for products that contain them.

The dangers of some of the ingredients in the US version were apparently covered in a book called The Unhealthy Truth. Now that the word's out, MomsRising.org is encouraging people to e-mail their Congressional representatives to get the European version on US store shelves. No word on whether the eye-catching box will change as well: in Canada it's called "Kraft Dinner."

Can Birth Control Use Change Your Career?

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 12:21 PM EDT

With all the speculation about what led to the current financial crisis, it's not surprising that yet another study has linked testosterone with financial risk-taking. But this latest study, an experiment involving MBA students at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, was a little different. It showed that some men and women had similar testosterone levels, and thus (the study's authors found) similar levels of risk-aversion.

Women with high testosterone levels were seven times more likely to take risks than women with low testosterone levels. In addition, 90% of female students in the study and 31% of the male students had "low" levels of testosterone, and acted exactly the same in terms of risk-averse fiscal investment.

One thing the study didn't look into was birth control. Most women's contraception is hormone based, and research shows that it not only lowers a woman's testosterone levels while she's on it: it keeps her testosterone low years after she's stopped. Theoretically, women who don't use hormonal contraception will have more testosterone, and as a result, will be less risk-averse than women on the pill. And according to the new University of Chicago study, women with more testosterone are more likely to work in risky environments like an investment bank or trade floor. So maybe if 22% of US women ages 15 to 44 weren't on the pill, there would be more women working in the financial sector. Or maybe just a lot more accidental pregnancies. 

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, August 25

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Blue Marble-ish news from our site and beyond:

Another one bites the dust? Why Tennessee Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper could be among the dems to lose their seats if the healthvcare debate drags on.

Safety dance: A spokesman for EnCana Corp. says "the notion that operators don't do everything they can every day [to ensure safety] is ludicrous." So why don't Wyoming's oil workers have the right to sue?

Same old schtick: RNC chairman Michael Steele really really loves Medicare. He just hates government-run healthcare programs. What else is new?

Two packs a day by age 10: Child tobacco pickers in Malawi are exposed to nicotine equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes a day.

Corporate hustle: In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, 100 of the world's largest companies must reduce their carbon emissions at twice their current pace. 

Ice cream, hold the ice: Could freeze-it-yourself products help the ice cream industry reduce its carbon footprint?

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Cute Animal in Danger: Mission Blue Butterfly

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 5:39 AM EDT

The delicate and distinctive Mission Blue Butterfly was first discovered in San Francisco's Mission District around 1937. Since then, the city's layout has changed considerably, rendering much of the iridescent butterfly's urban habitat inhospitable. Although the Mission Blue has been on the federal Endangered Species List since 1976, its recovery has been slow. The butterfly has only a handful of habitats (San Bruno Mountain, San Francisco's Twin Peaks, Marin headlands) and its larva eat only three kinds of lupine plants. Add to that fact that adult butterflies have only a week to live and breed, and you've got a bit of a conservation challenge.

However, California wildlife professionals are not easily discouraged. San Francisco's Mission Blues have been suffering due to El Nino-fueled climate change, so this year the city introduced pregnant females to Twin Peaks, hoping to drive up population for 2010.

 

Follow Jen Phillips on Twitter.

5 Creative Uses for: Aluminum Foil

| Tue Aug. 25, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

I have good aluminum foil intentions: I try hard to use a sheet for more than one sandwich. But no matter how careful I am, it ends up shredding. I might as well carry my lunch around in a doily. Luckily, AltUse.com has a few ideas for using unpristine foil:

1. Soften fabric: Create a ball of aluminum foil about the size of a baseball. Place it in your clothes dryer and with laundry. Use again and again.

2. Sharpen scissors: Layer foil and cut through the pile to sharpen your scissors. Six to eight layers of foil should do the trick.

3. Moisten brown sugar: Wrap a chunk of brown sugar in a sheet of aluminum foil and heat in a 300 degree oven for 5 minutes.

4. Iron fast: Place a sheet of aluminum foil under your ironing board cover to help transfer the heat to the items you are ironing and quicken your work.

5. Increase radiator efficiency: Use heavy-duty aluminum foil, tape to cardboard with foil's shiny side facing out, and place behind a cast-iron radiator. Instead of being absorbed by the wall behind the radiator, the heat will reflect off the foil and move back into the room.

Eco-News Roundup: Monday, August 24

| Mon Aug. 24, 2009 5:45 AM EDT

Fish Dish: US commerce secretary sez no expansion of commercial fishing in Arctic until ecological studies done. [Environmental News Network]

Healthcare Ripoffs: A doctor charged $4,500 for an office visit for which Medicare would have paid $134. What gives?

River Held Hostage: French truck drivers threaten to pollute the Seine if their pay demands are not met. [UK Guardian]

Death Counseling: Is it really such a bad idea to cover it with Medicare? Experts debate.

Making Lemonade: Some politicians are capitalizing on the Heartland's health reform panic.

Steele Goes Postal: On healthcare reform, that is. A few key exchanges here.

Invention's Mother: If Pharma had more requirementst, they might be motivated to change it up, says Kevin Drum.

Debating Fiji Water

Fri Aug. 21, 2009 5:36 PM EDT

To discuss Mother Jones' recent expose of Fiji Water, we gathered the story's muckraking writer, a bottled water industry rep, and an eco-blogger, then turned them loose to debate with readers.

What transpired was a lively discussion about military juntas, the eco-impact of bottled water, censorship, and the bottled water company in the middle of the storm.

Here are a couple exchanges that stood out: