Blue Marble - August 2009

Video: Should You Pee in the Shower?

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 3:44 PM EDT

There's a lot of things the Golden State will do to save water (including declaring a State of Emergency and virtually closing the water supply to the Central Valley) but pushing Californians to pee in the shower is NOT one of them. 

"That's not something we've advocated, no," said Water Department spokesman Matt Knotley, who seemed shocked by the suggestion, apparently all the rage in Brazil, that folks should pee in the shower to save water. "If that's what they want to do in their country, fine. There are plenty of other ways that are very easy to save water." 

Unfortunately, none of those have a cute Portugese PA video. 

 In case you're totally grossed out, you should know that this is not the first time we've approached water conservation through toilet humor. In the late 80s, when I was potty training, you could sum California's drought policy in a simple rhyme: If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down.  

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Carbon-Spewing Baby Monsters, Round 2

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 1:05 PM EDT

A debate that raged on this website back in March, when environmental correspondent Julia Whitty's posting about the climate change impact of childrearing led to nearly 150 comments—that's a lot—is being rekindled this week over at Livescience and Treehugger.

The issue at hand: Can we afford, environmentally speaking, to have so many children? (Whether our marriages can afford it is a separate debate.) As Whitty previously reported, scientists at Oregon State estimated that, under current conditions, each American child adds 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to the average mother's lifetime carbon legacy, nearly six times the carbon footprint of a childless American woman. By contast, each Bandladeshi child adds only 56 metric tons to his mom's lifetime footprint.

5 Creative Uses for: Aspirin

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 1:00 PM EDT

The folks over at AltUse.com, a great site where readers offer ideas about alternative uses for common items, have nicely offered to share some of their brilliant ideas with us.

First up: extra ibuprofen aspirin. I like my aspirin cheap and plentiful, so I tend to buy the generic 500-tablet bottle. Problem is, it's tough to predict how much I'll use, so sometimes I end up with more pills than headaches as the expiration date approaches. Instead of throwing out the extras, AltUse's readers recommend using 'em to solve these problems:

1. Acne: The salycilic acid in asprin makes for a great facial for acne or aging skin. Crush 5-10 non-coated asprin tablets, add small dab of water and plain yogurt.

2. Sweat stains: Crush two aspirin trablets and add to 1/2 cup of warm water. Soak stained part of clothes item in the solution for approximately 2.5 hours.

3. Bee stings: To reduce the pain of a sting, moisten the skin around the sting, rub an aspirin tablet over the area for a minimum of one minute.

4. Dandruff: Crush two aspirin tablets, add to dab of shampoo, and wash hair.

5. Mosquito bites: Break open an aspirin table and apply to a mosquito bite for itch relief.

Got another idea for using up extra aspirin? Leave it in the comments.

Would You Like Some Rocket Fuel With That Tap Water?

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 10:49 AM EDT

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it's considering regulating perchlorate, an additive used in rocket fuel which has seeped out from military and industrial sites into water supplies around the country. MoJo DC bureau chief David Corn wrote about the intense lobbying effort by perchlorate companies to keep the chemical unregulated here. You can read more about the EPA's move here.

Eco-News Roundup: Thursday, August 6

| Thu Aug. 6, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Mad Men: More than $52 million has been spent on healthcare ads this year... so far.

Gas Ceiling: China refuses to limit its greenhouse gas emissions, but asks other countries to do so. [Yahoo News]

Dust in the Wind: Fallout dust from the WTC collapse caused 25,000 cases of asthma, study says. [ScienceNews]

 

Greening a 1930s House

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 8:31 PM EDT

In modern day Nottingham, Robin Hood is robbing the future to pay for the past.

Last year a U of Nottingham crew of merry men and merry women built a 1930s house. Now they're going to retrofit it with three energy efficiency upgrades designed to convert it from unbelievable energy inefficiency into a zero carbon home meeting the UK's targets for all new housing by 2016.

The 1930s house is an icon of its age, complete with open fires, single glazed windows, inefficient gas or electric water heating, and no insulation. Three million were built in the UK and are still a major part of current housing stock.

The pimped out 1930s upgrade will bristle with more than 100 sensors to monitor energy use, temperature, and humidity, making it one of the most sophisticated research houses in the world.

During the next 2 weeks the old house will be enriched with modern tech: cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, draft proofing, double glazing, and energy-saving appliances and equipment.

In the end, the house will prove a test facility for measuring which of many energy efficiency upgrades are most cost effective.

In the meantime, U of Nottingham fellow Changhong Zhan and his family have been living in the old house, while researchers monitor their energy consumption and the building’s energy loss.


Apparently, it's been uncomfortable for the family without central heating. They've been dependant on inefficient electrical heaters. To save electricity and money, they've stayed in one room, normally the dining room, and subsequently shivered during sleep and showers. They've used hot-water bottles to keep warm and save electricity (hey, I like hot-water bottles). To stifle drafts, they've squeezed papers into gaps in windows and doors.

Sound familiar?

When the researchers tried to pressurize the house to find the areas of worst heat loss, they couldn't, because the house was too full of holes.

Millions of Britons live in similarly leaky homes, adding significantly to the third of CO2 emissions caused by housing in that country. 

Lots of American homes leak too. Where's our Robin Hood?
 

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CA Climate Strategy: Learn to Adapt

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 6:54 PM EDT

The California National Resources Agency released its Climate Adaptation Strategy on August 3, urging the state to prepare for the looming effects of global climate change. This comes on the heels of a (nearly) national movement in which two thirds of states enacted Climate Action Plans suggesting individual ways that states could mitigate the regional impacts of climate change.

California's strategy is one of only seven adaptation-specific plans currently in the works.  But it highlights the transition from a widespread campaign to stop climate change to an effort to brace for the impacts that are nearly guaranteed within the next few decades. "It used to be that you'd get slapped in the face for talking about adaptation," says Tony Brunello, the deputy secretary of climate change and energy for the CNRA. "It was seen as doing nothing and taking away from mitigation efforts."

But that view changed once climate change became a hot button national issue, embraced as reality by scientists and most American politicians. Brunello notes that the adaptation strategy has not been bogged down by the usual reluctance toward adaptation becuase California has a reputation as a leader on climate change legislation. But, he says, "we are only playing with half a deck. People have to start paying attention the the effects that are already going to impact California."

Mercury in Corn Syrup?

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

That high fructose corn syrup isn't exactly health food won't come as a surprise to most people. But just in case its less-than-stellar nutritional profile wasn't enough to make you wary of the ubiquitous goop, get this: HFCS could contain mercury, a known neurotoxin.

Melinda Wenner's "Corn Syrup's Mercury Surprise" (July/August 2009) tells the story of Renee Dufault, an FDA researcher who began to suspect that some high fructose corn syrup might contain mercury when she learned from an EPA report that some chemical companies make lye by pumping salt through large vats of the heavy metal. Lye, Dufault knew, is often used to separate corn starch from the kernel during the manufacturing of HFCS. Curious, Dufault sent some samples of foods containing HFCS out for mercury testing, and sure enough, the lab found mercury in most of the samples. A second test confirmed her findings. At around the same time, a study published in the journal Environmental Health reported that researchers had found low levels of mercury in certain brands of kid-favored foods, like grape jelly and chocolate milk.

But when corn lobbyists got involved, the plot thickened: Some types of mercury are more dangerous than others, and the Corn Refiners' Association, an industry group, pointed out that neither Dufault nor the Environmental Health study identified which type mercury was present in the samples tested. And here's where things get really strange: When Dufault tried to report the findings to the FDA, she was told to stop investigating. 

Which kind of mercury is most likely in HFCS? And why has the FDA been silent on the matter? Read more here.

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday August 5

| Wed Aug. 5, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

News from other sites and our blogs you may have missed.

Dems Hate Grandmas? Kevin Drum smacks down the right-wing rumor that Dems want to require seniors to receive end-of-life counseling every five years.

Skinny Mice: Scientists create full-grown mice from skin cells for the first time. [New Scientist]

Happy Birthday, Mr. President: Obama turns 48 today... or DOES he?

Rebates FAIL: A new study finds rebates for hybrid cars don't work as intended. [LiveScience]

Kitchen Confidential: We're cooking less than we used to. Why?

Comeback Kids: Could healthcare be the key to a GOP turn-around? James Ridgeway opines.

Chuck Norris: Could he, and the Birthers, actually be helping Obama?

Cash for Clunkers: Clunkers is stimulating economic growth, but not much for US companies.

Wrong Side of 40: Are women over 40 too old to act? Talent agency CAA says so.

 

 

Response To Climate Change: Seasteading

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 3:25 PM EDT

It should come as no surprise that Patri Friedman, son of anarcho-capitalist professor David Friedman, and grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, is a guy who prides himself on having innovative and controversial ideas. The project he's been devoted to for the past year and a half is called the Seasteading Institute, a research center with a mission "to further the establishment and growth of permanent, autonomous, ocean communities, enabling innovation with new political and social systems."

Where did the youngest Friedman get this idea? "I wanted to find other countries that I could possibly settle in," Friedman said. "After researching places that people have ex-patriated to like Costa Rica, I realized that no country is better than the USA. So I looked into the idea of forming new nations. The ocean is the best place to do this, because in the ocean you don't have to fight with others as you would have to on land." The Institute defines seasteading as creating "permanent dwellings on the ocean—homesteading the high seas."