Blue Marble - August 2009

Bright Green Idea: Soda Fuel

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 11:24 AM PDT

How's this for a "green" idea: A New Mexico inventor has created a fuel made from Mountain Dew.

The GEET (Global Environmental Energy Technology) fuel processor is comprised of about 80 percent pop and 20 percent gas. It's been used in cars, tractors, and lawn mowers, and according to inventor Paul Patone, it generates nil pollution.

Watch how the caffeinated gizmo works below:

Any cool, eco-friendly ideas you've heard about recently? Post in the comments section.

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Kidney Matchmakers and Me

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 11:08 AM PDT

Boy, New Yorker web editor Blake Eskin must be chowing some humble pie right now. In case you were too caught up in last week's beerplomacy to finish the magazine, allow me to explain: Every week, Eskin interviews one of the magazine's mega-watt writers about a project of paramount importance. Then, just three short days after he posted a lengthy interview with Larissa MacFarquhar discussing her article about MatchingDonors.com, a sort of kidney-donor dating site, the feds up and busted one of the biggest organ-buying schemes in history right in the New Yorker's backyard. 

The piece is a look at altruism through the lives of people who become living donors, giving their kidneys away to total strangers. A week ago, we might have called them selfless. Today we'd call them shmucks.

Exodus From Tanning Beds

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 10:30 AM PDT

In reaction to news that UV radiation from tanning beds is just as deadly as arsenic, fake bakers are fleeing salons, reports MSNBC. It's not exactly a scientific finding, but they've at least found a few folks who quit after reading last week's report. My favorite quote:

“I mean, even just the headline,” says Jill Brizzi, who’s 26 and lives in Charlotte, N.C. ‘Tanning beds as deadly as arsenic.’ Like, what? Isn’t that poison?”

And some tweets:

shutup!! omg i've been saying forever that I'm going to stop tanning, but wow now im seriously done! Xoxox

Pretty sure I'm going to cancel my tanning membership. "Beds compared to arsenic" is a little extreme for me!

I guess I am never going tanning again…

 

Whatever Happened to Safer Sex?

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 9:44 AM PDT

Safer sex and pregnancy prevention advocates have had their work cut out for them over the last couple of weeks. A recently published study declared that the withdrawal method was almost as effective as condom use in typical practice. Now, a study soon to be published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour argues that unprotected heterosexual sex can improve your ability to deal with stress and curb depression.

Claims about the positive effects of semen are nothing new. Back in 2002, researchers at the State University of New York conducted two studies in which they concluded that semen positively affected women's mental health. While the 2002 study was carried out by psychologists, the theory was that it was the hormones within semen that elevated women's moods.

This time around, the hypothesis has more to do with the act itself, and asserts that both men and women can benefit from the practice of unprotected heterosexual sex. Its author, Stuart Brody, believes that's due to evolution:

"Evolution is not politically correct, so of the very broad range of potential sexual behaviour, there is actually only one that is consistently associated with better physical and mental health and that is the one sexual behaviour that would be favoured by evolution. That is not accidental."

While science may not always confirm what we would like to be true, some dispute the validity of this type of evolutionary psychology, which tends to laud heterosexual sex and support male dominance as an evolutionary necessity, providing excuses for violence.

The validity of this study is also put into question by its small sample size of only 210 subjects. Besides, as Tony Kerridge of Marie Stopes International argues, the contemporary risks of unprotected heterosexual sex probably outweigh any evolutionary benefits:

"I would have thought that the mental health of anyone would be tested if they found out they had a sexually transmitted disease or that there was an unwanted pregnancy."

While arguments about the effectiveness of condoms versus withdrawal can have the statistics to back them up, studies like these may also create risks. All kidding about the rationale of high school boyfriends aside, there are other concerns associated with unprotected sex, beyond pregnancy. The HIV rate among heterosexual couples continues to rise. According to CDC estimates, heterosexual contact led to 27 percent of new HIV diagnoses in 2006. While I am no evolutionary scientist (psychological or otherwise) I would guess that that type of risk is not evolutionarily favorable.

Cute Animal in Danger: Jaguarundi

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 4:40 AM PDT

This week's endangered animal is the somewhat strange-looking jaguarundi. The jaguarundi is a bit of an in-betweener: it's not as big as a jaguar or mountain lion, but it's larger than most housecats. Jaguarundi also look different than most cats, on account of their small rounded ears, closely set eyes, and uniform color. The "otter-like" cats are most closely related to cougars and cheetahs, though scientists are still unsure of exactly how the it evolved since cheetahs are native to Africa.

Jaguarundi reportedly move in a "weasel-like" manner and unlike many cats, seem to enjoy getting into water. They are reportedly strong swimmers and go to the water at midday to drink, but also in the evening when they are hunting or fishing. They weigh only about 13 to 15 pounds, but because of their lifestyle, are larger and more muscular than a housecat of a similar weight.

The jaguarundi live mostly in the thorny brush of Texas's Rio Grande Valley, as well as in Mexico. Although the jaguarundi has been on the endangered species list since 1976, there has never been a conservation plan for them. The lack of any conservation plan, in addition to habitat destruction by human development, is likely why seeing a jaguarundi is now a rare and exciting event, even in Texas.

However, there is some good news: in February of this year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that the jaguarundi would be one of 23 endangered species from the Southwest to recieve a five-year review. The conservation group WildEarth also recently filed a suit against Interior secretary Ken Salazar to develop a recovery plan for the animal. In addition, the jaguarundi continues to survive in Mexico, and populations have been spotted as far south as South America.

 

Follow Jen Phillips on Twitter.

Eco-News for Tuesday, August 4

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 4:01 AM PDT

News stories from our blogs, and other environmental sites, you might have missed from yesterday.

Follow the Money: Clean energy firms are spending five times as much money on lobbyists.

Good Enough, Smart Enough: Are you smart enough to join the Army? 'Cause they need officers like, yesterday. [Gawker]

But Are Unicorns Liberals? Weird art of Obama with unicorns and political fauna.

Health Hell: What does the public really think about their health insurance?

Peruvian Punctuality: Just weeks after civilians were killed protesting Peru's relationship with Big Oil, Big Oil sends bulldozers into the rainforest in hopes of drilling soon. [MongaBay]

HBO's Ageism: HBO says most of the good actresses are 35 and younger. MoJo calls BS.

Silent Spring: A new report shows pollution is increasing cancer rates in wildlife. [ENN]

Green Islam: Islamic scholars meet to discuss how religion and climate change intersect. [Living on Earth]

Birds of a Feather: Students are flocking to sustainability degrees. [USA Today]

Just Vote Yes: Kevin Drum finds more bipartisan consensus on healthcare.

Flipper Flop: Japanese design plastic prosthetic flippers for an injured sea turtle. [National Geographic]

 

 

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Online Happiness: Measure It, Get It

| Mon Aug. 3, 2009 5:08 PM PDT

How happy are we? And how might we get happier?

First up: applied mathematicians Peter Dodds and Christopher Danforth of the U of Vermont Burlington are calculating how happy the Internet is by focusing on blog posts and song lyrics. They chose these two datasets because they're: 1) huge; and 2) more honest—or so they believe.

Dodds and Danforth analyzed sentences from 2.4 million blogs collected by wefeelfine.org, which searches blog worldwide for versions of the phrase "I feel," then records the whole sentence.

The researchers also downloaded more than a quarter million song lyrics from a searchable online database, then scanned for more than 1,000 emotionally charged words that a 1999 psychology study ranked on a scale from 1 (miserable) to 9 (ecstatic).

The good news: blogosphere happiness has increased some 4% since 2005, according to Dodds' and Danforth's upcoming paper in the Journal of Happiness Studies. The biggest recurring happy days are Christmas and Valentine's. The happiest day since 2005 was 4 November 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president of the US.

The low points have been the 11 September anniversaries.

Second up: British psychologist Richard Wiseman is inviting the public to take part in an ambitious five-day online experiment (starting today) aimed at boosting happiness.

Participants rate their current mood before a random assignment to one of four groups—each of which watches a video describing one of four techniques commonly used to boost happiness. Particpants then follow the techniques and five days from now everyone reassesses their mood. The results will be announced 11 August.

Wiseman presents 10 techniques to help you get happier:

  • Meet up with a friend that you haven’t seen for a while
  • Watch a funny film or tv show
  • Exercise 30 minutes three times a week
  • Cut your tv viewing in half (but not the funny stuff?)
  • Buy experiences not goods: go to a concert, movie, unusual place, or strange restaurant.
  • Create novel challenges by starting a hobby, joining an organization, learning a skill
  • Go for a 20 minute walk in the sun
  • Spend 10 minutes listening to relaxing or uplifting music
  • Stroke a dog (cat?)
  • Stop watching and reading the news (even MoJo junkies?)

Eco-News Roundup: Monday, August 3

| Mon Aug. 3, 2009 4:00 AM PDT

A Monday morning mix of what's new and Marble-esque in our other blogs:

Single-payer step forward: House liberals have struck a deal with Henry Waxman to bring legislation that would establish a single-payer health care system up for vote.

God smiles on Harry Reid: Between Max Baucus distracting the left on health care reform and the White House threatening to delay or cancel the proposed nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain, it's been a good month for the Senate majority leader.

The biggest loser, kitty edition: Kevin Drum figures the Internet is (shockingly) wrong about how many calories his cats should consume, especially if they want to keep their girlish figures.