Blue Marble - September 2009

EPA Announces Toxics Reform

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 11:48 AM EDT

Last night the ballroom of San Francisco's historic Fairmont Hotel was packed with excited 40-somethings. Environmentalists like Sierra Club head Carl Pope (wearing a florescent yellow baseball cap) and representatives from organizations like Earthjustice and NRDC hobnobbed noisily. The buzz was so loud, it could have been made by 15-year-olds waiting to see Miley Cyrus. Instead, it was EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson who showed, and gained two standing ovations for her speech.

During Jackson's speech, co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Club and PG&E, she revealed that the nation's 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) would be overhauled. Jackson, whose academic background is in chemical engineering, said that the program is still mired in using old science, and its enforcement tools are "cumbersome." As outlined by Jackson, the TSCA reform would reset scientific reporting standards, put the burden of proving safety on manufacturers instead of on the government, give the EPA more enforcement authority, and fund green chemistry R&D. In particular, Jackson mentioned the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (found in baby bottles), phthalate esters, and lead as targets of increased enforcement.

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Deep Waters in Deep Trouble

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 8:55 AM EDT

America's waters are in deep trouble. The destructive practice of bottom trawling, which involves dragging nets attached to rubber wheels mow down all plant and animal life in the way, is growing in popularity, and over-fishing is endangering marine predators. The giant garbage patch of the Pacific is growing, and the oceans continue to absorb acidifying carbon dioxide that stunts the growth of coral and shells.

Up until now, such issues have always been addressed in isolation, if at all, and often by separate government agencies— regulate a little fishing here, designate a reef preserve there.  But with the onset of climate change, many of these problems are not only increasing but also becoming more and more intertwined. This June, President Obama created the Ocean Policy Task Force to devise a long-term, coordinated plan for managing America's oceans, coasts, and great lakes, as well as their resources.

The taskforce brings together 24 experts from environmental organizations and government entities, from the NRDC to the US Navy. Its goals include helping coastal communities adapt to climate change and ocean acidification and better managing the diverse ecosystems of the oceans and Great Lakes.

Ken Stump, Policy Director at the Marine Fish Conservation Network and a Task Force member, is pleased with the much-needed attention that the president has given to ocean policy. But he warns that Congress could still be a stumbling block to enacting any legislation. "The repeated attempts to legislate the [marine] reforms have not made it out of the House Natural Resources Committee," said Stump. "In both major parties there is a strong emphasis on economic production from the oceans, along with a lot of lip service about sustainable use of resources."

5 Creative Uses for: Vinegar

| Tue Sep. 29, 2009 1:55 PM EDT

Next up in our series on clever alternative uses for surplus stuff: vinegar. Reuse fans, this is a good one. The acidic liquid cleans, heals, and deskunks, not to mention its salad dressing potential. Here are just five of its myriad (thanks AltUse.com) uses:

1. Kill a wart: Soak a small piece of cotton wool (end of a q-tip works well) in cider vinegar. Fasten the cotton wool over the wart with medical tape or a band-aid. Reapply as needed.

2. Unclog drains: Use 3-4 tablespoons of baking soda and one cup of white vinegar to keep bathroom sink drains clear without damaging your pipes.

3. Heal a bruise: Apply white vinegar for one hour to a bruise. The vinegar will reduce the discoloration and aid healing.

4. Brighten tiki torches: Soak the torches' wicks in distilled vinegar for a few hours, then let dry. When lit, the flames will burn longer and brighter.

5. Remove skunk odor: Rub vinegar full strength into your pet's fur and then rinse with cool water. Pat dry with a clean towel.

Australia's Climate Chaos

| Tue Sep. 29, 2009 6:04 AM EDT

Exactly a week ago the people of Sydney, Australia, awoke to find that their normally deep blue sky had gone bright orange. One resident told a radio reporter for the Australian Broadcasting System that when she first looked out her kitchen skylight that morning, it was as if Armageddon had arrived.

What had arrived was the most massive dust storm in nearly a century. A dust cloud nearly a thousand miles long and two-hundred and fifty miles wide engulfed the city in millions of tons of fine red dust from the drought-stricken interior.

 

 

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, September 29

| Tue Sep. 29, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

What's up in environmental news here at Mother Jones and elsewhere:

Corn con: Think corn-state representatives won big last week when the EPA said pending biofuels rules will reflect "uncertainty" around indirect emissions from land-use change related to biofuel production? Not quite.

Digging for health care dirt: Two investigative pieces make the case for health care reform.

Green labels are Greek to consumers: With more than 400 labels on the market, shoppers don't quite know what to make of all their eco options. [Treehugger]

Greener continents: Elisabeth Rosenthal on why Europe is better at conserving than America [Yale Environment 360]

Another one bites the dust: The largest electric utility company in the US vows that it will not renew its membership in the Chamber of Commerce because of its opposition to global warming action.

 

Cute Animal in Danger: Pygmy Tarsiers

| Tue Sep. 29, 2009 5:56 AM EDT

The pygmy tarsier, one of the world's most endangered primates, was thought extinct until 2000, when one of them accidentally ended up dead in a rat trap. The pygmy tarsier lives 7,000 feet above sea level in the Indonesian jungle, and weighs only 50 grams: about the same as three tablespoons of sugar. These pint-sized mammals have such huge eyes that they can't turn them very well: instead, they can turn their heads 180 degrees. Some have called the big-eyed animals "real-life gremlins," thought pygmy tarsiers definitely eat after midnight (they're nocturnal, and like insects and fruit) and have specially dense fur to keep them dry and warm in their moist, cool climate.

In 2008, a two-month expedition by Texas A&M researchers used 276 nets in an attempt to capture a pygmy tarsier. Eventually, they netted three (one got away) and fitted them with tracking devices. It didn't go smoothly. "I have the dubious honor of being the only person in the world to have bitten [by a pygmy tarsier]," the expedition's lead researcher, Sharon Gursky-Doyen, told LiveScience. "I was attaching a radio collar around its neck and while I was attaching the radio collar he bit me [on the finger]." That particular tarsier, the researcher reported, was later eaten by a hawk.

Gursky-Doyen has said that she hopes the team's research will help nudge the Indonesian government to protect the species. “They [tarsiers] always look like they have a perpetual smile on their face, which adds to the attraction."

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Death Declines During Depressions

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 4:19 PM EDT

People live longer during depressions. A new analysis in PNAS finds that life expectancy of Americans during the Great Depression increased by a whopping 6.2 years—from 57.1 in 1929 to 63.3 years in 1932. This was true for men and women of all races, all age groups, and all causes of death—except suicide.

The researchers analyzed mortality rates from the six most prevalent causes of death in the 1930s: cardiovascular and renal diseases; cancer; influenza and pneumonia; tuberculosis; motor vehicle traffic injuries, and suicide.

Health overall improved during the four years of the Great Depression, as well as during recessions in 1921 and 1938. Conversely, death rates rose during periods of strong economic expansion, such as 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1936-1937.

Why the counterintuitive results?

Well, the study didn't tackle this question. Though the researchers have a few hunches. All related to the fact that working conditions are different during economic expansions and recessions:

  • In expansions, firms are busy and typically demand a lot from employees, including overtime and a faster work pace. This creates stress, which is associated with more drinking and smoking. [Translation: They work you to death.]
  • In expansions, inexperienced workers are hired more likely to injure or kill themselves on the job.
  • People working a lot tend to sleep less, reducing overall health.
  • People working a lot eat more poorly. Either richer, fattier foods. And/or overworking crap food. [Might I add: more meat?]
  • In recessions, because there's less work, everyone works at a more relaxed pace. People sleep more.
  • In recessions, people feel, or are, poorer and spend less on alcohol and tobacco. [ Hmm. Not sure I agree with that one. The researchers are not bar-goers, is my guess.]
  • Economic upturns are associated with increases in atmospheric pollution, with its well-documented short-term effects on cardiovascular and respiratory mortality.
  • Economic expansion may increase social isolation and decrease social support because everyone's working so hard.

So, extreme ambition, cut-throat rivalry, pointless materialism, workalholicism, and general slavery to the almighty boss and his henchman the dollar is deadly to human life?
 

Report Predicts 7.3 Degree Temperature Rise by 2060

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 2:02 PM EDT

Average global temperatures could rise by 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2060, according to a new report from the United Kingdom's Met Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. The startling new predictions come after a major letdown on climate progress at last week's G20 meeting, and as hopes fade that world leaders will make significant headway on a new international agreement this year.

Their report, conducted on behalf of the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, found that they could see a 10 degree or greater rise in temperatures in some regions, which would cause droughts in some areas, flooding in others, sea level rises, and ecosystem system collapse. The Arctic could be up to 15.2 degrees warmer if we continue on our current high-emissions path, which would be "enhanced by melting of snow and ice causing more of the Sun’s radiation to be absorbed."

Land areas could warm by 7 degrees or more, with the highest in western and souther Africa, where average temperatures could increase by 10 degrees. Rainfall is expected to decrease by 20 percent or more in some regions, with the largest decreases expected in western and southern Africa, Central America, the Mediterranean and parts of coastal Australia. It is expected to increase by 20 percent or more in other areas, like India, which would increase flood risks.


Eco-News Roundup: Monday September 28

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 6:39 AM EDT

Environmental news from Mother Jones' other blogs and around the world.

How Hot?: WaPo article changes expected climate change temperaure rise.

Public Costs: How much exactly would that public option run us?

Cutting CO2: The recession is seriously slowing our CO2 emissions. [LiveScience]

Incoming: The Senate may see a climate bill soon after all, thanks to Boxer and Kerry.

Climate Forecast: Kate Sheppard fears climate fatigue may be setting in for policy-makers.

Big Plans: Some want to make a new, international, WTO-like climate body.

Big Spenders: China and Korea spend the most on green projects. [Planet Ark]

Subsidies Begone: G20 is moving forward with cutting subsidies for fossil fuel producers.

Chamber Defections: Companies are fleeing the US Chamber of Commerce over its climate policy.

High Expectations: A statement tries to downplay expectations of Obama at Copenhagen.

Crowd Survey: Checking the crowds at the G20 protests, Twitters and all.

Cantor's Choice: The GOP can have a full-scale plan, but not without involving the Feds.

 

Music Econundrum: Sacrifice Stadium Shows?

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

Q: I heard stadium concerts are carbon nightmares. So do I have to skip U2 next time they’re in town?

A: In July, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne slammed U2 for its massive 360˚ tour. “Those stadium shows may possibly be the most extravagant and expensive (production-wise) ever: $40 million to build the stage and, having done the math, we estimate 200 semi trucks crisscrossing Europe for the duration,” he wrote on his blog. Ouch—especially for a band that bills itself as socially responsible. An environmental consultant calculated that that the tour’s carbon emissions were equivalent to flying all 90,000 attendees at one of their London concerts to Dublin.

A tour like U2’s creates about 15 pounds of CO2 per audience member per concert, not including the carbon created by getting to the show. But few people attend more than a few truly extravagant live shows every year—most of the music we hear is recorded.

A recent study found that downloading music online creates between 40 and 80 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than buying a CD at a store, depending on how you get to the store and whether you burn and package your disc after you download it. In general: Assuming you drive to the music store, buying three physical CDs has 1.5 times the carbon footprint of attending a U2 show. For the same amount of carbon, you could download about 10 albums.

Tip: Don't burn downloaded albums onto CD. If you do, you're only creating 40 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than you would by buying a CD at the store. Sans physical CD, that figure jumps to 80 percent.

The bottom line: See your favorite band rock a stadium every few years—but download their albums online instead of buying a CD.