Blue Marble - September 2009

Today's the Day We Overdraw Our Accounts

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 8:12 PM EDT

Thanks to Deborah Byrd blogging at EarthSky for the heads-up that today is Earth Overshoot Day. The day when we overdraw our ecological bank account.

This year it falls on 25 September. Starting today, we're utilizing resources at a rate faster than what the planet can regenerate in a calendar year.

Which means for the next 97 days, we're using up our capital investment. You know, the air, waters, oceans, forests, species, topsoil that keep us alive. The problem's called ecological overshoot.

We first went into overshoot in 1986, according to the Global Footprint Network. Before then we consumed resources and produced carbon dioxide at a rate consistent with what the planet could produce and reabsorb in a year. By 1996 we were using 15 percent more resources in a year than the planet could supply. Earth Overshoot Day fell in November that year.

Now we're now stripping resources 40 percent faster than the planet can produce them.

'Course a thrifty Homo sapiens would batten down the hatches, tighten the belt, and shift to extreme emergency savings mode. Unless he or she didn't really feel overdrawn? Like everything was still super affordable and super expendable and super infinite?
 

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Just How Unflappable is Barack Obama?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 7:08 PM EDT

The man's a rock. He doesn't twitch. He doesn't sway. The wattage of his smile doesn't waver. Is this a good thing? Is it supernatural? If only he could stare down global climate change with a smile.

Seeing is believing.

 

 

Barack Obama's amazingly consistent smile from Eric Spiegelman on Vimeo.

Warning: Ominous Messages on Cigarette Packs May be Counterproductive

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 12:03 PM EDT

This story first appeared at the Miller-McCune website.

In June, President Obama signed a law requiring tobacco companies to post large, graphic warnings on cigarette packs. Current cautionary statements such as "Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema" and "Smoking is dangerous to your health" will gradually be replaced with more ominous assertions, including "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease," "Cigarettes cause cancer" and the refreshingly blunt "Smoking can kill you."

But regulators may want to rethink this ashes-to-ashes theme. New research suggests that, for a certain set of smokers, those allusions to death may actually increase the likelihood they'll light up.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday September 25

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 5:40 AM EDT

News from Mother Jones and elsewhere you might have missed.

Earth to Conrad: Kent Conrad just figured out other countries have good, universal healthcare.

No Nukes: UN supports US resolution to reduce nuclear arms. [Al Jazeera]

Obama v. Fossil: Obama will go after fossil fuel subsidies at G20.

Better Beets: Beets modified to resist Monsanto pesticide blocked from market. [MSNBC]

The New Guy: The pharma ties of Sen. Kennedy's replacement, Paul Kirk, may hurt healthcare reform.

EPA Win: Sen. Murkowski's attempt to keep EPA from regulating GHGs falls flat.

Ante Up: Providing climate financing to poorer countries may headline at G20.

Bitter on Twitter: Sen. Vitter is against the Climate czar, and he's not afraid to Tweet it.

 

tck tck tck Barack Obama

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 5:15 PM EDT

tck tck tck. Barack Obama are you listening? Are you a leader or a motivational speaker? Are you gonna do the hard work or Neville Chamberlain your way into the world records of spectacularly unwise mediations? tck tck tck.

 

Video: 20,000 Detergent Bottles Under the Sea

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 4:27 PM EDT

After a month spent studying the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," a vortex of waste twice the size of Texas in the North Pacific Ocean where there's a 36-to-1 ratio of plastic to plankton, the scientists behind Project Kaisei offered tours of their vessel and talked with Mother Jones' Sam Baldwin, Andy Kroll, and Taylor Wiles about finding lawn chairs and laundry baskets floating a thousand miles at sea. Environmental experts also weighed in on how all that junk got out in the Pacific, its impact on marine life, and why "benign by design" is a phrase to know. Watch the video below.

MoJo extra: Check out a slideshow of plastic items that Project Kaisei brought back.

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Today in Climate Maneuvering

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 3:20 PM EDT

Over at MoJo, our politics blog, we've had several updates today on climate-related machinations occurring in Congress or at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh. Check 'em out:

The Senate is about to vote on David Vitter's amendment blocking the use of federal money for policy directives from the White House climate czar.

Is the G20 punting on climate funding for poor countries?

Obama made a big pitch to the G20 on cutting government subsidies to fossil fuels. But how far does he really want to go?

Murkowski's attempted end-run around EPA regulation of greenhouse gases fails.

 

Don't Know This Woman? Then You Don't Know the Future of Solar Power.

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 3:06 PM EDT

Around Arizona, it's been said that US Representative Gabrielle Giffords loves solar power so much that she married an astronaut just to feel closer to the sun.

OK, that's probably an exaggeration (and a slight to her husband, Captain Mark Kelly). But it's easy to see where the joke came from. The first issue with it's own link on her official House website is solar power. Earlier this month, the Tucson native spoke at the Solar Economic Forum where she complained that many of her colleagues "don't see solar power as serious energy. This view is mistaken."

 

Eco-News Roundup: Thursday September 24

| Thu Sep. 24, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Stories and news from our blogs and elsewhere you might have missed.

Power of Fear: Just fear of medical malpractice lawsuits costs $60 billion a year.

The Problem With Frogs: Despite climate change metaphors, they will jump out when the water gets hot. Us, not so much.

European Education: If we can learn from the EU's cap-and-trade system, so much the better.

Chart of the Day: Number of Americans without insurance are increasing, as is cost of care.

Nuclear Shift: Obama's address spurred hopes his nuclear policy will oppose Bush's.

Girl Anatomy: Liv dolls are more anatomically correct than Barbies, but still sexist.

Scientists Say: Color Inside the Lines

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 5:31 PM EDT

Twenty-eight internationally renowned scientists propose setting global biophysical boundaries based on our scientific understanding of Earth's systems—defining a "safe planetary operating space" where we can thrive for generations to come.

Why? Because new approaches are needed to help us deal with climate change and other global environmental threats of the 21st century lest we fail more dismally than we already are.

The paper in Nature makes a first attempt to identify and quantify a set of nine planetary boundaries—including climate change, freshwater use, biological diversity, and aerosol loading.

Hat tip to Nature for making this article open access. Not to mention for consistently framing the big debates of our time and connecting the people to the science.

An important thread of this latest research is based in the global project known as IHOPE: the Integrated History and future Of People on Earth—a project designed to understand the interactions of environmental and human process over 10 to 100 millennia. That's because the rapid expansion of human activities since the industrial revolution has generated a global geophysical force equivalent to some of the great forces of nature.

"We are entering the Anthropocene, a new geological era in which our activities are threatening the earth's capacity to regulate itself," says coauthor Will Steffen of the Australian National University.

Fitting statement on a day when Sydney is smothering in a dust storm of Mad Maxian dimensions... I'd argue with the *entering* part of that statement—seeing this has been underway since the onset of agriculture.

Planetary boundaries is a way of thinking that will not replace politics, economics, or ethics, explains environmental historian Sverker Sörlin of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. "But it will help tell all of us where the dangerous limits are and therefore when it is ethically unfair to allow more emissions of dangerous substances, further reduction of biodiversity, or to continue the erosion of the resource base. It provides the ultimate guardrails that can help societies to take action politically, economically. Planetary boundaries should be seen both as signals of the need for caution and as an encouragement to innovation and new thinking of how to operate safely within these boundaries while at same time securing human well being for all."

Lead author Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, said: "The human pressure on the Earth System has reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded. To continue to live and operate safely, humanity has to stay away from critical 'hard-wired' thresholds in Earth's environment, and respect the nature of the planet's climatic, geophysical, atmospheric and ecological processes. Transgressing planetary boundaries may be devastating for humanity, but if we respect them we have a bright future for centuries ahead."

In Swedish this means: Just color inside the lines, dammit.

The nine boundaries: climate change; ocean acidification; stratospheric ozone depletion; nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; global freshwater use; land system change; biodiversity loss; atmospheric aerosal loading; chemical pollution.

But what didn't even get an honorable mention? Human population growth. The toughest coloring book of all.