Blue Marble - September 2009

US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue's Climate Conflict of Interest

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 4:29 PM EDT

I have frequently wondered on this blog why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is taking a leading role in opposing the climate bill when many of its 3 million member companies actually support the legislation. Now comes an interesting post from the NRDC's Switchboard blog (via Climate Progress) that begins to answer that question. It turns out that for the past 11 years Chamber President Tom Donohue has also served as a highly-compensated board member of Union Pacific Railroad, which earns some 20 percent of its revenues from carrying coal. Moreover, Union Pacific has given $700,000 to the Chamber since 2004.

Conflict of interest? Sure sounds like it. Maybe it's time for those Chamber members who first questioned its climate approach to raise a stink about this.

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California State Park Closures Could Create New Wild West

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 1:51 PM EDT

A snag in California's effort to close 100 state parks, mandated under its hard-fought budget deal,  shows why the Golden State has become the State of Unintended Consequences

Neighborhood watch-style groups will have to do the work of rangers to prevent illegal activity in closed state parks unless voters approve a vehicle license fee or some other method is found to save the beleaguered park system, officials and park supporters said Tuesday.

Good luck with that.

As I reported in Mother Jones' July/August issue, a third of California's national parks and all of its national forests have already been colonized by aggressive pot farmers. Where hippies once grew just enough weed to peace out, traffickers now now cultivate more than 100,000 plants at a time on 30-acre terraces irrigated by plastic pipe, laced with illegal pesticides, and guarded by MAC-10s and Uzis.

There's no way that some mace-packing Guardian Angels are going to keep these guys out of shuttered and empty state parks, especially not vast areas like Mount Tam north of San Francisco, and Coe Ranch near San Jose, both of which are on the chopping block. Without rangers and day hikers, they'll be a narcotrafficante's dream.

"We are involved in a process we didn't understand was as complicated as it is," park system spokesman Roy Stearns told the San Francisco Chronicle. Well said, brother. It's what I like to think of as living in California.

US Subsidizes Coal Plants Through World Bank's "Clean Technology Fund"

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

The World Bank is spending billions of dollars to help construct coal-fired power plants in the developing world, using a fund that is supposed to help wean the world from carbon-spewing fossil fuels, the Times of London reported today.

The United States donated $2 billion over three years to a fund that would "begin the important work of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world," US Treasury official David McCormick said in a press release last September. "The United States is firmly committed to the Clean Technology Fund and its mission to help developing countries make transformational investments in clean technology that will be necessary to move them onto cleaner development paths."

It turns out those "transformational" investments include coal plants in South Africa, Botswana, and other developing countries. One loan of $850 million will help erect a coal plant in Gujarat, India that will emit 26.7 million tons of CO2 each year for the next 50 years, making it one of the biggest new sources of greenhouse gasses on Earth.

"There are a lot of poor countries which have coal reserves and for them it's the only option," Marianne Fay, the bank's chief economist for sustainable development, told the Times. "The [bank's] policy is to continue funding coal to the extent there is no alternative."

But is there really no alternative to building a coal plant in Gujarat, one of the most industrialized states in India? A search of carbon offset projects funded through the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism turns up 12 alternative energy projects in Gujarat, including numerous wind projects and a 219 MW LNG natural gas plant. And don't forget the high-profile pact India signed with the US to construct of 18 to 20 nuclear plants. Moreover, South Africa has two nuclear plants and recently opened a natural gas pipeline from Mozambique.

The Times piece gave few details on how "clean" the coal plants will be compared to others in the developing world. But clearly the bank has a lot of explaining to do given its longstanding reputation for funding environmental disasters.

California Pushes Forward on Solar & Wind Power

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 11:07 AM EDT

With so much attention focused on health care, it seems that the media has all-but-forgotten that this was supposed to be the year the United States took the lead in fighting global warming.

Now it appears Congress may have also forgotten.

"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just told reporters that the Senate could push back climate legislation until next years," writes MoJo's Rachel Morris today.

It's a good thing that CA Governor Arnold Schwarztenegger remember's the most important issue of our time.

Yesterday, the Governator signed an Executive Order ordering that rules and regulations be implemented to ensure that California gets a third of its electricity from renewable, clean energy sources by the year 2020.

It's great that California leads the nation in this fight. If we want to actually win the battle, however, the federal government needs to act, and act now. Not next year.

Ernest Hemingway, of all people, understood the necessity of collective action. To quote the last words of his dying protagonist in Islands In the Stream:

A man alone ain't got no bloody fucking chance.

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Osha Gray Davidson is a contributing blogger at Mother Jones and publisher of The Phoenix Sun, an online news service reporting on solar energy. He tweets @thephoenixsun.

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday September 16

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 6:26 AM EDT

News on the environment, climate, health, and nature from our other blogs and around the web.

Global Burden: Healthcare costs aren't just rising here: they're going up around the globe.

Changing Tides: Sea levels rise 2' on the East Coast, more than expected. [Environmental News Netork]

Need Not Apply: Family values group schedules summit on Rosh Hashanah.

Fuel Rules: Obama releases 684-page guide for new fuel emissions standards. [WSJ]

The Semi-Public Option: Baucus suggests a co-op plan for healthcare, Sen. Rockefeller's not so sure.

Evolution Evolves

| Tue Sep. 15, 2009 9:18 PM EDT

Thanks to SEED for shining the light on this gigacool visualization showing evolution evolve.

That is, for illuminating the exploration of scientific thought as expressed in the many edits and revisions of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species.

First published in 1859, Darwin's Origin has since become the unifying concept of the life sciences.

Ben Fry, director of Seed Visualization and the Phyllotaxis Lab, has released this new tool, The Preservation of Favoured Traces, allowing us to watch the book evolve through six editions as Darwin reconsidered his arguments and responded to criticisms… including from his ultra pious wife, Emma, who may have been the reason he delayed publishing for 21 years.

Launch Fry’s visualization to see how scientific theories are not static truths but living ideas likewise perpetually evolving under the selection pressures of new evidence.

Suggestion: run the visualization in the Fast mode... 150 years on and we've got about a tenth the attention span of Darwin's orchid-gazing times.
 

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Greens Target Oil Sands Before Obama-Harper Meeting

| Tue Sep. 15, 2009 3:51 PM EDT

Breaking out their familiar u-locks and mountain gear today, climate activists engaged in several acts of daring-do to spotlight Canada's oil sands in advance of Wednesday's meeting between President Barack Obama and prime minister Stephen Harper. Members of the Rainforest Action Network rappelled off the observation tower above Niagara falls to hang a 70-foot banner, and Greenpeace's monkey-wrenchers blocked a giant oil sands dumptruck, locked themselves to it, and webcast the affair.

The first Washington meeting between the two leaders is expected to cover a range of issues, including climate change and energy. Massive strip mining of Alberta's oil sands deposits--also known as tar sands--have made Canada  the US' top supplier of foreign oil but also caused it to miss its emissions targets under the Kyto Protocol. Obama and Harper are expected to look for ways to keep the sands pumping. They'll likely discuss cooperation on carbon capture and storage technologies (also a potential boon to coal country). And enviros also fear they'll seek ways to exempt the sands from the federal low-carbon fuel standard; producing oil from the sands emits up to three times the greenhouse gases as pumping and refining oil from the Middle East.

As the world's largest oil reserve outside of Saudi Arabia, the tar sands presents the Obama administration with a vexing political problem. Relying on the sands is exacerbating global warming, creating an environmental wasteland the size of Florida, and sickening and displacing a vocal native community--outcomes at odds with Obama's environmental and climate agenda. But the sands also insulate the US from the volatile Middle East.  So far, there's little doubt which is a bigger government priority: On his first official visit to Canada, in February, Obama was mum on the sands' environmental footprint. And last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved a trans-border pipeline that will send us a whopping 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day--equivalent to 8 percent of net US oil imports. Environmentalists are challenging the approval in court.

The activist website Dirty Oil Sands has more on how green groups are targeting Harper leading up to the meeting.

 

Cute Animal in Danger: Cougar

| Tue Sep. 15, 2009 6:43 AM EDT

Yes, we've all heard that cougars, that pop culture term for older women who prefer younger male lovers, are running rampant. Especially in Palo Alto. But those "cougars" actually have a few things in common with the real, endangered cougars (Felis cougar concolor). The average cougar is only slightly smaller than a woman, measuring 5' to 6' in length and weighing in at 105 to 150 pounds. Cougars, also called mountain lions, pumas, and catamounts, are also known for their "screams" which some say sound distinctly like a woman. Hear for yourself here.

All joking aside, cougars are in trouble. They've been hunted and poached to the point that their natural prey species like deer are creating overpopulation problems. Somewhat ironically, the farmers and ranchers who complained about and sometimes shot cougars now have to deal with depleted grasslands because of exploding deer populations. Even though cougars are federally endangered, and even though there have only been 10 fatalities since 1990, some hunters insist on believing there's actually a cougar overpopulation and that their children and pets are next on the dinner menu. In actuality, the cougar is shy, solitary, and rarely sighted: most interactions with humans end up with the cougar being eventually killed, rather than the other way around.

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, September 15

| Tue Sep. 15, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Good morning, troops. Here is what is new and Blue Marbleish here at MoJo and out in the wide world today:

K Street rejoice: Meet the Senate Agricultural Committee's new head, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Today's healthcare reform question: How do Americans feel about the public option?  Do they (a) support it, (b) oppose it, or (c) not care all that much?

David Corn on Hardball: David Corn and Lynn Sweet talked to Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball about whether the public option is dividing democrats.

Jobs! Get yer green jobs!: Switching from coal to renewable energy could create 2.7 million new jobs, says a new study. [Treehugger]

"We all blew it:" High Country News asks whether white environmentalists failed Van Jones.

5 Creative Uses For: Honey

| Tue Sep. 15, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Don't let honey lurk in your cabinet, quietly crystalizing while you forget about it. Instead, AltUse.com suggests using it to:

1. Soothe a sore throat: Instead of a teabag, add honey and lemon to hot water. Or, if you're feeling brave, mix 1/2 c. vinegar and 1/4 c. honey and gargle. Both solutions work like a cough drop.

2. Clear up acne: Apply a little honey to a blemish and cover with a band-aid. Works best overnight.

3. Condition your hair: Add one tablespoon of plain honey to two teaspoons of oilive oil. Place the mixture in the microwave for 15 seconds or until warm. Rub the mixture into your hair, wrap in a wet towel, and leave on for 20 minutes. Shampoo normally, but lather well to get olive oil out.

4. Dress a wound: In a pinch, honey works as a mild antiseptic. Apply it to to the wound and cover with a band-aid.

5. Exfoliate your skin: Honey crystallized? Use it like a facial scrub to get rid of dead skin. Rinse off with water.