Blue Marble - October 2009

Oil Still Spewing Off Australia

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 7:19 PM EDT

It's been two months to the day since I posted here about a major oil leak spewing from a wellhead in the Timor Sea northwest of Australia. At the time officialdom was predicting it might takes weeks to cap.

Well, it's been 9 weeks and crude oil and gas condensate are still leaking. Thai energy company PTTEP has so far tried and failed to cap the mess three times. Their estimate for success remains firm at "weeks."

A wide range of marine wildlife—dolphins, sea birds, sea turtles, whales, dugongs—is under threat from the 2,500-square-mile slick. The spill is also crossing an oceanic superhighway for migrating marine life.

The images are from NASA’s Aqua satellite and posted at their Earth Observatory (mission: to share images, stories, and discoveries about climate and environment emerging from NASA research). The top picture shows the area around the damaged oil platform in relation to the northwest tip of Australia. The lower image shows a close-up of the slick (dark blue) and the leak (small circle).

Oil slicks on the ocean are often imperceptible in natural color images. But when they appear in the sunglint—that is, where the mirrorlike reflection of the Sun washes out the image—they sometimes become visible. As seen here.

UPI reports the leak is difficult to contain or assess because it's about 2 miles below the surface. PTTEP claims it's leaking 400 barrels a day. Australia's Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism calculates it's more like 2,000 barrels of oil a day.

Let's see, 2,000 x 9 weeks = 126,000 barrels. That's about half what the Exxon Valdez dumped. Not to mention which we're still seeing the devastating effects of that spill 20 years later.

More interesting, in a way, is how little attention this slow-motion disaster is garnering. If only there was a ship cracked up on the rocks. As it is, without pictures, there's no story. NASA is trying. But the little circle and the dark blue in the sunglint just can't cut through the fog of Dancing With the Stars.
 

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Eco-News Roundup: Friday October 30

| Fri Oct. 30, 2009 1:00 PM EDT

Blue Marblish news from our other blogs, and elsewhere.

Smart Start: Obama admin announces billions to create a smart grid.

Women's Voices: Women make up half of the population, so why not half of bloggers?

Reid's Plan: Sen. Harry Reid's announced support for a public option. So what is it?

No Going Back: Pollution is so bad in China's Pearl River, it can't be undone. [MongaBay]

Expensive Jokes: Yes Men pranksters get sued by the Chamber of Commerce.

Belle of the Ball: Coal company pays for basketball player's dorm.

Driving DNA: Some people may be genetically predisposed to be bad drivers. [WIRED]

Majority Rule: A majority of Americans support cap-and-trade, a new poll shows.

Max Factor: Sen. Max Baucus threatens to hobble healthcare legislation's progress.

Tough Shot: Two HPV vaccines are on the market, re-igniting controversies. [LiveScience]

Ready to Rumble: A look inside the fake letters ACCCE sent to sway Congress members.

Scarlet Letters: ACCCE will have to answer to Congress on forged letters scandal.

Testify: ACCCE CEO claims he never opposed Waxman-Markey. But he's wrong.

Denial-ism: A new breed of pundit is in denial about denying global warming.

Rubber Dodo Awarded to Worst Human on the Planet

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 6:30 PM EDT

Well, that is, if you measure humans by their ability to help or hurt biodiversity. Today the third annual Rubber Dodo Award was bestowed by the Center for Biological Diversity upon Michael Winer, portfolio manager for the giant real-estate investment firm Third Avenue Management, or TAREX.

The CBD's Rubber Dodo memorializes the person who's done most to drive endangered species extinct. The 2007 winner was Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. In 2008, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin got the dishonor.

So what has heretofore unknown Michael Winer done to deserve the ignominy? Under Winer's leadership, says the CBD, TAREX has become the largest stockholder of companies driving the development of the largest private landholdings remaining in Southern California and Florida. These splendid lands also happen to be home to some of the highest numbers of endangered species in North America:

  • In California, TAREX is pushing the Tejon Ranch Company to pave thousands of acres of federally designated California condor habitat.
  • In Florida, TAREX is pushing the St. Joe Company to flood tens of thousands of acres of the Florida Panhandle with upscale developments.

According to Adam Keats, director of the CBD's Urban Wildlands Program:

"Under Winer’s money-obsessed leadership, TAREX has become the poster child for unsustainable, endangered-species-killing sprawl. He specializes in finding massive, remote estates far from urban centers and turning them into a sea of condos, malls, golf courses, and resorts. There is good reason that even Wall Street commonly calls TAREX a 'real-estate vulture'."

Ouch. A vulture-killing vulture.

In California, Winer is a driving force behind the Tejon Ranch Company’s bid to build two new cities 50 miles north of Los Angeles—likened to dropping a city the size of Boulder Colorado into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

What's at stake in Tejon? Oh, only 270,000 acres at the convergence of five geomorphic provinces and four floristic regions. Plus federally designated California condor critical habitat, home to 23 known types of plant communities, home to 20 state and federally listed species, a unique "oak laboratory" for more than a third of all California oak species.

The Center for Biological Diversity would rather see Tejon Ranch be preserved as a new national or state park and preserve, to protect a bounty of native plant and animal communities, cultural and historic features, and scenic vistas.

How about we offer a carrot? Name it the Michael Winer Corrective Karma National Park?

BTW, this leads me to one of my pet, oddball, make-the-world-better schemes. In thinking about the most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of ourselves after death, why not do like the Tibetans, who practise sky burials? In other words, make ourselves food for vultures, specifically, California condors. Michael Winer, when your time comes, could you lead the way, in a park named for you?
 

RFK, Jr. to Big Carbon: Your Day is Over

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 4:28 PM EDT

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr’s keynote address to the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim, CA, has been described in the media as a “barn-barner” (the New York Times), “rousing” (Greentech Media) and “inspiring” (New Energy News).

It certainly was all that. As someone who has followed not just Robert, Jr., but also the career of his late father, Senator RFK, Sr., the best way I can describe the speech is, “consistent.”

 

News From TreeHugger: Thursday, October 29

| Thu Oct. 29, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

Editor's Note: A weekly roundup from our friends over at TreeHugger. Enjoy!

Only One-Sixth of European Retailers Showing Sustainable Palm Oil Progress

Back in May, WWF said it would starting outing companies not living up to their sustainable palm oil commitments. After all, only a fraction of the certified sustainable palm oil being produced is actually being purchased. Well, their Sustainable Palm Oil Scorecard for 2009 has been released and only one-sixth of European retailers are making much progress.

In What World Can You Call Tetra Pak Green?

All sorts of effort has gone into making Tetra Paks using greener materials, but is it enough? No way. Green is reusable. Green is refillable. Green is not disposable and downcylable, for the lucky 20 percent of Americans who have access to it, and landfill for the 80% who don't. Tetra Pak is the most elaborate greenwashing scheme ever, and they are doing a very good job of it.

Ecuador Moves Forward With Plan to Not Drill the Amazon in Exchange of Funds

We spoke about this campaign being in the making before, and about a presentation of it a month ago at the UN, but now it's a fact: Ecuador is promoting the measure internationally to get funds, and says Germany, Spain and France have shown interest in backing up the plan. The country is also considering forming a consortium of countries with natural resources.

Illegal Logging Makes Indonesia World's Third Largest Emitter of Greenhouse Gases

Indonesia is made up of 17,508 islands, most of which were totally covered by forest until about 50 years ago when that number dropped to 80 percent. But now, illegal logging and the burning of forests are making the country the third biggest emitter of GHG in the world (!) behind the U.S. and China.

More COP15 Expectation Management: UN Plans Post-Copenhagen Talks - Kerry Says We've Done All We Can

Though the grand exercise of managing expectations regarding the possibility of actually getting a global climate deal signed at the COP15 talks has been going on for a couple months now, here are the latest examples courtesy the United Nations, which is talking now about just having a framework in place for a legally binding deal, and Senator John Kerry, who is saying the Senate's done all it can before December.

Good Way to End Paper Recycling Completely: Make Ethanol Motor Fuel From Paper Waste

Today's printing and writing papers commonly have 20-30 percent recycled content. For fiber packaging materials, 60 to 100 percent recycled content is typical. It took decades for industry to reach those levels. Can you imagine what would happen if the paper industry had to price-compete against oil companies for waste paper feedstock? Recycled content of all manner of papers would surely decrease.

Obesity Kills More Than Hunger

| Wed Oct. 28, 2009 4:31 PM EDT

Something to think about as we navigate a health care plan. A new report by the World Health Organization documents how one-quarter of the total 60 million annual deaths annually are premature and preventable deaths.

Furthermore, global life expectancy would increase by 5 years if we tackled 5 preventable factors affecting health. These are: underweight children, unprotected sex, alcohol abuse, unsafe water and related sanitation and hygiene issues, plus high blood pressure.

The report, Global health risks, describes 24 factors that shape human health and longevity. They are a mixture of environmental, behavioral, and physiological factors, including preventable societal ills, like air pollution.

Eight factors alone account for over 75 percent of coronary heart disease deaths—the leading cause of death worldwide. These eight factors include booze abuse, smoking, and low fruit and vegetable intake. Obesity creates or contributes to the other causes: high blood glucose, high blood pressure, high body mass index, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity.

Worldwide, overweight and obesity now cause more deaths than underweight.

Combining any or all of these factors gets deadly in a hurry, the report notes. Reducing even one risk increases longevity.

A few other sad and preventable highlights:

  • Nine environmental and behavioral risks, together with 7 infectious causes, are responsible for 45 percent of cancer deaths worldwide
  • Unhealthy and unsafe environments cause one in four child deaths worldwide
  • 71% of lung cancer deaths are caused by tobacco smoking
  • Easily remedied nutritional deficiencies prevent one in 38 newborns from reaching the age of five in low-income countries
  • 10 leading preventable risks decrease life expectancy by nearly 7 years globally and by more than 10 years for Africa

It's the challenge of our individual and collective future: to eat right (be it more or less), exercise more, quit smoking, drink booze in moderation, wear condoms, clean the waters, clean the air. That should keep us busy for 80 years or more, a decent lifespan.

 

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5 Creative Uses for: CDs

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 8:24 PM EDT

I still remember my first CD: En Vogues' Funky Divas. I think this artifact of my preadolescence is probably still somewhere in my parents' basement, not having made the cut of stuff I wanted to cart back and forth across the country with me. (It's not that the music didn't withstand the test of time. Try "Never Gonna Get It" next time you do karaoke. Trust me.) For my parents' sake, it's high time I figured out something else to do with Funky Divas. Some ideas from AltUse and Squidoo:

1. Make a coaster. Decorate it...or for a music-themed coffee table simply plop it down.

2. Scare off birds: Take old CDs and hang them with fishing line. As they twirl in the breeze, they shoot small reflections around your garden. These reflections scare off the birds.

3. Bike safely: Tape a CD to your bike wheel as a reflector.

4. Create Christmas ornaments or party decorations: Take two CDs of the same size, put the printed sides together, tie them in two-to-four places with pretty ribbon, and hang them outdoors or dangle them from your balcony.

5. Catch candle drips: Place your candle over a CD to save your table. Works well for short, stubby candles that don't fit in holders.

Cute Animal in Danger: Cuscus

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 5:53 PM EDT

The cuscus is a marsupial native to Australia and New Guinea. This nocturnal tree-dweller has opposable toes and fingers like a monkey which help it keep hold of slippery branches. It can also use its long, prehensile tail to keep its balance. The cuscus is actually a member of the opossum family and ranges in length from about one to two feet (with the tail an additional two feet long) and weighing in around 10 lbs. The bottom of their tales are furless, rough and scaly so as to have a better grip. Cuscuses generally eat fruits and leaves, but will snack on eggs and small mammals if it can get them. Though, since the cuscus's low metabolism and body temperature, they're slow like a sloth and rarely catch other animals. The cuscus's main predators are pythons and birds of prey; because cuscuses are largely arboreal, ground-dwelling predators are generally not a problem. Other than man, of course, which sometimes hunts and eats them.

There are a few different kinds of cuscuses. The spotted (pictured above) and gray varieties are not endangered, but the large, splashy-coated black-spotted cuscus is battling poachers for survival. It lives mostly in New Guinean rainforests and is suffering devastating habitat loss from logging and agriculture; it's also been hunted extensively both for its meat and distinctive, woolly coat. It's now considered "critically endangered" and due to its remote habitat, it's not even certain how many of the animals still exist today. Only 18 specimens have ever been collected. As one book said, its "outlook" seems increasingly "bleak."

Charge Your Cell Phone with Light, Any Light

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 5:32 PM EDT

I was just wishing for something like this the other day and now see that SunCore of Irvine California has a patent pending on technology making it possible to charge a cell phone using room light, sunlight, or any light.

The OC Register reports that SunCore's upcoming Novacell external solar charger system gets power from the entire spectrum (up to ultraviolet, down to infrared) and is efficient enough to charge a cell phone in a normal room. You plug and charge via a USB connection. It'll also charge most mobile internet devices (MIDs), iPods and the likes, GPS units, digital still cameras, video cameras, and other gadgets.

The first chargers are headed to China. SunCore's preparing an $800,000 test order for China Mobile, followed by a $21 million order if successful.

The company's also developing embedded light-powered batteries enabling virtually any phone to be retrofitted before or after manufacturing. In theory, you'll be able to buy a light-powered phone that's ready to go. Or you can rip the back off your current phone and hack a SunCore light-powered battery into place yourself. Plug and play.

Cell phone maker HTM has ordered 100,000 of the company's embedded batteries for a market test. RIM, makers of the Blackberry, are also apparently testing the SunCore batteries. According to the OC Register:

"The only behavior change that we have to ask of consumers is that when they put their phone down they put it back side up. It's actually a small change in behavior to more or less continuously charge your phone," says SunCore CEO Steve Brimmer.

Price? Timeline? I am so ready for this. Can they get a few to Copenhagen, maybe as conference goodies to lure our reluctant and lackluster leaders?
 

Fraudulent H1N1 Products

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 3:44 PM EDT

The FDA has published a list of fake swine flu remedies. Highlights include:

  • Flu Away, an "inhaler containing eucalyptus and tea tree oils"
  • Nozin, a "nasal sanitizer"
  • Extreme Immunity, a supplement containing "100 percent pure Immunolin"
  • TCM Help Me, a "flu prevention tea"
  • Silver Shampoo, for which no description is given. Let your imagination run wild.

Seems like some of these products have been taken off the market since the FDA posted its warning, but the Internet still abounds with dubious H1N1 remedies of all kinds.