Blue Marble - October 2009

Farm Lobby's Estate Tax Handouts

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 2:01 PM EDT

If you thought the ag lobby only cared about cows, think again. As Kevin Drum explains in his article for the November/December 2009 issue, the farm lobby has it in for any climate bill that would limit their emissions. Not only that, they'll keep on lobbying despite their successes.

The ag lobby isn't just interested in climate, though. They're also very concerned with the estate tax. Major players like the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the American Farm Bureau have loudly expressed their support for a bill currently in committee, HR 3905,  which would keep estate taxes at 2009 levels indefinitely. At 2009 levels, only estates worth $3.5 million ($7 million for couples) or more would be taxed at 45%. If Congress does not pass a bill, the 2009 levels would be suspended in 2010, and in 2011 estate taxes would be back where they were under George W. Bush in 2001: a 55% tax on all estates worth $1 million or more. However, today House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he expects the House will amend or revise the estate tax, but he didn't specify exactly how. If Congress passes HR 3905, all estates under $5 million would be exempted from the "death tax," as the NCBA calls it, and the taxation rate would be reduced from 45% to 35%.

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Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday October 27

| Tue Oct. 27, 2009 7:41 AM EDT

News from our other blogs on healthcare, nature, the environment, and energy.

President's Choice: Obama may or may not have the leverage to push one public option ahead of the pack.

Sneak of the Week: Are Democrats "sneaking" a public option through the Senate?

Big Ag: Kevin Drum has a new piece on the farm lobby and why it's wrecking the climate.

Happy Caturday: Inkblot and Domino, now cover models.

Penny Saver: EPA finds Kerry-Boxer climate bill would have low cost to households.

Apples v. Oranges: Kerry-Boxer is weaker than Waxman-Markey despite better GHG targets.

Reid's Option: On what a Harry Reid public option would look like, and if it could fly.

Clean(er) Coal: Government moves ahead with clean coal projects, despite scrutiny.

Climate 101: Kate Sheppard gives the ins-and-outs of Boxer's climate proposal.

Opting Out: Reid's public option, opt-out included, moves closer to reality.

 

 

Video: 350 Gets Rowdy

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 7:55 PM EDT

This Saturday, activists convened in more than four thousand cities worldwide for the 350 Day of Action, a global event designed to raise awareness about the looming effects of climate change and demand action from international leaders. The San Francisco protest attracted a hodge-podge of environmentalists, bikers, and polar bears, all lamenting the earth's increasingly dire fate. Now, it's up to the negotiators to reach a climate agreement in Copenhagen this November.

See the video:

Fiji Water Burning Trash?

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 7:20 PM EDT

In the wake of Mother Jones's recent Fiji Water expose that tackled the company's indifference to the country's military junta and the surrounding communities' dire lack of clean drinking water, we received many letters. One in particular caught our attention. In 2007 Mary Ackley, then a graduate student at the University of Vermont, was doing research on the Vatukoula gold mine in Fiji when she saw yet another piece of the story.

On one of Ackley's trips to visit the Vatukoula mine, located about 18 miles from Fiji Water's bottling plant, she saw makeshift fences made of oversized spools of Fiji Water labels. Then she saw huge plumes of smoke rising from the local dump. When Ackley looked closer she noticed piles of discarded Fiji Water bottles, reels of company labels, and plastic pellets used to make the bottles. It looked like too much trash to be generated by the small town, so Ackley started asking around. Sure enough, residents who lived next to the dump said they had seen Fiji Water trucks pass by three or four times a week since about 1996, when the company first started operations.

But that was back in 2007. Last year, Fiji Water representative Rob Six told Ackley in a written letter that the company had been phasing out the use of the dump since June 2007. Apparently, as of last fall, the company stopped burning trash there all together. Nevertheless, asthma rates in Vatukoula are through the roof—which the community told Ackley is likely a result of gold mining operations, as well as carcinogens released by constantly smoldering Fiji Water trash over the past decade. Ackley's surveys showed that the number one concern in the community was respiratory problems caused by airborne carcinogens. It remains to be seen how Fiji Green will address the damage done.   

This year Ackley and filmmaker Kristian Maynard released a short documentary in which they narrate their discovery of the Vatukoula dump and explore the gold mining's horrific effects on Fijian health. Last weekend, it won an award at the Yosemite International Film Festival. Check out the clip below.

  

 

Blast Climate Change: India's Ready to Go Nuclear

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 7:06 PM EDT

The effects of coal-fired power are obvious everywhere in India. Filthy air. Grimy buildings. Persistent tubercular coughing from people, babies, dogs, cats, cows.

It's reminiscent of Europe in the first half of the 20th century, complete with pea-soup—make that dhal-soup—smogs.

So who can blame India for wanting to get more energy and cleaner energy and turning to the fastest solution? Just like France did. And Japan. And Russia. And South Korea.

Ever since a deal with the US last October removed sanctions denying access to the international atomic energy market, India's been on a nuclear spending bender, reports the Asia Times. They've signed big nuclear and tech agreements with Russia, the US, and France. They've signed lesser agreements with Namibia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, South Korea, Kazakhstan, and Argentina—and are about to sign with Canada.

Last week India assigned sites for Russian, French, and American firms to build new reactors: the French in Maharashtra; the Russians in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal; the US in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

Which leads to the dirty little secret that supposedly-clean nuclear power is making a stealthy comeback as the miraculous climate fix of the 21st century. Britain's made an about-face and is pledging a whopping 30 percent nuclear by 2030.

Conservative blogger Paul Mirengoff at Power Line tries to convince why we should not be afraid. He paraphrases Former Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham writing in the Weekly Standard, in a piece called New Nukes!:

The objection to using nuclear power, to the extent it has any rational basis at all, stems from concerns about safety. But these concerns are founded on events from the late 1970s (Three Mile Island) and mid 1980s (Chernobyl). Since then... nuclear reactors and the whole nuclear industry have been transformed. Ironically, the old facilities continue to operate, while new, safer ones cannot be built. To borrow and expand on Abraham's analogy, the position of the critics makes about as much sense as refusing to have heart bypass surgery because the mortality rate associated with this procedure was high during the 1970s, but then having the surgery anyway using the procedures of the 1970s.

Abraham writes about the need for increased nuclear power to combat climate change. He writes without a smidgeon of irony regarding his own intransigent resistance to any notion of climate change as secretary of energy during George W. Bush's first term. He never mentions nuclear waste disposal. He never mentions security issues... like the alleged terrorist found to be working at a British nuclear lab.

But back to India. Should we be worried that a nation struggling to provide clean drinking water or universal education for its people, one that is in a state of near-war with all its neighbors, is racing to construct 15 nuclear power plants at eight different sites? Should we be concerned that firms including GE Hitachi, Toshiba Westinghouse, Areva, and Rosatom are vying for contracts worth an estimated US $100 billion?

Isn't there a better way to spend $100 billion than on a clean energy fix with filthy risks?

The only way to beat nuclear is to bring solar, geothermal, and intelligent wind up to speed and on-line faster. At the moment, only the US is holding out against nuclear—the technology we invented. It's up to us to enter the future with foresight. To pioneer the better solution. Fast.

Check the latest MoJo for the unholy scramble among lobbyists in DC for the future of the energy world.

You know, there's a lot of sun in India. In fact India has one of the world’s highest solar intensities, with an annual energy yield of 1,700 to 1,900 kilowatt hours per kilowatt peak of  installed capacity. It's cleaner, safer, and freer.


 

Breaking: Sugary Cereal Bad for You

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 2:37 PM EDT

Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a groundbreaking study over the weekend showing, definitively, that Corn Pops are still bad for kids. Like, really bad. So bad, only 8 percent kid's cereals qualify under the federal Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). Recently, big cereal companies like Kellogg's and General Mills have thrown their weight behind ad campaigns that tout the cereal's health benefits, most notably added fiber. 

Kellogg's has spent big bucks advertising a measly three grams of fiber (see video below) in two of its best-selling cereals, even though one of those cereals, Froot Loops (41% sugar) tied for sixth WORST cereal for children, beating out only Reese's Puffs, Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap'n Crunch. In 2008, cereal companies spent $165 million advertising to kids, 94% by General Mills and Kellogg's. With the web, sugary cereals have found even more ingenious ways to snag new noshers, making me nostalgic for the days when you fished 3-D glasses from the bottom of the bag or saved up your box tops for a baseball cap.

Despite the Rudd Center's findings, all the cereals mentioned in this post meet the industry's standards as "better for you food." Among the study's other findings: "Cereals marketed directly to children have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber, and 60% more sodium than cereals marketed to adults for adult consumption." At the same time, many supposedly healthy cereals for adults, like Kellogg's Smart Start, have just as much sugar as Corn Pops.

Still not convinced? Go back to our March/April Food Package and take a look for yourself.

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Econundrum: A Greener Commute

| Sun Oct. 25, 2009 8:00 PM EDT

Considering how much car travel affects a person's carbon footprint
, I'm always looking for ways to cut down on my driving time. Luckily for me, the commute isn't a problem, since a rapid-transit train whisks me under the San Francisco Bay practically to MoJo HQ's doorstep every day. But if you don't live near public transportation or a bike-friendly commute (and you don't happen to have an extra 25 grand kicking around for a Prius), you're probably going to have to get creative.

One idea: Get a GPS device. The technology company Navteq recently found that German drivers who were given navigational devices with real-time traffic information increased their fuel economy by an average of 12 percent. The researchers calculated that GPS systems could save 2,006 pounds of carbon per driver per year, a 24 percent reduction from current emissions levels.

An ABC poll estimated the average American commute at 16 miles one way, creating about 29.3 pounds of CO2 round-trip every day. According to the Navteq researchers' findings, then, getting a GPS device is the same as not driving to work 68 days every year.

A caveat: Since Navteq, the company behind the study, sells software to GPS manufacturers, it has a vested interest in touting the benefits of navigational systems. Still, some independent traffic-savvy types told me they think that the study is solid, if taken with a few grains of salt. First, the study was conducted in Germany—and any American who's been to Europe knows that US freeways take crowded to an entirely different level. Another problem: Once everyone starts using the alternate route that a GPS suggests, it's, well, no longer an alternate route. "The impact for any one driver may be somewhat smaller if more people use these devices and start to clog up alternate routes," said Tai Stillwater, a graduate student who studies traffic and sustainability at the University of California-Davis.

If you don't want to shell out for a GPS (they run about $150-$200), consider these fuel efficiency tips. You can also talk to your boss about telecommuting a few days a week. And for advice on whether to junk your clunker in favor of a hybrid, read our piece on the subject here.
 

Ride350 Dispatch: Fueling a Movement

| Sat Oct. 24, 2009 12:13 PM EDT

[Guest bloggers Lily Abood, Ben Jervey, Adam Taylor and friends are writing from the road while biking 350 miles to raise awareness of climate change issues. This post is the sixth in the Mother Jones Ride350 Dispatch series.]

Our second to last day on the journey went something like this:

Wake up in Salt Point State Park, consume an inordinate amount of breakfast foods while simultaneously packing lunch foods. Morning mist gives way to coastal sunshine. Pedal out of the park and follow Highway 1 through its many sweeps and curves south toward Jenner. South not being the same as downhill, climb out of a couple memorable river canyons, eyes stinging with sweat. Extensive downhill to the coastal hamlet of Jenner. Apply sunscreen, drink chai. Eat a muffin, or three. Pedal inland along the the Russian River to Monte Rio, "Vacation Wonderland". Eat a local sausage. Continue south up a considerable rise, questioning the logic of said sausage consumption. Arrive in Occidental. Drink a liter of electrolyte water and wash it down with a few handfuls of trail mix. Visit the local "Arts and Ecology" center, relax in the shade of an apple tree. Ride on.

Lunch (lunch?) in the quaint valley enclave of Freestone. Eat a tuna fish sandwich, two dill pickle spears, and a small mountain of Maui sweet onion potato chips. Swill a Tecate.

Time to ride on! Back in the saddle for approximately 1/4 of a mile. Stop at the phenomenal Freestone Bakery. There's no room for more food, but manage to put down some freshly baked warm goat cheese and rosemary bread and a swig of coffee for the last haul of our 74 miles. The team rolls out as a mass, sun pouring down through the green hills onto the breathtaking Tomales Bay.

We make a short stop at Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall to pick up two bags of oysters to enjoy over the campfire. Ride on. A quick 9 miles of rolling hills brings us to Point Reyes Station where we're welcomed by banners and flyers announcing 350.org climate day actions taking place October 24. After ice cream is consumed we set up camp in Olema, 2 miles down the road.

Over beers and oysters, we spend our last evening reflecting on our incredible journey together. Knowing that 350.org was started with just five friends in Vermont one Sunday night and now, four years later, has inspired over 4,000 climate action events around the world reminds us all that we are a part of something much larger. No matter your background or where you live, this is all our cause. One group of dedicated friends at a time, we will fight for it together.—Julie Dery

Adam Taylor is a green building consultant in San Francisco. While a bicycle enthusiast, he has never done anything like Ride350 before in his life—you can tell by looking at his legs. Ben Jervey is a journalist, activist, world traveler, great wedding dancer, and looks great in spandex. Lily Abood has worked with nonprofits in the Bay Area for 10 years (including her current role as Mother Jones' Major Gifts Officer). She plans to hug a lot of CA redwoods while she's on this adventure. For more information about the entire Ride350 team, check out the rider profiles here.

Ride350 Dispatch: A Day on the Road

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 9:32 PM EDT

[Guest bloggers Lily Abood, Ben Jervey, and Adam Taylor are writing from the road while biking 350 miles to raise awareness of climate change issues. This post is the fifth in the Mother Jones Ride350 Dispatch series.]

Day 4: Jug Handle Creek Farm in Caspar to Salt Point State Park in Plantation

The day began with owl calls, 3-5-0 chants, and a room full of youth with hands raised to the sky—anxious to share their understanding of climate change and what they can do to help. There could not have been a more inspiring start to the day. We're in good hands with these kids as our future.

9:30: Team 350 enjoys a delicious breakfast at the Mendocino Bakery and Café. Riders make tough decisions between breakfast burritos and cream cheese-filled pastries before hopping on our welcoming saddles for a 70 miler. And we're off.

10:30: One by one, riders follow a sweeping left on Hwy 1. Off to the right, two cypress trees frame a misty picture of the Mendocino Coast line and waves crash playfully on gum drop rock formations. It's breathtaking. Riders hoot and holler—we are fast, we are flying, we are alive.

11:00: Our biggest hill of the day. Short in length, but so steep that it takes four sweeping switch backs to make the climb. Out of our saddles, eyeing each curve, riders breathe heavily and send encouraging forecasts down the line—"almost there, keep it up." Keep in mind these legs have three days on them.

1:00: Curious cows graze to our right, forested hillsides rise up to our left, hawks fly effortlessly along overhead. With dreamy tailwinds blowing us down the coast line, Ride 350 effortlessly overshoots its lunch destination at Manchester State Beach. On to Point Arena to check out the swells.

1:30: Ride 350 arrives at Point Arena to an abundant lunch spread, thanks to Lily and Toby, and an entertaining view of 10-12 ft overhead surf. The local kids run to the end of the pier to see who is catching rides and who is getting pummeled—our team is not far behind. And then the short board emerges from our very own van, along with a wetsuit. It's a double sport day for Zach and our team couldn’t be more proud as we watch him paddle out. Sweaty and salty, we're all a little jealous of this makeshift shower.

3:00: We eat up miles in the afternoon. 500-person town after 500-person town whizzes by so quickly that one rider takes a moment to explore a beach just south of Sea Ranch. This meditative moment is followed by comfort food at a local convenience store—a great way to connect with the locals. The rest of the team rides on, pastoral landscape turning to pine forests. You can smell the needles, and it takes me back home. We ride together, we ride solo. One pedal at a time, we're quickly approaching the 70 miler marker.

4:00: Adam was right, Gualala is awesome. It's beautiful to see the connection that he, his dad, and Zach have to this place. What an amazing experience to share. We all feel blessed to be part of this team.

4:45: Who knew that Salt Point State Park was so large. 72 miles turns to 74, and then 78. We all feel accomplished. This is the longest ride for some. Jules notes that it's rare to feel so accomplished in a typical day. Peter explains that riding this length of distance opens up his perception of biking to a whole new world of possibility. Day 4 is magical. —Amelia Spilger

Adam Taylor is a green building consultant in San Francisco. While a bicycle enthusiast, he has never done anything like Ride350 before in his life—you can tell by looking at his legs. Ben Jervey is a journalist, activist, world traveler, great wedding dancer, and looks great in spandex. Lily Abood has worked with nonprofits in the Bay Area for 10 years (including her current role as Mother Jones' Major Gifts Officer). She plans to hug a lot of CA redwoods while she's on this adventure. For more information about the entire Ride350 team, check out the rider profiles here.

Obama: Get Ye to Copenhagen and Earn Your Nobel

| Fri Oct. 23, 2009 6:03 PM EDT

The Times of London today reports it's unlikely Obama will attend Copenhagen climate talks and may use his Nobel acceptance speech to set US environmental goals instead.

I was off the grid in remote rural India when Obama won the Nobel. Didn't hear about it for a few days. When I did, my Indian hosts were scratching their heads wondering what this likeable man had done to deserve it.

Since then their own prime minister has followed the pessimistic US lead when he said that India will not sacrifice its economic development for a new climate change deal.

But imagine for a moment that Obama really did attend Copenhagen and brought all his theoretical mediator skills to bear on the proceedings.

Rather than using a Nobel he doesn't yet deserve to set US environmental goals, Obama could actually set those environmental goals in the midst of the most monumental environmental meeting ever held (read Bill McKibben on this in the latest MoJo).

It might actually change the world. And that would justify his Nobel.

Can't you try, Barack Obama?