Blue Marble - October 2009

Sinking Island Holds Underwater Meeting

| Wed Oct. 21, 2009 2:08 PM EDT

Talk about desperate: Cabinet members from the tiny island of Maldives recently held a meeting underwater to illustrate the importance of a carbon-cutting deal in Copenhagen this December.

Inhabitants have a right to be worried—if sea levels rise as projected, it's estimated 80 percent of the country will be underwater by 2100.

Watch a video of the meeting, complete with notepads, fish, and scuba gear, below. To read about Tuvalu, another low-lying island where citizens face displacement due to global warming, pick up the issue of Mother Jones hitting newsstands now.

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Dazed and Confused by Solar Power?

| Wed Oct. 21, 2009 8:00 AM EDT

Solar power lovers of the world, unite!

That could be the motto for the solar power collective, 1BOG—if co-founder Dave Llorens cared about things like mottos. 1BOG is an acronym for "One Block Off the Grid," a concept Llorens explained over lunch recently in Phoenix where he was finalizing a decision on which of the many solar installation companies in the Valley of the Sun would be 1BOG's "preferred installer."

(They announced their decision yesterday: REC Solar, Inc.)

 

Ride350 Dispatch: Humbled by Kindness

| Tue Oct. 20, 2009 6:31 PM EDT

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

We woke up in Arcata, CA at the crack of dawn yesterday. Bleary-eyed and disheveled, surrounded by half-packed bags and well-lubricated bicycles, we found ourselves greeted by dozens of residents and community leaders who were so excited we were there I thought I was still dreaming. (And, since I felt like I was dreaming the entire day, I can't say that I'll do much of a job recounting it—so it'd probably be better to read former MoJo web guru Nick Aster's post about our first day on the road.)

What I can say is that being greeted by dozens of strangers, in a place you've never been before, who are shaking your hand, handing you warm cups of coffee (in porcelain cups, no less), feeding you fresh, locally made bagels, and telling you that they are so honored to have you in their town, is a really humbling experience. I mean, really? You're excited to have me here?

Most days I sit in front of a computer, trying to track down people I want to talk to. I email across the country, I ride mass transit with a bunch of grumpy faced iPhone users, and I feel pretty darn isolated in my cubicle life. But, not yesterday.

And that same uncommonly wonderful feeling of being welcomed and appreciated has continued into today. From the chain-smoking mother sitting in front of her RV trailer at the campground wishing us good luck, and reminding us girls to "be safe out there," to the unique collection of locals who have approached us to ask if we're those folks they saw on TV, everyone in these wild little CA towns seem genuinely excited that we're here.

And—here comes the fun part: Most of them want to know what the hell we're doing and what that number "350" means.

My favorite encounter of the day was meeting the fine folks who run the Avenue Cafe in Miranda on Highway 101. Genuinely good people through and through, and generous as can be. After a 30-mile ride through the Avenue of the Giants, the team rolled into Miranda without a clue. Eyeing the sunny picnic benches on the patio at the Avenue Cafe, I popped my head in and asked if they'd mind hosting us and our sandwiches if we bought a drink or two. The invitation to stay was quickly followed by two baskets of bread sticks (yum) and a large cheese pizza from the chef.

Three of the staff came out to talk to us about the ride, and 350 ppm (they've heard of us too!), and what they're doing to lessen their impact. The manager proudly explained that he makes weekly runs of recycling to the collection center and donates the money to the local school, but he wants to get solar power panels installed, and do more to green their building. Small steps, he admits, but "everybody's got to do their part."—Lily

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.

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday, October 20

| Mon Oct. 19, 2009 7:01 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Tue Oct. 20, 2009 12:00 PM EDT

Here's a sampling of stories from our other blogs you might have missed.

Baby, Meet Bathwater: On sacrificing healthcare reform for the public option.

Paying the Piper: Kevin Drum on the deals cut to get healthcare legislation passed.

Policing Pot: Obama admin says it will not arrest medical marijuana users, sellers, as long as they comply with state laws.

Bye Bye Benefits: Companies cut employee's health plans for the recession, and beyond.

Moving the Earth: Is geoengineering a real solution to slowing climate change?

Chamber Secrets: Yet another group is breaking from the Chamber of Commerce over its vintage stance on climate.

Chamber's Return: Chamber objects to MoJo investigation, vaguely insults us.

Obama's Green Scheme: Federal workers start looking for real ways to be sustainable.

Pharma's Win: PhRMA and insurance execs play good-cop, bad-cop with the White House.

Punk'd: Chamber of Commerce, WaPo, NYT, get punk'd by the Yes Men.

Yes, They Can: Yes Men pranksters say why they made a fake press release reversing Chamber of Commerce's position on global warming.

 

 

Cute Animal in Danger: Sea Otter

| Mon Oct. 19, 2009 2:37 PM EDT | Scheduled to publish Tue Oct. 20, 2009 12:16 PM EDT

Sea otters may be in the weasel family, but there's nothing sly or slinking about them. Sea otters are actually favorites at zoos and aquariums because of their active, playful nature, and natural cuteness. Sea otters can often be found floating on their backs, sometimes placing crabs or mussels on their stomach before using a rock to hit them and crack them open. Sometimes, as seen at left, they even "hold hands" as they sleep on their backs to keep from drifting.

While sea otters do well in captivity, they are struggling in the wild. There are about 100,000 sea otters left, living along the Pacific coast from California to southern Alaska. In Alaska, sea otter populations have declined more than 90% since the 1980s due to increased attacks by killer whales, a fact scientists attribute to changing oceanic ecosystems. Sea otters are a keystone species, keeping invasive animals like sea urchins in check; now that the otters are disappearing, sea urchins are destroying kelp forests, which in turn means that fish that like to hide in kelp forests have to find new homes.

Sea otters in California aren't doing so hot either. They've experienced a sudden drop in population, for which causes are uncertain. To combat this, on October 1 California Senator Barbara Boxer introduced a bill to fund research on California sea otters before they can decline further.

Health Care Video: Wake Up America!

Mon Oct. 19, 2009 1:48 PM EDT

According to talking heads, health care reform can be boiled down to death panels and socialism. Why is America missing the bigger picture? Watch Andrew McQuinn take the country to task in the video below:

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Econundrum: 5 Low-Carbon Foods

| Mon Oct. 19, 2009 5:00 AM EDT

Q: I know cattle produce a lot of greenhouse gas. So if I skip the T-bone, does that count as a low-carbon diet?

A: Cows have become famous for trampling the planet: A four-ounce serving of steak creates 10.6 pounds of greenhouse gases, the same as a 95-mile car trip. But foregoing meat that once mooed without considering the carbon impact of the rest of your diet? That’s a little like telling someone who's counting calories that the bacon explosion is off limits, but corn dogs, pizza, and chocolate cake are all fair game.

If you're curious about whether the deliciousness of your favorite foods are worth their emissions, check out the online carbon calculator created by Bon Appétit, a corporate catering company. Simply drag your treat of choice into the frying pan, and a thermometer on the right tells you how many emissions "points" the food is worth. (Foods are assigned point values based on their greenhouse gas emissions—one point equals .035 oz. of emissions. Researchers took into account both the agricultural and shipping emissions associated with each food—for a detailed account of their methodology, click on "What do these points mean?".) The calculator is not 100 percent accurate—the point values don't take into account, for example, where produce is grown (i.e., a tomato farm in a dry climate will require more watering—and therefore create more emissions). But for back-of-the-napkin purposes, it's a pretty neat little tool.

I wasn't surprised that the staples of my mostly-vegetarian diet aren't as carbon-intensive as steak, but a few of my favorite foods racked up more points than I expected:

Breakfast: Omelet with vegetables and cheese
Carbon Footprint: 2.9 pounds, or .27 steaks
Why: Eggs come from chickens; chickens need food, water, and heat, all of which create emissions.
Instead Try: Oatmeal (0.3 pounds of greenhouse gas)

Lunch: Spinach tofu salad
Carbon Footprint: 2.9 pounds, or .27 steaks
Why: Fermenting soybeans to make tofu requires energy, as does refrigerating the final product.
Instead Try: Spinach and pea stew (0.2 pounds)

Dinner:
Macaroni and cheese
Carbon Footprint: 2 pounds, or .19 steaks
Why: Cheese isn't as carbon intensive as beef, since it's easier to make (no slaughterhouses, for example) but dairy cows still produce methane and require energy to raise.
Instead Try: Pasta primavera (0.9 pounds)

Side dish:
Grilled hothouse vegetables
Carbon Footprint: 1.7 pounds, or .16 steaks
Why: Greenhouses require more energy than most outdoor farms.
Instead Try: Grilled seasonal vegetables (0.2 pounds)

Drunk snack:
Individual pepperoni pizza
Carbon Footprint: 2.4 pounds, or .23 steaks
Why: Full disclosure: I had to look up what pepperoni actually is (ew). It's sometimes beef, which we already know creates emissions galore; but its pork and pork-chicken combo incarnations are a little easier on the planet.
Instead Try: Veggie burrito with beans, cheese, and rice (1 pound)

The bottom line: Not all veggie dishes are equally light on emissions, but carbon calculators can help you figure out your favorite foods' damage. (Plus, they're fun to play with.)

Ride350 Dispatch: The Beginning

| Fri Oct. 16, 2009 7:20 PM EDT

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

Climate change research tells us that unless we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause irreversible damage to the planet. But is 350 really the most important number on Earth? Bill McKibben thinks so, and so do we. That's why Ben, Adam, and I will be riding bicycles 350 miles from Arcata to San Francisco on October 19-24. We'll do this with the support of 350.org, an international coalition of concerned individuals building a global grassroots climate movement around the most important number on the planet: 350.

For us, riding 350 miles along the northern California coast is a small yet important act of solidarity to spread the word about climate change. Along the way, we plan to engage local activists, politicians, school children, and everyday citizens to mobilize for change as well. We don't claim to be climate experts, or the most knowledgeable activists on the road, but our hearts are in the right place and we're motivated to help. Many of us, like you, have already started making small changes in our daily lives to minimize carbon emissions—packing reusable grocery bags, switching off lights when we leave the room, and recycling everything we can (clothes, plastics, cars, apartments), etc. But together we can do more.

350.org is an international organization calling everyday citizens to action with the belief that raising awareness around the number 350 will put pressure on world leaders to aggressively address climate change, causing a paradigm shift in how individual countries approach a global problem. The organization asks only that we take action to spread the number—how we choose to do so is completely up to us. (For inspiration, check out this action being organized in the Middle East.)

As a team, we look forward to keeping in touch with the Mother Jones community as we make this journey. Please leave comments with your thoughts, words of encouragement, and any suggestions of places to see, people to meet, or actions to take as we ride from Arcata to San Francisco. And, if you're in the Bay Area, please consider welcoming us home in San Francisco on October 24 for 350.org's International Day of Climate Action. Groups like Greenpeace, the Mobilization for Climate Justice, and Global Exchange are organizing the event, and it promises to be an inspiring day.—Lily Abood

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.

Germany wins Solar Decathlon

| Fri Oct. 16, 2009 10:09 AM EDT

While Germany deserves the props that come with its number one ranking, the real winner at the Solar Decathlon held in Washington, DC, is solar power itself. Twenty competitors from University teams in the US, Canada and Europe built architectually bold and energy efficient houses, and set them up on the National Mall. It was a showcase for the schools and nations represented, but the sun (while remaining 93 million miles away) was the star of the show. (MJ policy: one pun allowed per post.)

But, you really should check out the photos of the buildings -- they're extraordinary, even without taking their solar super-powers into account.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, October 16

| Fri Oct. 16, 2009 6:00 AM EDT | Scheduled to publish Fri Oct. 16, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Welcome, readers. First up, a recap of the ongoing Mother Jones investigation into the US Chamber of Commerce: Even before members began a mass exodus over the organization's climate policy, it wasn't half as mighty as it claimed to be. A day after Mother Jones exposed the Chamber's inflated membership numbers, it shrank its official membership count to a tenth of the number it had originally reported. Overnight. Reporter Josh Harkinson has the nitty gritty here

And here's what else is new in health and environment news on our other blogs:

Latest Chamber haters: Investors are now asking the heads of major businesses to distance themselves from the US Chamber of Commerce.

All I want for Christmas is a climate treaty: Our kids will measure us by how long we stalled on fixing the climate. What will we tell them?

Big Ag vs. the climate bill: The American Farm Bureau Federation is pointing its pitchforks at the Senate climate bill with a major new lobbying campaign, "Don't CAP our Future."

Flukey flu shots: Why do people who get flu shots get less sick? Skeptics say it's because people who get the vaccine are healthier in the first place.

Bush: Shh! Climate change is serious! The Bush administration kept the document declaring that carbon dioxide pollution endangers public welfare under wraps, but the Obama EPA released it this week.

The cost-shifting conundrum: If the government cuts Medicare reimbursement rates, will healthcare providers just make up for it by charging the rest of us more?