Blue Marble - November 2009

Eco-News Roundup: Friday November 6

| Fri Nov. 6, 2009 2:09 PM EST

GOP Gone: Repubs boycott the climate bill markup. Dems unimpressed.

Boxing Day: Sen. Boxer moves climate bill, Republicans or no.

Too Late: Even with climate bill moving, it won't get passed before Copenhagen.

Pay as You Go: California advances pay-per-mile auto insurance, partly to relieve air pollution. [Sacramento Bee]

Public v. Private: So the public option's still around, but its premiums will top private's.

Letter of Support: Chamber of Commerce says it supports bipartisan climate bills. Kind of.

Presidential Promise: Obama tells tribal leaders they won't be "forgotten" on climate. [New York Times]

Winning Cap: Cap and trade could actually be a really sweet deal for some companies.

Big Business: Not all business trade groups are anti-climate like the Chamber.

Nano-What?: Nanoparticles could damage DNA, even from a distance. [Guardian]

Bigger in Texas: Texas gov says state is a model of healthcare reform. Kevin Drum disagrees.

 

 

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How to Bust an Escalator Addiction

| Thu Nov. 5, 2009 7:07 PM EST

The Fun Theory is, well, fun. I know this video made my rounds a couple of weeks ago, but not here (I don't think). For the students I met at Augustana College earlier this year, wrestling with their elevator addictions, this video offers a cool solution. I believe this is another example of the piezo-electric effect, powered by human feet, appearing in nightclubs in Europe.

 

Swine Flu Strikes Endangered Amazonian Tribe

| Thu Nov. 5, 2009 6:13 PM EST

I can't find this story anywhere in US news outlets. Whereas the BBC—twice as far away—features it on their online front page.

According to Survival International, swine flu has killed seven members of the Yanomami, an endangered Amazonian tribe. Another 1,000 Yanomami are reported to have caught the virulent strain. The regional office of the World Health Organization confirms swine flu.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government has sealed the area and sent in medical teams, amid fears the epidemic could kill many more Indians. According to Survival International:

In the 1980-90s, when goldminers invaded their land, one fifth of the Yanomami in Brazil died from diseases such as flu and malaria introduced by the miners. Stephen Corry, director of Survival said, "The situation is [now] critical. We could once more see hundreds of Yanomami dying of treatable diseases. This would be utterly devastating for this isolated tribe, whose population has only just recovered from the epidemics which decimated their population 20 years ago."

The Yanomami are the largest relatively isolated tribe in the Amazon rainforest, with a population of 32,000 straddling the mountainous border between Venezuela and Brazil. Because of this isolation, the Yanomami possess little resistance to introduced diseases. Furthermore, there's virtually no medical infrastructure in their forested homeland. Certainly not an ICU, I gather.
 

TreeHugger News: Is Buffett Backing Coal?

| Thu Nov. 5, 2009 8:00 AM EST

 

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

Bucking the Trend, Stern & Pachauri Maintain a Global Climate Deal Still Possible in Copenhagen

With the needle of expectation tilting towards no full climate deal being reached in Copenhagen, two of the most prominent voices in the climate change policy world—Lord Nicholas Stern and Dr Rajendra Pachauri—maintain that a global agreement is still possible in six weeks. Even without full US participation...

Is Tackling Climate Change as Important as Fighting Crime?

Some 63 percent of the world thinks so. A survey by HSBC questioned consumers from countries as disparate as the US, Brazil, Malaysia, Germany, and India about the importance of tackling climate change in relation to other pressing social issues—and the results are fascinating. For instance, the majority of people felt that mitigating climate change is as important as fighting crime.

China, US, and Climate: An Interview with Yang Fuqiang, WWF's Director of Global Climate Solutions

For more than two decades, Dr. Yang Fuqiang has been a participant in the energy and climate change discussion in and around China. His career began as a researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission, the Chinese government's main economic planner, and continued for three decades in the realm of energy and the environment. Formerly head of the Energy Foundation's China office, he is now director of global climate solutions at the World Wildlife Foundation. TreeHugger spoke with him recently in Beijing, before he left for the Barcelona round of climate talks.

Is Warren Buffett's Railway Buy a Billion Dollar Bet on Coal?

The initial reaction to news that the Oracle from Omaha was investing billions of dollars in BNSF railway was positive—TreeHugger noted that it could lead to a number of positive developments: potentially more passenger rail lines, a higher profile for railroad transportation in general, and further investment in other rail lines from other finance big guns. But there's a downside to his purchase as well—the rail Buffett bought transports some 1/5th of America's coal. Is Buffett's investment therefore a bet that coal will need to be shipped into the foreseeable future?

The 100-Mile Diet for Electrcity? The Institute for Local Self-Reliance Argues for Decentralization

The Insitute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) has released a second version of its study titled Energy Self-Reliant States. In it they look at various ways that U.S. states could generate clean electricity locally (rooftop solar PV, onshore wind, offshore wind, etc). Just from the name of the institute, it's pretty obvious that they aren't in favor of centralized solutions to our energy problems, but at least they aren't all ideology: They back up their claims with a lot of data.

US Plastic More Expensive to Make, Will Have Higher Carbon Footprint Under Cap & Trade

In Europe they commonly make commodity plastics from oil-based feedstock: petroleum naptha from the refinery. In the USA, however, plastic is mostly is made from natural gas as raw material. The chemical industry is not pleased with the current cap and trade provision being voted on in Congress. They anticipate C&T will drive utilities to burn more natural gas and less coal to generate power (a good thing by most people's reasoning), which means (per the chemical industry argument) higher operating costs, and ultimately customers getting plastic from European instead of US factories.

'Chinese' Wind Farm in Texas: Green Jobs FAIL?

The buzz around the green blogosphere today is another record-setting Chinese wind farm, with 240 turbines producing 648 megawatts. But this one isn't in Inner Mongolia -- it's in Texas. This $1.5 billion wind farm—a US-China joint venture paid for in part by Chinese banks —will be built not with turbines from usual suspects GE or Vestas, but with Chinese-made machines from a year-old company called A-Power. Needless to say, most of the project's green jobs will be created in China. And don't shoot the messenger, but it's hoping to secure 30 percent, or $450 million, of its financing from, yes, U.S. stimulus funds.

US Uses Less Water Now Than 35 Years Ago

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 7:02 PM EST

This news is particularly relevant heading into Copenhagen...for those who think conservation of any kind is impossible or unattainable or out of keeping with American goals.

The US Geological Survey released a study today showing that Americans used less water in 2005 than 35 years ago—despite a 30 percent population increase. Most of the decline is attributable to alternative cooling methods at power plants and to more efficient irrigation systems.

(The AAAS reminds us that some commercial farmers in the US have doubled the crops they grow with a given amount of irrigation water by using sub-surface drip irrigation.)

In 2005, 297 million Americans used 410 billion gallons of water per day. That's 5 percent less than in 1980, the year of peak water use, when there were 227 million Americans. Or ~1,400 gallons of water per day per American in 2005, compared with ~2,000 gallons per person per day in 1980. Not bad. And a reminder that trends can be managed, not just suffered.

The quick stats on water use in the US today:

  • Nearly half of water cools thermoelectric power plants (more reason to conserve energy).
  • Irrigation appropriates 31 percent (more reason to eat consciously).
  • The public uses 11 percent.
  • The remaining 9 percent supplies industry, livestock, aquaculture, mining, and rural household use.

We need to remember however that a changing climate requires changes in water planning. In a blog posted last year, I cited a study in Science predicting water supplies will decrease substantially in parts of North America as the globe warms (as well as in parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa).

Wonder about your own water footprint? Read Josh Harkinson's fine MoJo piece.

Drip, drip, drip. It's all finite. Let's act accordingly.

CORRECTION: Now made in the water use per American per day. Thanks to readers.

Will Brazil's Greening Efforts Displace Indigenous Populations?

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 12:43 PM EST

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva earlier this month announced that Brazil will cut its deforestation rate by 80 percent by 2020, a move he said would reduce the country's carbon dioxide emissions by 4.8 billion tonnes. That's significant, especially given that Brazil is one of the biggest contributors to the 20 percent (pdf) of the world's carbon emissions that come from deforestation, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But what effect will reducing deforestation have on Brazil's indigenous population? As Mark Schapiro reports in our Climate Countdown issue, green initiatives often put undue strain on the indigenous population. Witness Brazil's Atlantic Forest, where General Motors, American Electric Power, and Chevron bought 50,000 acres of rainforest to use as collateral toward massive tax breaks. Schapiro writes:

Jonas de Souza is a 33-year-old farmer who grew up a quarter of a mile from the forest that is now part of the GM-funded Cachoeira reserve. His family grows bananas, cocoa, and coffee on a small plot. He remembers hunting for small prey—roast paca, a large rodent, is a local delicacy—and collecting seeds and hearts of palm. But now, signs have gone up at the edge of the forest: No hunting, fishing, or removal of vegetation. A state police force, the Força Verde, or Green Police, patrols the three reserves, as well as a larger state-sanctioned preservation area, to enforce the restrictions.
"Now," says de Souza, "I don't have the right to go out and do what I used to do when I was 12, 14, 15 years old. I'd grab my fishing rod and get a fish to bring to my family or to feed myself. You don't have the right to walk into the forest to go and cut a heart of palm to eat. I'll get arrested and I'll be called a thief."

Read the article and watch this video by PBS' Frontline World, whose team traveled with Schapiro, for more about GM's carbon trading ploy and hear the stories of how people with some of the world's smallest carbon footprints are being displaced at the behest of corporations with some of the largest.

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Watch: How GM is displacing indigenous Brazilians to create offsets for its SUVs

| Wed Nov. 4, 2009 12:42 PM EST

Mark Schapiro's story from our November/December issue, "GM's Money Trees," on a controversial carbon-offset in Brazil, has just gone live online. Traveling with Mark in the Amazon was a team from Frontline/World, the PBS investigative series, which has a multimedia companion piece to this story up on its new site, CarbonWatch. Here's a sample of what they found.

 

Cute Endangered Animal: Mono Titi

| Tue Nov. 3, 2009 7:52 PM EST

These tiny, playful primates are nicknamed squirrel monkeys. You can see them chattering and roughhousing with each other in the video below, which co-stars some befuddled, middle-aged Americans vacationing in Costa Rica. 

The mono titi is one of the smallest monkeys, weighing in at only one to two pounds, and are described as "peaceful primates." Like their relatives the bonobos, they have an egalitarian society in which males share in parenting duties can stay with their natal group past puberty. Only about 1,000 mono titis remain (down from about 200,000 in the 1980s) due to habitat destruction by deforestation. The monkeys only live in mangrove forests and mountainous foothills, both of which have been increasingly fragmented by agricultural development and logging. There are also some indications that the monkeys are being captured for export as exotic pets, and hunted for food. The monkeys live in tightly-knit bands of 20 to 75 animals, so the poaching of even one individual can have social effects on the entire group.

Approximately 200 of the remaining mono titis live in the Manuel Antonio National Park nature preserve in Costa Rica, which uses ecotourism to fund conservation efforts. An unknown number also live at the Corcorvado National Park further south. To learn more about the mono titi, you can see a video about issues surrounding the Manuel Antonio population here.

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday November 3

| Tue Nov. 3, 2009 8:00 AM EST

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

Two-Faced: Did the White House ever really want a bipartisan healthcare bill?

Bluffing or Boasting?: Republicans threaten to boycott the climate bill's markup.

Trick Knee: Medical device manufacturers face a big tax, but they're not going down easy.

Welcome Visitor: ExxonMobil CEO has been a frequent visitor to the White House... why?

Facebook Foes: Chamber of Commerce gets slammed for climate stance on Facebook.

Dems Call Bluff: Sen. Boxer says climate bill will move, with or without GOP.

WWLBJD?: On healthcare reform, Jim Ridgeway wonders what would LBJ have done?

Rush Tactic: Repubs argue they're not against reform, Dems are just "rushing it."

Sympathy for the Devil: Pediatrics association cuts deal with Coca-Cola. 'Nuff said.

Can Copenhagen Save Yosemite?

| Mon Nov. 2, 2009 9:36 PM EST

Climate change is forecast to burn Yosemite National Park violently in coming years. A new study in the International Journal of Wildland Fire finds the dwindling spring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada will exponentially increase the number of lightning-ignited fires.

The increase has two causes:

  • Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere appear to be leading to more lightning strikes.
  • Decreasing winter snowpack—conservative climate models predict a 17-percent fall by 2050—will allow more lightning strikes  to ignite fires in the park.

The BBC quotes lead author James Lutz of the U of Washington Seattle:

"People already expect more ignitions from hotter summers. But this research suggests that declines in snowpack will have an additional effect."

In other words, a warming climate is setting up a nasty positive feedback loop, making a bad situation worse.

Come on, world leaders, lead already.