Blue Marble - January 2010

Eco-News Roundup: Friday January 15

| Fri Jan. 15, 2010 5:55 AM PST

Tweetastic: Journalists' tweets show they don't know all the answers, but soon will.

Healthy Disdain: GOPers vow to challenge constitutionality of the healthcare bill.

Fight or Flight: Why are insurance companies fighting health reform when it benefits them?

Medi-fare: Even groundbreaking reform won't curb Medicare costs enough.

Survey Says: A new poll says Americans want healthcare, if they don't have to pay for it.

Killer TV: Study says watching more than an hour of TV a day has health risks.

Cap Foes: Ag lobby is opposing just about any proposed emissions cuts.

Garden Woes: An editorial compares school gardens to sharecropping.

Sucker Punch: Insurers were funding attack ads while claiming to support reform.

EPA Fight: Chamber of Commerce mulls sueing the EPA over GHG regulation.

Helping Hand: Sen. Murkowski is getting help from Bush-era folks.

Not Done Yet: Ag lobby vows to fight even harder in face of EPA victory.

 

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News From TreeHugger: Habeas Corpus in Zoos, Climate Change & Venezuela's Electricity, Trash Picking at Urban Outfitters

| Thu Jan. 14, 2010 7:05 AM PST

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

Are Zoos Prisons? Habeas Corpus Filed for Chimp

Jimmy is a 26 year old chimpanzee who has spent several years alone in a cage, where he's on exhibit at a zoo in Niterói, Brazil, just outside of Rio de Janeiro. Just last week, animal protection groups filed a motion to have Jimmy released on grounds of Habeas Corpus, arguing that he is being denied his rights to freedom of movement and to a decent life, in Rio's Criminal Court.

Digging Into Urban Outfitters' Perfectly Good Trash

The other night around 9.30 pm, I was walking up 14th st. and 6th Ave. when I passed a bunch of boxes next to the trash outside Urban Outfitters. The boxes were all marked "Broken" or "Broken Glass." With my suspicion that their definition of "broken" was different from mine—and with the H&M and Wal-Mart clothing destroying saga fresh in my mind—I pried one open. Inside were all manner of your typical Urban Outfitters ephemera—gag notepads, a disco ball, mugs, hipster tchotchkies, even an iPod speaker system. The stuff wasn't brand new—some of it, like the mugs, was damaged; most of it was just worn or rough around the edges, and totally usable.

Possibility of EPA Regulating CO2 Has Big Ag & Energy Scared

Since the path has been cleared for the EPA to step into the breech and regulate CO2 as a pollutant, even if Congress doesn't think it a worthwhile thing, the possibility has been hanging out there as a trump card. Well, as recent statements by the American Farm Bureau Federation and recent revelations about who's lobbying for Sen. Murkowski's latest EPA hand-tying move show Big Ag and Dirty Energy don't like that possibility one bit.

California Mulls Cap-and-Dividend Program - Families Could Get $1000 Back Per Year

Alternatives to the ascendant cap and trade method of setting a price on carbon and hopefully reducing greenhouse gas emission are slowly building. The California state Economic and Allocation Advisory Committee is reviewing the best way to allocate funds from a carbon mitigation plan set to begin in 2012 and are considering giving most of it straight back to the people—a cap-and-dividend program.

Climate Shifts Contribute to Serious Elecric Power & Water Shortages for Venezuela

A changing climate in Venezuela resulting in loss of hydroelectric capacity could mean bad news for Florida—which has a high level of trade with the South American nation—as Venezuela may have to burn more of it's own oil production simply to meet its own demand for electricity. Of course, Chavez blames the lack of rain, and the resulting fall off in power output, on 'EL Nino' (none of that climate change talk from a major oil producer); but, the fact remains they are in deep trouble with continuing drought.

Chinese-Made Children's Jewelry Found to be Mostly Toxic Cadmium

Who has not heard of the recall of Chinese-made toys and jewelry containing high levels of lead? Which US importers of Chinese-made charm bracelets and such, having learned a lesson the hard way, were simple minded enough to specify only that "no lead" be used in production instead of specifying "no heavy metals" or "no other highly toxic materials?" Several of them, apparently. The story is all over the news now: kids jewelry actually manufactured mostly out of the extremely toxic, elemental cadmium. Why are Chinese manufacturers doing this?

Topography of Haiti's Scary Faultline

| Wed Jan. 13, 2010 7:15 PM PST

Thanks to NASA's Earth Observatory for this informative graphic and text on the Haiti quake:

"At 4:53 p.m. local time on January 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Hispaniola Island, just 10 miles southwest of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Besides its strong magnitude, the earthquake’s shallow depth of roughly 5.2 miles ensured that the densely populated capital suffered violent shaking.

"This map shows the topography and tectonic influences in the region of the earthquake. Lighter colors indicate higher elevation. Black circles mark earthquake locations determined by the U.S. Geological Survey, and circle sizes correspond with quake magnitudes. Dozens of aftershocks followed the main quake. Red lines indicate fault lines.

"The epicenter of the quake appears just south of the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault, the southernmost of two major east-west-trending faults that bear the stress of the convergence of the Caribbean and North America tectonic plates in this location. Though faults are weak spots or fractures in the Earth’s crust below the surface, very often there are topographical clues to their presence. In this case, the presence of the fault is indicated by long, straight valley cutting through southern Haiti, just south of Port-Au-Prince. The Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault is a strike-slip type fault, with the Caribbean plate moving eastward with respect to the North America plate."

Haiti Quake Maybe Just a Prelude

| Wed Jan. 13, 2010 6:57 PM PST

The tragic intersection between poverty and nature that rent Haiti yesterday may not be the end of its seismic troubles. Science Now reports that yesterday's 7.0 temblor ruptured only a part of the same segment that 240 years ago unleashed a 7.5 quake—20 times more powerful than yesterday's.

Worse, the potential for even greater destruction exists. In 1751, a magnitude 8.0—32 times yesterday's quake—struck farther along the same fault system off the southern shore of the island of Hispaniola that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic. A couple of months after that a magnitude 7.5 occurred nearby. Plus a separate active fault crosses through the north coast of the island.

Scientists are concerned the long-sleeping Caribbean has now been awakened.

Add to that the fact that Port-au-Prince is built on unstable sediments not bedrock and that the city lacks any kind of building code and you have a recipe for repeat disasters, and then some.

So can we at least try to include along with the "massive aid racing" to Haiti some sober planning... maybe a "building code" to alleviate the failed state in our own hemipshere? How about some genuine long-term help to heal the bones of that country? Does Wyclef have to do it all?
 

Salazar to Make Final Call on Cape Wind

| Wed Jan. 13, 2010 2:48 PM PST

Will Cape Wind finally get the green light after nine years of delays? It now looks like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will make the ultimate decision on what could be the country's first offshore wind farm.

Salazar hosted meetings between the parties involved in a hotly contested dispute over whether to build the 24-square-mile, 130-turbine wind farm in the Nantucket Sound. Earlier this month the National Park Service determined that the sound could be considered for listing in the National Register of Historic Places in response to a request from local Native American tribes. But the tribes were just the wind farm's newest opponents: a campaign backed by dirty energy interests has been trying to thwart the project for nearly a decade.

Salazar brought together the Cape Wind developer, the tribes, state and national historic preservation officers, environmental groups, local governments, and other key parties together in Washington on Wednesday. Salazar said the agency has decided to extend the public comment period on the project until Feb. 12. The involved parties have until Feb. 28 to reach a resolution on how to progress. Changes to the project—like reducing the total number of wind turbines or changing their color or their arrangement—have been listed as possible measures to address opponents' concerns. So far, opponents have held firm that they do not want the turbines in the sound.

If the parties can't reach an agreement, Salazar and the Department of Interior will make a final determination on the project, taking into consideration both the need for renewable energy development and the responsibility to protect historic locations. That decision will be reached in April, Salazar told reporters following the meetings. "We will bring this process to conclusion," said Salazar. "I think 9 years after an application was filed with the United States government ... to have it face a future of uncertainty is bad for everybody."

 

Just Don't Call it a Carbon Tax

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 7:05 PM PST

A new study in Psychological Science ["A dirty word or a dirty world?" pdf] shows that Republicans and Independents would approve a "carbon offset" identical in every way to a "carbon tax" as long as it isn't called a tax.

Democrats would vote for it either way.

Researchers at Columbia ran an experiment where volunteers—self-identified as Democrats, Republicans, or Independents—read about a program that would increase the cost of carbon-producing activities but whose proceeds would be used to pay for alternative energies or carbon capture and sequestration.

For half the volunteers this surcharge was labeled a "carbon offset." The other saw it labeled as a "carbon tax." Details were identical.

The participants then had to choose between purchasing two identical items, like airline tickets, only one cost more because it included the surcharge. Results:

  • If it was called an offset, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents tended to select the more expensive and environmentally-friendly product
  • All parties were also equally likely to support making the surcharge mandatory
  • If it was called a tax, Democrats opted for the costlier item but Republicans and Independents were more likely to choose the cheaper item
  • Republicans and Independents would not support legislation mandating a tax

Wow. Tax really is a four-letter word.

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Daily Mail Bends Science to Support 'Global Cooling'

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 6:00 AM PST

The deniers are at it again.

This winter's cold spell, which chilled folks in England, the Midwest, and even Florida farm country, has led a prominent European scientist to argue that global warming has ended and that we're in for 30 years of global cooling. Or at least that's what Britain's Daily Mail says. The scientist, Professor Mojib Latif of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the Mail that "winters like this one will become much more likely."

In addition to a 2008 report that is widely mischaracterized as proof that warming has slowed, this led the Mail, whose report was later picked up by Fox News, to claim that such statements could prove that the threat of global warming has been blown out of proportion:

Some experts believe these cycles - and not human pollution - can explain all the major changes in world temperatures in the 20th century.
If true, the research challenges the science behind climate change theories, and calls into question the political measures to halt global warming.
According to some scientists, the warming of the Earth since 1900 is due to natural oceanic cycles, and not man-made greenhouse gases.
It occurred because the world was in a 'warm mode', and would have happened regardless of mankind's rising carbon dioxide production.

But speaking to the Guardian yesterday, Latif pushed back hard against the Mail, saying that the tabloid took his comments out of context to make an editorial statement. "It comes as a surprise to me that people would try to use my statements to try to dispute the nature of global warming. I believe in manmade global warming. I have said that if my name was not Mojib Latif it would be global warming," he said. "There is no doubt within the scientific community that we are affecting the climate, that the climate is changing and responding to our emissions of greenhouse gases."

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday January 12

| Tue Jan. 12, 2010 5:41 AM PST

$ v. Rx: Do employers penalize wages when healthcare costs rise? Kevin Drum investigates.

Battle Scars: Birth defects are way up in Fallujah since Americans invaded. [UK Guardian]

Getting Gassy: Coal state Democrat moves to block EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

Up In Smoke: Senate has paved way for the FDA to regulate tobacco products. [New York Times]

Water's Tipping Point

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 6:57 PM PST
Here's a cool video showing water's tipping point between freezing and thawing. It's fascinating on its own account. It's also loaded with climate metaphor, especially during this snowy winter, the likes of which must surely have kicked off past tipping points between climate warming periods and climate cooling periods. As in, the Little Ice Age. Or the ice age that froze Europe in only months 12,800 years ago.
 
It can all change so fast.
 

Butterflies Going to Heaven

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 5:40 PM PST

It's the International Year of Biodiversity—launched by the UN to highlight a problem that many scientists consider as dire as climate change. Sadly, climate change is itself a major contributor to biodiversity loss. And vice versa. Expect much mournful science on this front in 2010.

First up, a new study reveals exactly how California's butterflies are reeling from the double slap of climate change and the destruction we call development. The analysis was spearheaded by butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro at UC Davis and will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The major findings:

  • The number of California's different butterfly species present near sea level is dwindling fast
  • Species are declining more slowly or holding constant in the mountains, except at tree line
  • At tree line, butterfly diversity is increasing, as lower-elevation species react to the warming climate by moving upslope to cooler elevations
  • Diversity among high-elevation butterflies is falling as temperatures warm

There's nowhere for those butterflies to go except heaven, Shapiro tells UC Davis.

The most surprising finding? That ruderal species (those that breed on "weedy" plants in disturbed habitats and are highly mobile) are declining faster than nonweedies. This is especially true in the mountains. Most mountain butterflies recolonize every year from lower elevations. Which means that as their numbers drop in the valleys during the winter (due to habitat destruction), fewer individuals are available to disperse uphill in the summer. The rate of recolonization is dropping.

Shapiro says:

"Butterfly folks generally consider these ruderal species to be 'junk species,' sort of the way bird watchers think of pigeons and starlings. So it came as a shock to discover that they were being hit even harder than the species that conservationists are used to thinking about."

I wrote at length about the biodiversity crisis in Gone, including the incredible monarch butterfly economy of North America, upon which much depends.