Blue Marble - January 2010

Econundrum: Is Your Tap Water Too Dirty to Drink?

| Mon Jan. 11, 2010 3:50 AM PST

I've long been a proud drinker of tap water. Here in the Bay Area, most of our water comes from the famously pristine Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, surrounded by 500 square miles of wilderness in Yosemite National Park. What impurities could possibly make it into such a remote place?

Plenty, turns out. The Environmental Working Group recently tested the water in 45 states and found 316 contaminants. Nearly two thirds of those contaminants are not regulated by the EPA—meaning local water authorities aren't required to filter them or even monitor their levels. I looked up San Francisco's water in the EWG database and learned that my tap water contains eight pollutants. Relatively speaking, that's actually not too bad: In other cities (Pensacola, Florida, Riverside, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada, topped the dirty water list), researchers found high levels of unregulated chemicals like perchlorate, a key ingredient in rocket fuel shown to be toxic to the thyroid gland, and MTBE, a gasoline additive that can cause kidney and liver damage.

So what's the solution? Not bottled water, says EWG researcher Nneka Leiba. "Often it's just tap water in a bottle. And then there's the price." (EWG researchers found 38 contaminants in 10 popular brands.) Another problem: the environmental impact of manufacturing, shipping, and disposing of all those bottles. (Check out Mother Jones' exposé of Fiji Water's ecologically and socially questionable practices here.)

Your best bet is a good filter. Carbon models—the kind in the popular Brita filters—are fairly affordable (you can get a refrigerator pitcher filter for about $10), and they remove most contaminants (though not perchlorate, MTBE, or arsenic). Reverse osmosis filters, which hook up to your faucet, are pricier (around $200), but they'll keep almost all contaminants out of your tap water.
 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Whole Foods Really Is Bad for the Planet

| Fri Jan. 8, 2010 2:55 PM PST

Earlier this week I pondered whether Whole Foods, or more specifically, its CEO John Mackey, is bad for the planet. Mackey's latest comments questioning whether mankind is warming the planet prompted the piece, but I also looked at some of the greater questions about just how much, if anything, Whole Foods is doing to back up its green image. Well, low and behold, a study of grocers and their sustainability efforts documents just how little the company actually does when it comes to climate and related environmental issues.

Released in December 2008, the study from sustainable business group Ceres assesses what 63 companies are doing to prepare themselves to face the challenge of climate change, with a focus on board oversight, management execution, public disclosure, greenhouse gas emissions accounting and strategic planning and performance. Whole Foods earned a pitiful 27 score on the assessment (out of a possible 100)—flunking in basically every category.

From the summary:

Whole Foods’ climate change strategy is focused almost entirely on renewable energy purchases only. Th e company has purchased 1.2 million MWh hours of wind-based renewable energy credits (serving as carbon off sets for 100 percent of the electricity used in all of its stores), installed solar panels on nine stores, and converted its truck fleet to bio-diesel fuel. However, Whole Foods has not publicly disclosed a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory or emissions reduction targets.

Whole Foods was given a zero on board oversight, and only an 11 on management's execution of a sustainability strategy. Whole Foods neither accounts for nor publicly discloses its emissions. As of the date of the report, the company didn't have emissions goals or plans in place for reducing emissions. Since that report was released, the company has taken on some additional energy-related commitments, but it doesn't appear to have changed much in the other areas.

Boren's Valiant Defense of the Oil Industry

| Fri Jan. 8, 2010 10:53 AM PST

In announcing a new plan for oil and gas leasing earlier this week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made it clear that the Obama administration is taking a different tack from its predecessor when it comes to offering public land up for drilling.

"The difference is that under the prior administration, the oil and gas industry were essentially the kings of the world," said Salazar. "Whatever they wanted to happen essentially happened. This department was essentially a handmaiden of the oil and gas industry."

"We have brought that to an end," he continued.

Salazar, who had quite a week between this big announcement and the rumors that he might head back to Colorado to run for governor, ticked off plenty of oil fans with the remark. The most virulent response, however, has come from Oklahoma Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, who blasted off what his own office described as a "blistering letter" to Salazar:

Why do policy-makers within the administration deny the connection between your so-called American energy "kings of the world" and the millions of American jobs they provide? The companies affected by these reforms are not global corporate conglomerates. Rather, they are smaller, independent producers that drill 90 percent of the wells in the U.S. struggling to stay alive in this dwindling economy. To these companies, and the people behind them whose blood, sweat, and tears have helped to build this country, statements such as your "kings of the world" comment are a profound affront.

Of course, Boren's earnest defense of the oil industry isn't too unexpected. His is among the most dismal environmental records for congressional Democrats, with a 36 percent grade from the League of Conservation Voters in the 110th Congress, and a 27 lifetime score. He was also one of the Democrats who voted against the House climate bill last June.

He is, however, a favorite of the oil and gas industry. It has been his biggest contributor during his three terms in office, at $484,360. Which of course puts his valiant defense of the industry in perspective.

Climate Risks: Is Your Money Manager Paying Attention?

| Fri Jan. 8, 2010 9:34 AM PST

The majority of the world's leading asset managers are not factoring in climate-change in their decision-making, finds a new study from the sustainable business group Ceres. Climate change will create risk factors for some businesses and opportunities for others, argues Ceres, and smart money managers should be accounting for that.

The group surveyed the world's 500 biggest asset managers, and received responses from 84 who manage $8.6 trillion in assets. Of those, 71 percent said they currently are not factoring in climate risks when considering investments—though half said they believe that some sectors have "significant exposure to climate risks." Forty-four percent said that they don't consider climate risks at all "because they do not believe that climate change is material to their investment decision making."

Risks associated with climate change range from the direct impacts of increased severe storms, droughts, and flooding, to the cost increases of doing business if or when a price is put on carbon dioxide. But there are also opportunities for companies who are providing low-carbon solutions or otherwise adapting to the changing climate. The Ceres analysis found that most money managers are not looking very far into the future when assessing these risks and opportunities and choosing investments.

Part of the challenge the report identifies is that clients are not requesting this kind of information: 49 percent said their investor clients aren't asking them to consider this kind of risk, so they're not doing it yet. Most said, however, that they are in the preliminary stages of figuring out how to assess climate-related factors.

"The vast majority of the asset managers who responded to the survey are only in first gear on climate change," said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres. "This is disappointing--it defies reality and the very real numbers... The survey makes clear that the investment community is still overly focused on short term performance and dismissive of long-term risks like climate change."

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, January 8

| Fri Jan. 8, 2010 5:05 AM PST

Ka-Boom: EPA study reveals blowing up mountains is pretty hard on mountains.

Dead System Walking: Major law institute finds death penalty corrupt, but changes unlikely.

Cat Crash: Fifteen percent of endangered cougars in Florida lost to car crashes. [MongaBay]

Winds of Change: Cape Wind turbine farm suffers setback, big energy companies cheer.

Retirement, Sort of: Sen. Byron Dorgan's retirement plans include private sector energy work.

Autism Risk: Study finds clusters of autism...in kids of white, highly-educated parents. [Planet Ark]

Whole Truth: Whole Foods CEO John Mackey believes in organic lettuce, but not global warming.

 

 

 

 

Old DDT Migrating North

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 7:09 PM PST

Here's the trouble with emissions. They've got killer hangovers. Take DDT. Not only is it still with us, it's actually increasing in the western North Atlantic—despite 30 years of restrictions on its use.

A modelling study published in Geophysical Research Letters finds substantial quantities of the pesticide still being released from the World Ocean. And though most DDT use today occurs in the southern hemisphere, concentrations are growing in the northern hemisphere as the old stuff cycles between oceans and atmosphere.

In fact, this study's computer model, simulating DDT circulation between ocean and atmosphere from 1950 to 2002, suggests the regurgitation of old DDT from the ocean is now greater than from ongoing sources of DDT.

Plus the stuff's migrating north and has been since the 1960s. Says the paper:

"The sea region that has been representing the most significant (secondary) DDT source is the western N Atlantic (Gulf stream and N Atlantic Drift regions)."

More bad news for a heavily populated part of the world and all the marine life left in those once heavily populated waters.
 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Fast Food Soda, Now With Feces

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 1:46 PM PST

My mom always said fast-food joints serve crap, and now there's proof: A study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology revealed there is actual fecal matter lurking in fast food soda. Microbiologists from Virginia found that 48% of sodas tested at 30 fast food restaurants contained coliform bacteria, which is typically fecal in origin. What's worse is that most of the bacteria found were antibiotic resistant. From the study:

These findings suggest that soda fountain machines may harbor persistent communities of potentially pathogenic microorganisms which may contribute to episodic gastric distress in the general population and could pose a more significant health risk to immunocompromised individuals.

Not to worry. Surely the poor, minorities, and children who are targeted by (and who statistically frequent) fast food chains most often will have no problem tackling high medical costs associated with recovering from fast food-borne pathogens. Right?

h/t Tom Laskawy's Beyond Green blog

New Smog Rules Good for Public, Bad for API

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 11:12 AM PST

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced what may be the biggest news for a long time on air pollution: the agency is significantly tightening the rules on smog. The move might prevent thousands of deaths each year, but polluters are already up in arms.

The proposed rule is a reversal of one of the Bush administration's most controversial environmental moves, one that has been on the top of the list of improvements that environmental and public health experts sought from the Obama team.

The new proposed rule would require that smog, also known as ground-level ozone, be limited to at a level between 60 and 70 parts per billion over an eight-hour period. This is a significant update from the Bush administration rules proposed in March 2008 that, against the advice of EPA experts, set the upper limit at 75 parts per billion. Up to 186 million people in the United States are breathing unhealthy levels of smog today because of this weaker standard, said Janice Nolen, director of national policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association.

News From TreeHugger: More Mountaintop Coal Mines, COP15 a Game-Changer in Israel, N. Dakota Threatens to Sue Minnesota Over CO2

| Thu Jan. 7, 2010 5:00 AM PST

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

Two Democratic Senators Won't Seek Reelection: Bad News For Climate Bill?

The headlines have been filled with the news that three prominent Democratic politicians—two of them senators—won't be seeking reelection in the midterm elections this year. So how might the decisions of Chris Dodd, the well-known senator from Connecticut, and Byron Dorgan, of North Dakota, affect the still-uncertain future of the climate bill? It actually may be a good thing.

EPA Approves One New Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine, Finds 'Path Forward' for Second

Six days into 2010 and the battle over mountaintop removal coal mining is set to start up again. Yesterday afternoon the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had found "a path forward on two coal mining operations in West Virginia." The two operations are both mountaintop mines, one in Lincoln County, one in Logan County. By early evening green groups, from the establishment to grassroots, denounced the EPA decision.

A Dangerous Quid Pro Quo? EPA to Give Up CO2 Regulation for a Clime Bill?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will soon be allowed to offer an amendment to Senate debt legislation to strip the EPA of its ability, given to it under a Supreme Court decision and the Endangered Species Act, to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for one year. Murkowski, who sits on the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is fervently against allowing EPA to cut greenhouse gas emissions, has been pushing the amendment for over a year.

Failure Yes. But Copenhagen Still a Game Changer

Last month's climate change summit in Copenhagen, which inspired so much expectation, seems to have pleased no one. Asked to describe their feelings post-Copenhagen in one word, TreeHugger readers responded with words like "disappointed," "cop-out" and "fail." Many people have described COP15 as a resounding failure, and maybe it was - but maybe not...

Study Finds Cross-Border Cooperation Reduces Conservation Costs by 45%

Most conservation studies focus on biodiversity, but to be successful in a real-world application, they must also consider the cost of research and protection programs. A new study that looked at conservation programs in the Mediterranean region has found that cross-border cooperation can increase program effectiveness while significantly reducing the expense.

North Dakota Threatens Suit Against Minnesota, For Even Thinking About Future Carbon Cost

Two years ago Minnesota made it a rule that electric utilities and power distributors should plan for future capacity expansions and so on by 'taking into account the possibility of a carbon tax.' Minnesota currently imports a great deal of North Dakota coal as well power generated from North Dakota coal. Thought being that coal-juice could suddenly get more expensive in the future, requiring a rate increase that impacts consumers adversely. The legislature's intent was to plan for one plausible future direction, protective of citizen interests. But the ND Attorney General has chosen to intercede on behalf of Big Coal, saying, in effect, that he is considering a law suit to stop Minnesota planning for a future where the true cost of coal burning is taken into account. Interstate Commerce Clause of Constitution....blah blah blah.

Antique Science Book Heaven

| Wed Jan. 6, 2010 8:57 PM PST

The National Library of Medicine has just scanned six classic science and medicine books from the 15th and 16th centuries and posted them at Turning the Pages Online.

Check out Robert Hooke's Micrographia... or Conrad Gesner's Historiae Animalium... or the kinky dissections in Andreas Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica.

Each book is laden with gorgeous illustrations, many surprisingly accurate.

You can view each book as a book, turn the pages digitally, lean in and smell that heady perfume of vellum and binary code.

Plus there are audio files to listen to, and pop-up windows offering translations and interpretations. It's awesome.

Okay, I'll be back in a year or so. I've always wanted to read Johannes de Ketham's Fasiculo de Medicina in Latin.