Blue Marble - March 2010

5 Creative Uses for: Soda Bottles

| Mon Mar. 8, 2010 3:30 AM PST

At this point soda really shouldn't even be appetizing. As we all know, it's full of empty calories from high-fructose corn syrup, rots your teeth, causes childhood obesity, blah blah blah. So why do I still find myself circling back to the nutritional wasteland that is Safeway's soda aisle? I'll tell you why: cherry coke. It's been a favorite treat since I was a teenager, and despite my best intentions, I don't think I'm going to give it up any time soon. I figure since I can't do anything about how bad soda is for me, I'll at least try to make it a little better for the planet. Our friends at AltUse have a bunch of good ideas for reusing empty plastic soda bottles:

1. Keep your yarn tangle-free: With a box cutter, carefully cut a large door in the side of the bottle. Insert your yarn into the bottle through the door. (You can tape it shut if you wish.) Reach into the spout, grab the end of the yarn, and pull it through. You can put the top back on the bottle when you want to store your yarn.

2. Make a funnel: Create a make-shift funnel by cutting the top off of a plastic bottle.

3. Water your plants automatically while you're away: Make a small pin hole on the bottom side of the bottle. Fill it up with water. Leave the water bottle inside a plant pot, hole side down. Water will slowly leak out. Lasts for about three days.

4. Keep your picnic cold: Make ice cubes that don't drip: Fill empty plastic water bottles and then put 'em in the freezer. Be sure to leave some room for the water to expand as it freezes.

5. Trap wasps. Cut the top off a bottle. Put something sweet into the bottom, then insert the cut-off portion back into the bottle, but upside down. Tape it in place. Wasps come in, but they can't get out.

 

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Tsunami Animations

| Fri Mar. 5, 2010 5:07 PM PST

NOAA's Center for Tsunami Research has generated some impressive animations of the February 27th Chilean tsunami. There are actually several animations, though you'll need to go to the NOAA website to play them. One is a wave amplitude animation. Another's a wave amplitude over time animation, but with a more wavelike look to it. There are also energy propagation plots displayed on Google maps or on Google Earth.

From the NOAA Chile event page:

"The Chile tsunami was generated by a Mw 8.8 earthquake (35.846°S, 72.719°W ), at 06:34 UTC, 115 km (60 miles) NNE of Concepcion, Chile (according to the USGS). In approximately 3 hours, the tsunami was first recorded at DART® buoy 32412. Forecast results shown below were created with the NOAA forecast method using MOST model with the tsunami source inferred from DART® data. The tsunami waves first arrived at Valparaiso, Chile (approximately 330 km northeast from earthquake epicenter ) earlier than other tide gages, at 0708UTC, about 34 minutes after the earthquake."

 

 

IEDs, Ahmadinejad, and the Climate Bill

| Fri Mar. 5, 2010 10:32 AM PST

A new ad campaign ties American oil dependence to Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and IEDs, making the security case for Congress to pass a climate and energy bill this year. The ads, from progressive veteran group VoteVets, show Iraq war veteran Christopher Miller over images of explosions and armed insurgents. The argument: this isn’t just about polar bears and melting ice caps. Passing energy legislation is an issue of national defense.

"That's the type of IED that earned me a purple heart in Iraq six years ago," says Miller, as images of military vehicles exploding run behind him. And every time oil goes up a dollar, he says, hostile countries like Iran get "another $1.5 billion to use against us."

"Connection between oil and the enemy couldn't be clearer," Miller continues. "We need to break that connection by breaking our addiction. And we can by passing a clean energy climate plan. It would cut our dependence on foreign oil in half.”

The ads are running in eight states and the District of Columbia. VoteVets released similarly provocative ads last month tying the Detroit bomber to energy concerns. Here's the ad:

Byrd and Rockefeller Clash Over Climate Regs

| Fri Mar. 5, 2010 8:39 AM PST

The two Democratic senators from West Virginia, America's coal capitol, are at odds over the future of the official state rock. One long-time coal champion, Robert Byrd, is siding with the Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency's plans to regulate emissions, while Jay Rockefeller  yesterday unveiled plans to delay the agency's new rules on planet-warming gases. Byrd, the 92-year-old senior statesman from West Virginia, said he’s sticking with his plans to help coal find a place in a new energy policy, rather than attempting to delay inevitable regulations.

Byrd said he was "encouraged" by the response last week from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to the letter that he and other coal-state Democrats sent requesting more information on pending rules. "Following up on my previous conversations with her in my office, I take her at her word," said Byrd in a statement, via Coal Tattoo.

In the statement, Byrd reaffirmed much of what he said in his surprising December op-ed citing the need for the industry to recognize the mounting science on climate change and become "honest brokers" in policy discussions. "I am continuing to have significant discussions about how to ensure the future of coal as a long-term energy resource,” he said yesterday. "I am reluctant to give up on talks that might produce benefits for West Virginia’s coal interests by seeming to turn away from on-going negotiations."

Byrd's fellow Democrats on the House side, Nick Rahall and Alan Mollohan, have introduced legislation identical to Rockefeller's, and they also voted against the House climate and energy bill last June that would have superseded EPA regulations and flooded $60 billion to the coal industry. So far, it seems like only Byrd is the only West Virgina legislator willing to get serious about the climate and energy challenges.

Massive Methane Melt off Siberia

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 5:22 PM PST

Arctic seabed stores of methane are now destabilizing and venting vast stores of frozen methane—a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The paper, in the prestigious journal Science, reports the permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf—long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane—is instead perforated and leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Melting of even a fraction of the clathrates stored in that shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming. Lead author Natalia Shakhova Shakhova of the International Arctic Research Center tells U of Alaska Fairbanks:

"The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world’s oceans. Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap."

The East Siberian Arctic Shelf is a methane-rich area encompassing more than three-quarter million square miles of seafloor in the Arctic Ocean—three times larger than the nearby Siberian wetlands formerly considered the primary Northern Hemisphere source of atmospheric methane.

Shakhova’s research shows the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is already emitting 7 teragrams (1 teragram = 1.1 million tons) of methane yearly, about as much as the all the oceans of the world.

"Our concern is that the subsea permafrost has been showing signs of destabilization already," says Shakhova. "If it further destabilizes, the methane emissions may not be teragrams, it would be significantly larger."

From 2003 through 2008 the researchers took annual research cruises on the shelf, sampling seawater at various depths, and sampling the air above the ocean. Their findings:

  • More than 80 percent of the deep water and greater than half of surface water had methane levels more than eight times that of normal seawater.
  • In some areas, the saturation levels reached at least 250 times that of background levels in the summer and 1,400 times higher in the winter.
  • In the air directly above the ocean surface, methane levels were elevated overall and the seascape was dotted with more than 100 hotspots. (This, combined with results from a winter expedition, showed the methane is not only being dissolved in the water but also bubbling out into the atmosphere as well.)
  • Methane levels throughout the Arctic are usually 8 to 10 percent higher than the global baseline, yet those registered over the East Siberian Arctic Shelf rose another 5 to 10 percent higher than that.

In the shallow waters of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, methane doesn’t have enough time to oxidize, and more of it rises to the surface and escapes into the atmosphere. That fact, combined with the sheer amount of methane in the region, adds an extreme volatility to this uncalculated variable in the climate models.

"The release to the atmosphere of only one percent of the methane assumed to be stored in shallow hydrate deposits might alter the current atmospheric burden of methane up to 3 to 4 times," says Shakhova.
 

A Backlash After San Francisco Labels Sewage Sludge "Organic"

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 4:45 PM PST

Activists wearing face masks and haz-mat suits dumped a pile of sewage sludge on the steps of San Francisco's city hall today to protest the city's practice of marketing the material to home gardeners as "organic compost." The US Department of Agriculture's organic standards explicity prohibit organic produce from being grown on sludge-treated land.  "The City of San Francisco owes an apology to all of the food consumers in California who have been eating non-organic food grown on sewage sludge," said Ronnie Cummins, president of the Organic Consumers Association. He was wearing a haz-mat suit on which he'd written a message to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom: "Organic gardens aren't toxic waste dumps."

Using sludge as fertilizer is a common practice; more than half of the sewage produced in America ends up being treated and applied to gardens and farmland. The EPA considers sludge to be safe, but many food activists and some of the EPA's own scientists disagree, pointing out that it can contain trace amounts of almost anything that gets poured down the drain, from heavy metals to endocrine disruptors--and that only a portion of these contaminants are screened for in sludge. (For more on the safety of sludge, check out "Sludge Happens" in our May/June 2009 issue).

The confusion over San Francisco's "organic" sludge isn't unique. The USDA doesn't regulate which fertilizers can be labeled as organic, allowing anyone to use the term. But Cummins says it's particularly misleading to apply the "organic" term to treated sewage sludge, which has been known to contain high levels of pollutants such PFOAs and flame retardants. Mother Jones' report that President Obama's "organic" White House vegetable garden was planted on sludge-treated land led to considerable outcry last year. In response to complaints from organic gardeners who say they were duped and to this CBS news segment, San Francisco has at least temporary suspended its public "compost giveaway events" and announced that it will no longer call the material "organic."

Still, Cummins wants San Francisco to stop using sludge as fertilizer and to help gardeners who accepted the material clean up their land. To press his case, he poured some sludge into a jars and marched into Newsom's office, still wearing his haz-mat suit and a pair of safety goggles. After a moment, mayoral representative David Miree appeared and Cummins gifted him with the sludge sample. "Be careful with this stuff," Cummins said. Another activist offered Miree her safety gloves.  He politely declined them, but rather than holding the jars, walked out with them loaded into a garbage can.

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Rockefeller Makes New Play to Thwart EPA Climate Regs

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 1:11 PM PST

West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Thursday became the latest Democrat to launch an effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating planet-warming emissions, with the introduction of a bill that would put the brakes on regulatory action for two years.

His reason? To "protect clean coal state economies." Of course, "clean coal" doesn’t actually exist yet. The entire press release on his bill is a study in wishful thinking. "Today, we took important action to safeguard jobs, the coal industry, and the entire economy as we move toward clean coal technology," said Rockefeller. The release continues: "Senator Rockefeller has been working to protect West Virginia clean coal and secure the economies in clean coal states." If you repeat the phrase enough times, will it actually become real?

Rockefeller's bill is just another delay on rules that his colleague, Robert Byrd, has said the coal industry should accept as inevitable and necessary. The EPA is moving forward on regulations under the Clean Air Act because the Senate has so far not passed a new law. Rockefeller has not so far been supportive of congressional actions. He said he had "serious concerns" about the House-passed cap-and-trade bill that would, incidentally, direct a whopping $60 billion to carbon-capture-and-sequestration, aka "clean coal," technologies.

Rockefeller’s measure would call a time-out on anticipated rules for emissions from power plants, refineries, factories, and other stationary sources. It would allow the agency to move forward, however, on rules for automobiles, which are expected by the end of the month. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson laid out a slower timeline for regulations last week to allay concerns from Democrats like Rockefeller. But while he said that was a positive sign, he remains "concerned it may not be enough time."

Rockefeller’s fellow statesmen on the House side, Nick Rahall and Alan Mollohan, are expected to introduce identical legislation, along with Rick Boucher (D-Va.).

This is just the latest in a growing bipartisan attempt to block the EPA. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is leading efforts to nullify the agency’s finding that gases threaten human health, the precursor to legislation. She has support from Democrats Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.). And on the House side, Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Jo Anne Emerson (R-Mo.) have introduced identical legislation, as has the GOP caucus. Murkowski called Rockefeller's legislation "further evidence of the growing, bipartisan, and bicameral resistance to EPA's back-door climate regulations" in a statement. She said she would support his bill, while keeping her disapproval resolution on reserve in case his failes.

Environmental groups argue that Rockefeller might as well have joined Murkowski's efforts. "In our view, there is little difference between no action for two years and no action ever on solving the climate crisis,” said Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy at the National Wildlife Federation.

Climate Skeptics and Creationists Join Forces

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 8:53 AM PST

With their powers combined, can climate change skeptics and creationists succeed in getting anti-science views into the country’s classrooms?

The New York Times today reports that there is a growing (evolving, perhaps?) movement to unite skepticism of both global warming and evolution in hopes of a creating a winning legal case for getting their agenda into schools. This move comes after a 2005 ruling in the United States District Court in Atlanta found that a school district that had placed stickers on textbooks telling students that evolution is just a theory violated the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. The Times reports:

The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.

But Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist who directs the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University sums up what's really going on here: "Wherever there is a battle over evolution now," he said, "there is a secondary battle to diminish other hot-button issues like Big Bang and, increasingly, climate change. It is all about casting doubt on the veracity of science--to say it is just one view of the world, just another story, no better or more valid than fundamentalism."

The anti-science crowd has found success recently, at least in a few states. The Texas Board of Education last year mandated that teachers present "all sides" of the evidence on evolution and global warming and has lead efforts to overhaul textbooks. South Dakota approved a resolution to require public schools to teach climate skepticism last week, and similar efforts are underway in Kentucky to force schools to teach the "advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories."

Why stop at joining climate and evolution? Surely gravity and western medicine can’t be far behind in the firing line for the "teach the controversy" crowd.

Moderates Warming to Climate Bill?

| Thu Mar. 4, 2010 7:55 AM PST

Word around Washington is that the triumvirate of senators working on climate and energy legislation may release more information about their bill as soon as Friday. And with expectations high, the senators are in a final push to convince fence-sitting Democrats and Republicans to sign on.

A spokesman for John Kerry said on Wednesday that the bill he is working on with Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman will be released sometime in the "coming weeks." Earlier this week, the senators indicated that their bill would take a hybrid approach, shunning the term "cap-and-trade" that has defined much of the congressional debate so far. The move aims to revive interest in legislation that many have assumed to be dead. The anticipation among bill-watchers is that they won’t release the legislation until they’ve got 60 senators signed on—so this final push is key.

The sponsors reportedly met with Republicans George Voinovich of Ohio and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, and Democrats Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin of Michigan, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Mark Warner of Virginia, Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, and Max Baucus of Montana on Tuesday evening. They’ve also been meeting extensively with Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington, who has offered her own alternative measure with Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

So, what do these moderates think of the proposal? A few seem to be warming to the idea.

Killer Whales and Living Biblically

| Wed Mar. 3, 2010 3:38 PM PST

Last week, Americans confronted a range of emotions on learning that Tillikum, a killer whale at Sea World in Orlando, seized its trainer in the middle of a live show and killed her in a violent underwater frenzy. Dawn Brancheau, 40, died doing what she loved: communing with animals who are awe-inspiring and, by nature, dangerously unpredictable. While postmortems and new precautions are understandable, decorum and a sense of compassion for the deceased would dictate that we refrain from misplaced rage and abject stupidity.

But not if you're the American Family Association, which in its faux-Christian zeal seems to have swapped out the Gospel's teachings of love, patience, and charity for old-school righteous fury. Bryan Fischer, the AFA's recently appointed "director of issue analysis for government and public policy," wrote a post on the organization's blog today titled "Bible ignored, trainer dies." In it, he called for the stoning death of Tillikum in alleged accordance with scriptural law, since he had killed before:

If the counsel of the Judeo-Christian tradition had been followed, Tillikum would have been put out of everyone's misery back in 1991 and would not have had the opportunity to claim two more human lives.

Says the ancient civil code of Israel, "When an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner shall not be liable." (Exodus 21:28)

But then Fischer went a step farther: If this were the old days, he wrote, Sea World curator Chuck Thompson would be stoned to death, too:

...the Scripture soberly warns, if one of your animals kills a second time because you didn't kill it after it claimed its first human victim, this time you die right along with your animal. To use the example from Exodus, if your ox kills a second time, "the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death." (Exodus 21:29)

Fischer—who moved to the AFA last year from the Idaho Values Alliance, and who is ironically dubbed a "friend of life" on his AFA bio—has never been the smartest parishioner in the pew, whether it's arguing that gay judges can't be fair or that the US military should ban Muslims.

But this is a new low, one that the AFA should probably distance itself from pretty quickly. The organization states one of its goals as "promoting the Christian ethic of decency." As a Christian—a subscriber to a rather rigorous and considered scriptural tradition—I find nothing decent in Bryan Fischer's tirade. Except that his position on killing animals fits pretty decently with this faux-faith organization's position on killing convicts, too.