Blue Marble - April 2010

Million Dollar Bottled Water

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 5:12 PM PDT

The University of California has increased tuition by 37 percent and laid off 2,000 staff and faculty to cover a $637 million budgetary shortfall, but somehow it still managed to find $2 million for brand name bottled water at its campuses in San Francisco and Berkeley. And to make matters worse,     these two Bay Area cities boast some of the nation's best tap water!

According to its own estimates, UC-San Francisco has paid Arrowhead $250,000 to $320,000 a year since 2004 for water delivered in three-to-five gallon jugs that it dispensed in rented coolers. And officials from UC-Berkeley told the New York Times that it has paid $522,215 since 2004.

You would think they would have learned to ditch bottled water years ago when the city of San Francisco banned it in government offices. That decision came after a 2006 San Francisco Chronicle investigation which revealed that the city spent $500,000 a year on its bottled water service. To read more about the dark side of the bottled water industry, check out Anna Lenzer's expose on Fiji water.

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Lunch, With a Side of Climate Denial

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 2:18 PM PDT

You might think the recent exoneration of the scientists involved in the so-called "Climategate" scandal would have put a damper on efforts by climate change deniers to exploit the issue. But the leaders of the anti-science movement were still at it on Friday, as the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute hosted a lunch briefing on Capitol Hill to continue playing up the "controversy."

"The Climategate Scandals: What Has Been Revealed And What Does It Mean?" featured Cato's Pat Michaels and John D'Aleo, a meteorologist who runs the skeptic outlet ICECAP. It also featured Chick-Fil-A catering, which seemed to be the chief draw for many of the young House staffers in the audience.

Another Good Reason to Cut Oil Use

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 12:49 PM PDT

Another reason to end our dependence on oil? Not only is our thirst for oil helping fill Iran's coffers, but the US military this week signaled that it's growing more concerned that there simply won't be enough oil available in the near future, which could fuel conflict and instability around the world.

A report from the US Joint Forces Command projects significant oil shortages by 2015. Via The Guardian:

"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day," says the report, which has a foreword by a senior commander, General James N Mattis.
It adds: "While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India."

There's also this bit:

"One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest," it points out.

Global Water Cycle Intensifying

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 11:59 AM PDT

A new study (pdf) shows a warming globe is intensifying Earth's water cycle, making arid regions drier and high rainfall regions wetter. It also finds a clear link between warming-driven salinity changes at the ocean's surface and changes underwater that match the pathways surface waters take into the deep ocean.

The changes in the water cycle mean that the ocean beneath rainy regions of the globe has freshened, while the ocean in areas dominated by evaporation have grown saltier. The paper also confirms that surface warming of the world’s oceans over the past 50 years has penetrated into the oceans’ interior, changing deep-ocean salinity patterns.

Salinity affects the speed, direction, and depth of ocean currents.

The ocean's average surface temperature has risen nearly a degree Fahrenheit since 1950.

Lead author Paul Durack at the joint CSIRO/University of Tasmania, Quantitative Marine Science program tells CSIRO:

"This is further confirmation from the global ocean that the Earth’s water cycle has accelerated. These broad-scale patterns of change are qualitatively consistent with simulations reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). While such changes in salinity would be expected at the ocean surface—where about 80 per cent of surface water exchange occurs—sub-surface measurements indicate much broader, warming-driven changes are extending into the deep ocean."

The data for this study come from historical records and from Argo's world-wide network of ocean profilers—robotic submersible buoys that record and report ocean salinity levels and temperatures to depths of 1.2 miles.

"Fifty-year trends in global ocean salinities and their relationship to broad-scale warming" is to be published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate.
 

Obama's Curious Climate Strategy

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 8:39 AM PDT

The White House and Senate advocates are finally making a big push to get a climate bill moving. But has the Obama administration already blown its chances of passing legislation this year?

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are expected to unveil their much-anticipated climate and energy legislation in the coming days. (It was supposed to be released ahead of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, but Graham put the kibosh on that idea, and they're now reportedly introducing it on April 26).

In advance of the bill's unveiling, whenever that may happen, Obama's team has been making a big pitch for action. Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council last week called for "a new gestalt" on energy policy. And energy and climate adviser Carol Browner has made it clear that the White House wants comprehensive legislation that tackles the problem of climate change, not just a narrowly focused energy bill. But some Senate watchers are wondering whether the administration made a big strategic blunder. The two best bargaining chips the White House had to offer wary senators, especially Republicans—that is, expanded offshore drilling and incentives for nuclear power—have already been given away.

It's interesting to contrast the Obama administration's strategy on climate with the one it followed to advance health care reform—which, despite the rollercoaster ride of setbacks and controversies, was ultimately successful. Obama didn't present Congress with draft health care legislation, but he did lay out a clear set of principles that he wanted the legislation to contain. When it came to flashpoints like the public option, he refrained from making such proposals a deal-breaker, but nor did he abandon them prematurely. And unlike health care, where it was possible to make significant reform without the public option, a climate bill that doesn't include a meaningful cap on carbon emissions isn't a climate bill at all.

On climate, however, Obama has handed the bill's opponents two major concessions: Massive financial incentives for nuclear power, and a significant expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling. And as far as anyone knows, he hasn't extracted any concrete commitments in return. "I don't know what the Obama strategy is," says David Jenkins, government affairs director at Republicans for Environmental Protection. If fence-sitting senators know that oil drilling and nuclear incentives are going to happen with or without their vote on climate, says Jenkins, "Where's the incentive for them to do something about climate?"

"It's not clear to me that [these concessions] pick up any votes," adds Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy at the National Wildlife Federation.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday April 16

| Fri Apr. 16, 2010 4:09 AM PDT

Popularity Contest: Kevin Drum on why the healthcare bill isn't getting more popular.

Nuke This: The nuclear summit accomplished a lot, but one lawmaker thinks otherwise.

Caged Birds: McDonald's vetos using cage-free eggs in its products. [Consumerist]

Pay It Forward: Healthcare reform may have set the stage for regulating Wall Street.

War on Drugs: Obama is poised to revamp the War on Drugs, with appropriate funding.

Backlash: To spite The Cove, Japanese Sea Shepherd "fan club" enjoys whale feast. [JapanProbe]

He Said, She Said: Is the new field of "male studies" just an excuse for misogyny?

 

 

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Climate Change Worldviews

| Thu Apr. 15, 2010 4:45 PM PDT

An interesting piece from Howard Silverman in People and Place on how our different worldviews affect how we think about and what we believe about climate change.
 
Few aspects of modern life express our different worldviews more sharply than our responses to climate change. Why we respond so differently illustrates the different ways we rationalize the interaction between humans and nature.
 
The cultural theory matrix pictured here illustrates four opposing worldviews. In nutshell, acceptance of social controls is plotted on the vertical axis against levels of social commitment on the horizontal axis. The quadrants contain four worldviews, which manifest as the different ways of life that structure our social relations and support our particular blend of beliefs, values, emotions, perceptions, and interests.
 
The matrix includes these four stories:

The hierarchist’s story (nature perverse/tolerant): International protocols and national commitments are needed to address the tragedy of the atmospheric commons and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The egalitarian’s story (nature ephemeral): The underlying problem is consumption (resource throughput). Precaution, lifestyle simplicity and grass roots action are the most effective responses.

The individualist’s story (nature benign): To address climate change, rely on laissez-faire markets to spur competition and innovation. The benefits of climate change may even balance out the costs.

The fatalist’s story (nature capricious): Natural forces are beyond human understanding, much less human influence.

Silverman points out that a fifth worldview called "nature resilient" or "nature evolving" is sometimes pictured at the center of the axes of this matrix, overlapping the other four worldviews. Some have labeled the bearer of this fifth rationality as "the hermit," whose worldview is flexible and adaptive, and who actively experiments with new institutions, seeking to gain insights.
 
The hermit's story is explored in much current resilience thinking.
 
(H/T Garry Peterson at Resilience Science.)
 
For a larger view of the matrix, you can check out the original in the P&P blog post.

Which worldview do you identify with?

 

Industrial State Dems Lay Out Climate Bill Demands

| Thu Apr. 15, 2010 3:30 PM PDT

A key bloc of Democrats from industrial states signaled on Thursday that they could be willing to vote for a comprehensive climate and energy bill—if the three senators working on the measure include strong measures to protect manufacturers. The list of demands comes as the bill's authors scramble to gather votes ahead of an anticipated roll out in the coming weeks.

The bill, the senators write, should include measures that can keep and create jobs in America, particularly in the manufacture of things like wind turbines, solar panels, and advanced vehicles. They call for new loans and tax credits for companies that manufacture clean technologies, and for funding for the research and development of new low-carbon technologies. They also call for a carbon cap that insulates energy-intensive industries from rising fuel prices by phasing them into a cap over time, limiting the price of emissions, making sure that companies can buy offsets, investing in carbon capture and storage technology, and creating a "regionally equitable distribution of allowances."

The senators called for a border adjustment, or a fee set on goods coming in from countries that don't have a cap on pollution. This is one of the more contentious issues on their list. These senators have made it clear that this is "necessary to promote comparable action from other countries and prevent carbon leakage," and they won't vote for a bill that lacks one. The House-passed climate bill gave the president the power to levy a fee on goods from countries that aren't abiding by an international climate agreement, but Obama criticized the measure as being too "protectionist."

They also ask for the bill to preempt state and local rules on carbon emissions, which may also be a sore spot in the debate.

Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Carl Levin (Mich.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), 
Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Debbie Stabenow -Mich.), Robert Casey (Pa.), Mark Warner (Va.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Robert Byrd (W.Va.) all signed the letter.

Is this a good sign in the final days before a bill is to be released? I would venture to say yes. Several of these senators (like Bayh and McCaskill) have seemed unlikely to vote for any package that includes a cap on carbon. A clear wish-list is likely a good sign that they are considering supporting the bill the climate troika produces if these requests are met.

Perhaps the biggest concern at this point is that the letter makes it abundantly clear that there is still a lot in flux on the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill. Kerry acknowledged earlier this week that "there are still some hurdles" in getting out a bill next week. Now it looks like they've once again pushed back their release date to April 26 according to reports. Whether Kerry, Graham and Lieberman can jump those hurdles in the final stretch is the big question.

Weston A. Price: Not Behind Veggie Burgers Study

| Thu Apr. 15, 2010 12:20 PM PDT

Veggie burger rumors are flying! Some readers and other news organizations have alleged that the Cornucopia Institute study I wrote about on Monday—which found that the many popular veggie burgers are made with the air pollutant and neurotoxin hexane—was funded by the pro-meat, anti-soy group the Weston A. Price Foundation. But this morning, I spoke with Cornucopia Institute director Mark Kastel, who said that the Weston A. Price Foundation did not contribute any funding to the "Behind the Bean" (pdf) study. Thanks to Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing for setting the record straight.

Wonder where the rumor came from? Could be that a Weston A. Price spokesperson is quoted in the study:

However, not all researchers and advocacy groups agree about the benefits of soy in the human diet. The Weston A. Price Foundation’s (WAPF) president, Sally Fallon, objects to the widespread promotion of soy foods as a miracle health food. WAPF’s web site lists scientific studies indicating that soy consumption, especially excessive consumption of isolated soy ingredients, may be harmful to one’s health. Fallon says, “The propaganda that has created the soy sales miracle is all the more remarkable because only a few centuries ago the soybean was considered unfit to eat—even in Asia.”

The Weston A. Price Foundation seems to be dedicated to promoting the research of the doctor for whom it's named, who claimed that humans "achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats." The group has an interesting collection of beliefs: They're all for saturated fat, raw milk, unprocessed foods, and sustainable agriculture. They're also vociferously anti-soy. They've been heavily criticized by vegetarian groups—this piece over at VegSource makes some interesting points about how the Foundation has strayed from the original beliefs of Price himself.

Interesting organization—and probably worth taking a closer look at—but not a funder of "Behind the Bean."

Graham: Screw Earth Day!

| Thu Apr. 15, 2010 12:02 PM PDT

It's still not clear when we might see a climate and energy bill from John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). Kerry is still saying, "We hope next week." But it won't be on Earth Day, since Graham wants to make sure everyone knows this ain't no dirty commie environmental legislation.

"We don't want to mix messages here," Graham said yesterday. "I'm all for protecting the Earth, but this is about energy independence."

Seems like most Senate watchers are expecting the bill on Wednesday. I'm not sure how much Graham's hippie-bashing desires are fulfilled by introducing it a day early, but if that's what it takes to get this thing rolling, so be it.