Blue Marble - August 2010

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Exclusive: Fannie Regulator Digs in on Clean-Energy Opposition

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 4:29 PM PDT

The Federal Housing Finance Agency solidified its opposition to the home-greening program Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) in a letter to members of Congress Thursday, telling them it doesn't see a way to let the program move forward.

FHFA Acting Director Edward DeMarco rejected the possibility of a PACE pilot program, seen as the last best hope for bringing the suspended finance tool back to life in the near term.

"Discussions have failed to produce concepts that would mitigate the threat to FHFA-regulated institutions or to broader financial markets," DeMarco wrote to PACE-supporting Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.). "FHFA, therefore, has determined that its guidance to its regulated entities must remain in place."

The remaining options for saving the popular PACE program are a court battle, legislation, or possibly intervention from the Obama administration. That last option seems remote since the administration has so far refused to put its top people on the case.

Audio: Michael Mann on Ken Cuccinelli's "Climategate" Investigation

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 3:45 PM PDT

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's crusade against climate science was dealt a setback today after a judge denied his attempt to subpoena documents relating to former University of Virginia climate scientist, Michael Mann. Need to Know’s Alison Stewart spoke with Mann about the dangerous precedent the Cucinelli's case could have set and about what he calls the climate change denial "industry."

This podcast was produced by Need to Know as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Devastating Psychological Effects of BP Disaster

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 2:45 PM PDT

Anger, depression, and helplessness are the main psychological responses to BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. And these responses are likely to be long lived, according to an interview in Ecopsychology, a peer-reviewed journal exploring the relationship between environmental issues and mental health and well-being.

The anger being expressed in response to the recent BP oil rig explosion and resulting spill of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico is a way of masking the really unfathomable and profound despair that is just under the surface as we watch this catastrophe unfold. This according to Deborah Du Nann Winter, a psychologist at Whitman College, WA. Winter predicts chronic depression, withdrawal, and lack of functioning among people directly affected by the events in the Gulf. She predicts the same for people nationwide and globally who aren't directly affected by the catastrophe but who who identify or empathize with those who are.

In the interview, Winter discusses her own personal attempts to deal with the negative emotions she is experiencing by focusing at times on hopeful, positive feelings related to the "tremendous self-sacrifice and generosity of spirit" among those affected by the spill and those helping to contain it and clean up the oil.



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12 Most Toxic Fish (For Humans and the Planet)

| Mon Aug. 30, 2010 2:30 AM PDT

Food & Water Watch just released its 2010 Smart Seafood Guide to the safety and sustainability of more than 100 kinds of fish and shellfish. Now I still love the Monterey Bay Aquarium's pocket guides and searchable Seafood Watch site (the only place where you can geek out with a trawling fact card, as far as I know), but the Smart Seafood Guide has a few unique features worth pointing out.

For starters, while some guides only address human health issues (like mercury) and environmental problems (like overfishing), Food & Water Watch also considers seafood's socioeconomic impact. "For example, lobster is a a key part of the economy up in Maine," says Marianne Cufone, director of Food & Water Watch's fish program. "Knowing that fact is really important to some consumers."

Another handy thing: It's organized by texture and taste, so you can figure out the safest and most sustainable options in categories such as "mild" and "steak-like." This makes it easy to figure out substitutes for recipes. 

Here's Food & Water Watch's "dirty dozen" list of seafood that failed to meet at least two of the group's criteria. For more details, plus a list of alternatives for each verboten species, check out the guide. In no particular order:

1. King crab: Even though crab is abundant in some parts of the US, imports from Russia—which aren't well regulated—are much cheaper and more common.

2. Caviar, especially from beluga and other wild-caught sturgeon: Overfishing and poaching of this coveted species is very common.

3. Atlantic bluefin tuna: Extreme overfishing, plus concerns about mercury and PCB contamination.

4. Orange roughy: May contain mercury and "is particularly vulnerable to overfishing due to its long lifespan and slow maturation."

5. Atlantic flatfish (e.g. flounder, sole and halibut): Seriously overfished.

6. American eel: Concerns about mercury and PCBs.

7. Atlantic Cod: Overfished, and also has major bycatch problems.

8. Imported catfish: Much of it comes from Southeast Asia, "where use of chemicals and antibiotics is barely regulated."

9. Chilean seabass: Concerns about mercury, plus illegal fishing in Chile damages marine life and seabirds.

10. Shark: May contain mercury, also overfished.

11. Atlantic and farmed salmon: Concerns about contamination with PCB, pesticides, and antibiotics. Also, waste and germs from salmon farms often leaches out of the cages and can harm the surrounding marine life.

12. Imported shrimp: About 90 percent of it comes from countries where the seafood industry (waste control, chemical use, and labor) isn't well regulated.

Northwest and Northeast Passages Now Open

| Fri Aug. 27, 2010 3:35 PM PDT

The Northwest Passage is now open for business. And, as this satellite image composited by the The University of Illinois Cryosphere Today shows, the Northeast Passage is too. Jeff Masters at WunderBlog reports:

"It is now possible to completely circumnavigate the Arctic Ocean in ice-free waters, and this will probably be the case for at least a month. This year marks the third consecutive yearand the third time in recorded historythat both the Northwest Passage and Northeast Passage have melted free. The Northeast Passage opened for the first time in recorded history in 2005 and the Northwest Passage in 2007. It now appears that the opening of one or both of these northern passages is the new norm, and business interests are taking notecommercial shipping in the Arctic is on the increase, and there is increasing interest in oil drilling."

The National Snow and Ice Data Center says this year’s early clearing of sea ice likely results from record warm temperatures this past spring over the Western Canadian Arctic, as well as from an ongoing decline in older multiyear iceonce a hallmark of the Arctic, now seriously threatened. Spring 2010 was the warmest in the region since 1948, with some parts of the Western Canadian Arctic heating to more than 6°C/11°F above normal.

Meanwhile, sea ice around Antarctica is at a record high, which some mistakenly take as proof that global warming isn't real. In fact growing Antarctic sea ice is at least in part a result of a warming ocean, as SkepticalScience explains:

"The Southern Ocean consists of a layer of cold water near the surface and a layer of warmer water below. Water from the warmer layer rises up to the surface, melting sea ice. However, as air temperatures warm, the amount of rain and snowfall also increases. This freshens the surface waters, leading to a surface layer less dense than the saltier, warmer water below. The layers become more stratified and mix less. Less heat is transported upwards from the deeper, warmer layer. Hence less sea ice is melted."