Blue Marble - August 2011

California Defied Own Scientists With Pesticide Approval

| Fri Aug. 26, 2011 3:06 AM PDT

Earlier this year, several environmental groups sued the State of California for approving the agricultural use of methyl iodide, a harmful pesticide. Methyl iodide is known to cause miscarriages, thyroid dysfunction, and cancer, and it's applied to crops like strawberries and peppers. Public outcry has been growing: just this week, farmworkers and environmentalists stood on the steps of the state capitol demanding Governor Jerry Brown make good on his promise to reconsider the substance's approval. While farmworkers are worried about their health, scientists should be concerned too: new documents released by court-order due to the lawsuit show the state cherry-picking data to back up weakened restrictions for the chemical.

The state's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is at the center of this mess: the department has been without a head since the previous one resigned in spring. DPR management chose to cherry-pick data (some of it from the department's own scientific reports) to support smaller buffer zones and higher concentrations of methyl iodide. The problem: the data was from different scenarios using different variables. In a memo with the subject line "Potential Misinterpretation of Methyl Iodide Risk Assessment," a DPR supervising toxicologist wrote: "It is not scientifically credible to select a value or assumption from one and combine it with a value or assumption from another." The DPR toxicologist said the data were "not interchangeable" and called management's approach "mix and match."

DPR management's mixing and matching was used to show that fields sprayed with methyl iodide would require smaller buffer zones. The highest level of protection scientists investigated would have required buffer zones of several hundred feet to several miles around affected fields. DPR acknowledged in the new documents that this level of protection "was recommended by scientists" but still chose to reduce the buffer zones, saying that such requirements would be "excessive" and cause hardship on methyl iodide manufacturer Arysta "due to its economic viability." "Homes and schools are literally 25 feet away from these fields," said Paul Towers. Towers is a spokesperson for Pesticide Action Network, one of the parties to the lawsuit against the state. "This puts rural communities at risk."

In addition to reducing buffer zones, California's DPR chose to outright ignore warnings from its own scientists regarding methyl iodide's effects on pregnant women, children, and infants. This risk assessment report notes several times that the department had not tested methyl iodide for neurological damage to fetuses. DPR scientists recommended that "an additional 'safety factor' of 10 is needed to take the post-natal neurotoxic effects into consideration, since the rabbit studies delivered some live pups at the end of gestation but no neurotoxicity studies were conducted." In the end, DPR scientists recommended that California set its limit for methyl iodide at 2 parts-per-million in order to reduce chances of miscarriage. This level was published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal without incident. However, the EPA and Arysta chose to allow 10 parts-per-million, citing the rabbit studies. These rabbit studies, importantly, measured miscarriages as a percentage of fetal death per litter. Rabbits have up to 15 offspring in each litter, while humans usually only gestate one fetus at a time.

Due to the dangers of methyl iodide, both Washington state and New York have refused to allow its use, even though the EPA has approved it. If documents like these keep coming out of the state, maybe methyl iodide will be pulled from California just as quickly as it was approved in the first place.

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Be the Smartest Nerd in the Room on #Irene

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 4:54 PM PDT

Click here for the latest updates on what's happening with Hurricane Irene.

Water vapor, showing massive footprint of Hurricane Irene at 1945 UTC on 25 Aug 2011. Credit: NOAA.Water vapor, showing massive footprint of Hurricane Irene at 1945 UTC on August 25. Credit: NOAA.

No matter where Hurricane Irene makes landfall it will likely impact a huge area of the East Coast. That's because the storm is so huge—and it's still growing—and because it's so slow moving. These two factors amplify storm surge by inundating a lot of territory for a very long time.

 

Crescent moon. Credit: NASA.Crescent moon. Credit: NASA.Worse, Irene may well end up walloping the densely populated Northeast during the highest tides of the month—on Sunday's new moon. If all the variables line up just wrong, this could lead to a catastrophic storm tide.

 

Storm surge versus storm tide. Credit: NOAA.Storm surge versus storm tide. Credit: NOAA.

Meteorologist Jeff Masters, writing at his Wunderblog, warns:

I am most concerned about the storm surge danger to North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and the rest of the New England coast. Irene is capable of inundating portions of the coast under 10-15 feet of water, to the highest storm surge depths ever recorded.

 

Historical SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes) animation from the 1938 New England hurricane. Credit: NOAA.Historical SLOSH (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes) animation from the 1938 New England hurricane. Credit: NOAA.

The 1938 New England hurricane (back in the days before naming), the only Cat 3 storm to hit the Northeast since the 1800s, drove a 15-foot storm surge onto Long Island.  

Above, you can see the extent of that surge from New York to Cape Cod. Here's an animated simulation of that.

 

Hand-drawn weather map of the 1938 Hurricane. Credit: NOAA. Hand-drawn weather map of the 1938 hurricane. Credit: NOAA.

Masters estimates a 20 percent chance that Irene will deliver a storm surge higher than eight feet to New York City. If so, this is what it might look like, in his words:

SLOSH model predicts that a mid-strength Category 2 hurricane with 100-mph winds could drive a 15-20 foot storm surge to Manhattan, Queens, Kings, and up the Hudson River. JFK airport could be swamped, southern Manhattan would flood north to Canal Street, and a surge traveling westwards down Long Island Sound might breach the sea walls that protect La Guardia Airport. Many of the power plants that supply the city with electricity might be knocked out, or their docks to supply them with fuel destroyed. The more likely case of a Category 1 hurricane hitting at high tide would still be plenty dangerous, with waters reaching 8-12 feet above ground level in Lower Manhattan.

 

Storm surge for a Category 3 hurricane. Credit: NOAA's Storm Surge Interactive Risk Maps.Storm surge for a Category 3 hurricane. Credit: NOAA's Storm Surge Interactive Risk Maps.

Here's a storm surge map for a Category 3 hurricane that I generated with NOAA's Interactive Risk Maps tool.

It's a good idea to use that tool to take a look at your own risks if you're anywhere along Irene's flight path.

 Credit: Rhode Island National Guard.Credit: Rhode Island National Guard.

Here you can see the storm surge damage from 1954's Hurricane Carol in Westerly, Rhode Island. Buildings in the center of the photo were floated off their foundations. Buildings in the lower portion were swept completely away and only slabs and driveways remained.

 

Sea surface temperatures on 23 Aug 2011. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.Sea surface temperatures on August 23. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

To make matters worse, sea surface temperatures are running 1 to 3 degrees F above average between North Carolina and New York. Since warmer waters make for a wetter storm, Irene will likely manifest as a superwet double whammy: wet from intense rainfall, and wet from intense storm surge.

 

Predicted rainfall from 25-31 August 2011. Credit: NOAA/NWS HPC.Predicted rainfall from August 25 to 31. Credit: NOAA/NWS HPC.

This five-day precipitation forecast forewarns Irene's real fury. Monster rainfall totals will likely lead to flooding of streams and rivers along much of the East Coast.

 

Hurricane Irene at 2245 UTC 25 Aug 2011. Credit: NOAA/GOES Project Science.Hurricane Irene at 22:45 UTC on August 25. Credit: NOAA/GOES Project Science.

Here's what the storm's grown to this afternoon.

State to Greenlight Keystone XL?

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 2:20 PM PDT

UPDATE: The State Department did issue the environmental impact statement on Friday, as expected, concluding that it would have minimal impact if it is constructed. However, an official from the State Department said that the EIS "should not be seen as a lean in any direction, either for or against the pipeline," as there are still additional reviews that must be completed before a final decision is made.

ORIGINAL POST: The total number of pipeline protesters arrested outside the White House hit 322 on Thursday, and the biggest day of action is still expected on Saturday. But protesters might get some disappointing news, if this piece in the Washington Post is accurate:

The State Department will remove a major roadblock to construction of a massive oil pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas when it releases its final environmental assessment of the project as soon as Friday, according to sources briefed on the process.
The move is critical because it will affirm the agency’s earlier finding that the project will have “limited adverse environmental impacts” during construction and operation, according to sources familiar with the assessment who asked not to be identified because the decision has not been made public.

After that assessment is released, the State Department is still planning to hold public listening sessions in September, and there's supposed to be a wider evaluation of whether or not constructing the pipeline is in the government's interest. That assessment could look more closely at whether the pipeline fits in with our energy needs and with the Obama administration's stated goals on addressing climate change.

In any case, if the release is issued tomorrow, it would certainly add more urgency to the ongoing protests outside the White House. Mother Jones contributor Bill McKibben also wrote today about why he decided to get arrested this week in protest of the pipeline.

BP Guard Shoots, Kills Polar Bear

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 12:30 PM PDT

Oil companies have gotten a bad rap for hating on polar bears, both for warming up their environment and for opposing efforts to protect the bears under the Endangered Species Act. But the oil giant BP one-upped everyone on that front this week, as it came to light that a security guard at the company's oil field in Alaska's North Slope shot and killed a polar bear earlier this month.

Via Alaska Dispatch:

The death appears to have been accidental, according to BP Alaska spokesman Steve Rinehart, who said the guard thought he'd fired a bean bag round at the female bear but BP later discovered it was a "cracker shell" that mortally wounded her.
The polar bear death is the first time in 35 years of working on the North Slope that a bear has been killed by a security guard working for BP, Rinehart said.
"We dearly wish it had not happened," Rinehart said, "but it's not a trend or a population impact. We have worked safely and carefully around polar bears under strict guidance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

Polar bears are considered a "threatened species," while not officially on the "endangered" list. But it's still illegal to kill them. The US Fish and Wildlife Service says they are investigating the shooting. Bill Snape, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the group is looking into their legal options for pursuing this if the federal government doesn't prosecute.

Study: Climate Shifts Cause War

| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

Top military brass, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the UN Secretary General have all warned that climate change will create conflicts in the future. But environmental shifts are already causing wars, argues a team of experts in a new paper in Nature (PDF) published this month.

El Niño, the oscillating period of warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, brings with it higher temperatures on land and lower rainfall every three to seven years. According to the researchers, the weather phenomenon doubles the risk of civil conflicts in 90 tropical countries. They also believe it has been a potential factor in 21 percent of the world's conflicts over a 54-year span.

As the authors explain, events like droughts put strain on food and water resources, which can cause conflict. Natural disasters can also cause disease, famine, and economic distress, which may create tensions between factions.

The three authors, whose research backgrounds include sustainability, climate science, and international affairs, looked at conflicts that involved more than 25 deaths between 1950 and 2004. They looked at the annual conflict risk in each country, and determined that there was a 3 percent chance of conflict during cooler periods and a 6 percent risk during the periods of El Niño. There the likelihood of conflict in countries that weren't affected by El Niño stayed the same.

Certainly, many have already speculated about historical conflicts and climatic shifts, but this is (as far as I can tell) the first systematic attempt to understand how the conflicts of recent history fit in with climatic changes. While the authors aren't saying that El Niño was at fault for any particular incident of violence, they do make the connection between climate shifts and modern conflicts and raise questions about the implications for a future as the climate changes. Global warming, they argue, will exacerbate the normal weather cycles and make the typical fluctuations more extreme. Basically, it will take a trend that already exists and make it worse.

The press release from the Earth Institute at Columbia University highlights some specific conflicts that coincided with warmer weather, which wasn't included in the Nature paper:

In 1982, a powerful El Niño struck impoverished highland Peru, destroying crops; that year, simmering guerrilla attacks by the revolutionary Shining Path movement turned into a full-scale 20-year civil war that still sputters today. Separately, forces in southern Sudan were already facing off with the domineering north, when intense warfare broke out in the El Niño year of 1963. The insurrection abated, but flared again in 1976, another El Niño year. Then, 1983 saw a major El Niño—and the cataclysmic outbreak of more than 20 years of fighting that killed 2 million people, arguably the world’s bloodiest conflict since World War II. It culminated only this summer, when South Sudan became a separate nation; fighting continues in border areas. [Lead author Solomon] Hsiang said some other countries where festering conflicts have tended to blow up during El Niños include El Salvador, the Philippines and Uganda (1972); Angola, Haiti and Myanmar (1991); and Congo, Eritrea, Indonesia and Rwanda (1997).

Of course, the weather shifts weren't the only reason for the conflict. "But," as Hsiang said in a statement, "if you have social inequality, people are poor, and there are underlying tensions, it seems possible that climate can deliver the knockout punch."

The Most Painful Sting in the World

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 4:07 PM PDT

This post courtesy BBC Earth. For more wildlife news, find BBC Earth on Facebook and Posterous.

What's the most painful sting in the insect world?

In the jungles of Panama Steve faced his fear and handled a mind blowingly painful stinger–the bullet ant.

A sting from most ants is nothing more than a painful nip, often with a bit of formic acid thrown in. But not the bullet ant. As its name suggests, a sting from one of these is like being shot!

In 1984, a man named Justin Schmidt published a paper in the journal Archives of Insect Biochemistry and Physiology. He subjected himself to the stings of 78 different insects which resulted in the Schmidt Pain Index with stings rated from 0 (no effect) to a maximum of 4 (most painful). Here are some of his pain ratings and his amusingly vivid descriptions.

1.0 - Sweat Bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. As if a tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

1.2 - Fire Ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.

1.8 - Bullhorn Acacia Ant; A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

2.0 - Bald Faced Hornet; Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

2.0 - Yellow jacket; Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

2.0 - Honey Bee: Like a match head that flips off and burns on your skin.

3.0 - Red Harvest Ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

3.0 - Paper Wasp: Caustic burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

4.0 - Tarantula Hawk Wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

4.0 - Bullet Ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel. I’d take his word for it if I were you!

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A Budget Plan That Treehuggers and Tea Partiers Can Love

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 3:07 PM PDT

There's not much that Friends of the Earth and The Heartland Institute agree on. Friends of the Earth is among the most liberal of the environmental groups in the US. Heartland thinks that climate change isn't a crisis at all—actually, it might even be a good thing. But the two partnered this year to in the release of the Green Scissors Report, which looks at environmentally problematic government spending.

It's heartening to know that while two groups might not be able to agree on the question of whether or not climate change is real, they can agree that subsidies for corn ethanol are dumb. That was among the $380 billion in "wasteful government subsidies" that the groups, along with Taxpayers for Common Sense and Public Citizen, unveiled on Wednesday. Friends of the Earth has released this report annually since 1994, and this was the first year that Heartland joined in. This year, they're hoping it gets more attention, given the supercommittee's charge to find spending cuts.

"We are a forthrightly conservative organization, and we disagree with many of the objectives of other partners," said Heartland Institute Vice President Eli Lehrer in a call with reporters on Wednesday. But they did agree, that "big government spending" can have "negative consequences" for the environment.

Some the proposed cuts for the 2012 to 2016 period:

  • $4 billion in "royalty relief" for oil and gas drilling
  • $6.7 billion in a manufacturing tax break for domestic oil and gas companies
  • $22 billion for nuclear and uranium enrichment loan guarantees
  • $56 billion in tax credits and market support for ethanol
  • $1.3 billion in support for the FutureGen "clean coal" project
  • $18 billion in subsidies for commodity crops like corn, wheat and soybeans
  • $30 billion for crop insurance
  • $2.2 billion in tax breaks for timber companies
  • $20.8 billion in funds for road and bridge projects that they deem unnecessary
  • $5.6 billion in Army Corps of Engineers projects that "serve little to no national interest."

"These are common-sense cuts, and should represent the lowest-hanging fruit," said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The Environmental Art of Gail Potocki

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 12:56 PM PDT

Icarus. 2008. Gail Potocki.Icarus. 2008. Gail Potocki.

I know of no other artist who wields insight, emotion, and intellectual heft—not to mention gorgeous technique—to examine the environmental ills besetting us today. Gail Potocki's landscapes are catastrophes unfolding before our eyes—in the sea, in the air, and on the land. Yet her human subjects, shattered and vulnerable, are creatures of exquisite hope... precisely because of their melancholic awareness of their plight.

I asked Gail to tell me about each of these paintings. Of Icarus (above), she wrote:

"Influenced by Icarus ignoring his father's warning and flying too close to the sun; I saw similarities in this myth with nature's warnings of our own possible self-destructiveness. In the case of Icarus here, his wings have been stolen from the dead bird that he has slung over his shoulder."

 

Thaw. 2008. Gail Potocki.Thaw. 2008. Gail Potocki.

About Thaw, Gail said:

"Both the bees and the woman are out of place in this landscape. The bee brings a fleck of light to the woman representing our dependence on them as life givers/pollinators."

 

Overflow. 2008. Gail Potocki.Overflow. 2008. Gail Potocki.

 Overflow:

"My concern about human population growth is represented by the two people interlaced in the human paper cutouts. The background is a solid mass of buildings where only a small square of sky shows through as all of the landscape becomes consumed."

 

Shipwrecked. 2005. Gail Potocki.Shipwrecked. 2005. Gail Potocki. Shipwrecked:

"I've played with another idea of the disappearing bees, battered and shipwrecked against the rocky shore."

 

Plastic Vortex. 2008. Gail Potocki.Plastic Vortex. 2008. Gail Potocki.
Plastic Vortex:

"With animals trapped in the plasticized water, the figure in this painting recoils from the Grim Reaper-like seabird as she bears witness to an omen of the future of our oceans."

 

Tiara. 2008. Gail Potocki.Tiara. 2008. Gail Potocki.
Tiara:

"This is symbolic of deforestation's effect on the landscape. The woman/tree hybrid catching fire represents all of humanity's attachment to nature and how our fates are intertwined."

Gail paints in Michigan. I picture her world as a snowy canvas.

 

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Here's what she told me about her relationship between her natural neighborhood, her work, and her audience.

I am definitely more productive overall in the winter. I spend most of the year at my studio in Michigan (right in the middle of the snow-belt) so I love to be in my warm studio listening to music and painting when there's a blizzard outside. I try to transfer some of the drama from the weather into the work.

Also, the view of the open field behind my studio ignites my creativity. Although I am not really a painter of landscapes, being surrounded by all this natural beauty inspires me to create narratives about it and how our actions affect the environment.

I am not naïve enough to believe that 'art can change the world,' but I do feel that my goal as an artist is to try to bring things to peoples' attention that they might not normally think about.


For more on Gail Potocki, check out her website, plus this stunningly beautiful book, The Union of Hope and Sadness, written by Thomas Negovan, director of Century Guild, the gallery Chicago representing her.

What's All the Fuss About the Keystone XL Pipeline?

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
Construction on the existing Keystone pipeline.

Hundreds of activists have arrived in Washington, DC, to protest the proposed Keystone XL project, a 1,661-mile pipeline that would carry oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries in Texas. If TransCanada gets the green light from the Obama administration, the pipeline would carry as much as 900,000 barrels of oil every day—oil with a carbon output 20 percent higher than conventional oil supplies.

The State Department is expected to release a final environmental impact statement on the proposal this month and issue a decision by the end of the year. The looming ruling has prompted activists to organize two weeks of protests at the White House—with several thousand expected to risk arrest.

Since the action began on Saturday, 212 people have been arrested outside of the White House. The majority have been processed and released, though some of the higher-profile activists were kept from Saturday through Monday morning, a move they believe was made to deter further protests. Writer and activist Bill McKibben (also a Mother Jones contributor), lawyer and environmental leader Gus Speth, and LGBT-rights activist Lt. Dan Choi were among those kept in jail.

The protesters have arrived outside the White House each morning, with a group of volunteers agreeing to sit in until they are arrested each day. Organizers estimate that between 50 and 100 people will be arrested every day, with the biggest day of action planned for Saturday, August 27. Spokesman Jamie Henn, of the group 350.org, said that 2,000 people have signed up to participate. They plan to continue the protest through Labor Day.

Because many of you may be wondering what the heck is going on with the protests, we've compiled this backgrounder. But I'm sure none of you need it, since you've been following our coverage of the Keystone XL all along. Right?

What is the Keystone XL? The Canadian energy company TransCanada has asked for permission to build a 1,661-mile pipeline that would travel from Hardisty, Alberta, down to oil refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, Texas. It would supplement the existing Keystone pipeline, which went into operation last summer and can carry up to 435,000 barrels of oil per day. The pipeline would carry tar sands oil, which is heavier, more carbon-intensive, and more corrosive than conventional oil. It is scheduled for completion in 2013, though it would not hit capacity until 2056.

What's wrong with building a giant pipeline across the US? That existing Keystone line has already leaked a dozen times in just one year of operation. The Keystone XL would cross more than 70 rivers and streams, including the Missouri, Platte, Yellowstone, and Arkansas. The oil spill from another pipeline in the Yellowstone River last month didn't do much to allay those concerns. It would also cross the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides nearly one-third of the groundwater used to irrigate US crops, supports $20 billion in agriculture, and supplies drinking water to about 2 million people. A recent report from a researcher at the University of Nebraska estimated that there would be 91 significant spills from the pipeline in the next 50 years. A worst-case-scenario spill in Nebraska's sand hills above the Ogallala Aquifer could dump as much as 180,000 barrels, tainting the vast water supply in the region.

The much-higher carbon footprint of tar sands oil and its contribution to climate change are also concerns, as are the health problems reported near extraction sites.

Who is opposed to building the pipeline? Environmental groups, landowners along the path of the pipeline (especially those threatened with eminent domain), the National Farmers Union, climate scientists, a number of senators (including both the Republican and Democratic senators from Nebraska), the Transport Workers Union, and the Amalgamated Transit Union have all urged the State Department to veto the plan.

Who supports building it? TransCanada, of course, as well as the oil companies that plan to ship oil through it, the American Petroleum Institute, the Teamsters Union, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the members of the House that voted for a bill that would expedite consideration of the plan.

How does the Keystone XL compare in size to other oil pipelines? If constructed, it would certainly be among the longest pipelines in the United States. But there are longer ones, like the 1,679-mile Rockies Express natural gas pipeline from Colorado to Ohio or the 1,900-mile Lakehead System from North Dakota to Michigan.

But won't the pipeline create tons of jobs? API refining issues manager Cindy Schild claimed in a press call last week that the pipeline would directly create 20,000 new jobs, and spur the creation of as many as 80,000 more jobs in the United States related to tar sands development. TransCanada's own projection on job growth has ballooned in the past few years, from initial predictions of 13,000 to now 20,000. But most of those jobs would be short-term, lasting for just the two years expected to take to complete the pipeline.

Why does the State Department get to decide whether to build it? Because the pipeline crosses an international border. The State Department is required, however, to ask other federal agencies to weigh in. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency gave a failing grade to State's initial environmental-impact analysis. State issued a new draft in April and is expected to issue a final version later this month. After that, they plan to hold public meetings in September.

Where will all that oil go? That's a good question! Supporters argue that getting oil from our friendly neighbors up north is preferable to getting it from Middle Eastern countries that don't like us very much. But our oil demand is expected to decline anyway. And since it would be pumped down to ports in Texas, it can easily be shipped to other countries in Europe or Asia, a concern that critics have raised.

What does President Obama think about the pipeline? That's another good question! It's also the reason the protesters plan to be out there for the next few weeks. They're hoping that the actions will put pressure on Obama, who has so far been pretty quiet on the subject, to weigh in against the pipeline. Obama may be in Martha's Vineyard right now, but the protesters will be waiting for him when he returns to the White House.

We already have a ton of pipelines, so why do activists care so much about this one? Well, unlike most major environmental issues, President Obama doesn't need Congress to do anything here. The decision is entirely within the control of his administration. For protesters, this is also symbolic; if Obama wants to show that he still cares about climate change, he could veto this project, they argue. Environmental groups are also hoping for a concrete victory. Even with a supposedly sympathetic president, they haven't seen the big policy shifts on this front that they were hoping for. And while addressing climate change is a giant, complicated challenge, vetoing a pipeline is fairly straightforward.

Evo Morales: Enviro Saint or Sinner?

| Wed Aug. 24, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
Indigenous Bolivians march to protest the building of a road through a national park.

With his Aymara heritage and anti-imperial outlook, Evo Morales has often been portrayed as one of the developing world's leading voices on global warming. Back in 2009, the Bolivian president shook the Copenhagen climate change summit when he blamed rising temperatures on capitalism and suggested that, without drastic changes, Africa would "suffer a holocaust." In December, at a conference in Mexico, he said governments that avoided emissions reductions would be guilty of "ecocide."

But lately environmentalists and indigenous groups have been calling Morales a hypocrite, claiming his ecofriendly talk doesn't jibe with his government's recent record on fossil fuel exploration and mining-related pollution. And now, with the government in the midst of a road project that eventually will cut right through a national park, the protests have ramped up. On August 15, indigenous residents of the Isoboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) began a 300-plus-mile protest march from the Amazonian lowlands to La Paz.