Blue Marble - August 2012

No, Menstruating Women Do Not Attract Bear Attacks

| Wed Aug. 15, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

This story originally appeared on Mother Nature Network.

Women who might think twice about a summer trip to a national park can now officially rest assured: it turns out that menstrual odors do not attract bear attacks, according to a paper by the National Park Service.

The paper was written in response to the long-standing concern that the odors associated with menstruation could lure in hungry bears, putting women at a higher risk than men of being mauled. The concern proved to be little more than an urban legend, at least when it comes to grizzly and black bears.

According to researcher Kerry A. Gunther, who wrote the paper: "There is no evidence that grizzly and black bears are overly attracted to menstrual odors more than any other odor."

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Eliot Spitzer: A Climate Change Fix Conservatives Can Love

| Tue Aug. 14, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

This story first appeared on the Slate website and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

So let me get this straight. We just found out that July was the hottest month on record.

This past week, James Hansen, the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and father of climate change science, wrote of the peer-reviewed research he just completed: "For the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change."

And last month, Richard Muller, a University of California-Berkeley physics professor, MacArthur Fellow, and former climate change skeptic—whose research was funded by the Koch brothers—concluded that "global warming was real and that prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause."

The pace of global warming is accelerating and the scale of the impact is devastating. The time for action is limited—we are approaching a tipping point beyond which the opportunity to reverse the damage of CO2 emissions will disappear.

Climate Change and the Fate of a Million Kids

| Tue Aug. 14, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

 Sahel landscape: Center for International Forestry Research via FlickrSahel landscape in a good year: Center for International Forestry Research via Flickr

If you had to pick ground zero for climate change, you might pick the Sahel, the grasslands between the Sahara in the north and African tropical rainforests in the south. The region is immensely fertile—when it isn't being slammed by recurrent droughts and floods. Many human lives are suspended in a fragile balance with the volatile climate of this region.

During the epic drought of the 1970s and 1980s, 30 percent less rain fell in the Sahel compared to the 1950s and more than 100,000 people died. Basically it was the biggest drought over the largest land area of the 20th century, according to the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab at Princeton (GFDL).

At that time most believed the cause of drought was human overuse of the land—grazing, deforestation, poor farming practices—on a local scale. Nowadays the data suggest recurring Sahelian droughts are driven by a more complex constellation of factors, some related to global climate change, including:

  • Warming sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean (see this paper in Science)
  • Increase in greenhouse gases combined with increase in atmospheric aerosols (see GFDL)
  • Changes in the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation, which may or may not be manmade (see this paper in International Journal of Climatology)

Sadly 2012 has produced another drought in the Sahel, only two years after the 2010 drought. Water shortages, failed crops, insect plagues, high food prices, human displacement, conflict, and chronic poverty now threaten the lives of 18 million people in the region, including at least a million children, says UNICEF.

The global warming casualty list already includes 150,000 additional people killed every year, mostly from disease and malnutrition. That number is projected to grow. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, heat waves could kill 150,000 Americans alone by 2099 (scary map of that here.)



BP's Olympic Ads Seek To Erase Oil Spill From Memory

| Sat Aug. 11, 2012 3:03 AM PDT

BP may not be top-notch at preventing huge, toxic oil spills, but the company is certainly PR-savvy.

In this spring's run-up to the Olympic games, London 2012 organizers announced that BP would be a main sponsor of the event—specifically, a "Sustainability Partner" helping to create the "greenest Games ever." The enviro community balked at the move, launching campaigns, circulating videos, and pranking high-profile orgs to underscore the irony. But to little avail, it seems: Despite the controversy, a survey published this week shows that the oil and gas giant's Olympic ads seem to be rekindling the public's BP love.

Of all the main Olympic sponsors, BP went into the games dead last in brand perception ratings—in fact, it was the only company with a rating in the negative numbers, according to the survey from YouGov BrandIndex. Now, with ads on billboards and television (see below), BP has catapulted from a -5.9 perception rating to a 2.6, a massive jump rivaled only by Visa. And that's among the US population specifically, since all of YouGov's survey respondents were US adults:YouGov G BrandIndexYouGov G BrandIndex

Part of BP's massive Olympic ad effort is "BP Team USA," a group of nine US Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls serving as the brand's athlete ambassadors. Two of the team's members—track and fielder Sanya Richards-Ross and swimmer Rebecca Soni—have already brought in three gold medals and a silver, likely further boosting the hunky-dory US attitudes towards BP at the games.

Also notable: A couple of those BP Team USA ads are grouped on its YouTube channel under the title "Overcoming Setbacks." An admirable athletic sentiment, sure, but an ironic one when employed by a company that's using these ads—and the athletes in them—to fix its own "setbacks."

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Fukushima Victim Resurrects Sake Brewery

| Sat Aug. 11, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Iwaki city, one of the most damaged areas in Fukushima.

This story first appeared on the Guardian website.

It's little wonder that Chieko Sasaki is gripping two bottles of sake like her life depends on it.

For weeks after the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last March, Sasaki believed her brewing business had met the same fate as her hometown, Iitate.

The farming village lies just outside the 20km (12-mile) evacuation zone surrounding the plant, but was evacuated two months after the accident after independent monitors discovered dangerously high levels of radiation there.

Sasaki, along with 7,000 Iitate residents, left the home she shared with her husband, son and grandson, and said a quiet farewell to her brewery, restaurant and the fields where she once grew organic rice and vegetables.

"When I think about my old house, I get a headache and can't sleep," she said. "I took out millions of yen in loans to build my old brewery and restaurant, and I was on the verge of paying them off when the accident happened.

"Then I had to borrow more money to open this place. Tokyo Electric Power [the operator of the plant] has paid me some compensation, but it's a drop in the ocean."

Almost a year and half later, Iitate's residents, now scattered around the region in temporary shelters and private accommodation, still don't know when they will be able to make a permanent return, although many are now permitted to visit during daylight hours.

Chevron Fire Investigators Wait For All-Clear Before Refinery Inspection

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 4:48 PM PDT
The Chevron refinery fire in Richmond on August 6

This story first appeared on the Guardian website.

Investigators are waiting to see if it is safe to enter a smouldering Chevron oil refinery after it was ravaged by fire, sending plumes across the San Francisco bay area and Californian gasoline prices surging.

Experts warned it could take months to repair the refinery in Richmond, a 2,900-acre facility which refines about 150,000 gallons of gasoline daily, 15% of the state's daily needs.

Monday evening's blaze began in a tower and spread to at least three units used to cool water, prompting hundreds of people to seek treatment for respiratory problems and panic buying at the pumps, raising prices 11% in the bay area.

However, initial predictions that prices could exceed $4 per gallon were scaled back because spare capacity in other west coast refineries could fill much, if not all, of the gap.