Blue Marble - February 2013

More (Stronger) Evidence Linking Sugar to Diabetes

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 2:36 PM EST

A new study published in the open-access science journal PLoS One offers some of the strongest evidence yet associating sugar, independent of other diet and lifestyle factors, with type 2 diabetes—a link that the sugar industry has sought for decades to debunk.

The study's four authors, including Robert Lustig of the University of California-San Francisco, examined data on sugar intake and diabetes prevalence in 175 countries "controlling for other food types (including fibers, meats, fruits, oils, cereals), total calories, overweight and obesity, period-effects, and several socioeconomic variables such as aging, urbanization and income."

For each bump in sugar "availability" (consumption plus waste) equivalent to about a can of soda per day, they observed a 1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence. This is a correlation, of course, and correlation does not necessarily equal causation. On the other hand, as the authors note in a lay summary, this "is far stronger than a typical point-in-time medical correlation study."

"No other food types yielded significant individual associations with diabetes prevalence after controlling for obesity and other confounders," the PLoS article states. "Differences in sugar availability statistically explain variations in diabetes prevalence rates at a population level that are not explained by physical activity, overweight or obesity."

The correlation, the authors also reported, was "independent of other changes in economic and social change such as urbanization, aging, changes to household income, sedentary lifestyles, and tobacco or alcohol use. We found that obesity appeared to exacerbate, but not confound, the impact of sugar availability on diabetes prevalence, strengthening the argument for targeted public health approaches to excessive sugar consumption."

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VIDEO: On the Ground at the BP Gulf Oil Spill Hearings

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 7:07 AM EST

This week marked the start of the the civil trial against BP over its role in the 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men and caused the worst spill in US history. District judge Carl Barbier warned of a lengthy trial, one that could last up to 3 months if a deal isn't reached earlier, and if the first three days of the trial are anything to go by, BP is in for a battery of tough questions about its safety record and procedures. As much as $17.5 billion in damages is hinged on the legal question of whether the company was "grossly negligent" in causing the deaths and the subsequent spill. Climate Desk caught up with Dominic Rushe at partner publication, the Guardian, who has been covering the trial as it unfolds.

Top 4 Reasons the US Still Doesn't Have a Single Offshore Wind Turbine

| Thu Feb. 28, 2013 7:07 AM EST

"Jack-up" ships like this are needed to drive massive offshore wind turbines into the seafloor. There's not a single one in the US.

Despite massive growth of the offshore wind industry in Europe, a blossoming array of land-based wind turbines stateside, and plenty of wind to spare, the United States has yet to sink even one turbine in the ocean. Not exactly the kind of leadership on renewables President Obama called for in his recent State of the Union address.

Light is just beginning to flicker at the end of the tunnel: On Tuesday, outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a gathering of offshore industry leaders he was optimistic the long-embattled Cape Wind project would break ground before year's end. And in early January industry advocates managed to convince Congress to extend a critical tax incentive for another year.

But America's small-yet-dedicated entrepreneurial corps of offshore developers are still chasing "wet steel," as they call it, while their European and Asian colleagues forge ahead on making offshore wind a basic component of their energy plans. So what's the holdup? Here's a look at the top reasons that offshore wind remains elusive in the United States:

Watch Live: How the US Navy Is Leading the Charge on Clean Energy and Climate Change

Wed Feb. 27, 2013 9:11 AM EST

Event live stream to start 02/27/13 around 9:30 a.m. EST:

The US Navy is now leading the charge towards clean energy—which is big news for national security and even climate change. Through investments in biofuels, construction of a more energy-efficient fleet, forward thinking about issues like rising sea levels and a melting Arctic, and commitments to reduce consumption and reliance on foreign oil, the Navy is poised to "change the way the US military sails, flies, marches, and thinks."

Please join host Chris Mooney for the next installment of Climate Desk Live on Wednesday February 27 at 9:30 a.m, where he'll discuss the Navy's charge towards energy independence with Dr. David W. Titley, retired naval officer who led the US Navy's Task Force on Climate Change; Capt. James C. Goudreau, Director, Navy Energy Coordination Office; Dr. D. James Baker, Director of the Global Carbon Measurement Program of the William J. Clinton Foundation and Former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Clinton Administration; and Julia Whitty, environmental correspondent for Mother Jones whose cover story on this topic appears in latest issue of the magazine.

Salazar: On Energy, Expect Four More Years of the Same

| Tue Feb. 26, 2013 7:12 PM EST
Ken Salazar confers with the heads of Cape Wind, which he predicts will this year become the US's first offshore wind farm to break ground.

If you aren't happy with President Obama's plan for powering the US, don't hold your breath for any changes in his second term.

Speaking today to a conference of leaders of the offshore wind industry in Boston, outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar hinted at the nation's energy future. "It's going to be very much a continuation agenda," Salazar said of Sally Jewell, Obama's pick to succeed him.

Salazar noted with pride how in Obama's first term, the equivalent of 30 fossil-fuel-fired power plants worth of renewable energy projects have been approved for public lands, a trend he's confident will continue into the future. But stashed away in his remarks was also a renewed commitment to growing fracking nationwide and oil drilling in the Alaskan arctic, two key aspects of Obama's "all-of-the-above" energy policy that have drawn fire from environmentalists, and which Salazar equated with renewables as "very important" components of America's energy plan going forward.

Salazar: Obama's second term is "going to be very much a continuation agenda."

Salazar, making a rare public appearance without his signature Stetson hat, closed his speech with an excerpt from Obama's recent State of the Union address, wherein the president called on America to be a leader on renewables. But later, speaking to reporters, Salazar expressed ambivalence about the Keystone XL pipeline, saying only that he supported the president's review process and he trusted incoming State Secretary John Kerry, with whom the ultimate call on Keystone XL rests, to make the right decision. He also sidestepped a question about the risks of fracking, saying that "shale gas has a lot of promise for energy security in the US. We will be implementing an agenda that takes advantage of it all."

During his time in Obama's cabinet, Salazar embraced climate change as an issue, overseeing the granting of the US' first two offshore wind permits and helping to draft a regulatory structure for building solar farms, wind turbines, and other renewable energy projects on the 250 million acres of public land managed by his Bureau of Land Management. But Salazar also signed off last year on permits for Shell to drill for oil off Alaska, and has indicated that more Arctic drilling is likely, despite Shell's comedy of errors there this winter.

WATCH: What's It Like to Land on an Aircraft Carrier?

| Tue Feb. 26, 2013 7:06 AM EST

Hurtling toward the USS Nimitz in a biofuel-powered jet airplane was just one of the adventures that Mother Jones environmental correspondent Julia Whitty had while reporting the cover story for the March/April 2013 issue of the magazine. Watch Julia talk about her adventures—and the US Navy's green makeover—here:

If you're in the Washington, DC, area, you can see Julia speak at the next Climate Desk Live event on Wednesday, February 27, at 9:30 a.m., where host Chris Mooney will discuss the Navy's charge toward energy independence with Dr. David W. Titley, retired naval officer who led the US Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change; Capt. James C. Goudreau, director of the Navy Energy Coordination Office; Dr. D. James Baker, director of the Global Carbon Measurement Program of the William J. Clinton Foundation and former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) during the Clinton Administration; and Julia Whitty.

Event Details:
Date: February 27, 2013, 9:30 a.m.
Location: University of California Washington Center, 1608 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Please RSVP to cdl@climatedesk.org

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CHARTS: World's GMO Crop Fields Could Cover the US 1.5 Times Over

| Tue Feb. 26, 2013 7:06 AM EST

Despite persisting concerns over genetically modified crops, a new industry report (PDF) shows that GMO farming is taking off around the world. In 2012, GMO crops grew on about 420 million acres of land in 28 countries worldwide, a record high according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, an industry trade group.

If all the world's GMO crop fields in 2012 were sown together, it would blanket almost all of Alaska. As the chart from the report shows, globally GMO farming has been on an uninterrupted upward trend. What's especially noteworthy is the growth of GMO farming area in developing nations (see red line), which surpassed that in industrial nations for the first time in 2012. The ISAAA's report doesn't project into the future, but we may see this upward trend continue as "a considerable quantity and variety" of GMO products may be commercialized in developing countries within the next five years, according to a recent UN Food and Agriculture Organisation forum (PDF).

Clive James/ISAAA

The ISAAA says the area of land devoted to genetically modified crops has ballooned by 100 times since farmers first started growing the crop commercially in 1996. Over the past 17 years, millions of farmers in 28 countries have planted and replanted GMO crop seeds on a cumulative 3.7 billion acres of land—an area 50 percent larger than the total land mass of the United States, the group adds.

"This makes biotech crops the fastest adopted crop technology in recent history," ISAAA chair Clive James states in the report. "The reason—it delivers benefits."

What kinds of benefits? According to the ISAAA, GMO farming has reduced use of pesticides, saved on fossil fuels, decreased carbon dioxide emissions, and "made a significant contribution to the income of < 15 million small resource-poor farmers" in developing countries. These small-scale farmers now make up over 90 percent of all farmers growing GMO crops, the group states.

But just looking at the United States—consistently the biggest GMO crop producer in the world by a long shot—there is much reason to doubt on some of ISAAA's claimed benefits. (More after the chart.)

 

Too Much Night Light Makes Us Fat, Cranky—and No Safer

| Mon Feb. 25, 2013 8:15 AM EST
National Park Service

Sometimes a bright idea can be too bright. Today's gas stations and parking lots are often ten times brighter than they were 20 years ago. The ubiquitous glare confuses wildlife, degrades our mental health, and occludes our view of the universe—all because we think that it makes us safer. But does it? Not necessarily, as Paul Bogard, the author of "End of Night: "Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light," points out:

In 2008, PG&E Corp., the San Francisco-based energy company, reviewed the research and found "either that there is no link between lighting and crime, or that any link is too subtle and complex to have been evident in the data."

The data actually speaks more clearly about how light pollution makes us less safe. A recent American Medical Association report (pdf) concludes that the disrupting effects of nighttime lighting on our bodies' circadian rhythms may contribute to "obesity, diabetes, depression and mood disorders, and reproductive problems." Moreover, artificial light causes our bodies to suppress the release of melatonin, elevating our risk of contracting cancer, and especially breast cancer.

Eight in ten kids born in the US today will never see the Milky Way, according to Bogard. Of course, we have it easy at night compared to songbirds, sea turtles, and countless other creatures whose mating and eating habits have been thrown off by our glare.

None of which is to say we ought to start driving without headlights or getting around Manhattan with flashlights. But why not take a cue from the City of Lights? Starting in July in Paris and other parts of France, window lighting and lights on building facades will be turned off after 1 a.m., saving the annual equivalent of 750,000 households worth of energy. Now there's a truly bright idea.

After Sandy, Scientists Hunt for Sewage in New York City's Harbors

| Mon Feb. 25, 2013 7:12 AM EST

For most people affected by Superstorm Sandy, the damage was plain to see: Devastated homes, impossible traffic, even lost lives. But for Bruce Brownawell, the storm's biggest consequences are buried under several meters of seawater. Brownawell is a marine scientist at SUNY-Stony Brook who has spent the last several years becoming intimately acquainted with the chemical makeup of mud on the floor of various bays, harbors, and inlets in the New York City area.

When Sandy hit, several local scientists saw opportunity: For Bruce, it was a chance to return to these areas and investigate how strong storm tides shifted mud around—particularly in areas close to several low-lying sewage treatment plants that were knocked out during the storm and dumped raw sewage into the water for days. To do that, he and colleague Jessica Dutton of Adelphi University strapped on mud-proof waders and headed out to Hempstead Bay off the south shore of Long Island. Climate Desk crammed onto the boat for the inside dirt. 

VIDEO: Wait Until China Acts on Climate. What? They Are!?

| Mon Feb. 25, 2013 7:12 AM EST

Did you hear the one about the Chinese carbon tax? Sorry. Not a joke.

That was one bit of news drowned out by last week's (understandable) conniption over Chinese computer hacking. China plans to introduce a carbon tax, says state-run news agency Xinhua. That's right, that great thorn in the side of global carbon reduction treaties, that recalcitrant negotiator and world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is now on the path to imposing its own tax to tackle dangerous carbon emissions.

Now, we should treat this news with some caution. I say "on the path" because not many other details were forthcoming, and China's environmental regulations tend to be like cheap Swiss cheese: a bit rubbery and full of holes. Ella Chou, an analyst for Brookings and a clean-energy consultant, points out in this great post that the tax is "puny," and local governments may still try to skirt it:

Local governments would continue to come up ways to give industries tax rebates and subsidies to attract them to their own jurisdictions, so the effect of the environmental tax or the carbon tax on the industries would be negligible.

Still, China's decision deals a powerful blow to the oft-stated rhetoric that the United States must wait for China before bringing domestic climate legislation to the floor of Congress. James Fallows makes this point at Climate Desk partner, The Atlantic:

Chinese officials have long used U.S. inaction on climate and carbon-tax issues as a rationalization for not taking steps of their own. On average, we're still quite a poor country, the spokesmen would say. If the rich U.S. can't "afford" to deal with emissions, how could we? Now the country is taking this carbon-tax step for reasons of its own reasons—as a way to deal with pollution and as another step in un-distorting the economy. But as a bonus it gets talking points to prod the US to do its part.

The basic message: It's small, and we'll have to wait to see what the whole package will look like. But it's action. So it may be time to update those action-resistant talking points, guys.