Blue Marble

Friday Frog Blog: Weddings, Discoveries, and Obsessions

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 5:03 PM EDT

This week in frog, three stories you could have missed:

  • In India, villagers fell back on an old tradition when they hosted a frog wedding as a symbolic act that they hope will bring rain to their land.
  • A species of frog that was thought to be extinct was miraculously discovered in the San Bernardino National Forest near Idyllwild, California.
  • Lady Gaga's got a frog fetish.

As a belated tribute to Walter Cronkite, we leave you with the following words: "And that's the way it is."

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What My Marriage Counselor Asked

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 3:26 PM EDT

Nearly 25 years ago, a marriage counselor asked me a simple question. Four words, and it changed my life.

I had been in and out of this relationship for several years. First we hung out, then we hung it up. We lived together on a commune, we moved out and then moved apart. We saw others, we moved back in together. We separated, got married, then separated again. It was your typical troubled hippie relationship, circa 1970s.

Through all of it, there was a stew of anger simmering on a back burner. We had no idea what was fueling it, so we did the logical thing: we pretended it wasn't there. Well, watched pots may never boil, but let me tell you, it's the unwatched ones that seethe and roil out of sight, and, from time to time, explode. When they do, anyone nearby gets burned. There was never any actual violence, even verbal abuse, but the pain we inflicted on each other was real enough.

After one particularly bad scalding, we agreed to see a marriage counselor. Our first session started like a court hearing, with me as the prosecutor rattling off the charges against my then-wife. I was more like a cross between a prosecutor and an earnest shrink, actually. "Charge #1 [fill in the blank]; Why did she do that?" "Charge #2; I don't understand why she did such a terrible thing!" Repeat for charges 3-12. Why? Why? WHY?!

Finally, I turned to the judge/marriage counselor and pleaded: "I don't understand how she can say she loves me and still do these things that are so hurtful!"

The counselor had the quiet hand-wringing demeanor of Gabriel Byrne's character, Paul Weston from In Treatment. He appeared to mull over my question and then sat upright in his chair.

"I'm not really interested in why she does those things," he said, slowly. "What I want to know is: Why do you stay?"

Two days later I moved out. We got a divorce and that was that.

It's the same with climate deniers. (Stay with me, here.)

Why do good, smart people like MJ's own Kevin Drum continue to debate those who insist global warming isn't caused primarily by human action? It's not like the facts aren't out there. This is settled science (as far as science can ever be considered settled). A list-serv of enviro-journo types to which I belong recently went through a small spasm along these same lines: "How can we best convince doubters that global warming is real?"

Once upon a time that was a legitimate question. No more.

Like the marriage counselor's reaction to me digging into my former-wife's motivations, I've lost interest in what motivates climate deniers. Religion? Politics? Money? I don't know and I don't care. The battle between those who accept global warming and those who don't is like a really bad marriage where the two sides bicker endlessly over who's right. This marriage cannot be saved. It's time for a divorce.

Journalists and others need to turn our attention to solutions. Debating solutions to global warming is a sign of a healthy relationship. All sides have a common baseline and can help each other figure out where we need to go from here.

Politically, massive resources should be used to defeat everyone in Congress who still wants to debate the modern equivalent of "Is the earth really round?" We need to divorce pols who are divorced from reality, and the proper venue for that is the ballot box (or in some cases the recall petition).

And then, we need to get on with our lives, with creating solutions to the largest problem facing us: global warming

All I can say for sure is that it worked for me.

Once I stopped debating deniers I met this really wonderful energy source named solar power. We've been seeing each other pretty regularly for several months now.

I'm happy to say I think it's serious.

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. He edited The Climate Bill: A Field Guide. For more of his stories, click here.

 

Eco-News Roundup: Friday, July 24

| Fri Jul. 24, 2009 6:00 AM EDT

Happy Friday. Blue Marble-ish news from around the site:

Vacation trumps healthcare: No reform till September, if ever.

Numbers game: If you're 29, is it true that no global warming has occurred in your adult lifetime?

Backwards bill: An Ohio state rep thinks a woman should be required to get written consent from the man with whom she had sex before seeking an abortion.

Late-night climate change: The Waxman-Markey climate bill had some pretty good language regulating the carbon derivatives market. Until someone added a big ol' 300-page asterisk at 3 a.m.

 

US Solar Power Glows (and Grows)

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 5:37 PM EDT

If anyone still doubts that solar power is the future (other than oil barons, coal kings and the jokers in Congress), a new report from the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) might change their mind.

In the study released this week, author Larry Sherwood has assembled an impressive collection of data proving that (as Sherwood writes), “Solar markets are booming in the United States due to rising energy prices, strong consumer demand, and financial incentives from the federal government, states and utilities.”

Here are some specifics from the IREC report:

  • The capacity of PV installations completed in 2008 grew by 63% compared with installations in 2007, and the average size PV systems is increasing.
  • Installation growth by capacity was largest in the non-residential sector, but the residential sector continues to dominate the number of installations.
  • Many states reported a doubling of PV capacity installed in 2008 compared with 2007.
  • Installations in California, the dominant U.S. market, increased by 95% in 2008.

 To find how your state fared — solarly-speaking — check appendix ‘C’ on the report’s last page. (Or click here to see that chart by itself.)

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. This post appeared first in The Phoenix Sun.

 

Mileage Today No Better Than a Model T

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 4:28 PM EDT

A new study in Energy Policy analyzes changes in fuel efficiency of US vehicles between 1923 and 2006. During the Age of the Model T—circa 1923—the fuel efficiency of the overall fleet of all vehicle classes was 14 miles per gallon. In 2006, it was a whopping 17.2 miles per gallon.

Woo-hoo. Proof evolution doesn't exist.

Researchers Michael Sivak and Omer Tsimhoni at the U of Michigan analyzed the fuel efficiency of the entire US vehicle fleet—cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses. From 1923 to 1935 fuel efficiency managed about 14 mpg. In 1973 it hit the abyss at 11.9 mpg. By 1991, it straggled upwards to 16.9 mpg. The 1991 efficiency—if you can call it that—was a response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Progress is now stalled. Between 1991 and 2006 the average efficiency improved by only 1.8 percent to 17.2 mpg.

New Scientist reports that electric vehicle research continues to advance with governmental backing but is unlikely impact fuel efficiency in the US in the short term.

For US fuel consumption to fall by 10 percent, average fuel efficiency across the entire fleet will have to rise to 19.1 mpg. Obama's May announcement that new cars should average 35.5 mpg by 2016 does nothing to boost the efficiency of the rest of the vehicle fleet.

The study suggests:

  • Financial incentives prodding owners to scrap older vehicles in favor of new ones
  • Tax breaks encouraging the development and introduction of fuel-saving tech
  • Society has much more to gain from improving a car from 15 to 16 mpg than from improving a car from 40 to 41 mpg. The benefits are greater from improving a truck from 4 to 4.5 mpg than from 7 to 7.5 mpg.

 

Urban Pollution Is the New Lead

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 1:38 PM EDT

It doesn't take a fancy public health study to convince us that urban pollution—the kind that welcomes you to Los Angeles like a stifling hug from a dirty old uncle—is bad. But it helps. 

According to a new study released by Columbia, a common form of air pollution called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) may be to blame for diminished intellectual ability in children. (PAH has also been linked to astronomical rates of chronic asthma and other respitory problems.)

The Mailman School of Public Health found that 5-year-olds in my old 'hood of Washington Heights,  Harlem, and the South Bronx who were exposed to high levels of the stuff in utero scored an average of 4.5 points lower on a standard IQ test than peers who weren't.  According to the authors, that's comperable to low-level lead exposure—and we all know how toxic lead is.

 

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Eco-News Roundup: Thursday, July 23

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 6:12 AM EDT

News from our other blogs you may have missed.

Taking the Public's Temperature: Is today's public friendlier to healthcare reform than yesteryear's? Kevin Drum seriously doubts it.

Summer Stock: Sen. Sherrod Brown says that if he has to work in August to finish this  healthcare bill, by Jeebus, he'll do it!

Two of a Kind: Pelosi says she'll work in August too, if it comes to it. Good times.

Escape Hatch: Sen. Orrin Hatch has left the bipartisan "coalition of the willing" that's trying to negotiate a deal on health care.

Shot Down: NRA's concealed weapons bill crashes in Congress.

Big Business: Advertising abounds in the healthcare world.

Bada$$ Bloggers: They're young, they're feminists, AND they blog.

Rape is Funny, Right?: Not so much... how to confront these 'jokes.'

 

AIDS Found in Wild Chimps

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 6:51 PM EDT

Even though AIDS likely came to us from chimpanzees, chimps don't develop AIDS. Or so we thought.

New evidence shows that chimpanzees infected with SIV—simian immunodeficiency virus, the precursor to HIV-1—do contract and die from AIDS. The paper appears in Nature.

The chimps at the heart of the study live at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. This population has survived the ravages of the modern world thanks to 50 years of dedicated oversight from Jane Goodall and colleagues.

Among the findings from researchers working in Gombe:
 

  • Infected chimps are 10-16 times more likely to die than uninfected chimps
  • Infected females are less likely to give birth
  • Infants born to infected mothers are unlikely to survive
  • The virus is transmitted sexually and through the milk of infected mothers
  • In the course of the nine year study, 10-20 percent of the 94 chimpanzees were infected at any given time


The finding opens up new opportunities for research. Goodall says: "We hope this will lead to a better understanding of the virus that will benefit both humans and chimpanzees."

The virus affects chimpanzees in similar ways to humans and although there is no practical treatment for the chimps, it appears the SIV infection is not as pathogenic as HIV-1 in humans. The Gombe chimps have maintained their community size despite the disease.
 

Breaking: Vaccines Still Don't Cause Autism

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 6:45 PM EDT

Well, it's back again. The zombie meme that just won't stay dead.

We love a good conspiracy as much as the next investigative magazine—especially one that involves Big Pharma, the FDA, and the CDC. But as we've extensively reported here, the vaccines = autism meme might just be the most damaging medical myth of the decade. Not only is it based on false "science" that's tearing apart the families of sick children, it's unintentionally sickening thousands of others.

If you don't watch Oprah or read HuffPo, the theory goes like this. An ethylmercury-based preservative thimerosal (which was removed from all vaccines in the early 2000s) is retained by young children who then exhibit symptoms of mercury toxicity, the true cause of autism. Alternately, the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines, when given in tandem as MMR (the only form of the vaccine currently available) overwhelms the systems of sensitive children, causing intestinal distress, which causes autism. Sound odd?

Putting aside for just a moment the enormous weight of scientific evidence against these theories and the sound discrediting of virtually every doctor or scientist who has ever supported them, the MMR-causes-autism theory is downright dangerous.

Anti-MMR crusaders like Jenny McCarthy and longtime partner Jim Carrey insist they're not anti-vaccine. But their position is dangerously close, for two reasons.

Meteorologists Take Geoengineering Seriously

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 5:02 PM EDT

Geoengineering received a big boost this week. The American Meteorological Society released a major statement Monday on the topic, making these recommendations:

1. Enhanced research on the scientific and technological potential for geoengineering the climate system, including research on intended and unintended environmental responses.
2. Coordinated study of historical, ethical, legal, and social implications of geoengineering that integrates international, interdisciplinary, and intergenerational issues and perspectives and includes lessons from past efforts to modify weather and climate.
3. Development and analysis of policy options to promote transparency and international cooperation in exploring geoengineering options along with restrictions on reckless efforts to manipulate the climate system.

The AMS is a respected scientific body here in the US, and a statement of this kind certainly gives credence to the possibility of a major, well-funded, possibly federal geoengineering research program. It also comes on the heels of a National Academy of Sciences workshop in which leading experts debated the merits of such a research program.

Some geoengineering critics (and there are plenty of them) say investment in this kind of research will only distract from mitigation efforts. I disagree, and now, so does AMS. And I think the Society responds well to that argument with this point:

Geoengineering will not substitute for either aggressive mitigation or proactive adaptation, but it could contribute to a comprehensive risk management strategy to slow climate change and alleviate some of its negative impacts. The potential to help society cope with climate change and the risks of adverse consequences imply a need for adequate research, appropriate regulation, and transparent deliberation.