Blue Marble

Estrogen Kills Fish

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 7:48 PM EDT

Estrogen is bad for fish. In more ways than we thought.

We know that estrogen and estrogen-mimicking chemicals known as endocrine disruptors cause intersex fish—that is, males with immature female egg cells in their testes.

New research finds that fish exposed to estrogen produce less immune-related proteins, making them more susceptible to disease. This suggests why fish in the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers are simultaneously afflicted by mass kills, lesions, and intersex fish.

US Geological Survey researchers suspected that estrogens were causing fish kills and fish lesions as well as intersex fish in the two river systems. So they exposed largemouth bass to estrogen and found the fish produced less hepcidin—an iron-regulating hormone of mammals, fish, and amphibians.

Exactly what hepcidin does to boost immune systems is unclear. But it may act as an antimicrobial peptide, the first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Or it might affect the iron balance in infected vertebrates. Or both.

We do know we're loosing megatons of synthetic chemicals into waterways every year. Most are plastics additives, surfactants, birth control agents, antimicrobials, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, or controls for insect, weed, and fungal populations.

But all too many wind their way from industry, livestock, irrigation, sewage, and storm run-off into lakes, ponds, oceans, marshes, streams, rivers, and groundwater—eventually into fish.

And from there into humans, perhaps accounting for the alarming rise of human male reproductive disorders in recent years, including birth defects of the penis, undescended testes, reduced sperm production, and testicular cancer.

You think that might slow down the chemical pipeline. Especially in rivers so close to Washington, DC. But apparently money is worth more than masculinity.
 

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Chevron or Chevwrong?

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 2:21 PM EDT

If you believe Chevron's ubiquitous ad campaign, it's an icon of corporate responsibility. According to environmental and human rights groups…not so much.

Organizations including CorpWatch, Global Exchange, and EarthRights International released "The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report" last week. And not surprisingly, it tells a different story than the oil giant. To wit:

City Birds Sing Louder, Faster

| Wed Jun. 3, 2009 5:54 PM EDT

Seems like big city life is faster, even for the birds. A European survey of songbirds has found that city birds sing louder than their country brethren. City birds tweeted faster, and preferred to sing songs that were shorter in duration than birds from the 'burbs. (Maybe all the urban excitement reduces their attention span?) The study also revealed that songbirds prefer to mate with birds who sing similar songs: so country birds are attracted to the slow, longer, lower-pitched songs, and city birds want a mate who can belt it out high and fast and loud. The scientists have theorized that avians in urban areas sing at a higher pitch to be heard above background noises like traffic and construction. If these street-savvy birds are pushed into the country because of changing climate, though, they may have to change their tune.

George Allen's New Macaca Moment? He's Back Online to Diss Cap & Trade

| Wed Jun. 3, 2009 5:52 PM EDT

Former Virginia Senator George Allen, whose 2006 "Macaca" speech turned into the most famous online gotcha video of all time, has resurfaced after a long political quiesence--and, of all places, online. In a new Web video for the American Energy Freedom Center, which he now leads, he replaces a brown-skinned menace with hints of a green one: Climate legislation. The video appears to be the first installment of what Allen describes as monthly "kitchen table talks" in which he'll "tell people the truthful story about America's energy potential."

The American Energy Freedom Center draws upon an oily pedigree. It is a partner group of the Houston-based Institute for Energy Research, which is funded in part by Exxon-Mobil and is headed by Robert Bradley Jr., who worked as a public policy director at Enron and a speechwriter for CEO Ken Lay.

So why have these guys turned to Allen? According to the Center for Responsive Politics, before Allen lost his Senate seat in 2006, he was Congress' number 3 recepient of campaign cash from the energy sector . Over his career he raised $1 million from energy companies, including $19,400 from Exxon Mobil. He also brings strong connections to other lawmakers as a former presidential hopeful, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which plays a key role in crafting energy legislation. Moreover, as of 2006 Allen had personally invested somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in energy companies.

In short, he doesn't seem like the kind of guy I'd trust to sit in my kitchen and tell me how America should "promote the clean, creative, and thoughtful utilization of American energy." But here's his pitch, complete with a nifty lapel pin:

 

Despite Economic Crisis, Clean Energy Emerging, Developing Countries Take the Lead

| Wed Jun. 3, 2009 9:39 AM EDT

Investments in clean energy companies and projects worldwide reached $155 billion in 2008. Not including large hydro (which may be clean but is hardly green). However, investment in the second half of 2008 was down 17% on the first half and down 23% on the final six months of 2007, a trend continuing in 2009.

Nevertheless, UNEP reports $13.5 billion of new private investment in companies developing and scaling-up new technologies. Plus $117 billion of investment in renewable energy projects from geothermal, wind, solar and biofuels.

Altogether, 2008 saw more than four times the investment of 2004. The breakdown, according to Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2009:

  • $105 billion to developing 40 GW of power-generating capacity from wind, solar, small-hydro, biomass and geothermal sources
  • $35 billion to developing 25 GW of large hydropower
  • Renewables currently account for the majority of investment and over 40% of actual power generation capacity additions last year
  • China became the 2nd second largest wind market in terms of new capacity
  • China became the  biggest photovoltaic manufacturer
  • Rises in geothermal energy getting underway in Australia, Japan and Kenya
  • Wind attracted the most new investment: 51.8 billion, 1% growth on 2007
  • Solar made largest gains: $33.5 billion, 49% growth
  • Biofuels dropped: $16.9 billion, 9% decrease
  • The price of solar photovoltaic modules is predicted to fall by more than 43% in 2009
  • Carbon markets grew 87% during 2008, reaching a total of $120 billion


Regionally, investment in Europe rose 2% in 2008 to $49.7 billion. Investment in North America fell 8% to $30.1 billion, due to financing shutdowns—thanks, Wall Street—and the fact that tax-credit driven markets are ineffective in a downturn. Yet developing countries surged forward 27% over 2007 to $36.6 billion, accounting for nearly one third of global investments:

  • China led new investment in Asia with an 18% increase over 2007 to $15.6 billion, mostly in new wind and some biomass plants
  • Investment in India grew 12% to $4.1 billion in 2008
  • Brazil accounted for almost all renewable energy investment in Latin America in 2008, with ethanol receiving $10.8 billion, up 76% from 2007
  • Africa achieved a modest increase, with investments up 10% to approximately $1.1 billion


Although private sector investment stalled in late 2008, governments appear ready to take up some slack in 2009. Sustainable energy investments are a core part of key government fiscal stimulus packages announced in recent months, accounting for an estimated $183 billion of commitments to date.

  • The US and China remain the leaders, each devoting roughly $67 billion
  • Yet South Korea's package is the greenest with 20% devoted to clean energy—illustrating the political will of an increasing number of governments to secure future growth through greener economic development, according to the report

Religious Teens Have More Abortions

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 9:53 PM EDT

Unwed teens and 20s who attend or have graduated from private religious schools are more likely to obtain abortions than their peers from public schools.

New research suggests that while religiosity (defined as religious involvement, frequency of prayer, and perception of the importance of religion) influences the attitudes of young women towards abortion, it does not affect their actual behavior.

In other words, even religious women, if unmarried and pregnant, resort to abortion—particularly women in their teens. This according to new research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Hypocrisy sucks.
 

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Kansas Abortion Stories and George Tiller Video

| Mon Jun. 1, 2009 1:46 PM EDT

If you've never known a family who made the gutwrenching decision to abort or bring to term a fetus with physical anomalies "incompatible with life," you need to read the first person accounts on the website A Heartbreaking Choice. These are the kinds of pregnancies Kansas doctor George Tiller ended before he was murdered at church on Sunday.

I in no way mean to denigrate women who choose to carry to term babies who won't live long outside the womb. But I have to wonder, can Bill O'Reilly and his fellow anti-abortion hate mongers seriously read the passage below by an Andrew Sullivan reader and tell me this is the only option women should have?

Vietnam's Wildlife Farms a Cruel Hoax

| Fri May 29, 2009 6:15 PM EDT

The livestock in Southeast Asia’s commercial wildlife farms are rare snakes, turtles, crocodiles, monkeys, tigers, bears, and other threatened wildlife. The "farms" are supposed to be places where rare species are bred in captivity for the purpose of producing meat and wildlife products.

Okay, even from far away, the premise smells bad.

Apparently the farms aren't alleviating pressures on wild populations only making them worse. This according to the Wildlife Conservation Society and Vietnam’s Forest Protection Department, who found commercial wildlife farms depleting wildlife and contributing to illegal trade. Worst affected are tigers and bears whose body parts or secretions are valued in traditional medicine.

About 4,000 bears in Vietnam and 7,600 in China are kept inhumanely in crush cages, their bile extracted twice a day through surgically implanted catheters. The bears moan in pain and bite their own paws. The photo tells a thousand grunts.

Why are the bears tortured like this? Because the bile is used as a traditional Chinese medicine—touted as an anti-inflammatory and fever reducer,  eyesight improver, protection for the liver and gallstone fixer. 

Can't we sell them some aspirin? Seriously, it's gotta be cheaper. Not to mention actually effective.


The farms are supposed to protect wild populations. Instead they're laundering products from animals killed in the wild. Of 78 farms surveyed in Vietnam, 42 percent were regularly bringing in animals from the wild. Half reported their founder populations were taken from the wild or produced from a combination of wild animals and farm stock. Farm owners also admitted transporting wildlife to the Chinese border for export to China. Some farm owners illegally purchase farm stock from commercial hunters and then transported and imported wildlife without a license.

The report concluded the farms don't supply food for local rural communities. Instead most of the unfortunate wildlife victims ends up as luxury items for urban consumers.

What to do about it? The WCS authors recommend prohibiting farms from holding nationally protected and globally threatened species, penalizing farm owners who violate wildlife protection laws, and requiring farm owners to document the source of the animals they keep.

I'm still favoring the aspirin trade.

TEDTalk: Orgasm Trivia

| Fri May 29, 2009 5:03 PM EDT

If Mary Roach's books on sex, death, and the afterlife make science writing look like the most fascinating gig on the planet, her recently released TEDTalk video proves it. Roach's talk, "10 Things You Didn't Know About Orgasm," is wonky, hilarious, and prurient in equal measure. Like this part, for example (video and transcript excerpt below):

Could Deforestation in Brazil Wreak Havoc in the US?

| Fri May 29, 2009 2:20 PM EDT

The weather in the Amazon is going crazy—and the sudden climate changes could affect not only Brazil and its neighboring countries, but areas as far from the rainforest as the Mexican gulf and maybe even the southern US. That’s what Paulo Moutinho, research coordinator for the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), warns might happen if the world doesn’t cut its carbon emissions significantly over the next two years.

After two severe drought periods in 1998 and 2005, the Amazon is now in the midst of heavy flooding—the river has reached a record water level of 28 feet. The drought hurt the economy and caused healthcare costs to skyrocket, but Moutinho believes an overflow could cause equal damage by ruining plantations and causing outbreaks of sewage-related diseases.