Last November, in our "Top 20 Econudrums," we asked whether it was more environmentally friendly to read the paper in print or online. It's a question with a surprising answer: As it turns out, it's often greener to read dead trees. This is true largely because of the giant environmental impact of servers. But thanks to some techies in Zurich, that could change soon.

Here's a little background: Server farms—also known as data centers—are the enormous housing facilities that make the internet possible. A single Google data center, in Oregon consumes as much energy as a city of 200,000. That's because servers not only have to be on 24/7, they need to be kept cool 24/7.  Up to 50 percent of the power they use is just to keep them from melting down.  Overall, the internet is responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions, about the same as the aviation industry.  And as the internet becomes increasingly prevalent in China and India, well, that means a whole lot more Xiaonei pages and Orkut accounts that will need hosting.

So it is good news, nay, great news, that the IBM lab in Zurich has developed a new cooling technology by attaching teeny-weeny water pipes to the surface of each computer chip in a server. Water is piped within microns of the chip to cool it down, then the waste water is piped out hot enough to make a cup of Ramen, heat a building, or keep a swimming pool warm. The new cooling system will reduce the carbon footprint of servers by 85 percent and the energy use by 40 percent. If this technology were in MoJo's office we could ditch the electric tea kettle and just go to the server closet to steep our chai. Check out a video of the technology after the break.

Sharks are lovely. They're 400-million-year-old, perfectly designed superpredators, and they're the only creatures tough enough to take down Samuel L. Jackson. But unfortunately, according to yet another new study, they should be afraid of us.

The new report issued today is the first global study of open-ocean sharks and rays, and it says that more than a third of them are threatened with extinction due to humans. The main ways they are killed is having their top fin sliced off for shark fin soup (after which they drown, being unable to swim properly), or they get caught in long-line fishing nets along with prey they're pursuing, often tuna.

Four of the species in the study were classified as endangered, the highest extinction-risk category: the ornate eagle ray, giant devilray, scalloped hammerhead, and great hammerhead. Many others were "vulnerable," including two kinds of makos and the Great White (above), one of the ocean's most formidable carnivores and star of Jaws. To learn more, you can read the PDF of the full 92-page report here.

Stories from our other blogs you might have missed, on Blue Marble-friendly topics:

Stone cold: Quoting the Rolling Stones and talking about climate change, simultaneously.

Spin doctors: The healthcare industry's attempts to spin the media their way.

God works in mysterious ways: A climate change bill grows from 946 pages to 1,021 pages overnight without explanation.

P is for Piggie: Someone's been fattening up the Waxman-Markey climate bill with delicious farm subsidies. Soo-EY!

Sanford's speaking nixed: Apparently, people don't want you as a speaker on family values after you publicly admit cheating on your wife.

On Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers in Washington, DC, will finally take up the fate of mountaintop removal mining, a type of surface mining that levels the summits of mountains to expose coal seams. The practice inflicts substantial damage to the surrounding environment and communities, mainly because the removed rock and soil is dumped into nearby rivers and streams, contaminating them and often burying water sources. The Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife will host the first legitimate hearing on mountaintop removal in nearly seven years, titled "The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia." Witnesses include leading experts on the subject, like Maria Gunnoe, a 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for her organizing against the mining practice; Dr. Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Sciences; and Randy Pomponio, the director of the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic region, among others.

An outspoken opponent of mountaintop removal, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) called the hearing to more thoroughly review the effects of the practice, a decision that comes on the back of legislation he introduced in March with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) to completely ban the mountaintop removal called the Appalachia Restoration Act. The hearing also has supporters and opponents of mountaintop removal fired up: Both coal industry-friendly and environmental groups have chartered buses to Capitol Hill for the hearing, while other organizations will be streaming video of the event. (Not to mention the recent arrests of NASA's James Hansen and others who were protesting mountaintop removal in Southern West Virginia.)

 

With both Congress and the White House promising to overhaul health care, a variety of reform options are now on the table. So these options have all been rigorously researched and recommended by objective third parties, right? Notes CQ Politics:

Nearly four dozen members of Congress have spouses employed in the health care industry—ties that lawmakers acknowledge are influencing their thinking about how the health system should be overhauled.
Financial disclosure forms made public in mid-June showed that at least 39 members were tied to the industry by their spouses in 2008. In addition, 13 full-voting House members are medical doctors.

Let's hope our Reps listen to all their constituents on medical issues.

Environment, science, and health news tidbits for today:

Michelle's soft sell: While President Obama touts the cost-saving benefits of healthcare reform, the first lady talks wellness, nutrition, and prevention. Why isn't she getting into the political nitty gritty? Watch David Corn debate the issue on Hardball.

Waxman-Markey or bust: Looks like the big vote's back on for Friday. The League of Conservation Voters gave members of the House an ultimatum: Support the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or kiss any 2010 endorsement from us goodbye.

Why whales shouldn't summer in Europe: Since the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling, Japan has done most of the world's whale killing, often with the transparent excuse of "doing research." But this season, Europe might actually out-whale Japan.

For a mainstream green group, the League of Conservation Voters took a fairly radical step today.

In an unprecedented move, the LCV sent letters to all members of the US House with this promise: Vote against the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454), and you can forget about getting the conservation group's endorsement in November, 2010.

"The stakes could not be higher," Gene Karpinski, president of the bi-partisan group, explained in the letter. "A safer, healthier planet and a new energy economy hang in the balance."

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.

An obscure executive order issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 has given Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the power to approve or deny a massive oil pipeline between Canada's controversial tar sands and U.S. oil refineries.

In the coming weeks, the State Department will decide whether to grant a permit for the  1,000-mile Alberta Clipper pipeline, which would be capable of carrying up to 800,000 barels per day of crude oil--or about 8 percent of net U.S. oil imports--from the tar sands in eastern Alberta to refineries on Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

Under current law--rarely invoked, given that oil imports typically arrive in the U.S. by tanker--the Secretary of State must receive all applications for the construction of "pipelines, conveyor belts, and similar facilities for the exportation and importation of petroleum." If the Secretary finds that granting a permit "would not serve the national interest," she can deny it.

The International Whaling Commmission is meeting in Portugal this week, which is appropriate as it looks like this year Europe may kill more whales than Japan.

In a related note, it looks like that in at least one small Japanese fishing town, the local Buddhist priest is keeping track of the whales killed by locals. Upon death, the whales are given a Buddhist name that is entered into an official death register, much like a human's would be. The town has been recording the whales' deaths for 320 years. There's even a grave (complete with headstone and flowers) for the fetuses of whales found in their mother's bodies. I'm not at all in favor of whaling, but I suppose if you're going to do it, it's nice to at least commemorate the animals' deaths. Although one could argue, if you really respect the animal, you wouldn't kill it in the first place.

The Blue Marble's not the only place where we cover science, health, and environment news. Here's a Tuesday morning roundup from the rest of Motherjones.com:

On settling: Some enviros want to hold out for a new and improved Waxman-Markey climate bill, while others say the current version is our best shot at saving the climate before it's too late. Who's right? Well, you decide.

And you thought you didn't care about land use: Kevin Drum shows how smart transportation and land policy can dramatically decrease greenhouse gas emissions, in both the city and the country.

Healthcare cronyism alert: We know why Republicans oppose the public option, but what about the Dems who keep resisting it?