Blue Marble

Dog Helps Orca

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 9:00 PM EST

Tucker.jpg

Photo copyright Fred Felleman

It's been a bad year for the southern resident population of orcas in Puget Sound. Seven have gone missing and are presumed dead. Including the nearly 100-year-old matriarch of K Pod, along with two reproductive-age females vital to the future of the whales. One female, L-67 showed clear signs of emaciation before she disappeared in September. That leaves only 83 animals in this culturally-unique population of orca.

It's been a bad year for salmon too—the primary prey of southern resident orca. Researchers suspect the missing whales may have starved. Now researchers at the U of Washington Center for Conservation Biology are trying to answer that question using a specially trained dog. The Seattle Times reports how Tucker, a black Lab, has been deployed two of the past three summers to track orca scat from the bow of a research boat.

Analysis of hormone levels in the scat suggest mortality among the orca was highest when their thyroid hormone levels were lowest. This means they're malnourished. Katherine Ayres, a UW graduate student working on the study says: "It is interesting and sad. We have a link to what scientists have been saying for a long time."

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New DNA Tech May Allow Cloning, Re-Creating Mammoths

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 8:00 PM EST

600px-Mammoth_mg_2805.jpgHave scientists learned nothing from Jurassic Park? A group of genomicists from Pennsylvania State University published research on their experimental procedure that's decoded "a large fraction of the mammoth genome," reports the New York Times. The procedure uses two $500,000 machines to extract genome information from mammoth hair.

Pioneering Stem Cell Surgery Replaces Woman's Windpipe

| Wed Nov. 19, 2008 10:07 AM EST

Ah, the wonders of science. Check out this story from the NY Times.

A Spanish woman was hospitalized in March with a windpipe so badly damaged by tuberculosis that she was unable to breathe after walking more than a few steps at a time. The only conventional treatment that doctors saw was the removal of her left lung, a dangerous procedure with a high mortality rate.

Instead, a coalition of doctors and scientists from three European countries decided to try a ground-breaking stem cell procedure. They took a three-inch segment of trachea from an organ donor who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Over a six-week period, the trachea was stripped of donor cells, which were replaced by stem cells taken from the Spanish woman's bone marrow. After just four days of "seeding" the trachea with these cells, the trachea was used to replace the woman's damaged wind pipe.

Two months after the surgery, tests shows that the woman's lungs and wind pipe are functioning like normal. Her body has not rejected the new organ or reacted negatively in any way.

What's great about the procedure is that it was done using the patient's own stem cells, not embryonic stem cells. Thus, it skirts the controversies about life that commonly surround stem cell work in the United States. With President-elect Obama poised to eliminate many Bush Administration restrictions on stem cell research, pioneering procedures like this one may soon happen in America, and we will all live to be 150.

Green Collar Jobs Coming To A State Near You

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 5:07 PM EST

400px-Sweet_Chestnut_Forest.jpg Climate problems are spawning climate solutions. And each climate solution will ripple throughout the economy in the form of new jobs and new materials. This according to a report that says the US economy is poised to grow big-time in a low-carbon world. Manufacturing Climate Solutions names where the jobs are—a first.

The report comes from Duke University's Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness and assesses five carbon-reducing technologies: LED lighting, high-performance windows, auxiliary power units for long-haul trucks, concentrating solar power, and Super Soil Systems (a new method for treating hog wastes).

The conclusion: Many hidden economic opportunities exist within the supply chains providing parts and labor for all five industries. States that stand to benefit most include Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. The report also includes detailed breakdown of supply chains, with maps highlighting the location of companies best positioned to support green jobs.

In Congo Conflict, Endangered Gorillas Are Pawns

| Tue Nov. 18, 2008 4:00 PM EST

gorilla150.jpg This is a truly heartbreaking story. The New York Times reports on yet another facet of the bloodshed in the Congo: Endangered mountain gorillas are among the rebels' targets:

Congo's gorillas happen to live in one of the most contested, blood-soaked pieces of turf in one of the most contested, blood-soaked corners of Africa. Their home, Virunga National Park, is high ground — with mist-shrouded mountains and pointy volcanoes — along the porous Congo-Rwanda border, where rebels are suspected of smuggling in weapons from Rwanda. Last year in Virunga, 10 gorillas were killed, some shot in the back of the head, execution style, park officials said.

According to this AP story, the rebels often eat the slaughtered gorillas. But it's unlikely that the militias are killing them solely for their meat. The reason? Read on after the jump.

Huntington vs. Burlington: How to Grow a Healthy City

| Mon Nov. 17, 2008 6:35 PM EST

westvirginia.jpgThe CDC recently ranked Huntington, West Virginia as America's unhealthiest city, leading the nation in rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes—even the percentage of elderly people who have lost all their teeth.

On the other end of the scale was Burlington, Vermont, land of happy, healthy hikers and natural-food co-ops. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Burlington is a relatively wealthy area, where fewer than 10 percent of people live below the poverty line. In Huntington, the number rises to nearly 20 percent.

In interviews with the Associated Press, a number of Huntington residents said they didn't have the time, the resources, or the inclination to prioritize personal health. Looked at that way, the equation seems simple: people in Burlington have the luxury to shop at boutique health food stores; people in Huntington don't.

But Keri Kennedy, a state health officer, says the bigger problem is one of perception.

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What Do You Do With Your Newspaper Sleeves?

| Fri Nov. 14, 2008 3:50 PM EST

newspaper150.jpgEarly next year, the NY Times plans to ditch its old plastic newspaper sleeves in favor of this one, a "biodegradable polybag." Here's the scoop:

With this new technology an additive is mixed with the plastic that causes the finished product to degrade over time, as it is exposed to oxygen in the open environment or in a landfill. In addition to being "oxo-biodegradable" the bag can be recycled along with any other plastic bags. The Times will be the first national newspaper to commit to using this environmentally friendly bag. While this new bag is more expensive, we believe it is an important change to make.

If the paper on your doorstep isn't the Gray Lady, though, your plastic sleeves are most likely still bound for landfill purgatory. Blogger Kate Galbraith recommends reusing them for storing food in the fridge—if you're ambitious, knock yourself out with bag crafts like these.

But after the jump, here's another idea, inspired by a post from Danny Seo. (He's kind of the green Martha Stewart):

Four Dams Down...

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 11:58 PM EST

Wpdms_shdrlfi020l_klamath_river.jpg A tentative agreement has been reached to begin decommissioning four aging dams on the Klamath River—the largest dam-removal project ever undertaken. The agreement marks a major shift in the battle over Klamath water, reports AAAS.

The Klamath flows from southern Oregon through northern California. It's the third most important salmon river in the lower 48 after the Columbia and Sacramento. The dams provide cheap renewable energy and irrigation for farmers but not enough water for salmon. During the 2001 drought, federal officials shut off the irrigation water for the sake of the fish. In 2002, after protests from farmers, they reversed course and shunted flows back to Oregon's potato and alfalfa fields. At least 33,000 salmon died as a result of that decision, in one of the worst salmon kills in US history. In 2007 declining salmon in the Klamath produced a severely curtailed commercial fishing quota. Everyone got burned. Fish worst of all.

According to the new agreement, the dams will come down starting in 2020. Before that, scientists and engineers have to figure out what to do with all the silt accumulated behind them. Loosing the silt into the river's flow will likely suffocate everything downstream. Meanwhile Oregon and California will also use the time until 2020 to raise money to pay for the dam removal. Under the agreement, PacifiCorp customers will pay a 2% surcharge on their utility bills to raise up to $200 million for the dam removal. California is expected to issue general obligation bonds to raise an additional $250 million.

The EPA's Head Environmentalist

| Thu Nov. 13, 2008 12:35 PM EST

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect public health and the environment. Yet the agency has not done much protection of the environment, public health or the public interest in many, many years. The President-elect's pick for the agency is going to have to turn around an environmental crisis that mirrors the financial one. While Obama's rumored cabinet picks are largely people who cut their teeth in the Clinton administration, or showed rare bipartisanship over the past eight years, one place a centrist will not do is the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are some good environmental laws on the books; the problem is enforcement. The Bush administration has encouraged the worst industrial practices by, for example, refusing to regulate mercury from power plants or allowing mountaintop removal mining—and the incrementalists who ran EPA during the Clinton administration bear at least some responsibility. They should not be invited back.

The new EPA leadership is going to have to do two things.

Southern Ocean Nears Acid Tipping Point

| Wed Nov. 12, 2008 10:53 PM EST

Southern_Ocean.png The Australian Broadcasting Corp reports the tipping point for ocean acidification is much closer than first thought. Here's the problem: As atmospheric CO2 levels rise, the oceans absorb more of it, which cranks their pH to dangerously acidic levels. Beyond a certain tipping point, marine creatures from corals to plankton won't be able to manufacture the calcium carbonate needed to make their shells.

Until now, the tipping point of acidification was forecast when atmospheric CO2 reached 550 parts per million—around the year 2060. But the new research by Ben McNeil of the U of New South Wales, published in the PNAS, reveals what no one knew before—that carbonate levels drop naturally in the Southern Ocean in winter anyway. Which means the tipping point is likely to be reached at around 450 ppm, which is due to arrive around 2030. Or sooner.

The Nobel-winning IPCC has set 450 ppm as the global stabilization target. However new research shows that number is way too high. Bill McKibben's excellent piece in the current Mother Jones explains why. BTW, we're currently at 385 ppm. If we allow ocean acidification to tip, prepare for hellacious repercussions, Earthlings. Jason Grumet, are you listening? Are you briefing the President-Elect? There is no other issue Obama needs to hit the ground running on faster.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the PEN USA Literary Award, the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal.