Blue Marble

Goodbye, TV Dinners: New Study Says Technology Improves Family Interactions

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 4:24 PM EDT

laptops.jpgThe image of four family members sitting silently around their living room and tapping on their keyboards does not exactly evoke a Norman Rockwell evening. Conventional wisdom has it that everyone in the family is absorbed in his or her own online life—and that the real people in the room are probably not part of it.

But a new report suggests that the situation may be more complex than we think. The internet, after all, is an interactive medium, and using it is not the passive experience of watching television.

The study, conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that roughly 95% of married-with-children households—the traditional nuclear families—own at least one cell phone and at least one computer with internet access. That's compared to around 80% for the country overall. And nearly half the people surveyed said that all the technology actually encourages communication—the "hey, look at this!" phenomenon that makes YouTube so successful.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

New Plan To Protect Sea Turtle Highways

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 9:18 PM EDT

TortueLuth_Leatherback.jpg The IUCN meeting in Barcelona has adopted a resolution urging nations to create marine protected areas along the Pacific leatherback sea turtle's migratory routes. The plan is designed to shield critically endangered leatherbacks from devastating longline and gillnet fisheries. Hopefully it will also save the hammerhead sharks ravaged in those fisheries too.

The resolution is sponsored by the a Costa Rican nonprofit PRETOMA and centers around a "Cocos Ridge Marine Wildlife Corridor." Recent satellite tracking data has shown that Pacific leatherbacks swim from nesting beaches in Costa Rica to the Galápagos via the Cocos Islands. A protected corridor along this route during the migratory seasons could save many of the last leatherbacks.

Last Stronghold For Chimps Fails

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 1:07 AM EDT

490px-MattiParkkonen_chimpanze1.jpg Some days you just gotta cry.

A population survey of West African chimpanzees living in Côte d'Ivoire found 90 percent fewer animals than 18 years ago. The remaining few are highly fragmented, with only one viable population living in Taï National Park.

What's happened? Well, the human population in Cote d'Ivoire has increased nearly 50 percent in 18 years. Add to that a civil war since 2002, and the end of surveillance in the protected areas, and, voilà, the sad end of our closest relatives.

Côte d'Ivoire was one of the final strongholds for West African chimps. Geneviève Campbell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology suggests their status should immediately be raised to critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. The study appears in Current Biology.

This is one of those days.

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

The Termites That Sank New Orleans

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 6:37 PM EDT

399px-Coptotermes_formosanus_shiraki_USGov_k8204-7.jpg A new study in American Entomologist suggests termites damaged New Orleans dikes enough for Hurricane Katrina to knock them over. The researchers first noticed termite trouble five years before Katrina struck. They found Formosan subterranean termites in floodwall seams made of bagasse—the residue from processed sugarcane. Formosan termites love the stuff.

After the 2005 breaches, the researchers inspected 100 seams, including three areas with major breaks. Seventy percent of the seams in the London Avenue Canal had been attacked by insects, and two major dike breaks occurred there during Katrina. Twenty-seven percent of seams in the ravaged 17th Street Canal also showed termite damage.

The Formosan subterranean termite is an invasive species native to China, where it damages levees. Besides eating at bagasse seams, the termites may have contributed to the destruction of the levees of New Orleans by digging networks of tunnels that funneled water and undermined the levee system. Ooops. . . The authors suggest that New Orleans' 350 miles of levees and floodwalls be surveyed for termite damage.

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

Bear-Market Biodiversity

| Mon Oct. 13, 2008 11:33 PM EDT

450px-Medved_mzoo.jpg Think Wall Street's rollercoaster ride is scary? Imagine if stocks were species. That's what the future looks like in a warming world: a monster bear market robbing the world of its real riches.

A new review published in Science addresses the question of whether the tropical forests and coral reefs of the tropics will have the most to lose as a result of global warming. Some say no: that tropical organisms will do well because their ranges will expand into temperate areas. Others says yes: because there's little or no wilderness left in the temperate zone for them to move into.

Now a review of published papers finds that for plants and insects on a mountain slope in Costa Rica, a 3.2-degree C increase in temperature threatens 53 percent of lowland species with extinction, while 51 percent face range-shift gaps—meaning they have nowhere else to go.

Another reviewed study follows historical range changes for small mammals during 100 years of climate change in Yosemite National Park. These data show that species' ranges are likely to contract dangerously as warming pushes life farther and farther up mountain slopes. . . Bottom line: biodiversity is Earth's credit line. Without it, there's absolutely no way to fund the future. Time to reassess our fatally flawed economics .

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

How the Bailout Benefits the Environment

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 6:21 PM EDT

Everyone knows the $700 billion bailout package is a boon for Wall Street. But it turns out green consumers stand to benefit too. According to Fortune and the Environmental News Network, the legislation includes a number of perks for the eco-friendly, including:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Penguins Threatened in Antarctic, Dying in South America

| Fri Oct. 10, 2008 2:16 PM EDT

penguin-lifecycle.JPGYou'd think that with penguins driving a booming Antarctic tourism industry, there'd be some climate change protection for the little guys. Not so, says a new World Wildlife Fund report. If the world's temperature increases 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, it will threaten half of emperor penguin breeding grounds, and 75 percent of Adelie penguin colonies. The temperature rise would also likely severely impact krill, a key food source for penguins.

If that weren't bad enough, dead, emaciated, and oil-slicked Magellanic penguins have been washing up on Brazilian beaches. Magellanic penguins live in Argentina, regularly visit Brazil, but not in the numbers or conditions seen this summer. Their lack of body fat is a bad sign that something's seriously amiss in their environment. Many animals are imperiled by global warming, but somehow losing the penguins seems extra depressing.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Hack-A-Vote

| Wed Oct. 8, 2008 1:01 AM EDT

MDvotingmachine.jpg Graduate and undergraduate students at Rice University are learning how easy it is to wreak havoc on today's voting machines. As part of an advanced computer science class, students do their best to rig a voting machine in the classroom.

Here's how it works: The class is split into two teams. In phase one, the teams play unscrupulous programmers at a voting machine company. Their task is to make subtle changes to the Hack-A-Vote's software that will alter the election's outcome but that can't be detected by election officials. In the second phase, the teams play software regulators who certify the code submitted by the hacking team.

The results prove it's easy to insert subtle changes to the voting machine. If someone has access and wants to do damage, it's a straightforward hack. The good news is the regulator team often find the hack. Often, but not always.

Google Earth Adds Ocean View

| Tue Oct. 7, 2008 5:15 PM EDT

ocean.jpgIt's not all bad news from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) this week. Today the group, in partnership with Google, launched an interactive marine layer for Google Earth. Users will be able to explore all of the world's most sensitive ocean areas, as well as upload their own photos and information to the map. Check it out here.

I haven't gotten to play with this yet, as the layer so far only works with Windows. But my sense is that the combination of solid information and the familiar Google Earth interface will get a lot more people interested in the fate of the ocean. Needless to say, the sooner the better.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from coda.

Half of The World's Mammals Are in Decline, Says Study

| Mon Oct. 6, 2008 3:07 PM EDT

According to an international survey of the world's mammals, up to half of all species are experiencing declines in population. The latest "Red List" published by the Switzerland-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows that 188 species are "critically endangered," although the real number may be higher since scientists were unable to gather sufficient information on about 836 species to determine the health of their populations. And rates of extinction appear to be increasing. Some 76 mammals are known to have become extinct since 1500, but today 1,141 of the 5,487 mammal species are considered to be "threatened." The leading cause, according to the study, appears to be destruction of habitat, followed by pollution and the hunting of animals for food, medicine, and materials. A dire situation? You betcha, as my favorite politician would say. Just read Julia Whitty.