Blue Marble

Greenland's Ice, Going, Going. . .

| Wed Aug. 20, 2008 8:05 PM EDT

Daily satellite images of Greenland's glaciers reveal the break-up of two of its largest glaciers in the last month. A massive 11-square-mile piece broke off the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland between July 10th and by July 24th. That's half the size of Manhattan. Between 2000 and 2001 the same glacier lost 33 square miles of floating ice.

What worries researchers from the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University is what appears to be a massive crack further upstream. A break-up there would doom 60 square miles, or one-third of what's left of the massive ice field.

petermann_breakup-1_web%20copy.jpg

An 11 square mile area of the Petermann Glacier in northern Greenland (80˚N, 60˚W) broke away between July 10th and by July 24th. Petermann has a 500-square-mile floating section, the longest floating glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. Photo courtesy Byrd Polar Research Center, Ohio State University.

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Living Green in Denmark

| Mon Aug. 18, 2008 10:40 PM EDT

794px-Ophalingsspil.jpg The inhabitants of the Danish island of Samsø have achieved their target of self-sufficiency in renewable power in only 10 years. Eleven wind turbines now tower over green fields and 10 rise from the North Sea. Rye, wheat and straw are used to heat the one-story buildings. Solar panels have sprouted on roof tiles, reports Planet Ark.

Samsø is home to just 4,000 people. Yet without any construction subsidies, the islanders have invested $84 million of their own money. That's $20,000 per person on average. It's a challenge their government set for the island in 1997, funded largely through local taxes and individual investments. Outside magazine calls it a muscular combination of new technologies, capitalist smarts, and old-school stewardship.

Some residents homes have opted to stay with oil furnaces for heating. Cars are still common. Yet the island has become carbon neutral because the wind turbines offset emissions from cars and oil furnaces.

Primary Sources: The 1940 Census on "White"

| Mon Aug. 18, 2008 8:49 PM EDT

From AP comes the news that by 2042 whites will no longer be the majority ethnic group in the United States:

By 2050, whites will make up 46 percent of the population and blacks will make up 15 percent, a relatively small increase from today. Hispanics, who make up about 15 percent of the population today, will account for 30 percent in 2050, according to the new projections. Asians, which make up about 5 percent of the population, are projected to increase to 9 percent by 2050.

What does this mean? Historically, not a damn thing.

According to the current census a white person is:

A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who indicate their race as "White" or report entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish.

This means that someone whose parents were born in Morocco, who looks like this, would be white. Someone with parents from Argentina, who might look like this, would not be.

But it hasn't always been that way. Race is an arbitrary classification. The first census, in 1790, broke the population into exactly three racial groups: "free whites," "other persons," and "slaves."

By the 1910 census Americans were instructed to:

Write "W" for white; "B" for black; "Mu" for mulatto; "Ch" for Chinese; "Jp" for Japanese; "In" for Indian. For all persons not falling within one of these classes, write "Ot" (for other), and write on the left-hand margin of the schedule the race of the person so indicated. For census purposes, the term "black" (B) includes all persons who are evidently full-blooded negroes, while the term "mulatto" (Mu) includes all other persons having some proportion or perceptible trace of negro blood.

The 1940 census demanded that Americans sort their identity according to the following Byzantine racial classification system:

Solar Superhighways

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 12:16 AM EDT

800px-Indiana-rural-road.jpg Researchers are developing a solar collector to turn roads and parking lots into cheap sources of electricity and hot water. "Asphalt has a lot of advantages as a solar collector," says Rajib Mallick of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "For one, blacktop stays hot and could continue to generate energy after the sun goes down, unlike traditional solar-electric cells.

Plus there's already gynormous acreage of installed roads and parking lots. They're resurfaced every 10 to 12 years. The solar retrofit could be built into that cycle. No need to transform other landscapes into solar farms. Or maybe not as many.

Furthermore, extracting heat from asphalt would cool the urban heat-island effect, cooling the planet a wee bit. Finally, solar collectors in roads and parking lots would be invisible, unlike those on roofs. Cuz we all know how attractive roads are.

Running From The Waves in Beijing

| Thu Aug. 14, 2008 12:00 AM EDT

800px-Tuvalu_Funafuti_atoll_beach.jpg Tuvalu's first Olympics may be it's last. The Pacific island-nation faces inundation from rising sea levels and no one knows if its nine coral atolls will still exist for future Olympics. Tuvalu's two track athletes and one weightlifter are gunning for more than gold, reports Planet Ark.

Neighbor island-nation Kiribati has sent three athletes to its second Olympics. But its atolls are also disappearing. Storm surges erode coastlines and contaminate fresh water supplies, and long before the islands go under they'll be uninhabitable.

Think of it as a sneak preview for all coastlines.

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

Solar Cell World Record

| Wed Aug. 13, 2008 11:35 PM EDT

275px-Photoelectric_effect.svg.png A new world record has been set by a solar cell that converts 40.8 percent of light into electricity. The proud parents are scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab.

The 40.8 percent efficiency was measured under concentrated light of 326 suns. One sun is the amount of light that hits Earth on a sunny day. The new cell will work well for space satellites. Also for land-based arrays that focus sunlight onto solar cells with lenses or mirrors.

You know, the kind we need to be building everywhere. Marshall Plan for Earth, and all that.

The new cell is grown on a gallium arsenide wafer. Then flipped over and the wafer removed. The result is an extremely thin and light solar cell with better performance and cost. Bring it on.

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

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Bush's Last War

| Tue Aug. 12, 2008 9:41 PM EDT

deadBEagle3.th.jpg Bush is after the Endangered Species Act with a lame-duck vengeance bordering on the sociopathic. He's proposing a whole new way to gut the Endangered Species Act. By cutting scientific review by independent experts, reports the AP.

Normally federal agencies have to consult with scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service before building roads, dams, mines, and whatnot. You know, in consideration of any one of the 1,353 animal and plant species in danger of extinction. But, no, says Bush. Who needs science when god whispers in your ear?

Not only that, the draft rules would also prohibit federal agencies from assessing greenhouse gas emissions from construction projects. This is Bush's way of getting back at the listing of the polar bear on climate change grounds.

Senator Barbara Boxer says the draft rules are illegal. Nevertheless the new rules are subject to a 30-day public comment period before they're law. That's all. Then Bush can launch his last war against eagles, owls, whales, ferrets, manatees, wolves…

Look for the casualties in court.

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

Can Playing Pac-Man Save the Forests?

| Mon Aug. 11, 2008 9:05 PM EDT

packman200.jpgIn another effort to attract attention to environmental issues through colorful, interactive cartoons (see The Meatrix), Dogwood Alliance—an organization dedicated to protecting US forests—has basically carbon-copied Pac-Man in a game to fight excessive packaging.

"Packaging Man" is basically Pac-Man with a few new graphics. Recycling symbols replace power pellets, Blinky and the gang are "corporate executives" intent on pilfering forests with phallic chainsaws, and the protagonist is not a yellow dot.

Though surely created with good intentions—US packaging waste weighs in at 80 million tons (.pdf) and is the largest source of municipal waste—the most creative part of the game is its intro, and who sits through those anyway?

Nonetheless, the "take action" link at the end is a little more rewarding than a perfect play, and it handily fills 20 minutes. Play here.

—Brittney Andres

Photo from dogwoodalliance.org

China's 'Great Shutdown' Is Scientific Gold

| Fri Aug. 8, 2008 10:26 PM EDT

AsianBrownClouda.jpg What happens when you turn off the pollution? Well the Beijing Olympics are giving scientists a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to observe how the atmosphere responds when a heavily populated region seriously curbs everyday industrial emissions.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is flying unmanned aerial vehicle to measure smog and its effects on weather during China's 'Great Shutdown.' The flights start at Cheju Island in South Korea, 725 miles southeast of Beijing, and directly in the path of Chinese pollution plumes.

Data from the flights, combined with satellite and ground observations, are tracking dust, soot and other aerosols leaking out of China in atmospheric brown clouds.

Chinese officials have reduced industrial activity by as much as 30 percent and mandated cuts in automobile use by half, to safeguard the health of competing athletes.

Too bad most of Beijing's air quality doesn't have much of anything to do with its own emissions but comes from its own heavily-polluted provinces to the south. Too bad China doesn't make the Great Shutdown permanent. Too bad the whole world doesn't follow. Too bad the athletes' health is more important than everyone else's.

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

Just Say No To Biofuels

| Thu Aug. 7, 2008 10:50 PM EDT

The Kenyan courts are considering doing just that. A judicial review is weighing whether or not to halt the first stage of a US$370 million biofuel project that aims to replace up to 50,000 acres of coastal grassland with irrigated fields of sugarcane.

The project is based at the Tana River Delta on the northern Kenyan coast. It's opposed by environmental groups Nature Kenya, the East Africa Wildlife Society, and nomadic pastoralists, reports ENN.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai doesn't like it either. "We cannot just start messing around with the wetland because we need biofuel and sugar."

Could this be the beginning of a new movement?