Blue Marble

It's the Coal, Stupid

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 8:51 PM EDT

443px-Coal_power_plant_Datteln_2.jpg Burning fossil fuels accounts for 80 percent of the rise of atmospheric CO2 in industrial times. Now NASA researchers Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen show that CO2 can be kept below harmful levels as long as emissions from coal are phased out within the next few decades. In other words, we can burn all the oil and gas that's left on Earth and still avoid really dangerous climate change.

Previous research shows the super dangerous level of global warming will occur if CO2 in the atmosphere exceeds a concentration of 450 parts per million. It's currently at about 385 ppm, up from a pre-industrial 280 ppm.

The research revolved around five emissions scenarios spanning the years 1850-2100. Each reflects a different estimate for peak of fossil fuel production—an important yet unknown variable. On one end was the "business-as-usual" scenario. The other scenarios included reducing emissions from coal. First by developed countries starting in 2013. Then by developing countries a decade later. Finally leading to a global phase out by 2050. The last three scenarios consider different dates for peak oil.

The bottom line is clear. . .

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Another "Incident" at French Nuclear Plant

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 9:38 PM EDT

Eurodif.JPG A security incident has occurred at a French nuclear site already under scrutiny due to other scares this summer. Reuters reports that two fuel units became snagged in a reactor at Tricastin in southern France on Monday morning when site workers were removing them for maintenance. The reactor building was evacuated. The incident was still being dealt with on Monday evening.

The incident is the latest of several that have highlighted safety concerns in France's nuclear industry, the biggest in Europe, accounting for 80 percent of French power generation. In July, 8,000 gallons of liquid containing nonenriched uranium was accidentally poured onto the ground and into a river at Tricastin, prompting safety checks at all of France's 19 nuclear sites. Weeks later, around 100 staff at the site were contaminated with a low dose of radiation.

An apt reminder that nukes are one of the deadlier solutions to our energy troubles.

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

Computers V. The Human Mind

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 10:06 PM EDT

800px-Columbia_Supercomputer_-_NASA_Advanced_Supercomputing_Facility.jpg The race is on. Will computers able to make 1 quadrillion calculations per second convince us to make up our minds and do something about climate change?

Four of the brainiest centers on Earth* have received a $1.4 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to generate new climate models using new "petascale" computers that make ordinary supercomputers look like 90-pound weaklings.

"The limiting factor to more reliable climate predictions at higher resolution is not scientific ideas, but computational capacity to implement those ideas," said Jay Fein, program director in NSF's Division of Atmospheric Sciences.

Climate Crisis Needs Brilliant Minds

| Mon Sep. 8, 2008 9:05 PM EDT

Aktivitaethinten.jpg The most brilliant minds should be directed to solving Earth's greatest challenges. So says Sir David King, former UK chief scientist, in remarks to the British Association Science Festival. He suggests we spend less time and money on space exploration and particle physics and more on climate change, reports the BBC.

"The challenges of the 21st Century are qualitatively different from anything that we've had to face up to before," he said. "This requires a rethink of priorities in science and technology and a redrawing of our society's inner attitudes towards science and technology."

His remarks come just as the UK is celebrating the Large Hadron Collider, the world's biggest physics experiment, deigned to understand why matter has mass. The UK has contributed $900 million to the LHC, the most ever invested by that country in a single science project. "I would just suggest that we need to pull people towards perhaps the bigger challenges where the outcome for our civilization is really crucial," he said.

Green Clubbing In The Netherlands

| Thu Sep. 4, 2008 9:56 PM EDT

That's right. A club where dancers generate power to light the floor, drinks come in recyclable cups and toilets flush with rain water. The club named WATT opened in Rotterdam today, reports Reuters. Clubbers tested out WATT's main showpiece, a dance floor where the disco lights become more dynamic as more people grooved around on it. It's done with a spring-loaded platform that compresses crystals to generate current through the piezo-electric effect, the same as push-button lighters and grills. In WATT, a meter shows how much power is being generated—generating even wilder revels.

There's a Sustainable Dance Club destined for London too.

Hello Sarah Palin, Goodbye ANWR

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 9:43 PM EDT

Doublemountain.jpg Republican delegates in St. Paul this week believe Sarah Palin could provide the tipping point on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Washington Wire blog points out that Palin fiercely advocates drilling in ANWR. All the while McCain's been running scared on the issue and the Republican platform has been treating it with caribou-kid gloves.

Palin, talking to CNBC in July about John McCain said: "He's right on war, he's right on with energy independence measures that need to be taken. Wrong on ANWR, but we're still working on that one." Palin's place on the ticket "gives us the opportunity to have a live, walking platform to advocate for the development of our oil and gas resources," said Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, according to the Wall Street Journal's Henry J. Pulizzi and Siobhan Hughes.

So, Hurricane Bristol aside, Troopergate aside, Policegate aside, this global-warming-doubter-soccer-mom is a menace to the future of life on this planet. McCain's VP choice is 100-proof evidence that he's a really bad decider.

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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Elephants & Tigers Get Room To Breathe

| Wed Sep. 3, 2008 9:10 PM EDT

487px-Sumatratiger-004.jpg The Indonesian government is set to double the size of Tesso Nilo National Park—one of the last havens for endangered Sumatran elephants and tigers. The park was created in 2004 with about 150 square miles. By year's end that will increase to more than 330 square miles, reports WWF.

Tesso Nilo is the last block of lowland forest in central Sumatra large enough to support a viable elephant population. About 60 to 80 elephants live there, along with 50 tigers. The park also harbors more than 4,000 known plant species—the highest lowland forest plant biodiversity known anywhere on Earth, with many more plants yet to be discovered. Tesso Nilo forest is also a vital watershed for more than 40,000 people living in 22 surrounding villages.

These villages comprise the Tesso Nilo Community Forum, which protects for the forest and acts as a unified community voice in park management. To minimize conflicts between villagers and wildlife, an Elephant Flying Squad of domesticated elephants and mahouts patrols to keep wild elephants inside the park from raiding village crops outside the park. Locals have also planted a perimeter of buffer crops that elephants don't like around the park.

Sarah Palin: Why Can't Polar Bears Just Leave Those Poor Oil Companies Alone?

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 9:18 PM EDT

Oh, Sarah Palin. I'm sick of hearing your name already. But I'll say it once more because there is evidence that Ms.Palin may be a global warming-denier. Palin has said that she's "unconvinced" human emissions are contributing to global warming. "Science will tell us," her spokesman said. "She thinks the jury's still out." If by "jury" she means "the Bible," then yes, the jury is still out. But if "jury" means scientific consensus, then Palin needs to check out the IPCC's site or pick up an issue of Nature.

Though Palin may not believe in global warming, she does believe that polar bears are just fine, thank you very much. She sued the federal government in an attempt to derail their delayed listing of polar bears as an endangered species. In addition, Palin is in favor of drilling vital polar bear habitat in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, maybe in part because her husband works for BP. I don't know if Palin is motivated to support oil companies for love or for money. Either way, with her as Vice President, life will look even bleaker for those ice-dependent polar bears.

Slow Food Nation Comes to San Francisco

| Fri Aug. 29, 2008 8:37 PM EDT

slow-food-nation.jpgThis weekend, Slow Food Nation is taking over San Francisco's City Hall with food vendors, conferences, workshops, and farming demos. All last month I got to watch as hearty volunteers turned the stinky, pigeon-befouled strip of concrete in front of City Hall into an amazing herb and vegetable garden. It reminded me of the sustainable, organic backyard garden I grew up with in Oregon, long before "green" was hip. There were the same kinds of vegetables—squash, cucumbers, tomatos, corn, beans—as well as flowers to attract birds and bees. The garden was such a welcome respite from the hot concrete surrounding it, I wondered, Why can't we do this more often?

Turtles Saved By New Hooks

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 3:41 PM EDT

553px-Chelonia_mydas_in_Kona_Hawaii_2008.jpg Here's the recipe for saving sea turtles from drowning in the longline fishery. Switch out the classic J hooks for circular hooks. Add a little training and the tools to release turtles accidentally hooked.

A new report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) finds the new hooks dramatically reduce the bycatch of marine turtles without impacting fishing activity. They analyzed 4 years of data from 8 Eastern Pacific countries: Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. They found up to 89% reductions in the marine turtle bycatch per thousand hooks, and that 95% of all turtles caught in longline fishing were recovered alive. Circle hooks performed as well as J hooks in the catch rates of tuna, billfishes and sharks fishery.

Okay, well the tuna, billfishes, and sharks fisheries compose a whole other thorny issue. One as deserving of solutions as the sea turtles. The big fish of the sea are in superserious trouble and also need a reprieve from the hooks, like, right this second. . .