Blue Marble

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.

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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.

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?

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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. . .

Polar Bears Found Swimming 60 Miles Offshore

| Wed Aug. 27, 2008 1:04 AM EDT

800px-Polar_bear_arctic.JPG

An aerial survey has recently found at least nine polar bears swimming in open water far off Alaska. One was at least 60 miles from shore. All could have difficulty making it back to land and are at risk of drowning, particularly if bad weather strikes.

"To find so many polar bears at sea at one time is extremely worrisome because it could be an indication that as the sea ice on which they live and hunt continues to melt, many more bears may be out there facing similar risk," said Geoff York, polar bear coordinator for the World Wildlife Fund. "Polar bears and their cubs are being forced to swim longer distances to find food and habitat."

The discovery of the nine bears at sea came as the US Minerals Management Service was conducting marine surveys in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in advance of potential offshore oil development. In May, the US Department of Interior listed polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. However, the state of Alaska has opposed the listing and has sued the federal government over its decision to list the bear.

Professor Richard Steiner of the University of Alaska's Marine Advisory Program said: "The bottom line here is that polar bears need sea ice, sea ice is decaying, and the bears are in very serious trouble. For any people who are still non-believers in global warming and the impacts it is having in the Arctic, this should answer their doubts once and for all."

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

California's Gamble: Building More So People Drive Less

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 6:12 PM EDT

sprawl.jpgIn a so-crazy-it-just-might-work attempt to combat global warming, California legislators are trying to get people to drive less by building more—and more intelligently.

Acknowledging that passenger cars account for 30% of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, lawmakers want to make it easier for people to avoid using their cars by encouraging denser development.

A bill now making its way through the legislature would dole out state transportation funds—about $15 billion—only to those communities that pursued "smart-growth" development plans, such as filling in commercial strips and building new homes around existing roads and rail lines. "We know people are going to drive. We want them in their cars for less time," said the bill's author, state Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). It's a pragmatic approcah to a persistent problem: Instead of preventing new development—a move that business interests say stunts economic growth—the measure would encourage cities to build responsibly.

Conventional wisdom says that if they want Californians to stop driving, politicians will have to pry the steering wheels from their cold, dead hands. But if they do this right, residents of the Golden State can have their cake and eat it too. Development isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if it means that more people can work in the communities where they live. The higher gas prices climb, the more crucial such choices will become.

Photo used under a Creative Commons license from the pink sip.

Wind Turbines Decimate Bats

| Tue Aug. 26, 2008 2:06 AM EDT

Big-eared-townsend-fledermaus.jpg We know wind turbines kill birds. Now a University of Calgary study shows they kill bats in even higher numbers. And not from collisions but from a sudden drop in air pressure known as barotrauma. Ninety percent of the bats examined post mortem showed signs of internal hemorrhaging consistent with barotrauma from the turbine blades. Only about half showed any evidence of direct contact with the blades.

Because they echolocate, bats seldom collide with manmade structures. But an atmospheric-pressure drop at wind-turbine blades is undetectable. And because they're mammals, they die more than birds from barotrauma. Their balloon-like lungs have two-way airflow and flexible sacs surrounded by capillaries. When external pressures drop, the sacs overexpand and burst the capillaries. Bird lungs are more rigid with a one-way circular airflow and withstand pressure drops better.

Bat fatalities at wind turbines far outnumber bird fatalities and the majority of bats killed are migratory species that roost in trees—including hoary bats, eastern red bats, and silver-haired bats. Little is known about their population sizes. But wind turbines could devastate them. . . Simple solution. Don't run the turbines at night. And for the sake of birds-of-prey, don't run them during peak migrations.

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