Blue Marble

Everglades Wins Big

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 7:07 PM PDT

333px-Historic_Everglades_Regions.jpg The state of Florida has pledged to buy up sugarcane farms to help restore the flow of the Everglades. For a bargain $1.75 billion, US Sugar will relinquish 300 square miles of its holdings south of Lake Okeechobee over the next six years.

Great news for the people of Florida, as well as for birds, alligators, crocodiles, and manatees. The agreement comes between Republican Governor Charlie Crist and US Sugar, reports the Miami Herald. It's at least partially the result of the South Florida Water Management District board voting seven months ago against the practice of backpumping (pdf) dirty farm runoff into Lake Okeechobee, which then flows south into the Everglades.

That vote was the result of a 2007 court victory by Earthjustice, when a federal judge ruled that backpumping violated the Clean Water Act.

The buy-out of US Sugar will not end the Everglades' troubles. Another 500 square miles of sugarcane farms owned by other companies remain in production. Yet the deal marks a revival of the Everglades restoration effort, the largest of its kind in the world, aimed at undoing flood-control projects that have been killing the Everglades for decades.


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Condors Rescued From Wildfire

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 1:43 PM PDT

400px-Condor_in_flight.JPG Eight endangered California Condors were evacuated by helicopter from their holding pens after the Gallery Fire (now part of the Basin Fire Complex) cut off the road into their facility. Seven of the rescued birds are less than a year old, and the eighth condor is their mentor.

The Herald of Monterey County reports that a three-person crew from the Ventana Wildlife Society was flown in by the Coast Guard, walked a mile from the drop point to the condors, and brought the birds back in carriers. After their helo flight, the condors were driven to Pinnacles National Monument.

Meanwhile, the National Interagency Fire Center reported yesterday that 1,080 new fires ignited in California over the weekend. You can see from their site how enormous the problem is. Some fires are actually complexes of 150-plus fires. Most are still zero percent contained.

Cooler weather is helping along the coast but let's face it, some of these fires are going to be burning for a long time. Maybe until snow falls.

The smoke blanketing northern California is moving east.

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

Scientist on Warming: "We're Toast"

| Tue Jun. 24, 2008 11:03 AM PDT

James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been warning the US government about global warming for 20 years. Now the CO2 levels in the atmosphere have gotten so high that "we're toast if we don't get on a very different path," he told Congress yesterday.

When Hansen first testified to Congress about global warming, it was 1988 and a heat wave was sweeping across the East Coast. That year was the hottest year on record for DC, but fourteen of the 20 subsequent years have been even hotter. By his estimations, the Arctic will be completely ice-free by the summer of 2018. "The Arctic is the first tipping point and it's occuring exactly the way we said it would," he told senators. "This is the last chance."

Recycled Biofuel

| Mon Jun. 23, 2008 8:06 PM PDT

57031182_68ca6da51a.jpg A better way to grow biofuel crops is to re-use abandoned agricultural lands. Or farmlands that are less productive. Both are better than current practises: clearing wilderness and converting food farms to energy farms.

There are 1.5 million square miles of abandoned cropland and pastureland available around the world. Energy crops raised on these could yield up to 27 exajoules of energy a year—equal to 172 million barrels of oil. Yet even this would still satisfy only about 5% of global primary energy consumption—483 exajoules in 2005, and rising.

Better than nothing, you say. But only if it doesn't further aggravate climate change. The study by Carnegie Institution and Stanford University scientists used historical data, satellite imagery, and productivity models to estimate how to maximize the benefits from biofuels while also mitigating global warming. Recycling old farms yields the best atmospheric returns.

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

Pedal On, Brita Climate Ride

| Mon Jun. 23, 2008 7:15 PM PDT

ClimateRide-002.jpg

Talking about global warming is pretty depressing. If the fear of apocalyptic natural disasters doesn't get you, the big-eyed, fuzzy animals probably will—to say nothing of Al Gore's boiling frog. Given the gloomy subject matter, it's a nice shift to see a group highlight the positive possibilities for lifestyle change.

This fall, 100 cyclists will try to do just that by riding from New York City to Washington, DC via rural New Jersey and Amish country, with an entourage of scientists and green entrepreneurs in tow.

According to organizers, the ride is meant to be a "climate conference on wheels"—intentionally a bit more fun than your run-of-the-mill scientific gathering. Will the riders inspire others to cycle with their own joyful pedal-pushing? Climate-wise, bikes are awesome, so here's hoping.

Photo courtesy Climate Ride.

Why Miles Per Gallon Suck

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 8:04 PM PDT

Our calculations about car efficiency tend to be wildly off the mark. The Fuqua (I am not making that up) School of Business at Duke University studied it every which way and found that improving the most energy inefficient cars with ones that are even slightly more efficient saves WAY more fuel than trading in your not-so-bad Honda Civic for a hybrid. Most of us assume otherwise. The problem arises from the fact that we're talking miles per gallon when we should be talking gallons per mile. The video explains all.

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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If Cars Were Computers...

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 7:40 PM PDT

800px-SSEM_Replica.jpg If cars were computers then one liter of fuel would provide all the UK's needs for one year and oil reserves would last the expected lifetime of the solar system. That is, if efficiency in cars had improved at the rate computers have. This according to Steve Furber, a computer engineer at the University of Manchester, in a lecture marking the 60th anniversary of the 1948 computer known as The Baby (also known as the Small Scale Experimental Machine). Furber notes that computers are now 50 billion times more energy-efficient than The Baby, which weighed a ton, took up a whole room, and was the forerunner of all modern computers.

I'm not sure we can shrink cars & their carbon footprints fast enough. Howzabout we shrink ourselves instead? Genetic engineering trumps computer engineering and nine billion teensy weensy people 42 years from now doesn't look so bad. No worse than a swarm of locusts.

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

Who Needs Condoms When You Have Midwest Pesticides?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 5:42 PM PDT

As if the Midwest weren't dealing with enough already, doctors now worry that the shockingly low sperm count of mid-Missouri men means there's something in the water, or worse.

Nothing's proven, yet, but all eyes were on pesticides after diazinon, an insecticide, and metolachlor, an herbicide, were found in a large number of the semen samples.

Local researchers have requested funding from the NIH to look further into the issue but have been turned down. The results of a CDC-conducted test will be released this summer.

Until then, if Missourians are looking to have kids, perhaps they should try on one of these. [H/T: Grist]

—Brittney Andres

London's Dance-Powered Nightclub for Eco-Hedonists

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 3:10 PM PDT

nightclub.jpgEver yearn to get organically plastered, then hit the power-generating dance floor that turns your fancy footwork into electricity? No, this isn't a scene from a Moby video, and yes, you really can indulge those green fantasies, thanks to climate change organization Club4Climate which is launching a sustainable eco-nightclub in Britain next month.

Patrons can knock back organic liquor, then visit the loo and flush symptoms of their overindulgence away with recycled water. Pounding dance moves absorbed by the tricked-out floor will supply 60% of the club's energy needs, and admission is free if you can prove you didn't roll up in a car—but not before you sign a pledge to fight climate change.

Sounds like a more palatable version of Rotterdam's urine- and sweat-powered nightclub, Watt, slated to open in September.


Do Your Condoms Work?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 12:32 PM PDT

If you happened to read the tiny print on the back of a box of Durex Avanti condoms before you bought them, you'd see this: "The risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), including AIDS (HIV infection), are not known for this condom." Hmm. Since most people, I think, actually use condoms specifically for those purposes, and not for the diminished sensation in their genitals, should this product really be on the market?

Read more about it here.