Blue Marble

Can't Afford Solar? Paint It White

| Tue Sep. 16, 2008 9:26 PM EDT

B9a_agra700.jpg Your roof, that is. A new study calculates that installing white roofs in the world's cities could offset 1.5 years of manmade carbon emissions, reports AAAS.

Light-colored roofs cool the planet in two ways. They reflect radiation back into space. And they keep your house cooler so you use less air conditioning.

Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the state of California estimated the global number of roofs and asphalt surfaces in cities and conservatively estimated they comprise 1 percent of Earth's surface. They then found that using light-colored concrete, or applying white glazes to buildings, could increase the reflectivity of urban surfaces by 10 percent, effectively negating 44 gigatons of CO2. In comparison, halting deforestation of tropical forests would eliminate about 7 gigatons of emissions.

Total global annual emissions from fossil fuels are currently running at about 28 gigatons.

The new snow: paint.

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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French Pique-nique Tax

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 9:39 PM EDT

758px-Manet%2C_Edouard_-_Le_D%E9jeuner_sur_l%27Herbe_%28The_Picnic%29_%281%29.jpg It's about time. The French, those pique-nique-aholics, are about to tax non-recyclable throwaway plates and cutlery. The tax would apply to non-recyclable cardboard but not plastic tableware. (Pourquoi pas?) It's part of a wider move to encourage people to use more eco-friendly products. Including (maybe) consumer electronics.

Reuters reports that France has already introduced the bonus-malus system for cars—taxing the most heavily polluting vehicles while giving tax breaks to greener ones. Le Figaro reports on a possible list of new taxable items: fridges, washing machines, televisions, batteries, and wooden furniture.

Sacré bleu. You mean while we've been dissing them with freedom fries and whatnot they've been trying to address some of the real terrors on planet Earth? FYI, I've been carrying two sets of plastic cutlery in my messenger bag for a couple of years now. Picnic-ready (toujours, n'est pas?) and trying to minimize my own trail of waste.

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

Oh Snap! Whitehouse on Offshore Drilling

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 4:19 PM EDT

There's been a lot of hemming and hawing about offshore drilling lately, but none so succinct and pithy as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's (D-RI) neat little dressing down of the idea, caught on YouTube:


Dam Aliens

| Fri Sep. 12, 2008 10:52 PM EDT

600px-Volta_lake.jpg Freshwater ecosystems are losing even more species than terrestrial or marine environments. Why? Because of dams. More than 80,000 major dams and 2.5 million smaller reservoirs have altered natural hydrology across the U.S. The result: nearly 1,000 introduced species disrupting native aquatic systems.

The study published in the September Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment concludes that dam construction and biological invasions are closely linked, reports Environmental Science & Technology.

A University of Colorado Boulder team analyzed conditions in 4200 natural lakes and 1081 impoundments in Wisconsin and Michigan. They looked at five widespread nuisance species: Eurasian water milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha), spiny water flea (Bythotrephes longimanus), rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax), and rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus).

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. . .

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.

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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.