Blue Marble

The Cutest Rehab

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 9:53 PM EDT

This video is funny and sweet. It restores my faith in human beings. Even Amy Winehouse would love it. Maybe.

Produced by Bluevoice, it shows a bunch of volunteers from Orca, a Peruvian nonprofit, as they rescue and rehabilitate sea lion and fur seal pups orphaned by fishing nets and disease.

Part of the rehab involves the volunteers releasing their inner sea lions. You know, barking, socializing, and climbing all over each other, just like pinnipeds do.

The heroic part: these volunteers work in the seriously cold waters of the Peru Current. They have no money for wetsuits and tough it out for hours in soggy jeans.

Bluevoice is trying to raise the money to test tissue samples and figure out why all the seal mothers are dying.

(First seen on my secret addiction, the antidote to bad news, CuteOverload.)

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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Dead Zone Overkill

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 8:08 PM EDT

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The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is set to bust all its own records. Forecasts suggest this super-duper-unproductive ocean zone will reach 8,800 square miles this summer. That's the size of New Jersey.

Last year it reached 7,903 square miles. The earlier record was 8,481 square miles in 2002.

Notice a trend?

Notice the Bizarre-New-Age-of-Abysmal-Record-Everythings we've entered?

For those of you who've been asleep during the Bush-van-Winkle years, here's the primer. A dead zone forms when fertilizers wash from farms via rivers to fertilize the sea.

There are other reasons too. Including whatever nutrients you add to your lawn. Don't even get me started on golf courses.

So this year's climate-change-induced record floods on the Mississippi River do a lot more damage than to Midwestern croplands.

That's because the ocean doesn't like a lot of fertilizer. It makes too many plants grow. Those plants die and feed too many decomposers who use up all the oxygen in the water. Everything suffocates.

Dead zone. Coming soon to a seashore near you.

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

Ouch: Climate Change Means More Kidney Stones

| Tue Jul. 15, 2008 2:08 PM EDT
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Some squirm-inducing news from the global warming front: Climate change means more kidney stones. Rising temperatures mean people sweat more, which means they get dehydrated, which means salt crystals form in their kidneys, which means—insert your favorite big object-tiny opening image here. Researchers say that the region known as the "Kidney Stone Belt" (who knew?), which is basically the Bible Belt, is expanding northward into the Rust Belt and Grain Belt. By 2095, they predict, 70% of Americans will be living in a high-risk zone for kidney stones. Ouch. Fortunately, preventing kidney stones is easy—drinking plenty of water helps. So stay cool, drink up, and maybe this too shall pass.

Photo of kidney stone from stock.xchng user heyrc

21st-Century Land Grab

| Mon Jul. 14, 2008 10:15 PM EDT

513px-Daintree_Rainforest.JPG Escalating global demand for fuel, food and wood fiber will destroy the world's forests. Unless efforts to address climate change and poverty empower the billion-plus forest-dependent poor.

This according to two reports released today by the Rights and Resources Initiative. The first study finds that world will need a minimum 2 million square miles by 2030 to grow food, bioenergy, and wood products.

This is almost twice the amount of land actually available—roughly two-thirds the size of the continental US.

The second study reports that developing-country governments still claim an overwhelming majority of forests. They've made only limited progress in recognizing local land rights. Consequently, great violence lies ahead, as some of the world's poorest peoples struggle to hold on to their only asset—millions of square miles of valuable and vulnerable forestlands.

"Arguably, we are on the verge of a last great global land grab," says Andy White, Coordinator of RRI and co-author of the first report. "Unless steps are taken, traditional forest owners, and the forests themselves, will be the big losers. It will mean more deforestation, more conflict, more carbon emissions, more climate change and less prosperity for everyone."

Lead Shot Kills Long After The Bullet Stops

| Fri Jul. 11, 2008 7:44 PM EDT

Here's another reason cameras are better in the wilderness than rifles or rods.

Millions of pounds of lead used in hunting, fishing, and shooting sports wind up lost in the great outdoors every year, reports the USGS. Except they're not really lost. Only lost to the human hunters and fishers.

They are certainly not lost to the countless individuals of numerous species who eat the spent lead shot, the wayward bullets, the lost fishing sinkers, and the snagged the tackle. They are decidedly not lost to the wildlife that eats the dead and wounded animals who were shot, or who ate the lead.

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Radiograph of immature bald eagle containing numerous lead shot in its digestive tract (Jacobson et al. 1977). (courtesy of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association)

According to a new technical review by The Wildlife Society, upland hunting fields could receive as much as 400,000 shots per acre. Individual shooting ranges might receive 23 tons of lead shot and bullets yearly. All outdoor shooting ranges in the US combined could receive more than 80,000 tons of lead annually.

Meanwhile, roughly 4,382 tons of lead fishing sinkers are sold in the US every year. No one knows how much of that is lost.

The report notes: Lead is a metal with no known beneficial role in biological systems.

Zoos Squabble Over Polar Bear Profits

| Fri Jul. 11, 2008 5:25 PM EDT

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Last year, Knut the polar bear cub became an international celebrity after animal rights activists said he should be allowed to die rather than raised by humans. The Berlin Zoo disagreed, and their adorable cub quickly became an environmental icon as well as the Zoo's most popular exhibit, bringing $8 million in revenues. Now the Neumuenster Zoo is trying to get a piece of the profits, saying that because it owns Knut's father, it kind of own Knut too. Neumuenster is looking into court action, as so far the Berlin Zoo has refused to give in.

As for Knut, he's suffering now that the intense attention he used to get is tapering off. When the Berlin Zoo was closed for a few days this winter, he howled for hours. He reportedly cries when there aren't enough people near his enclosure and pines for his former keeper, Thomas Dorflein, who hand-raised him, crying when he picks up Dorflein's scent. One of Knut's keepers told Der Spiegel that the bear "has something of an identity crisis. He doesn't know that he's a polar bear." The keeper, Markus Robke, says that Knut should be moved to someplace more secluded, away from people and away from those who raised him. "As long as he's with us, he will always regard Thomas Dorflein as his father."

Image courtesy Berlin Zoo

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Glacier Growth Caused by Climate Change?

| Thu Jul. 10, 2008 3:05 PM EDT

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As we already know, most of the world's ice is melting fast. Not so on California's Mt. Shasta, where glaciers are actually growing because of global warming.

Here's how it works: The Pacific Ocean is warmer now than in years past. Warmer temperatures mean more moisture, which in turn means more snowfall on Mt. Shasta.

This is not the case for other nearby mountain ranges. The Sierra Nevada range, which is just 500 miles south of Mt. Shasta, is losing ice—in fact, it has lost about half its ice over the past 100 years.

Like Antarctica's increasing sea ice, the Mt. Shasta glaciers are another piece of evidence that global warming is a little more complicated than most of us think.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons.

What's the Most Polluting Car?

| Thu Jul. 10, 2008 2:20 PM EDT

suv.jpgForbes.com has published a list of the ten dirtiest cars. Or more accurately—vehicles, since all but a few are SUVs and trucks. (And surprise! The Hummer isn't number one).

The list order is mostly based on the EPA's air pollution rankings, but to break ties, Forbes.com also took into account vehicles' carbon footprints. The nadir of the coverage is in their "Tips for Polluting Less":

Experts say that realizing even minor improvements in fuel economy among the worst polluters on the road is the most efficient way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions overall. For example, choosing a base GMC Yukon with a 5.3-liter V8, which gets 16 mpg overall, instead of the high-end Denali version and its 14-mpg 6.2-liter V8 would save more than 130 gallons of gasoline per year for the typical driver, and eliminate 1.7 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, says Therese Langer, transportation program director for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Langer then goes on to say that "achieving the same savings through improvements to a 42-mpg Honda Civic Hybrid would require a 25-mpg boost, to 67 mpg."

So let's get this straight: Consumers should feel good about choosing a Yukon SUV over a hybrid, since the Yukon is way more efficient than the Denali? That's kind of like trying to lose weight by eating a ho-ho instead of a ding-dong.

Full top ten list after the jump.

Red Tide? Hold Your Breath, Run Fast

| Wed Jul. 9, 2008 8:06 PM EDT

La-Jolla-Red-Tide.780.jpg The airborne toxins inhaled in the spray of red tides may be cancer causing. At least in lab rats, those sorry creatures perpetually suffering for our crappy decisions. NOAA scientists report that in fighting brevetoxins, the rats' immune systems convert them to molecules that destroy DNA in the lungs.

Which is the first step for many cancer causing agents. In other words, the process is likely carcinogenic.

The brevetoxin Karenia brevis has long been known to cause neurotoxic poisoning (from consumption of contaminated shellfish), and respiratory irritation (from inhalation of toxic sea spray). Cancer may be its newest side-effect, albeit one with a slower onset.

Red tides, you might remember, are on the rise globally, fueled by our flagrant overuse of fertilizers—which, voila!, also make plants in the sea grow really fast too. Not good for the sea, or you, or me. Or lab rats.

Red tides and their alter-egos, dead zones, are also linked to our warming climate. Both of which are linked to growing threats to human health, even if Dick Cheney's office worked hard to suppress that information.

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

Biofuels & Biodiversity Don't Mix

| Tue Jul. 8, 2008 9:47 PM EDT

349px-Palm_oil_Ghana.jpg Very little can be done to make palm oil plantations more hospitable for birds and butterflies. Consequently rising demand for the biofuel will decimate biodiversity unless natural forests are preserved.

Lian Pin Koh of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich counted birds and butterflies in 15 palm oil plantations in Borneo and found that palm oil plantations supported between 1 and 13 butterfly species, and between 7 and 14 bird species. Previous research found at least 85 butterfly and 103 bird species in neighboring undisturbed rain forest.

The paper, Can palm oil plantations be made more hospitable for forest butterflies and birds?, to be published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, comes at time when rising demand for food and biofuels is squeezing biodiversity. Unless oil palm agriculture is regulated, rising global demand is likely to convert more forests into fuel for your car and mine. Frankly, my dear, neither is worth it.

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