Blue Marble

Happy National PARK(ing) Day!

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 5:38 PM EDT

parkingday_300x200.jpgIf you drove through San Francisco today and pulled up to a parking spot covered with shrubbery, don't be alarmed: the spot was likely claimed for 2008 National PARK(ing) Day, a global one-day event that transforms metered parking spots into temporary public parks.

Down the street from MoJo, greeters at a busy intersection directed lunchtime walkers to the eco-friendly benches parked in one such spot, themed "Permeability." Part public service announcement, part mini-flash mob, the annotated parking spot map by the McCall Design Group directed visitors to the water-saving landscape solutions present on this patch of asphalt, including composted bark mulch, native plants, tufted hairgrass, and water-filtering aqua-stone.

National PARK(ing) Day was started in 2005 by the Rebar Group, an interdisciplinary coalition of San Francisco artists, designers and activists. Since then, cities such as Portland, Seattle, and Tuscon have followed suit.

According to Nikki Wisser, an associate with McCall Design Group, their permeable spot hasn't drawn any irritated bystanders.

"I'm just glad I'm not driving today," said one man with a chuckle as he walked past.

Photo by Jin Zhu.

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French Pique-Nique Update

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 12:41 AM EDT

Flash: The French are dropping plans for a picnic tax (per earlier blog). It's elitist. Apparently the rich don't pique-nique and the pollution of the non-rich isn't important.

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

Vote Your Fears

| Fri Sep. 19, 2008 12:15 AM EDT

711px-Menschliches_Auge.jpg People who react strongly to bumps in the night, spiders, or the sight of a victims are more likely to support more defense spending, more government resources for fighting terrorism, and tighter immigration controls. This according to a new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln published in the current issue of Science.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and tested 46 people who identified themselves as having strong political opinions. The subjects were shown threatening visual images—pictures of a spider on a person's eyeball, a dazed person with a bloody face, an open wound with maggots in it. The subjects' skin was monitored for electrical conductivity—an indicator of emotion, arousal, and attention. As a separate physiological measure, the subjects were surprised by a sudden, jarring noise, while measurements were taken of their blink reflex.

Those with the strongest eye or skin reactions to unexpected noises or threatening pictures tended to endorse political positions emphasizing protecting society over preserving individual privacy. These people were found to be more willing to sacrifice their privacy in return for what they perceived as government protection. Conversely, the subjects who reacted less strongly were more likely to favor policies that protect privacy and encourage gun control. . . It's all in the biology. Even for disbelievers of biology.

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

Beam It Down, Scotty

| Tue Sep. 16, 2008 9:07 PM EDT

CoronaSolar.gif Want solar without all the hassle of clouds and night? Beam it down from space. John Mankins of Space Power Association ran the first technical test on this old idea and announced the new results last week, reports Nature.

For less than $1 million and only 4 months of prep, Mankins transmitted microwaves from Maui to the neighboring island of Hawaii—proving that energy can be transmitted all the way through the atmosphere.

Here's the deal: Even on a sunny day, the atmosphere absorbs and scatters half the Sun's rays. Panels in orbit could collect it all, daytime, nighttime, and every time in between. Beam the energy via microwaves to the surface. The microwaves will pass unhindered through our 60-mile-thick atmosphere. Presto. 100-proof solar fuel.

So many solutions. But so many Galvestonians standing dumbfast as the storm approaches. Can we get moving? Please?

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

Can't Afford Solar? Paint It White

| Tue Sep. 16, 2008 8:26 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.

French Pique-nique Tax

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 8:39 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.

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Oh Snap! Whitehouse on Offshore Drilling

| Mon Sep. 15, 2008 3:19 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 9:52 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 7:51 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 8:38 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.