Blue Marble

European CO2 Cuts Working

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 8:23 PM EDT

eu_Img.jpg Listen up, slacker senators. The EU's "cap-and-trade" system for carbon dioxide is working well and has had little or no negative impact on the overall EU economy. This according to an analysis for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change by MIT researchers. They conclude that although the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (pdf) was fast-tracked 3 years ago to criticism of its wobbly start, it quickly worked out its own kinks. A. Denny Ellerman, senior lecturer in the MIT Sloan School of Management, suggests the system doesn't need to be in perfect working order before start up. "Obviously you're better off having things all settled and worked out before it gets started," he said. "But that certainly wasn't the case in Europe, and yet a transparent and widely accepted price for CO2 emission allowances emerged rapidly, as did a functioning market and the infrastructure to support it. This important public policy experiment is not perfect, but it is far more than any other nation or set of nations has done to control greenhouse-gas emissions—and it works surprisingly well."

Okay, if I believed in the Imaginary Friend I might be inclined to say God Bless Europe. Instead, how about, thanks, and may our next president and our next Congress look to the Old World now and again for better ways to build a new one.

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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Top 10: Animal Planet Does Father's Day

| Tue Jun. 10, 2008 4:45 PM EDT

Animal Planet is celebrating Father's Day with an A-List of Nature's Best Dads.

Top contenders include the golden jackal (monogamous), the seahorse (pregnant), and the Emperor penguin, (good with kids).

But is the lion, (fiercely protective) really a "better" father than Eastern grey squirrels, which routinely eat their young?

Here's hoping Animal Planet will continue anthropomorphizing all year—plenty of holidays await!

Perhaps a special on financially responsible animals (those beavers, saving up all that wood) for April 15? A drone bee retrospective for Labor Day?—Daniel Luzar

Drilling Really Did Trigger Mud Volcano

| Mon Jun. 9, 2008 7:30 PM EDT

800px-Home_sunk_by_mud_flow.JPG Final verdict: the Indonesian village-eating mud-erupting volcano known as Lusi was triggered by oil and gas drilling two years ago. The eruption began in May 2006 when Lapindo Brantas, owned by the family of billionaire Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, began exploratory drilling of a borehole named Banjar-Panji-1. Since then Lusi's oozing eruption has inundated rice paddies and villages, destroyed 10,000 homes and displaced 30,000 people. Now a study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters shows exactly how drilling caused Lusi's birth. Lead author Richard Davies says, "We show that the day before the mud volcano started there was a huge 'kick' in the well, which is an influx of fluid and gas into the wellbore. We show that after the kick the pressure in the well went beyond a critical level. This resulted in the leakage of the fluid from the well and the rock formations to the surface—a so called 'underground blowout'. This fluid picked up mud during its accent and Lusi was born.

Lapindo Brantas initially claimed the Yogyakarta earthquake, which occurred two days before and 155 miles away, caused Lusi's birth. However the oil and gas company now confirms the published data on Lusi are correct and their drilling was the trigger, reports Durham University.

The question now is whether, as some suspect, Lapindo Brantas will simply fold into bankruptcy to avoid paying penalties or reparations. Especially now since another study by Davies at Durham University suggests Lusi is beginning to collapse—precursor to becoming a huge sunken caldera, worsening the environmental disaster.

The ever-growing environmental disaster of fossil-fuels.

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

Behold the Sperm Remote

| Fri Jun. 6, 2008 1:45 PM EDT

From EcoGeek via Grist comes word of a nifty new birth control method for men:

The remote control, implanted device will allow users to 'press pause' on their sperm. (although it doesn't mention whether a 'rewind' function is in the works). The device has been developed by Australian scientists, and could herald a new dawn of even more convenient contraception for men, which has the potential to keep population growth under control more effectively.

Which of course raises the age-old question: Who controls the remote?

Dolphins Recovering From Tuna Nets at Last

| Thu Jun. 5, 2008 11:21 PM EDT

At long last the dolphins once caught in the Pacific tuna fishery seem to be recovering. Spotted and spinner dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific appear to be on the increase after severe depletion in the tuna purse-seine fishery. Between 1960 and 1990 their populations dropped by 80 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of pre-fishery levels. And though they've been (largely) spared capture and drowning in purse-seine nets since the early 1990s, due to severe restrictions on the fishery, their numbers have not rebounded. Until now. "We expected to see these populations begin their recovery years ago, because fishermen have been so successful at reducing dolphin deaths," said Tim Gerrodette of NOAA's Fisheries Service. "The new data are the first to indicate the beginning of a recovery." The news is tempered with caution though, since the numbers represent a short dataset (only the 2006 season), and since one of the four censused populations still seems to be declining. Nevertheless, it's the first glimmer of hope that maybe we didn't wait too long to take action.

On a personal note, this is the truly welcome news I've been hoping to hear for a long time. In 1990 I co-produced a documentary with Hardy Jones that included Sam LaBudde's heartbreaking footage, shot undercover, of dolphins being slaughtered in the tuna nets. We included an unusual plea at the end of the broadcast, asking viewers to send telegrams to a big-name canned tuna company to protest the dolphin kill. We aired a Western Union telephone number (yeah, that's how long ago it was). The response broke all Western Union records, and within two days, if I remember correctly, the tuna company announced it would no longer buy tuna unless it was caught with dolphin-safe methods. Others tuna companies quickly followed suit… So I for one will raise a glass in toast tonight to the people who worked so long and so hard on this issue, and who spilled a fair share of their lifetime's allotment of sweat and blood in hopes of today's good news. Thank you, ocean crusaders.

However, keep in mind, not all tuna labeled dolphin-safe really is. You can keep on top of what is and what isn't at Earth Island Institute's Approved Dolphin-Safe Importers, Distributors, Brokers, Retailers, Agents.

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

Eat Local Foods, Grow Small Farms

| Wed Jun. 4, 2008 7:58 PM EDT

461px-Fraises_1_Luc_Viatour.jpg It's not just for elites anymore. A survey of Midwesterners finds that even average food shoppers are willing to pay a premium for locally grown food. They'll pay as much as a third more if the food comes from a small local farm rather than a corporate farm. The study from Ohio State University, published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, shows that more shoppers are willing to pay for ripe local food—suggesting small farmers might be less efficient on the production side and still manage to be more profitable on the revenue side by selling at the premium price.

Shoppers were surveyed at 17 Ohio locations, including seven retail grocery stores, six on-site farm markets and four farmers' markets. They were presented with two product options. Both were baskets of strawberries, but they were presented under 80 combinations of price, freshness, farm location, and farm type. Data from 477 surveys revealed the average shopper was willing to pay 48 cents more for local strawberries. Shoppers at farm markets were willing to pay almost a third more, 92 cents above the $3 base for a quart of berries. Freshness was also important. Farm market shoppers were willing to pay 73 cents more for newly-harvested food and retail shoppers 54 cents more. The researchers tested interest in supporting small versus large farms by naming one fictional berry producer "Fred's" and the other "Berries Inc." Shoppers in grocery stores were willing to pay 17 cents extra for berries from Fred's, and farm market shoppers were willing to pay 42 cents more.

Listen up small farmers, boutique farmers, disenchanted farmers, your day may be coming (again). Many of us want fresher, tastier food grown carefully and closer to home. Rising fuel prices mean cheap cherries from Chile won't be cheap forever.

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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Top Scientists Call For Swift, Deep Carbon Cuts

| Mon Jun. 2, 2008 9:46 PM EDT

sci_econ_letter_chip.jpg In an open online letter, more than 1,700 of America's leading scientists and economists call on policymakers to legislate immediate, deep reductions in global warming emissions. The letter comes as the Senate begins to debate the Lieberman-Warner climate bill—which already fails to match the cutbacks advised in the letter. The online statement includes the signatures of six Nobel Prize winners and 31 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and marks the first time leading US scientists and economists have joined to make an appeal to policymakers. "We call on our nation's leaders to swiftly establish and implement policies to bring about deep reductions in heat-trapping emissions. The strength of the science on climate change compels us to warn the nation about the growing risk of irreversible consequences as global average temperatures continue to increase over pre-industrial levels. As temperatures rise further, the scope and severity of global warming impacts will continue to accelerate."

Nevertheless, the GOP, those Grand Old Peabrains, threaten to filibuster, while Bush, the mastermicromind, promises to veto. Think of this week's efforts by the Senate as a kind of paid rehearsal for the really big legislative battles that will supposedly consume their senatorial calories sometime in the coming years… As for those concerned that a dress rehearsal and a long debate aren't swift enough or deep enough, here are a few highlights from the many voices included the letter:

"Investing now in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies not only will create new business opportunities, but is also likely to be less expensive than a crash program to implement these solutions at a future date, when it will be more difficult to limit climate impacts"—Anthony C. Fisher, University of California Berkeley... "The future of our society depends on effectively managing and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Public and private research and development support for these efforts will allow us to transition to a carbon-neutral energy system that improves both environmental quality and economic growth"—Gordon Rausser, former chief economist of the US Agency for International Development.

The letter ends almost plaintively: "A strong U.S. commitment to reduce emissions is essential to drive international climate progress. Voluntary initiatives to date have proven insufficient. We urge U.S. policy makers to put our nation onto a path today to reduce emissions on the order of 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050. The first step on this path should be reductions on the order of 15-20 percent below 2000 levels by 2020, which is achievable and consistent with sound economic policy. There is no time to waste. The most risky thing we can do is nothing."

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

Q&A: Meet the Teen Science Whiz with the Plastic Bag Breakthrough

| Fri May 30, 2008 2:25 PM EDT

plastic%20bag%20in%20water.jpg

It may surprise you to learn that Daniel Burd does not consider himself an environmentalist. The Canadian teenager has become bit of an environmental hero over the past few days, as word of his potentially revolutionary science fair project has spread. In case you missed it, Burd managed to isolate the naturally occurring microbes that degrade plastic bags in landfills, cutting degradation time from lifetimes to mere months.

Maybe anyone could have done it, but no one else has. And that, says Burd, is part of what inspired him to pursue the project, which he started researching at the end of 2006. "As I began to research more and more, I found out we're not doing too much," he told me in a phone call from his home in Ontario. He is, in his words, "just a scientist trying to solve a huge problem."

"In the end, all problems come back to us," he says. "The plastic bags in the water, they don't dissolve, and they attract hydrophobic chemicals. Fish or other organisms may eat polluted plastic bags, and then we have millions of marine animals dying. If they don't die, then we may eat these fish, and then we have a statistical increase in healthcare problems directly attributable to that pollution. That's why everybody should be concerned."

"I would hope that through my project I'm able to, first of all, show a viable solution, economical and doable, and then get people more aware of it," he says. "Then we can fix it."

The Vacant Green Votes of John McCain

| Thu May 29, 2008 7:23 PM EDT

Tin_woodman_cover.jpg John McCain supports the Climate Security Act. He just isn't going to vote on it. Grist calls him the Cowardly Lion for missing the vote for the act he professes to fervently desire. "I hope it will pass, and I hope the entire Congress will join in supporting it and the President of the United States would sign it." The entire Congress except him, that is. He's not going to vote because that would blemish his spotlessly voteless record—you know, the one the League of Conservation Voters gave him a resounding, deafening 0% score on for his total absence of votes on environmental issues. Grist reports his confession and justification: "I have not been there for a number of votes. The same thing happened in the campaign of 2000. The people of Arizona understand I'm running for president."

Okay, let's get this straight. In order to practise for being president, apparently you must also learn to hone your skills at hiding out inside your plane on the runway while important legislation about the future of life on Earth is decided without you… Is McCain Cowardly Lion or Tin Man? Has anyone checked his empty chest for a heartbeat lately?

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

Albatrosses Create Two-Mommy Families

| Thu May 29, 2008 6:27 PM EDT

laal.jpg Males in short supply? Or unreliable? Well, two mommies will do just fine. Laysan albatrosses in Hawaii employ a strategy called reciprocity, whereby unrelated females pair together and take turns raising offspring. On the island of Oahu, where 59% of the albatross population is female, fully 31% of the nests are female-female pairs. And though they raise fewer chicks than male-female pairs, given the shortage of males, fewer chicks are better than none. Plus, because albatross can raise only one chick a year, the females stay together in monogamous couples for years, allowing both females the opportunity to reproduce.

The findings, by University of Hawaii at Manoa zoology doctoral candidate Lindsay Young and coauthors BJ Zaun and EA VanderWerf, are published today in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, in the paper "Successful same-sex pairing in Laysan albatross."

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