Blue Marble

What Environmentalists Really Think of Ken Salazar

| Wed Dec. 17, 2008 4:03 PM EST

As you may have read, Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) has been tapped as President Obama's Secretary of the Interior. And as we've reported previously, the Interior secretary post is a major one in terms of the nation's environmental health. The Interior (and by default, its secretary) governs the management of public lands, national parks, oil and gas resources, and even the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey.

Environmentalists were pushing for Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), a staunch conservationist. So what's their consensus on Salazar? You can read their various statements, below. Overall, they seem cautiously optimistic. But then, it would be hard not to be buoyed by Salazar when you're comparing him to predecessors like mining advocate and former chemical company lobbyist Gale Norton.

Center for Biological Diversity: "He is a right-of-center Democrat who often favors industry and big agriculture... He is very unlikely to bring significant change to the scandal-plagued Department of Interior. It's a very disappointing choice..." --Kieran Suckling, executive director, via New York Times.

Sierra Club: "He has been a very vocal critic of the Bush administration's reckless approach to rampant land development in the West." --Josh Dorner, a spokesman, via the UK Guardian.

Wilderness Society: "He's going to be an honest broker... He is trying to manage conflicts in a way that reaches resolution. I'm not sure he's articulated a grand vision for the public lands." --Bill Meadows, president, via Washington Post.

"On a personal level, our experience has been that there is a genuine openness to [Salazar] considering different ideas.." --David Albersworth, senior policy analyst, via Rocky Mountain News.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: Salazar is a "sympathetic soul" who will be a refreshing change because "the past eight years with the Bush administration have felt like a battle, then it became total despair." --Karen Schambach, California coordinator, via the Los Angeles Times.

"Salazar has a disturbingly weak conservation record, particularly on energy development, global warming, endangered wildlife and protecting scientific integrity," --Daniel R. Patterson, southwest regional director, via New York Times.

Environmental Working Group: "We're encouraged by it... he recognizes the importance of the food programs, and he's very good on conservation." --Ken Cook, president, via the Washington Post.

Environment Colorado: "We hope he continues to play a role in insuring that, as we develop our mineral rights in these incredibly sensitive areas, we require industry to put in place safeguards that protect our health, environment, water and air quality," --Pam Kiely, program director, via New York Times.

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The Gift of Nature

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 10:16 PM EST

399px-Eaglecreek-28July2006.jpg Walking in a park in any season or even viewing pictures of nature helps improve memory and attention by 20 percent. All it takes is 30 minutes. Even when it's cold. Even when we don't enjoy it. The study by U of Michigan researchers found that effects of interacting with nature are similar to meditating.

Participants were sent on walking routes through urban streets as well as through a botanical garden and arboretum. The city strolls provided no memory boost but the parks improved short-term memory. Interestingly, the test subjects didn't need to enjoy the walks. They received the same cognitive benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny as when it was 25 degrees in winter.

Participants were also tested sitting inside and looking at pictures of either downtown scenes or nature scenes. The results were the same: about 20 percent improvement in memory and attention scores from looking at photos of nature.

The study appears in Psychological Science and dovetails with some of the researchers' earlier work suggesting that people will be most satisfied with their lives when their environment supports three basic needs: the ability to understand and explore; the ability to make a difference; and ability to feel competent and effective.

Best holiday present? Take someone out into nature. Truly the gift that gives forever. Or at least for 20 percent longer.

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

Oceans Need a Rescue Package

| Tue Dec. 16, 2008 3:58 PM EST

"It's time for a bailout for the oceans," declared Oceana's chief scientist Michael Hirschfield at today's National Press Club press briefing. Hirschfield, along with three of the country's top marine scientists, urged the Obama administration, namely recent energy appointees Carol Browner and Lisa Jackson, to abandon the ideology of the past eight years and take science seriously.

Overfishing, climate change, pollution, and increasing acidity were cited as the most ominous threats. But these threats are hardly new. Mother Jones examined the plight, the players, and the solutions in our 2006 special report "The Last Days of the Ocean." Check it out here.

China Jumps To Hybrid

| Mon Dec. 15, 2008 9:11 PM EST

277211.jpg China's first mass-produced hybrid electric car hit the market today. The car is made by BYD Auto and backed by Warren Buffett who owns 9.9 percent of the company. The F3DM (if you say so, C-3PO) can be charged from powerpoints at home or at electric car charging stations. That's a first for mass produced. The hybrid runs 62 miles on a full battery and costs under $22,000 dollars.

BYD Auto says it doesn't expect the F3DM will succeed with Chinese customers initially because of the high price, reports AFP. Instead the company is focusing on sales to company fleets. The strategy is to leapfrog past traditional cars—where Chinese technology lags badly—straight to hybrids.

Smart strategy. Remind me again why exactly we're bailing out our own loser car companies? BYD already specialized in producing rechargeable batteries and only started making cars in 2003 when it bought a bankrupt state-owned car company. Since then it's beaten Toyota and General Motors to the punch as those companies won't launch home-chargeable hybrids cars before 2009 and 2010 respectively. Can't we leapfrog past the traditional car companies straight to hyperdrive mass transit? Can't we, as the Chinese say, transform the current mass chaos into mass opportunity?

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

Post-Mortem Plastic Surgery? Yech.

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 8:48 PM EST

According to Essence, we narcissists are now paying morticians to do plastic surgery on our corpses.

How, I wonder? Are folks leaving aside money with an attorney directing him to have our boobs lifted while we're on the slab? I can't imagine my loved ones caring enough to spend their own cash on my huge pores and even huger butt. I've often wondered about my own death, but never, until now that is, how'd I'd look when dead. Thanks Essence.

Good thing I'm going for cremation, because my kids would probably have me 'Petie-eyed' for my funeral.

Will Obama's Agriculture Pick be a Stinker?

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 1:58 PM EST

Nicholas Kristof's Times column on Obama's potential Secretary of Agriculture picks has generated a manure storm in the blogosphere. At issue is the fact that he may pick a typical agribusiness guy like Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop. This is ironic, and perhaps a bit duplicitous, given that Obama recently professed to reading, and being down with, Michael Pollan's sun-food agenda piece in the Times Magazine. Many liberals have not protested Obama's other less-than-progressive cabinet picks in part because they believe that Obama himself will balance them. But the problem with applying that theory to agriculture is that the Democratic Party is not really much more progressive on ag than Republicans. Indeed, opposition to the most recent farm bill was an odd coalition of California progressives and the Bush Administration. There will be so much institutional inertia to overcome on agriculture within the Democratic Party that it's hard to see how the system will ever change without a secretary who is truly committed to shaking it up. Obama might have the will, but he certainly won't have the time or energy.

Update: More on potential Obama picks. And this petition to encourage Obama to make a progressive Secretary of Agriculture pick has been gaining steam.

Update II: The names of possible Ag Secretary contenders keep shifting, indicating that the criticism might be having an effect. According to the AP, as of Monday December 15th the contenders are:

Dennis Wolf (PA Secretary of Agriculture)
Tom Buis (President of the National Farmers Union)
Charles Stenholm (Former West Texas Congressman and ranking member of Ag Comittee)
Stephanie Sandlin (Congresswoman from South Dakota and Ag Committee member)
Jill Long Thompson (Former Undersecretary of Ag under Clinton)

Still, none of these names are picks that have been circulated by activists in the Food Democracy petition.

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Can California's Global Warming Plan Survive its Economic Crisis?

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 1:41 PM EST

Yesterday California approved a landmark global warming plan that would cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a 30 percent reduction. Meanwhile, the state is suffering through a fiscal crisis that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who supports the global warming plan, describes as "financial Armageddon." The same day that California approved the climate measure, the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle ran a giant Schwarzenegger block quote:

Every second, the state is losing $470, every minute, $28,000, and every hour $1.7 million and every day $40 million. That is approximately more than $1 billion a month if legislators don't act [to pass a new budget].

The California Air Resources Board, which approved the global warming plan, estimates that it would actually have "an overall positive effect on the economy" by spurring energy efficiency and technological innovation. However, the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analysis Office questioned that estimate, saying that the evaluation of some costs and benefits was "inconsistent and incomplete." As U.S. Congress prepares to debate its own climate bill in the near future, expect Republicans to argue that the California climate plan is a financial sink hole; in response, Democrats should note that the benefits of energy efficiency and technology investment will take awhile to materialize. The same could be said of bailing out Wall Street and the automakers, and, so far, that hasn't stopped us.

Powered By Java: Me & My Car

| Thu Dec. 11, 2008 5:03 PM EST

800px-A_small_cup_of_coffee.JPG Looking for a spare 340 million gallons of biodiesel? Waste coffee grounds can provide a cheap, abundant, and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel fuel for cars and trucks. Spent grounds contain 11-20 percent oil by weight—about the same as rapeseed, palm, and soybean oil. Growers already produce more than 16 billion pounds of coffee yearly and the spent grounds generally wind up in the trash.

To see if that oil from those grounds is worth putting into your diesel tank, researchers from the U of Nevada collected separated the oil from the grounds and used an inexpensive process to convert 100 percent of it into biodiesel.

The result: a coffee-based fuel that actually smells like java. Mmmm. Plus it's more stable than traditional biodiesel due to the coffee's high antioxidant content. The solids left over from the conversion process can be converted to ethanol or used as compost. The researchers estimate the process could make a profit of >$8 million a year in the U.S. alone. Worldwide it could produce 340 million gallons of biodiesel annually. The team plans to develop a pilot plant in the next eight months.

The study appears in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Drink it up. Wake up your car.

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

Clean Coal: Caroling at a Home Near You

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 9:40 PM EST

clean-coal-carolers.jpg

Everyone seems to be getting into the holiday spirit, even...lumps of coal? A coal trade group called American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) has sponsored a holiday campaign called "The Clean Coal Carolers" which features lumps of cartoon coal singing songs like "Frosty the Coalman" and "Abundant, Affordable." The website allows you to choose which hats and scarfs to dress the coal in. But all the scarves in the world can't hide the fact that "clean coal" is more a buzz word than an actual technology.

Last month Casey Miner reported for Mother Jones that:

The types of technology the industry says it will use are expensive and ineffective at best, and potentially catastrophic at worst—in other words, even if we were able to get our technology up to speed and somehow capture the carbon leaving every coal plant in the country, we wouldn't have anywhere safe to put it.

The Clean Coal Carolers also have a Facebook page with 22 fans, including one named "Asthma" and another "Black," short for Black Lung. Those are either parts of ACCCE's elaborate ruse or they are smart-ass kids who have studied Al Gore's "Reality" ad campaign, launched last week to "debunk the clean coal myth," and Mother Jones' past coverage of clean coal like "Follow The Money Deep Under Ground" by Shadi Rahimi and "Scrubbing King Coal" by James Ridgeway.

Man-Made Chemicals Reduce Animals' Masculinity

| Wed Dec. 10, 2008 5:32 PM EST

red-deer-stag.jpgThis week, the British organization CHEM Trust, which is financially supported by WWF-UK and Greenpeace, published a report (.pdf) reviewing scientific literature on the reproductive health of wildlife in contact with chemical pollutants. These pollutants include the usual suspects: phthalates, bisphenol A, PCBs, DDT, atrazine, etc. All of these chemicals have been covered extensively by Mother Jones, such as in the current issue's "Let's Go Europe," about European chemical regulations.

In a press release, the report's author, Gwynne Lyons, commented that, "Man-made chemicals are clearly damaging the basic male tool-kit." The report concludes:

Some of the most prevalent effects reported in male wildlife, which are associated with pollutants, are related to genital disruption (GD). GD includes an array of manifestations. Notable amongst these are: intersex features (such as egg tissue in the testes of the male); small phallus; small testes; undescended testes or other obvious structural defects of the male reproductive tract; or ambiguous genitals.

And the human implications?

Taken together, the effects seen in wildlife should raise concerns for contaminant induced genital disruption in human male infants. Indeed a condition called testicular dysgenesis syndrome, including birth defects of the penis of baby boys, cryptorchidism (undescended testes), reduced sperm production and testicular cancer, has been suggested, because there is evidence to indicate that these effects may be interlinked in causation. Scientists have also noted that the rapid pace of the increase of human male reproductive disorders indicates an environmental cause as do studies following baby boys born to immigrants who take on the same risk for testicular cancer, as the offspring of residents born in that country.

[Update: Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson points out that male Polar Bears have been hit especially hard by pollution-related "genital disruption"—their penises are shrinking.]


Photo used under Creative Commons license.