Blue Marble

Green Porno: Are You Ready?

| Thu May 8, 2008 1:06 AM EDT

green-porno.jpgThere's green lotion, green clothing lines, and even green sex toys. So why not the natural next step, green porn? The Sundance Channel is now hosting "green porno videos" on its website. But lest you think green porn means watching Laurie David and Al Gore getting hot and heavy whilst discussing the Kyoto Protocol, it's not. And thank goodness for that. Instead, it's Isabella Rossellini dressed up as snails, bees, and praying mantids to show how animals mate. Sometimes ridiculous, sometimes horrifyingly graphic, you just have to see it for yourself. Visit the official "green porno" site here.

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MoJo Nukes Convo: Stewart Brand's Take

| Wed May 7, 2008 10:13 PM EDT

brand-headshot.pngStewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, is a futurist with Global Business Network and works half-time as president of The Long Now Foundation. Brand looks toward the future on nuclear power, musing that we'll likely increase nuclear power to become more like France (which gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear) or phase it out in favor of better methods. Of course, Stewart writes, the whole nukes debate "could seem irrelevant in the face of drastic climate events forcing huge-scale geo-engineering."

Below are a few of Brand's choice comments from the MoJo online nukes conversation:
"The problem is not that nuclear is expensive. The problem is that coal is cheap."

Myanmar's Epic Floods Seen From Space

| Wed May 7, 2008 3:17 PM EDT

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Go ahead, tell the people of Myanmar that global-warming-related superstorms aren't anything to worry about. That 100,000-plus aren't dead and 95% of the buildings in the path of Cyclone Nargis aren't demolished. These images from the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite, taken a year apart, show the extent of the flooding. Envisat's radar cut through the clouds to reveal critical Near Real Time situation on the ground. The image on the left (above) is from a year ago. The image on the right shows flooding (black areas) two days after the cyclone's passage. Accuweather reported Nargis made landfall with sustained winds of 130 mph and gusts of 150-160 mph—ramping up with frightening speed from a Category 1 to a strong Category 3 or minimal Category 4 hurricane at landfall. Not as big as they get, but combined with an 11.5-foot storm surge, about as deadly as they get.

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NASA's color images from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on its Terra satellite use a combination of visible and infrared light to highlight floodwaters. Water appears blue or nearly black, vegetation bright green, bare ground tan, and clouds white or light blue. The image on the left is from approximately a month before the cyclone. In the May 5 image on the right, the entire coastal plain is flooded. Fallow agricultural areas have been especially hard hit. Yangôn, with a population of over 4 million, is surrounded by floods. Several large cities, with populations between 100,000–500,000, are also inundated. Muddy runoff colors the Gulf of Martaban turquoise.

MoJo Nukes Convo: Judith Lewis Highlights

| Tue May 6, 2008 1:23 PM EDT

judith-headshot.jpgJudith Lewis, author of our May/June 2008 feature "The Nuclear Option," has been writing about nuclear energy-related issues for some time. While she has some safety concerns about nuclear power, she says that if we are as concerned about carbon in the environment as we say we are, then we cannot afford to ignore the relatively carbon-free electricity nuclear plants provide. At the same time, she says, "while we consider it, we also have to understand that the nuclear industry also has a lot of problems associated with it."

The main problems, as Lewis sees them, are the radioactive waste produced by nuclear power, the industry's faulty monitoring agency, and a geologic waste repository built on top of an active fault line. In the end, Lewis says, "only public participation can force industry and government regulators to do their jobs right."

Here are some of Judith Lewis's key comments from last week's Blue Marble expert-moderated reader conversation:
"On greenhouse gas emissions alone, nuclear energy does very well. While coal-fired electricity generation emits around 900 kg of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, nuclear leaves us with only 16 to 55 kg CO2 per MWh (that's including mining, milling, enrichment, plant construction, waste disposal—the whole deal)...whether the pros outweight the cons really does depend on how urgently worried we are about catastrophic climate change."

"The notion that coal releases more radioactivity than nuclear is a popular one in with the nuclear industry right now, but I'm not sure it's their soundest argument. Many coal plants were built before we knew enough to put buffer zones between them and residential communities, so people live closer to whatever radioactivity they release. We do know that 24,000 people die a year because of pollution from coal-fired power plants...and then there's the carbon."

"I notice that this discussion swings wildly between extremes (Nuclear has no environmental impact! Solar is the only way! Nuclear will save the world!), but I suspect the real answers lie somewhere in the middle."

Our readers also had some words for Judith. Below are a few highlights:
"Judith: Thank you for your response that included the numerical data from nuclear fuel cycle studies. It is nice to see someone who thinks and recognizes that facts and figures matter more than vague generalizations."—Rod Adams

"Coal plants cause ~24,000 deaths annually, in addition to being the largest single source of global warming. Nuclear plants have no measurable impact (~0 deaths) and have a negligible global warming impact. Even the worst possible accident/meltdown event that could occur at a Western reactor would cause far fewer deaths than US coal plants do ANNUALLY."—Jim Hopf

"There is a reason there seems to be little middle ground in these nukes versus renewables debates (of which this one seems fairly typical) which is that there really isn't any. I don't see a "mix" of nukes and renewables as being desirable because of the horrifying killing power of atomic energy, both weapons and reactors. And since I agree with Al Gore that nuke power is not a solution to global warming, I am opposed to any and all of them."—Harvey Wasserman

Read the full conversation here.

Bush's EPA Pollutes Science

| Mon May 5, 2008 6:11 PM EDT

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The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Check out the interactive version.

Science Soviet style! More than half the scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency report political interference in their work over the last five years. This, according to a new investigation by the Union of Concerned Scientists, follows on the heels of prior UCS investigations (Food and Drug Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as climate scientists at seven federal agencies). The earlier examinations also found significant manipulation of federal science by the Bush administration.

"Our investigation found an agency in crisis," said UCS's Francesca Grifo. "Nearly 900 EPA scientists reported political interference in their scientific work. That's 900 too many. Distorting science to accommodate a narrow political agenda threatens our environment, our health, and our democracy itself."

Among the UCS report's top findings on the EPA: • 889 scientists (60 percent) said they had personally experienced at least one instance of political interference in their work over the last five years. • 394 scientists (31 percent) personally experienced frequent or occasional "statements by EPA officials that misrepresent scientists' findings." • 285 scientists (22 percent) said they frequently or occasionally personally experienced "selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome." • 224 scientists (17 percent) said they had been "directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA scientific document." • Of the 969 agency veterans with more than 10 years of EPA experience, 409 scientists (43 percent) said interference has occurred more often in the past five years than in the previous five-year period. Only 43 scientists (4 percent) said interference occurred less often. • Hundreds of scientists reported being unable to openly express concerns about the EPA's work without fear of retaliation; 492 (31 percent) felt they could not speak candidly within the agency and 382 (24 percent) felt they could not do so outside the agency.

Global Warming Killing Caribou

| Thu May 1, 2008 9:31 PM EDT

800px-Caribou.jpg Fewer caribou calves are being born and more are dying as a result of a warming climate. The problem is timing. Peak food availability in West Greenland no longer corresponds to the peak time of caribou births, according to a study by Eric Post of Penn State. Throughout the Arctic winter, when there is no plant growth, caribou dig through snow to find lichens. In spring they switch to grazing on newly growing willows, sedges, and flowering herbs. As the birth season approaches, cued by increasing day length, they migrate to areas where newly-emergent food is plentiful.

But the routine that's worked for millennia is faltering because caribou are unable to keep up with accelerated plant cycles tied to global warming. Now when pregnant females arrive at the calving grounds they find plants that have already reached peak productivity and are declining in nutritional value. The plants initiate growth in response to temperature, not day length (unlike the caribou), and are peaking dramatically earlier in response to rising temperatures. "Spring temperatures at our study site in West Greenland have risen by more than 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees F) over the past few years," said Post. "As a result, the timing of plant growth has advanced, but calving has not."

The phenomenon is called trophic mismatch and is a predicted consequence of climate change. Trophic mismatches have been documented in birds. The most famous example being the study on Dutch birds and their caterpillar prey highlighted in Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth. "Our work is the first documentation of a developing trophic mismatch in a terrestrial mammal as a result of climatic warming," said Post. "And the rapidity with which this mismatch has developed is eye-opening, to say the least."

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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Creationists Flunk Masters Degree

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 10:47 PM EDT

454px-Tizian_-_The_fall_of_man.jpg Hallelujah. Rationality returns. A religious group has been rejected in its bid to offer a Master of Science degree. The Institute for Creation Research, which backs a literal interpretation of the Bible, including the creation of Earth in six days, seeks a certificate to grant online degrees in science education in Texas, reports Nature. But the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted unanimously last week not to pass the request, following the recommendation of Raymund Paredes, the state's commissioner of higher education. "Religious belief is not science," Paredes said… Amen.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Bring Back the Bison

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 10:09 PM EDT

820471096_a762ae179c.jpg Want to see bison back in the North American landscape? It's not only possible but could be achieved in only 100 years, says a coalition of scientists, conservationists, ranchers, and Native Americans/First Nations peoples. Bison are a keystone species in this continent's natural history and could repopulate large areas from Alaska to Mexico, including grasslands, prairies, mountains, taiga and deserts. The continent-wide assessment, published in Conservation Biology, is based on a "conservation scorecard" evaluating the availability of existing habitat. The goal is ecological restoration of bison, defined as large herds of plains and wood bison moving freely across extensive landscapes within historic ranges, interacting with other native species (elk, bear, wolves, prairie dogs, birds), as well as inspiring, sustaining and connecting human cultures. It will likely take a century, says the Wildlife Conservation Society, and will only be realized through collaboration with a broad range of public, private and indigenous partners.

Bison once numbered in the tens of millions but were wiped out by commercial hunting and habitat loss. By 1889 fewer than 1,100 animals survived. Of the estimated 500,000 bison alive today, 20,000 are wild, the rest live on private ranches— awaiting liberation back into the wild.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Cheney: 300 Endangered Whales Is 300 Too Many

| Wed Apr. 30, 2008 3:54 PM EDT

right_whale.jpgHot on the heels of a GAO report detailing the Bush administration's assault on the EPA, this little tidbit pops up.

Cheney's office has been delaying attempts to issue speed limits near the habitat of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale for FOUR YEARS. There are only about 300 right whales alive today, and ship collisions are their leading cause of death. As Henry Waxman wrote in his letter to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, "the death of even a single whale, particularly a breeding female, may contribute to the extinction of the species."

Pro-Nuke? Anti-Nuke? Talk About It With the Experts

| Fri Apr. 25, 2008 9:46 PM EDT

We asked a futurist, a MoJo writer, a No Nukes activist, and a weapons security expert:

What is nuclear energy's place in the future mix of energy sources?

They'll be checking in on this Blue Marble entry starting Monday to discuss their controversial answers with readers—and each other. Want to talk to Stewart Brand, Judith Lewis, Jonas Siegel, or Harvey Wasserman about their take on nukes? Now's your chance. Leave a comment below for one of the four guest Blue Marble moderators and they'll respond.

SBOttawaNukes.pngStewart Brand is a futurist with the Global Business Network and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog: I expect that nuclear will grow slowly but steadily in the mix for a couple decades, because it's a mature technology that provides baseload electricity with minimum carbon emissions. Where it goes after that depends on the rapidity of climate change; the rapidity of other high capacity energy technologies such as space solar, massive electrical storage, high-tech microbe farming, etc; and the usefulness of further nuclear technology, such as decentralized nuclear "batteries," cheaper reprocessing, fusion, etc. By mid-century or later, depending on how all those work out, nuclear could be heading toward a majority role, like in France now; or it could be headed toward a phase-out by the end of the century, replaced by better things; or the question could seem irrelevant in the face of drastic climate events forcing huge-scale geo-engineering and/or enormous human dieback in the face of collapsing carrying capacity.

Judith_Lewis_3-08_2_BW.jpgJudith Lewis wrote "The Nuclear Option" for the May/June 2008 issue of Mother Jones: Nuclear energy is far from environmentally benign, but it does have one significant advantage over coal-fired electricity generation: It does not emit carbon dioxide. Even taking into account nuclear's entire lifecycle, from mining to refining to enrichment of uranium, from plant construction to startup to waste, it adds far less carbon to the atmosphere than coal or natural gas do, and sometimes even beats solar generation. If we accept that catastrophic climate change caused by a buildup of carbon in the atmosphere is our most urgent environmental problem, we should at least consider replacing the coal-fired power that provides half the nation's electricity with nuclear energy (which currently provides only a fifth).

But while we consider it, we also have to understand that the nuclear industry also has a lot of problems associated with it, including a compromised federal monitoring agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And then there's the waste: It's becoming ever more clear as the Department of Energy moves ahead with its plans to build a nuclear waste repository in a mountain of porous volcanic rock on earthquake fault that the DOE and Congress made a very bad decision when it chose Yucca Mountain. There needs to be much more public involvement in the process of choosing such sites.

The same goes for just about every part of the nuclear industry's operations. The industry does seemed poised for a renaissance, and it might deserve one. But if the renaissance happens, people in the U.S. need to get as much information as they can handle about nuclear power; only public participation can force industry and government regulators to do their jobs right.

Jonas%20Siegel%20head%20shot.jpgJonas Siegel is editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a media organization that focuses on the intersection of science and security, and has covered nuclear weapons and energy issues for the past five years: Since its inception, nuclear energy has earned legions of supporters. The enormous amount of energy contained in a small amount of nuclear fuel—a pound of uranium 235 has more than 2 million times the energy content of a pound of coal—alone inspired visions of grandeur. Despite its potential, nuclear energy has not overcome a range of risks—safety, nuclear proliferation, and waste—to sustain its growth in the marketplace. If nuclear is going to be a part of the world's future mix of energy sources, it needs to address these risks head on—and compete economically with other sources.


HEADSHOT-glades1.jpgHarvey Wasserman is a No Nukes activist, the author of Solartopia! Our Green Powered Earth, and edits Nukefree.org: Nuclear power has no place in our future mix of energy sources except as a costly and dangerous curse from previous bad decision-making. The Peaceful Atom is humankind's most expensive technological failure. To "revisit" this corporate boondoggle is to ignore 50 years of staggering losses. Economically, there is no reason to believe a "new generation" of reactors will be any less disastrous than the last one. The radioactive fuel chain is a major cause of global warming. The ecological, public health and safety aspects of unsolved problems with terrorism, human design and operator error, "routine" radioactive emissions, impossible spent fuel transport and management, weapons proliferation and much more make atomic energy the "Titanic" of energy generation. A dollar invested in efficiency saves seven times the energy a dollar invested in nukes can produce. Wind and solar are already proven and cheaper. Let's do that instead of re-running the same radioactive horror show.