Blue Marble

Thoreau's Wildflowers Wilt In Warming Climate

| Mon Oct. 27, 2008 11:38 PM EDT

800px-Walden_Pond_1.jpg

The plants and flowers that Henry David Thoreau lovingly inventoried around Walden Pond 156 years ago are disappearing due to climate change. Researchers from Harvard and Boston Universities have tracked how warming temperatures have shifted the flowering times of 473 plant species in the woods at Walden Pond and elsewhere in Concord. Orchids, dogwoods, lilies, and many sunflower relatives are declining more swiftly than other species.

Climate-induced loss of plant diversity in Concord is alarming—especially since 60% of the area has been protected or underdeveloped since Thoreau's time. But rapid temperature changes have led to changes in the timing of seasonal activities. Since Thoreau's time, species now flower an average of seven days earlier—bad news for those dependent on pollinators, like bees, who have not responded in kind, or who are suffering population declines as well. The species in decline include anemones, buttercups, asters, campanulas, bluets, bladderworts, dogwoods, lilies, mints, orchids, roses, saxifrages, and violets.

Sounds like a poem, doesn't it? A poem falling silent. . . The mean temperature in the Concord area has risen 2.4 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years and is expected to climb between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees Celsius during the next 100 years. The paper is appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

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

Advertise on MotherJones.com

eBay to Ban Sale of Ivory After Damning Report

| Fri Oct. 24, 2008 6:30 PM EDT

elephant.jpgeBay announced this week that it would ban all sales of elephant ivory on its site after the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reported (.pdf) that eBay auctions account for nearly two-thirds of the global trade in endangered species.

The animal-rights group tracked 7,000 online listings in 11 countries, cross-referencing the names of animals on endangered species lists with product keywords like trophy, oil, claw, and rug. The amount of trade in the US, they said, was ten times higher than the next-highest countries, China and the UK. Nearly 75 percent of trades were in elephant ivory; another 20 percent were exotic birds. Primates, cats, and other animals made up the difference.

Part of what's so insidious about online trading is how difficult it is to police. The sheer volume of auctions on big sites like eBay, where close to $2,000 worth of goods changes hands every second, makes it hard to verify every seller's claims. So, for example, a seller who claims his ivory earrings are "pre-ban"—made from ivory obtained before the US banned such imports in 1989—covers his back legally, but may not have documentation to back up his claims.

China Emissions Forecast To Double

| Thu Oct. 23, 2008 4:53 PM EDT
800px-135494920_1611fcc6c8_o_d.jpg China's greenhouse gas pollution could double or more in two decades. This according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in a report breaking with official reticence on the subject, reports Reuters. Beijing hasn't released recent official data on emissions from coal, oil and gas. But researchers abroad estimate China's CO2 emissions now surpass the US, the biggest emitter in recent decades.

By 2020 China's could emit 2.9 billion tons of pure carbon annually. By 2030, up to 4.0 billion tons yearly. The Chinese Academy of Sciences estimates China's current CO2 emissions by citing data from the US Department of Energy of 1.4 billion tons in 2004. The new report warns of drastic risks from the forecast growth, yet also warns that economic development must not be hamstrung. Sound familiar?

For more: an interesting study from MIT debunking the widespread notion that outmoded energy technology or the utter absence of government regulation is to blame for China's air pollution problems. It's more complicated than that (think: energy infrastructure and types of coal). However—"To a significant degree, our planet's energy and environmental future is now being written in China," says the study's authors.

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

Study: Nature Walks Help ADHD

| Wed Oct. 22, 2008 2:30 PM EDT

In the past few years, doctors have reported kids with ADHD being overmedicated. So I thought it was interesting that a recent study by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that taking a 20-minute walk in a natural setting worked better than medicine in helping ADHD kids focus.

In the study, researchers took ADHD-diagnosed children on 20-minute walks in urban and natural settings. They found that those who took the natural-themed walks showed increased concentration. The concentration was as good as, or higher than, levels seen in the children when on medication for ADHD. While many studies have linked time in the outdoors with increased well-being, this is one of the first studies to link natural settings to better concentration. It also showed that time outside could help reduce all ADHD symptoms, not just concentration. "Children who have regular exposure to green spaces have milder symptoms overall," said Fraces Kuo, who co-authored the study. "So that's hinting that there may be a persistent effect." Translation: take your overactive kids outside. It's good for them.

MoJo Audio: Sophie Uliano Is Gorgeously Green

| Tue Oct. 21, 2008 9:25 PM EDT

If you've sheepishly avoided going green for fear of having to give up nail polish and other ecosins, Sophie Uliano wrote Gorgeously Green with you in mind. Her eight-step program doesn't ask readers to sacrifice lattes or pedicures to save the environment. Instead, the Julia Roberts pal offers practical grocery store tips like how to shop for veggies (look at the produce sticker: numbers beginning with an eight mean it's genetically modified; numbers beginning with a nine mean it's organic) and recipes for homemade, all-purpose vinegar cleaner.

Read more of her tips—or listen to her interview with MoJohere.
—Brittney Andres

Dunkin' Donuts Goes Green...Sort Of

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 6:59 PM EDT

DONUT.jpgOn Friday, Dunkin' Donuts opened a LEED-certified store in St. Petersburg, FL which will donate leftover food, use worm composting, green cleaning products, and paper cups, and has insulated walls to cut 40 percent of air conditioning needs. But when every other Dunkin' Donuts still uses Styrofoam cups, can we really expect significant changes among fast-food behemoths?

Chipotle, which used to be owned in part by McDonald's, opened its first restaurant with a wind turbine in Gurnee, IL earlier this month. The storefront gets 10 percent of its electricity from an on-site wind turbine, has an underground cistern to collect rainwater for the landscaping, and is built with recycled drywall and barn material, among other things. Another similar-though-lacking-a-wind-turbine location opened last week in Long Island.

Yet Chipotle already has two other green storefronts in Austin, TX, plus four more in the works. Its "Food With Integrity" mission entails that all of its chicken and pork, plus more than 60 percent of its beef, is "naturally raised" without antibiotics or hormones, on vegetarian feed, and with space to roam. They started doing this with their pork in 2001.

Will other fast-food joints follow suit? Here's what McDonald's, Taco Bell, Subway, and Hardee's are doing.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Goodbye, TV Dinners: New Study Says Technology Improves Family Interactions

| Mon Oct. 20, 2008 4:24 PM EDT

laptops.jpgThe image of four family members sitting silently around their living room and tapping on their keyboards does not exactly evoke a Norman Rockwell evening. Conventional wisdom has it that everyone in the family is absorbed in his or her own online life—and that the real people in the room are probably not part of it.

But a new report suggests that the situation may be more complex than we think. The internet, after all, is an interactive medium, and using it is not the passive experience of watching television.

The study, conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that roughly 95% of married-with-children households—the traditional nuclear families—own at least one cell phone and at least one computer with internet access. That's compared to around 80% for the country overall. And nearly half the people surveyed said that all the technology actually encourages communication—the "hey, look at this!" phenomenon that makes YouTube so successful.

New Plan To Protect Sea Turtle Highways

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 9:18 PM EDT

TortueLuth_Leatherback.jpg The IUCN meeting in Barcelona has adopted a resolution urging nations to create marine protected areas along the Pacific leatherback sea turtle's migratory routes. The plan is designed to shield critically endangered leatherbacks from devastating longline and gillnet fisheries. Hopefully it will also save the hammerhead sharks ravaged in those fisheries too.

The resolution is sponsored by the a Costa Rican nonprofit PRETOMA and centers around a "Cocos Ridge Marine Wildlife Corridor." Recent satellite tracking data has shown that Pacific leatherbacks swim from nesting beaches in Costa Rica to the Galápagos via the Cocos Islands. A protected corridor along this route during the migratory seasons could save many of the last leatherbacks.

Last Stronghold For Chimps Fails

| Fri Oct. 17, 2008 1:07 AM EDT

490px-MattiParkkonen_chimpanze1.jpg Some days you just gotta cry.

A population survey of West African chimpanzees living in Côte d'Ivoire found 90 percent fewer animals than 18 years ago. The remaining few are highly fragmented, with only one viable population living in Taï National Park.

What's happened? Well, the human population in Cote d'Ivoire has increased nearly 50 percent in 18 years. Add to that a civil war since 2002, and the end of surveillance in the protected areas, and, voilà, the sad end of our closest relatives.

Côte d'Ivoire was one of the final strongholds for West African chimps. Geneviève Campbell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology suggests their status should immediately be raised to critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. The study appears in Current Biology.

This is one of those days.

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

The Termites That Sank New Orleans

| Tue Oct. 14, 2008 6:37 PM EDT

399px-Coptotermes_formosanus_shiraki_USGov_k8204-7.jpg A new study in American Entomologist suggests termites damaged New Orleans dikes enough for Hurricane Katrina to knock them over. The researchers first noticed termite trouble five years before Katrina struck. They found Formosan subterranean termites in floodwall seams made of bagasse—the residue from processed sugarcane. Formosan termites love the stuff.

After the 2005 breaches, the researchers inspected 100 seams, including three areas with major breaks. Seventy percent of the seams in the London Avenue Canal had been attacked by insects, and two major dike breaks occurred there during Katrina. Twenty-seven percent of seams in the ravaged 17th Street Canal also showed termite damage.

The Formosan subterranean termite is an invasive species native to China, where it damages levees. Besides eating at bagasse seams, the termites may have contributed to the destruction of the levees of New Orleans by digging networks of tunnels that funneled water and undermined the levee system. Ooops. . . The authors suggest that New Orleans' 350 miles of levees and floodwalls be surveyed for termite damage.

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