Blue Marble

Study: Republicans Don't Care About Warming Planet

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 6:56 PM EST

Maybe this just confirms what you already knew, but a new study by Pew shows that Republicans don't care about global warming. Only 12% of Republicans in the January 2008 poll thought dealing with global warming should be a "top priority," as oppposed to 47% of Democrats and 38% of Independents. In fact, global warming was the issue Republicans cared least about.

For a Mother Jones summary of where the candidates, Republican and Democrat, stand on issues like global warming, check out our "Primary Colors" package here.

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Heat Increases Baby Bottle Chemicals

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 5:34 PM EST

baby-bottle.jpgA University of Cincinnati study has found that the hotter the liquid, the faster polycarbonate plastic bottles release toxins. Currently, reusable water bottles, baby bottles, and many other containers are made out of polycarbonate plastic. (For an easy guide to types of plastics and their dangers, click here.)

Researchers found that plastic bottles holding boiling water released bisphenol A, an environmental pollutant, up to 55 times faster than those containing room-temperature water. Baby formula is commonly boiled in preparation, so it's likely that very hot formula could leach high amounts of bisphenol A from baby bottles. However, the researchers do not know how much bisphenol A humans would have to consume before it became harmful.

Bipsphenol A is known to cause cancer and hormone irregularities and is "just one of many estrogen-like chemicals people are exposed to," said lead researcher Scott Belcher, "and scientists are still trying to figure out how these endocrine disruptors—including natural phyto-estrogens from soy which are often considered healthy—collectively impact human health."

While scientists figure out the effects, you might consider switching your plastic travel mug to stainless steel.

Alaska Delays Decision for Tribe to Hunt Young Wolves, Bears

| Tue Jan. 29, 2008 7:02 PM EST

wolves.jpgAs a vegetarian, pet-owning urbanite who's never been hunting, I find it hard to stomach the idea of grown men with rifles killing fuzzy baby animals. So it was with mixed feelings I read today that Alaskan tribes will have to wait until November to see if they can legally cull wolf pups and bear cubs in their dens along the Kuskokwim River. The now-banned practice, traditional among Orutsaramuit people in southwestern Alaska, is intended to reduce predators killing too many of the moose that tribes rely on for subsistence hunting. While conservationists predictably see the practice as cruel, the real bone of contention lies between the state of Alaska and tribal officials.

Exercise - It Does a Cell Good

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 6:03 PM EST

mitosis3.jpgHere's yet another reason to keep your New Year's resolution to exercise this year: people who work out have younger-looking cells than those who don't.

In the study, conducted at King's College in London, 1,200 pairs of British twins were tested. Just one hundred minutes of activity a week made cells of active twins look five to six years younger than their couch potato counterparts. With three hours of exercise, the cells looked nine years younger.

Young-looking cells may not seem much to crow about, but scientists have long theorized the younger your cells appear under a microscope, the younger you look on the outside. As cells age, they divide. Over time, a cell loses its ability to divide and dies, causing aging symptoms like wrinkles, reduced organ function, and poor eyesight. So while exercise helps you feel better and keeps you healthy, it may also help you look younger.

Excuse me while my cells and I slip on our running shoes.

Us to Earth: We Will Rock You

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 5:00 PM EST

footprint150.jpgGeologically speaking, nature usually calls the shots. Historically it's been the case that major natural events—shifting tectonic plates, volcanoes, even asteroids—have shaped the trajectory of life on this planet. Not anymore. A team of researchers from the University of Leicester and the Geological Society of London is the latest group to make the case that the Holocene era is coming to an end, and the Anthropocene (meaning, basically, man-made) is on its way in. Our impact on the planet is so profound, say the scientists, we've changed our home for good. The evidence:

* Vastly altered sediment erosion and deposition patterns.
* Major disturbances to the carbon cycle and global temperature.
* Wholesale changes in biology, from altered flowering times to new migration patterns.
* Acidification of the ocean, which threatens tiny marine life that forms the bottom of the food chain.

This isn't a new idea. The term "Anthropocene Era" was coined by Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 Chemistry Nobel Prize. Crutzen identified three phases of the era—and made some guesses as to what we can expect next.

$1 Ethanol Isn't Innovation, It's a Commitment to Business as Usual

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 5:10 PM EST

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Americans do not reduce. We may reuse, and we may recycle, but our economic system is predicated on steady consumption. So it makes sense that while trying to invent our way out of the consequences of global warming, we would seize upon those ideas that encouraged us to, well, consume. In other words, business as usual.

Today's quick fix is brought to us by Coskata. This Illinois-based energy startup, thanks to a hefty investment from GM, has already announced its triumph in the race for a new global energy source. The winning product? Bargain ethanol. Coskata's innovative technology, which lets anaerobic "patented microorganisms" eat syngas (a carbon monoxide and hydrogen compound formed by processing biomass such as corn husks), allows the company to produce waste-free ethanol from almost anything you give them: tires, factory waste, switchgrass, you name it.

What's more, says the company, because its process can convert so many different types of material into essentially pure ethanol, the fuel could be locally produced anywhere in the world. Each gallon will generate nearly eight times as much energy as it takes to make it, and the product reduces carbon emissions by 84%. The production cost of this miracle fuel? $1 per gallon.

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Insects Creep Out of Asia - And Into Your Backyard?

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 2:42 PM EST

asian-tiger-mosquito.jpgInvasive species like the Asian tiger mosquito are on the rise in Europe, French researchers recently reported. Nineteen new invasive species made Europe their home every year from 2000 to 2007. (From 1950 to 1975, only about 10 species per year established themselves.)

Antarctica Is Melting, After All

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 12:44 PM EST

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A while back, I blogged about how global warming skeptics were all smug and glowy (and wrong) about how Antarctica's not melting. If the sea ice in the South Pole is actually increasing, the reasoning went, then how could the planet be warming? Huh? Huh? Well, for a number of reasons, that logic is false, but guess what? It may be moot point anyway, since it turns out that the western part of Antarctica is melting—and fast: Ice loss in the region has increased by 75 percent over the past ten years.

A team of researchers led by scientists from UC Irvine discovered that the underlying cause for the melting was accelerated glacier flow, which is, in turn, caused by warming oceans. All that melting means higher sea levels:

They detected a sharp jump in Antarctica's ice loss, from enough ice to raise global sea level by 0.3 millimeters (.01 inches) a year in 1996, to 0.5 millimeters (.02 inches) a year in 2006.

That level of melting puts western Antarctica almost on par with Greenland, a dubious distinction, to say the very least.

Has California's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard Actually Increased Carbon Emissions?

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 1:53 PM EST

Last year California passed a much-heralded law requiring oil companies to cut the carbon intensity of their fuel 10 percent by 2020. The state is allowing ethanol to be used as one low-carbon substitute, and recently raised the cap on ethanol in gasoline from six to ten percent. You've probably read about the ways the ethanol craze contributes to higher food prices around the world, but what nobody has calculated, until now, is how this affects ethanol's true carbon footprint. In an analysis released January 17th, two UC Berkeley researchers found that ethanol actually produces more carbon emissions than gasoline. As a result, the carbon intensity of California fuel has ironically risen, between 3 and 33 percent.
 
The researchers, professors Michael O'Hare and and Alexander Farrell, take issue with the model state regulators used to calculate ethanol's carbon output, arguing that it did not factor in the indirect effects on the global food supply. Among other things, higher corn prices cause farmers half-way around the world to convert more forests into farmland, and those trees are then burned or decay, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. The professors pointed this out in a letter sent earlier this month to the California Air Board, which is discussing changing its carbon model in light of the findings.

The Nobel Laureates Have Spoken: We Need a Presidential Science Debate

| Thu Jan. 24, 2008 1:05 PM EST

Eleven Nobel laureates, nine congressmen, multiple university presidents, and the heads of numerous science organizations have signed a petition calling for a presidential science debate this year. "Science and engineering have driven half the nation's growth in GDP over the last half-century, and lie at the center of many of the major policy and economic challenges the next president will face," says Alan Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "We feel that a presidential debate on science would be helpful to America's national political dialogue."

It's not surprising that the candidates haven't jumped at the idea. Global-warming- and evolution-denying Republicans would look hilarious in such a forum, but even Democrats might worry about making a gaffe while weighing in on debates that are normally left to the experts. Still, it seems like an idea Democrats should take seriously. By signaling to voters that science is important, it would drum up support for the party's ideas, and, more fundamentally, lay out how post-Middle-Ages worldview translates into superior leadership.