Blue Marble

No Justice In Climate Change

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 4:00 PM EST

Global-warming-maps_hi-res-sm.jpgWhen it comes to global warming, discussions tend to get real abstract, real fast. How will climbing temperatures actually affect you? Well, it depends where you live—and how rich you are (or aren't). According to a forthcoming study, climate change will disproportionately impact the world's poor.

Jonathan Patz, a professor of public health and the environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one of the study's lead authors (and also an IPCC author). Patz says it's time for those of us in the gas-guzzling-est of countries to come to terms with the painful (and inconvenient) truth: Our lifestyle is bad news for the developing world—and we've got an ethical problem on our hands. In a UW-Madison press release, Patz says:

If energy demand drives up the price of corn, for example, this can inflict undue burden on poor or malnourished populations or shift agricultural areas away from other traditional food crops.

And then there are the health issues:

There are many serious diseases that are sensitive to climate, and as earth's climate changes, so too can the range and transmission of such diseases....Many of these climate-sensitive diseases, such as malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea, affect children.

This isn't the first time someone has pointed out the unfairness of climate change. Among others, Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier has noted that her people's carbon output is a tiny fraction of the U.S.'s, yet global warming is already threatening the Inuit way of life. The IPCC has also predicted that poor people—particularly those in Africa—will be hardest hit by climate change.

To read the study, you'll have to wait till next week, when it will be published in the journal EcoHealth, but you can already check out these cool maps—one shows countries' relative carbon outputs, while the other shows their vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

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Hold The Antibiotics: Infections Critical For Healthy Life

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 6:33 PM EST

bacteria.jpg Nix the antibacterial soaps. Forget the hand sanitizers, antibiotic gels, sprays, and baby blankets. Research shows that antibacterial products actually make children and adults more likely to develop asthma and allergies and maybe even mental illnesses. The study from Colorado State University suggests that our love affair with antibacterial products is altering how immune, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems develop and function. Infection may play a significant role in many chronic aliments, including schizophrenia, ulcers, and obsessive compulsive disorder. What many people may not realize is that most infections ensure our health instead of compromise it. Humans have 10 times more bacterial cells in their bodies than human cells. Without bacteria, there would not be humans. Gerald Callahan, who studies bacteria and infectious diseases at Colorado State University, points out that there are more bacteria by far in this world than any other living thing. "We are a minority on this planet, and we must learn how to work with the majority," he says.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Shipping Fuels Heart and Lung Disease

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 6:10 PM EST

tinley_ship-lrg.jpg That's right. All those goods you're paying to get for cheap from China. Those winter blueberries from Argentina. South African wines. Well, they come with a hidden cost. Pollution from marine shipping causes approximately 60,000 premature cardiopulmonary and lung cancer deaths around the world each year, according to a study from the Rochester Institute of Technology. The researchers correlated the global distribution of particulate matter—black carbon, sulfur, nitrogen and organic particles—released from ships' smoke stacks with heart disease and lung cancer mortalities in adults. Worse still, the predicted growth in shipping could increase annual mortalities by 40 percent by 2012.

"Our work will help people decide at what scale action should be taken," says James Corbett of the University of Delaware. "We want our analysis to enable richer dialogue among stakeholders about how to improve the environment and economic performance of our freight systems."

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Wolf Controversy Resurfaces

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 5:41 PM EST

wolvesnew.jpgA few years ago, a 22-year-old student was killed in the wilds of Saskatchewan, and evidence suggested that wild wolves were the culprits. The incident was widely reported in the media, since there had never before been a documented case of death-by-wolves in North America. Last week, the coroner's inquest finally finished, and the wolves were found guilty. But some wildlife experts still have their doubts. Goat, the blog over at High Country News, has a good summary of the controversy.

The debate about the Saskatchewan incident reminds us that we've never had an easy relationship with wolves in North America. They loom large in our mythology—both Native American and European—and they've come to represent a truly wild part of our landscape. We tend to romanticize this wildness, casting wolves either as mystical beasts or angry killers. (And some of us want them in our bedrooms—WTF?)

Amidst all the T-shirts, sheet sets, and other wolf propaganda, we tend to forget that wolves are, um, actual wild animals, too. During the westward expansion, we hunted so many gray wolves that the species was nearly extinct. But thanks to protection under the Endangered Species Act and a reintroduction program, these days, wolves have made a comeback. In 2004, gray wolf populations in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of other states around the Great Lakes were officially removed from the federal list of endangered species. Sizable wolf populations in the Rocky Mountains have some people cheering and others up in arms, literally. Ranchers in the Rockies have trouble protecting their sheep, and a few hunters have reported that their dogs have been attacked, too. Right now, wolves in the Rockies are listed as "non-essential experimental populations," and the EPA is currently considering revising the wolf rules for these areas.

High Country News points out that the decision in the Saskatchewan case "bolsters those who continue to oppose wolves in the West." It'll be interesting to see how everyone reacts—the mystical wolf T-shirt crowd and the angry wolf T-shirt crowd alike.


How To Stop Fishermen From Killing Captured Dolphins

| Wed Nov. 7, 2007 5:40 PM EST

slaughter.gif BlueVoice reports from the frontlines of the annual dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan. After 8 days of not hunting, the fishermen have brought into Hatajiri Bay 7 dolphins which appear to be Risso's Dolphins, reports Hardy Jones:

Traditionally there are 2 sets of nets across the bay and this one seems to have been thrown together very quickly. But they have got the 7 Risso's dolphins here, which if previous experience is a guide, they will kill tomorrow morning. Now is the time for you to fax or telephone Japanese embassies and consulates near you. Faxes are great because they can't forward you to voice mail. Emailing is not so effective because they can set up spam blockers. But please make your voice heard. Let them know that these atrocities must not proceed. Contact your Japanese embassy or consulate and protest vigorously.

Past protests have worked.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Expect Less PVC at Target

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 5:09 PM EST

target.jpgRetail giant Target has announced plans to reduce its use of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), particularly in goods geared toward children, like bibs and lunchboxes. PVC isn't good for anyone (the EPA says it can cause a whole mess of health problems, including cancer), but it's especially bad for kids, since it contains lead.

The company's goal is to offer PVC alternatives to most toys by fall of 2008. Wal-Mart has promised to completely eliminate PVC products by 2009.

This trend of mega-retailer self awareness is good news, especially considering the fact that Consumer Product Safety Commission officials are off gallivanting around the world on the toy industry's dime.

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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Powers British Lighthouse

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 4:59 PM EST

Southgarelighhousehistoryone.jpg New Scientist reports how the South Gare lighthouse at Redcar on England's North Sea coast is now powered by a hydrogen fuel cell:

The Soviet Union once powered lighthouses on its Arctic coast using radioactive batteries, leaving its successors the problem of disposing of the nuclear waste. Now a cleaner technology is being harnessed to power lighthouses in remote places: fuel cells. A consortium led by CPI of Wilton, Teesside, UK, is using a fuel cell to power the South Gare lighthouse at Redcar on England's North Sea coast. It was previously prone to power outages when the mains power cable was damaged by the wind and heavy seas. CPI has proofed its fuel cell against the ravages of salty air and seawater, and has developed a novel water-based cooling system for it, too.

Reports are the fuel cell is working well, and the lighthouse is visible from 25 miles out at sea, as it always was.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Dwindling Parrotfish Key To Coral Reef Survival

| Tue Nov. 6, 2007 4:34 PM EST

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A study finds the future of the Caribbean's failing coral reefs tied to fish with an equally uncertain future. The University of California Davis reports on a study of reefs overrun by marine algae (seaweeds) after a plague in 1983 killed virtually all the plant's natural grazers, sea urchins. (Read more about this in MoJo's The Fate of The Ocean.) With urchins gone, the corals' only line of defense against algae is parrotfish—also grazers. But parrotfish are disappearing from overfishing, allowing algae to outcompete corals on the reef.

The researchers created a mathematical model of the reef, then looked at what the future holds, investigating a process known as hysteresis: whereby an effect lags behind its cause. "The idea of hysteresis is that you go over a cliff, then find the cliff has moved," said UC Davis theoretical ecologist Alan Hastings. "Going back is harder than getting there. In this case, the loss of sea urchins sent the reef off the road, and now the only guardrail is the parrotfish. Our model showed that if we overfish parrotfish, and the reef goes off the cliff, we would need four times the fish we have now to bring the reef back."

The authors suggest that local authorities act now to reduce parrotfish deaths, including outlawing fish traps. They also call on anyone visiting the Caribbean and sees parrotfish on a restaurant menu to voice their concern to the management.

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Well—as the pithy bumpersticker says—at least the war on the environment is going well.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Weird Weather Watch: Tabasco, Soused

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 6:02 PM EST

Many environmentalist and NGO analysts are predicting that Mexico will suffer disproportionately from climate change, amplifying immigration problems in the United States.

It looks like they might be right. The state of Tabasco in southern Mexico is suffering from the worst floods the flood-prone region has ever seen. Water rose in Villahermosa, the state capital, fast enough to drown out one-storey buildings in an hour. More than 300,000 people had to leave their homes.

The most ominous problem is that the contaminated water may stimulate outbreaks of cholera, malaria and dengue fever.

New Species in Aleutian Islands

| Mon Nov. 5, 2007 3:03 PM EST

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Jewett, University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Deep in the frigid waters of the Aleutian islands, scientists have discovered three new species—two kinds of sea anemones that drift along with ocean currents (other anemones tend to stay put in one place) and a ten-foot-long brown kelp that grows near ocean vents. Scientists believe that the new kelp might be part of a new seaweed genus or family. Check out a photo gallery of the newbies (and other Aleutian critters) here.

Stretching out about 1,200 miles between Alaska and the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Aleutian islands are among the most remote land masses in the world. Last year, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to ban the destructive practice of bottom trawling in more than 300,000 square miles off Alaska's coast, which is great news for the Aleutians. But the trawling ban doesn't solve the problem of pollution—researchers have found traces of industrial chemicals in the area, as well as unexploded ordinance leftover from WWII.

For an insider's perspective on conservation in this corner of the world, check out this interview with Erin McKittrick and Bretwood "Hig" Higman, a couple in the midst of a 4,000 mile hiking/rafting/skiing journey from Seattle up into the Aleutians.