Blue Marble

Ozone Shuts Down Immune Response

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 6:42 PM PDT

We already know that exposure to ozone, a major component of urban air pollution, increases cardiovascular and pulmonary hospitalizations, and deaths. Now Duke University Medical Center finds that inhaled pollutants impair the immune system, making mice, at least, more susceptible to subsequent foreign invaders, such as bacteria. This just as the Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the standards for levels of ozone in the air. The current standard is 85 parts per billion. Many medical groups, including the American Thoracic Society, recommend a stricter standard of 60 parts per billion.

(BTW, have I mentioned that we should build a memorial the size of Kansas to all the lab rodents who've unwilling sacrificed themselves so you and I can get fat, do no exercise, make pollution, and still live to 90? I'm thinking a giant white, faux Swiss cheese rat, inscribed with the names all the little lab pets were never given. You and I can write them in with Sharpies.)

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

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Acid Rain Recovery Falls Far Short Of Expectations

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 6:24 PM PDT

Thought we were done with this problem? A new study from Britain finds that the acid rain pollution of the 1970s and 1980s is still largely with us. Action taken over the last 20 years across Europe to clean up acid pollutants (from power generation and industry) in rivers has fallen far short of expectations. Apparently the problem is more stubborn than we'd imagined (read why it's even more stubborn in the U.S). Recent studies in Galloway, the Scottish Highlands and Wales reveal that many streams are still highly acidified. Biological recovery has been particularly poor, with more than two thirds of all streams sampled still acid enough during high flow to cause biological damage, and with metals at toxic concentrations. . . Oops. Further proof that the not-paying-attention thing never really works.—Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Wake Up The Candidates: Americans Are Scared Of Global Warming

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 5:53 PM PDT

Hey, it's working. The long slumber is coming to an end. A Yale University survey found 40 percent of Americans will only vote for a presidential candidate who has a strong sense of urgency on the global warming problem.

"One of the most surprising findings was the growing sense of urgency," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change and the study's principal investigator. "Nearly half of Americans now believe that global warming is either already having dangerous impacts on people around the world or will in the next 10 years—a 20-percentage-point increase since 2004. These results indicate a sea change in public opinion."

The survey's findings reveals that 62% of Americans believe life on earth will continue without major disruptions only if society takes immediate and drastic action to reduce global warming; 68% support a new international treaty requiring the U.S. to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90% by 2050; 85% support forcing automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and SUVs to 35 miles per gallon, even if it meant a new car would cost up to $500 more; 82% support requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from renewable energy sources, even if it cost the average household an extra $100 a year; 50% say they are personally worried—15 percent say a great deal—about global warming.

We heard about Leiserowitz's 2004 survey in MoJo's The Thirteenth Tipping Point. Well, it seems to be tipping, at last. Somebody set the alarm and wake up Washington.—Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

How To Save 375 Million Gallons Of Gas A Year

| Tue Oct. 2, 2007 1:50 PM PDT

Amazingly, American cities did it last year. Did the economy collapse? Did the world end? Nope. The way forward just got a little easier to navigate. So reports the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The work was done by Clean Cities, a network of approximately 90 volunteer coalitions developing public/private partnerships to promote alternative and advanced vehicles, fuel blends, fuel economy, hybrid vehicles, and idle reduction.

According to the report: Seventy-one percent of the 2006 gasoline displacement came from the use of alternative fuels. Thirty percent of that was from the use of compressed natural gas, mostly in heavy-duty vehicles. E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, accounted for 24 percent of gasoline displacement. Coalitions acquired nearly 44,000 hybrid electric vehicles in 2006, a 61 percent increase over 2005. HEV use displaced about 9 million gallons of gasoline. Idle reduction efforts displaced 8.4 million gallons, including 1.2 million gallons from truck stop electrification. Almost 2 million gallons were saved by reducing the number of miles traveled.

Okay, so it's not enough to save the world, and it has some built-in problems, say, ethanol. But it shows us how and where to start, and how surprisingly easy it really is when you make up the collective mind. Imagine how the problem might transform into opportunity if the big guns in DC ever get motivated.—Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

David Corn To Become Mother Jones' Washington Bureau Chief

| Mon Oct. 1, 2007 12:05 AM PDT

Everybody here at Mother Jones is very pleased to announce that David Corn, long-time Washington Editor for The Nation, best-selling author, blogger, and TV commentator has agreed to take the reins of our greatly expanded Washington bureau.

You can read our old school, fully committeed, awesome press release after the jump. (Quick, somebody "leak" it to Romenesko.) But the gist is: David will head up a team of seven reporters and all this firepower in D.C. represents a fundamental change in the way we do business. Better, stronger, faster than before.

Look out D.C.! Oh, and we've also hired Debra Dickerson (author of The End of Blackness) as an on-line columnist and Nick Aster (who built Treehugger and a lot of the Gawker blogs) to head up our web team. Read more after the jump.

McKibben On The Race Against Warming

| Sat Sep. 29, 2007 11:45 AM PDT

A rousing op-ed by MoJo's contributing writer Bill McKibben in today's Washington Post—just in case you're unclear on what Bush's tepid and untimely global warming conference is really about. Some highlights:

It's the oldest and most clichéd of metaphors, but when it comes to global warming, it's the only one that really works: We're in a desperate race. Politics is chasing reality, and the gap between them isn't closing nearly fast enough.

Shaken scientists see every prediction about the future surpassed by events. As Martin Parry, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told reporters this month, "We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it's us."

The panel's chair, Rajendra Pachauri, offered the planet an absolute deadline: We need to be producing less carbon dioxide—which is to say burning less coal, gas and oil—by 2015 at the latest, and after that we would need "very sharp reductions" or else there is no hope of avoiding an eventual temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius and the accompanying prospect of catastrophe.

Such news has finally begun to penetrate the bubble of denial that has surrounded Washington for two decades. President Bush, after ignoring the issue for six years, has convened a conference of the major carbon-emitting nations to begin considering . . . something. Bush said in a speech yesterday that "we acknowledge there is a problem," but few expect the process to amount to much; cynics see it as a way to derail ongoing U.N.-sponsored talks for a firm agreement on reducing emissions.

The only real hope is for decisive legislation from Congress; activists are calling for a law that commits the United States to early cuts, closes all coal-fired power plants and auctions the right to pollute so that we can raise the revenue to fund the transformation of our energy system. President Bush won't sign such a law, so it doesn't have to pass this fall; we're working to set the stage for 2009, when a new leader takes over.

It will take a movement to force that kind of change—a movement as urgent, and one to which people are as morally committed and willing to sacrifice, as the civil rights movement was a generation ago. Last spring, I worked with six college students to put together StepItUp07.org. In the course of 12 weeks, with almost no money, we helped put together 1,400 rallies in all 50 states demanding action. This fall we're trying again.

I've blogged StepItUp07.org before. Check it out. Better yet, participate. —Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, to read from her new book "The Fragile Edge" and other writings…

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Arctic Lands Slumping From Heat

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 5:04 PM PDT

Temperatures got so hot in the Arctic this summer that researchers are scrambling to revise their forecasts—fast-forwarding to a future they thought was decades away. On Melville Island, site of a Queen's University study, July air temperatures soared over 20ºC (68ºF). Average July temps run 5ºC (41ºF). The team watched in amazement as water from melting permafrost lubricated the topsoil, causing it to slide down slopes, clearing everything in its path and thrusting up ridges at the valley bottom that piled up like a rug. Scott Lamoureux, leader of the International Polar Year project, and an expert in hydro-climatic variability and landscape processes, described: "The landscape was being torn to pieces, literally before our eyes. A major river was dammed by a slide along a 200-metre length of the channel. River flow will be changed for years, if not decades to come. If this were to occur in more inhabited parts of Canada, it would be catastrophic in terms of land use and resources." Well, guess what? It is going to occur in inhabited parts of Canada. It's going to occur in your neighborhood, too, wherever you live, whatever your local variant of catastrophe: flood, drought, thaw, freeze, cyclone, or strange, mutant combinations thereof… On a personal note, I just got back from the high Sierra (Nevada), where the glaciers have dwindled to dirty icefields and the creeks run with dust and hungry bears are biting sleeping tourists, then getting killed for it. Makes you want to cry. JULIA WHITTY

Gray Whales Grow Thinner, Fewer

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 4:14 PM PDT

The Pacific gray whales' near-miraculous return from the edge of extinction (twice) may be more precarious than we thought. From the AP a couple of days ago, notice of a new DNA study out of Stanford estimating we've underestimated the whales' historic population by a factor of five. In other words, there weren't 20,000 or 30,000 whales pre-whaling, but 100,000. Worse, our current (supposedly recovered) population is starving. The National Marine Fisheries Service reports this year that at least 10 percent of gray whales are underweight and hungry. It seems our increasingly impoverished ocean can no longer support the whales it once did. Why not? Well, let's start with that ugly symbiosis between food shortages and climate change. Then factor in the more than one billion of us—that's right, one in six people on Earth—who are overweight, 300 million of whom are clinically obese, according to the World Health Organization. Add the fact that humanity gobbles more than a quarter of the planet's natural resources. Presto! The lardass equation: more of us equals less of them. JULIA WHITTY

Bangladeshis Take To Boats

| Thu Sep. 27, 2007 2:08 PM PDT

While we weren't looking, the future got here. A story in today's Washington Post describes Bangladesh's brave new future as a Waterworld. In response to extreme flooding and sea level rise (yup, climate change, melting glaciers, monsoonal changes), schools and libraries are being relocated to boats, with plans to float villages, gardens and hospitals as well.

"For Bangladesh, boats are the future," said Abul Hasanat Mohammed Rezwan, an architect who started the boats project here and who now oversees it as executive director of the nonprofit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a name that means self-reliance. "As Bangladeshi citizens, it's our responsibility to find solutions because the potential for human disaster is so huge. We have to be bold. Everyone loves land. But the question is: Will there be enough? Millions of people will have nowhere to go."

Do I smell the next tourist wave? Floating travels through quaint Third World Venices? Well, let's hope the Bangladeshis can capitalize on our noxious emissions—something that'll be a little harder for those flooded out of more northerly climes. Check out the photo essay in the current MoJo, Sea Change (first subscribe, swabbies), on sea level rise in Alaskan native villages. JULIA WHITTY

Real Trouble In The Arctic

| Tue Sep. 25, 2007 6:17 PM PDT

On the heels of yesterday's back-handed good news on the Amazon come this pair of troubling reports from NASA on Arctic ice. In the first, melting sea ice has now shrunk so far below the minimum set in 2005 that researchers, speaking between the lines, clearly fear we may have already passed a tipping point. From Waleed Abdalati, head of NASA Goddard's Cryospheric Sciences Branch:

This year, the amount of ice is so far below that of previous years that it really is cause for concern. The trend in decreasing ice cover seems to be getting stronger and stronger as time goes on. . . The longer this process continues, the less likely recovery becomes. The implications on global climate are not well known, but they have the potential to be quite large, since the Arctic ice cover exhibits a tremendous influence on our climate.

And from Josefino C. Comiso, senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland:

When there is less sea ice in the summer, the Arctic Ocean receives more heat. The warmer water makes it harder for the ice to recover in the winter, and, therefore, there is a higher likelihood that sea ice will retreat farther during the summer. This process repeats itself year after year.

The second study found that 2007 has seen an overall rise in melting over the entire Greenland ice sheet, with melting in high-altitude areas reaching the greatest extent ever observed, at 150 percent more than average. The amount of snow melted this year in Greenland would cover the surface size of the U.S. more than twice. Apparently melting icecaps are as bad as melting sea ice, only in a different way. This from Marco Tedesco at the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology:

When snow melts at those high altitudes and then refreezes, it can absorb up to four times more energy than fresh, unthawed snow. This can affect Earth's energy budget by changing how much radiation from the sun is absorbed by the Earth versus that reflected back into the atmosphere. Refrozen snow can also alter the snow density, thickness and snow-water content. [Furthermore] increases in the overall melting trend over Greenland have an impact that stretches beyond its icy shores. Aside from contributing to direct sea level rise, melting especially along the coast can speed up glaciers since the meltwater acts like a lubricant between the frozen surface and the bedrock deep below. The faster glaciers flow, the more water enters the ocean and potentially impacts sea level rise.

So why is it exactly that Bush is asking for $195 billion more to fight the wrong war at exactly the time we need to be spending unprecedented amounts on the battle to save the only climate we know how to live with? JULIA WHITTY