Blue Marble

Has Oil Peaked Already?

| Mon Oct. 29, 2007 2:59 PM EDT

1449449901_304d12978c_m.jpg According to the German Energy Watch Group, world oil production peaked in 2006, far earlier than expected. The nonprofit's scientists, working independently of government and industry, analyzed oil production figures and predicted it would fall by 7 percent a year, dropping to half of current levels by 2030. The report also predicts falls in gas, coal and uranium production, and warns that supply shortages could cause meltdowns in human society.

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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California Fires Batter Endangered Species

| Mon Oct. 29, 2007 2:17 PM EDT

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So what happens to species already on the brink when fires, fueled by our changing climate, visit like never before? Nature reports that the San Diego Zoo suffered damage to one of its California condor breeding facilities—though the birds, thankfully, were safely evacuated ahead of the flames. The zoo also lost a planned habitat for endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs—a habitat designated after the frogs' original home was burned in the huge wildfires of 2003. The frogs may now have to be moved to another zoo altogether.

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At Camp Pendleton, one of only two known habitats of the endangered Pacific pocket mouse was burned. No one knows yet whether the mice survived.

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Sadly, these are just the kind of stressors that healthy populations can survive but which wipe out those species already reeling from the blows of over(human)population, habitat loss, pollution, illegal wildlife trade, and border fences.

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

News Flash: Icebergs Still Exist

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 7:47 PM EDT

icebergs200.jpgThese days, everyone seems to want a piece of the Arctic. (Diamond prospectors, bone hunters, and global warming tourists are just a few northward bound parties.) After all, who knows what treasures lurk under those hunks of melting ice?

But if you're planning on skipping up to the Arctic and expecting smooth sailing, think again. Today, the International Ice Charting Working Group issued a report on the state of the Arctic sea ice. In the report is a reminder that global warming hasn't quite done away with icebergs yet:

The Arctic is already experiencing an increase in shipping, primarily for oil and gas development and tourism, and we can expect to see further increases as diminishing ice extent makes Arctic marine transportation more viable...The IICWG cautions that sea ice and icebergs will continue to present significant hazards to navigation for the foreseeable future. The Arctic will still have a winter ice cover that will linger into summer for varying lengths of time depending on a range of conditions.

Let's hope it stays that way.

3rd-Gen Prius To Be Half-Size, Price

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 7:41 PM EDT

prius.jpg Okay, Toyota's got my attention. But will this 3rd-generation Prius be enough of an improvement over my gas-only, LEV Civic to make the switch environmentally compelling? Toyota announced today it'll slash the price and size of its hybrid system by around half for the next Prius model, plus use a nickel-metal hydride battery instead of higher-energy lithium-ion, Planet Ark reports. But what about the all-important MPGs?

No release date yet. Maybe late 2008.

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

WTF? New England Rescinds Protections For Sea Turtles

| Fri Oct. 26, 2007 7:11 PM EDT

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Come on, New England. This is a wicked bad idea—rescinding protections for threatened and endangered sea turtles caught in scallop dredges. Yesterday, the New England Fishery Management Council removed seasonal restrictions on scallop dredging in an area off New Jersey. These restrictions were designed to keep loggerhead and other turtles from being entangled, crushed and drowned in industrial-sized scallop dredges. The Council also rejected a proposed seasonal closure to fishermen of an area east of the Delmarva peninsula, reports the Environmental News Network:

The Council opted to rely on untested scallop dredge modifications called "chain mats" as its sole precaution against turtle bycatch. These grids of chain prevent turtles from entering the chain bag at the rear of a dredge but are unlikely to prevent turtles from being injured by scallop dredges used by fishermen to scour the seafloor. "Turtle chains do not protect turtles from being mangled by scallop dredges. The chain mats may have simply turned scallop dredges into giant turtle bludgeons," said David Allison of Oceana.

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Want one of these chain mats crashing through your world? Neither do turtles.

Wondering just how badly sea turtles are doing? Browse the IUCN Red List for loggerheads and leatherbacks.

Okay. Strike northeast scallops off my sustainable eat list.

Oh, and if you're interested in the strange bedfellows that be fishers and fisheries councils, read MoJo's The Catch

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

Greenhouse Gas Sensors Tap California Air

| Thu Oct. 25, 2007 8:27 PM EDT

315428461_54649b3aa7_m.jpg Sutro Tower in San Francisco now hosts the first of California's regional greenhouse-gas detectors. Nature reports that another sensor is in place atop Richland Tower near Sacramento, part of the California Greenhouse Gas Emissions Project, a collaboration between state and federal agencies and universities. The sensors are the first of 10 that will take measurements twice daily. The project, born at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, hopes to establish whether California is reaching its goal of reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases—at present, running about 550 million tons a year—by cutting state emissions. The data will also be used to improve estimates of GHG emissions at the national scale in support of the North American Carbon Program.

The gears are grinding. Slowly. Let's hope momentum develops faster than disaster.

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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French Clay Kills Superbugs

| Thu Oct. 25, 2007 7:23 PM EDT

This is how they did it in the olden days. Slap on the clay. Watch wounds heal. Some animals still do (foxes that dig themselves into clay banks to heal wounds and/or broken limbs). Anyway, new research out of Arizona State University, reported by the Geological Society of America finds that one kind of French clay kills several kinds of disease-causing bacteria. Including Mycobacterium ulcerans, a germ related to leprosy and tuberculosis, which causes the flesh-eating disease Buruli ulcer. Currently, advanced cases of Buruli ulcer can only be cured by surgical excision or amputation. In lab tests, the French clay also killed bacteria responsible for many human illnesses, including: Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), penicillin-resistant S. aureus (PRSA), and pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli). In other words, the really bad stuff we've bred through egregious overuse of antibiotics.

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

Is Climate Change Fueling Huge California Fires?

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 10:37 PM EDT

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If not, they're a not-so-sneak preview. In fact, the catastrophic SoCal fires are consistent with what climate change models have been predicting for years. They may be a prelude to many more such events in the future, as vegetation grows heavier than usual and then ignites during prolonged droughts, says Ronald Neilson, a bioclimatologist at Oregon State University and with the USDA Forest Service, and a contributor to publications of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize:

"This is exactly what we've been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change. You can't look at one event such as this and say with certainty that it was caused by a changing climate. But things just like this are consistent with what the latest modeling shows, and may be another piece of evidence that climate change is a reality, one with serious effects. In the future, catastrophic fires such as those going on now in California may simply be a normal part of the landscape."

Fire forecast models developed by Neilson's research group at OSU and the Forest Service rely on several global climate models. When combined, they accurately predicted both the Southern California fires that are happening and the drought hitting Georgia and Florida, causing crippling water shortages. In studies released five years ago, Neilson and other OSU researchers predicted that the American West could become both warmer and wetter in the coming century, conditions that would lead to repeated, catastrophic fires larger than any in recent history.

Got a fire tent?

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Oh, and northern California might not get off so easy. IDEA forecasts of particulate suggest the smoke could blow ashore in San Francisco in the next 48 hours.

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

The Greenest (Richest) Colleges

| Wed Oct. 24, 2007 6:07 PM EDT

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The Sustainable Endowments Institute released its 2008 College Sustainability Report Card this week. Download the full report (including a list of the 200 colleges included and their overall green grades) here.

The grades themselves are not especially interesting—with a few exceptions, giant endowment=giant sustainability program. While no one got an A, Harvard and Dartmouth received an A-, and Yale got a B+. Yawn.

But the report does offer a few more newsworthy nuggets. It's interesting to note, for example, that more than one in three schools included in the list have full-time staff dedicated to sustainability, and three in five schools have green building projects.

Weird Weather Watch: Southern California Fires

| Tue Oct. 23, 2007 3:44 PM EDT

By now, you've probably heard that there's a really big wildfire in the San Diego area, and it's being fueled by the Santa Ana winds. It's the worst fire in four years—which is saying something in Southern California. Fire season is especially bad this year due to the erratic weather that's the hallmark of climate change: First, record rainfall produces lots of brush; then, a record drought turned it into so much kindling. Add the Santa Ana winds, and you've got a conflagration. 170,000 acres, to be exact.

Almost 300,000 people have been asked to evacuate, and about 10,000 of them spent the night in Qualcomm stadium (formerly San Diego Stadium). Seems that as climate change progresses, more and more of us are going to be camping out in behemoth football stadiums. Their corporate sponsors are probably stoked.