Blue Marble

Factory Conditions Sicken Chinese Workers

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 1:52 PM EDT

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The fact that lead-laced toys put kids at risk is bad enough, but Chinese factories also cause big problems for another population—workers.

A few of the ways factory employees risk their lives to produce goods bound for the U.S., according to the Salt Lake Tribune's series on the hazards of manufacturing plants in China:

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China's CO2 Output Fueled By Us

| Fri Oct. 19, 2007 2:00 PM EDT

5293336_4e517670cf_m.jpg I've wondered about this for a while, as it becomes all too easy to blame China and do nothing ourselves. Now we learn that one quarter of China's greenhouse gas emissions are produced making goods exported to the West. The report by the UK's Tyndall Centre worked with 2004 data, the latest available. The percentage may well be higher now. The authors concluded: "The extent of 'exported carbon' from China should lead to some rethinking by government negotiators as they work towards a new climate change agreement."

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

Wildfires Emit Mercury

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 8:09 PM EDT

31846674_1755653108_m.jpg Forest fires and other blazes in the US release about 30 percent as much mercury as the nation's industrial sources. Initial estimates from the National Center for Atmospheric Research find that fires in Alaska, California, Oregon, Louisiana, and Florida emit particularly large quantities of the toxic metal, and the Southeast emits more than any other region. The mercury released by forest fires originally comes from industrial and natural sources.

The researchers estimate that fires in the continental US and Alaska release about 44 metric tons of mercury into the atmosphere yearly. They caution their estimates are preliminary and subject to a 50 percent or greater margin of error. A next step will be to examine how much mercury is deposited on nearby downwind areas, compared to how much travels around the hemisphere. Most mercury from fire is gaseous, traveling thousands of miles before coming down in rain or snow. About 15 percent is associated with airborne particles, like soot, some of which may fall to Earth near the fire. "We would like to determine the risk of mercury exposure for residents who live downwind of large-scale fires," says author Hans Friedli.

Even more disturbing in light of the fact that the number and extent of wildfires are forecast to increase—and in fact already are—another pesky byproduct of global warming.

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

Lights Out San Francisco

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 7:33 PM EDT

logo-dark.png Sydney led the way last March. San Francisco is going dark this Saturday night, October 20, from 8-9pm, to send a message on global warming:

Lights Out San Francisco is a citywide energy conservation event on Oct. 20, 2007. On this night, we invite the entire city of San Francisco to install one compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) and turn off all non-essential lighting for one hour.

Word has it that both bridges and the Transamerica Pyramid are on board, and many restaurants will offer candlelight dining. There's also a great party going on in Dolores Park. Drop by. . .

But why just one CFL? And why wait for your city to catch on? Join in from afar.

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

Republican Candidates Lukewarm On Global Warming

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 7:14 PM EDT

499870475_97db2f3e5b_m.jpg Interesting piece in today's New York Times on global warming as the new litmus test for Republican presidential wannabes:

While many conservative commentators and editorialists have mocked concerns about climate change, a different reality is emerging among Republican presidential contenders. It is a near-unanimous recognition among the leaders of the threat posed by global warming. Within that camp, however, sharp divisions are developing. Senator John McCain of Arizona is calling for capping gas emissions linked to warming and higher fuel economy standards. Others, including Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney, are refraining from advocating such limits and are instead emphasizing a push toward clean coal and other alternative energy sources. All agree that nuclear power should be greatly expanded.

Reason enough to deny them the job, IMO.

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

Acid Oceans Increasing Rapidly

| Wed Oct. 17, 2007 6:55 PM EDT

438038944_33e08b7ddf_m.jpg We've known for a while that ocean acidification is a bad bad thing. Now new research into corals using boron isotopes indicates the world-ocean has become about one third of a pH unit more acid over the past fifty years, reports the Australian Research Council. The acidity is caused by a CO2 buildup in the atmosphere, which then dissolves into the oceans—a development likely to be lethal for animals with chalky skeletons, who just happen to comprise more than a third of the planet's marine life.

Apparently this acidification is now taking place over decades, rather than centuries, as originally predicted, and is happening even faster in the cooler waters of the Southern Ocean than in the tropics. Corals and plankton with chalky skeletons rely on sea water saturated with calcium carbonate to form their skeletons. As acidity intensifies, it becomes harder to form their skeletons. According to Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of Queensland: "Analysis of coral cores shows a steady drop in calcification over the last 20 years. . . When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans." Atmospheric CO2 is presently 385 ppm, up from 305 in 1960. "It isn't just the coral reefs which are affected—a large part of the plankton in the Southern Ocean, the coccolithophorids, are also affected. These drive ocean productivity and are the base of the food web which supports krill, whales, tuna and our fisheries. They also play a vital role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could break down."

More alarmingly, recent experiments along Australia's Great Barrier Reef show that red calcareous algae—the glue that binds reefs together in turbulent waters—actually begin to dissolve at higher CO2 levels. "The risk is that this may begin to erode the Great Barrier Reef at a grand scale," says Hoegh-Guldberg.

So exactly where are our leaders, those slackers? What the hell is more important to attend to than this?

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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Iraq and Afghanistan Wars Breed Deadly Disease

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 4:58 PM EDT

5480425_83bfb97928_m.jpg Hundreds of troops wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan have been infected with a deadly bacterium in their bloodstream, cerebrospinal fluid, bones, and lungs. Civilians have also been infected after stays in military hospitals, reports the Los Angeles Times. Since 2003 at least 27 people in military hospitals have died after infection by Acinetobacter baumannii, an increasingly drug-resistant bacterium. The military claims it hasn't tabulated how many have been infected overall. The outbreak has spread to at least six American military hospitals, including the hospital ship Comfort, Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and the Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The rise in infections has been dramatic, comprising 2 percent of admissions at the specialized burn unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas in 2001 and 2002, 6 percent in 2003, and 12 percent in 2005. Other military hospitals have reported similar levels.

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

Bumblebees Also Disappearing, Putting Crops in Peril

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 4:30 PM EDT

bumblebee.JPGWith all the to-do about the disappearing honeybees, not much has been written about the humble bumblebee. Bumblebees, though less glamorous because they don't produce much honey, are still a crucial part of nature's chain and therefore, agriculture—they pollinate 15 percent of all domestic crops, especially greenhouse-grown plants such as tomatoes and strawberries. And like honeybees, they're becoming scarce.

A recent study blames the bumblebee's demise on the combined effects of habitat loss, pesticides, pollution, and disease. A U.C. Davis professor says the Franklin's bumblebee may have gone extinct before anyone even put it on the endangered species list, and two more bumblebee species have become rare. The combined disappearance of both the honeybee and the bumblebee spells trouble for agriculture; bumblebees pollinate different crops and at different times than honeybees.

Most recently, scientists have found that a single virus is "strongly correlated" with colony collapse disorder, and is killing both bumblebees and honeybees.

EPA Slacking On Mississippi Pollutants

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 4:15 PM EDT

MRivDrainageBasinTN.gif The Environmental Protection Agency is asleep at the helm, says the National Research Council—at the expense of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The agency needs to take the leadership role it commands and implement the Clean Water Act immediately for water quality to return to "fishable and swimmable" status. In particular, the river needs to be evaluated as a single system. The 10 states along the corridor monitor their own water quality, but state efforts vary widely. EPA needs to coordinate them.

Many of the Mississippi's current problems stem from nonpoint pollution sources—nutrients and sediments entering the river through runoff. Nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers create water-quality problems in the river and an oxygen-deficient dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sediments are too plentiful in the upper Mississippi, and too scarce in the lower river, robbing the coastal wetlands of southern Louisiana.

Written between the lines: EPA needs to actually do what its name mandates, protect the environment, not the destroyers of the environment.

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

Tobacco Industry Cover Up

| Tue Oct. 16, 2007 2:22 PM EDT

Scientists know that secondhand smoke increases risk of heart disease by 30 percent, but cigarette makers are doing their darnedest to make sure we're kept in the dark.

A report in the current issue of Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, says that the tobacco industry has repeatedly tried to suppress evidence of the detrimental effects of cigarette smoke.