Blue Marble

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.

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Just Say No, Ewan McGregor

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 9:44 PM EDT

Jeff Stark's short, Desserts, starring Ewan McGregor. Warning: kinda graphic, not for the squeamish or sweet-toothed. Warning for ADD viewers: slow paced, until . . . well, you'll see.

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

Scared Yet? Atmospheric CO2 Levels Growing - Correction, Exploding - Faster Than Imagined

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 8:21 PM EDT

53616c7465645f5f20a59e5ebdd0818648f60e9ae43394d487a319f45e9e54bd.jpg Just in case anyone out there is deluded into thinking we're actually making progress on this issue because it's in the occasional headline, or, now and again, mentioned by a jaw-wagging politician. Here's the latest: Atmospheric carbon dioxide growth has increased 35 percent faster than expected since 2000.

The findings by the British Antarctic Survey and others, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that inefficiency in the use of fossil fuels drove up atmospheric CO2 by 17 percent since 2000. At the same time, the declining efficiency of natural land and ocean sinks drove it up another 18 percent.

The research shows that improvements in the carbon intensity of the global economy have stalled since 2000, after improving for 30 years, due to population growth and the growing global wealth. The decline in global sink efficiency, according to author Dr Corinne Le Qéré, "suggests that stabilization of atmospheric CO2 is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought. We found that nearly half of the decline in the efficiency of the ocean CO2 sink is due to the intensification of the winds in the Southern Ocean".

Hold onto your hats, peeps.

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

California Fires From Space

| Mon Oct. 22, 2007 6:55 PM EDT

Here a couple of different perspectives on the wildfires in SoCal. One via Space.com from the International Space Station:

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These from NASA's MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center, taken three hours and 15 minutes apart, 21 Oct, show how the Santa Ana winds fanned embers into firestorms:

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Wondering where else is burning just now on our warming planet? Interested in the link between mega-fires and climate change? Take a look at the last 10 days. Yellow areas mark fire clusters:

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

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:

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.

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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.