Blue Marble

All I Want for Christmas is a Biodiesel Hummer. No, Really.

| Tue Oct. 30, 2007 9:20 PM EDT

Think there are no real inventors anymore? That would be news to Johnathan Goodwin, proud creator of the world's most fuel-efficient Hummer.

By combining biodiesel and hybrid technology and reconfiguring engines, Goodwin can double the fuel efficiency of a number of giant American cars and nearly eliminate their emissions, using almost nothing but stock GM parts (OK, and the occasional jet engine). He's currently working on the Governator's 1987 Wagoneer, and is slated to overhaul Neil Young's 1960 Lincoln Continental.

As for the country's decaying car capital, Goodwin has little sympathy, pointing out that "Detroit could do all this stuff overnight if it wanted to."

—Casey Miner

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From Gmail to Global Warming Skeptics (With a Single Click)

| Mon Oct. 29, 2007 4:02 PM EDT

global%20warming.jpgUpon logging into my Gmail account this morning, what should I find in the "sponsored link" spot above my inbox but the following message:

"Global warming is not a crisis! Gore won't debate."

Intrigued, I clicked on the link and found myself at the website of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based think tank whose mission is "to discover and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems."

WTF? ExxonMobil Funds Research - By An Astrophysicist - On Polar Bears And Climate Change

| Mon Oct. 29, 2007 3:22 PM EDT

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The House Committee on Science and Technology is examining ExxonMobil's motives for funding research by an astrophysicist into the impact of climate change on the polar bear population of western Hudson Bay in Canada. New Scientist reports that if polar bears are listed under the Endangered Species Act, steps to protect their habitat could directly hurt ExxonMobil's economic interests:

The researchers, including Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, published their findings as a "viewpoint", which is not peer-reviewed. They conclude that the polar bears are not threatened by climate change (Ecological Complexity, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecocom.2007.03.002). "It's hard to see this article as rigorous, sound science," [subcommittee chair Brad] Miller says. "The public has a right to know why ExxonMobil is funding a scientist whose writing is outside his area of expertise." . . . ExxonMobil denied its funding was motivated by political interests.

Really.

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

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.

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.

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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.

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.