Blue Marble

Fossil Fuel Hangover

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 4:00 PM EDT

394755691_1ac74b85af_m.jpg The ocean will likely nurse a hangover from our fossil fuel use for hundreds of thousands of years. Researchers at Southampton University modeled the movement of carbon through the ocean and the atmosphere. In the model, they dosed the planet with 4000 gigatons of carbon to simulate the burning of all fossil fuel reserves between 1900 to 2300, reports Environmental Science and Technology. At first, the ocean became more acidic. But over many millennia, it became more alkaline and had higher levels of dissolved inorganic carbon, finally achieving a steady state with atmospheric CO2 levels exceeding those prior to fossil fuel burning. As a result, the researchers suggest, Earth probably won't ever completely recover, as it did in the past when CO2 levels were high. "The system converges to a new equilibrium," the authors write.

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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Spray Cleaners Cause Asthma

| Mon Oct. 15, 2007 3:29 PM EDT

385097057_0f25ddef34_m.jpg Yet another reason to procrastinate about house cleaning. A new study from Spain shows that using household cleaning sprays and air fresheners as little as once a week can raise the risk of developing asthma in adults, reports the American Thoracic Society. The risk increased with frequency of cleaning and number of different sprays used, but on average was about 30 to 50 percent higher in people regularly exposed to cleaning sprays than in others. Air fresheners, furniture cleaners, and glass-cleaners, had a particularly nasty effect. Sprays have been associated with increased asthma in cleaning professionals, but not amateurs. Until now. Good enough reason to retire my spray gun. Or get a respirator.

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

Where Are The Giant Headlines? Zero Emissions Needed Now

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 10:59 PM EDT

Here's the news I never wanted to hear. The seriously tragic news. Apparently, while we dithered over god's word and Rush Limbaugh's opinions, we missed the easy targets. You know, the piddling percentages of greenhouse gas emissions we could have reduced a mere 5, 10 or 15 years ago to maintain a benevolent planet. The latest study indicates we've waited too long and now only zero emissions will avert the Big Doomsday, the 2-degree rise that the science community (you know, the real one) agrees is needed to prevent the tipping points from tipping. The same 2-degree rise our unesteemed Leader in Washington doesn't get. Why? Because he can't convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit, apparently. This from New Scientist:

Andrew Weaver and colleagues at the University of Victoria in Canada . . . used a computer model to determine how much emissions must be limited in order to avoid exceeding a 2°C increase. The model is an established tool for analysing future climate change and was used in studies cited in the IPCC's reports on climate change. They modelled the reduction of industrial emissions below 2006 levels by between 20% and 100% by 2050. Only when emissions were entirely eliminated did the temperature increase remain below 2°C.

The researchers conclude that governments should consider reducing emissions to 90% below current levels and remove what is left in the atmosphere by capturing and storing carbon. There is a stark contrast between this proposal and the measures currently being considered. Under the UN's Kyoto protocol, most developed nations have agreed to limit their emissions to a minimum of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. What happens beyond this date is the subject of ongoing debate and negotiation. The European Union nations have agreed to limit their emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and support dropping global emissions to 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.

"There is a disconnect between the European Union arguing for a 2°C threshold and calling for 50% cuts at 2050 - you can't have it both ways," says Weaver, who adds: "If you're going to talk about 2°C you have got to be talking 90% emissions cuts."

As for the naysayers and their inevitable frakkin whining. What can I say. It looks like we are going to meet in hell.

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

Judge Slaps Feds on Border Fence

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 9:43 PM EDT

20060512233709990001.jpg The AP reports that a federal judge has temporarily delayed construction of a 1.5-mile section of a border fence in a wildlife conservation area along the Arizona-Mexico line. Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club requested a 10-day delay alleging the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies failed to conduct a thorough environmental study of the fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle granted the delay because the government did not explain why it hurried through an assessment and began building.

Huvelle repeatedly asked the government's attorney, Gregory Page, to explain why the agencies took only three weeks to do the environmental assessment. She said that amount of time was unprecedented and that the government was trying to "ram" the environmental study through and start construction "before anyone would wake up.

Ouch. Good judge. . . MoJo covered the really bad environmental aspects of this fence in GONE. Bottom line, regardless of what you think of the immigration issue: the fence won't keep people out and it will destroy the most endangered wildlife linkage in North America. Check out The Wildlands Project to learn more.

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

BP and Chevron Go Virtual and Green

| Thu Oct. 11, 2007 1:55 PM EDT

What do Chevron and BP have in common, besides being leading members of Big Oil? Computer games, apparently. Yesterday, the New York Times reported on BP's latest rebranding move—a "collaboration" with Electronic Arts on the video game company's latest version of SimCity, due out November 15th. Unlike previous versions of the popular video game that lets players build their own cities from scratch, this one will include a more "nuanced power generation and pollution simulation" that will "show the trade-offs among three aspects of electrical power: cost, power output and pollution." Translation: BP's colorful, green, and yellow sunburst logo will happily adorn "clean" energy options like solar farms, wind farms, natural gas plants, and even gas stations, while "dirty" energy options like coal will remain BP logo-free!

In September, Chevron and The Economist teamed up for a similar venture. Their online, interactive game, Energyville, allows players to decide how to outfit a city with solar, wind, coal, biomass, hydro, oil, and nuclear power. The catch? If you try to use only renewable energy sources to supply your city, you'll be politely informed you need petroleum. So much for thinking outside the box, huh?

And, of course, it comes as no surprise that these companies' online ventures promote more clean energy than their real counterparts. BP's 2006 annual report indicates the company spent approximately $29 billion on oil exploration and production (an increase of $4 billion from 2005), compared to a meager $8 billion they plan to spend on their alternative energy projects over the next ten years. Game over.

—Michelle Chandra

Who Will Hack US Elections?

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:07 PM EDT

138907447_a23ad0acb3_m.jpg At an e-crime summit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last week security experts predicted voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns. And that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks, reports New Scientist.

Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote. But in those cases the Republican Party members and supporters were traced and either charged or named in the press. Online dirty tricks will be much less easy to detect, security researchers say.

Spam email could be used against voters, experts say, by giving the wrong location for a polling station, or, as in the Orange County fraud, incorrect details about who has the right to vote. . . Telephone attacks like the New Hampshire prank calls would be harder to trace if made using internet telephony instead of landlines . . . Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.

Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality." Manipulation can also happen in more subtle ways. In 2006, supporters of California's Proposition 87, for a tax that would fund alternative energy, registered negative-sounding domains including noon87.com and noonprop87.org and then automatically routed visitors to a site touting the proposition's benefits.

The summit's conclusion: the problem will happen. The only unknowns: when and by whom.

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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Using Bees To Save Elephants

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 9:37 PM EDT

3779_file_Elephant2_Balfour.jpg Fact #1: Elephants fear bees and run when they hear angry buzzing. Fact #2: African elephants are being squeezed into smaller and smaller wild neighborhoods. Problem: Elephants don't generally buy into our notions of land ownership and cross onto private property (imagine) to eat farmers' crops. Solution: Strategically placed beehives, or even just recordings of bees, to create "fences" elephants understand.

The new study, published in Current Biology, suggests a low-tech elephant deterrent and conservation measure. Way, way better than shooting them.

The researchers who deserve kudus: Lucy E. King of the University of Oxford, and Save the Elephants in Nairobi; Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants in Nairobi; and Fritz Vollrath of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, and Save the Elephants in Nairobi.

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

Marijuana Laws Cost Taxpayers Billions

| Mon Oct. 8, 2007 7:12 PM EDT

A new study finds the marijuana prohibition costs taxpayers $41.8 billion a year in law enforcement, diverts $113 billion from the legal economy, and loses a whopping $31.1 billion in revenue annually. The Marijuana Policy Project reports the sad numbers. I mean, think how many wars we could fund with that kind of money. Not to mention the cost of all the enviro-damage from growing in national parks and supposedly pristine wilderness areas. Not to mention the good medicine never taken.

And—shhh—don't tell the boozers, but was Lawrence Welk—or Myron Floren—on the toke many, many moons ago? Clearly the weed's been mainstream forever. Check out the video, sans bubbles:

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

Get Em While They Last: 99-Cent Flourescent Lightbulbs

| Sat Oct. 6, 2007 6:29 PM EDT

Grab this offer if you live anywhere in the Pacific Gas & Electric forcefield. PG&E is giving away 1 million energy-saving compact fluorescent lightbulbs this month. They bought them for $1.25 a pop, less than retail, and are working with Safeway to sell them for 99 cents each in their service area (northern and central California). CFLs cost more than standard incandescent lightbulbs but use about 75 percent less energy and last as much as 10 times longer. Each CFL could save $30 in energy costs over the bulb's lifetime. The giveaway might save 400,000 megawatt hours of power use and prevent 200,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions—the equivalent of powering 60,000 homes or taking 31,000 cars off the road for a year.

Okay, the gauntlet's been thrown. How about the other utilities? Maybe their customers should lean on them.

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

Greenpeace Kid Declares War

| Sat Oct. 6, 2007 5:10 PM EDT

Angry kid will grow up. Have we calculated that into the global warming equation?

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