Blue Marble

Glacier Surfing

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 11:49 PM EDT

New climate, new sport. Opportunity in the midst of chaos? JULIA WHITTY

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Bush Okays Blowing Up Mountains for Mining Companies

| Thu Aug. 23, 2007 1:59 PM EDT

Bush is set to release a regulation tomorrow that will allow mining companies to blast the tops off mountains and dump the resulting waste in nearby streams and valleys. Currently the practice, called mountaintop mining, exists in a hazy legal status but has been used regularly for the past two decades. The new rule will loosen a 1983 law which prohibits disturbing soils within 100 feet of streams (in the past, companies have been sued under the Clean Water Act for dumping mining waste into streams), essentially giving coal companies the go-ahead.

As we reported last year, the Appalachian mountains (where the majority of mountaintop removal mining takes place) have been so degraded that the public can take tours of the mind-boggling environmental damage. But mining companies and their coal mining advocates think they are providing a great service. Proponents claim that coal reduces our reliance on foreign oil and mountaintop removal provides more flat land for big box stores like Wal-Mart. Woo-hoo!

Where Are All the Dolphins?

| Wed Aug. 22, 2007 8:09 PM EDT

Worrying news from Europe on the lack of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in the Bay of Biscay this summer. Researchers from the wildlife conservation group Marinelife have been conducting scientific surveys of whales, dolphins and seabirds in the English Channel and Bay of Biscay every month for the last 13 years. All told they've counted more than 20 cetacean species and more than a hundred thousand animals. However, as Science Daily reports, this summer is proving alarmingly different. The three main dolphin species, Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin and Bottlenose Dolphin, are down ~80% from last year. Seabirds — auks, shearwaters, and gannets — are also largely absent. The year is also marked by a collapse of the anchovy fishery — such that fishing bans are in place for the Spanish and French fleets. The researchers worry this reduction in fish stocks, which may be due to overfishing, may also be linked to climate change (read MoJo's The Last Days of the Ocean package for more on these issues). Furthermore, dolphins in these waters are frequent bycatch victims of the fishing fleets, with thousands dying each year in the nets, and many of them washing up dead on the beaches. . . Well, there's a lovely way to start your summer holiday, on a beach devoid of any living thing but loaded with the sad carcasses of dead dolphins. Can we get a louder SOS from the ocean? 

Underwater Turbines Set To Generate Record Power

| Tue Aug. 21, 2007 8:44 PM EDT

Here's a preview of the future. Twin underwater turbines are set to generate 1.2 megawatts of electricity off the coast of Northern Ireland by year's end. New Scientist reports how the world's largest tidal power project will use underwater turbines that look and work like wind power turbines, with blades up to 60 feet wide. Tidal currents will rotate the rotors at 10 to 20 revolutions per minute — a speed that Marine Current Turbines of the UK claims is too slow to affect marine life. The turbines will drive a gearbox that will drive an electric generator. The resulting electricity will be transmitted to the shore via an underwater cable. Eventually, MCT intends to build farms of turbines consisting of 10 to 20 pairs each. . . This is intriguing, probably necessary, and will doubtless lead to some kind of negative environmental issue(s). Let's hope the Brits monitor the impacts of what sounds like a promising, hopefully sustainable, technology &mdash one desperately needed on our tough road to a new energy economy. JULIA WHITTY

Weird Weather Watch: Dean's Revenge

| Tue Aug. 21, 2007 2:37 AM EDT

After battering Jamaica yesterday and today, Hurricane Dean is headed toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a category 5 storm. It is one of fewer than 30 hurricanes ever to earn the highest rating for tropical storms, and is as big as the state of Texas. (That's big, y'all.) Several significant—and exquisite—Mayan ruins will have to withstand Dean's power.

Update: Dean was the third most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall. One of the two that edged it out was 1988's Hurricane Gilbert, which hit...you guessed it, the Yucatan Peninsula.

FTC Continues Whole Foods Fight

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 8:00 PM EDT

As we blogged last week, the Federal Trade Commission's injunction to stop Whole Foods' $565 million merger with fomer competitor, Wild Oats, was denied. Whole Foods was set to merge with Wild Oats as early as today. Not so fast. Friday, the FTC appealed the denial and requested that the judge delay the merger.

Whole Foods is "confident that the merger will be allowed to proceed" and I'm sure the organic grocer feels pretty good about stock prices too. Whole Foods shares jumped 7% after the appeal was announced.

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Mother Jones Contributing Writer Julia Whitty Speaks in SF Tomorrow

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 5:31 PM EDT

Bay Area residents: don't miss author, filmmaker, and Mother Jones contributing writer and blogger Julia Whitty ("Gone," May/June 2007). She'll be speaking tomorrow at the California Academy of Sciences about "wonders and warnings from the oceans." Time: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Location: 875 Howard Street, between 4th and 5th Streets. Admission price: $8 for non-members.

See you there!

What's Your Walkability Score?

| Mon Aug. 20, 2007 2:10 PM EDT

Bragging about your neighborhood's through-the-roof property values is, like, SO late nineties. These days, one-upmanship is all about establishing eco cred. Luckily, there's a handy new website, Walk Score: Just enter in your address, and the site instantly calculates your home's "walkability score," on a scale of 1-100. The principle is pretty simple: If you can walk to the supermarket and your favorite restaurant, for example, you can expect a high rating. If you have to get in your car just to get the newspaper at the end of your driveway, though, don't expect any walkability bragging rights.

But is walkability always a good thing? Crosscut Seattle's David Brewster isn't so sure:

And does walkability work? Sightline cites research showing that residents of compact areas (homes mixed with stores and services, and a street network designed for walking and strolling) are less likely to be obese, suffer fewer chronic illnesses, and may breathe cleaner air than suburbanites by being farther from the "pollution tunnel" of busy highways.
Such claims are probably true in a broad sense, but there are interesting complexities in the new science of walkability. All those nifty shops in walkable neighborhoods, for instance, are signs of gentrification, which normally drives density downward by replacing working class families with wealthier singles. Transit stations normally do not help bring more density, since many are surrounded by parking lots or have such high property values that neighborhood services can't pay the rent. Another paradox is that really charming walkable neighborhoods soon line up the pitchforks to oppose increased residential densification in any form.


Weird - er, New-Normal - Weather Watch: Too Hot to Cool Nuclear Reactors

| Sun Aug. 19, 2007 10:39 PM EDT

Frank Strait's blog at Accuweather informs us that it's so hot in the east that nuclear reactors in the Tennessee Valley are being shut down because the water drawn out of the Tennessee River is too warm to cool them. That's a first. The Tennessee Valley Authority said it would compensate for the loss of power by buying power elsewhere—though just Thursday they announced they were imposing a fuel surcharge on their customers because hydropower production is already down from the drought.

So maybe we won't have to learn how to cut our own profligate carbon footprints. Maybe it will all be done for us in a hand-of-imaginary-friend, I mean, -god kind of way.

Add to this news the extremely weird behavior of tropical system Erin—it actually got stronger after landfall. And the fact that those fabulously bizarre birds known as frogmouths are breeding at the London Zoo for the first time in nearly a decade because, apparently, they're mistaking the neverending deluge there for a monsoon. Seems someone likes the new normal. JULIA WHITTY