Blue Marble

Cute Knut Under Pressure to Shed Lbs.

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 5:06 PM EDT

fatty_knut.jpgHey, remember Knut? He was the high-profile, environmental poster-bear who made an appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair with Leonardo diCaprio during "Knut-mania," a time when Europeans flocked by the millions to see him in his Berlin zoo. He was so hot that a neighboring animal died and no one noticed.

The appeal of "Cute Knut" was in his miniature size; he was a cute little white fuzzball who romped around with his keeper. But, times are changing. The paparazzi attention has subsided and the chubby cub has been asked to slim down. It's all summed up in a Der Spiegel headline: "Fatty Knut Put on Strict Diet."

Knut's caretakers claim he weighs 132 lbs, but they're not sure because their scale only goes up to 110 lbs. Apparently, they're keeping a vigilant watch on him to ensure Knut doesn't steal scraps from the kitchen table while his meals are being prepared.

Critiques of his appearance, tales of bad behavior—Lindsay Lohan could have told him such is the life of a media darling.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Weird Weather Watch: Biblical Flooding in South Asia

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

Flooding in India and Bangladesh has drowned out more than 12 million acres of farmland and killed almost 200 people in the last few days. The number of dead is expected to rise dramatically as news begins to flow from remote areas. In India's Uttar Pradesh, the army is attempting to evacuate 500 villages. The Red Cross and other groups are attempting to provide much-needed food, drinking water, and medical aid, but people on the ground report that their efforts are nowhere near adequate.

Several lessons here about our future with climate change: Developing nations are likely to be hardest hit. Military rule will likely be invoked regularly, diminishing civil liberties. Food and water supplies will be threatened as major disasters like this one become more commonplace.

Smells like apocalypse, huh? I'm only hoping that Bible thumpers will stop devoting their energy to denying marriage rights to gays and freedom of choice to women and start campaigning against greenhouse-gas pollution.

European Heat Waves Last Twice as Long As In 1880

| Fri Aug. 3, 2007 3:12 PM EDT

Heat waves in Europe have doubled and the frequency of extremely hot days has nearly tripled in the past century. The new data show that many previous assessments of daily summer temperature change underestimated heat wave events by 30 percent. The results are published in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, a publication of the American Geophysical Union. "These findings provide observational support to climate modeling studies showing that European summer temperatures are particularly sensitive to global warming," said Paul Della-Marta of the University of Bern in Switzerland. "Due to complex reactions between the summer atmosphere and the land, the variability of summer temperatures is expected to increase substantially by 2100." JULIA WHITTY

Retrofitting Two-Stroke Engines Good For Everyone

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 10:47 PM EDT

An independent nonprofit out of Colorado has developed and disseminated a retrofit kit designed to reduce emissions from the ubiquitous two-stroke motorcycle taxis in the Philippines. A single motorcycle taxi with a traditional two-stroke engine emits as much pollution as 50 modern automobiles, and the Asian Development Bank estimates 100 million two-stroke vehicles ply the roads in Southeast Asia &mdash that's right, the equivalent of 5 billion cars. The Worldwatch Institute reports that Envirofit has won a World Clean Energy Award for developing and disseminating a retrofit kit, originally designed for snowmobiles. In the retrofit, the carburetor is eliminated and fuel is introduced directly into the engine cylinder, so less unburned fuel is wasted. The typical Filipino taxi driver makes only $3–5 per day, and the kits pay for themselves in fuel savings within 10 months. Envirofit hopes to expand its engine retrofit program to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and India, where demonstrations of the product will take place this year.

Now, can we just do away with jetskis, the most hateful of all the 2-stroke blights? According to the EPA, older jetskis (still prevalent around the world) cause more nonpoint source pollution (translation: runoff) in two hours than a car running for an entire year. Truly fun for the feeble-minded. JULIA WHITTY

Judge Halts Logging For Spotted Owl

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 9:39 PM EDT

The Environmental News Network reports on a federal judge issuing a preliminary injunction against Weyerhaeuser's logging in Spotted Owl habitat on private land in Washington. That's good news for owls. But U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman declined to grant another Seattle Audubon Society request to keep the state of Washington from granting permits to log in Spotted Owl habitat. Even so, Kenan Block, a spokesman for the Washington Forest Law Center, said Pechman's decision "really shows the Endangered Species Act still has some teeth in it." . . . Well, not if Bush and Cheney get their way.

The owl was listed as threatened in 1990 primarily because of heavy logging in the old growth forests where it nests and feeds. Today, it also faces a new threat from a cousin, the Barred Owl &mdash once an inhabitant of the Great Plains, now expanding its range westward due to a variety of human factors, including fire suppression in boreal forests, and the planting of shelterbelts in the northern Great Plains. . . Does Judge Pechman take that bigger picture into consideration when she weighs the fate of a species? JULIA WHITTY

People Powered Farms?

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 9:04 PM EDT

Two grad students from MIT want to harvest the energy of human movement in urban settings. The so-called "Crowd Farm" would turn the mechanical energy of people walking or jumping into a source of electricity. James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning say a Crowd Farm in Boston's South Station railway terminal would work like this: A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps would be installed beneath the station's main lobby. The slippage of the blocks against one another as people walked would generate power through the principle of the dynamo, which converts the energy of motion into an electric current. They point out that although a single human step can only power two 60W light bulbs for one flickering second, a crowd in motion, with 28,527 steps, for example, could make enough energy to power a moving train for one second. The pair tested a prototype stool at the Venice Biennale and in a train station in Torino, Italy, which exploited the passive act of sitting to generate power. The weight of a human body spun a flywheel, which powered a dynamo that lit four LEDs. "People tended to be delighted by sitting on the stool and would get up and down repeatedly," said Graham.

Glad to see innovation coming from new, even unexpected, fields. Just shows how many human brains are turning to solving these issues. Sometimes hope abounds. JULIA WHITTY

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Birds on the Pill?

| Thu Aug. 2, 2007 4:56 PM EDT

pigeon.bmp

To curb the out-of-control population growth of pigeons in Hollywood, and the excrement that comes along with them, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has suggested giving them birth control pills. OvoControl P will be placed in rooftop feeders in the next few months around the 5,000 pigeon-strong area in a "humane" attempt to control this poopy situation. The method is supposed to cut the population in half by 2012.

This plan brings about various questions. How much will the pills cost and who is going to pay for them? Are they truly safe for the birds? Are people upset? Is this ethical? Here are a few answers:

  • Cost: The pill costs $4.88 per pound. That means around $6 a day for 100 pigeons and $60,000 a year (including food, feeders, reports and worker compensation).
  • Who's paying: The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce will pay $1,000 in September. The Hollywood Entertainment Business Improvement District pleged $5,000. The rest? Lobbying to business improvement districts.
  • Ethical quandry: This method is allegedly the most humane way to go about it. The pill interferes with egg development, and the plan was proposed by PETA after all.
  • The enraged: Well, we can probably bet the Bird Lady isn't too happy.

And all this because people like feeding birds. Well done, Mary Poppins.

—Anna Weggel

The Power of Wind Energy

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 8:24 PM EDT

This Friday, the House is voting on bill H.R. 969, including the Udall-Platts Amendment that will require more of our electricity to come from renewable power sources like wind. In addition to creating jobs, the amendment is designed to keep electricity bills low, reduce our dependence on sources of power that aren't created in the U.S., and curb greenhouse gas emissions. Check it out.

Big oil & coal are fighting it. Fight them. Renewables are good for all stakeholders on planet Earth. JULIA WHITTY

Kashmiri War Good For Wildlife

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 7:59 PM EDT

The violence that's killed thousands of people in South Asia's disputed Kashmir region has, ironically, fostered a 30 to 60 percent increase in the population of endangered Asiatic black bears. The bears are the victims of poachers, who hunt them for their fur, paws, and gall bladders, which have mythical medicinal qualities. The WorldWatch Institute reports the story by the Toronto Globe and Mail, that the presence of the Indian military and opposition fighters in Himalayan forests has discouraged poachers from entering the area, allowing the bears to recover slightly. . . Hmm. War. What is it good for? . . . Not to mention which, maybe it's kept a few from the dancing bear (aka slave) trade.

Check out some of the lucky few. JULIA WHITTY

Sharkrunners Lets You Play Marine Biologist

| Tue Jul. 31, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

Here's a blog from publishing house O'Reilly on a Discovery Channel online game called Sharkrunners that lets you play the part of a marine biologist tracking sharks, many endangered. You get a virtual boat and virtual crew but track real-life sharks tagged with GPS receivers. When your boat encounters a shark, you're alerted via email and/or SMS. You get three hours to collect data about the shark, the goal being to collect as much data as possible. (Okay, in the real world more data is not always better, case in point: our overwhelmed intelligence agencies, but…) As Brady Forrest at O'Reilly reports:

My boat, the Roo, has just left the port of San Luis Obispo. We had our first encounter 15 minutes after leaving port. Now that I have some funding I'll probably get another crew member (which increases the likelihood of my getting data and decreases the likelihood of my crew dying) or upgrade my boat (a better craft allows me to stay out to sea longer). My single shark encounter netted me $2,200. Given that the game launched a week and players already have over $700,000, I think the players really like it.

Sounds like fun for everyone. Except the sharks. JULIA WHITTY