Blue Marble

Antarctic Glaciers Sprinting Seaward

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 3:07 PM EDT

Hundreds of glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula are flowing faster, further adding to sea-level rise. This according to new research from the British Antarctic Survey. Satellite radar images reveal the flow rate of over 300 previously unstudied glaciers increased 12% in speed from 1993 to 2003. The observations echo recent findings from coastal Greenland. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in February they could not provide an upper limit on the rate of sea-level rise from Antarctica in coming centuries because of a lack of understanding of the behavior of the large ice sheets. These new results give scientists a clearer picture about the way that climate warming can affect glaciers both in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Lead author Hamish Pritchard says "The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced some of the fastest warming on Earth, nearly 3°C over the last half-century. Eighty-seven percent of its glaciers have been retreating during this period and now we see these glaciers are also speeding up. It's important that we use tools such as satellite technology that allow us to monitor changes in remote and inaccessible glaciers on a regional scale. Understanding what's happening now gives us our best chance of predicting what's likely to happen in the future." --JULIA WHITTY

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Texas' Dirty Coal

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 11:16 AM EDT

The latest carbon dioxide emissions numbers from the Energy Department, listed by state, are out.

Not surprisingly, Texas topped the list of biggest polluters in 2003, the most recent year with available data. It holds steady as 7th in carbon dioxide emissions behind whole nations: the entire United States, China, Russia, Japan, India and Germany.

The co-star of the report was coal, Texas' major power source, because although carbon dioxide emissions from car exhaust account for 25% of America's greenhouse gasses, coal produces 50% of America's electricity and burning coal creates more carbon dioxide than any other common fuel source.

Texas seems to be a house divided regarding its own place in the global emissions hierarchy. In 2005 the state's Governor Rick Perry fast-tracked plans for 11 new TXU Corp. coal power plants after the company lined the war chest for Perry's re-election campaign. But Robert Cervenka, a Republican rancher of Riesel, Texas, managed to organize 1,000 people to fight the governor and TXU Corp. in their effort to double the state's already grossly high emissions. To Cervenka, clean air was not a political or partisan issue: It was just plain good sense. "We might not be out huggin' trees," he said, "but we're real concerned about our land, our water, and our air. It's our land, our lives." Hotshot Houston attorney Steve Susman represented Cervenka's group, pro bono, as they sued Governor Perry. An Austin judge did eventually rule that Perry had no authority to hop into bed with TXU Corp. so quickly, and the company actually ended up dropping most of its construction plans. It wasn't Texas' already high emissions ranking that fueled citizens to act; it was that no one wanted to live next to the plants, breathing the pollution.

Similarly, Texas' own environmental monitoring agency refuses to track the state's carbon dioxide emissions, instead claiming carbon dioxide is "not a regulated pollutant." The Supreme Court ruled in April, however, that the EPA could no longer get away with failing to regulate greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide in general, and the emissions of automobiles in particular. Of course, Texas was one of the nine states sitting with the EPA during this case – right alongside other parties like the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The same day, the Court ruled 9-0 that coal power plants must meet current, cost-effective pollution control standards when renovated. So even if Texas' own agency refuses to monitor carbon dioxide emissions, the EPA will be held accountable for doing so.

But by whom? Recently, in an effort to "green" the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi vowed to replace the incandescent bulbs in the Capitol's 17,000 lamps with more energy-efficient corkscrew fluorescent bulbs and to begin buying from eco-friendly vendors; but Pelosi, whose effort is supposedly to make the Capitol, which already puts out over 340,000 tons of greenhouse emissions, carbon neutral, stopped her effort just short of calling for an end to burning coal in the Capitol Power Plant. Evidently Pelosi did not want to go any rounds with her Senate colleagues from coal states like Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who have both previously blocked plans to eliminate coal from the Capitol Power Plant.

President Bush surely won't be forcing the EPA's hand in getting that agency to follow the Supreme Court's ruling by tracking carbon dioxide emissions. One has to wonder, though, when the rest of America -- and even the world -- will also stand up as those Texans did. For even though it's hard for most people to conceptualize the affect melting ice caps will have on each of our lives, few of us want to live next door to a coal-burning power plant.

Need more convincing? Check out this carbon footprint calculator to see what kind of air you're creating for the rest of us.

-- Jessica Savage

Ocean Life Navigates by Sound, Not Light

| Fri Jun. 1, 2007 8:34 PM EDT

Just spotted this passage in my fellow blogger Julia Whitty's book, The Fragile Edge:

Humans live by light, which travels fantastically well in air and in the trillions of miles of the blackest vacuum of space, yet barely penetrates three hundred feet into the water. As a result, we know more bout the surface of the moon than about the deep oceans; and precisely because the seas are largely dark, we mistake them for mysterious, when in fact they are as full of information as they are of water -- much of which we cannot register let alone understand. We may not be well-equipped to listen in, but the underwater world is an ideal conduit for sound, with the oceans divided into layers that speed or hamper sound's travels depending on temperature, salinity, chemistry, and pressure.

Wow.

Did you know that NASA's budget is around $16.8 billion, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's budget is less than $3.8 billion?

Strange Science: Viagra-Fed Oysters

| Fri Jun. 1, 2007 6:50 PM EDT

An Australian oyster farmer is growing his mollusks in Viagra-laced waters. The Sydney Daily Telegraph reports that George May began dosing his oysters with the anti-impotence drug in a bid to sell them to overseas customers, calling them the ultimate aphrodisiac. May hopes to tap into what he calls a AU$300 million Asian market… Call me silly but couldn't you just, like, take a pill & then eat an oyster without polluting an entire water supply? --JULIA WHITTY

NASA Chief Not Concerned About Global Warming

| Thu May 31, 2007 7:35 PM EDT

I've always considered it arrogant of humankind to burn enough fossil fuel to kill off half the earth's species. But the NASA chief would call me arrogant for judging. What's really arrogant, he says, is assuming that climate change won't be for the better. So NASA doesn't prioritize studying climate change from space in its $17 billion budget.

NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, a Bush appointee, tells NPR:

I have no doubt that...a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with.... I would ask which human beings—where and when—are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.

Right. Why won't future generations be better off after the sixth great extinction? What's wrong with displacing 1 billion of the world's poorest people? Who are we to judge?

Criminal Charges Against Pfizer In Nigeria

| Thu May 31, 2007 5:40 PM EDT

Nigeria is bringing criminal charges against Pfizer pharmaceuticals in the wake of its 1996 drug testing during a meningitis epidemic. The Washington Post reports that authorities filed eight charges this month, including counts of criminal conspiracy and voluntarily causing grievous harm. They also filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion in damages from the world's largest drug company.

The move represents a rare -- perhaps unprecedented -- instance in which the developing world's anger at multinational drug companies has boiled over into criminal charges. The government alleges that Pfizer researchers selected 200 children and infants from crowds at a makeshift epidemic camp in Kano and gave about half of the group an untested antibiotic called Trovan. Researchers gave the other children what the lawsuit describes as a dangerously low dose of a comparison drug made by Hoffmann-La Roche. Nigerian officials say Pfizer's actions resulted in the deaths of an unspecified number of children and left others deaf, paralyzed, blind or brain-damaged. The lawsuit says that the researchers did not obtain consent from the children's families and that the researchers knew Trovan to be an experimental drug with life-threatening side effects that was "unfit for human use." Parents were banned from the ward where the drug trial occurred, the suit says, and the company left no medical records in Nigeria.

Here's a link to a bunch of MoJo coverage of Big Pharma's trixsy ways. --JULIA WHITTY

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Extinction Stinks

| Thu May 31, 2007 4:19 PM EDT

NASA Finds Earth's Climate Approaching Dangerous Point

| Thu May 31, 2007 3:16 PM EDT

NASA and Columbia University Earth Institute research finds that human-made greenhouse gases have brought the Earth's climate close to critical tipping points. Using climate models, satellite data, and paleoclimate records, the scientists conclude that the West Antarctic ice sheet, Arctic ice cover, and regions providing fresh water sources and species habitat are under threat from continued global warming. Lead author James Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, concludes: "If global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise at the rate of the past decade, this research shows that there will be disastrous effects, including increasingly rapid sea level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones."

Meanwhile, GW Bush appears to have woken from his Rip-Van-Winkle slumber and is proffering ideas to the world that the world has already processed & left to the dust of history. Somebody give him a cup of coffee, please, and brief him on the fact the G-8 already has proposals on the table ready to be acted on NOW. The only thing holding them up? His administration. --JULIA WHITTY

Eat Less Meat To Save The Planet, Brits Say

| Wed May 30, 2007 8:26 PM EDT

Eating less meat and dairy could help tackle climate change by reducing the amount of methane gas emitted by cows and sheep. Reuters reports on an email leaked to a vegetarian campaign group, Viva, wherein a British Environment Agency official expressed sympathy for the green benefits of a vegan diet, which bans all animal product foods. The official said the government may in future recommend eating less meat as one of the "key environmental behaviour changes" needed to combat climate change… Blimey, the Brits threaten to take the lead again. --JULIA WHITTY

The Worldbike: Cargo-Carrying Bicycle Designed For Africa

| Wed May 30, 2007 7:20 PM EDT

Alex Steffen blogs at WorldChanging on the Worldbike--a cargo-carrying bicycle designed for Africa, where most bikes are used by small entrepreneurs to transport goods for a living. Now, Steffen reports, the bike has appeared in the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum exhibit, "Design for the Other 90%." According to WorldBike:

The Worldbike [is] a new platform for developing world bicycle entrepreneurs. With a lighter weight, stronger frame, V-brakes for stopping power, an ergonomic seat and riding position, a seven-speed drivetrain for hill climbing and integrated cargo racks, the Worldbike is the bike people are calling out for in developing countries. Why hasn't it been built before? Because American recreational customers are the singular focus of the bicycle industry. But things are changing. The Design for the Other 90% is one example of a growing awareness of the importance of developing products that can assist the world's poor.

In my perfect world: You could only shop at CostCo if you carried back what you bought on one of these… --JULIA WHITTY