Blue Marble

Logging Increased Wildfire Severity

| Mon Jun. 11, 2007 10:04 PM EDT

The Biscuit Fire of 2002 burned more far more severely in areas that had been salvage logged and replanted compared to similar areas that were also burned in a wildfire that was left to regenerate naturally. The new study from Oregon State University and the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service found that fire severity was 16 to 61 percent higher in logged and planted areas, compared to those that had burned severely and were left alone in a fire 15 years earlier. The study seems to debunk the working but untested hypothesis that salvage logging and replanting make fewer future wildfires. Hmm. Seems that trees, forests, and their atmosphere-scrubbing services might be happier without our [mis]management… --JULIA WHITTY

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Environmental Fact of the Day

| Mon Jun. 11, 2007 6:21 PM EDT

suvs4.jpgAmerican drivers burn 380 million gallons of gas per day, up nearly 20 percent from a decade ago. American cars are less and less fuel efficient, and Americans are driving more—despite the increasingly absurd cost of gasoline. The average driver logged 15,000 miles last year (that's 3 trillion total miles of car travel). In 1985, the average driver covered less than 12,000 miles.

I didn't drive 15,000 miles last year and my ride is a Honda Civic, but I'm guilty of automobile addiction, too. Driving seems so easy and convenient, but when you factor in traffic, road rage, gas prices, and, uh, life on Earth as we know it, it's not really such a great deal, is it?

Shift Happens

| Mon Jun. 11, 2007 5:16 PM EDT

Green Goods: Sprig Makes Consumerism (Almost) Guilt-Free

| Thu Jun. 7, 2007 8:08 PM EDT

HILO_gravyboat.jpgTo anyone who's browsed the "green" issues of Domino and Dwell, it's no surprise that you can now buy beautifully designed, environmentally sound products that don't involve hemp. For those with a modern aesthetic, the new Sprig.com offers a plethora of elegant glasses, aprons, drawer pulls, and other must-have accessories for the stylish environmentalist.

Sprig was created by the Washington Post folks, back in April, but its staff has a solid history working for high-end, consumerist glossies like Vanity Fair and In Style Home and it shows in the site's design. The pretty site easily guides shoppers through categories—home, food, fashion—featuring trendy goodies from eco-friendly manufacurers, who range from the large and well known (Muji, Pottery Barn) to the gal who hand sews vintage-style aprons in her home studio.

Another key feature of the site is that it tells you exactly why each product is "green" and allows you to search by how the product helps the environment, whether it's vegan, resource-saving, sustainable, or recycled. My faves: the classic, hand-made British 28" suitcase by GlobeTrotter and the Emma Gardner fair trade, hand-knotted rug with the gold/cerulean blossom pattern.

And even their tagline aims to make green consumerism fun: Sassy People are Into Green.

Weird Weather Watch: Cyclone in the Middle East

| Thu Jun. 7, 2007 4:29 PM EDT

oman_cyclone.jpg

Oman, a country in the Middle East, was hit by a cyclone (another name for a hurricane) yesterday, killing 23 and causing severe flooding and the evacuation of 60,000 residents. Although it was not an especially powerful storm in absolute terms, Cyclone Gonu was the strongest to hit Oman since record keeping began in 1945. That's because Oman is usually where storms limp off to die after wreaking havoc on Southeast Asia.

Iran will likely be hit today, but the storm has weakened significantly. Nonetheless, its threat to oil pipelines caused a spike in gas prices, which are already at record highs. These are the kind of ironies that global warming will continue to deliver—you get to chuckle at fossil-fueled climate change unsettling the oil market, but, in the end, high prices and 60,000 displaced people aren't really that funny.

Amnesty International Adopts Powerful Technology To Protect Darfur

| Thu Jun. 7, 2007 3:27 PM EDT

Amnesty International USA is using powerful satellite cameras to monitor highly vulnerable villages in war-torn Darfur. This is the first-ever technological capability by human rights defenders to track possible targets of attack, prevent new atrocities, and save lives, says Amnesty. The human rights organization is inviting ordinary people worldwide to help protect 12 villages by visiting the Eyes on Darfur project website (www.eyesondarfur.org) and put Sudanese President al-Bashir on notice that the areas are being watched around the clock. Check it out. --JULIA WHITTY

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Weird Weather Watch: Killer Algae Bloom

| Wed Jun. 6, 2007 4:15 PM EDT

sea_lion.jpgSea lions (pictured) and elephant seals are sick and dying off the coast of California due to a record algae bloom. Algae produces domoic acid, which is toxic to sea mammals in large doses. "In over 22 years of marine mammal rescues, I've never seen such distress of marine mammals," said Peter Wallerstein of the Whale Rescue Team, a private marine mammal rescue group. Researchers aren't sure what caused the massive bloom, but their suspects include climate change, pollution, and shifting nutrients in the water.

For Mother Jones' coverage of the effects of climate change and pollution on the ocean, click here.

Noah's Ark Of 5,000 Rare Animals Floating Off China

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 5:18 PM EDT

Five thousand of the world's rarest animals have been found drifting in a deserted boat near the coast of China. The Guardian reports the cargo included 31 pangolins, 44 leatherback turtles, 2,720 monitor lizards, and 1,130 Brazilian turtles, as well as 21 bear paws wrapped in newspaper. Photographs showed other animals, including an Asian giant turtle. They were found crushed inside crates on a rickety wooden vessel that had lost engine power. Most were still alive. The haul came from one of the world's most lucrative and destructive smuggling routes between the threatened jungles of southeast Asia and the restaurants of southern China. The animals were found when local fishermen noticed a strange smell emanating from the vessel, which did not have any registration plates. Coastguard officials boarded the deserted craft and found more than 200 crates of animals, many so dehydrated in the tropical sun they were close to death. The 13 tons of animals were taken to port, doused with water, and sent to an animal welfare center. "We have received some animals," said an office worker at the Guangdong Wild Animal Protection Centre. "We are waiting to hear from the authorities what we should do with them"...What to do with them? Another seriously bad day for any faith in human nature. --JULIA WHITTY

Noise Pollution: The Next Frontier

| Tue Jun. 5, 2007 4:13 PM EDT

It turns out that fossil fuel is interfering even more actively with our happiness than Bill McKibben wrote in a recent issue of Mother Jones. The daily noise created by fossil-fueled machines—traffic, and my two pet peeves, leaf blowers and jet skis—are making humans cranky and chronically stressed out. A growing body of studies has shown that noise—even noise we think we are "used to"—triggers the body's fight-or-flight instinct, depressing the immune system and taxing the heart.

The EPA has reported that "The idea that people get used to noise is a myth." True, people are especially bothered by noises they neither accept nor control. But while your attitude about your neighbor's leaf blower might affect your mood, you and the live-and-let-live neighbor across the street are likely to have the same elevated levels of stress hormones.

I've been hypothesizing since my stint teaching college some years ago that "the youth today" have a lower attention span than youth in my day. (I'm embarrassed to admit this because wondering what's wrong with "the youth today" officially makes one old, but hell, I'm getting closer and closer to 40.) The ever-increasing noise threshold of modern life (along with the temptations of portable video games and TV) may be to blame:

Another insidious effect of noise is its cultivation of what scientists call "learned helplessness." Children given puzzles in moderately noisy classrooms are not only more likely to fail to solve them but are also more likely to surrender early.

What's more, people were less willing to stop and help one another when the noise of a lawnmower was present. There's a sweeping critique of suburbia for you!

Of course, one person's noise is another's music. There's no word in these studies about how to address that difference, but it is interesting that the noises most often cited as irritating were cars, traffic, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, car alarms, and sirens. Humans weren't designed to deal with the noise engines make any more than the planet was prepared to accept huge discharges of the gases they pour out while they make them.

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