Blue Marble

Contingency Plans for Skiers, as the World Warms

| Wed May 16, 2007 3:49 PM EDT

Skiers were very disappointed by a lack of snow last season. But within a few years, they may be able to ski just outside of Fort Worth in the summer, according to Jennifer S. Forsyth in today's Wall Street Journal (behind subscription wall). Some ambitious businessmen plan to develop a $695 million "Alpine Village" called Bearfire Resort, with chairlifts, ice rinks, a retail center and hotel, all on a flat prairie in Texas where temperatures reach 100 degrees. They'll use a polymer surface called Snowflex, like wet, white Astroturf with bristles. It's not my idea of a vacation. But at least it's not refrigerated, like a domed ski resort in Dubai, a city soon to import polar bears as amusement. Speaking of defying nature and ignoring global warming, did you know that the Cardinals play in an open-air stadium in Arizona, air-conditioned in 100-degree plus heat?

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Weird Weather Watch: Wildfire in New Jersey, Started by the Military

| Wed May 16, 2007 3:28 PM EDT

New Jersey officials called a wildfire begun yesterday afternoon by an F-16's flare "one of the larger fires we've had for quite a few years." That's saying something. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's website, which lists historically significant wildfires, shows an increasing frequency of major fires since the 1990s. As it turns out, flares dropped in military exercises have caused more than one. Careless smokers have been arrested for starting fires—will military pilots face the same punishment?

An additional note on the fires currently burning in Florida and Georgia: Not only is fire ravaging a historically huge swath of Georgia's landscape, but people with respiratory illnesses were told to stay inside today. Add their lost productivity and potential illnesses to the tally of the cost of global warming. On the Florida side of the border, flames have already destroyed more than half that state's yearly average of acres destroyed. (The current fire covers 120,000 acres; a representative from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services told me the state loses about 200,000 acres a year.)

Stress-Busting

| Tue May 15, 2007 10:26 PM EDT

When did "stress" become the public enemy of health and creativity? It's an interesting question, now that doctors attribute medical ailments to "stress," corporations hold stress-management seminars, and friends talking about problems are told to just not "stress out," because "stress" itself is their problem. In fact, stress-management is the product sold by several billion-dollar industries.

Author Angela Patmore tells Ode Magazine, "A lot of stress management is tranquilizing people, giving relaxation therapies and massages. I believe that's harmful, because instead of empowering people, it slows them down.... We're creating a society of people who are afraid of working. Besides, all this talk about stress doesn't solve underlying workplace problems. It distracts attention from an organization that is run poorly, for instance."

She writes in the Guardian, "Arousal and emotions have been turned into syndromes, and an industry with more members than our armed forces drip-feeds us alarmist medicalising twaddle known as 'stress awareness' about our brains and bodies, the effect of which is to warn us, 'Let us calm you down or you will die.'"

We should seek resolution, not relaxation, she says, in a philosophical, psychological, and historical critique of that one word that has come to stand for so much.

Common Chemicals Are Linked to Breast Cancer

| Tue May 15, 2007 7:22 PM EDT

New studies link 200 chemicals to breast cancer, the leading cause of death to American women in their late 30s to early 50s. Marla Cone writes in the Los Angeles Times:

Of the 200 breast carcinogens, "73 are present in consumer products or are food contaminants — 1,4-dioxane in shampoos, for example, or acrylamide in French fries. Thirty-five are common air pollutants, 25 are in workplaces where at least 5,000 women are employed, and 10 are food additives, according to the reports.
Only about 1,000 of the 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States have been tested on animals to see whether they induce cancerous tumors or mutate DNA. Such tests cost $2 million each."

For more on environmental toxins, read Cone's Dozens of Words for Snow, None for Pollution in our January 2005 issue. "Perched atop the Arctic food chain, the people of the Far North face an impossible choice: abandon their traditional foods, or ingest the rest of the world's poisons with every bite."

Weird Weather Watch: SoCal, Florida and Minnesota Are Burning

| Wed May 9, 2007 5:10 PM EDT

Griffith Park, a park beloved by Angelenos, is experiencing a major brushfire. Animals from the nearby zoo have been moved indoors and 400 homes were evacuated. So far, only one man has been injured and firefighters expect to have the blaze contained shortly.

There are also major fires covering 130,000 acres along the Florida-Georgia border and 17,000 acres in Minnesota. Florida Department of Forestry documents [PDF] show that wildfires are not uncommon in May, but the present fires are among the biggest in Georgia history. I've got a call in to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, but a quick look at their website suggests they are not at all accustomed to major fires, and the current fire is only 5 percent contained.

Weird Weather Watch: Bone Dry Spring Means No Flowers or Berries

| Tue May 8, 2007 6:02 PM EDT

I've blogged in the past about the severe drought in Southern California, which has kicked fire season off early. It's also putting a serious damper on spring flora and fauna activity. The L.A. Times reports:

Seasonal ponds are cracked dry, leaving no haven for some frog eggs or fairy shrimp to hatch. Some flower-dependent butterflies are staying dormant for another season. Plants aren't bearing berries; some oak trees aren't sprouting acorns. Bees are behaving strangely.

Ranchers are sending a stronger signal to the economically-minded: The grass is too dry for cattle to graze, and ranchers are selling cows cheap or moving them out of state.

Not only are bees "behaving strangely"—their numbers are way down around the globe—but they have no flowers to pollinate, and no pollination means no honey. So it's official: California is not the land of milk or honey.

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Hospitals Fleece the Uninsured

| Tue May 8, 2007 3:36 PM EDT

Going without health insurance really wouldn't be so bad if independent patients could pay the same per procedure as insurance companies do. But U.S. hospitals charge patients without health insurance an average of 2.5 times more for services than fees paid by health insurers, and 3 times more than Medicare does. According to a new study, that gap has more than doubled in two decades. It effectively excludes the uninsured from the system. "Fifty years ago, the poor and uninsured were often charged the lowest prices for medical services," according to one author of the study, Gerard F. Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. "The markups on care for those who can least afford it have got to end."

In other bad news, the Senate yesterday killed a move to allow patients to buy prescription drugs from abroad at a significant savings. They killed it by adding an amendment to require U.S. officials to certify the safety and effectiveness of each drug first, which would not be funded or feasible. To check for your own senator's vote, here's the roll call. A yes vote on the amendment meant they opposed drug imports. Obama, Brownback, and McCain didn't vote. Clinton voted no. Hagel, Kerry, and Kennedy voted yes to the amendment.

Premature Births Linked to Pesticides

| Tue May 8, 2007 3:21 PM EDT

Premature births vary with the season, but there's nothing natural about it. Preterm birth rates peak when pesticides and nitrates measurements in surface water are highest, from April through July, and bottom out when nitrates and pesticides were lowest, in August and September, a new study found. A previous finding was that birth defects peak from April through July, the same months as pesticides and nitrates reach their maximum concentrations in surface water. The rate of premature birth in the United States has risen almost a third since 1981. Here's more on the effect of endocrine disruption in child development.

Seeding the Seas with Iron

| Mon May 7, 2007 8:54 PM EDT

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Could sprinkling iron across the oceans prevent global warming? Sadly, it appears not. Since phytoplankton are the largest carbon dioxide sink on earth, larger than even all terrestrial plants, one idea was to dust the oceans with iron to feed phytoplankton. Scientists hoped the little organisms would quickly sink to about 300 meters, beyond the reach of that zooplankton, one level up on the food chain. Unfortunately, small-scale tests found that instead of sinking to the sea floor, the extra phytoplankton get quickly eaten by zooplankton, who metabolize and re-emit the carbon. Too bad. Still, a research ship is seeding waters around Galapagos anyway, just to bring attention to the role of phytoplankton in climate change.

Weird Weather Watch: Another Town Bites the Dust

| Mon May 7, 2007 10:05 AM EDT

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This weekend, as residents of the Foggy City dusted off their bikinis and Speedos in record-breaking 80-degree heat, the town of Greensburg, Kansas, became the second U.S. city to be destroyed by climate change. A series of tornados massacred the small town west of Wichita, destroying 95 percent of its buildings. (Miraculously, only 10 died.) The big one was a mile and a half wide with winds over 200 miles an hour (it was a class F-5 tornado, the most severe). Is there online betting for how many cities will be demolished before the federal government gets serious? Change may not be as painful as we think, as April blogged. And even if it does mean giving up cars and some air travel, it can't be as bad as the alternative.