Quantcast

Sierra Daily: June 2012
Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Contact Us

March April 2014

Read the latest issue of Sierra



« May 2012 | Main | July 2012 »

17 posts from June 2012

Jun 29, 2012

Name That Bug!

Pocota_personataYou might not think twice hearing that the fungus Octospora humosa is in trouble. But chances are you’d perk up if you heard that Hotlips needs help. That’s the point of the “Name a Species” competition, run by the Guardian newspaper and the conservation groups Natural England and Buglife. “It’s difficult for people to empathise with scientific names,” notes a Natural England press release. “The colourful and highly descriptive common names that have been applied throughout history have helped bring us closer to the wildlife around us.”

Hotlips was the winning entry in last year’s competition, submitted by 12-year-old Rachael Blackman of Swindon for what the Guardian called “a lurid orange fungus.” (Cheeky Ms. Blackman is certainly on her way to Hogwarts or Oxford after such notoriety.) This year’s list of “ten species with no name” includes a bee-mimicking hoverfly, a parasitic barnacle, and a spider-stalking wasp.

Alas, the competition is open only to U.K. residents and ends July 2. But it’s still fun to root for species everywhere and to chuckle over reader submissions. There seems to be a trend to work austerity-embattled Prime Minister David Cameron into entries. (Hat tip to the New York Times Green blog.)

Image of the bumblebee-mimicking hoverfly Pocota personata by Exo61

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

 

Dispense With A Horse

First car adHere, courtesy of Retronaut, is the first American car ad, from 1898. The first buyer was one Robert Allison of Port Carbon, Pennsylvania. What struck me was the expense-saving pitch--that one could run the Winton Motor Carriage for 1/2 cent per mile.

Inflation calculation is tricky pre-1913, but half a cent in 1898 is worth about 15 cents today. That per-mile rate would still be a pretty good deal, considering that the AAA estimates that the average new car costs about 60 cents per mile to operate.

Unless, of course, you had an electric car. According to Consumer Reports, you can drive a Nissan Leaf for 3.5 cents per mile, a Chevy Volt (in electric mode) for 3.8 cents, and a Prius for 8.6 cents per mile. Cost per mile to ride a horse these days? $1.42.  

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

Jun 28, 2012

Climate Change Fuels Western Wildfires

Contuslsta_tmo_2012169Take a good look at this satellite image [click to enlarge], courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory. The colors indicate "heat anomalies," ranging from -12 degrees cooler than the 2000-2011 average for this week in June (blue), to +12 degrees warmer (red).The intense heat wave visible over Colorado shows what's fueling the horrific Waldo Canyon fire, which has thus far destroyed hundreds of homes and caused 32,000 people to evacuate. While many media reports of the fire somehow fail to mention the words "climate change," Earth Observatory hits it on the head:

This heat wave, like all extreme weather events, has its direct cause in a complex set of atmospheric conditions that produce short-term weather. However, weather occurs within the broader context of the climate, and there’s a high level of agreement among scientists that global warming has made it more likely that heat waves of this magnitude will occur.

Maybe now that we've sorted out that health-care issue we can get back to addressing this little problem.

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

Jun 27, 2012

Waste Not, Want Rot

 According to the EPA, more than a quarter of America's municipal solid waste consists of food scraps and yard trimmings--some 33 million tons a year. Only paper and cardboard, at 28.5%, take up a larger chunk of the garbage can. Once this fine organic material is dragged off to the landfill, it rots away, producing more than 20% of all U.S. emissions of methane, a global-warming gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Here's the EPA's breakdown of the nation's trash can:

Garbage-by-type-EPA
Over at Ezra Klein's Wonkblog, Brad Plumer considers the effects of all that waste. While nearly half the world's garbage is organic matter, he notes, less than 2% is recycled or composted.

Excuse me, but that's just lame. In my neighborhood in Berkeley, California, Wednesday is garbage day. This morning I rolled our three bins out to the street: A big green bin for food scraps, butter wrappers, pizza boxes, milk cartons, and yard waste; a medium sized bin divided in two, half for glass, cans, and plastics and half for paper and cardboard; and a small bin for the stray bits of plastic and metal left over. The city diverts 34,000 tons of organic waste every year, and has a participation rate of 70% and growing. There's an added bonus: Once a month, we can go down to the city's waterfront to pick up as much beautiful compost and mulch as we can carry, all for free.

Nearly 100 cities have similar municipal composting programs. Why not yours?

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

 

Jun 26, 2012

Five Feet High and Rising

Water gauge iStock_000020378682XSmallDavid Roberts of Grist takes on the latest news about sea-level rise (spoiler alert: it’s not cheery) with the kind of blunt reporting that gets this writer to read the latest update on climate change — which, no surprise, is rarely cheery.

According to a new study in Nature Climate Change, even if the world can limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, sea levels could still rise between 5 and 13 feet by the year 2300. Cut that temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees, though, and that number could be halved. (Roberts writes: “The good news is that 1.5 degrees raises seas only 1.5 meters (5 feet) by 2300!”)

Roberts approaches climate issues the way Stanley Kubrick approached nuclear armageddon. He makes you pull the bed covers off your head and take another look, despite your cringing. You can watch him condense his understanding of climate issues into 17 minutes in the video "Climate Change is Simple." (The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin adds a more optimistic take here.)

Roberts ends with this: “So if we bust our asses for the rest of our lives, we can protect our post-2100 descendants from the worst of sea-level rise. Whee!…It’s not good news. But it’s not getting any better and whining won’t change it. Nothing to do but keep plugging away.”

Image by iStock/EyeMark

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Jun 21, 2012

Heat Grief

Heat wave iStock_000009678456XSmallThe East Coast swelters, and those of us blanketed by a typical San Francisco summer fog feel your pain. So even we winced at Wednesday’s New York Times story on the damaging effect of the world’s air conditioners on planetary climate. Couldn’t the Grey Lady’s editors have waited until a cooler day to tell its readers that pound for pound, modern air-conditioning gases “contribute to global warming thousands of times more than does carbon dioxide, the standard greenhouse gas”?

It all comes back to the celebrated 1987 Montreal Protocol, which has progressively worked to phase out ozone-damaging CFC coolants, starting with industrialized nations. It is considered the most successful environmental treaty ever crafted. But as the Times notes, “leading scientists in the field have just calculated that if all the equipment entering the world market uses the newest gases currently employed in air-conditioners, up to 27 percent of all global warming will be attributable to those gases by 2050.”

Back in 1987, ozone, not climate, was the issue, so the newest treaty-compliant air conditioners in the U.S. “now use an HFC coolant called 410a, labeled ‘environmentally friendly’ because it spares the ozone. But its warming effect is 2,100 times that of carbon dioxide.”

The Times also notes that air-conditioning sales are growing 20 percent a year in China and India. “As middle classes grow, units become more affordable and temperatures rise with climate change.”

And air conditioning has become institutionalized in the energy-gobbling U.S. People living in the Sun Belt depend on it, and rather than being designed to rely on natural ventilation, many buildings require central a/c. Grist offers up a fascinating interview with Stan Cox, author of Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer) (New Press, 2010). According to Cox, despite the increasing efficiencies of air conditioning systems, the “energy consumed by an average U.S. air-conditioned home increased by 37 percent in just twelve years. That, along with population increase and wider adoption of air-conditioning, led to a doubling of total energy consumption for home air-conditioning.”

Image by iStock/gchutka

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Jun 20, 2012

Beauty and the Beast

Elle portrait_052OK, it was an unfair competition. On the one hand you have supermodel/supermom Elle Macpherson posting an op-ed on CNN.com in support of the Obama administration's new air-toxics standards that would cut mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants by 90 percent. She writes:  

Although I do my best to be sure my two sons grow up healthy, strong, independent and responsible, I cannot control what is in the air they breathe. Right now, millions of kids across this country breathe in pollution pumped into the air by coal-fired power plants. This can impair a child's development and cause asthma attacks,the No. 1 reason kids miss school.

Macpherson concluded with an urgent political pitch:

Unacceptably, however, these landmark protections are under attack in Congress. On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on whether to overturn the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.This shortsighted legislation goes so far that it would prevent the EPA from ever acting on this issue again.

Inhofe

Behind those attacks was Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. As Macpherson noted, his proposed "Congressional Review Act" would have not only blocked implementation of the new air safeguards, but would have permanently barred the EPA from addressing the issue in the future. Nearly 100 U.S. mayors wrote in support of the mercury standards, which the EPA projects will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths.

This morning, senators faced the choice between siding with Macpherson or the curmudgeonly Inhofe. Only 46 voted against the new standards, while 53 supported them. Among those supporters was West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller, who has in the past opposed regulation of coal-plant emissions. "Wonder if Elle MacPherson was key to convincing Rockefeller to vote against Inhofe on mercury?" tweeted Charleston Gazette columnist Ken Ward, Jr. (@Kenwardjr). Whatever works, I say.

Macpherson photo by Regan Cameron. Inhofe photo courtesy inhofe.senate.gov

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

Jun 19, 2012

Big Marine Move Down Under

Hawksbill turtle coral sea iStock_000013824124XSmallLast week, Australia announced that it was preparing to create the world's largest network of marine parks, a protected area the size of India.  “It's a bigger step forward than the globe has ever previously seen,” said Environment Minister Tony Burke. “Australia is a good manager of its fisheries, but that doesn't mean we can't go a step further and establish a National Parks estate within the ocean.”

Burke’s edict, expected to be finalized by the end of this year, will extend protection to 1.2 million square miles, one third of the nation’s territorial waters. It will restrict oil and gas exploration as well as fishing of the island continent nation’s more than 4,000 fish species. Currently, 310,000 square miles of Australia’s waters are protected, and just 1.1 million square miles of oceans worldwide are protected, according to Protect Planet Ocean.

Hawksbill turtle in Coral Sea. Image by iStock/Tammy616.

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra.  He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term.  For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s  Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

Jun 18, 2012

Oil Subsidies Dwarf Renewable Energy Efforts

Today is the Twitterstorm aimed at getting the nations gathering in Brazil for the Rio Earth Summit to take a huge step toward stopping climate change by ending their subsidies for fossil fuels. This graphic from the new issue of Sierra sketches the extent of the problem--and these are only U.S. figures. The giant red planet represents taxpayer subsidies to the oil companies, while industry investments in renewable energy are almost too small to picture. [click on image to expand]

OIL_SOLAR_SYSTEM-900

"It's time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy," claims the ad from Chevron, the second biggest U.S. oil company. Chevron's competitors also tout their investments in renewables. But according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, for every dollar the industry spends on renewables, it spends $522 on finding and producing oil. In the solar system of oil industry economics, renewables are a tiny moon. Figures are for the years 2006 through 2010.

Illustration by Peter and Maria Hoey

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.

 

Jun 15, 2012

Corporations Try to Disenfranchise Environmental Voters

GR_openerSay you're a large U.S. corporation with an interest in defeating pro-environmental candidates for public office. Which voters would you most want to keep away from the voting booth? At the top of your list would be Latinos, African Americans, and young people.

According to polls, all three groups strongly and consistently support environmental issues. A Pew poll in March of 2011, for example, found that 82 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds support increased federal funding for alternative energy, compared with just 54 percent of those over age 66. And when asked whether climate change is a "very serious" problem, 59 percent of Caucasians agree, while 69 percent of African Americans and 74 percent of Latinos do.

Now, just in time for November's general election, comes a coordinated plan to disenfranchise those green voters. Acting from cookie-cutter legislative templates furnished by the corporate-financed American Legislative Exchange Council, 176 bills to restrict voting rights have been introduced in 41 states since the beginning of 2011, and bills have passed—or are on the verge of passing—in 14. The ostensible reason for the legislation is to eliminate the threat of voter fraud—in the words of Kansas governor Sam Brownback, to "ensure the sanctity of the vote."

Voting fraud, however, is so rare that it borders on nonexistent. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter-impersonation fraud. In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley supported voting restrictions on the grounds that she didn't "want dead people voting." The state's election commission conducted a study of 207 votes by "allegedly dead people" in the 2010 election. It found that more than half were attributable to clerical errors, 56 involved people who were not in fact dead, 3 were absentee ballots cast by voters who died before Election Day, and the remaining 10 were cases of "insufficient information." Evidence of zombie voting: 0.

Efforts to solve this phony problem vary from state to state. Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee require would-be voters to present proof of citizenship prior to registration. Florida makes voter registration so onerous that the League of Women Voters has ceased its registration efforts there. The most common suppression laws, however, require voters to show a specific form of photo ID at the polls. In Texas, licenses to carry concealed firearms are considered valid, while student IDs are not.

Twenty-one million American citizens, in fact, lack the kind of photo ID that would pass muster under these laws. Among that number are 18 percent of young eligible voters, nearly 11 percent of Latinos, and 25 percent of African Americans. Because of the laws' discriminatory effect, the Justice Department has been able to block voter ID laws in states with prior histories of discrimination—such as South Carolina and Texas—under the Voting Rights Act. Elsewhere, however, even though U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that making it harder for people to vote "goes against the arc of history," the feds have declined to take action*. 

So this November, millions of eligible voters may find themselves denied the opportunity to cast a ballot. To forestall that possibility, various groups are challenging voter-suppression laws on a state-by-state basis. In Pennsylvania, for example, the ACLU and the NAACP are suing to overturn that state's voter ID law. Their lead plaintiff is Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old woman who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Macomb, Georgia, and has voted regularly since casting her ballot for John F. Kennedy in 1960. She never learned to drive and lost her photo ID when her purse was stolen years ago. She's tried to obtain a new ID, but the state can't find her birth certificate and so won't issue one.

"I think it stinks," Applewhite says in an ACLU video. "It's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. I got in line and marched with [King]. There was so many rights we did not have. The way they take them away, we'll be right back where we were before."

*Update: After this story in Sierra went to press, the Justice Department filed suit against the state of Florida to end its purge of the voter rolls.

Illustration by David Plunkert

HS_PaulRauberFINAL (1)

PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber.


User comments or postings reflect the opinions of the responsible contributor only, and do not reflect the viewpoint of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club does not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any posting. The Sierra Club accepts no obligation to review every posting, but reserves the right (but not the obligation) to delete postings that may be considered offensive, illegal or inappropriate.

Up to Top


Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2009 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.