Friday, June 29, 2012 2:02 PM
The ecological effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill
are still largely unknown. Josh Fischman, senior writer, is on the
research vessel Endeavor in the Gulf of Mexico, with a team of university scientists seeking answers. He is filing reports from the ship.
—100 miles off Pascagoula, Miss.
Debby did Gulfport this past weekend. Or threatened to, enough to toss the Endeavor’s
cruise plan up in the air. Tropical Storm Debby was barreling north
across the gulf with 50-knot winds and 15-foot waves, but the forecasts
were vague about whether she would turn east across Florida or west,
right across Gulfport, Miss., and the area we want to study. The harbor
in Gulfport is fairly exposed, and the captain didn’t relish the idea of
staying in port and getting banged against the pier. So on Sunday we
jogged four hours east, to a Coast Guard station and shipyard protected
by an island at Pascagoula. It was fly-infested—the biting buggers were
still on the ship days later—but it was quiet and it was safe.
And it gave Andrew Juhl a chance to talk about why he was on the
ship. He was hunting for predators. Small single-celled predators, but
still bigger than the oil-eating bacteria which they engulf with tiny
whiplike appendages called flagella.
Juhl is a biological oceanographer who “didn’t even see the ocean
until I was a teenager, because I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin,” he
says. “But I was always interested in it, probably because I watched a
lot of Jacques Cousteau as a kid.” He sees a lot of it now, as a
research scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia
University, where he holds an adjunct appointment and teaches. A
slender, quiet man, Juhl spends a lot of his time near the water in
Alaska, where he studies algae that grow inside sea ice, and on the
water here in the South, where he has been part of the Ecogig, a group studying gulf ecology since 2010.
Here his interest is bacteria, in particular the kind that live off
hydrocarbons like oil, or pieces of hydrocarbons, and a puzzle about
them spewed by Deepwater Horizon. Every milliliter of seawater has about
a million bacteria. What researchers found in the aftermath of the 2010
accident was that particular bacteria had started to degrade the oil.
But although their metabolic rates went up—the bacteria were more
active—the population wasn’t growing by much.
“That’s sort of a paradox,” Juhl says. “You’d think if there’s a food
source they’d start dividing more, and the population would increase a
lot.” (Scarcity of nutrients like nitrogen, which are not a part of the
oil, can limit population size, as one of Juhl’s colleagues, Samantha
Joye of the University of Georgia, has pointed out.
But not in this case, Juhl says. If lack of nitrogen was holding
bacteria back then the metabolism would have stayed low along with
population size.) The composition of the community changed—there were
more bacteria that degraded alkanes, an oil component—but the overall
population size didn’t go up much.
The explanation, Juhl thinks, lies in the next step up the ocean food
chain: Micropredators, single cells just a few microns across that look
like spheres with hairs sticking out of them, are grazing on the
bacteria, thinning their ranks.
Read the rest at Chronicle.com.
Image: Deepwater Horizon oil spill as seen from NASA's Terra Satellites, May 24, 2010. Photo by
NASA's Earth Observatory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. This image is in the public domain.
Thursday, April 05, 2012 10:56 AM
they may be, mushrooms have been making headlines as of late. It turns out the
fungi kingdom is capable of fixing some of our species’ biggest environmental
gaffes, and boosting the economy while it's at it. Paired with a little human
ingenuity, mushrooms could be our ticket to a viable
waste sites “so steeped in oil, dioxins, and other chemicals that hardly
anything can grow on them,” fungi have become part of a plan for accelerated clean-up, reports Michael J. Coren for Fast Company. Under the guidance of Mohamed Hijri, a biologist and
professor at the University of Montreal, a few of nature’s heavy-hitters
will be introduced to such sites to work their magic. First, willow trees will
be planted densely to absorb heavy metals. The trees will then be burned, their
ashes used as food for fungi and bacteria able to metabolize petrochemical
waste. Fungi selection is still underway, but has a big payoff. A process that
might have taken hundreds of years (or longer) can be accomplished in just a
are also linking young entrepreneurs to a green living, writes Sarah Stankorb inGOOD.
Inspired by a class in business ethics, would-be consultants and investment
bankers Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez instead opted to invest in closing the
food-to-soil loop. During their final semester, the young men began growing
mushrooms in a bucket of used coffee grounds. With a little legwork and a $5,000
grant from UC Berkeley, they soon had a deal to collect grounds from a west
coast chain, Peet’s Coffee, in which they would grow mushrooms for northern
California Whole Foods stores. Soon their company, Back to the Roots, was making money for both grounds collection and mushroom sales. As
if that weren’t enough, they’re giving away the used grounds (complete with
mushroom substrate) to local gardeners for compost.
of the beneficial uses of mushrooms is not entirely new. Mycologist Paul Stamets
has been working to bring awareness to the possibilities for decades. He made
major breakthroughs in 2008 with his TED talk, "Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world" and
acknowledgement from Utne Reader,
which named him one the 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World. Looks like his
ideas have spread, taking shape in inspiring new
Image: Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) mycelium growing in a petri dish on coffee grounds. By Tobi Kellner, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011 9:56 AM
It’s been an uplifting several days for anyone who’s opposed to the massive Keystone XL oil pipeline, which had seemed to be rapidly steamrolling toward presidential approval.
First, on Sunday, an impressively large crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 protesters showed up to encircle the White House and pressure President Obama to give the pipeline a thumbs down. On the same day, the Los Angeles Times reported that the administration may now put off the Keystone XL decision until after the election. On Monday, Think Progress reported that the State Department’s office of the Inspector General would conduct a review the pipeline approval process, which has been dogged by accusations of inadequate environmental review and potential conflicts of interest.
All in all, it’s a remarkable turnaround of Keystone XL’s prospects, offering some hope—remember that word?—to environmentally conscious Americans who might have started to think that green activism is no more effective than video-game playing in changing the world.
There may be more than a little political calculus in Obama’s move to delay a pipeline decision until after the election. Last week, Reuters foreshadowed the delay when it reported that some of the president’s advisers were uneasy about the support that a Keystone XL approval could cost the campaign—especially among young, enthusiastic, door-knocking volunteers.
The situation may be a sign that times are changing. Conventional pundit wisdom holds that the environment is a minor player at presidential election time, writes Keith Kloor at the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, taking a back seat to “kitchen table concerns like the economy, health care, and war.” But the current political environment, with Keystone raising a ruckus and virtually all the Republican candidates rejecting climate-change concerns, writes Kloor, has
Juliet Eilperin, a Washington Post reporter, thinking that global warming may yet be a big issue in the 2012 election. Just yesterday, in a talk at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, Eilperin said:
“I actually think this is a really interesting moment. It is a moment that is challenging a position I’ve held for a long time, which is that the environment doesn’t play a role in elections.”
She added that climate change “has the potential to become a wedge issue. What is so interesting is whether it will be a wedge issue for the left or a wedge issue for the right.”
Still, for pipeline backers, hope—unlike oil—springs eternal. Reuters now reports that the State Department is considering rerouting the pipeline to avoid ecologically sensitive areas of Nebraska and improve its chances of success. This is despite the fact that “TransCanada said last month that it was too late in the federal approval process to move the proposed path for the line.”
Sources: Inside Climate, Los Angeles Times, Think Progress, Reuters, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media
Image by Emma Cassidy and
, licensed under
Monday, June 27, 2011 12:50 PM
Let’s see: today, it’s a story about rising sea levels. Now, close your eyes, take a few seconds, and try to imagine what word or words could possibly go with such a story.
Time’s up, and if “faster,” “far faster,” “fastest,” or “unprecedented” didn’t come to mind, then the odds are that you’re not actually living on planet Earth in the year 2011. Yes, a new study came out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that measures sea-level rise over the last 2,000 years and -- don’t be shocked -- it’s never risen faster than now.
Earlier in the week, there was that report on the state of the oceans produced by a panel of leading marine scientists. Now, close your eyes and try again. Really, this should be easy. Just look at the previous paragraph and choose “unprecedented,” and this time pair it with “loss of species comparable to the great mass extinctions of prehistory,” or pick “far faster” (as in “the seas are degenerating far faster than anyone has predicted”), or for a change of pace, how about “more quickly” as in “more quickly than had been predicted” as the “world’s oceans move into ‘extinction’ phase.”
Or consider a third story: arctic melting. This time you’re 100% correct! It’s “faster” again (as in “than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts” of 2007). But don’t let me bore you. I won’t even mention the burning southwest, or Arizona’s Wallow fire, “the largest in state history,” or Texas’s “unprecedented wildfire season” (now “getting worse”), or the residents of Minot, North Dakota, abandoning their city to “unprecedented” floods, part of a deluge in the northern U.S. that is “unprecedented in modern times.”
It’s just superlatives and records all the way, and all thanks to those globally rising “record” temperatures and all those burning fossil fuels emitting “record” levels of greenhouse gases (“worst ever” in 2010) that so many governments, ours at the very top of the list, are basically ducking. Now, multiply those fabulous adjectives and superlative events—whether melting, dying, rising, or burning—and you’re heading toward the world of 2041, the one that TomDispatch energy expert and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet Michael Klare writes about [at TomDispatch]. It's a world where if we haven't kicked our fossil-fuel habit, we won’t have superlatives strong enough to describe it.
Thirty years from now, for better or worse, the world will be a far different place: hotter, stormier, and with less land (given the loss of shoreline and low-lying areas to rising sea levels)…. New powers, corporate and otherwise, in new combinations will have risen with a new energy universe. No one can know, of course, what our version of the Treaty of Westphalia will look like or who will be the winners and losers on this planet. In the intervening 30 years, however, that much violence and suffering will have ensued goes without question.
Image by adamfarnsworth, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 08, 2011 5:25 PM
In Canada’s tar sands, oil is extracted from the earth in a destructive, laborious, energy-sucking process that makes the end product one of the dirtiest forms of oil. It leaves behind a denuded landscape and is blamed for a host of ills, including cancer, in local people. The industry also employs many people and fills a need: Our insatiable thirst for energy.
Earth Island Journal editor Jason Mark journeys to the heart of tar sands country in Northern Alberta, wrestles with thorny ethical dilemmas, and comes away with a stark insight:
In the simplest language, the debate over the morality of the tar sands comes down to a plain choice of who and what we are willing to destroy.
Mark reveals that we may end up destroying people like Marlene and Mike Orr, two residents of the mostly indigenous residents of Fort McKay, Alberta, who became whistleblowers when they spoke out against a dangerous mining waste disposal pond—and now fear the consequences of doing so. For as Mark points out, “There is not a person [in Fort McKay] who doesn’t understand that without the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry they would likely would have no likelihood at all.”
Marlene Orr describes to Mark some of the contradictions in play:
“What people outside of here need to understand when you’re talking about the impacts of oil sands, it’s not black and white. Everybody gets the health concerns, the traffic problems, the light pollution. But people are unwilling to speak out because this community is 100 percent dependent on the oil sands. There’s not a job here that’s not connected to the oil sands. Every one of us here in this community has ambivalent feelings—the health impacts, the cultural impacts, the impacts on band governance. But what do you do? Bite the hand that feeds you?”
In his editor’s note in the same issue, “Don’t Blame Canada,” Mark takes issue with environmental groups that aim to cripple the mighty tar sands machine, and notes that there’s plenty of blame to go around, even to you and me:
Convinced that they can slow the razing of the boreal forest if they can only plug the oil outflow, environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada have set their sites on stopping the expansion of cross border pipelines, halting the retrofitting of American refineries, and preventing the shipment of mining technologies. The basic idea seems to be that by squeezing supply we can increase the price of fossil fuels—and discourage their use. …
Environmental campaigners can do all the blaming and shaming of Canadian oil tycoons and financiers that they like. The fact is, there’s no way to halt the tar sands at the source. The only way to shut down the mines is to make them obsolete. And that will require finally getting over our addiction to oil. Given that more than half of the tar sands petroleum is consumed in the United States, the responsibility for the destruction up north lies with those of us who live south of the 49th parallel.
Source: Earth Island Journal
Panel image by sbamueller, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010 12:19 PM
Ecuador has struck a historic agreement to leave one-fifth of its oil reserves untapped forever. The move protects a marvelously rich area of the Amazon rainforest and will net Ecuador $3.6 billion in compensation—half the oil’s estimated value at today’s market rates—from a United Nations trust fund supported by developed countries.
Reports Positive News:
The region is considered to be one of the most biodiverse on the planet and was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1989. It has more tree species in a single hectare than the U.S. and Canada combined and is teeming with a diverse array of insects, birds, amphibians, and mammals, a significant number of which are endangered. The 675-square-mile Ishpingo Tambococha Tiputini sector is the ancestral territory of the Huaorani people, as well as the Tagaeri and Taromenane—two of the last remaining “uncontacted” tribes in the world.
Before U.N. conspiracy theorists get all worked up about this, they should keep in mind that the fund, run by the United Nations Development Program, is a voluntary endeavor in which “donor countries, philanthropists and individuals around the world are being invited to pay the money in return for a non-exploitation guarantee,” reports Britain’s Guardian. So far, Germany has indicated it will pay $800 million over 13 years, while Spain, France, and Switzerland are considering chipping in. Writes the Guardian:
The idea of rich countries paying poor countries not to exploit their forests in return for financial compensation is being promoted [in global climate change discussions] … But the idea of paying poor countries not to develop valuable oil reserves is believed to be the most radical and most forward-looking yet.
Of course, the recent unrest in Ecuador, including an incident that President Rafael Correa described as a coup attempt, doesn’t bode well for these sorts of deals—if Correa were unseated by hostile forces, would his successor honor the no-drilling pact? Join a debate at United Nations University about the pros and cons of this new approach to conservation.
Source: Positive News
(article not available online), The Guardian, United Nations University
Image by ggallice, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 02, 2010 11:53 AM
Perhaps the argument for tougher government drilling regulations and more renewable energy production can be made on the basis of our distaste for “tarballs” washing ashore while we’re laying siege to each others’ sandcastles. The Texas Observer has posted a scary little tarball history of sorts, in which they point out:
Anyone who visited Texas’ beaches in the 1970s is familiar with the tarball. Ranging in size from a penny to a basketball, these dough-like masses of raw petroleum stained our skin and swimsuits with an unfortunate brown smear. They also made handy projectiles to throw at crabs, seagulls and friends. Tarballs seemed like just another hazard of playing in the waves, like jellyfish—the price paid for living in an oil-producing state.
In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the tarballs are likely rolling back up Texas beaches this summer.
Source: The Texas Observer
Image by elleinad, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, February 01, 2010 4:38 PM
After paying for gas at the pump, your money gets distributed throughout the world. But filling your gas tank with resources from Africa doesn’t actually help Africans. This animated investigation by Oxfam follows the gas money from the pump, through the corporate profits, to the government coffers and bribes. And how much goes to ordinary people? Not much. Watch:
Monday, September 08, 2008 2:20 PM
With the nation scrambling to learn more about a vice-presidential candidate thrust into the spotlight less than two weeks ago, environmentalists are working to get the word out about Sarah Palin’s environmental record, which could push John McCain’s relatively eco-friendly platform further right.
Grist delves into Palin’s positions on various environmental concerns in an overview called “Palin Around” (see what they did there?) and a more comprehensive article called “Palin Comparison” (and there?). Not surprisingly, Palin leans rightward on most issues, including global warming, where she parts company with her running mate. “I wouldn't call her a climate change denier, but she is extremely close to that position,” says John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. “She seems to be failing to acknowledge virtually all credible science.”
Alaskans are already familiar with their governor’s attitude toward their ecosystem. Yale Environment 360 tells the story of (the appropriately named?) Bristol Bay, whose headwaters cover a massive deposit of valuable minerals. A ballot initiative to protect the salmon-rich bay from development by Northern Dynasty Minerals was publicly opposed by Gov. Palin, despite a constitutional ban on state officials’ involvement in ballot measures. The initiative was defeated and Northern Dynasty is proceeding in Bristol in the face of widespread opposition from various state groups.
And with Palin pushing for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, McCain reversing his position on offshore drilling, and various party faithful chanting “drill baby drill!” at the Republican National Convention last week, a curb on national oil consumption and a greener White House don’t seem terribly likely under a McCain-Palin leadership.
Image by bobster1985, licensed by Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 9:45 AM
Hillary had the unenviable task of forging unity last night, but Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer delivered the near impossible: A rousing speech on energy policy that had folks hootin’ and hollerin’.
Schweitzer hammered home the key principles that Democrats need to keep drilling into voters’ heads until November. First, there are several energy avenues that don’t wreck the planet and don’t rely on “petro-dictators.” Second, all those avenues lead to American jobs that can’t be outsourced.
We need to break America's addiction to foreign oil. We need a new energy system that is clean and green and American-made. We need a president who can marshal our nation's resources, get the job done, and deliver the change we need.
That leader is Barack Obama. [Crowd shouts Obama’s name.] Yeah, that’s what I like to hear. Barack Obama knows there's no single platform for energy independence. It's not a question of either wind or clean coal, solar or hydrogen, oil or geothermal. We need ’em all to create a strong American energy system, a system built on American innovation.
After eight years of a White House waiting hand and foot on big oil, John McCain offers more of the same. At a time of skyrocketing fuel prices, when American families are struggling to keep their gas tanks full, John McCain voted 25 times against renewable and alternative energy. Against biofuels. Against solar energy. He even voted against the wind energy.
This not only hurts America's energy independence, it could cost American families more than a hundred thousand jobs. At a time when America should be working harder than ever to develop new, clean sources of energy, John McCain wants more of the same. [Boos.] Wait till you hear this: And he has taken more than a million dollars in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry. [Boos.] Woah. Now he wants to give those same oil companies another 4 billion dollars in tax breaks. [Boos.] Four billion in tax breaks for big oil?
That's a lot of change, but it's not the change that we need.
Watch the video:
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Democratic National Convention, click here.
Saturday, June 07, 2008 4:10 PM
It’s easy to look at the disaster in Iraq, hang your head, and curse Dick Cheney’s soul. Indeed sometimes, especially at lefty fests like this weekend’s National Conference for Media Reform, it seems like all our troubles can be traced back to Dick and his underling George. Blood and Oil, a documentary based on Michael T. Klare’s 2004 book of the same name, makes a strong case for looking beyond Bush & Co. to the roots of the United States’ geopolitical oil mongering. Along the way, it takes aim at some sacred idols of the left, namely Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.
In 1945, as Roosevelt saw the United States’ self-sufficiency in oil production slipping away, he set out to meet with Saudi Arabia’s king, striking a deal that has survived all administrations since: U.S. protection of the Saudi royal family for proprietary oil development rights. From there, Klare, the defense correspondent for the Nation, traces the evolution of U.S. oil policy through various presidents, reserving a special place for Jimmy Carter, who he says laid the foundation for the doctrine sanctioning the use of military force to protect America’s strategic oil interests in the Middle East. Reagan beefed up that doctrine, and, producer Scott Morris noted in a question-and-answer session after the film, Cheney “blew the policy out of the water.” But it didn’t come out of nowhere, and that’s a valuable lesson as we prepare to write the obituary of the Bush administration and look toward the policies of the next president.
For more on the National Conference for Media Reform, click here.
Thursday, April 24, 2008 4:39 PM
Reuters reports that senators are trying to strong-arm the Bush administration into strong-arming OPEC nations that buy U.S. arms. The idea is that Congress would hold up any arms deals until folks like Saudi Arabia loosen the tap on oil.
“The Saudis have to understand this is a two-way street,” New York Senator Charles Schumer told reporters. “We provide them weapons, our troops provide them protection, and then they rake us over the coals when it comes to oil.”
Added Schumer: OPEC, Do me this favor. I won't forget it. Capisce?
Friday, April 11, 2008 1:51 PM
When it comes to casting your ballot this election season, doing your homework is key. This means having a reasonable idea of where the people on the ballot get the dough to finance their campaigns. A good place to start is PriceOfOil.org. The nonprofit site's Follow the Oil Money tool traces campaign contributions from petroleum companies and their cohorts to members of the U.S. Congress and presidential candidates. In addition to following the money, the site also tracks voting records on environmental and energy issues and war legislation. Some of the biggest oil profiteers may surprise you (we’re talking to you, Senator Mary Landrieu, D-LA).
Thanks to Skye for the url fix.
Monday, January 28, 2008 2:39 PM
For those who find the authority of Jim Cramer’s Mad Money insufficiently Biblical, the Jan.-Feb. issue of Mother Jones provides a financial narrative that hinges more squarely on the Good Book. Mariah Blake reports on apocalypse-minded evangelicals defrauded by Ness Energy International, a company claiming access to untapped Israeli oil fields. Faithful investors believed the tall tales of unknown reserves because of Biblical hints that the discovery of Israeli oil signals Armageddon. The prophesized oil was never found, and many investors were swindled out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Still, some continue to display a strange optimism. James Cojanis, an early investor who lost over $100,000 and may invest $100,000 more, emphasizes his sunny outlook:
“I’m glad the stock price is in the tank,” he says. “When they hit oil and the stock goes sky-high, that means Armageddon is around the corner.”
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!