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Archive for the ‘The Economist’ Category

The title and headline I suggested for this piece was, “The Sustainable Olympics?: 2010 Winter Games organizers go for green, get tarnished bronze.” It is the longest Green.view I’ve written and the first to feature an inconspicuously embedded link to my previous reporting. (Check out the link below on “metal salvaged.”) Because it will be hidden behind a paywall soon, I’ve pasted the whole column under the photo. Before then, you can recommend my piece and respond to my favorite comment.

UPDATE: This column is the top science story featured on the “Online highlights” page of the February 27th issue of The Economist!


The 2010 Winter Olympics

THE record-breaking warmth experienced in Vancouver over the weeks running up to the Winter Olympics left the ski slopes slushy and bumpy, with many of the world’s best skiers tumbling like novices on a double black diamond. It also put something of a dent in the attempts by Vanoc, the organising committee for the 2010 Winter Olympics, to make its games greener than any that have come before. The poor conditions have required the shipping in of snow (more like slush by the time it gets there) from further north, using lorries and helicopters, and the application of a lot of extra effort into tending what snow there is naturally.

It is a measure of the amount of energy that such games require, though, that the dent made in the games’ carbon budget by all those lorries, helicopters and all-night snowcat operations has been, in relative terms, remarkably small. “If we used helicopters every day from this point until the end of February for eight hours a day, it would increase our carbon footprint by less than one percent,” Linda Coady, vice-president of sustainability for Vanoc, told reporters at the beginning of the month.

Though most sports fans may have missed the fact, since 1994 “sustainability” has been the official “third pillar” of the Olympic movement, the other two being sport and culture. In its commitment to this ideal, Vanoc has tried to produce a greener Olympics than any seen before. Leaving the problems of unseasonable warmth aside, how well has it done? (more…)

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My editor chopped my lede about Maine’s record red tide, a toxic algal bloom that posed skin and respiratory risks to beachgoers and resulted in a summer-long suspension of shellfish harvesting in “Vacationland,” in favor of those familiar culprits jellyfish [yawn]. Otherwise, I’m very happy with the piece.

Warmer water is exacerbating problems in the oceans

THE fishermen of Kokongi, Japan, have seen record hauls this year. They are not, however, very happy. Their nets are trapping jellyfish: giant, gelatinous, wobbly and worthless. Jellyfish were once rare along these shores, but are now an almost annual occurrence.

It is the same story in many other parts of the world. Jellyfish are blamed for damaging fishing, shutting down power and desalination plants, and upsetting swimmers.

There is one man, though, who may be justified in saying “I told you so”. His name is Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, in San Diego, and for the past decade he has been touring the world giving a depressing presentation he calls the “Brave New Ocean”.

Dr Jackson is a commanding presence in any room, with his long, white ponytail and booming voice. The story he has been telling is quite simple, that the world’s oceans are undergoing a profound shift because of overfishing, habitat destruction and warming. The effects are seen in the rise of jellyfish, and also in algal blooms and “blobs”, something he describes as “the rise of slime”. (more…)

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UPDATE: This has been my most recommended (68) and commented on (29) article to date.  Granted, some of the responses were from delusional climate change skeptics, but at least it’s nice to know people are reading!

fire border

Climate change could ignite wars in volatile regions

THE Matterhorn, an iconic emblem of the Alps, has two peaks: one on its Swiss side and one on its Italian side. Between them, the boundary separating the two countries traces the mountain ridge until it reaches the glacier at its base. According to a convention agreed long ago between Switzerland and Italy, the ridge of the glacier marks the border between the two countries. But the glacier is now receding, so a draft agreement has been proposed to create a new border that coincides with the ridge of the underlying rock.

The proposed change to this particular international border is unlikely to result in war. As the world warms up, however, more and more countries will need to renegotiate their boundaries. Your correspondent is concerned that a peaceful outcome is by no means assured.

Indeed, two recent reports from the Centre for Naval Analysis, an American military-research institute, suggest that border-related conflicts are a growing threat. In its report on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change”, published in 2007, it warns that “Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.”

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THIS is getting ridiculous.

Leaders of the Senate Finance Committee this afternoon revealed that another of President Obama’s nominees — U.S. Trade Representative-designate Ron Kirk — has tax problems.

Finance staff briefed aides to committee members today on the revelations, which indicate the former Dallas mayor underpaid taxes to the tune of $9,975 during 2005-07, and that he has agreed to promptly file adjustments. The underpayments deal in part with speaking honoraria he received that he listed as charitable donations to his alma mater, Austin College.

The committee is also asking about Dallas Mavericks season tickets that Mr Kirk wrote off as business expenses.


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Taming the rock-concert industry’s excesses

AS ANY country-music fan knows, Willie Nelson, America’s favourite outlaw-troubadour, can’t wait to get on the road again. Although he often sings about whiskey, since 2004 his tireless touring has been fueled by an entirely different sort of liquid: biofuel (which he has cleverly branded “BioWillie”).

Mr Nelson, one of the founders of the annual Farm Aid concert series, began running his tour bus on biofuel to support American farmers, but musicians and concert promoters have started using the fuel as part of an effort to reduce the environmental impact of their live shows. How effective has the concert industry been in shrinking its carbon footprint?

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Better course management can make golf green

LAST summer the big three American automakers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, who have all watched their market shares diminish under the pressure of foreign competition, suffered yet another embarrassment at the hands of Toyota. Paul W. Smith, who hosts a radio show in Detroit, passed over the hometown companies and asked Toyota to sponsor his annual golf tournament. Ten years ago, asking a foreign company to host a local event would have been unthinkable.

A decade ago it would have been similarly unthinkable for a company like Toyota, which adheres to a “global earth charter that promotes environmental responsibility throughout the entire company,” to sponsor an event on one of America’s often over-watered, over-treated golf courses. But like the hybrid vehicles Toyota now produces, golf is getting greener.

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