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Sick by Sippy Cup

Lisa Song | Mar 02, 2010 10:32 AM

Beware the smiling creature in your bathtub: it's yellow, it squeaks, your kids love it, and it gets into your bloodstream—literally. The average rubber duck is covered in phthalates, industrial chemicals that make plastics more flexible. While that's good for the rubber bounciness of bath toys, some phthalates have proven to be endocrine disruptors that mess with human hormones. Two Western states (Washington and California) have even banned phthalates from children's toys.

Rubber duck









Photo credit: Muu-harku

So researchers Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie set out to find just how much phthalate the average person absorbs. In a caper reminiscent of the documentary Super Size Me, they spent four days exposing themselves to everyday chemicals, then wrote up the results in Slow Death by Rubber Duck: the Secret Danger of Everyday Things (published Jan. 2010). After washing with brand-name soaps and shampoos containing phthalates (used to add scents to beauty products), phthalate levels in their bodies multiplied by as  much as 22 times.

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This little plaza went to Market

Nicholas Neely | Mar 01, 2010 08:45 AM

This little "parklet" stayed at Divisadero ... And this news might make some San Franciscans go "Wee wee wee," all the way home.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom announced last week that the City by the Bay will create four new plazas and five "parklets" by summer, using contiguous parking spaces volunteered by corporations and neighborhood businesses. Each parklet will consist of a platform built flush with the sidewalk, with tables, chairs, umbrellas, potted flowers and shrubbery. The microparks  are meant to discourage a few more drivers — and thus, congestion and air pollution — also intended by a  bill proposed in the California State Senate to reduce "free parking" throughout the Golden State. More importantly, they'll provide a place to park your rump and nurse a coffee. (Several of the parklets will appear in front of cafes, which want you to hang out, of course.)

For the cost of just $7,000 a parklet (more for plazas), these innovative spaces are just about the only way San Francisco can continue greening its plethora of concrete amid a budget crunch. They follow on the heels of a pilot pedestrian plaza that opened in May on Market and 17th Street in the Castro. They're also inspired  by the city's popular PARK(ing) Day, during which people temporarily roll out lawns across a few metered spots to barbecue or even set up a swing.

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The trouble with monuments

Jonathan Thompson | Feb 26, 2010 05:00 AM

Last week, Western conservative congressmen found a great excuse to get all worked up, apoplectic, and downright angry in the gleeful way that Western conservatives seem to have a premium on. President Obama, they said, was ready to make a massive land grab that would turn huge swaths of Western states into federal fiefdoms, off-limits to gas drilling, off-road-vehicles, grazing, coal mining and all kinds of other God-given rights. 

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This'll buoy your day

Nicholas Neely | Feb 25, 2010 08:50 AM

A bevy of bright-yellow buoys may soon bob off the coast of Reedsport, Oreg. With each rise and fall of an ocean swell, the flotilla of giant, robotic, $4 million duckies will generate electrons to power TVs and  industries. The electricity will travel to an underwater substation, then by cable to shore. What impact will these plunging machines – humming with electromagnetic fields, strung together by a network of cables – have on the marine environment? No one's really sure. 

Such is the gist of a new report prepared for Congress by the Department of Energy. Much of the report, which explores the possible impacts of energy generators on marine and aquatic environments, is necessarily speculative, pointing out a fathomless list of side effects surmised from related, existing situations, like traditional hydro-electric turbines, offshore wind farms, bridge construction, and so on.

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The Illusory Cowboy Way

Ed Quillen | Feb 25, 2010 07:09 AM

    It stands to reason that a state that features a cowboy riding a bronco on its license plate would be partial to "the cowboy way."
    And the Wyoming legislature is trying to make it official with a code derived from the 2004 book Cowboy Ethics, by James P. Owen.
    The proposed code is short and simple (the full text is available here as a PDF download; look for SF0051), with provisions like "Take pride in your work," "Ride for the brand," and "Talk less, say more."
    If adopted, the Wyoming Cowboy Code will be symbolic with no legal force or effect, but it makes me wonder how the cowboy came to symbolize all that is right and virtuous.
    In the 19th century, a "cow-boy" was pretty much a rowdy ruffian. For instance, Wyatt Earp referred to Tombstone's "tough element" as "the cow-boys and stage robbers." And weren't cowboys involved in Wyoming's infamous Johnson County War in 1892, when the large stock growers raised a private army to go after the small ranchers?
    We can likely blame Hollywood and the old dime novels for the transformation of the cowboy from the hard-riding and hard-drinking footloose fellow into a modern Sir Galahad, the epitome of responsibility and rectitude.
    But that doesn't square with reality. I've lived in cow country all my life. I've gone on roundups and ridden drag on three-day cattle drives. I've known quite a few cowboys.
    And they seem pretty much like any other occupational group, be they miners, lumberjacks, mechanics or journalists. Some are trustworthy, some aren't. Some work hard, others shirk. Some drink too much and get dangerously violent, others are temperate and sensible. Some are braggarts and show-offs, others are quiet and modest.
    This could go on indefinitely, but by now it should be clear that there are real cowboys, as diverse in their ways as any other group, and then there are those imaginary cowboys that appear in the Code of the West.


Thumbs up for Wyo's wind tax

Jonathan Thompson | Feb 25, 2010 03:45 AM

Wyoming has some of the world's best winds for generating power. And wind energy developers salivate over all those big, wide-open, unpeopled spaces. It's no surprise then that turbines have been sprouting in those spaces at a rapid rate over the past year or so, upping the state's total wind generating capacity by more than 30 percent in just one year. Given Wyoming's status as an energy colony – it produced nearly half of all the coal used in the U.S. last year – it is a bit surprising the reception the state has given to wind, which has been with less than open arms.

The state banned wind farms from prime sage grouse areas, putting about half of the state's highest grade winds off-limits. It repealed its sales tax exemption for turbines. And some of its most prominent public officials have blasted the industry for running roughshod over Wyoming's wild lands and wildlife. Now, as part of a flurry of wind-hampering bills, the legislature is on the brink of passing a wind tax, and the turbine pushers are in a frenzy of worry. They’re even mimicking their colleagues in the oil and gas industry, threatening to leave the state if a tax passes.

But such a tax could be the best thing that ever happened to wind in Wyoming. 

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Sam Hamilton's Vision

Rachel Waldholz | Feb 25, 2010 03:40 AM

Sam Hamilton, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, died last Saturday after suffering chest pains while skiing with friends outside Frisco, Colo. He was just 54.

Hamilton had been on the job only five and a half months, but he'd laid out an ambitious new agenda for the agency, pushing it to focus on the coming impacts of climate change and plan ahead for major shifts in wildlife range and habitat. He was a champion of "landscape-scale conservation," which aims to bring state and federal agencies together with private landowners to manage large swaths of land transcending property boundaries. (A similar idea, the Wildlands Network's Spine of the Continent Project, is described in our last issue).

In an interview with ClimateWire in December, Hamilton stressed that the agency needs to anticipate the effects of climate change and plan accordingly:

The biggest immediate need is to beef up the agency’s scientific capacity, a long-neglected area, Hamilton said…

To do this, scientists face a daunting task of wedding global climate data to regional models specific to a habitat or wildlife population.

Such information, for example, would help FWS predict where a species might migrate as climate warms – and plan how to help it get there. An effort to set up a migration corridor in the Northern Rockies is already under way to deal with threats like climate and habitat fragmentation. There, ranchers are getting payments to keep their lands instead of selling to developers.

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Balancing Nevada

Judith Lewis Mernit | Feb 24, 2010 10:15 AM

Nevada’s special legislative session, currently in its second day, has been described by many as a dog-and-pony show effort to balance the state budget – most of the real negotiations to extract money from the private sector and cut state spending has been going on behind the scenes in closed-door sessions. But listening to the testimony of the aggrieved, however tedious, sure makes you understand what’s at stake when a state endeavors to pull itself into the black “with responsible government spending and without raising taxes,” as Governor Jim Gibbons has pledged to do.

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Mules making a comeback

Ed Quillen | Feb 20, 2010 02:55 AM

    The mule, a sterile cross between a jackass and a mare, is a creature "without pride of ancestry nor hope of posterity." And it's also the subject of an article in the current edition (Feb. 15-22) of The New Yorker.
    The full text is available only to subscribers, although an abstract  is available on-line. In general, the article explains the mule's comeback from a low point in the 1950s, when tractors finished taking over on the farm and the U.S. military became totally mechanized.
    But the mule market has come back with a growing Amish population and the military's need to operate in rugged, isolated areas where pack animals work better than trucks. The mules used for the military's animal-packing school in California come from Montana.


The scope of a pipeline

Nicholas Neely | Feb 18, 2010 07:25 AM

Water entrepreneur Aaron Million's world may course with "Wild Turkey, fast horses and gunfire." But his proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project — a massive pipeline that would dogleg 250,00 acre feet of water from Wyoming's Green River across the Rockies, and south to Pueblo, Colorado — may not be flowing toward completion at quite the same rate.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency responsible for reviewing the proposal under the Clean Water Act, estimates it'll take five years to complete an Environmental Impact Statement for the project, which will require an estimated $3 billion in private funding to execute. (Can't be cheap to create new reservoirs near Fort Collins and Pueblo, let alone build a 568-mile pipeline.) However, the 6-month scoping  period, in which the public was invited to comment on the idea, is now in the Corps' books.  Their summary report, released this month, demonstrates the mounting controversy and confusion over Million's ambitious dream to help slake — or encourage? — the ever-growing thirst of the Front Range.

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