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Gumbo for the Gulf

The oil disaster in the Gulf is a national tragedy. But here’s a chance to do something about it—right in your own kitchen.

Invite your friends over for a Gumbo for the Gulf party. Gumbo for the Gulf is a chance for us to come together to build awareness about the oil spill, raise funds for Gulf families and our ongoing work, and enjoy great food with friends.

Here’s how it works:

When you sign up here to host a Gumbo for the Gulf party, we’ll send you everything you need—recipes from New Orleans chefs John Besh and Susan Spicer, and information about the Gulf disaster and ways to get involved.

Ask your friends to chip in with a contribution to respond to the tragedy in the Gulf. Half of the contribution will go to helping Gulf families, to make sure they get immediate aid and that their voices are heard in Washington, D.C. The other half will help fund our ongoing work to make sure a disaster like this never happens again.


Global Warming “Undeniable,” U.S. Government Report Says

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The retreating Iceberg Glacier in Bernardo O'Higgins National  Park.

The retreating Iceberg Glacier in Chile’s Bernardo O’Higgins National Park (file).

Photograph by Maria Stenzel, National Geographic


Christine Dell’Amore

National Geographic News

Published July 28, 2010

Global warming is undeniable,” and it’s happening fast, a new U.S. government report says.

An in-depth analysis of ten climate indicators all point to a marked warming over the past three decades, with the most recent decade being the hottest on record, according to the latest of the U.S. National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s annual “State of the Climate” reports, which was released Wednesday. Reliable global climate record-keeping began in the 1880s.

The report focused on climate changes measured in 2009 in the context of newly available data on long-term developments.

(See “Heat Wave: 2010 to Be One of Hottest Years on Record.”) For instance, surface air temperatures recorded from more than 7,000 weather stations around the world over the past few decades confirm an “unmistakable upward trend,” the study says.

And for the first time, scientists put data from climate indicators—such as ocean temperature and sea-ice cover—together in one place. Their consistency “jumps off the page at you,” report co-author Derek Arndt said.

“This is like going to the doctor and getting your respiratory test and circulatory test and your neurosystem test,” said Arndt, head of the Climate Monitoring Branch of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

“It’s testing all the parts, and they’re all in agreement that the same thing’s going on.”

Global Warming Sparked Extreme Weather in 2009?

Three hundred scientists analyzed data on 37 climate indicators, but homed in on 10 that the study says are especially revealing.

Those indicators include:

  • humidity,
  • sea-surface temperature,
  • sea ice cover,
  • snow cover,
  • ocean heat content,
  • glacier cover,
  • air temperature in the lower atmosphere,
  • sea level,
  • temperature over land,
  • and temperature over oceans.

As scientists would predict in a hotter world, some of the indicators—such as ocean heat content and temperature over land—are increasing. Others, such as sea ice cover and snow cover, are decreasing.

The influx of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere has also hit oceans particularly hard, the NOAA report says. (See an interactive on the greenhouse effect and global warming.)

New evidence suggests that more than 90 percent of that heat trapped by greenhouses gases over the past 50 years has been absorbed into the oceans.

Because water expands as it warms, the added ocean heat is contributing to sea level rise as well as to the rapid melting of Arctic summer sea ice. That melting in 2010 is on track to be worse than 2007, when Arctic ice cover reached its lowest point on record.

Such climatic shifts are already ushering in extreme weather, which plagued much of the globe in 2009, according to the report. (See a world map of potential global warming impacts.) For instance, Australia experienced its third hottest year on record.

On one February 2009 day—labeled “Black Saturday”—in Australia, 400 wildfires swept across the state of Victoria, killing 173 people and destroying 3,500 buildings. (See pictures of the Australian fires.)

NOAA Climate Report Offers Real-World Data

The NOAA report—published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society—is different from other climate publications, because it’s based on observed data, not computer models, making it the “climate system’s annual scorecard,” the authors wrote. (Test your global warming knowledge.)

“It’s telling us what’s going on in the real world, rather than the imaginary world,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the Boulder, Colorado-based National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Even so, the report “does not carry the authority of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] by any means,” Trenberth noted.

That’s partially because IPCC reports—the latest of which came out in 2007 with a similar claim that warming is “unequivocal”—are produced on longer time scales, with more time for review.

And even with real-world data, “the theory with regard to global warming is still incomplete”—especially since the atmosphere is so complex, Trenberth cautioned.

This “can be seen at a glance,” for example, “by looking out of the window at the wondrous, great variety in clouds.”

Hoboken, N.J. sets up low-cost car-sharing program

City Critic

Cars at Curbside, Available to Share

Tom White for The New York Times

CORNER CAR After making a reservation, the City Critic waved her card by a device on her rental to open the door and get the key.

Published: July 16, 2010


In a city blessed with every variety of public transportation, car traffic is awful and parking is even worse. Yet some people still insist, against all logic, on owning a car.

Tom White for The New York Times

Tom Vanderbilt, a traffic expert, along for the ride.

Tom White for The New York Times

Each car has its own parking space, and a GPS device.

That may sound familiar, but the city in question is not New York; it’s Hoboken, N.J., just a short swim to the west — the land of “restaurants, bars and double-parked cars.” To ease that congestion, the city has initiated a bold new experiment: It has scattered a few dozen stylish new cars around town, and left them there for residents to share. Anyone who needs a set of wheels can more or less help himself.

Putting more cars on the street might seem like an odd way to reduce congestion, but the hope is that once Hobokenites try car sharing, they will decide against car owning. It’s not as unlikely as it sounds.

The program, called Corner Cars, is based on the rent-by-the-hour model that companies like Zipcar and Hertz have been offering for years. In other cities, however, those cars are stored deep in parking garages or clustered in a few neighborhoods. Hoboken’s shared cars are parked on the street, in special bright green spots that appear every few blocks so they are never far out of sight or mind.

Connect by Hertz, which offered the winning bid to run the program, charges drivers $5 to $16 an hour to use the cars (plus 7 percent sales tax and a $5 New Jersey “domestic security fee”; gas is included). But it charges Hoboken nothing. In fact, it pays the city for the opportunity.

If you’ve ever used one of these rent-by-the-hour services, the basics will be familiar. Sign up online to get an electronic card in the mail. Then make your reservation, find your car in its assigned space, wave your card by a reader mounted inside the windshield and head off to Ikea.

I found lots of available rentals, even just a few days before the Fourth of July weekend. Setting out with Tom Vanderbilt, author of “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us),” my first stop was a Toyota Yaris, at Adams and Eighth Streets. There’s something a little strange about walking up to a car you’ve never seen before and simply letting yourself in. But we got over it. Next up was a Toyota Prius, at Monroe and Eighth, which we drove up by Frank Sinatra Park to admire the view. Later we zipped around in a Mini Cooper. When we were done with each car, we just parked it in the same spot where we’d found it and walked away.

All in all, it’s about as convenient as car rental could ever be.

Corner Cars, the brainchild of Ian Sacs, Hoboken’s enthusiastic director of parking and transportation, is only a few weeks old, with just a couple of hundred users so far. It’s too soon to measure any impact. But in other communities, studies have shown that for every car that can be rented by the hour, 6 to 20 drivers have liked the experience so much, they’ve given up the car they owned. Across the country there is even a growing market in peer-to-peer car sharing — informal networks of car owners and car needers with no corporation to mediate.

“I think the part that’s really fascinating,” says Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, “is the behavioral response of users.”

“What is it about car sharing that causes people to sell their cars or forfeit a car?” she said.

The expense of car ownership is part of it, but she also sees a connection to larger social forces — “a growing culture of sharing,” of “social networks and the creation of communities through instant information.”

Mr. Vanderbilt likened it to the difference between paying to acquire and “park” a huge collection of CDs and simply streaming the music you want, when you want it, from the Internet.

So could something like Corner Cars work in New York? Well, it’s complicated.

Alternate side of the street parking would be one obstacle. So would the great variety in New York’s neighborhoods, not all of which are good candidates for this service.

The most obvious obstacle is that in New York, space comes at a premium. Hoboken lets Hertz have those curbside parking spots for $100 a month each. But in New York? Please, that’s less than the cost of some pedicures.

How much more would a rental company be willing to pay? Or would someone else with an interest in seeing fewer cars on the street — like real estate developers, who might like to build smaller garages in their buildings — agree to kick in the difference?

There is another obstacle to car sharing in New York, perhaps the biggest of all. Given the paucity of street parking, the expense of garage parking, the traffic, the insurance costs and the toll to vehicle and psyche, New York car owners who aren’t motivated by true need must be motivated by some very strong force of will. So strong, perhaps, that it is impervious to reason. Is there any dollars-and-cents argument that could persuade New York’s discretionary drivers to give up their cars?

“I asked that question back when I was in city government in the ’70s and ’80s,” said Sam Schwartz, the transportation engineer who was once New York’s deputy commissioner of transportation. “In the ’80s we did several focus groups and we tried to find out what made them drive. And a very common theme is that they felt they were smarter than the people down in the tube. They’re the Brahmins. They deserve it.” He added, “I never heard of it anywhere else.”

Perhaps New York will try an experiment like Hoboken’s. Or maybe New Yorkers get the traffic problems they deserve.

Migratory birds flying right into oily morass

// // By Judy Keen, USA TODAY

The piping plovers already are flying toward peril. The endangered birds are among the first of millions that will migrate this fall to the Gulf of Mexico — and the oil leak that could kill them.

Some birds, including the common loon and lesser scaup, spend winters along the Gulf Coast. Others, such as the blue-winged teal, use the Gulf as a staging area where they stock up on food before flying to Latin America.

“There are millions of birds at risk,” says Ken Rosenberg, conservation science director at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “It’s safe to say thousands will die.”

He fears the BP oil spill, which began April 20, “could erupt into a much bigger disaster as oil continues to come to the surface.”

Hundreds of birds have died, and some drawn to the Gulf by migratory instincts will be affected starting this month, says Paul Schmidt, assistant director for migratory birds at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

He says the agency’s “biggest concern is the long-term degradation of the habitat.” Oil can kill plants and other food sources on beaches and in tidal and marshy areas, making them inhospitable for years, Schmidt says.

Migrating birds, like those that live year-round near the Gulf of Mexico, can introduce oil into their systems by preening oil-soaked feathers, says Greg Butcher, bird conservation director for the National Audubon Society. “If they get oil on their feathers, they lose their ability to regulate their temperature. If they swallow oil, they’re going to get sick.” Some birds that ingest oil might lose their ability to reproduce.

Scientists say hundreds of species could be affected by the spill:

• The sparrow-size piping plover, an endangered species, will show up on Gulf Coast beaches this month. They breed on the Atlantic Coast, the Northern Great Plains and the Great Lakes, and they winter in the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas.

• Water birds such as terns and black skimmers are affected, and more will arrive this fall. They feed in open water, putting them at risk of eating fish contaminated with oil.

• Blue-winged teal, gadwall, northern pintails and other “dabbling” ducks will arrive in September and October. Most use marshes as habitats, so there are untouched areas for them — unless a hurricane stirs up the oil and pushes it into those areas.

• Diving ducks such as redheads eat submerged vegetation that might be inundated with oil, and scaup eat surf clams that are easily contaminated with oil.

• Shorebirds such as red knot — an endangered species candidate — live on beaches and will be affected by oil washing ashore. Other species that feed on tidal flats, including the short-billed dowitcher, could be harmed if oil moves inland.

• Songbirds, including the Baltimore oriole, might gather in oiled vegetation along the coast.

It’s almost impossible to steer migrating birds away from instinctive destinations. “Birds are pretty hard-wired to their habitat,” Schmidt says. If there’s a lot of human activity in their traditional locations — boats, helicopters or airplanes — they will seek quieter areas nearby, he says, but oiled water or vegetation won’t prevent them from landing.

Scaring birds away with loud noises and using tarp to prevent them from landing in oily areas wouldn’t be effective because the spill affects such a large swath of the coast, Schmidt says.

Even so, conservationists are doing what they can to save birds.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is paying landowners in eight states $20 million to idle farmland and restore wetland to create habitats for migrating birds.

Butcher says talks underway about creating barrier islands and marshes are key to restoring bird populations.

The Aubudon Society is training volunteers to monitor bird populations and habitat conditions. Its Christmas bird count will provide an early warning about what species are in trouble because of the spill.

The most effective way to protect birds is to clean affected beaches, Butcher says. “They’re putting out a tremendous effort, but you can’t keep all the beaches clean all the time.”

Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited’s southern region, says 9.2 million ducks and geese winter in Louisiana. Most settle in marshes where salt and fresh water merge, and those areas are protected from oil for now by beaches and salt water, he says.

He’s worried about the fates of shorebirds that use beach habitats, and he’s concerned about what might happen next. If the leak isn’t shut off, Moorman says, 1 million diving ducks in the open waters of the Gulf could get hit by an oil slick, leading to “a pretty big mortality event.”

If BP doesn’t contain the spill soon, Rosenberg says, the outlook for birds could worsen. If the oil moves into the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream, he says, “a number of other endangered seabirds could be affected.” And if oil expands along the Texas coast, he says, whooping cranes that arrive there in late September “could be threatened.”

Butcher says the spill’s effects on birds will be felt for years. It is changing the food supply at the bottom of the Gulf in ways scientists don’t understand yet, he says, and could result in smaller bird populations and, eventually, changes in migratory patterns.

“Oil and life,” he says, “don’t mix.”