Environment Forum

Coke’s new look: polar-bear white

Coca-Cola has one of the most recognizable brands on the planet: the red can with the white letters. World Wildlife Fund has an equally eye-catching logo: a black-and-white panda. This week, the two are joining forces to change the Coke can’s look from red to white. It’s meant to raise awareness and money to find a safe haven for polar bears, listed as a threatened species because their icy Arctic habitat is melting under their paws due to climate change.

In a project called Arctic Home, Coke plans to turn 1.4 billion of its soft-drink cans white for the first time in its history, replacing the familiar red with an image of a mother polar bear and two cubs making their way across the Arctic. There will also be white bottle caps on other drinks the company sells. The new look is to show up on store shelves from November 1 through February 2012.

The whole point is to raise money to protect a far-north area where summer sea ice will probably persist the longest, WWF and Coke said in a statement. The Arctic Home plan is to work with local residents to manage as much as 500,000 square miles of territory to provide a home for polar bears.

Coke and polar bears are something of a classic combination, according to the company’s Katie Bayne, who said in a statement that the big white bears were first introduced in the beverage-maker’s advertising in 1922. But the color change is more than tin-deep. Coca-Cola is making an initial $2 million donation to World Wildlife Fund to support polar bear conservation work. Those who buy the white cans can text the package code to 357357 to make individual donations of $1, or donate online at ArcticHome.com. The company plans to match all donations made with a package code by March 15 up to $1 million.

“Polar bears inspire the imagination,” Carter Roberts, CEO and president of WWF, said in a statement. “They’re massive, powerful, beautiful and they live nowhere else except the Arctic. Their lives are intimately bound up with sea ice, which is now melting at an alarming rate. By working with Coca-Cola, we can raise the profile of polar bears and what they’re facing, and most importantly, engage people to work with us, to help protect their home.”

from Photographers' Blog:

An arctic adventure

Wind patterns are left in the ice pack that covers the Arctic Ocean north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 19, 2011.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The Arctic Ocean in March is basically an ocean of ice. Almost the entire thing is covered from October to June in an icepack that only partially disappears in the summer and is still very solid in March.

Why would anyone in their right mind volunteer to spend a month to a month in a half in temperatures that usually don’t exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit or -23 degrees Celsius? In the case of the roughly two dozen souls who work either for the British, Canadian and United States Navy or the Arctic Physics Laboratory Ice Station, it is because there is work to be done.

A man carries an ice auger to a remote warming station near the 2011 Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska March 18, 2011.    REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

And the first piece of work is to physically build the camp. To do this, firstly a piece of “multi-year” ice must be found, that means that it is thick enough (theoretically) that it won’t split in half and will support the weight of a camp while having enough room for an airplane runway and helicopter landing pad. Next, these folks need to load an antique airplane with enough plywood and nails to build a half a dozen un-insulated boxes to live in, this usually takes about 3 days as the workers must fly back to their base at Prudhoe Bay each evening to avoid the -30 to -50 degree temperatures until they build enough shelters to house them all.

“The Harry Potter theory of climate”

USA/Climate doesn’t change by magic.

Just ask Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. On a conference call with other scientists and reporters, Serreze and others linked climate change to the last two harsh winters over much of the United States and Europe. And they squarely blamed human-caused greenhouse gas emissions for the rise in world temperatures that got the process going.

“Climate doesn’t change all by itself,” Serreze said. “It’s not like the Harry Potter theory of climate, where he flicks his magic wand and the climate suddenly changes. Climate only changes for a reason.”

He crossed off other possible drivers for climate change one by one.

“Could it be that the Sun is shining more brightly than it was? No, that doesn’t work. We’ve been monitoring energy coming from the Sun and apart from the 11-year sunspot cycle, there’s not much happening.

Polar bears, sure. But grolar bears?

RUSSIA/Most people have seen a polar bear, usually at the local zoo. And most zoo-goers know that wildlife advocates worry about the big white bears’ future as their icy Arctic habitat literally melts away as a result of global climate change. But apparently more than the climate is changing above the Arctic Circle.

The new mammal around the North Pole is the grolar bear, a hybrid created when a polar bear and a grizzly bear mate. Then there’s the narluga, a hybrid of the narwhal and beluga whale. The presence of these two new creatures and others produced by cross-breeding may be caused when melting sea ice allows them to mingle in ways they couldn’t before, according to a comment in the journal Nature.

These hybrids could push some Arctic species to extinction, the three American authors said in their Nature piece. They identified 22 marine mammals at risk of hybridization, including 14 listed or candidates for listing as endangered, threatened or of special concern by one or more nations.

10,000 walruses, ready for their close-up

BELARUS/Zoom! Pan! Swish!  Take a look at a new movie of walruses crowding an Alaska beach — as you’ve never seen them before! Shot from 4,000 feet up in the air, the vast herd of walruses looks like a pile of brown gravel from a distance. (A far different view than the extreme close-up in the still photo at left, which was taken at a zoo in Belarus.)

As the camera in Alaska zooms in, you can see there are thousands of walruses scrambling ashore as the ice floes they normally use as hunting platforms melt away. The video was shot this month at Point Lay, Alaska, and distributed this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s impossible to say how many are on this beach in this movie, but an Arctic scientist at World Wildlife Fund estimates between 10,000 and 20,000 of the tusked marine mammals have hauled themselves onto land in Alaska this year as summer Arctic sea ice shrank to its third-smallest recorded size.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Vladimir Nikolsky (Zoo employee plays with a walrus during celebrations marking the zoo’s 23th birthday in Minsk, Belarus, August 11, 2007)

Walruses in Louisiana? Eyebrow-raising details of BP’s spill response plan

LIFE WALRUSLouisiana walruses? Seals swimming along the Gulf Coast?

These creatures normally live in the Arctic Ocean, not the Gulf of Mexico, but they’re listed as “sensitive biological resources” that could be affected by an oil spill in the area in a document filed by BP last June with the U.S. Minerals Management Service. More than a month after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew out and sank on April 20, the British oil giant’s regional spill response plan drew some severe criticism from the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

One problem with BP’s nearly 600-page spill response plan? “It was utterly useless in the event of a spill,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said by telephone. His group, which acts as a kind of safe haven for government whistle-blowers, detailed what it called “outright inanities”  in BP’s filing and the government’s approval of it.

PEER noted BP’s plan referred to “sea lions, seals, sea otters (and) walruses” as wildlife that might be affected in the Gulf of Mexico, and suggested this reference was taken from a previous plan for Arctic exploratory drilling, where these animals could be affected.

Oil spill on ice not worth the risk

ENERGY CONGRESS

– Dennis Takahashi-Kelso is executive vice president of Ocean Conservancy and was Alaska Commissioner of Environmental Conservation at the time of the Exxon Valdez spill. Jim Ayers is vice president and senior adviser at Oceana and was executive director of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. Any views expressed here are their own. –

As we are seeing each day, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform blowout in America’s Gulf coast is a human and environmental tragedy.

The oil platform was drilling an exploratory well for British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico when there was a blowout, resulting in the loss of 11 workers’ lives and uncontrolled releases of fuel and crude oil.

Voyage around the Americas sees acidification off Alaska

boat

Scientists aboard the Ocean Watch, a 64-foot yacht on a year-long voyage circling the Americas, are testing the waters as they go. Instruments on the vessel have picked up evidence of ocean acidification, another result of the spewing of carbon dioxide from tailpipes and smokestacks, they say.
 
Much of  CO2 pollution ends up in the atmosphere, but some is absorbed in the ocean, where it is converted into carbonic acid. The average pH of the word’s oceans is about 8.1 and the lower the reading, the greater the acidity. 
 
Scientists are concerned that if pH levels keep falling ocean waters could eat away the shells of organisms large and small. That would put the web of ocean life at risk, not to mention be a potential disaster for land-loving seafood lovers
   
Ocean Watch has picked up readings of 7.88 in the Gulf of Alaska. Michael Reynolds, the scientist taking the measurements, said the preliminary data may show that the Gulf of Alaska is a primary “sink” for atmospheric carbon.
 
The good news is that readings have returned to normal as the voyage continues off the coast of South America.    

The Ocean Watch has taken other environmental observations, on things like declining ice cover in the Arctic, and it sailed through the Northwest Passage, one of only 100 ships to do so in the last 100 years. A special camera is observing the gaggles of jellyfish the ship encounters. The creatures are among the world’s hardiest, so the scientists want to see what kind of jellyfish are thriving in waters that are acidic or are polluted in other ways and what changes they are undergoing.
 
“The boat is acting as a spotlight on issues known to scientists and local fisherman, but are not known to the general public,” said David Rockefeller, a philanthropist who is sponsoring the $2 million voyage for Sailors for the Sea. He will climb aboard Ocean Watch later this month off the coast of Patagonia.
 
The sailors are sharing their observations and concerns with the public at ports along their journey.  
 
Ellen Lettvin, an education expert at the Pacific Science Center, said the Ocean Watch scientists will analyze the data at the end of the voyage and provide it to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other organizations tracking the health of the oceans.

Photo:  David Thoreson

Pole-to-Pole air trek collects valuable air samples

A three-week tour from the Colorado Rockies to the Arctic Ocean, the tropics, Antarctica and then back again to the Arctic again can give a new perspective of the world.

“You get a feeling of how small the earth is,” said Pavel Romashkin, project manager for a scientific mission that just completed such a trek. “All of us are on a really small place, this little planet of ours.”

The HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observation mission, sponsored by the U.S. National Science Foundation, takes researchers aboard a highly modified Gulfstream jet to measure carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other gases in the atmosphere at nearly all the earth’s latitudes.

The view from the Arctic: on Sarah Palin and caribou soup

While the world gets ready for December’s climate meeting in Copenhagen, a group of native Arctic women traveled to Washington this week to talk about what climate change is doing right now in places like Arctic Village, Alaska, and Whitehorse, in Canada’s Yukon.******Five of the women talked emotionally about how much harder it is to hunt for traditional game animals like caribou in a time of global warming, and how important these traditional foods are to their culture and health. They also took aim at some of Sarah Palin’s statements, especially her push for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.******Watch below as Norma Kassi, a member of the Gwich’in nation — sometimes translated as “People of the Caribou” — talks about her practices as a hunter, and her take on Palin and her “drill baby drill” strategy. (It’s a fairly long video; her comments on Palin start about halfway through):************Now watch Sarah James, of Arctic Village, talk about the plain fact that “Western” fare like pizza, meatloaf and fast food simply can’t satisfy her son like a soothing caribou soup:************Kassi, James and other members of the Arctic delegation are telling their story on Capitol Hill and to members of the Obama administration. Some are planning to attend the Copenhagen conference, despite dampening hopes of a major agreement from that gathering.******They have an invitation for President Barack Obama: they’d like him to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge next year, the 50th anniversary of this far-north protected area where caribou herds have their calves and where some energy companies have hoped to drill.******Video credits: REUTERS/Deborah Zabarenko (Washington, November 11, 2009) ******Photo credit: REUTERS/Nathaniel Wilder (Sarah Palin outside the Mocha Moose Espresso after voting in Wasilla, Alaska, November 4, 2008)

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