Wednesday, November 29, 2006
From Dethroner comes this classic Hummer pic. Is it Photoshopped? Maybe -- but even if it is, there's truth here.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Oil's Well in Plano, Texas
Who'd have thunk that the best time of year to collect oil for biofuels in Plano, Texas is--right now?
Any guesses at to why?
Well, in the South, folks like their turkey deep-fried. In Plano, home to about a quarter of a million people, city crews will collect leftover oil from any resident who requests a pick-up. In 2005 the city collected 1,200 gallons, most of it from turkey friers.
According to Reuters:
The turkey fat is donated to Biodiesel Industries, the first renewable energy-powered plant producing biodiesel fuel in the state of Texas.
We should be a little bit thankful for Plano, eh?
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
It's more than a shame that Louisiana is clearcutting swaths of its state tree--the cypress--to make...mulch. The trees, and the swamps that serve as their ecosystem, provide valuable protection when hurricanes roll in, and are home to many a species, including this bald eagle photographed by Jeffrey Dubinsky.
Cypress mulch was always a by-product of lumber mills that were producing flooring and such. But now entire forests are being cut down, and a study by the Governor's Science Working Group and Advisory Committee concludes that up to 80 percent of the areas being logged will be unable to regenerate. The Louisiana Forestry Association says no unsustainable harvests are taking place.
Environmental groups working as Save Our Cypress are attacking the issue from the retail end by urging Home Depot, Lowe's, and Wal-Mart to stop purchasing and selling all cypress garden mulch until a verifiable, third-party certification program is operating to ensure no cypress is being sourced from non-renewable coastal wetland forests. They're asking the public to help apply some pressure.
Interestingly, the three retailers have all adopted corporate policies to protect the environment. Save Our Cypress points out:
Home Depot has some of the most progressive corporate policies on wood purchasing and use. Home Depot pledged to eliminate wood purchases from endangered forests by 2003, and have commited to purchasing only wood from certified sources, such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Home Depot has carried out "product shifts" for a number of items to ensure certification and sustainability for a large number of items such as boards, cabinets, and fencing.There are plenty of alternatives to cypress mulch. In fact, some folks in Mississippi are hoping a decrease in cypress mulch production in Louisiana will give a boost their pine straw mulch.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Blood, Sweat, and Trees
Some newly posted film footage on the Sierra Club website gives us a bit of insight into the mettle of Sierra Club volunteers, circa 1934. That's when an ambitious crew of guys and gals built Clair Tappaan Lodge at Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
You see them banging nails, removing tree stumps, feeding chipmunks, and pumping water in a wooded setting. At the end of the clip you see them tossing snowballs at each other.
There's also a clip of folks using the old Sierra Club rope tow at Donner Summit in the 1950's, and yet another clip that shows a dog-sled team hauling a wood stove into the Peter Grubb Hut, also up at Donner.
Nice memories--even if they're not our own.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Home o' the Whopper
Eric Schlosser's bestselling book-length exposé on America's fast food industry, and the culture it spawned, has now been (loosely) adapted into a feature-length film, directed by Richard Linklater. In case you missed it, Schlosser has a piece in the latest edition of Sierra magazine about the hidden costs of cheap eats. Among other things, he notes, "The cost of a 99-cent hamburger doesn't include the dialysis you may need years later."
Fast Food Nation, the film, hits cinemas today, and Grist has an interview with Schlosser, who is touring to promote the film. It's gratifying to see that he gives the Sierra Club props for its work on CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations:
The Sierra Club is doing a good job right now in terms of [working to mitigate] the environmental impact of factory farms. The runoff from these farms is one of the leading causes of water pollution in the United States. The hormones that they're giving to these cattle are excreted in their manure and are winding up in streams. And they're finding fish that are weirdly deformed -- their sexual organs are deformed -- downstream of these feedlots, and that's just crazy.Ultimately, Schlosser wants us all to think about agro-industry in America, because, as he tells Grist, "Each one of us who eats is part of that. If you eat, you're connected to this, and you've got to think about it and do something about it."
The word of the day, kids, is obfuscation, defined as "the activity of obscuring people's understanding, leaving them baffled or bewildered," and used here by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who told a crowd gathered in Washington, D.C. that the Bush administration was "not complying with the law. It's incredible. ...When you get to that degree of obfuscation, then you get a little depressed." McCain is referring to a climate change report which is now long overdue from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Actually, not producing the report seems more like stonewalling than obfuscation, but there's probably a little of both going on.
Everything That Creepeth
Senator Inhofe tells Fox News that, "God's still up there." Which apparently is reason enough not to worry about climate change. Presumably, he's referring to the same Old Testament God who saw fit to flood the earth until "the mountains were covered, and all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man." I guess he's right. I guess we don't need to worry.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
The Other Chicken of the Sea
Oceana, the marine protection organization, is counseling people to donate canned salmon for the holidays, for three reasons:
For more on this, see our E-File on farmed vs. wild salmon.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Banking On It
There are those who see environmental challenges like global warming as an economic crisis. Others see it as a golden opportunity. Increasingly, it seems, more and more money is migrating to the latter camp.
A few days ago I put something in here from the NY Times about the so-called "philanthropeneurs" -- people in whom the entrepreneurial impulse is wedded to a green and/or progressive social agenda. The story begged the question: Where do green start-ups, especially the little guys, go to get bankrolled? This morning, one of the people I carpooled into the city with pointed out to me the just-opened New Resource Bank, a lending institution devoted, from its inception, to the development of clean technologies and catering to green businesses and entrepreneurs.
Joel Makower, the green biz blogger, wrote about the bank's business model here. Founder and vice chairman Peter Liu told Makower:
Oftentimes there are boxes that banks put things in, and they haven't created a box for 'organic' or 'renewable,' where they can understand the credit needs of these businesses ... They may understand real estate, but they don't understand that there are other things that can have cash flow, like energy projects.That's where New Resource comes in, with a brand tailored to forward-thinking green enterprise. According to this report in the San Francisco Business Times, the new bank has hit the ground running, with many big names on board and no shortage of eager investors lining up behind it. In fact, the bank raked in nearly $25 million in equity capital in just two months, ultimately turning away another $10 million. That's a lot of simoleons, and I'm betting it's the smart money.
Carl Pope has a nice posting on his blog about the growing ecumenical movement in opposition to mountaintop-removal mining. For those who aren't familiar with it, mountaintop removal is exactly what it sounds like; i.e., they're literally blowing the tops off the Appalachians to get at the coal seams, then dumping the rubble in the river valleys. So, along with the mountaintops go the forest (among North America's most diverse woodlands) and the riverbeds, not to mention many small communities which have been hammered in the process.
The coal industry likes to say it's just 'reclaiming' the land; or as the president of the Kentucky Coal Association put it: "To imply that we're flattening Appalachia is so untrue. We're creating level land for Appalachia." Very few people are buying that line, however.
When most of us look at mountaintop removal, we see an affront to god, nature and human decency. Those aren't terms most journalists allow themselves, but Bob Edwards (the old beloved voice of NPR) has apparently made an exception. Carl reports that Edwards told the folks assembled at Louisville's Festival of Faiths, "I'm still a journalist, but I don't believe that you put a lie on the air to balance the truth. There are some stories -- not many, perhaps, but this is one of them -- on which truth is on one side, and we shouldn't be afraid to let that show."
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Look It Up
Looking back, it really does seem that carbon dioxide came into its own this year as a global villain. I'm almost surprised the new Bond film doesn't feature a CO2 threat from a mad scientist (or does it?). The latest confirmation comes in the form of the New Oxford American Dictionary's selection for its word of the year: carbon neutral
"The rise of carbon neutral reflects the growing importance of the green movement in the United States. In a CBS News/New York Times Poll in May 2006, 66% of respondents agreed that global warming is a problem that’s causing a serious impact now. ... It's more than a trend, it's a movement."
Monday, November 13, 2006
The name "eco-tourism" was coined two decades ago with the best of intentions. The idea was to transfer capital to places that were rich in terms of natural attractions but financially poor, and thus driven to exploit their surroundings to survive. But, if the rainforest or the coral reef suddenly became the cash cow, then, well, they'd be motivated to preserve said forest or reef ... and just like that, everybody wins. The Why Files asks whether it has really worked out that way.
And in a related story, travel writer Jeff Greenwald reports on a subset of eco-tourism known as the "volunteer vacation" -- or in Sierra Club parlance, the service trip.
Virgin Atlantic's Sir Richard Branson made international headlines back in September when he publicly committed $3 billion to the development of green fuel technologies. While that sum was broadly construed as a donation, it is more properly understood as an investment -- one that carries risk but also the potential for handsome profit. Question: Does the fact that it's not a charitable donation make the gesture any less laudable? A piece in the New York Times looks at how Branson and other billionaires are happily blending business with a progressive social agenda. Meet the 'philanthropeneurs'.
"Climate protection is not costly but profitable because saving fuel is cheaper than buying fuel - somehow that got left out of the economic models." - Amory Lovins, speaking at the World Science Forum. You can read more at the Scientific American blog.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Grist's Amanda Griscom Little recaps the midterms in an item entitled, "How Green Was My Election?" Here's an outtake:
Of the nine candidates [the League of Conservation Voters] named to its list of "Environmental Champions", eight were reelected. And of the 13 active candidates on LCV's "Dirty Dozen" list (someone's got a bit of a counting problem), "we beat nine of them," said LCV's Karpinski.The thing I find the most fascinating is the widely held view that Arnold Schwarzenegger owes his reelection to his signing into law the first mandatory caps on carbon emissions. I mean, there's some very rich irony for you: The man who gave America the Hummer rode climate legislation to a second term as Governor of California. Go figure.
Congressman Richard Pombo may have been sidelined by the voters on November 7 (and hooray for that!), but unfortunately not all of the public officials who are hostile to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) were up for re-election on Tuesday. Julie MacDonald, for one, is a highly-placed Bush appointee in the Department of the Interior and, like Pombo, a dogged opponent of the Act. She continues to wield considerable influence over the fate of species like the Gunnison sage grouse and the white-tailed prairie dog – species for which she has sought to deny ESA protections.
A Washington Post report which found that, on at least six occasions in the past three years, MacDonald has overridden and/or openly mocked the findings and recommendations of career staff and scientists within her department – often appearing to represent the interests of landowners or industry in the process. In a pattern that is familiar to anyone who has followed the Bush Administration’s ongoing battle with government scientists, (and science in general) MacDonald has derided her own staff’s findings as “speculative” or worse. As she told the Post’s Juliet Eilperin, “A lot of times when I first read a document I think, ‘This is a joke, this is just not right.’”
MacDonald, a civil engineer by training, has had some of her administrative decisions overturned in court. In one decision, a federal judge wrote that MacDonald neglected to show any “discernible rationale” for overruling the science at hand and called her instructions to Fish and Wildlife scientists “arbitrary.”
Of course, with Pombo as Chairman of the House Resources Committee, staff complaints regarding MacDonald’s behavior would have gone unheeded, but thanks to the midterm results, that is poised to change. The ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee – Nick Rahall of West Virginia – told the Post last month that he planned to investigate MacDonald and to hold oversight hearings should the election swing the Dems’ way.
It’s important to stress that Rahall’s plans would have remained just that were it not for the efforts of Sierra Club members -- not just in Pombo’s district, but across the entire country. Leading up to Tuesday's vote, thousands of devoted Sierra Club activists made phone calls and walked precincts to make this election turn out as it did. So, to cap what was a pretty momentous week, we just wanted to say to all of you out there: Thank you. You did an excellent job.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Opensecrets.org (aka the Center for Responsible Politics, or CRP) runs down the dollar figures in the latest election cycle. While voters put ethics at the top of their list of concerns this time around, money (and its corrupting influence) is still the name of the game in Washington. According to CRP,
The average cost of winning a 2006 House race was about $966,000, based on pre-election finance reports, and $7.8 million for a Senate seat. In all, seven Republican congressional candidates and 33 Democrats managed to win their seats despite being outspent.Among the biggest spenders in every campaign cycle are the oil and energy interests. In California, Big Oil spent nearly $100 million to successfully defeat prop 87, a provision that would have taxed oil companies in the state and directed the revenues to spending on alternative energy. Both Democrats and Republicans get money from the oil and gas sector, of course, but the industry heavily favors the latter. According to CRP, 83 percent of oil and gas dollars this cycle went to GOP candidates.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
And for all you cynics out there, here's this from the Onion: Politicians Sweep Midterm Elections. And in the same vein: Republicans Blame Election Losses On Democrats. Ahh, the Onion. Where would we be without it?
Good Morning America, How Are Ya?
This was supposed to go up earlier today, when it was still AM across America, but Blogger wouldn't cooperate. (I know, ... excuses, excuses). Still, I think the heading works as a kind of semi-ironic riff on Ronald Reagan's old Morning in America bit, don't you? I mean, who could have guessed that things would change so thoroughly overnight? While the results are still too close to call in the Senate, the House leadership has clearly switched hands and arguably the most anti-environmental of all representatives, California Congressman Richard Pombo, has gone down in flaming defeat to an underdog challenger who is in every way his antithesis -- the wind power consultant Jerry McNerney. Attaboy, Jerry! This was just one fight among many in which the Sierra Club was clearly instrumental and showed its considerable influence. America awoke to a greener Congress than the one it had yesterday. Now the real work begins.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Voted yet? Why not?
Find your polling place here and hop to it.
We'll still be here when you get back.
Onward and Upward
I've posted items here previously on the poleward migration of many species (see here and here) -- a predicted consequence of global warming. Another type of migration has been upward; i.e., to higher elevations. This is from an interesting piece in the New York Times about the Grinnell Resurvey Project in California.
The Western harvest mouse, the piñon mouse, the California pocket mouse and the Inyo shrew had never been recorded in the relatively high-elevation park until they showed up in researchers’ traps. On average, since the Grinnell period, these species have expanded their ranges upwards by 2,100 feet in the Yosemite area.Of course, you can only go so high, and it's no longer so lonely at the top.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Looking for environmentally oriented election coverage? Look no further.
And remember to get out there and vote.
Don't miss the Nov/Dec issue of Sierra, featuring: author Eric Schlosser on the high price of cheap food; nutritionist Marion Nestle on how supermarkets work; food writer Gary Paul Nabhan on the "food nations" of America; and our very own Mr. Green with Ten Ways to Eat Well. You'll find all that good stuff and more in the latest edition of Sierra, the Club's award-winning magazine. Enjoy!
The Wait Is Over
USA Today reports that you can now buy a Toyota Prius right off the lot -- no waiting list. The popular hybrid gas-electric sedans are still selling like hotcakes, but for the first time since they hit the US market in 2003, production has caught up with demand. Sales have slowed a bit due to increased competition, slackening of gas prices and a halving of the tax credit on purchases. For all that, however, the sought-after Toyotas are snapped up in just 17 days, on average, as compared to a national average of 64 days. And for good reason: Not only are Priuses ranked tops in terms of owner satisfaction but Consumer Reports finds they also retain their value better than any other car on the market. Toyota, which will import more than 120,000 Priuses this year, hopes to expand the brand to include a whole line of hybrid models.
The Great Rift
The 12th round of international climate talks since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 were kicked off today in Nairobi. Kenyan Vice President Moody Awori opened the proceedings, telling delegates:
We are all gathered this morning on behalf of mankind because we acknowledge that climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats humanity will ever face.Well, most of the delegates acknowledge that, but the BBC reports that the meeting is likely to focus on adaptation measures for poor and especially vulnerable countries rather than establishing post-Kyoto emissions targets aimed at actually addressing the root cause of warming. The vehement opposition of the US and Australia to any such agenda makes that goal politically unrealistic.
Meanwhile, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have reached a new high of nearly 380 ppm and show no signs of slowing.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Senator Inhofe, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has begun investigating the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). New Scientist reports:
Inhofe has repeatedly written to NCAR and other agencies demanding details about financial and contractual arrangements with their employees and with federal funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF). In a letter to the NSF in February, Inhofe said he needed the information to help him in "researching, analyzing and understanding the science of global climate change". Inhofe has a record of hostility to the idea of climate change, having asked on the Senate floor in July 2003: "Could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it."Hmm. Could it be the that the Republican from Oklahoma is really trying to intimidate the scientific community and stifle research? It sure sounds like it.
And, as the New Scientist article reveals, it fits a pattern. Read on.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
The ice age is coming, the sun’s zooming in / Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin /A nuclear error, but I have no fear /’Cause London is drowning, and I live by the riverI've had The Clash on the brain ever since I read this post at RealClimate. The Clash chorus may not stand scrutiny, but the bit about London drowning certainly resonates more now than it did back in 1979 when Joe Strummer and Mick Jones put their punk classic on wax. Recent studies suggest that a sea level rise of as much as 20 feet could result from melting ice caps. Such a rise would turn London into a new Atlantis, alongside Miami, New Orleans, and low-lying cities the world over.
That scenario is still hundreds of years off, but London and climate change have been in the news for other reasons; namely, the dire warnings of the aptly named Stern report. Sir Nicolas's tome is actually called the "Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change" and weighs in at nearly 600 pages. It's available from the website of Her Majesty's Treasury. The nutshell: The world stands to lose 20 percent of its GDP per annum if nothing is done to forestall climate change. At the same time, the investments needed to curtail greenhouse gas emissions are steep but manageable. And the time for action is now.
And there you have it: Another respected authority sounding the alarm. Official reaction in Australia, which was singled out in the Stern Review as the industrialized country with the most to lose in the case of catastrophic warming, was to hit the snooze button. Prime Minister John Howard told his party leaders not to be "mesmerized" by what one US official mocked as "fun with numbers." In a bitter irony, Australia, which is a major coal exporter and the only developed country other than the US not to sign Kyoto, may already be suffering serious consequences of climate change. Here too The Clash seems prophetic, as wheat production in Australia has fallen by 40 percent.
Getting back to London, the Guardian checks in with Mayor Ken Livingston and reports that climate change has not only risen to the top of his agenda, it has become a personal obsession.
He reads about it in his spare time. He talks about it to anyone who will bend an ear and he will travel to the ends of the earth if necessary to cut deals with other politicians, to steal the best ideas from other cities and to communicate with anyone the urgency and scale of the problem.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
The networks-savvy crew at Worldchanging enlisted the aid of their site's visitors to blitz Amazon.com in an effort to influence their new book's sales ranking. The mob tactic appears to have worked. As of this writing, the eponymous title is sitting pretty at #13. If you want to help make worldchanging the stuff of bestsellerdom, go score on for the team by scoring your own copy on Amazon. Having handled a colleague's copy, I can attest that it's a beautifully produced and nicely organized book. Definitely worth the cover price.
Pictured above: South Cascade Glacier, Washington State. Top: 1928. Bottom: 2006. From a story in today's Seattle Times:
The pattern of shrinking in the South Cascade Glacier, as well as several glaciers in Alaska, for example, suggests a link to broader climate change, said Ed Josberger, head of the ice and climate project at the USGS office in Tacoma.As the story takes pains to point out, this trend has serious implications for a region dependent upon hydropower, irrigation and the health of its salmon runs.
And just in case you're one of those whose reaction is, 'C'mon, glaciers have been advancing and receding for eons,' read Coby Beck's response from his online guide, How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic.
A Tale of Two Power Co.s
Faced with EPA regulations on power plant emissions (namely New Source Review, which requires the installation of modern pollution-controls whenever a plant makes significant upgrades), some companies like Duke Energy, apparently betting on a more favorable regulatory climate under the Bush administration, chose to oppose the agency in court. Others, like Dominion Power took a different path. Seeing regulations as inevitable in the long run, the took the money they would have wasted on legal bills and put it into pollution control devices. So, not only do shareholders win, so does anyone who, um, breathes. NPR reports.