Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
6/30/2010 4:51:49 PM
Wendell Berry is truly a man of letters: The famously computer-hating agrarian writer still pens all his essays and books by hand. So it’s got to hurt the University of Kentucky to hear that it won’t be getting his voluminous archives as it had expected. Why? Because Berry, a man of rock-hard principle, is offended that the university is naming a new dorm for basketball players the Wildcat Coal Lodge in order to please coal-friendly donors.
The Lexington Herald-Leader got its hands on the acid letter Berry sent to the university regarding the matter. “It is now obviously wrong, unjust and unfair,” he wrote, “for your space and work to be encumbered by a collection of papers that I no longer can consider donating to the University.”
The papers measure 60 cubic feet in volume and would fill about 100 boxes, the Herald-Leader reports. They remain at the school while Berry negotiates their transfer to the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.
Are university officials surprised? They wouldn’t be if they looked back to this passage in a 2005 essay by Berry, which originally appeared in the book Missing Mountains: We Went to the Mountaintop But It Wasn’t There: Kentuckians Write Against Mountaintop Removal (Wind Publications):
Coal is undoubtedly something of value. And it is, at present, something we need—though we must hope we will not always need it, for we will not always have it. But coal, like the other fossil fuels, is a peculiar commodity. It is valuable to us only if we burn it. Once burned, it is no longer a commodity but only a problem, a source of energy that has become a source of pollution. And the source of the coal itself is not renewable. When the coal is gone, it will be gone forever, and the coal economy will be gone with it. … If Kentuckians, upstream and down, ever fulfill their responsibilities to the precious things they have been given—the forests, the soils, and the streams—they will do so because they will have accepted a truth that they are going to find hard: the forests, the soils and the streams are worth far more than the coal for which they are now being destroyed.
See the full essay at the website of ILoveMountains.org.
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader, ILoveMountains
Image by David Marshall, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/29/2010 4:57:11 PM
It’s the season of air conditioning in the Northern Hemisphere, which means spiking energy demands. Environmental writer Stan Cox breaks down just what this means in his book Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer), which came out in spring from The New Press.
German researchers, he reports, have projected that because of global warming and rising populations, cooling demand will rise by 65 to 72 percent in the next four decades. Writes Cox:
Even though the majority of people now living in the world’s hottest climates cannot afford air-conditioning now and probably still won’t have access to it in 2050, millions of homes, offices, other buildings, and vehicles on every continent will be newly air-conditioned or be reinforced with beefed-up cooling systems; that will add to energy demand and put greater stress on global efforts to cultivate sources of energy that will not further worsen global warming.
In this arena, the United States is the undisputed champion. Already, air-conditioning is approaching 20 percent of year-round electricity consumption by American homes, the highest percentage in our history. In the commercial sector, it uses 13 percent. Air-conditioning by homes, businesses, and public buildings together was consuming a total of 484 billion kilowatt-hours per year by 2007. Compare this to 1955, when I was born into Georgia’s late August heat. That year, the nation consumed a total of 497 billion kilowatt-hours for all uses, not just air-conditioning. We use as much electricity for air-conditioning now as is consumed by all 930 million residents of the continent of Africa.
So what are we supposed to do, shut off our units and sweat it out? Cox covers the myriad ways that policy, design, and architecture can help create a less AC-addicted society, but also suggests that we might need to readjust some of our most treasured notions of comfort:
Without the extremes, enjoyment of moderate conditions declines. After I have worked outdoors through a broiling-hot day, I find that walking into a supercooled office or grocery store is satisfying in the extreme—at first. Yet what I look forward to most is that moment at seven or nine or ten at night when, as I’m sitting on a porch or near a window, I feel that first slightly cool breeze come through. It can make all the preceding hours in the heat worthwhile. That, I realize, may make me seem a little daft, but the world provides a delicious spread of thermal variations from which to choose … .
Anyone looking to cool their home sans AC should check out the articles and blog posts on whole-house fans and ceiling fans by our sister publication, Mother Earth News. And over at our other sibling, Natural Home, editor Robyn Griggs Lawrence has just written about a superefficient new air conditioner design that’s still five years from market but offers hope that on this subject cooler heads may yet prevail.
Sources: Losing Our Cool, Mother Earth News, Natural Home
Image by ToddMorris, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/25/2010 12:04:44 PM
Ecological Internet is the most radical green group you’ve never heard of, and for years it has been achieving “major successes … below the radar of big conservation groups and mainstream media,” writes Jeremy Hance on the rainforest conservation site Mongabay. The organization harnesses the power of the Internet to run online campaigns that have hindered or stopped unsustainable and/or illegal logging in the South Pacific, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea, and it also provides IT services to other groups for “global grassroots advocacy.”
Ecological Internet leader Glen Barry and his group earn their “radical” tag in part because of their unsparing criticism of greenwashing in wood certification programs, especially the widely used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, and of the green groups who support FSC, such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. Ecological Internet estimates that 60 percent of FSC-certified products come from primary forests, the most ancient and biological diverse type of rainforest. “The FSC, for its part, has not released data related to this issue,” writes Hance.
Barry tells Mongabay:
“[The] whole idea of certified forestry was completely usurped and the term made relatively meaningless, much like sustainable development has become, by the industrial logging as usual […] FSC logging is still the first-time logging of primary forests that are ancient ecosystems that contain the genetic and biodiversity materials that are very important for our and all species’ survival,” explains Barry, who has seen the process firsthand while working as the Papua New Guinea World Bank rainforest specialist for four years.
“I just reached a point personally where if I was going to work on this for any longer, I was going to work to end this desecration of 60-million-year-old rainforests for, in some cases, toilet paper and lawn furniture.”
Mainstream environmental groups like the World Wildlife Foundation, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Action Network “embraced” the Forest Stewardship Council in the early 1990s, says Barry, “and then the sort of dirty secret that no one would ever talk about is that FSC is primary forest logging. We challenge Rainforest Action Network, we challenge Greenpeace, to sit down and have a debate on this.”
Barry says Ecological Internet takes a “deep ecology, or biocentric approach” and describes what drives the group:
“[Ecological Internet] is very, very concerned about the state of the planet. It is my analysis that we have passed the carrying capacity of the Earth, that in several matters we have crossed different ecosystem tipping points or are near doing so. And we really act with more urgency, and more ecological science, than I think the average campaign organization.”
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention in this forum that Barry says he was the first blogger. Take it from him:
“I was the inventor of blogging. I was the first person to comment upon other web materials, link it, and then list it reverse chronologically. There is some debate over who the very first one was, but I maintain that I am. It’s still on the web, and has been there since 1995; it’s very clearly there. But if not the first one—there may have been someone musing about their personal lives—at least I was the first political blogger: the first instance of an individual citizen harnessing the power of the internet for political commentary, and being able to publish that just like any large corporation could.”
Sources: Mongabay, Ecological Internet
Image courtesy of Ecological Internet.
6/23/2010 11:29:57 AM
Does boycotting BP gas stations send a message to the company that fouled the Gulf of Mexico? Or does it just hurt the poor mom-and-pop station owner down the street? The Columbus, Ohio, alternative weekly The Other Paper attempts to answer this burning question for guilt-ridden gas consumers in the story “Pissed Off at BP?”—and gets a stark solution from a BP station owner: Just don’t drive.
That’s right, Bill Englefield, who along with his brother Ben own 127 BP-supplied stations in the Columbus area, is
proactively getting the message out in advance of summer driving season that simply bypassing the green flower cannot ease your conscience.
“BP is one of the major suppliers of all gas in this market, and we’re not the only ones who buy their product,” he said.
The guy across the street could be supplied by BP regardless of what the sign says, Englefield added. And if they’re not supplied by BP one day, they may be the next, depending on the market.
So what should an emotionally charged activist do to avenge brown pelicans dying in distant lands?
“The best boycott is to just quit driving,” said Englefield.
Now that’s the most sense I’ve heard from a station owner in a virtual gusher of spare-the-small-business-owners homilies in the mainstream media. The Christian Science Monitor, using much the same logic as Englefield, ends up doling out similar advice, putting “Bike or walk—don’t drive” at the top of ways to truly send a message to BP.
Of course, Englefield—who doesn’t fit my definition of a small business owner—intends to lay down a gauntlet of sorts, sensing that most people simply can’t quit driving, hence resistance to BP’s vast market reach is futile.
I suggest we call his bluff. Even if we can’t all quit, perhaps enough of us can cut back to send a message to the “small people” in the boardroom at BP.
Sources: The Other Paper, Christian Science Monitor
Image from MoveOn.org's Facebook page.
6/18/2010 3:12:18 PM
If the BP oil spill were a practice drill for an even larger environmental disaster—say, out-of-control climate change—our society and particularly our leaders have failed the drill with their ineffective response. Bradford Plumer of The New Republic describes what “absolutely terrifies” him about the spill:
What’s especially unnerving … is that the recklessness that helped bring about the spill, and the political reaction that followed, seem to indicate a larger inability to prevent and cope with other large-scale ecological catastrophes—particularly climate change. … With both the oil spill and climate change, there seems to be a lingering sense that technology can come along and save us if things ever get too ominous. … And yet, as we’ve seen with the flailing cleanup efforts in the Gulf, there’s not always a technological solution. Nature, once despoiled, can’t always be fixed. Sometimes disaster strikes and there’s simply nothing we (or even James Cameron) can do. What’s more, when dealing with complex ecological systems, quick fixes can often make the situation worse. The chemical dispersants that BP is using to break up the surface oil could end up wreaking havoc on the food chain on the seafloor—no one really knows. Likewise, we have little idea about whether those wacky geoengineering schemes could end up, say, disrupting rainfall patterns around the globe.
Source: The New Republic
6/15/2010 9:05:52 AM
The woman behind the anticonsumerist viral video phenomenon The Story of Stuff has a new target in her sights: the carbon-trading shell game known as cap and trade. But she’s finding that it’s a touchy subject for fellow environmentalists who’ve bought into it as a political compromise. Here’s filmmaker Annie Leonard telling Northern California green mag Terrain why she’s not backing down:
“I called so many environmental groups … and asked them, ‘What do you think about cap and trade?’ Everybody I talked to said it doesn’t meet what the science says we need, it probably won’t work, but it’s the best we’re going to get. … I had this existential crisis because a lot of the groups that I knew said, ‘Don’t make that film, because it’s going to jeopardize our chance to get this bill, and even though it won’t work it’s the best we’re going to get.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s definitely the best we’re going to get if that’s all we ask for.’ …
“There are some times in which you have to make compromises in politics. That is part of the game. But you can only make so many compromises before your solution is not a solution anymore. I don’t trust commodities traders to save the planet. They’ve never made saving the planet their priority; I don’t believe they’re going to do it now.”
See The Story of Cap and Trade here:
Source: Terrain, The Story of Cap and Trade
6/11/2010 11:53:43 AM
Wild cats, in case you hadn’t heard, are quite elusive. But researchers studying jaguars and other big cats in the wild have a found a scent that the animals find nearly irresistible: Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men.
The Wall Street Journal reports that animal specialists ranging from zookeepers at the Bronx zoo to a jaguar researcher in Guatemala have deployed Obsession to attract and distract big cats. The researcher, Roan Balas McNab, initially worried about revealing the secret because poachers might steal the technique, “but he decided that spreading the word to other scientists outweighed the potential risk, particularly since poachers already use their own effective bait—dead animals—a tactic researchers’ ethics forbid.”
My favorite part of the Journal article is when they bring in the scent maker to describe Obsession’s appeal in language that would do any wine taster proud:
Ann Gottlieb, the “nose” who helped create Obsession for Men, thinks there could be a number of factors in the fragrance that wild animals might find irresistible.
“It’s a combination of this lickable vanilla heart married to this fresh green top note—it creates tension,” she says. The cologne also has synthetic “animal” notes like civet, a musky substance secreted by the cat of the same name, giving it particular sex appeal, she adds. “It sparks curiosity with humans and, apparently, animals.”
I’ve blogged about “nature” photographers who cross ethical lines when they photograph captive animals at game farms—but this puts a new nose-wrinkle in the debate. Would it be unethical for photographers to lure wild cats with a cologne developed to drive people to make sexy time, as Borat might say? I suppose it’s better than imprisoning the cats for life just so they can be furry supermodels.
(See the Journal’s video about Obsession-obsessed big cats here.)
Wall Street Journal
6/9/2010 1:38:00 PM
It’s like a long-running, beloved TV drama is coming to an end as the owlets raised by webcam star Molly the barn owl grow up and leave the nest—and hardcore viewers are having a hard time dealing with the transition.
Molly, her partner McGee, and their brood of four owlets have become a webcam sensation, having attracted 14 million views since the cam went on the air in February. But last night, the youngest owlet, a diminutive late bloomer dubbed Wesley but thought to be a female, finally got up the gumption to stretch her wings and take a short flight out of their nest box to a nearby palm tree. It was an emotional moment for many owl watchers, both because many were worried she was unhealthy and because they saw the darkness at the end of the tunnel: The owls, having fledged, will soon stop returning to their home nest—and anyway, webcam proprietor Carlos has vowed to cease broadcasts on June 14 to take a much-needed vacation.
Here’s what posters are saying as empty-nest syndrome begins to set in:
I have never posted before but have been watching since they were just eggs. It has been a privilege and honor to have been able to watch these beautiful majestic creatures all these weeks. It will stay with me forever. I will never be able to look at birds in the same way.
I’m never letting my children move out! Then again, the owlets don’t talk back to me.
So many emotions were felt last night as the thought of the empty owl box. It is hard to imagine our days ahead without checking in over and over to see what these little owls are up to.
Lucky for us we have another day to enjoy watching her mature and play and gobble. I find my smile muscles are getting stretched to capacity when I sit and watch owlets.
Morning all, I’ve been lurking a bit this morning. I was literally sick as I waited for this site to come up. The anticipation of whether I’d see Wesley or an empty box was almost too much! I have enjoyed talking and listening to each of you. I’m quite active on Facebook so I’ll look for you all there when this is over.
You see, the community that has sprung up around Molly has grown pretty tight. Folks have been swapping videos of owlets horking up food-waste pellets, trading statistics on how many “treats” (prey animals) were delivered each day, and comforting each other as live bunnies were killed and eaten onscreen. In addition to the camera chat room, there’s a blog and a children’s e-book and even a Molly song.
What will these obssessive wildlife voyeurs do when the owl cam blinks out?
Well, they could always go watch the octocam.
Sources: Sportsman’s Paradise Online, Oregon Live, Molly’s Box
Image from Molly’s Box.
6/4/2010 4:55:38 PM
Many documentary filmmakers are at their core journalists, and some of the feistier ones ferret out information and images that bring to light villainy, greed, cruelty, and corruption. So it’s disconcerting to see a documentary director being threatened with jail time if he doesn’t turn over his outtakes.
That’s what’s happening to Joe Berlinger, director of the film Crude, which tells the story of a lawsuit brought by indigenous Amazon people against the oil giant Chevron for environmental damages to the rainforest. (See a review of Crude in Utne Reader.) Chevron has subpoenaed Berlinger and the nearly 600 hours of raw footage shot for the film.
Berlinger’s attorneys have argued that the footage is shielded by the journalist privilege, which protects reporters from being forced to reveal confidential sources or information, and that forcing the filmmaker to hand it over is a violation of his First Amendment rights. The filmmaker has been granted a temporary stay until June 8, when an appeals court will hear his motion for a stay on the order to turn over his film.
Berlinger has attracted some influential allies to his cause. First, the industry group the International Documentary Association and a group of filmmakers that includes 20 Academy Award winners and many more nominees issued an open letter supporting Berlinger, reported the New York Times on its Arts Beat blog. Then, this week, a group of 13 heavy-hitting media companies—including NBC Universal, HBO, and the New York Times Company—filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.
He’s also been defended by that feistiest of fellow whistle-blowers, Michael Moore, who told the New York Times that the decision could have “a chilling effect”:
“If something like this is upheld, the next whistle-blower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they’re working for,” Mr. Moore said. “Obviously the ramifications of this go far beyond documentary films, if corporations are allowed to pry into a reporter’s notebook or into a television station’s newsroom.”
The head of the company distributing Crude issued a similar warning a statement. Seymour Wishman, president of First Run Features, cited “the high risk that other journalists in the future will be deterred from embarking on similar hard hitting investigations. In order to be informed, persuaded or disabused of misperceptions, the American public desperately needs the benefit of uninhibited documentaries like Crude, and journalists like Joe Berlinger.”
If you agree—that is, if you’ve ever seen a documentary that changed your mind about an issue—consider donating to the legal fund for Berlinger’s case at Kickstarter.
Sources: Arts Beat, New York Times, First Run Features, Kickstarter
Image by Ali Pflaum, courtesy of Radical Media.
6/2/2010 3:49:47 PM
Large, invasive Asian carp are overwhelming the Mississippi River and heading for the Great Lakes—and one way to help stop their spread is to eat them, a host of observers are suggesting. But the American palate is not attuned to carp as a delicacy, and the fish’s PR problems begin with its inelegant, harsh-sounding name. So why not rename it? It worked for orange roughy, which once was known as the slimehead, and “rock salmon,” a.k.a. the spiny dogfish.
Big River magazine, which covers the Upper Mississippi, has had a field day with its carp coverage, which recently included a Name That Carp contest that is now down to its finalists. The common carp is the more established but less aggressive invader, while the silver carp is the gigantic, leaping variety that really has river watchers worried. Here are the suggested names:
winged silver roughy
Entries are closed, but Big River is asking the public to vote on these finalists and will announce the winning names in the July-August issue.
It’s not the only publication with carp on its mind. The Chicago Reader did an entire carp issue that included a ten-chef carp challenge. One chef, Phillip Foss of Lockwood restaurant, took the competition to heart and began putting carp dishes on his menu that attracted favorable attention from the Chicago Tribune and the Wall Street Journal.
But Foss isn’t going along with this renaming business. The Reader notes that “he was excited about selling Asian carp,” but that he wasn’t going to start calling it silverfin, as some boosters already have suggested. “He wasn’t going to sugarcoat it.”
Foss tells the Reader, “This fish has a lot of strikes against it. But this is not a bad-tasting fish. … You want to get it out of the water—why not fish it? Eat it for dinner tonight.”
Sources: Big River, Chicago Reader, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal
Top image by Michael Boyd, www.mboydphoto.com
. Carp dish image courtesy of Phillip Foss from his blog The Pickled Tongue.
6/1/2010 12:49:19 PM
The rainforest is a recurring theme in lots of green-themed children’s literature—yet many publishers of these same books are using paper that contributes to the destruction of rainforests. That’s the upshot of a recent report (pdf) by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which found that nine of the 10 leading publishers of children’s books are selling books manufactured on paper that is unsustainably harvested from Indonesia’s rainforests.
To find this out, RAN went shopping for 30 randomly selected books—three from each of the nation’s top 10 children’s publishers—then submitted them to an independent testing laboratory to determine whether they contained fibers from rainforests or from acacia plantations, which are being grown on razed forest land. Nine of the top 10 publishers were implicated, despite that five of them have publicly stated paper procurement policies.
Part of the problem is China. How is that? According to RAN,
With the rapid growth of book printing and manufacturing being outsourced to China, the U.S. book industry has become increasingly vulnerable to controversial paper sources entering its supply chain. China is the top importer of Indonesian pulp and paper, and much of the Chinese paper industry is linked to or controlled by highly controversial Indonesian pulp and paper suppliers, Asia Pulp and Paper and Asia Pacific Resources International, which together account for 80 percent of Indonesia’s production. From 2000-2008, Chinese sales of children’s picture books to the U.S. ballooned by more than 290 percent, averaging an increase of more than 35 percent per year.
RAN’s sample was admittedly small, but the results are enough to give book buyers pause. What’s a book-loving parent to do? Given the apparently widespread nature of the problem, perhaps it’s best to revisit one of the three R’s in sustainable thinking—reuse—and get our kids’ books secondhand from garage sales, library sales, thrift stores, friends, and relatives. Or else we may have some ’splainin’ to do.
UPDATE 6/10/10: RAN has now released a list of 25 children’s books that are “rainforest-safe,” having been printed on paper that is recycled or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. See the list of rainforest-safe children’s books here. RAN plans to add more books to the list.
Source: Rainforest Action Network
Image courtesty of Rainforest Action Network.
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