9/25/2009 2:28:01 PM
Volunteers across the country are transcribing 6 million birdwatching observations—handwritten notes catalogued on small index cards, and dating back to 1880—to help researchers figure out how climate change affects bird migration patterns. Audubon interviews Jessica Zelt, coordinator of the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Bird Phenology Program, which is tapping more than 1,200 volunteers to compile “the most comprehensive data set of its kind.”
“This program is looking at how climate change is affecting migrating bird arrival and departure dates,” Zelt tells Audubon. “Once this information goes into our database, we can analyze it, along with weather and climate data, to see if there are long-term patterns and shifts. It’s possible that climate change affects certain species more than others. Being able to highlight those species and change our own lives to lessen those effects, that’s always a goal.”
Image by Noël Zia Lee, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/25/2009 11:50:11 AM
Green your Twitter feed—in a single click. Investigative reporter Osha Gray Davidson, editor and publisher of the Phoenix Sun, has set up a TweepML list for the Society of Environmental Journalists. With one click, users can follow 58 environmental reporters, writers, and publications, including Utne Independent Press Award-winning High Country News.
9/24/2009 4:12:02 PM
It seems that more and more Americans are interested in conserving water—but shorter showers only go so far. It’s time to take the next step: Green the plumbing industry!
That’s the approach of GreenPlumbers USA, which is currently featured in our sister publication Natural Home. Adapted from a very successful program in Australia, GreenPlumbers USA trains plumbers in a variety of conservation techniques, “everything from solar hot water to how to conduct a detailed, 50-point water audit on homes and businesses,” says director Megan Lehtonen.
Top to bottom—manufacturers, wholesalers, contractors and plumbers—the entire industry needs to adapt to new technology and conservation procedures. For us, culture change means plumbers stepping up and taking the responsibility to become champions of conservation. America needs to save water, and the plumbing industry needs to be part of the solution.
More than 3,000 plumbers have taken the program’s 32-hour coarseload thus far, and Lehtonen expects to train at least 50,000 more in the next few years. “It’s really inspiring for us when a 50-year-old plumber gets excited about his trade all over again,” she says. “And you know that he will go out and be a representative for change.”
Source: Natural Home
Image by jrob86, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/23/2009 3:53:59 PM
Much of the speculation about “geoengineering” to halt or reverse climate change circles around the technical aspects: Will it work to spray sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to deflect sunlight, or to build synthetic trees that will capture carbon dioxide and turn it into a liquid to store underground? The answers, of course, are unknowable.
Jason Mark focuses more on the ethical and philosophical implications of such long-shot approaches in “Hacking the Sky” in the Autumn 2009 issue of Earth Island Journal. For starters, thinking that we can manage the natural systems of the earth signals a grandly twisted sorts of hubris steeped in cynicism.
“Geoengineering,” Mark writes, “has become the refuge of the cynic. It assumes that although we may be able to alter how the planet works, we are incapable of changing the way we run the world.”
Geoengineering would present a host of big questions even if it showed some success. For instance, what if an engineered cooling of the globe had unequal effects like, say, a decrease in monsoon rains over Asia? And who would be at the controls? Governments? Corporations? Both scenarios portend frightening possibilities. Ultimately, Mark arrives at a starkly candid assessment of our predicament:
We should at least be honest: There is scant difference between doing something unintentionally and knowing it’s harmful, and intentionally, but riskily, trying to fix it. For 20 years, we have understood the consequences of pumping the atmosphere full of CO2, and still we persist. We crossed a moral line long ago.
Our double bind is this: Either we keep our hands off the sky, and hope we act in time to prevent the destruction of Arctic ecosystems, the desertification of the Amazon, the abandonment of ancient cities. Or we try our luck at playing Zeus, knowing that it could make matters worse. No matter what, we risk losing Creation.
Source: Earth Island Journal
9/23/2009 1:37:58 PM
Here's a line that ought to get your attention: "Contemporary children are so drenched with eco-propaganda that it's almost a waste of resources." You probably won't be surprised to learn that these are the words of the woman who reviews children's books for the Wall Street Journal. I stumbled upon Megan Cox Gurdon's essay Scary Green Monsters in PERC Reports, a magazine put out by the Property and Environment Research Center, which boasts of being “the nation’s oldest and largest institute dedicated to improving environmental quality through markets and property rights.” Mostly, the essay is a takedown of anti-corporate children’s books such as Carl Hiaasen’s award-winning Hoot. You can almost imagine Cox Gurdon sneering as she offers up a summary: Hoot is “a book for middle-schoolers about three children who foil a corporation’s attempt to build a pancake restaurant over a burrow of endangered miniature owls.” It’s a grouchy essay, but Cox Gurdon is acting in the interest of something scared, even if that something sacred is not a burrow of endangered miniature owls:
As any parent can tell you, children like routine. They’re not put off by predictability in stories. They’re accustomed to princesses being pretty, dragons being fearsome, and, it seems, alas, their fictional businessmen being corpulent and amoral. So it’s probably pointless to object to the eco-endlessness on the grounds of artistic feebleness.
Yet there is something culturally impoverishing about insisting that children join in the adult preoccupation with reducing, reusing, and recycling. Can they not have a precious decade or so to soar in imaginative literature before we drag them down to earth?
(article not available online)
9/22/2009 4:50:32 PM
The civil rights and environmental movements were once melded together for one glorious moment in time: when Marvin Gaye released the song “What’s Going On.” The song struck a chord, expressing the yearning for both environmental justice and civil rights in a mournfully beautiful way that reached number 2 on the pop charts.
“Tragically,” the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. and Bill McKibben write for The Nation, civil rights and environmentalism “soon diverged—diverged so far that some people still find it odd that activists like ourselves are working side by side again on issues like global warming and poverty.” Today there is a potential to mend the rift between the two movements by enlisting hip hop activists in the fight against climate change.
Yearwood and McKibben write, “The swagger and style that young people and their urban-influenced culture bring to the green movement bear little resemblance to the old tree-hugging brand of environmentalism.” And that could be a very powerful thing.
Which reminds me:
Source: The Nation
9/18/2009 4:29:44 PM
If humans were able to freeze carbon emissions tomorrow—a long shot, to be sure—the climate would continue changing for years to come. That’s why some experts are trying to determine how we might adapt to climate change, even as we work to mitigate it. The new issue of Environmental Building News outlines a few suggestions for building green, and making sure the buildings stay that way. The suggestions include designing natural ventilation for cooling without extra energy, using materials that can survive flooding, and avoiding combustible siding to protect against wildfires. Environmental expert Jonathan Overpeck told the magazine, “adaptation and mitigation are not an either-or proposition.” People have to do both.
Source: Environmental Building News
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9/18/2009 9:25:53 AM
Adding a bell or a splashguard to a bicycle wouldn’t be enough of an improvement for Dave Schneider, writing for the electrical engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum. Schneider decided to modify his bike into a DIY, human-electric hybrid. Using a battery from a wrecked Toyota Prius, some lathe work, and some elbow grease, Schneider’s bike can easily go 20 miles per hour and seamlessly switch back and forth from human to electric power. The total cost was about $750.00. The bike might not do everything that a car can, but it’s cheaper and better for the environment, too.
What was the best improvement you’ve ever made to your bike?
Source: IEEE Spectrum
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9/11/2009 4:17:36 PM
Environmentalists are butting heads over the fate of the ancient Maya Forrest in Guatemala, according to Earth Island Journal. A confusing patchwork of governmental regulations is creating animosity and disagreement on how best to protect the 3,000 endemic species of plants and animals, the priceless artifacts inside the park, and the economic rights of the people who live there.
The government has given permits to locals for low-level, sustainable logging in the area in an effort to curb the massive deforestation inside the park. Some environmentalists insist that including locals in this way is the best way to proceed, because it gives people a stake in the environmental sustainability of the area. Others insist that stricter regulations are needed to promote international ecotourism, an effort that has been cast as “a misbegotten colonialist effort to strip Guatemalans of their jobs working the land, forcing them to drive buses and change bedsheets in tourist hotels.”
Either way, most people agree that the current path for the Maya Forrest is unsustainable. The Rainforest Alliance, for example, estimates that a quarter of the forest could disappear by 2025.
Source: Earth Island Journal
Image by Willem van Bergen, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/11/2009 10:51:53 AM
Environmentalists fret over an imminent onslaught of international wars over water. As global warming dries up the earth, the idea is that countries will increasingly go to war with each other over the remaining water. The reasoning makes sense, but according to Wendy Barnaby in Conservation, research into water and war doesn’t back up the fear. “Predictions of armed conflict come from the media and from popular, non-peer-reviewed work,” according to Barnaby, and not from reality.
“People who are short of water do not necessarily fight over it,” Barnaby writes. Her findings are backed up by the research of water negotiator Aaron Wolf, profiled in the July-August issue of Utne Reader. In the war-torn Middle East, there have been plenty of power struggles and politics, but no wars over water. The wars have been more about borders, security, and statehood. Instead there have been continuing negotiations and even cooperation over water resources. And, as Wolf notes, “India and Pakistan have a water treaty that has survived since 1960—through two wars. In the middle of one of the wars, India made payments to Pakistan as part of its treaty obligations.”
Water privatization and resource grabs by multinational corporations continue to be a serious issue. In international relations, however, water may be a more powerful motivator for peace and negotiations than it is for war.
(Article not available online.)
9/1/2009 5:41:55 PM
Rail all you want against paving paradise, but concrete is going to be with us for a while. We might as well make it greener, right? Environmental Building News writes in its August 2009 issue about a new disposal system for concrete washout, the water left over after washing down concrete equipment. Washout, the magazine writes, “can be nearly as caustic as drain cleaner and can contain metals that are toxic to aquatic life, including chromium, copper, and zinc.”
To make proper disposal easier and certain, Atlantic Concrete Washout delivers an empty sealed container to construction sites, and workers put the washout into it. When it’s full, the company sends a truck to pump out the water, separates the solids from the water, and sends the water to a state industrial wastewater treatment facility.
Environmental Building News points out that it can be expensive and gas-intensive to tote these heavy water loads around, but still the Environmental Protection Agency regards the containers as the best way to contain concrete wastewater. Atlantic Concrete Washout operates in Florida and California (under the name National Concrete Washout), but such services are springing up across the United States. And at least one firm, California's On Site Washout Corp., is selling self-contained washout disposal equipment for job sites.
The concrete industry is addressing the larger issue of climate change, too. World Watch (Sept.-Oct. 2009) reports that the industry’s Cement Sustainability Initiative “has helped the world’s 18 leading cement companies slow the growth of their carbon dioxide emissions. Net emissions grew only 35 percent from 1990 to 2006, while cement production climbed 53 percent.”
Sources: Building Green, World Watch (article not available online)
Image by ThrasherDave, licensed under Creative Commons.
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