1/28/2008 10:21:38 AM
Traveling by plane to academic conferences exacerbates climate change, Mark Pedelty writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, yet the topic is rarely broached by those in academia: “Perhaps that is because our most sacred privilege is at stake. We love to travel.”
Pedelty, an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota, doesn’t spare himself as he serves up an unflinching but humorous critique of scholars who “travel to meet, greet, and, in one of our more ironic roles, preach the gospel of sustainability.”
Inspired in part by an editorial in the British Medical Journal on the carbon footprint of medical conferences, Pedelty encourages his fellow academics to videoconference whenever possible and to start asking hard questions like, “Did I really need to fly to New York to hear that?”
1/27/2008 10:46:11 AM
The citizens of Margaritaville may fear that sustainable development will stymie their unmitigated drinking. In a satirical piece for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Matthew DuVerne Hutchinson tries to reassure them, writing, “Higher population densities and smarter growth means smarter and more robust partying.”
1/25/2008 5:11:46 PM
Like your salary and your voting history, there are some things you just don’t share with friends, coworkers, and complete strangers. For example, your score on H2Oconserve’s helpful and fun H2O calculator. Too high a score, and you’ll be labeled a water-hogging ecoterrorist. Too low, and people at work may wonder if that smell in the break room is coming from Mr. or Ms. Stinky McNeverbathes. So check out the calculator, follow the simple steps, and figure out your water footprint. Just don’t post it on Facebook.
1/25/2008 4:55:58 PM
For many of us born after World War II, the idea that America depends on its citizens to procreate in order to maintain its status as a world power seems a bit archaic. Sure, we recognize that somebody has to do it, but propagation is hardly seen as the patriotic obligation it once was. If you grew up during the Reagan/Bush years, for example, memories of massive unemployment scares might logically eclipse fears of a waning population too small to fill the jobs that make society function. But dwindling population levels have actually been a major threat to American dominance in the global marketplace, at least according to an article in the Washington Post. So it is with a palpable sense of relief that the Post reports that, for the first time since 1971, the United States has reached a fertility rate above the coveted population replacement milestone, a level where the number of children reaching adolescence is equal to the death rate. This is pretty good news for the country, the article suggests.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian offers a decidedly different response to the news of U.S. population growth in a blog posting by Amanda Witherell. The world’s resources are already stretched dangerously thin sustaining our present population, Witherell points out. An increase in population—particularly in an über-consumerist society like ours, where the increase would have an exponentially more drastic environmental impact than in a developing nation—would be unconscionable.
According to the Post article, “the ‘replacement rate’ is generally considered desirable by demographers and sociologists because it means a country is producing enough young people to replace and support aging workers....” This positive perception of the replacement rate, of course, presumes that our present population is ideal and, consequently, that changes in the size of our population and necessary workforce are unfavorable alternatives to some other, yet-to-be-discovered solution to our environmental problems. Witherell points out in another article that limiting the population is an obvious step toward corralling carbon emissions and the burden we put on natural resources. Too obvious a step, apparently. This preference for an abstract, or even nonexistent, solution reminds us that, at least in America, the simple answer is hardly ever the right answer. Better to offer our children a shot at the great legacy of solving global warming. They’ll thank us, I’m sure. Every single, last one of them.
Photo by Jenn Rensel, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/25/2008 4:29:18 PM
If This Old House strikes you as a bit too old, there is a new breed of building shows that teach you how to make your house pretty—and environmentally sustainable at the same time. Check out OnNetwork’s Mainstream Green program, which has host Alex Pettitt helping you understand things like integrated pest management and on-site recycling. The latest episode on recycling shows how a handy “tub grinder” can be used on building sites to turn previously wasted wood, drywall, and brick into natural insulation. The show also takes you inside a paper recycling plant where you get to see the huge bales of paper waiting to be “repurposed.” If you still want more, check out HGTV Pro’s collection of green building “best practices.” These videos give a bounty of green building tips for your next home improvement project.
1/25/2008 3:23:35 PM
You’ve got to hand it to corporate America. While the profit-mad behemoth has previously abused the environment the same way a drunken house guest abuses your bathroom, some companies have started taking a greener view of things. Sierra magazine reports that consumer pressure has greened up a lot of business. And this doesn’t apply just to green-branded businesses like Whole Foods. Businesses across the board have found that green measures can boost their profits. This thinking is spreading through the whole supply chain, the chain of goods and services from which three-quarters of a company’s carbon footprint comes.
For a long time, big business and environmentalists could never get along. But companies are fast learning that conserving their resources saves money, thereby increasing profit. And as the environmental movement scores more converts, consumers themselves begin to demand socially responsible goods.
“Corporate social responsibility” is becoming dizzyingly popular, according to the British newspaper the Economist, in a sometimes critical special report by Daniel Franklin. “$1 out of every $9 under professional management in America now involves an element of ‘socially responsible investment,’ according to Geoffrey Heal of Columbia Business School.” But the corporate social responsibility movement isn’t even close to perfect. While it’s appealing as a buzzword, the practice has confused a good many in business. But Franklin delivers a hopeful conclusion: When corporate social responsibility is done right, it can deliver a lot of good and increase profit. Which is good news for all of us.
1/17/2008 9:55:19 AM
Five cents a bottle doesn’t seem like much, but the bottled water tax that hit Chicago at the beginning of the new year has left the bottled water industry feeling all wet, reports Sustainablog’s Jason Phillip.
Bottled water is an environmentalist’s worst nightmare, ballooning landfills with plastic—less than 20 percent of plastic bottles are ever recycled—and encouraging waste, all for a product that we can easily get by picking up a glass and walking to the nearest sink. Bottled water could even be the first barrage in the unsettling privatization of public water supplies, Leif Utne has suggested in Utne Reader.
But we’re not in clear water yet. The Chicago tax, the first such levy in the nation, is being challenged in court by industry trade groups that argue it’s unfair because it doesn’t apply to other noncarbonated beverages such as sports drinks, coffee, or chocolate milk. Of course, Chicago does not provide inexpensive chocolate milk from the taps, otherwise I would move there, so taxing bottled water seems reasonable. But in the end it’s up for the courts to decide.
The poor bottled water manufacturers have a point, though: One bottled beverage has the same grim environmental footprint as any other. So why should water be singled out for shaming? Maybe because bottled water has become a symbol of Americans’ wanton wastefulness. We are paying for something we can get for free and destroying the earth in the process. Taken liken that, a five-cent tax doesn’t seem too hefty.
1/16/2008 3:30:35 PM
January means list time. Everyone feels entitled to publish an annual top ten list around the New Year, looking back on 2007’s notable scientific discoveries, blunders, and cat videos. But Sustainable Industries is looking ahead. The monthly green business magazine, nominated for a 2007 Utne Independent Press Award for its environmental coverage, has put out its annual Trend Watch, with in-depth articles on eight green business trends we can expect to see in 2008.
One thing to anticipate in 2008 is growth in the green building products industry. Despite worries over the U.S. housing slump, the green building market has been growing rapidly, with the market for green building materials increasing a whopping 23 percent annually from 2004 to 2006. Sustainable Industries attributes the growth to consumer demand, stricter building codes, and the reduced operating costs that come with green buildings.
But consumers aren’t satisfied with just living in green buildings—they also want to be able to keep tabs on their energy consumption within the home. Which is why Sustainable Industries predicts we will see an increase in technology that gives consumers easy access to energy usage information: “A growing number of savvy companies are providing value-added services that help individual users make sense of the environmental data available, using the now-ubiquitous cell phones, PDAs, laptops and other personal communication tools available.” One such tool, featured in Good magazine, shows how much energy is sucked up by common household appliances even when they are turned off. And Sustainable Industries reports that Nissan plans to add displays to vehicles that tell the driver how their acceleration and braking behaviors affect fuel efficiency.
Other predictions for 2008? Expect to see advances in battery operated cars, increased reliance on renewable energy sources, and a consolidation of green media sources.
1/16/2008 11:18:40 AM
What in Gaia’s name were the folks at the Foundation for Deep Ecology thinking when they decided to publish the humongous photo-driven monstrosity of a book called Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation?
The hardcover, which was released in November and distributed by Chelsea Green, has 274 gigantic pages—they’re about the size of an LP record—is an inch and a half thick, and weighs in at nearly six pounds. And although Chelsea Green notes on its website that it “prints . . . on chlorine-free recycled paper, using soy-based inks, whenever possible,” there’s no such disclaimer in Thrillcraft, which is perhaps the Chelsea Green title most in need of greenification.
Presumably, the large format is intended to showcase the photographs, which depict a stream of adrenaline junkies riding ATVs, dirt bikes, dune buggies, personal watercraft, snowmobiles, and the like, along with the resulting destruction: trashed wetlands, trampled desert soils, bullet-blasted trail signs. A few postcardy wilderness photos are thrown in to starkly illustrate the alternative to this “yahoo culture” (the editor’s preferred term).
Problem is, the overall photo quality is quite poor, with grainy low-resolution images and washed-out colors that remind me of those decades-old Time-Life photo books I always see in the “free” box at yard sales. Add in overly earnest, clumsy captions (“A young girl takes time to smell the flowers—a reflective experience antithetical to thrillcraft culture”) and this is a coffee-table book that on first browse isn’t even good enough to display on your sustainably manufactured coffee table.
Editorially, the book is a mixed bag. In between all those photos, it’s got twenty-some essays about various aspects of the gearheads-vs.-greens battle. Some of the pieces, such as those by wilderness essayist-novelist Rick Bass and Audubon editor-at-large Ted Williams, are writerly and engaging, but many others are by academics whose thesis-style explications will have you flipping ahead to the next monster truck rally double-spread. And the overall tenor of Thrillcraft, from the dedication page (“To the late, great public lands”) to the glossary (“abusement parks,” “wreckreation”), comes off as shrill and simplistic.
I’m totally on board with Thrillcraft’s message, that motorized recreation is, on the whole, doing grave and irreparable damage to U.S. public lands, especially in the West. And I can rant against motors with the best of them when the whine of snowmobiles disrupts my cross-country ski trek or a powerboat nearly swamps my canoe. But if an ideological ally like me finds this book tone-deaf in its presentation, over-the-top in its rhetoric, and flat-out wasteful in its production, what exactly is it good for? I suppose you could always chuck it at an annoying off-roader. But at 60 bucks a copy, that would be an expensive projectile.
1/15/2008 2:57:38 PM
You may find that sticking to your New Year’s resolution to eat local is difficult, especially when most of our food is as local as Dick Cheney’s undisclosed location. Karen Berner at the Daily Green gives burgeoning locavores four web tools to help them find local grub to plug their pieholes. From local-food maps to a list of restaurants that serve local food, your close-to-home dining odyssey could begin here.
1/14/2008 2:39:03 PM
If you like to eat out and seafood is on the menu, the Blue Ocean Institute has made it easier to pick the most sustainable entree. Just send a text message to 30644 that includes “Fish” and the type of seafood you’re thinking of ordering, and the Fish Phone will shoot back a message telling you how ecofriendly your choice is.
I was curious about halibut, one of my favorite types of fish. I whipped out my cell, texted the Fish Phone, and got an immediate reply: “Pacific Halibut (GREEN) few environmental concerns, MSC certified as sustainable; Atlantic Halibut (RED) significant environmental concerns.”
You can also download a wallet-size version of the seafood guide if you don’t want to pay for a text message.
(Thanks, Sierra Club.)
1/7/2008 6:13:19 PM
Wild pigs are mysteriously disappearing in southern Florida, Calvin Godfrey writes for the Miami New Times. Godfrey profiles the fruitless attempts of three frustrated hunters, unable to kill the prized wild pigs.
Meanwhile, Miguel Bustillo reports for the Los Angeles Times that Texas communities are being overrun by porcine psychopaths, ravaging crops and menacing citizens. Mike Bodenchuk of the U.S. Department. of Agriculture said, “These pigs are an ecological train wreck.”
In Florida, though, there is still no clear culprit for the pig population plummet. Scientists have cited drought and fires as possible causes. Given the role animal populations play as environmental indicators, both states’ pig problems merit serious second looks.
Photo courtesy of NASA.
1/7/2008 3:37:21 PM
There aren’t many problems that can’t be solved by eager, young college students. Last October’s Solar Decathlon, for example, pit twenty teams of young over-achievers against each other in an competition to build the perfect solar home. The homes had to snag all of their power from the sun, and provide enough extra power to run a small electric car. The event was chronicled by eight-year-old, green journalist Carrick McCullough, who covered the event with some help from his father for the blog, Autoblog Green. When you add McCullough’s fresh-faced journalism to the innovative environmental solutions from the event, the decathlon achieved the green triumvirate: it’s eco-friendly, it’s educational, and it’s also cute.
You can watch McCullough's report below:
1/7/2008 1:52:23 PM
Taking aim at those climate change deniers still out there, Thomas Wheatley of the Atlanta alternative weekly Creative Loafing offers these five sites to help you sway them:
1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the home page of the United Nations-sponsored, Nobel Prize-winning group. More specifically, I recommend checking out this slideshow presentation (pdf) on the site, which explains in very approachable terms the climate change report the panel released in November.
2. Q&A for Climate Skeptics from the University of Oregon’s Institute for a Sustainable Environment. Don’t be daunted by the report’s beefy 56 pages. While the approach is systematic—and exceedingly ambitious—the Q&A format makes it a fun read, even if you’re just skimming. I found some of the last few pages especially interesting, because they address the defeatist position I’ve heard some of my “progressive” friends take: They believe climate change is real, but are cynical about working toward solutions to it, voicing objections like, “Won’t the effects just be minor?” and “Wouldn’t working to stop it crash the global markets?” I’ll give you a hint. The short answer to both questions is no.
3. Global Warming Myths and Facts. OK, so you are daunted by the 56-page report. Fair enough. Think of this as the Cliffs Notes version, courtesy of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ten common myths about global warming and why they’re wrong. Here’s proof that brevity doesn’t necessarily mean treating you like you’re a third-grader.
4. Climate Change 101. Well, “101” is generous. Reading this might feel like summer school for most folks.
5. Architecture 2030. This organization uses cool, detailed 3-D Google maps to show what more than 80 coastal American cities will look like if waters rise as expected. Beautiful maps illustrate a chilling scenario. Some of my favorites include New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
While I like Wheatley’s list, it still leans towards arming already-convinced people to talk to skeptics. If there are any sites to which you like to send skeptical friends to learn for themselves, please let us know in the comments field below.
1/7/2008 1:44:52 PM
Not everyone thinks that gigantic, slow-moving wind turbines improve an untouched landscape. When you get energy from wind farms, environmental activist Adam Twine says in the latest issue of the UK-based environmental magazine Green Futures, “you’re paying the environmental cost of the electricity in the visual impact. It’s not being left for future generations.”
The issue comes down to compromise, according to Twine. People always pay for energy, either in a cost to the landscape, or in the massive environmental costs associated with fossil fuels. Twine’s best compromise is to make wind farms community owned. That way, the people paying the costs are the same people reaping the benifits. Twine sits on the board of the Westmill Wind Farm Cooperative, a wind farm in southern England, based on the principal that “local people can get together and generate their own power.”
What do you think? Are wind farms ugly? Our sister publication, Mother Earth News recently started a lengthy discussion on the benefits and costs of wind farms. Do wind turbines ruin the landscape, or is the environmental benefit worth it?
1/7/2008 1:05:12 PM
At half an inch, it’s a small idea, but if everyone did it, we could save acres of forests. And it’s as simple as clicking a few buttons on a Word document before sending it to the printer. Specifically, Change the Margins is campaigning for individuals, companies, and universities to reduce standard paper margins to 0.75 inch. (The default margin on a Microsoft Word document is 1.25 inches.) The idea began when the campaign’s founder reduced her own margins to save money on paper. Implemented on a much larger scale, this simple step could make a big impact on paper usage over time, especially if large corporations and universities sign on.
Here’s how to change your margins in Microsoft Word: Go to File and click on Page Setup. Using the arrows, decrease top, bottom, and side margins to .75”. Click “Default.” Click “yes” to make these your standard margin settings.
For more information and an interview with the founder of Change the Margins, check out this story from National Public Radio.
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