1/29/2009 1:22:55 PM
President Obama’s economic stimulus package, passed by the House this week, contained a number of green initiatives, which quite pleased environmentalists, according to The Daily Green. The eco-spending written into the plan includes money for transit, clean energy projects, and a makeover of the country’s electrical grid, totaling “more than $100 billion in direct spending for various green projects,” according to Gristmill.
But Gristmill also points out that the Senate’s version of the stimulus package, which is expected to be voted on next week, will probably end up a lighter shade of green. There’s significantly less money for transit in the Senate’s plan, as well as substantial allotments for the nuclear and coal industries.
Image by selbstfotografiert, licensed underCreative Commons.
1/29/2009 12:17:56 PM
The highly paid leaders of big environmental organizations are compromising themselves and the planet by cutting deals—as well as wining, dining, and scuba diving—with corporate executives whose firms pollute and plunder resources. That’s the rather damning case laid out in Green, Inc. by environmental journalist Christine MacDonald, who challenges green groups to wean themselves from these tainted corporate donations and relationships, which range from apparent conflicts of interest to out-and-out scandal.
As an environmentalist, MacDonald is acutely aware of the interconnectedness of all things, and she touches on a constellation of related issues: greenwashing, green certification, dicey political alliances, indigenous rights, out-of-control logging and mining, even human rights and slavery. Green, Inc. doesn’t contain enough fresh enterprise reporting to be deemed a full-blown exposé, but the book ties together enough data, anecdotes, and previously reported material to be taken seriously as a critique of the business of environmentalism.
MacDonald singles out three organizations for her harshest criticism: the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International, where she briefly worked and thus attained “insider” status. She also notes improprieties and ethical lapses at other groups, and to be fair widens the circle of accountability to include all consumers: “Demanding to know where the products we purchase came from and how they were made is maybe the most important thing we can do to press corporations to clean up their operations and supply chains.”
This review was originally published in the January-February 2009 issue of Utne Reader.
1/28/2009 2:33:47 PM
When it comes to cutting paper consumption, every bit matters, even the facial tissue you choose. Grist has conducted a review of which tissues are the greenest (no pun intended). Of course the most eco-friendly choice is a cloth handkerchief, but if the convenience of disposable tissues is a necessity, you can make choices that clear your nose without clearing the forests at the same time.
Image courtesy of AnA oMeLeTe, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/27/2009 11:48:32 AM
The sobering reality of climate change is slow to sink in among the general public. Miller-McCune reports that scientists are still “far ahead of the public” when it comes to accepting that global warming is occurring and that human activity is to blame.
In a recent survey of earth scientists, the website reports, “90 percent of respondents expressed the view temperatures have risen, and 82 percent said human activity is indeed a significant factor in the phenomenon.”
Meanwhile, a recent public poll stands in contrast: “It found that while 64 percent of American voters consider climate change a serious problem, they are split over its cause. Forty-four percent blame ‘long-term planetary trends’ while only 41 percent attribute the problem to human activity. Even more problematic, skepticism of the scientists’ findings seems to be growing. In a July 2006 survey, 46 percent of voters said global warming is caused primarily by human activities, while 35 percent reported it is due to long-term planetary trends.”
Republicans, if it surprises anyone, lag Democrats in accepting the human role in global warming.
The results, Miller-McCune writes, suggest that industry-backed climate change denialists are successfully placing doubt in people’s minds. Apparently, their single-occupant SUVs, meat-rich diets, and 4,000-square-foot homes aren’t to blame: It’s simply a planetary cycle.
According to the author of the scientist poll, Peter Doran, the debate is all but over in the science world. “The challenge,” he says, “appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.”
1/26/2009 3:42:14 PM
So you think environmentalism has gone mainstream, what with Al Gore spreading the climate change gospel and countless people and businesses boasting of going green? Hold on a minute: Environmental journalist Jeffrey St. Clair tells Northern California magazine Terrain in an illuminating interview that despite all the talk, the grassroots green movement has in fact lost much of its fire and been co-opted by corporate America.
St. Clair, editor of the Counterpunch website, author of the book Born Under a Bad Sky and co-editor of the book Red State Rebels, traces the start of the movement’s downfall to the Clinton presidency, when “a new kind of environmentalism” was adopted by then-Vice President Gore and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Instead of focusing on regulations, the Clinton administration cut deals with environmentally destructive industries, and during the same period environmental groups grew too cozy with big business and overly reliant on foundation funding. Here’s where St. Clair delivers some of his most damning, and convincing, criticisms:
“Many of these foundations are the progeny of the oil companies. Look at the major three that are funding the environmental movement: Pew Charitable Trust, that’s Sun Oil; W. Alton Jones, another oil company; Rockefeller Family Fund. Those three foundations basically control the environmental movement. … If you look at the board of directors of the large environmental groups, they’re filled with corporate executives. From the timber industry, to the oil industry, to the real estate industry, to the airline industry, to the nuclear power industry, they’re there, on every one of these boards. They’re rich, they’re corporate, and they don’t want you shaking things up. So [the environmental groups] are like Gulliver, they’re pinned down. They’re shackled by their source of money, shackled by their relationship to the Democratic Party, shackled by the fact that their boards are controlled by corporate executives.”
The economic crisis and its crimp on foundation funding may actually offer some hope, he says:
“A lot of them, certainly the smaller groups, will lose their funding first, and that’s going to be a very good thing. The weaning process is going to hurt for a while. But when they emerge from that, they’re going to be much better off. … Hopefully in the future, you’re going to be seeing … much more indigenous radical and unpredictable, organic environmental groups that will end up being much more effective, much more healing for people.”
Read a review of Green Inc., which explores in detail the ties between the corporate world and environmental groups, in the January-February Utne Reader. And to learn more about how foundation funding has taken the bite out of many grassroots movements, keep an eye out for the March-April Utne Reader’s cover story on philanthropy.
1/21/2009 1:13:53 PM
The new issue of Environment Magazine offers up a powerful tool for citizen journalists and professional muckrakers alike: links to dozens of web resources for exploring “the tremendous amount of environmental information to be had from the U.S. government, both new and old.”
1/20/2009 2:14:49 PM
It’s President Obama now. And his cabinet and administration picks have all been rolled out. So how green is Team Obama? The online environmental magazine Grist provides a cheat sheet of an assessment and a look at Obama's treatment of of environmental and energy issues in his inaugural speech. The good people at Grist also take a look back with an interactive time line charting George W. Bush’s environmental legacy.
1/16/2009 2:08:45 PM
In March 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to outright ban plastic bags from being distributed by larger retailers. But almost two years later, an SF Weekly reporter finds that the cut-and-dried argument used for so long—plastic bad, paper good—is largely disproved after a close look at the facts.
True, producing plastic bags takes millions of barrels of oil, but processing paper bags releases noxious chemicals and pollutes millions of gallons of water. In addition, transporting them to stores takes far more space and gasoline than their plastic cousins.
“Firstly," says the author, "biodegrading paper represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, in a properly run landfill, paper doesn't really biodegrade. In fact, nothing much really does.” Landfill trash is so tightly compacted that paper and even food waste remains mummified for decades, unable to break down.
As for the aesthetic argument, that the ban would eliminate unsightly and unsafe plastic litter, research shows that while overall litter has decreased, plastic bags’ share of that percentage of that number has actually increased since the ban.
So what should consumers do? As TreeHugger puts it, “Ultimately, neither paper nor plastic bags are the best choice; we think choosing reusable canvas bags instead is the way to go. From an energy standpoint, according to this Australian study, canvas bags are 14 times better than plastic bags and 39 times better than paper bags, assuming that canvas bags get a good workout and are used 500 times during their life cycle.”
Image courtesy of londonista_londonist, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/16/2009 12:32:56 PM
Are you tired of the relentless accumulation and stagnant heaps of snow this winter? Well, you’re not alone. Record-setting snowfall amounts in Spokane, Washington, are provoking some residents to exhibit “snow rage,” a term coined last winter, when police in Quebec blamed snow piles for inspiring “a rash of snowblower thefts and incited at least two armed clashes.”
in Spokane are testing everyone’s patience, reports The Week (subscription required for online access), with two instances of residents threatening snowplow operators this season. The first invoved a homeowner armed with a gun, yelling from his driveway that he didn’t want to be blocked in by a snow berm. Shortly after, an anonymous caller warned the city that if another snowplow came down his street, the driver would be shot. The call was traced to the man’s house. About two weeks later another man allegedly shot at a snowplow operator after the driver honked at him while trying to clear a parking lot.
The unrelenting snow in Spokane is disrupting schools, traffic, garbage pickup, and mail service. Last week National Guard troops were dispatched to the area to help clean up the city’s surplus snowfall.
Image by MGShelton licensed under Creative Commons.
1/16/2009 10:47:56 AM
The first known maps were carved into stone some millennia ago. Still, the map as a tool for social justice and environmental activists is a relatively new phenomenon. Google Earth has been something of a novelty since its release in 2006. Bloggers post images of their neighborhoods, roadside attractions, sunbathers, even suspected UFOs. But for communities stretching from the Amazonian rainforest to a Santa Cruz Canyon, Google Earth is seeding a revolution.
This month’s issue of Conscious Choice profiles the work of Google’s Rebecca Moore, who used Google Earth to spark a successful campaign to stop a utility company from obtaining logging rights in the Santa Cruz Mountains near her home. “When Moore turned to her new employer’s software to identify which parcels of land the utility company owned,” reporter E.B. Boyd writes, “she was acting only as a private citizen concerned about a local land use issue. But her effort to understand what was happening in her own backyard led to a breakthrough that has had worldwide ramifications for environmental and humanitarian organizations seeking to communicate the significance of their causes.”
“Moore dumped her parcel information into the software and looked for the utility company’s land. The results alarmed her: it was a six-mile swath jutting straight up the canyon, right below private homes, schools and churches. The roads the loggers would take were a mess of hairpin turns. Just recently, a local woman’s car had been crushed after logs had rolled off another logging truck. These are the roads kids use to walk to school, Moore thought. There will be more accidents.
“The creek at the base of the canyon provides water for 100,000 people living in the mountains and in nearby Silicon Valley. Soil erosion from the logging would surely degrade water quality, Moore thought, if not gum up the filtration machinery altogether. Plus landslides were already common; the removal of so many trees would certainly precipitate more slides.”
Moore took her Google Earth map to a meeting of Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging (NAIL). Suddenly, the organization’s fight had a potent tool to fight the utility company.
Moore’s work led to the creation of Google Earth Outreach. The project website says its purpose is to “give nonprofits and public benefit organizations the knowledge and resources to reach minds and hearts.”
Google Earth Outreach has a YouTube page and features a striking eight-minute documentary chronicling Moore’s work training over 20 indigenous tribes in the Amazon on using the Internet to preserve their land and their way of life.
Here’s the video:
And here are a few more places you can go to learn about social justice and environmental activists using maps as an organizing tool:
Raising Global Awareness with Google Earth, by Rebecca Moore
Green Map System
Google Earth Outreach case studies
Ogle Earth blog (don't miss the Gaza map collection)
1/16/2009 10:29:37 AM
Amid a blizzard of headlines detailing the demise of quality journalism, there’s at least one spot of sunshine poking through the clouds: The New York Times is intensifying its environmental coverage with "a new, crack environmental reporting unit that will pull in eight specialized reporters from the Science, National, Metro, Foreign, and Business desks in a bid for richer, more prominent coverage," reports the Columbia Journalism Review.
The Times’ fortified environmental unit debuts in contrast to depleted environmental teams elsewhere. The L.A. Times significantly reduced its unit last year, and CNN went even further, axing its environment, science, and technology reporting staff altogether just over a month ago.
What kind of added depth can you expect from the Times’ new environmental all-stars? According to CJR:
One of the primary goals is to get more interesting, “big-thought” environment articles onto the front page, according to assistant managing editor Glenn Kramon, to whom [the unit’s editor, Erica] Goode will report. That means more investigative work, he added, and sifting through reporting and storytelling approaches that resonate with readers. “My goal is to make 'em angry enough to do something,” Kramon said.
Image by ReservasdeCoches.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/14/2009 4:15:18 PM
Drinking water in the United States is contaminated by low levels of chemicals, according to a comprehensive study of tap water by the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas and reported in the New Scientist. Atrazine, a nasty organic herbicide that’s banned in Europe, was one of the most common pollutants, as was the mood-stabilizing drug Carbamazepine and the painkiller Naproxen, among other drugs.
The researchers emphasize that the chemicals don’t pose a public health threat, since they were found at extremely low doses. Governments could filter the water better, but the researchers told the New Scientist that “extreme purification,” would be expensive “in terms of increased energy usage and carbon footprint.”
Bottled water isn’t the solution either, according to the National Resource Defense Council, since “about one fourth of bottled water is bottled tap water (and by some accounts, as much as 40 percent is derived from tap water) -- sometimes with additional treatment, sometimes not.”
Image by Leunix, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/13/2009 11:55:12 AM
As solar power gains popularity throughout the world, solar panel theft is becoming more of a problem, too. Foreign Policy reports that “Missing panels have been reported this year in Australia, Spain, and the United States, but it’s in the developing world where solar theft has been most glaring.” Thieves frequently take panels in Africa and Latin America, sometimes destroying entire solar installations in the process.
The problem made headlines in June, after Barack Obama’s Kenyan grandmother was the victim of an attempted solar panel robbery, according to the International Herald Tribune. South Africa reportedly abandoned plans to convert traffic lights to solar power because of the fear of theft. Some companies are stepping up efforts to protect the expensive equipment, but as the technology disperses, the problem will likely remain.
Image by David Monniaux, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/9/2009 1:44:34 PM
Not surprisingly, the Bush administration is continuing on its path of environmental destruction up to the last moment, and the exploitation of public land in the West is no exception. There is a story of hope to be gleaned from the devastation, however.
Last month, environmental activist Tim DeChristopher prevented oil and gas companies from purchasing and developing 22,500 acres of public land in Utah by posing as a buyer at a Bureau of Land Management auction. He also successfully forced the bids up for other land, costing the companies hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Problem is, DeChristopher does not actually have the $1.8 million he bid, and the initial payment of $45,000 required to secure the land is due today. The Daily Kos and the Gristmill blog are encouraging readers to donate to the cause, and according to bidder70.org, the website set up in support of DeChristopher’s actions, $41,271 had been raised as of January 7.
DeChristopher risked more than massive debt with his civil disobedience. He faces jail time if he is unable to procure the funds to preserve the land. So why did he do it?
In his own words:
What I did no doubt puts me at significant risk, including prison. But my future was already at significant risk. As we get closer and closer to the point of too late, we have less and less to lose from resisting. Accepting the true depth of the climate crisis is extremely scary, but the purpose of fear is to motivate us to action. Many of us have sat around countless times saying how much we needed someone to do something. If I am not willing to take a stand for my generation, then who will? This year I have come to terms with the idea that I might be my own best hope to defend my future. Hopefully all of us will realize that we are the ones we have been waiting for.
On a related note, the Colorado Independent is reporting that a group including the Center for Biological Diversity, Colorado Environmental Coalition and the Sierra Club intends to sue the Bureau of Land Management for “midnight regulations.” The regulations set royalty rates for oil companies wishing to purchase land for oil shale production on public lands, and the group believes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should have been in on the rule making in order to highlight possible threats to endangered species by the fossil fuel extraction.
UPDATE (1/12/09): DeChristopher raised the $45,000 necessary to make the down payment. He is now waiting to find out if the Bureau of Land Management will accept the payment as legitimate, which will ultimately depend on the incoming administration’s philosophy. See DeChristopher's letter on the fundraising accomplishment, and also check out the Washington Post's profile of him.
1/9/2009 10:18:19 AM
The bottled water industry has been quite busy sweet-talking consumers into disregarding the environmental impacts of their product. But in certain cities, like London and Minneapolis, their message is running up against robust campaigns to make tap water trendy.
Style is strategy across the pond, where Londoners will soon sip their city’s tap water from a “signature serving vessel” designed to rival even the prettiest packaging of bottled water, according to World Changing. Selected from a design contest as part of the city’s London on Tap campaign, the sleek carafe will be produced and sold to London restaurants, bars, and hotels as the vehicle to deliver tap water to patrons. “Though a gimmick for sure,” writes Julia Levitt for World Changing, “the contest is a smart way to bring high style and sophistication to simple tap water, which is both less expensive and less wasteful than bottled water.”
Minneapolis is also marketing its water to residents with an $180,000 campaign set to run throughout 2009. The effort is part of a “progressive citywide campaign to cut down on waste,” according to the Twin Cities Daily Planet, and will attempt to build loyalty to the tap water brand by pushing its high quality and environmental advantages.
Image by Rickard Berggren, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/9/2009 10:10:26 AM
Some forward-thinking Wisconsin HMOs are encouraging their members to eat healthy with financial incentives. Four Madison-based HMOs have teamed up with the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC) to offer rebates to insurance policy holders who purchase shares in CSA farms,which supply members with fresh produce all summer long.
Like HMO-sponsored discounts on gym memberships, the Eat Healthy Rebate recognizes that it costs insurance companies less money when policy holders make healthful lifestyle choices. (The rebate applies only to produce shares, not meat or dairy). In the program’s first year, more than 970 people applied for the rebate, and nearly half of them had never joined a CSA farm before.
Now if Wisconsin’s farmers could just get affordable health insurance.
(Thanks, Madison Commons.)
Image by youngthousands, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/8/2009 12:34:34 PM
In an unusual collaboration, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, and the conservation group Rare teamed up with individual artists to draw attention to eight United Nation World Heritage Sites, reports Orion magazine. All of the sites are threatened in some way—by lack of funding, floods of tourism, climate change, and a host of other pressures.
At the outset, many of the artists worried that they’d be forced into unimaginative advocacy work. “I remember thinking, ‘Do they want me to go make work about tortoises?’” said installation artist Ann Hamilton. “I mean, that is not exactly what I do.” But the museums and Rare allowed them room to respond as they saw fit. The resulting pieces highlight local issues in smart, sensitive ways.
Xu Bing, for instance, held workshops in primary schools near his site, Mount Kenya National Park. He told stories and drew pictures with the children to connect them more personally with the park, and then set up a website to auction off their work. The proceeds benefit a local organization that uses the money to replace trees lost to deforestation on Mount Kenya.
Check out the article to read descriptions of the other projects, watch interviews with the artists, and browse a slideshow of the art. The pieces have been gathered as an exhibit, “Human/Nature: Artists Respond to a Changing Planet,” which is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Image courtesy of John Spooner, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/7/2009 3:53:37 PM
The modern banana, one of the world’s most popular and troubled fruits, may be on the brink of extinction. Though its shape is evocative of sex, the banana is “a sterile, seedless mutant—and therein lies a problem,” Fred Pearce writes for Conservation.
In the wild, bananas are basically inedible due to their hard seeds. Most bananas found in grocery stores are “mutant plants” and “sterile freaks,” Pearce writes. They're almost all of just one variety, the Cavendish, after its predecessor, the Gros Michel, was ravaged by disease. Today a new disease is stalking the Cavendish, and experts believe it could be just a matter of time before the modern banana goes virtually extinct.
While resistance could be bred in other types of fruits, Pearce reports that “Because all edible varieties of bananas are sterile, introducing new genetic traits to help cope with pests and diseases is nearly impossible.”
For the time being, the disease is kept at bay by massive chemical sprays. “Forty sprayings of fungicide a year is typical,” Pearce writes, “making the Cavendish the most heavily sprayed food crop in the world.” This has led to a variety of health problems in banana workers, including sterility and alarmingly high rates of leukemia and birth defects.
Some are looking to genetic modifications as a last effort to save the troubled banana, but that raises a host of other ethical and environmental problems. And whether or not the general public would eat a genetically modified banana remains to be seen.
For more on bananas’ troubled past, be sure to read the Phillip Robertson’s report from Virginia Quarterly Review on the violence associated with United Fruit, now called Chiquita, in Colombia.
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