10/31/2008 4:21:47 PM
The world is facing a potentially catastrophic water crisis. More than a billion people currently lack access to clean, safe drinking water. Multinational corporations including Nestlé, Vivendi, and Coca Cola are buying up the world’s fresh water supply and selling it back to people at a profit. A movement is growing, however, opposing the tide of privatization, wrestling control away from the corporations, and working to bring water to everyone.
The documentary FLOW: For Love of Water explores this fight over who owns the world’s water. For this episode of the UtneCast, I spoke with Irena Salina, director of the film, and Maude Barlow, one of the world’s most prominent activists against the privatization of water.
You can listen to the interview below, or to subscribe to the UtneCast for free through iTunes, click here.
Podcast Interview with Irena Salina and Maude Barlow on the Global Water Crisis: Play Now
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10/30/2008 12:54:28 PM
The renewable energy industry is more dependent than ever on the direction of the currently ailing economy. Recent news items from Triple Pundit and New West offer different perspectives on the economic plight of renewable energy.
Triple Pundit states that future investment in renewable energy will create more jobs. TP’s Gina-Marie Cheeseman turns to a Berkeley report on the job-creating potential of the renewable energy industry. “Every $100 million invested in the renewable sector creates 2,700 new jobs. The report estimated that additional investment between 2007 and 2010 will be between $14 billion and $19 billion, which will create between 400,000 and 500,000 new jobs.”
Cheeseman extols the economically stimulating effect of renewable energy, noting that worldwide wind power capacity increased 50 percent between 2006 and 2007, while solar power accounts for forty percent of the capacity in developing countries.
This is a sunny forecast from a publication that looks at the business side of renewable energy. But New West is focusing on the ways that the credit collapse and global economic downturn has slowed the solar power industry. “Stock analysts have downgraded solar companies,” reports Richard Martin, and “Xcel Energy announced it is slashing the rebate it offers to homeowners installing new solar panels.”
Xcel is reducing its solar-panel rebate because Congress’ bailout package offers a generous tax credit to solar users. But the credit will take a while to implement, meaning a higher up-front cost. In an economy where homeowners are hurting, it’s hard for them to make the sort of long-term investment solar power entails.
Image courtesy of Pink Dispatcher, licensed by Creative Commons.
10/29/2008 10:05:15 AM
Did you scoff at the TV when Sarah Palin told ABC’s Charlie Gibson, “I'm attributing some of man's activities to potentially causing some of the changes in the climate right now”? What about when she said it didn’t really matter what caused global warming in the vice presidential debate? Well, be prepared to scoff again, because it turns out she’s hardly alone in her skepticism. A new study finds that a mere 18 percent of Americans “strongly believe that climate change is real, human-caused and harmful,” according to the Nature Conservancy.
Lee Bodner, executive director of EcoAmerica, the consulting group that did the study, told the Nature Conservancy that “political party affiliation was the largest indicator—by significant margins—on whether people see climate change as a threat, believe that it is human-caused, and even whether they've noticed the weather change or trust people who speak about global warming.” Bodner said 90 percent of Democrats believe the earth is warming, versus only 54 percent of Republicans.
Nevertheless, the candidates at the top of both party’s tickets have indicated their commitment to reengaging with the world on climate change. And the eco-activists at 350.org are seeing to it that they keep that promise. From the site, you can send both McCain and Obama an invitation to attend the UN’s climate talks in Poland this December. More than 30,000 people have already done so, but they need your help to reach their goal of 35,000 by Election Day.
10/28/2008 11:43:56 AM
With “drill baby drill” standing as one of the more enduring (and creepy) catch phrases of the 2008 election, John McCain and Barack Obama clearly have significant differences of opinion on U.S. energy policy. Sarah Palin mentioned energy 29 times in her debate with Joe Biden, saying “energy independence is the key to America's future.” Questions remain, however, on where the candidates actually stand.
Utne Reader’s sister publication, Mother Earth News, has broken down Obama's and McCain's votes and policy proposals on drilling for oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving fuel economy. My favorite part comes from the drilling for oil section.
John McCain voted:
-- For oil drilling in ANWR (2000)
-- Against oil drilling in ANWR (2002)
-- For banning drilling in ANWR (2005)
-- Against reducing oil usage by 40 percent by 2025 (2005)
10/21/2008 1:28:51 PM
A new study out of the University of California in Berkeley has good news for the economy and the environment: Between 1972 and 2006, energy efficiency measures undertaken in California have been a boon to the state’s economy, creating approximately 1.5 million jobs and saving consumers $56 billion. “We find, I think demonstrably, that energy efficiency is good for the economy and good for jobs,” study author David Roland-Holst told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Unfortunately, while energy efficiency may be good for the economy, the economy isn’t doing such good things for green energy, according to Grist. They report that “renewable-energy stocks around the world have dropped some 45 percent in the past three months,” due to tightening credit lines and dwindling demand for alternative energy as oil prices fall.
10/20/2008 2:03:24 PM
Solar energy is becoming a community effort, and more accessible than ever before. Married couple Sylvia Ventura and Dan Barahona have launched 1BOG, “One Block Off the Grid,” a volunteer group that organizes neighborhoods and communities to install solar power en masse. Those who go solar through 1BOG have access to bulk discounts on equipment and installation, whose high cost has been a main deterrent for many potential buyers. The all-volunteer program boasts over 700 member homes in 20 cities across the country, with more to come.
(Thanks, Conscious Choice)
Image courtesy of
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10/16/2008 10:02:55 PM
Theater has long been a catalyst for political change. The earliest Greek performances brought forth controversial topics such as power and greed of government, while today radical theater companies such as the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed work to present an alternative view of human history on both street and stage.
But because performing under hundreds of bright lights, handing out paper playbills, and serving coffee to patrons in foam cups is in no way forward-thinking, the Green Theater website now tracks the ways theaters around the world are incorporating environmental concerns into their everyday practices.
For example, the site details the initiative Green Theatre: Taking Action on Climate Change, launched September 9 by London Mayor Boris Johnson. The plan estimates that London’s theater industry creates 55,000 tons of carbon emissions per year, the equivalent of 9,000 homes. It concludes that if all actions recommended in the plan were taken, such as redesigning internal lighting systems, writing “green” policies into employee contracts, and implementing a battery recycling program, the industry could reduce carbon emissions by almost 60 percent by 2025—the equivalent of converting more than 5,000 London homes to zero-carbon.
Back in the states, Broadway is searching for ways to clean up its act without losing its signature lights. On June 11, a Town Hall meeting affectionately titled “It’s Easy Being Green” was held at the Gershwin Theater to give folks in the industry a chance to bounce ideas off each other. Though many ideas might seem trite, such as reusing water bottles and e-mailing memos, Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League, announced the development of a committee to disseminate information for Broadway to go green. Melissa Wright of the New York City mayor’s office also announced that the city was in the process of putting together carbon inventories and an energy analysis of the Broadway community.
The site offers simple advice that any theater, or professional building for that matter, can follow to save both resources and money—especially important in an age where funding for the arts takes an unfortunate back seat. Terrence Jones, president and CEO of Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, said in an interview on the site, “If you’re answering to a board of directors or shareholders—in our case, a board of directors—that’s pretty compelling evidence that not only is it good for people and good for the earth, it’s good for the budget.”
If you’re planning to see a show in the upcoming winter months, don’t rely on the theater to turn up the thermostat. Bring a sweater. It looks like they’re catching on.
, licensed by Creative Commons.
10/14/2008 4:24:53 PM
The Social Venture Network, a nonprofit that promotes socially and environmentally responsible businesses, has named the winners of the 2008 SVN innovation awards. The idea behind the awards is to promote and support undiscovered socially responsible business and nonprofit leaders. Among the six winning organizations are a sustainable seafood production company, an ecologically responsible design firm, and a microfinance program for poor people.
10/13/2008 9:34:53 AM
Snapping photos amid a backdrop of coal mines and burning garbage dumps might be an unlikely vacation getaway, but for some environmental groups it's a new kind of eco-tourism. In a recent issue of Plenty magazine, Ben Whitford compiled a mini-guide to toxic eco-tours. Whitford spotlights five “brochures” for places offering a glimpse at the realities of pollution and gives a brief rundown of each—including who’s responsible, what to see, and Kodak moments. Those who are crunched for funds can skip the authentic rotten-egg smells and the chance to “sing hymns just 200 feet from an exploding mountain,” and stay home. Whitford also includes Superfund365, a virtual repository of a year's worth of toxic sites from across the country.
Image by steve r watson, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/12/2008 7:11:22 PM
Phil Werst knows a lot about sustainable cuisine. As the general manager of Minneapolis’ Common Roots Café, Werst is charged with designing made-from-scratch menus that make flavorful use of local bounty and organic ingredients. Several times a week, you can find the eco-minded chef cycling back from the farmers market, his bike trailer loaded down with the season’s goodies.
We told Werst about our Sustainable Seafood special project—an online repository of recipes, news, and resources inspired by our recent excerpt of Bottomfeeder: How to eat ethically in a world of vanishing seafood—and the chef agreed to dream up something delicious for Utne.com’s readers. This past Saturday, he showed Utne librarian Danielle Maestretti and me how to prepare Baked Trout with Roasted Root Vegetable Farro Risotto and Butternut Squash Puree.
A word of warning: I nearly died of happiness when I shoveled the first bite of Werst’s dish into my mouth. The roasted root vegetables heartily stood up against the dense, nutty warmth of the farro risotto, and the butternut squash puree, a food too often prepared overly sweet, was refreshingly spiked with apple cider vinegar and a hint of cayenne. And the fish, well. Fresh from Star Prairie Trout Farm, the trout wasn’t just amazingly tasty—it was surprisingly easy to prepare. (If you’ve never removed pinbones before, Werst demonstrates the technique in a video below.)
Baked Trout with Roasted Root Vegetable Farro Risotto and Butternut Squash Puree
Trout and Farro Risotto: 4 medium carrots; 2 bulbs celery root; 4 medium parsnips; 3 tablespoons olive oil (plus some for drizzling); 1 medium yellow onion, diced; 2 cloves of garlic, chopped; ½ teaspoon chili flakes; ½ teaspoon fennel seed; 2 cups organic farro, dry; 1 cup mild white wine; 1 quart vegetable stock; 3 cups arugula; 1 tablespoon unsalted butter; 3 whole trout; Salt and pepper
Butternut Squash Puree: 1 medium butternut squash; 1 cup vegetable stock (plus some for thinning); ¼ cup apple cider vinegar; Pinch cayenne; 2 tablespoons maple syrup; Salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
The butternut squash will take the most time in the oven, so begin by chopping the squash in half and laying it face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Put the squash in the oven. You’ll roast it until a knife inserted offers little resistance, 45 minutes to an hour.
Peel the carrots, parsnips, and celery root bulbs. Slice the parsnips in half lengthwise, and then again; remove the woody core. Chop all the vegetables into quarter-inch cubes. Toss them with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, and some fresh-cracked pepper. Transfer them to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put them in the oven. They’ll roast for 15-20 minutes, but keep an eye on them. The cubes should be tender but not crispy.
While your vegetables are roasting, bring the vegetable stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan. As the stock warms, place a large pot over medium heat—this is where you will cook the risotto. When the large pot is hot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and garlic, stirring until translucent. Add the chili flakes, fennel seed, one tablespoon salt, and farro. Stir for two minutes and then add the white wine. Stir until the wine is almost completely dissolved. Ladle in warm vegetable stock 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently. Remove from heat when the grain is cooked but still slightly chewy. Stir in the unsalted butter and set to the side.
Provided they’re done cooking, pull the squash and the roasted root vegetables out of the oven and set aside to cool—it’s time to prepare your trout. You can purchase trout fillets with the pinbones already removed, but it’s really quite easy to prepare your own. Werst demonstrates the technique:
Place the trout fillets skin-side-down on a parchment lined baking tray. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and season lightly with salt and fresh-cracked pepper. Depending on the idiosyncrasies of your oven, the fillets will take 8 to 12 minutes to bake. When they are done, the flesh will be opaque pink and firm to the touch. Bake until cooked through and remove from the oven.
While the trout is in the oven, remove the seeds from the cooled squash. Scoop out the squash meat and put it in a food processor. Add 1 cup of vegetable stock and apple cider vinegar. Puree for 30 seconds. Add cayenne and maple syrup. Puree again. The squash should be silky smooth and slide easily off of a spoon; add additional stock as needed. Salt to taste.
Stir the roasted vegetables, arugula, and ½ cup butternut squash puree into the farro risotto. Salt and pepper to taste.
In large pasta bowls, place one cup farro risotto in the center, and gently transfer a trout filet on top of the grain. Drizzle generously with butternut squash puree. Note: Excess puree, thinned with additional stock, will make a delicious soup.
10/10/2008 10:41:31 AM
In a move seen by many Environmental Protection Agency staffers as an effort to “suppress information on environmental and public health-related topics,” the Bush administration took a wrecking ball to the EPA’s network of technical libraries in 2006, locking the doors of some libraries and removing scads of materials from collections. Now the outrage expressed by scientists and librarians seems to have had an effect. High Country News reports that at least four of the closed libraries have been reopened and access to some library holdings restored.
But how much damage was done in the interim? According to HCN, the public, agency staffers, and outside researchers lost access to thousands of documents that were moved into repositories where they would supposedly be digitized. But those repositories “have grown into giant information dumps whose contents will remain un-cataloged for years to come.”
A press release by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) quotes its associate director, Carol Goldberg, saying that even with the reopenings, “EPA will still accord its own scientists and the public less access to information than it did back in 2005,” and the closures leave in their “wake scattered and incomplete collections.” Among the libraries the administration locked up was a specialized chemical library, which was closed “with no notice to the scientists who rely on those holdings to analyze new pesticides and toxic chemicals,” according to HCN. PEER says a “small portion of holdings” from that library will now be available at an EPA headquarters library as a “special Chemical Collection.”
Much remains unknown about the fallout from the closures, according to president of the American Library Association, Jim Retting, whose congressional testimony on the matter is quoted by HCN. Retting told Congress:
Unfortunately, there continues to be a lot that we don't know: exactly what materials have been being shipped around the country, whether there are duplicate materials in other EPA libraries, whether these items have been or will be digitized, and whether a record is being kept of what is being dispersed and what is being discarded. We remain concerned that years of research and studies about the environment may be lost forever.
Image by Joe Crawford, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/10/2008 10:37:10 AM
Although the environment has come up somewhat briefly in the recent presidential debates, do voters really know exactly how the candidates stack up on issues like drilling, animal protection, and conservation?
Advocacy for Animals, part of Encyclopedia Britannica’s website, has created a quick, four-part resource on those topics. "Environmental & Animal Welfare, Where the Candidates Stand" filters out the white noise of ads and accusations and leaves a clear, concise breakdown of each presidential and vice-presidential candidate’s position on environmental matters, citing their voting records, public statements, and official actions.
The summary is not exhaustive, but still gives readers a good idea of what they can expect from the nominees.
Part 1: Drilling, Mining, and Energy
Part 2: Animal Welfare and Protection
Part 3: Global Warming
Part 4: Environmental Conservation
Image courtesy of ccgd, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/9/2008 4:40:28 PM
Country singer Kenny Chesney is an unlikely environmental advocate: I haven’t seen many “hot country” megastars carrying a green message to their rabidly red, white, and blue fans. So I was surprised to see an interview with the zillion-selling artist on the website of Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club. Sierra was there to talk about Chesney’s involvement with the hurricane disaster-preparedness group PlanIt Now, a Sierra Club partner. Chesney was apparently there to display his environmental ignorance, along with a Palinesque ability to give disastrous answers to simple questions.
Early in the Q&A, Chesney seems to be on the verge of connecting some dots between extreme weather and climate change:
Have your experiences with PlanIt Now affected you personally?
It's made me think about how fragile life and the environment are. We only see the impact at its most severe, but it's a delicate balance out there. Loving the islands and the ocean the way that I do, every time I'm anywhere on my boat or on a beach now, I look at it in a whole new way. I realize how easily it could be gone.
He soon undercuts any notion that he’s some sort of eco-activist with a big hat, though:
Have you changed any of your habits at home or on the road to reduce your environmental impact?
On the road, I know we're always making sure that the catering gets to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. There's still a lot we don't eat, and the idea that we're feeding some of the hungriest people in the cities we play is a good feeling.
That’s right: He and his tour entourage are reducing their environmental impact by giving their leftovers to hungry people. Bravo for your eco-humanitarianism, cowdudes.
Finally, there’s this rich exchange:
How have rising fuel prices affected your touring and travel choices?
I think it's making the fans think twice about what they're going to do for entertainment. We drive 55 trucks for stadium shows, and I don't want to pass the fuel costs on to the fans. I've always believed in being affordable, so we're going to be having some very interesting conversations about what next year is going to look like.
Fifty-five trucks! And it’s the fans who need to think twice about how to remedy this! Ecorazzi razzed Chesney back in August for bragging about the massiveness of his stage show, but clearly he didn’t get the memo. If he didn’t already seem like the next Jimmy Buffett with his good-time beach bum shtick, he’s clearly entered the Margaritaville city limits now.
Here’s an idea, Kenny: Leave the 55 trucks at home, get on a fucking horse, and tour the country like a real cowboy troubadour—with zero emissions. Then we’ll buy you as a voice for the environment. Until then, shut up and sing.
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10/9/2008 9:19:37 AM
In a presidential debate dominated by questions about economic uncertainty and foreign policy, climate change made an appearance in a subtly new way. It was only one question, asked by a 30-year old university student named Ingrid Jackson. But the way she posed it, climate change activist Bill McKibben writes on Gristmill, prompted “as close to a real breakthrough as I've seen.”
After noting that Congress worked pretty quickly to address the financial crisis, Jackson wanted to know what the candidates would do in their first two years in office to take on climate change and other environmental issues.
“After approximately 4 million debates over the past year,” writes McKibben, “someone finally asked the right and real question about climate change.” For McKibben, who has been speaking out against climate change for two decades, this small moment signaled a major shift in the great global warming debate. He says Jackson asked the right question by skipping past tired points of contention like "Is it real?" and "Is it manmade?" opting instead to challenge the candidates with a pressing timetable. He also found it remarkable that “their point of disagreement was over who had fought harder for alternative energy in the Senate.” According to McKibben, “it was a way of saying that all serious folks, even if they disagree on tax policy or the war in Iraq, understand that an adult and mature America must take on global warming.”
Jackson, who spoke with Grist after the debate, was satisfied with some parts of the candidates’ answers, but didn’t feel “either one dealt with the urgency issue.” She said she asked the question because the environment has concerned her for a long time, and it too often places low on political priority lists behind issues like Iraq and the economy. “The only time [candidates] deal with the environment is … well, actually, they don’t seem to be dealing with it at all,” she said.
10/9/2008 8:43:00 AM
New York artist Jean Shin makes detailed, beautiful works of art using recyclables like empty bottles and refuse like old vinyl records. Perhaps the most impressive pieces are “Chance City,” meticulous scale-model buildings made entirely of discarded lottery tickets, and the melted-vinyl tidal wave "Sound Wave," now at the Museum of Art and Design.
Ryan Curtis from Environmental Graffiti identifies this as the essence of her art: taking worthless things like those tickets and giving them renewed value as works of art. Using discarded objects to make art is not new, but Curtis argues that Shin “manages to bring the items together in a way that makes us think about them in a new light. Previously, those vinyl records, lottery tickets, clothes and shoes meant something to us, and were very important in our lives. [She shows] us that not only are these things still of value; they are also still beautiful.”
10/6/2008 12:25:11 PM
Forget Oktoberfest, here comes Octoberfish: a month-long celebration of sustainable seafood from the consumer group Food & Water Watch. The international nonprofit has put together a calendar of events, including simple direct actions (such as sending an e-mail against fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico) and sustainable seafood menus.
To read about why eating seafood ethically is environmentally essential, visit our Sustainable Seafood Special Online Project, which includes an illuminating excerpt from Taras Grescoe’s book Bottomfeeder. Stay tuned, too. Next week, we’ll post an exclusive sustainable seafood recipe from chef Phil Werst, general manager at Minneapolis’ locavore haunt, Common Roots Café.
Image by tarotastic, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/1/2008 9:38:35 AM
The raids that snared eight anarchist activists in St. Paul last month on the eve of the Republican National Convention were based in part on information from police informants who infiltrated protest training camps. The New Statesman reports that such incursions are commonplace in the U.K., with as many as one in four members of direct-action environmental protest groups working not for the cause, but for the law or private “corporate intelligence agencies.”
“If you stuck an intercept up near one of those camps,” one corporate spy exec says, “you wouldn’t believe the amount of outgoing calls after every meeting saying, ‘Tomorrow we’re going to cut the fence.’ ”
The arrested members of the RNC Welcoming Committee learned the hard way that it’s not just eco-protesters in Britain, where new coal-fired power plants are a protest flash point, who are feeling the heat. RNC Welcoming Committee organizers apparently had big-eared visitors in their midst this summer at an activist “action camp” held from July 31 to August 3 in Lake Geneva, Minnesota, where they allegedly discussed the tactics they’d bring to RNC street protests. Police say they talked about Molotov cocktails, paint, caltrops (devices used to puncture tires), bricks, and “materials” hidden inside giant puppets.
The information gleaned by these “confidential reliable informants,” or CRIs, was central to the felony riot charges filed against the eight RNC Welcoming Committee activists. Bruce Nestor, attorney for one of the defendants and president of the Minnesota branch of the National Lawyers Guild, said the information is by nature suspect.
“The charges in this case are supported only by allegations of paid confidential informants,” Nestor said at a press conference, according to Mordecai Specktor in the Minnesota online newspaper MinnPost. (Specktor’s son Max is one of the defendants.) “A number of the attorneys here have experience in investigations with the use of informants in political cases. We are concerned about the potential use of provocateurs, people who purposely plan and bring up discussions of violence, in order to get other people to respond and then report back that those discussions occurred. The confidential informants are paid based on the value of the information they provide. They have a clear incentive to exaggerate and lie about the information.”
Though of course the arrested members of the RNC Welcoming Committee must feel burned by their turncoat brethren, the activists weren’t exactly being secretive about their plans, telegraphing their intentions to “shut down” the RNC in articles, a website, even a YouTube video. When an underground movement uses the mobilizing power of the Internet, it also exposes itself to greater attention and surveillance.
After infiltrating the RNC Welcoming Committee, the spies—two informants and an undercover investigator—allegedly monitored e-mails and conversations and helped police conduct “regular surveillance” of the RNC group. The imposters apparently delivered believable performances as radical activists, which is more than can be said of one British informant who was found out by the members of Plane Stupid, a group opposed to the expansion of Heathrow Airport.
According to the New Statesman, “The group gradually became suspicious because he showed up early at meetings, constantly pushed for increasingly dramatic direct action and—the ultimate giveaway—dressed a little too well for an ecowarrior.”
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