10/29/2009 10:57:38 AM
Republicans for Environmental Protection may sound like one of those fake advocacy groups that corporations invent for lobbying purposes, but it’s an actual organization that truly is dedicated to protecting the environment. David Jenkins, REP’s vice president for government and political affairs, tells Sierra magazine in its Nov.-Dec. issue that the group’s motto is “Conservation is conservative,” and that it’s gotten a better reception from party members than he might expect:
“Last year was the first time we had a booth at the Republican National Convention. And you know, delegates there are the dedicated core. I was expecting to have to defend my position, but I was absolutely stunned. Constantly I heard, ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re here. The party needs to do better on the environment.’”
Jenkins says that a climate bill with “with strong, constructive input from Republicans will be stronger than one Democrats would draft on their own” and suggests the GOP could “score some political points” by standing up against mountaintop removal coal mining, which “offends everybody’s environmental sensibilities.”
REP's staff and members write opinion pieces, grant interviews, and bend legislators' ears. Its website also hosts columns by policy director Jim DiPeso, who blogs as The Green Conservative at The Daily Green. DiPeso recently celebrated the nation's wild grasslands as worthy of wilderness protection and prodded the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in an open letter to get on board with climate change legislation.
REP still has its work cut out: Project Vote Smart notes that only 15 Republican members of the House of Representatives have expressly endorsed the group, and only one senator has done so: Susan Collins of Maine. Meanwhile, Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican, is still huffing, puffing, and embarrassing his colleagues with his delusional climate-change denialism.
Sierra suggests such politicians are out of step the with party rank and file: Although 45 percent of Republican voters polled by Zogby had a favorable view of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, which the House passed in June, only 8 of 178 House Republicans, or 4 percent, voted for it.
That’s barely half the number of the GOP House members who endorsed REP—which makes me wonder just how deep those “conservative” values run.
Sources: Sierra, Republicans for Environmental Protection, The Daily Green, Project Vote Smart, Washington Post
10/27/2009 2:21:39 PM
Though some environmentalists love their dogs more than they love their Sierra Club reusable water bottles, a single dog can have a bigger ecological footprint than an SUV. And cats aren’t much better. According to research highlighted by the New Scientist, it takes an estimated 1.1 hectares of land per year to create the chicken and grain that a large dog eats for its food. A Toyota Land Cruiser SUV, driven 10,000 kilometres a year, would use .41 hectares of land, less than half that of the dog.
"Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance," Dr. John Barrett of the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, UK told the New Scientist, "mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat."
Cats and dogs also wreak havoc on the local wildlife. The estimated 7.7 million cats in the United Kingdom kill more than 188 million wild animals every year. And cat excrement, which can contain the disease Toxoplasma gondii, has been blamed for killing sea otters (and may have a hand in causing schizophrenia in humans, according to RadioLab).*
The New Scientist has some suggestions of how to lessen Fido’s ecological “pawprint,” including feeding him more environmentally friendly foods. Perhaps forcing people to consider the impact of their pets may keep the carbon footprint on a leash.
Source: New Scientist, RadioLab
, licensed under
*Correction: The word "can" has been added to this sentence. Millions of people are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, according to WebMD, and cats are one of the most common ways that people can get it. Though not all cat cxcrement contains the disease.
10/23/2009 11:31:32 AM
It’s home canning season, and by some indications a lot more Americans are joining in on the pickle-packing fun. If you’re one of them, you ought to know that your plastic-lined canning lids probably contain bisphenol A, the endocrine-disrupting chemical that’s been suspected in a host of health problems and is under intensive scrutiny by the slow-moving FDA.
“Canning jar lids from the brands Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin are coated with bisphenol A,” writes Organic Gardening magazine in its Winter 2009-2010 issue.
The magazine asks an endocrine-disruptor expert about the potential health hazards. “If the lid doesn’t contact the food, it’s not a problem,” says Frederick vom Saal, a biological sciences professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. But that’s unlikely to be the case, so he recommends using a BPA-free product. Organic Gardening suggests Weck brand canning jars, which have glass lids.
It’s too bad that the legions of Americans who are growing and preserving their own produce—often because they’re trying to avoid the mega-food system and eat locally and heathily—have to deal with yet another potential toxin in their diet. And while I don’t know how serious the canning-jar-lid threat is, I agree with Treehugger that Jarden Home Brands, the manufacturer of all four BPA-containing brands mentioned above, is not exactly setting a high ethical standard with its website FAQ statement falling back on highly questionable FDA studies. “Weasely words,” Treehugger calls them.
The FDA, as Utne Reader reported in August, expects to rule by November 30 on whether BPA is safe for food and beverage containers.
It’s enough work learning how to blanch and shock our vegetables and avoid the dreaded botulism. Shouldn’t we at least be able to declare our canning jars poison-free with confidence?
Sources: Reuters, Houston Chronicle, Organic Gardening, Mother Earth News, Treehugger, Jarden Home Brands
UPDATE 10/26/09: Lloyd Alter at Treehugger, who wrote about this issue in July, is conducting a test to compare BPA levels in two jars of home-canned pickles: one that's been sloshing around in the trunk of his car and another that's been kept upright. We’ll follow the results here on Utne.com.
Image by TheBittenWord.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/22/2009 11:12:36 AM
Black bears at Yosemite National Park break into minivans more than any other type of vehicle to find munchies, according to a new study published in the October 2009 Journal of Mammalogy. If this sounds like one of the elaborate faux studies cooked up by the Journal of Irreproducible Results, rest assured that actual, trained mammalogists are behind this one—albeit mammalogists who have a sense of humor about their Jellystone-esque research. The press release announcing the study is titled “Yosemite black bears select minivan as ‘Car of the Year’ ” and begins:
For a seven-year period, the top choice of vehicle by black bears in Yosemite National Park has been the minivan. The bears seem to base this decision on “fuel efficiency”—that is, which vehicle offers the best opportunity of finding a meal. As a result, black bears have shown a strong preference for breaking into minivans over other types of vehicles.
Between 2001 and 2007, bears broke into vehicles at the following rates: minivans, 26 percent; sport–utility vehicles, 22.5 percent; small cars, 17.1 percent; sedans, 13.7 percent; trucks, 11.9 percent; vans, 4.2 percent; sports cars, 1.7 percent; coupes, 1.7 percent; and station wagons, 1.4 percent.
Why is the minivan the vehicle of choice? Not simply because there are more minivans—many other types of vehicles were more often left overnight in the park, or “available” in the researchers’ parlance. The scientists from the U.S. Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Research Center offer four possible reasons:
Minivans are more likely to emit food odors, based on the fact that minivans are designed for families with children—who are more likely to spill food and drink in a vehicle.
Passengers of minivans are more prone to leave large amounts of food in a vehicle parked overnight.
Minivans may be structurally easier to break into than other types of vehicles. Bears most often gained access to minivans by popping open a rear side window.
A few individual bears could be responsible for all the break-ins, and they are displaying a learned behavior for choosing minivans.
In short, to campground bears who’ve learned bad behavior, vehicles are simply hard shells encasing many types of treats, whether it’s raw bacon and Bud Lite or goldfish crackers, dog food, and Juicy Juice. And minivans offer the best promise of treats and the easiest wrapper to open. The researchers noted that they “commonly saw car doors bent open, windows on all sides of the vehicle broken, and seats ripped out, all of which appeared effortless for bears.”
Amid the ursine humor in all this, let’s not forget that for bears, developing a taste for human food is often one of the worst things that can happen to them—“a fed bear is a dead bear,” as the saying goes. The researchers’ ultimate hope is to help resolve “bear-human conflicts” as people all around the world expand their range and more frequently come into contact with large carnivores.
See the instructional bear video that rangers show to overnight Yosemite visitors:
Source: Journal of Mammalogy
10/21/2009 3:31:27 PM
Mark Kastel and the Cornucopia Institute are at it again, standing up for the organic food label and going after corporations who play loose with it. The organization co-founded by Kastel, who was recently named one of Utne Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World,” just fired a volley at Target, accusing the megaretailer of deceiving customers about soymilk.
In a press release, Cornucopia says Target advertised Silk soymilk as organic in newspaper ads by showing the carton with “organic” on its label, even though the soymilk was not organic. Cornucopia has filed formal complaints with the U.S. Agriculture Department’s organic program and with Minnesota and Wisconsin officials.
Cornucopia has previously criticized Dean Foods, the maker of Silk, for quietly switching to conventional soybeans in the core products of its White Wave soy division.
Was the image of the organic carton an honest mistake by a graphic designer, or an attempt to capitalize on the cachet of the organic label by implying that Silk is organic? Target isn’t saying much at this point. Spokeswoman Jana O’Leary tells Utne Reader that Target is investigating the matter and that the retailer sells both organic and nonorganic Silk at its SuperTarget stores.
Cornucopia has called foul on Target before, most notably in 2007 when it accused Target’s private-label food line, Archer Farms, of using milk that was produced in violation of federal organic livestock standards by the Colorado-based Aurora Dairy. Despite that the USDA found Aurora had willfully violated 14 federal organic regulations, the dairy was allowed to stay in business and Target stuck with Aurora as its Archer Farms milk supplier.
Source: Cornucopia Institute, City Pages
Image by GenGlo, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/20/2009 2:38:10 PM
Coal mining companies in West Virginia are blowing up mountains to get to the coal inside, destroying the surrounding environment and the drinking water in the process. Nearly 1 million acres of forests and some 2,000 miles of streams in West Virginia have been damaged or destroyed during the last two years. The 20 minute documentary Leveling Appalachia: The Legacy of Mountaintop Removal Mining showcases the destructive practice, including the flash floods and the environmental aftereffects caused by the mining companies.
“The impacts are temporary,” say the pro-mining voices interviewed for the film. That’s hard to believe, though, when images of destroyed mountains flash across the screen. The documentary, produced by Yale Environment 360 and MediaStorm, is clearly anti-mountaintop removal, but the producers take pains to interview people from both sides of the debate. It’s hard to have sympathy for the mining companies, however, when locals accuse them of destroying the environment, “with no thought of tomorrow or yesterday.”
For more on someone fighting the mountaintop removal mining, read about Judy Bonds, one of Utne Reader’s 50 visionaries who are changing the world.
Source: Yale Environment 360
10/14/2009 8:27:49 AM
"In the garden of my house there's a tree with lots of randomly grown twigs," writes sound artist Diego Stocco, explaining his extraordinary video Music from a Tree. "It looks odd and nice at the same time. One day I asked myself if I could create a piece of music with it." It's striking how accessible experimental music can be with the help of a video camera.
Diego Stocco - Music From A Tree from Diego Stocco on Vimeo.
10/9/2009 5:53:44 PM
One of Yes! magazine’s 13 Radical Acts of Education will appeal to folks with an inner botanist. Heather Purser reports that citizen scientists across the country are being encouraged to gather data on their local plants. In order to track changes brought on by global warming, scientists need some extra help in the field to “record the dates when local plants open their leaves, flower, bear fruit, and go dormant or die.” The observations are for Project BudBurst, which hopes the data-mining will help educate the public on the importance of collecting (and analyzing) climate change information. The site offers a start-up booklet, reporting forms, and downloadable plant identification and field guides for those interested in helping out.
10/7/2009 4:21:02 PM
I hope everyone who’s been watching the epic PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea takes inspiration from the series, which was produced by Ken Burns and his longtime collaborator, writer Dayton Duncan. But one thing I hope they’re not inspired to do is follow in Duncan’s footsteps and attempt to visit all 58 national parks, a lifelong journey that he chronicles in the problematically titled article “Collect ’Em All” in the July-August Sierra magazine.
What’s wrong with visiting all the parks? Well, for starters, doing so would leave a massive carbon footprint. When Duncan unknowingly began his quest in 1959, visiting several parks on his Iowa family’s extended vacation, gasoline was cheap and seemingly plentiful and the idea of “carbon miles” was a million miles away. But now, alas, we know better: If we burned the auto and airplane fuel it would take to visit all the parks, many of which are in remote and hard-to-reach locations, we’d emit a huge amount of CO2 that ultimately would work against the very places we’re trying to preserve.
For another thing, “park bagging,” as I’ve heard it called, is ultimately an elitist pursuit, a game that very few can play. Face it, only the wealthiest and luckiest among us has the vacation time, the money, and the means to have a chance at ticking off all 58 parks, and even announcing your achievement to the world can come perilously close to bragging about what an amazingly fortunate life you lead—not the sort of message parks advocates should be sending. The National Parks quotes Teddy Roosevelt exclaiming at the Grand Canyon, “This is one of the great sights that every American, if he can travel at all, should see.” That middle clause, added wisely, is essential: Many Americans find it hard to travel to just one national park, let alone all of them.
Finally, the “collect ’em all” mentality goes against a better, nobler impulse, which is to get to know the land intimately. Better that we should acquaint ourselves with one, two, or a few parks very well than attempt to superficially survey them all in baseball-card-collector fashion. Several years ago, I worked for the summer in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, driving a tourist shuttle van between the tiny gateway community of McCarthy and the mining relic town of Kennicott. Among my passengers I met a few park baggers, most memorably a man and his teenage son. They “explored” the park in an afternoon, which meant strolling among Kennicott’s dilapidated buildings, looking up at the stupendous glaciers around them, and then riding my van back down to resume their journey. Never mind that Wrangell-St. Elias is the nation’s largest park at 13 million acres, and that even someone who’s there for months, as I was, can barely claim to have scratched the surface of its vast wonder. The man told me that they were off next to the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, which they would fly over in a bush plane—not even setting foot on the tundra. They added both parks to their all-important list, yet they didn’t have a true wilderness experience in either place.
Now, I’ve got to cut Duncan some slack: He racked up some of his visits while researching and filming The National Parks, and the greater good that may come of the series is arguably worth the carbon he burned to do it. (This sort of rationale is how many “environmental” speakers and writers justify their flight-intensive, conference-hopping lifestyles.) But still, it seems that he, of all people, ought to know better than to wear his completed life list as some badge of honor.
Sour grapes? Maybe. I once thought I would travel to many of the world’s most beautiful places. The Patagonian Andes, Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands—all awaited my intrepid exploration. Now, with the reality of climate change hitting full force, I see that even if I had the means, visiting all my dream destinations just wouldn’t be right, and that in some ways staying close to home is the best way to honor the earth. So yes, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there are some national parks I will never see, and that photo or video images will be my only acquaintance with them. Which is why I’ve been watching every last episode of The National Parks.
Sources: PBS, Sierra, Teton Gravity Research, National Park Service
Image by Alaskan Dude, licensed under Creative Commons.
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