11/28/2007 11:03:25 AM
A seedy set of farmers is poisoning California’s wilderness. Pristine mountains have been marred by diesel runoff, scattered litter, clear-cutting, and dead wildlife. Streams have been sucked dry to feed a ravenous plant. Sloppily installed generators have caught fire and spread their flames to the surrounding wild. The culprits: illegal marijuana growers. Since large-scale growing needs to be done far from the eyes of suspicious police, psychotropic agriculturalists don’t need to abide by even the skimpiest environmentally friendly regulations to sate their lust for profits. So if you’re in the market for bud, make sure to ask your dealer if he’s buying organic. Nicole Edmison over at Terrain has the full story. —Brendan Mackie
11/23/2007 2:14:44 PM
Polar bears, those cuddly-looking 1,000 pound carnivores, have been drawn into the center of the world-wide debate over climate change and environmental protection. Not coincidentally, polar bears have also landed starring roles in a recent spate of nature documentaries. The 11-part documentary Planet Earth, the childrens' film Arctic Tale, and the Leonardo DiCaprio-produced documentary the 11th Hour, have all tried to capture the effects of climate change on polar bears. In an article from the German weekly, Der Spiegel, Martin Wolf sees the movie star polar bears as part of the human obsession to document the destruction of earth. “If the world is to end tomorrow,” Wolf writes, “the best thing we can do is make a film about it today.”
Human fascination with polar bears reflects an easy way that people can relate to the disasters of climate change. Early signs of global warming are currently playing out in the arctic, far away from most civilization. That distance allows people to connect with the situation by latching onto the snuggly-looking animals as little more than childhood teddy bears. In an article for Slate that ran earlier this year, Anne Applebaum wrote that polar bears “arouse deep feelings because they fit neatly into narratives about pollution, endangered species, and…global warming.” The movies, it seems, are tapping into that narrative to try and save the polar bears, and the rest of us. —Eric Kelsey
(Photo licensed under Creative Commons attribution 2.5.)
11/21/2007 12:00:49 PM
When shopping around for “green” products this Thanksgiving, don’t be impressed by logos plastered with happy plants and animals. Companies have realized the benefits of marketing their products as “eco-friendly,” even if the manufacturers are still destroying the earth. The eco-marketing firm Terra Choice tested 1,018 different products from big box stores, claiming 1,753 different environmental benefits, and found that all but one of the products made dubious environmental promises. The organization identified “the six sins of greenwashing,” that marketers use to obfuscate their less-than-pristine environmental records. Sins included “the sin of irrelevance,” when the eco-benefits were pointless, like shoes claim to be CFC-free, and the “sin of fibbing,” when companies claim an organic certification they don’t actually have.
11/20/2007 5:07:33 PM
College pamphlets often show students lounging in lush green grass, but the reality is that college campuses aren’t always eco-friendly. Energy-sucking iPods constantly blast into the ears of students, laptops are left running for caffeine-induced all-nighters, students play video games for hours on end, and beer cans are thrown on the ground instead of in the recycling bin. Some colleges, though, are trying to change their environmentally destructive ways.
The latest issue of Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club, gives a nod to North America’s greenest college campuses. college and university presidents have signed a pledge to make their campuses carbon neutral. The magazine also honors the top ten leaders of the pack who are educating students and combating climate change.
11/20/2007 10:33:57 AM
Before sealing up your windows and barricading yourself indoors for the cold winter months, take a deep breath and think about what you’re inhaling. Cleaning products, pesticides, tobacco smoke, and asbestos are just a few of the ways that people pollute the air inside houses and apartments. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor environments are frequently more polluted than outside areas.
A lively way to combat all that indoor air pollution is by using houseplants to help absorb toxins. Organic Gardening magazine has a list of the top ten indoor plants that can freshen your air naturally. Placing a few of these plants in homes, offices, or schools can reduce pollution and respiratory ailments, and can help you breath easier.—Anna Cynar
11/13/2007 5:55:44 PM
Article Posted: 11/14/07
Imagine sticking a piece of beef jerky into a food dehydrator, and you'll have a good idea of what global warming is doing to Australia. The already arid continent has been hit by a drought of such epic proportions that the surf-loving Aussie civilization is threatened. The country, which is so dry that 90 percent of its population clings to its wet coastal regions, has been getting even more parched than usual: Rainfall is pegged to drop 10 percent by 2030 and percent by 2070, reports Science News. Global warming is the likely culprit. The Murray-Darling river basin, on which 40 percent of Australia's agriculture relies, is shriveling up like a grape left in the sun:
The 2006-2007 growing season was the basin's driest in the 116 years for which records exist, according to an August 2007 report by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. Computer models that predict weather patterns give a 75 percent chance that storage levels will remain low through May. "The system is really running on empty," [Mike] Young, [professor of water economics and management at the University of Adelaide,] says. "We're now borrowing water from the future."
The massive threat to the antipodes does have its bright side. It's encouraging Australians to go green. And fast. According to a poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, 92 percent of Australians think that they should fight global warming, the largest percentage of countries surveyed. This is not just empty rhetoric. Australian cities are imposing stiff water restrictions. In Brisbane, for instance, people can only water their lawns every other day for only a couple of hours, and stiff fines are imposed on households breaking an 800-liter-a-day limit on water use. (The average American household uses 1,325 liters a day.)
Seed reports that there's a flood of enthusiasm for new technology to fight Australia's Big Dry, including gray water systems to water gardens and ambitious computer modeling programs that might help farmers plan for coming droughts. These efforts might light the way for other countries that might be forced to follow in Australia's footsteps as the world's climate shifts.
But the drought hasn’t broken for Australia yet. John Howard, the conservative prime minister, has still not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. And though the upcoming election might end Howard's decade-long reign, the experts aren't too impressed with any of the pols' lackluster plans to go green, reports the Melbourne-based Age’s Jo Chandler. The Labor party recently got some egg on its face when it back-flipped on its election pledge to unequivocally sign an international climate accord when the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012. Will Kevin Rudd, the Labor candidate, win the next election and turn Australia into a green haven, or will the sunburnt country just dry up? Time will tell. —Brendan Mackie
UPDATE: Kevin Rudd and his Labor party "emphatically" swept the Australian election this Saturday. The conservative Coalition were trounced so badly that John Howard, the outgoing Prime Minister, might have even lost his seat in Parliament. At the time of writing, the Green party could win enough seats to hold the balance of power in parliament. Global warming policy was one of the issues that sealed Rudd's historic win. Hopefully this bodes well for coming elections.
(Image licensed under Creative Commons attribution 1.0.)
11/13/2007 5:34:28 PM
Think everybody who drives a hybrid car must either be a hypocritical celeb or a guilt-ridden boomer? Think again. The U.S. Army has been fiddling with hybrid cars to make the next generation of fuel-efficient military vehicles, says this army researcher. Maybe the military is as sick of the Hummer as the rest of us are.
Thanks, ecogeek! —Brendan Mackie
11/13/2007 5:20:08 PM
I remember visiting the town of Sydney on a vacation to Nova Scotia and staring in wonder at how normal life seemed to be alongside the Sydney Tar Ponds, a large toxic waste dump. It smelled, of course, but ducks bathed in the site’s toxic water and average houses sat across the street, less than 100 feet away. All that separated environmental devastation from civilization was a simple chain-link fence.
The same can be said for Texas’ Harris County. In a recent issue of the Texas Observer, Emily DePrang tours the Houston area’s 11 Superfund toxic waste sites—dumps so nasty that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shells out billions of dollars for their cleanup. After she visits sites like the Geneva Industries 13.5-acre dump where the EPA removed 62,000 tons of contaminated soil and a million gallons of “poison water” in the 1980s, DePrang wonders, “What could possibly be left?”
But like Sydney’s residents, the people of Harris County live their daily lives among the toxic dumps. And as in most cases of environmental damage, “[t]he sites,” DePrang writes, “have remained little known except to Houston’s poorest residents.”
For other Superfund news, check out Natalie Hudson’s recent piece on Utne.com. —Eric Kelsey
11/12/2007 2:55:42 PM
A barn owl on a shag carpet cocks its head quizzically, the corners of its beak turned up like a smile. A pig stands with half-closed eyes on a pink carpet in front of pink floral wallpaper. These are the surprising and endearing photos of Catherine Ledner, a Los Angeles-based photographer profiled in the November/December issue of Audubon Magazine.
“I’m doing the same thing that I would do with a person,” says Ledner. “I’m trying to get the essence of who they are.” Taking the animals out of their natural environments and putting them in front of designer wallpaper creates a kind of cognitive dissonance, helping viewers see birds and sheep in a new light. —Bennett Gordon
To see more of Catherine Ledner’s photos, visit her website:
Or the photo essay in Audubon Magazine:
11/2/2007 5:32:29 PM
Tomorrow, November 3, is a big day for the planet. In every one of the 50 states, environmentally minded folks will gather for a National Day of Climate Action organized by Step It Up. To find a rally in your area, visit Step It Up’s website.
The nationwide rallies, organizers say, “will show the contrast between the intense concern of ordinary Americans and the leadership vacuum in Washington” as demonstrators call for leadership on three goals: no new coal plants, an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and 5 million new green jobs.
We talked to environmental author and Step It Up spokesman Bill McKibben about Step It Up and the National Day of Climate Action. Listen to the interview below. —Keith Goetzman
Utne Reader interview with Bill McKibben: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
11/2/2007 2:23:38 PM
A proposal in the Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2007 would offer $400 million in tax breaks over the next five years to landowners who help protect endangered species on their property, Mitch Tobin reports in PERC Reports, the journal of the free-market Property and Environment Research Center. In the past, government restrictions and penalties have rankled ranchers and farmers whose land is home to protected species. The prospect of the new bill has ranchers in Arizona breathing a sigh of relief, as five years ago nearly half of the endangered leopard frog population lived in cattle tanks on private property.
“You’ve got an endangered species in trouble,” rancher Bill MacDonald tells Tobin, “we’ve got places out here where they do well, and there should be out-and-out incentives, not just elimination of penalties.”
The proposal merges the interests of environmentalists and private property owners, Tobin writes. California Representative Mike Thompson introduced the bill in March, and now it sits on the docket of the House Ways and Means Committee. You can read and follow the bill at Thomas.gov. —Eric Kelsey
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