12/27/2007 9:17:01 AM
Christmas came late for the nuclear lobby this year, but President Bush gave them something good. His present was a provision about renewable energy hidden inside a massive, $500 billion spending bill signed by President Bush on December 26. A renewable energy provision might sound good to environmentalists. In reality, Democracy Now reports, the provision provides $24 billon in loan guarantees to the nuclear lobby. “It’s a total scam,” says anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman.
The scam may be working on some environmentalists, according to Jason Mark, writing for Earth Island Journal and reprinted in the January-February issue of Utne Reader. The nuclear lobby recently launched a massive PR attack aimed at convincing environmentalists that atomic energy is a green alternative to fossil fuels. Prominent green advocates, including Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, and James Lovelock, who developed the Gaia-theory, have bought into the atomic pitch. What the nuclear advocates often don’t acknowledge is the massive price tag, environmental dangers, and the fossil fuels needed to support the nuclear industry.
That’s why the nuclear-power advocates need these new loans. “Wall Street will not finance new nuclear construction,” says Wasserman, so the nuclear industry needs massive government subsidies to stay in business. Although Wasserman dismisses any dissent among the environmental movement in favor of nuclear power, he acknowledges the power that nuclear advocates have to block real environmental change. Nuclear power is the “finger in the dam," according to Wasserman, "because once everything breaks, it’s all going to go to renewables, and we’ll have a transformed world.”
12/26/2007 5:33:14 PM
Vermont’s tradition of frugality has been traced by some observers “to the short growing season, when nothing could be wasted,” writes Kirk Kardashian in the Vermont weekly Seven Days. Through his interviews with Vermont “back-to-the-landers,” Kardashian discovers that members of this otherwise unaffiliated group share an almost Depression-era sense of economy. The simplicity and intentionality of their lifestyles is perhaps more impressive than ever in an era of unparalleled American opulence and consumption.
Vermonter Robert “Dunnz” Dunn tells Kardashian, “I could have bought a BMW, did cocaine, and worked on 128,” referring to a highway outside Boston that’s lined with big engineering firms. “But it seemed like I needed to be one person saying, ‘I don’t want to contribute to the way the country’s going.’”
“If there are any hard and fast rules of New England frugality,” Kardashian concludes from his conversations with this thrift-oriented strain of conservationists, they might be distilled down to these five tenets:
- First: “You shouldn’t buy stuff you don’t need. The old farmers couldn’t buy frivolous things, so they didn’t.”
- Second: “Everybody needs some stuff…If you’ve got to buy something, make it as cheap as possible by amortizing its cost over a score of years.”
- Third: “Heavily research your major acquisitions: Know exactly what you’re buying.”
- Fourth: Buy things that are serviceable. “We always ask: Is it serviceable? If it is, it means we can buy parts and fix it.”
- Fifth: “Take the same conservationist approach to non-mechanical items that don’t break so much as wear out.”
For all but the handiest of us, mending our wares may mean making the acquaintance of our local cobbler. “In the comings and goings of daily life, we walk through soles, we pull off zippers, we come unstitched,” Kardashian writes. “This is where the cobbler comes in—if you can find one.”
12/26/2007 4:43:37 PM
“Local governments need to think of ways to force commuters out of their cars,” writes Erin Sherbert in the Silicon Valley weekly MetroActive. One way, Sherbert boldly suggests, is for public transit to mount “a progressive public relations campaign” that basically makes drivers look like a bunch of selfish jerks.
“We put smokers on the fringe and that’s had an impact,” Kent Bausman, associate professor of sociology at Maryville University in St. Louis, tells Sherbert. “You can follow the cigarette example, have ad campaigns demonizing cars, saying it’s a bad steward of the environment.”
Public transit proponents might already be fighting an uphill battle. A recent survey of more than 2,000 Washington, D.C., area commuters conducted by a graduate student at George Mason University found that “people who drove to work alone were more emotionally satisfied with their commute than those who rode public transportation or carpooled with others.”
It follows then that a bunch of satisfied drivers would be unlikely to switch to a public transit commute they consider less pleasant—at least without some (or perhaps a lot of) prompting and prodding. Bausman says the idea to make ads slamming solo commuting “is ripe for the picking, to make mass transit look cool and a civic responsibility.”
12/26/2007 3:54:52 PM
The Indonesian government, which has gotten bad press for the country’s rapid deforestation, rolled out a variety of tree-planting initiatives as it played host to the 190-nation climate summit held in Bali in early December. You know, predictable stuff: a nationwide effort to plant 79 million trees in one day, complete with a photo op for the president. A similar effort aimed specifically at women, with a photo op for the first lady. A district-wide marriage fee of five trees per couple.
This idea—implemented in the Sragen region of Java—makes a certain amount of sense, what with married people more likely to reproduce and increase their environmental impact. The 25-tree fee for divorced couples, on the other hand, is a bit of a head-scratcher.
12/20/2007 5:35:19 PM
UtneCast 40: Gaining Ground: From Green Building to Green Cities / Review: Bachata Roja: Play Now
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In the latest episode of the UtneCast, a panel of experts looks at what it will take to change the green-building movement into a full-blown green-cities movement. From last June’s Gaining Ground summit on sustainable urban development, several keen observers and practitioners of green building and urban planning have their say, including Paul Hawken, Pamela Mang, Bill Reed and John Knott.
And don’t forget to check out the feature package on green building in the November/December issue of Utne Reader.
Also this week, Utne.com assistant editor Bennett Gordon reviews the new album Bachata Roja, a compilation of Dominican music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s.
This will be Leif Utne’s last episode as host of the UtneCast. Please stay tuned for future UtneCasts from the editors of Utne Reader.
Photo by Jean-Etienne Poirrier, licensed under CreativeCommons.
12/14/2007 2:57:56 PM
The island of Nauru, in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean, has gained notoriety in a number of disastrous ways. Last weekend, National Public Radio’s This American Life aired a piece from 2003 on the rise and fall of the island and its people. The November-December 2006 issue of Utne Reader also had an article by the same author, Jack Hitt, reprinted from the Sun, about Nauru as a kind of Faustian cautionary tale of environmental degradation and the false promises of the global economy.
Off-shore banking operations, funding many disreputable entrepreneurs, have besmirched the Nauru name among international creditors. The island has also served as a place for Australia to stash unwanted refugees, many fleeing violence in Iraq, causing depression on the island to skyrocket. And possibly most devastating of all, decades of phosphate mining have gutted Nauru of its natural beauty, leaving only a skeleton behind.
To read the Utne Reader article from the November-December 2006 issue, click here.
And to listen to the piece from This American Life, click here.
12/13/2007 4:05:10 PM
A new tool in the fight against global warming might be hopping around the Australian outback. A recent report (PDF) by Greenpeace suggests that using kangaroos, instead of cows, as a source of meat could make a substantial impact on Australia’s carbon footprint. Eating cuddly marsupial for dinner might sound unnatural to Americans, but kangaroo has been a part of Australian cuisine from time immemorial. It fact, the practice fits perfectly with many established ideas of green living: eat local, free-range meats; raise animals that help sustain the land; cultivate indigenous plants and animals. Most importantly, according to Greenpeace, kangaroos don’t release as much methane gas as cows do.
(Thanks, Shameless Carnivore.)
12/13/2007 2:20:04 PM
The drug crystal meth is hurting people in many ways, some less obvious than others. Writing in Terrain, an Utne Independent Press Award nominee for environmental coverage, Linnea Due vividly describes the dangers caused by meth cooks who dump their waste in natural sites.
Ninety-five percent of the material used in meth cooking is discarded, contaminating bodies of water when dumped. Much of that material is highly toxic. Not only does the hazardous waste pose a threat to all nearby living things, it’s also extremely dangerous to clean up.
California Hazardous-Materials officer Wayne Briley described one of his many meth-lab cleanup calls inside a California state park, where he found “glass lab mantles floating like big bubbles in the shallows.” Hidden inside the trash, Briley discovered drums of white phosphorous. “It is air-reactive,” he says. “If we'd unscrewed the lid, that area would have disappeared, and us with it.”
The meth problem also has made it harder to clean up unrelated dumped substances. Haz-mat officers used to be able to clean up waste oil or antifreeze drums more quickly. “But you can't open these things anymore,” Briley says. “We need to get suited up and put on respirators. That's what meth has done for us.”
12/13/2007 1:23:28 PM
Genetically modified foods are now being touted as the magic bullet that can help feed the world, cut back on our energy use, and soothe the broken environment. The only problem is that the darn environmentalists keep getting in the way. In the November issue of Prospect, Dick Taverne argues that an irrational distrust of genetically modified (GM) foods have forced governments to slap GM crops with “costly, time-consuming, and unnecessary regulatory obstacles before they can be licensed.”
The whole debate over genetically modified foods is intellectually misguided, Taverne writes. The debate should be simple: GM foods help feed people. So if you don’t like GM foods, you don’t like feeding people.
In reality, the argument is a bit more complex. Surprisingly, the comments page of the Prospect article is filled with good information on the GM debate, hidden inside a flurry of insults and obscenities. The anti-GM posters accuse GM adherents ignoring the grim hand of “Corporate America.” The GM supporters paint their detractors as anti-scientific troglodytes. Ingo Potrykus—one of the creators a strain of rice called Golden Rice, genetically infused with vitamin A—even gives his two cents, assuring readers that he is not, in fact, a corporate shill.
The piece de résistance of the comment board is a new conspiracy theory. Did you know that there is a “Veganist Jihad” who’s “true agenda” is “mass famine” and“ widespread disease.” They also want a feudalistic society of global enslavement. And here I was thinking that vegans just liked cows.
(Thanks Arts and Letters Daily.)
12/13/2007 12:24:31 PM
December in America is a time for stuff. Mountains of wrapping paper, plastic packaging, and gag gifts will be thrown away this month in the name of holiday gift giving. Many people try not to think about where that stuff comes from or where it goes after they throw it away. The viral video producers over at Free Range Studios think that's a big problem.
The company created a video that tracks all this stuff from extraction, to production, to distribution, to consumption, to disposal. It’s called, “The Story of Stuff” and you can watch a YouTube clip of the first chapter below.
For all its cute animations, the 20-minute video’s very straight forward. Host Annie Leonard explains the methods of distribution, with some environmentalist messages mixed in. She talks about many of the ways that companies are able to “keep the prices down, keep the people buying.” It's all based around the idea that there is “another way.” The environmental website Grist is doing its part with a “stuff-free” guide to holiday giving. What are you doing this December to cut down on the stuff?
12/10/2007 2:15:04 PM
interview by Giles Slade
For a generation now, David Suzuki has been working vigorously to raise public awareness of global warming and marshal a worldwide response. In 1988, before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed, Suzuki advocated for the creation of a similar international body at the Changing Atmosphere Conference in Toronto. In 2007, the Canadian scientist, broadcaster, and activist toured his country in a diesel bus, speaking about climate change and urging compliance with the Kyoto Protocol (which he helped frame). The author of 43 books, Suzuki is now 71 years old and would like to “slow down a bit” by working only four days a week. But that will have to wait until the Bali summit on climate change is over. I met Suzuki a few weeks ago in Vancouver, where we both live, to talk about the U.N. conference and what we should hope for as the world’s nations start to hash out Kyoto’s successor.
Some people say that environmentalism is a fashion that will soon pass.
Yeah, the fear is that it will be a fad. The media have jumped on it now; it’s the flavor of the month. The problem is that when O.J. Simpson gets sentenced the media will have a heyday and forget about these other issues, so it really is important for us to make sure it stays on the agenda.
What are your best hopes for Bali?
I hope that the vast majority of countries will stay on target, that they will take the lead of England and accept that we’ve got to go past the Kyoto times now and talk about heavy cuts, especially in the industrialized world, before 2030.
We’ve got to bring emissions down. People are talking about 80 percent cuts by 2050, [but] much sooner than that we’ve got to make major cuts. The big question is whether there’s the will to do this and, of course, whether China and India are going to be willing to start looking toward those deep cuts.
What about the purely technical question of how to go about achieving really substantial cuts worldwide?
In 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor it could have been argued then that “We can’t afford to do anything about this. They’ve now destroyed the Pacific Fleet and it’ll ruin the economy.” But what you got instead was the response: “Now we have no choice. Now we have to do everything we can.” And look at the consequences!
Not only did the United States win the war, but they pulled out of the Great Depression and were going full blast by 1945. You know, in 1988 public concern about the environment was at the absolute peak, and George H.W. Bush ran for president saying, “If you vote for me I will be an environmental president.” There wasn’t a green bone in his body, but Americans had put the environment at the top of their agenda.
what’s needed now.
So you foresee a global mobilization to arrest carbon emissions and combat climatic changes?
Yes. Stanford University ecologist Paul Ehrlich [author of 1968’s The Population Bomb and the founder of the Zero Population Growth movement] says that there are a thousand ecological Pearl Harbors going on at once, and we need to marshal effort worldwide.
You know, whenever you go to a science fiction film about aliens threatening all of humanity, the first thing you see is the American president calling the Russian president or the Chinese president. In the movies, when there’s an invader from outer space, everybody recognizes a common interest and they pour whatever they can into it. This is exactly what we need now, except the invader is us. We need to pour that effort into the common good and get on with it. The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report that just came out is an attempt to say, “Look, it’s urgent.”
The sense of urgency is what we need most of all. We can’t piss around anymore. We have to make those deep cuts.
Thanks for doing this…
Please, just get the word out. What happens at the Bali Summit December 3-14 will affect all of us.
Suzuki is right. Things are happening very fast. Just a few weeks ago, the anti-Kyoto government of Australian Prime Minister John Howard fell to a Labor party that has promised to commit Australia entirely to Kyoto and Bali. Soon America will be the only Kyoto Protocol signatory that has still not ratified the agreement, making it law. Of course, just as George H.W. Bush did in 1988, every current presidential candidate is clamoring to make pro-Kyoto, pro-Bali statements. But it will take much more than campaign promises for humankind to survive in our children’s century.
Giles Slade is the author of
Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America (Harvard University, 2007). He’s currently working on a book called Our Children’s Century, about how climate change will create waves of environmental refugees throughout North America.
12/5/2007 9:27:50 AM
Remember the EPA? You might not know it from reading the news, but apparently there’s still a whole federal agency devoted to protecting the environment. Of course, under the Bush administration, it seems that the EPA has protected corporate economic interests more than the environment.
Some of the Bush-era EPA’s more egregious offenses are compiled in a blog post by Plenty. In a few of the examples, the agency seems not only to ignore its stated mission but to actively work against the environment. The many links gave me a sense that, while the administration hasn’t sold the EPA headquarters to condo developers yet, Americans might be better off if it did. —Steve Thorngate
12/4/2007 3:23:39 PM
Urban gardeners who’d like to grow their own produce but are afraid of soil contaminants should check out the primer published by NOW, the Toronto alt weekly. The staff gives tips on where to find supplies that will measure the amount of lead in your soil and identifies which plants store the most and least amount of lead. Tomatoes, squash, and peppers do well, but root vegetables and greens might best be avoided if you live near a factory, whether it’s functioning or not. It’s also best to plant a diversity of crops for your soil’s pH and to wash your produce with dish soap before serving.
In a similar vein, the alt weekly Pittsburgh City Pages chronicles the first growing season of a fledgling organic farm 25 miles east of the Steel City. —Eric Kelsey
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