12/30/2009 11:31:28 AM
The FDA has announced that it will blow a third self-imposed deadline on bisphenol A—the end of 2009—further pushing back a ruling on whether the ubiquitous plastic food-packaging ingredient is safe. So it’s still up to consumers to decide on their own whether they should be concerned about the ingredient that’s in soups, juices, drinks, even drinking water and home-canning lids, and is suspected in a wide range of health issues.
At the Reno News & Review, Kat Kerlin writes about her experience in attempting a weeklong BPA-free diet. Six months pregnant, she finds it pretty much impossible to eliminate BPA from her life during the exercise, and she ultimately falls off the BPA-free wagon with a thud. Her chronicle is well worth reading for anyone attempting to live by the precautionary principle.
Meanwhile, take it from the key federal official in charge of studying BPA: Do your best to avoid the stuff. Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, put it pretty clearly to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Asked if consumers should be worried about BPA, Birnbaum said, ‘Absolutely.’”
The Journal Sentinel reports that in testimony before a Senate panel in early December, Birnbaum compared BPA to lead, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls, “all of which have been found to have devastating health effects even at low doses.” Her agency, the NIEHS, is spending $30 million in the next two years on BPA research.
BPA is just one ingredient widely used in plastics that has suspected or known damaging health effects, Environment Yale points out in “The Problem With Plastics” in its Fall 2009 issue. And the controversy surrounding BPA is just part of a larger social-political-environmental-medical debate that we’ll be having as we reform our nation’s ill-conceived toxic substances policy, largely embodied in the Toxic Substances Control Act.
“On the regulatory side, we’re in a hole, and it’ll take us a long time to dig ourselves out,” John Wargo, a Yale professor of environmental policy, political science, and risk analysis, tells Environment Yale. “Until that happens, it’s like the Wild West. The public bears the risks of exposure, and the public has to decide how to avoid them.”
Environment Yale helps out by publishing a sidebar with Wargo’s tips on avoiding toxins in your life, from his eye-opening new book Green Intelligence: Creating Environments that Protect Human Health (Yale University Press).
Sources: Reno News & Review, Science & Environmental Health Network, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Environment Yale
Photo illustration by Don Button. Image courtesy of Reno News & Review.
12/23/2009 1:14:55 PM
We’ve heard from lots of environmental pundits about the outcome of the Copenhagen climate talks, with reactions ranging from cautiously optimistic to bitterly disappointed and downright betrayed. So what do the rock stars think?
I’m being only partly facetious, because at least one rock star, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, is very passionate about the issues in play, fairly well informed about them, and he actually attended the talks for a few days.
“i felt compelled to come to find some hope from these talks. for our kids and theirs. judge that as you will,” Yorke wrote on the band’s Dead Air Space blog shortly after arriving in Copenhagen last week. “i came with a friend of mine, Tony Juniper. (he was previously head of Friends of the Earth when I was involved with them to get the climate bill passed in the UK. a framed copy of which I have on my wall at home.)”
Suffice to say that Yorke did not come away impressed with the forthrightness, the selflessness, the brilliance of the negotiators. His postmodern capitalization and punctuation only add to the rawness of his rants. Here are some excerpts:
… the negotiations had an obvious G8 vibe about them. the West dictating terms and bizarrely assuming that the science could be bartered.. !!! arguing about who cuts what??? that somehow the amount we have to cut our emissions is negotiable?? what a crock of shit. may I humbly suggest that we remove the professional negotiators who seem to relish the negotiations for their own sake.
i pray something. i pray that something comes of this process. that all these people for all these years, all these flights to copenhagen all this hot air has some meaning. and in the midst of it all i take to bbc radio 1 and am asked ‘yeah but is climate change really real’ etc etc. oh for gods sake. what am i doing here??
and as i wrote the previous entry my battery goes dead and obama walks past with a very grim expression, everyone thought he was storming out but no he’d just been in talks with the chinese. just now a french delegate tells me that brazil has stormed out of the talks. this is all so sad. still peace and goodwill to all men. love and understanding. just no more business as usual ok?? this is all starting to really feel like some enormous vaguely pointless corporate expo.
well … i am truly disgusted about the way things have ended here. … we have no international agreement. this is all too too late. i feel deeply traumatized by the whole experience. if you’d been there you would also have been.
Source: Dead Air Space
Image via Dead Air Space.
12/23/2009 1:13:12 PM
The latest video over at GOOD is a "look at the numbers behind our changing diet, and what we can do to make it better." No better time than the food-centric holiday season for this sort of exploration.
12/22/2009 2:51:43 PM
The original version of Star Wars was actually an environmentalist parable, according to Utne Reader visionary and snarky environmental provocateur Derrick Jensen. The original title, Star Non-Violent Disobedience, took out most of the dogfights and explosions, and replaced them with letter-writing campaigns, gourmet fair-trade coffee, and eco-tours of doomed planets. Instead of trying to destroy the Empire, the environmentalists of the film decided, “If we want to change Darth Vader, we must first become that change ourselves.” Watch the video below:
12/21/2009 2:29:14 PM
Last year, Allison Chin became the first person of color to ever serve as president the Sierra Club. For the latest issue of Hyphen, Chin, a Chinese American, sheds some light on how the organization has changed throughout its 117-year history. She also talks about the effect of being Asian American in the environmental movement. She says, “I think the main role is that it provides visibility for the world—that everybody cares, [that] people of color care.”
Chin’s position as the Sierra Club’s president stands in stark contrast to the white-dominated image of much of the environmental movement. “The terms environmentalist and minority conjure two distinct images in most people’s minds,” Jennifer Oladipo wrote for Utne Reader, “a false dichotomy that threatens any chance of pulling the planet out of its current ecological tailspin.” People like Chin are making sure that doesn’t happen.
You can watch a video interview with Chin below:
12/18/2009 10:52:08 AM
To many non-hunters, hunting is a mysterious and macabre pastime, and the mere sight of a camouflage-clad individual carrying a gun brings to mind all sorts of unpleasant associations. But even among the urban-based, sustainable-eating, co-op-shopping crowd there’s an increasing awareness that hunting can be local, sustainable, and humane—certainly more so than eating a domesticated animal raised in a crowded barn, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and killed assembly-line style in a slaughterhouse. If you’re going to eat meat, the thinking goes, at least kill and butcher the animal yourself after it’s lived a natural life in the wild.
So I was intrigued to come across an interview in Sierra Sportsmen with a hunter who defies many hunter stereotypes and addresses these sorts of issues head-on. Holly Heyser is a Northern California-based writer who blogs as NorCal Cazadora and writes for some of the Utne Reader staff’s favorite foodie mags, including The Art of Eating, Gastronomica, and Meatpaper. (Coincidentally, she’s also an ex-editor at a newspaper where I once worked, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.) Her blog is a mixture of hunting stories, gear reviews, and intelligently opinionated commentary, and this excerpt from the Sierra Sportsmen interview offers a glimpse into the world of this self-described “huntress”:
What do you think women bring to the “traditional” world of hunting?
A lot. One of the most important things right now is credibility. Hunting’s biggest problem right now is that the non-hunting public doesn’t know much about hunting, and has terrible stereotypes of hunters—like we’re all drunken, lawless poachers who go on shooting rampages in the forest, cut off trophy heads and leave the rest behind to rot. Like all stereotypes, this one obviously has real-life examples, but it does not represent who we are. I live in a world of non-hunters—journalists and university professors—and when I tell people I hunt, their first question is almost always, “Do you eat what you kill?” Well, no shit, Sherlock. Do you think I’m going to spend eight hours shivering in a marsh to bring down a few ducks and not eat them? …
So why are women important? Here's why: It’s easy to stereotype a male hunter, because once he’s in his camo, you can’t tell if he’s an insurance executive or an unemployed alcoholic. But when you see a woman out there in the field, it’s immediately difficult to categorize her, because she doesn’t fit the mold. Women are nurturing. Can you imagine a woman going on a shooting rampage in the forest and leaving everything but the racks to rot? No way! In fact, research by Responsive Management in Virginia shows that meat is the No. 1 reason women hunt, and hunting for meat has the highest level of acceptance by the general public.
This stereotyping issue is obviously unfair to men, but it presents a great opportunity for women hunters to be positive ambassadors to the non-hunting world.
Another thing women bring to hunting is our style of relating to one another. When I hunt with men, they’ll always rib each other for missing shots. When I hunt with women, we really cheer on each other’s good shots, and we coo soothingly about the missed shots. “Oh, that was a tough one—I don’t think I could’ve gotten that.” …
What are some of the things you learned about yourself while hunting?
The first thing I learned is that all that play I did as a child had purpose. When I was a kid, we lived on five acres near an irrigation ditch in the San Joaquin Valley, and I would spend my free time prowling around the property, examining plants and animals, hiding, seeing how close animals would get to me if they couldn’t see me. The very first thing I thought when I started hunting was, “Wow, this is just like play!” Not that taking animals’ lives is a game, but that my play as a child had a purpose, just like it does with puppies and kittens. This is what I’m wired to do.
I’ve also become much more aware of the food chain, and my place in it. On that five-acre farm, my family raised animals for meat, so I was no stranger to slaughtering and butchering, but going out and doing it myself makes it much more real. I actually eat less meat now than I ever have, and I never, ever waste it. I have so much respect for it. And I also see animals much more as equals. Anti-hunters think we’re animal haters, but we’re really not.
Being an active participant in the food chain makes me understand we are all equal occupants of this earth. Before I started hunting, I never apologized to a hamburger, but I almost always apologize now to the animals I’ve shot, and I express gratitude for the sustenance they give me. Vegans have told me that this is a sign of my guilt and I should just stop eating meat, but I disagree with that because I accept that I’m an omnivore whose body needs meat. What it really is is a sign of my respect for the life around me, and a reflection of my understanding that killing should never be taken lightly.
Read the full interview here.
Sources: Sierra Sportsmen, NorCal Cazadora
Image courtesy of Holly Heyser, © Holly A. Heyser 2009.
12/15/2009 4:47:17 PM
Things just keep getting worse in the golf world. All affairs aside, golf courses are also in trouble. In the December issue of Governing, John Buntin highlights the rising trend of golf courses being converted into public parks and recreation spaces. In New Jersey a 67-acre course is now used for biking, walking, and archery, and courses in Nevada and Indiana have followed suit as well. Buntin cites the economy for having such an impact on the golf industry, and adds that course closures are now higher than openings. “Not that golf is going away,” Buntin says, “But in many American communities, it is being viewed more as a luxury than as a public service.”
Image by Admond, licensed under Creative Commons .
12/14/2009 1:55:08 PM
Attendees at the Copenhagen climate change conference should take a cue from their host city’s bicycle-friendly nature, writes editor Jonathan Maus at BikePortland.org:
Copenhagen just happens to be the City of Cyclists, and its dedication to providing streets that make biking a viable option for its citizens has already had an incalculable impact on many cities. . . . The lessons and experiences of Copenhagen are also putting pressure on the field of bike planning in America. It’s Copenhagen’s example that has provided the impetus for a broad coalition of large U.S. cities to push bike planning innovation further, faster than existing U.S. federal highway standards will allow.
As the case against auto dependence grows more each day, it’s becoming even clearer that making our cities more amenable to bike traffic is a winning strategy. I just hope COP15 attendees step out of their meetings and presentations long enough to let the Copenhagenizing take hold.
Of course, Denmark hasn’t come off especially well in the last few days, having been pilloried by developing countries for its ill-considered behind-the-scenes dealmaking in the lead-up to the conference. And it’s quite clear that it will take a whole lot more than bike lanes and chain guards to tackle the climate change mess. Still, it’s worth taking a moment to remember that when the rubber hits the road, the Danes have done some good for the environment.
L.A. Streetsblog notes that the point was not lost on Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, who interviewed Hickenlooper in Copenhagen:
Thirty-seven percent of the people in this city, when they go to work in the metropolitan area, ride a bicycle to work. I mean, it’s remarkable. I met yesterday for an hour with the deputy mayor of the environment and transportation, Klaus Bondam, and he described how their next goal is to hit 50 percent. I mean, to have half your population, when they go to work on bicycles, they’re healthier, the air is cleaner, there’s less carbon emissions, you save money. I mean, the benefits are dramatic, and you can see the difference just when you walk down the street.
Goodman: I mean, we were just in the city council last night at like 10:30, 11:00. The whole bottom floor of this century-old building is filled with not only bicycle racks, but bicycles that fill them.
Goodman: And city council members, the guards, everyone are riding in and out of the city council on their bicycles.
Hickenlooper: Yeah. When I flew in, the fellow next to me on the plane is a hotshot young technology expert, makes a huge amount of money—doesn’t own a car, rides his bike. You know, he says, “It’s healthier. It’s more fashionable.” You know, it’s what his friends do. And I think that’s the whole thing that—when you get to public sentiment, I mean, what Lincoln was talking about. We need to change our public sentiment so people want to do these things. And it’s not government coming down and being punitive, but it’s creating a change, a transformation in our attitudes.
See the full transcript at Democracy Now.
Source: BikePortland.org, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Democracy Now
Image by malouette, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/14/2009 9:55:48 AM
David Gillette is no ordinary journalist. He’s also a cartoonist, digging up off-the-beaten-path stories from the Copenhagen climate change summit. In a joint project between the website MinnPost and Twin Cities Public Television, Gillette has been giving daily updates of what’s happening at COP 15. You can watch his day five dispatch blow:
12/11/2009 4:21:01 PM
The latest in sustainable foodie-ism: hopping right into the food chain to help thin out an invasive—and mighty tasty—variety of crab. Reporting for the Air Canada magazine EnRoute, self-proclaimed “predatory foodie” Amy Rosen travels to Norway to catch (and eat) some of the country’s red king crabs, which aren’t indigenous to the area—it’s a long story that begins with Stalin and ends with millions of crabs infiltrating the Norwegian coastline—and which, some fear, might continue to migrate south and do further damage to the ecosystem’s balance.
“Whereas locavores simply nibble on fresh carrots and beets from area farms and backyard veggie plots,” Rosen writes, “predatory foodies put themselves between the invasive species and the less dominant ones, trying to redress the balance in the natural habitat.”
I’m a killer. A crab-catching, crustacean-jabbing, pot-boiling predator. But I come by it honestly. After all, my red king crab spree is all in the name of environmentalism. Really.
Nose-to-tail, slow food, the 100-mile diet, organic... changing what we eat can change the world, and I’m totally on board with that. But then there are those of us willing to take things a bit farther by heading off to northern Norway, slipping into an orange survival suit and inserting ourselves right into the food chain.
Yes, I’m here to help. And I’m going in deep.
Image by jonnyr1, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/10/2009 3:57:23 PM
Most people are familiar with the moai statues on Easter Island, but perhaps not as familiar with the fact that the stones are in danger of complete deterioration if steps aren’t taken soon to preserve them. That’s why the Archaeological Institute of America has stepped in with a grant for the Easter Island Statue Product (EISP) to set up a preservation process for the monuments (pdf).
Archaeology reports that both environmental deterioration and uncontrolled tourism have contributed to the state of the figures, and “images of a single statue, taken from 1914 to 2004, show almost total loss of design detail,” while some statues “have passed the point of no return.”
The EISP is mapping and documenting the nearly 900 moai and will make its database available to the public. The organization will also begin carrying out a multi-phase rehabilitation plan on the island that will include incorporating a conservation initiative for the Easter Island community, which hasn’t been involved with the World Heritage Site in the past.
Image by Phillie Casablanca, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/10/2009 10:55:38 AM
Singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant has been out of the limelight for several years, but she is about to re-emerge this spring with a new album, Leave Your Sleep, on the Nonesuch label. Merchant recently turned up on Britain’s Ecologist website in a Q&A that revolves around her environmental activism, which apparently is still as important to her as when she sang the green anthem “Poison in the Well” with her band 10,000 Maniacs and collected Greenpeace donations at her shows. A resident of rural New York and the mother of a young daughter, she says she supports local environmental groups like Scenic Hudson, Clearwater and Riverkeeper and has thrown her weight behind area campaigns like one opposing logging in Allegany State Park. Here are some snippets from the interview:
What book or film would you recommend all politicians read or see?
, directed by Godfrey Reggio with an astounding soundtrack by Philip Glass, is the film I would suggest everyone see. I saw Koyaanisqatsi in a theater when it was first released in 1982, and the impact that it had upon me is still felt. This film is a prophetic vision of a world gone mad, out of scale and out of control. Without a single word spoken, it hints at the vastness and beauty of the world and then explains that we, tiny and insignificant creatures, have swarmed together to do irreparable damage to it.”
What is your favorite meal, made by whom?
“This year I put in a huge vegetable garden and every morning I would find myself drawn to it. I would be in my nightgown weeding and grazing on whatever was ready to harvest (snap peas, basil, cherry tomatoes, dill, carrots or blueberries). It is so gratifying to eat from your own garden.”
Where do you live and why?
“I live in rural New York. I need to live where there are more trees than people.”
Can you describe a typical day?
“Until I had a child there really was no typical day for me, but now they all seem to revolve around sensible meal times and early bedtimes. I’d say the one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the frenzied pace of activity in my day. I was made with only an on/off switch. There is no relaxing during my day, only collapsing at the end of it.”
The interview doesn’t mention Merchant’s latest green gesture, her music’s appearance on the soundtrack of Coal Country, the new documentary film about mountaintop removal coal mining. Merchant’s rendition of “Which Side Are You On?,” from her underappreciated 2003 folk album The House Carpenter’s Daughter, is the perfect backdrop for the film’s trailer: The song was first written and sung during the Harlan County, Kentucky, coal labor fracas back in 1931 by a union organizer’s wife. Today, it might just as well apply to the pitched, divisive battle over mountaintop removal. Watch the trailer here:
Sources: Ecologist, Coal Country
Image by Mark Seliger.
12/9/2009 4:11:21 PM
One idea floating around the international climate change talks in Copenhagen is the notion that letting the earth warm by two degrees would be acceptable. A two-degree agreement would translate to 3.75 degrees for Africa, according to Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, “which means basically Africa is being turned into a furnace.” Di-Aping, one of the primary negotiators for a coalition of mostly impoverished nations called the Group of 77, told Mother Jones, “That’s basically certain death for Africa, and as such it’s not something that any African—man, child, or woman—will accept.” In response to the idea, representatives staged a protest by chanting, “two degrees is suicide.” You can watch a video of that protest below:
Source: Mother Jones
12/9/2009 1:49:24 PM
What’s going on at the Copenhagen climate talks? Behind the mainstream media headlines, the independent and alternative press are doing what they do best: pursuing and parsing lots of interesting angles behind this potentially world-changing conference. Here’s where we’re finding coverage that cuts through the chatter coming out of Denmark:
The Copenhagen News Collaborative is a great one-stop site for conference coverage by talent-rich progressive and environmental news outlets including Grist, Mother Jones, the Nation, Tree Hugger, the UpTake, Huffington Post, and Discover. You’ve got to love Grist’s slogan for its Copenhagen coverage: “HOW FØCKED ARE WE?”
Blogs and news feeds by environmental advocacy organizations can be excellent sources of information on sub-issues such as forest conservation and carbon trading rules. We’re looking to, among other groups, the Rainforest Action Network, Global Witness, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, including both the NRDC Switchboard and the NRDC-published magazine OnEarth. Do these organizations have agendas? Sure—so does everyone at Copenhagen. That doesn’t mean they don’t know many of these issues inside and out.
One other approach is to get rid of the filter. Watch live and on-demand webcasts of official meetings and press conferences from Copenhagen at the conference website.
Sources: United Nations Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen News Collaborative, Rainforest Action Network, Global Witness, Natural Resources Defense Council
12/4/2009 6:01:00 PM
Some talented dogs are being trained to do conservation work in the United States and abroad, helping researchers track evidence of animals and plants they're studying. Writing for the dog culture magazine The Bark, Ilona Popper profiles Working Dogs for Conservation, an organization whose canines’ valiant efforts “provide scientists with a noninvasive, inexpensive but accurate way to count or study wildlife and plants.” These conservation dogs are trained to find grizzly bear scat, for example, and then bring their human counterparts to it without disturbing the sample—a method that doesn’t require trapping or even seeing the animals in question.
Alice Whitelaw, one of the four biologists who co-founded the nonprofit, explains to The Bark that not all dogs are cut out for the job. She and her partners look for dogs who are particularly toy-obsessed—“the dogs you’ll see in shelters, bouncing off the walls,” Popper writes. “In fact, that’s how many conservation dogs have been discovered. The partners visit shelters, looking for the dog who won’t put down her toy for anything.”
That’s because conservation dogs are motivated by play—not by finding a sample. “These dogs are not smelling every poop like most dogs do,” Whitelaw tells The Bark. “They are out there working for the target scent that they’ve been trained to associate with their reward [their ball]. That’s all they’re doing. They’re not out there acting like dogs.”
Not surprisingly, “only a very special dog can be taught not to treat poop like poop," Popper writes. Whitelaw explains that "out of every 300 dogs we test, only one even looks like a candidate. And out of these, 60 percent fail." On the bright side, some "dropouts" do find loving homes with Whitelaw and her colleagues.
Source: The Bark (article not available online)
Image by TheGiantVermin, licensed under Creative Commons.
12/3/2009 3:16:19 PM
Concerned about the environmental impact of consumerism? Don’t just point a finger at the factories that pump out abundant, crappy goods, Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin writes for In These Times. We should also be holding responsible “the two horsemen of the modern consumer apocalypse: functional obsolescence and fashion obsolescence.”
Bloyd-Peshkin joins a growing group of voices intent on reminding us that consumption hasn’t always been the principle expression of American culture. (Look for some great related articles in our Jan.-Feb. issue, on newsstands later this month.) The snapshot story is familiar: In the pre- and post-World War II United States, a demand-driven economy was seen as the road to prosperity. Bloyd-Peshkin, a journalism professor at Columbia College in Chicago, quotes some language from the era, however, that puts a finer point on the strategy:
Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction in consumption.
It just makes you feel a little gross, eh. But the notion of “citizen-as-consumer runs deep,” Bloyd-Peshkin writes, and even the conscientious among us aren’t immune. As “frugal as I am and as green as I try to be,” she confesses, “during the recent economic downturn I’ve found myself feeling that every major purchase I make is a perverse kind of civic duty.” I can relate.
So what’s the solution? Part of it could be heirloom design, a term coined by Saul Griffith, an inventor and, as it happens, 2008 Utne Reader visionary. Heirloom products are durable, repairable, and upgradeable. In other words: They last.
There are plenty of complications, of course: The cost of paying upfront for a durable product, or the calculation that favors replace over repair. “Policy would have to play a key role,” Bloyd-Peshkin writes. The big challenge, however, could be getting people out of the obsolescence mindset: Bloyd-Peshkin mentions a recent survey of British homeowners about longer-lasting dishwashers. Twenty-three percent were concerned about the price, but 30 percent feared the products would become “out of date.”
Source: In These Times
12/2/2009 3:01:04 PM
Ecosystem changes like droughts and desertification are often thought of as a gradual processes, slowly taking place over hundreds of years. In fact, scientists have found that drastic changes in ecosystems can happen quickly and often unpredictably. A small nudge can be enough to shift an ecosystem from a grassland into a desert. “We don’t know where the thresholds are,” ecologist Marten Scheffer told Momentum magazine. “But we know they’re there and that we cross them.” Scientists are now trying to figure out how to predict these drastic changes in the climate, how to handle them once they happen.
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