2/27/2009 5:44:36 PM
Visitors to the Vinegar Factory market on Manhattan’s Upper East Side may not notice the enormous greenhouse perched atop the building, but environmentalists are paying attention. The greenhouse, owned by the famous Zabar’s company, is growing fruits and vegetables in their custom greenhouse, and then selling the food in the market below. The food miles on that transaction are about as close to zero as possible.
Zabar’s is “ahead of the curve” in farming the severely under-utilized urban landscape, according to Environmental Building News. The process isn’t cheap—Zabar’s was forced to build a steel superstructure on top of the Vinegar Factory building to support the greenhouse—but environmentalists see a bright future for urban farming.
Image by Jason Ferguson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Source: Environmental Building News
2/26/2009 5:24:02 PM
If I were a coal company executive, I’d feel like I was getting beat up on: The entire month of February has seen big coal being pummeled by politicians, environmental groups, and activists as if it were something dirty. But if I had any sense I’d realize I deserved a beating for shamelessly propagating the most polluting energy source we use—and I’d prepare for another thrashing next month.
Let’s recap. On February 4, the New York Times’ Green Inc. blog chronicled “A Tough Week for Coal,” but that was just the beginning. On February 17, Grist reported on a crowd of coal foes who marched on the Kentucky State Capitol to listen to speakers including actress Ashley Judd and novelist Silas House demand an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. The same day in Washington, writes SolveClimate, the Obama administration’s EPA said it would reconsider whether carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant, a move that would target big coal burners. And yesterday, the anti-coal Reality Coalition released a new mock ad (below) directed by Joel and Ethan Coen that ridicules the spin-speak behind the phrase “clean coal.”
So that was coal’s bleak February. Its March starts off with another doozy, a civil disobedience march Monday on the coal-fired power plant that Congress owns. Among the marchers at the Capitol Climate Action event will be high-profile figures such as Bill McKibben, who writes for Yale Environment 360, “Why I’ll Get Arrested to Stop the Burning of Coal.” We wish him the best of luck in both endeavors.
UPDATE (3/2/09): Despite a late-winter D.C. snowstorm, more than 2,000 protesters turned out at the Capitol Climate Climate Action event Monday and blockaded the three main gates to the Capitol Power Plant, according to Jeff Biggers at Huffington Post. No arrests were made. See McKibben's account of the protest at Mother Jones' Blue Marble blog.
Sources: New York Times, Grist, SolveClimate, Reality Coalition, Capitol Climate Action, Yale Environment 360, Huffington Post, Blue Marble
2/24/2009 11:52:53 AM
Call it scenery stimulus. America’s national parks are getting more than $900 million in funding in the recently passed stimulus bill, a much-needed shot in the arm for a system that has been underfunded for years. The money will be spent on a host of projects including maintaining trails, fixing roads, cleaning up old mine sites, constructing new facilities, and doing “energy efficient retrofits of existing facilities.”
The almost-a-billion amount hammered out in the Senate is quite a bit less than the $2.25 billion originally approved by the House, and far short of what is needed in the eyes of the National Parks Conservation Association, which says the parks have amassed a $9 billion backlog of maintenance and preservation projects.
Still, NPCA President Tom Kiernan welcomed the “reinvestment” in the “crumbling national park infrastructure” in a statement. “This is a very strong step toward restoring our national parks by 2016, the centennial of the National Park Service,” he said.
Parks aren’t the only outdoorsy beneficiaries of the stimulus package, whose details are being parsed by bloggers. Bill Schneider at New West describes the fish and wildlife habitat improvement projects in the bill. Greg Peters at EnviroWonk asks the broader question “The Stimulus: What’s In It for Enviros?” And Ned Hudson at The Daily Green takes a historical view of public works projects in “Why Investing in Parks Is Smart Economic Stimulus.”
Image of Lake McDonald courtesy of
Glacier National Park
Sources: National Parks Conservation Association, New West, EnviroWonk, The Daily Green, National Park Service
2/23/2009 3:48:17 PM
Blame for China’s soaring carbon emissions is being tossed between East and West like a political hot potato in a debate that illustrates just how tricky international climate negotiations can be.
The Guardian reports on a new study that found that manufacturing of exports, many of which are shipped off to developed countries, is responsible for approximately one-third of China’s overall emissions and half of their recent spike in emissions.
So whose footprint should these emissions be tacked-on to—China’s, the producer, or nations like the U.S. and the U.K., the consumers? Under the Kyoto treaty, they go to the producer, but China doesn’t think it should be held accountable for emissions generated by the demands of foreign markets, and others agree.
“Focusing on consumption rather than production of emissions is the only intellectually and ethically sound solution,” Dieter Helm, an Oxford economics professor told the Guardian. “We've simply outsourced our production.”
Indeed, the map of liability generated by the Kyoto system doesn’t seem to tell an entirely truthful story. “By these rules, the UK can claim to have reduced emissions by about 18% since 1990—more than sufficient to meet its Kyoto target,” according to the Guardian. “But research published last year by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) suggests that, once imports, exports and international transport are accounted for, the real change for the UK has been a rise in emissions of more than 20%.”
Business Green points out that this latest study follows similar reports published last year, and could give China greater bargaining power in climate talks to be held in Copenhagen later this year.
Sources: Guardian, Business Green
2/18/2009 11:22:32 AM
An unprecedented agreement has emerged between California's Tejon Ranch Company and five environmental organizations, reports Gary Langham for Living Bird, a publication of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The largest privately held contiguous property in the state, Tejon hosts an abundance of bird species, including the California Condor and Spotted Owl, as well as rare pristine examples of various native grasslands, oak woodlands, and coniferous forest. This landmark agreement culminates a two-year process involving Audubon California, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Endangered Habitats League, and the Planning and Conservation League. Critics of the deal cite the fact that it allows the Tejon Ranch Company to develop the remaining ten percent, which includes Condor habitat. However, supporters believe it will grant conservation groups unparalleled access to and influence over this prized landscape.
Sources: Living Bird, Audubon California, Sierra Club
Image by crawfish head, licensed under Creative Commons
2/18/2009 11:12:13 AM
In an exhaustively researched piece on extreme weather in a time of global financial crisis, Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch connects all of the dots he can find and admonishes the mainstream media for not doing the same.
"You can search far and wide without stumbling across a mainstream American overview of drought in our world at this moment," writes Engelhardt. "This seems, politely put, puzzling, especially at a time when University College London's Global Drought Monitor claims that 104 million people are now living under 'exceptional drought conditions."
"We're now experiencing the extreme effects of economic bad 'weather' in the wake of the near collapse of the global financial system," he notes, wondering what might happen if the economic crisis "long enough to meet an environmental crisis involving extreme weather? What will happen if the rising fuel prices likely to come with the beginning of any economic "recovery" were to meet the soaring food prices of environmental disaster? What kind of human tsunami might that result in?"
Read the entire piece: What Does Economic 'Recovery' Mean on an Extreme Weather Planet?
, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/17/2009 11:17:47 AM
The kids at Bear Creek Elementary in Boulder, Colorado, are some of the most hardcore green commuters in the land. Seventy percent of the students there walk or bike to school, we learned on the website Commute by Bike—an achievement that earned the school the 2008 James Oberstar Award for excellence in the federal Safe Routes program.
Only 25 percent of the students walked or biked when the program began two years ago, which shows that a little encouragement can go a long way. A little wackiness doesn’t hurt, either. Principal Kent Cruger has helped inspire students by arriving at school on wheeled transport including a foot-powered scooter, a skateboard, and a unicycle. And the school’s “Walking Schoolbus” program promotes walking routes with names that are anything but pedestrian, like Darley Dart, Vassar Vroom, and Sooper Shuttle.
“We are trying to create a new culture of daily car-free habits in this young generation,” says Vivian Kennedy, a parent volunteer at Bear Creek, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School. “A parent’s perception is a dominant factor in molding a child’s thinking, [but ] it’s now a matter of honor and pride for the students.”
In other words, it’s cool.
Sources: Commute by Bike, Safe Routes, Safe Routes Bear Creek Case Study, James L. Oberstar Award
Image by Dan Burden, courtesy of the
Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
2/13/2009 12:33:11 PM
A dramatic BBC report finds Vélib, Paris’ extensive bike-share program, in dire straits. The article claims that half of Vélib’s 15,000 bikes have “disappeared” and that many others have been vandalized, “[h]ung from lamp posts, dumped in the River Seine, torched and broken into pieces.” The director of JCDecaux, the company that runs the rental system for the city, warns that the program can’t be sustained without some serious changes.
How accurate is the story? Kottke.org found a smart posting on Streetsblog that challenges the BBC’s more sensational assertions. It quotes sources—including Paris’ Deputy Mayor of Transportation—who say JCDecaux is renegotiating their contract and encouraging the negative coverage to get the city to pay more into the program.
Apparently, JCDecaux zealously guards data on the costs and profits associated with Vélib, so it's a bit hard to objectively assess how it's doing. Since its launch, though, it's generally been regarded as a success. So, as more cities plan similar intiatives—The Bike-sharing Blog counts 92 existing programs and notes that the number's growing quickly—it'll be important to keep tabs on the public's perception of Vélib.
Image courtesy of Luc Legay, licensed under Creative Commons.
, Kottke.org , Streetsblog, The Bike-sharing Blog.
2/11/2009 10:30:58 AM
Whether you consider it a genuine holiday for expressing sincere affection or a Hallmark-created sham, Valentine’s Day tends to generate a mixed bag of emotions. If you fall into the former camp, a plethora of eco-friendly gifts exists to ease the burden of your love on both the environment and your conscience. Here are few ideas:
1) Treehugger offers a list of alternatives to traditional Valentines gifts, such as fair trade chocolate and organic flowers. My favorite suggestion is to cook a meal at home with local ingredients rather than dine at a fancy restaurant.
2) In lieu of the ubiquitous heart-shaped trinkets, Sweet Organics and Naturals sells a variety of accessories created from recycled materials. Check out their cool selection of earrings made out of antique dishware, Noxema jars, WWII era Mason Jars, and even Schlitz beer bottles.
3) For those willing to plunk down serious cash, Voltaic Systems designs a line of backpacks and messenger bags which are, according to their site, “mobile solar power generators designed to charge virtually all handheld electronics.” Each bag comes equipped with solar panels, so a few hours in the sun will keep your iPod humming. With the cheapest model going for $199, this gift might feel more like a major investment.
4) Reader’s Digest Canada encourages you to reconnect with your inner Shakespeare and compose a poem on biodegradable seed paper which, after sharing with your beloved, you can then plant. Something very Buddhist about how that embraces the idea of impermanence.
5) And after researching numerous suggestions for eco-friendly Valentine’s Day gifts, I came up with an idea of my own: rather than spend money on a gift, why not simply spend time with your loved one?
Sources: Treehugger, Sweet Organics and Naturals, Voltaic Systems, Reader’s Digest Canada
Image by evoo73, licensed under Creative Commons
2/10/2009 5:48:39 PM
It’s easy to play good news-bad news when considering the environmental effects of the global economic crisis. Rhett Butler at Mongabay.com, one of our favorite rainforest conservation websites, gave us a bit of a lift in a recent commentary when he pointed out that “plunging commodity prices may offer a reprieve for the world’s beleaguered tropical forests.” Butler is a realist, and he readily cites the many environmental downsides of the current crisis, but he also notes that the price dive “may do what conservationists have largely failed to achieve in recent years: slow deforestation.”
It’s not just wood he’s talking about: He notes that in Southeast Asia, a collapse in the prices of palm oil and rubber “is causing a shake-out in the plantation sector, which has become one of the leading drivers of deforestation in the region.”
2/10/2009 5:36:53 PM
Imagine a vintage acoustic guitar of the future: Tight-grained, rich-toned, and made from a wood that no longer exists. That’s a future some guitar manufacturers are trying to avoid by banding together with Greenpeace in a green-guitar alliance called the Music Wood Coalition, writes Drew Pogge in the Jan.-Feb. E magazine.
The coalition includes virtually all the top acoustic guitar makers—Gibson, Fender, Martin, Yamaha, and Taylor—which either means that this is a vast greenwashing conspiracy or that they have all seen the writing on the fretboard.
The latter seems more likely. Brazilian rosewood, a prized “tonewood” for guitar makers, was logged to near extinction and is now controlled by the international CITES treaty. Ancient rosewood stumps are still logged for guitar exoticists and at least one band name—the Rosewood Thieves—seems inspired by the wood’s mythology.
“Our beloved Brazilian rosewood was taken from us more than 25 years ago,” Bob Taylor, cofounder and president of Taylor Guitars, tells E. “Adirondack spruce was logged out. Today we see the signs of our current woods being diminished to a point of unavailability. … Alternative woods are the key to successful guitars. But the market needs to go there all together.”
Maggie Galehouse at the Houston Chronicle tells the story of the coalition’s formation and reports that Martin has just unveiled one of the greenest guitars to date, the D Mahogany ’09, which is made entirely from wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Rock on.
2/9/2009 5:36:51 PM
It’s a quintessentially American idea: Motivate people to conserve by turning green living into a competitive sport—that is if you consider vying with your neighbors to claim the lowest monthly utility bill a sport. The New York Times reports on a new trend among utility companies to include a report card, of sorts, on customers’ bills that ranks their energy use against their neighbors’, complete with smiley faces for those using the least energy. In Sacramento, the ranking system has been more effective than offering incentives like rebates. Similarly, Sustainablog recently highlighted a competition catching on at universities called RecycleMania, in which schools compete to recycle the most and minimize the amount of waste created on campus. According to a RecycleMania press release, the idea is simple: “By framing recycling in competitive terms, RecycleMania taps the same intercollegiate spirit that drives sports rivalries.”
(Thanks, World Changing.)
Sources: New York Times, Sustainablog, World Changing
Image by Peter Kaminski, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/4/2009 3:07:33 PM
The promises of the Obama administration, coupled with increasing social and economic pressure, have thrown a bright spotlight on green-minded business. One new site is taking advantage of that attention and connecting green employers and their potential employees is the Green Buildings Jobs search engine. The job listings stretch across the United States and Canada and include positions for engineers, designers, and architects. Its interface is just like that of other job search engines, a user-friendly site where job seekers can post resumes and search for jobs based on industry or location.
For information on how to green your current job, this article at Planet Green has you covered.
(Thanks, Good Clean Tech.)
2/4/2009 2:12:42 PM
Amid all the hubbub Tuesday about Tom Daschle and his fancy limo rides, you could be forgiven for missing this other bit of news out of the Senate: Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced her intentions to have a cap-and-trade bill at least through her committee by the time international climate talks convene in Copenhagen this December.
The eco-blogosphere was all over Boxer’s pronouncement, with mixed reactions about its implications. Bradford Plumer headlined a post “Barbara Boxer Rules Our Universe Edition,” while Climate Progress expressed frustration that all she promised was to get a bill out of committee by the end of year, meaning we could be waiting a whole lot longer for any legislation to actually be enacted. There’s also buzz that Boxer will support a boost in highway funding in the economic stimulus package, which could be seen as “shoveling out funds to promote auto dependency,” as Plumer puts it, and counterproductive to any commitment to reduce global warming emissions.
Boxer’s not the only one with Copenhagen looming in her mind. A nice opinion piece at Yale Environment 360 urges President Obama to establish his climate credentials before those meetings get under way.
For Obama, the political winds at his back are now as favorable as they will ever be. He is in a position to seize 2009 and do three things to meet the climate challenge: properly educate the American public about climate change and the need for immediate action; exercise the full might of his executive powers and regulatory discretion under the Clean Air Act to jump-start action; and spend freely from his enormous store of political capital to lead the government to enact comprehensive federal climate legislation. If he does, the United States will reclaim the mantle of global leadership when it takes its seat in Copenhagen.
After eight years of U.S. inaction on climate change, American leadership offers the only hope of success. Even if President Obama himself decides to attend the talks—and hopefully he will—his mission will fail unless he carries with him a year’s worth of demonstrated results to lend weight and credibility to the promise he made in his inaugural address to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.” In Copenhagen, his inspiring oratory alone will not be sufficient; he must demonstrate how science has been restored “to its rightful place” in America in strong climate regulation and law.
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