4/30/2008 2:03:16 PM
Environmentalist Derrick Jensen, author of Endgame and, most recently, As the World Burns, is the closest thing today’s green movement has to Ed Abbey, dispensing unvarnished and often inconvenient truths with a daggerlike delivery. A Q&A with Jensen in the spring issue of Northern California’s Terrain magazine is notable for prompting zinger after zinger sure to either inflame or inspire. A few of my favorites:
- “I got an email from a woman who told me I just seemed angry. I wanted to say how sad it is that I feel wounded at the death of the planet. There’s a tremendous fear of anger at the hands of the so-called resistance. She wanted me to meditate. The salmon don’t give a shit about whether we meditate—they care about the dams.”
- “I heard a radio show about the world-saving machine that can convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. The guy who runs Virgin airlines is going to give millions to develop this technology. We have it already. They’re called trees.”
- “Any social construct, including industrial capitalism, is simply that—a social construct. What’s real are these huckleberries and redwood trees.”
4/28/2008 12:48:09 PM
My former home of Washington, D.C., boasts a vibrant sustainable food scene, an inordinate number of environmental activists, and an enormous wooded park. So wouldn't it stand to reason that any such city would also have a municipal compost pile?
Blogging at The Slow Cook, Ed Bruske investigates.
Image by Andrew Dunn, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/25/2008 5:33:34 PM
I’m a daily bike commuter who does most of my own bike maintenance, and I’m tired of reading the wholly impractical advice doled out by many manuals and magazines. Advice like, “Clean your chain after every ride.” Are you freaking serious? I’m lucky if I can find the time to clean my chain monthly, let alone after every ride. So I love the seat-of-the-pants, low-budget guidance offered in The Chainbreaker Bike Book (Microcosm Publishing), a new do-it-yourself bike maintenance guide that keeps things simple, straightforward, and, most importantly, real.
The first half of the book is a guide to choosing and maintaining a bike and all its components, while the second half contains reprints of the Chainbreaker bike zine, which was published from 2001 to 2005. As far as I’m concerned, the zine reprints are just a bonus to a first-rate, fun-to-read bike manual that walks you through everything from how to true a wheel to how to avoid the dreaded “chain suck.”
The authors, Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clark, have a conversational voice and a down-to-earth attitude that favors reuse and eschews trendiness and unnecessary expense. “Bikes give people self-reliance, but the high-end bike shop tries to take that away,” they write. They freely admit that their manual is “slightly limited and maybe a little old school,” and that’s exactly why I like it.
4/25/2008 1:31:15 PM
Last April, Wal-Mart set up the Live Better Index, which, among other things, tracks customers’ “adoption rate” of eco-friendly products. After one year, Wal-Mart reports a 66 percent increase in the overall adoption rate.
A decent chunk of this is in compact fluorescent light bulbs. But the organic milk adoption rate went up only negligibly, and the organic baby food rate actually went down. The lion’s share of the growth? “Extended life paper products.” As in the life of the individual roll of toilet paper, not the paper pulp from which it was made.
In other words, the toilet paper isn’t necessarily made from recycled paper, post-consumer or otherwise. However, there is a lot of it on each roll. The Live Better Index website helpfully points out that “you will not have to change the roll as frequently as with regular rolls,” enabling you to “reduce storage needs” and “make less shopping trips.”
One cheer for innovative green products!
For a different take on Wal-Mart, see “Big Box Panic” in the new issue of Utne Reader.
Image by Marco Ghitti, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/25/2008 5:25:19 AM
Finding sources of bureaucratic waste to keep your job sounds like a lifetime employment guarantee. For sustainability directors like John Coleman in Fayetteville, Arkansas, reports Governing, curtailing that waste requires little more than parroting the advice of any penny-pinching parent. Turn off the lights when you leave the room; turn down the heat at night.
More than 800 mayors of American cities pledged to slash urban emissions, and about three dozen of those cities have sustainability directors, sometimes with entire staffs, to turn those pledges into action. At this early stage, the work is simple for sustainability directors, who can target inefficient government facilities for instant savings. In addition, sustainability directors “serve as both a liaison and a beacon to businesses and citizens who want to limit their own carbon output” and facilitate sustainability networking. “There are people with ideas, and there are people with money. But it still takes someone such as Coleman to make the introductions.”
As simple savings become harder to come by, solutions will require more innovation, as well as the political savvy to pitch changes like retrofitting buildings to tight-budgeted cities, Governing suggests, even if such changes will save money in the long run.
4/23/2008 11:22:48 AM
Many environmentalists thought they were celebrating Earth Day yesterday to encourage people to tread a little lighter on the earth. You know, turn off some lights and conserve some energy. In fact, we were all being duped into “a calculated attack on the sanctity of human life,” writes Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council’s Washington Update. That’s right. According to Perkins, environmentalism is a philosophy based on forced abortions and sterilization. He writes, “we must realize that there's a greater threat to the environment than climate change or scarce resources—and that's the threat of environmental extremism that elevates the planet above people.”
4/22/2008 12:07:04 PM
The Seventh Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues kicked off this past Monday at UN headquarters in New York—and one of our Utne Reader library favorites is there: Cultural Survival, publisher of 2007 Utne Independent Press Award nominee Cultural Survival Quarterly, is co-hosting a roundtable discussion on Thursday about indigenous language revitalization.
Language revitalization might appear at odds with the session’s green theme—“Climate change, bio-cultural diversity, and livelihoods: the stewardship role of indigenous peoples and new challenges”—but Cultural Survival argues endangered indigenous languages are warehouses of human knowledge regarding connections to the environment. (No, we’re not talking about the pervasive myth that Eskimos have innumerable words for snow. Read Language Log linguist Geoffery Pullum’s rant on that misconception here.)
As Cultural Survival executive director Ellen Lutz explains in a press release: “Future generations of all peoples will need to rely on the worldviews contained within Native Hawaiian, Native Alaskan, Native American and other indigenous peoples’ languages to adequately address threats to the global environment, including climate change and critical reductions in biodiversity.”
The session isn’t open to the public, but you can read more online about Cultural Survival’s Endangered Native American Languages Campaign.
4/22/2008 11:30:58 AM
The kernel at the core of every conventional economic model is alluringly simple: Growth is good. But due in large part to our planet’s finite resources, this premise is fundamentally flawed, the April issue of the Ecologist points out in an enlightening group of stories dubbed “The Earth vs. the Economy” (articles not available online) that call into question everything we’ve been taught about goods and services, supply and demand.
“When Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, life was hard, the world vast and the supply depot of nature seemed without limit. . . . How could goods lead to anything but good?” writes Jonathan Rowe in the leadoff article, “The End of Economics.”
“More than two centuries later, that assumption no longer works. . . . The connection between wealth and weal, goods and good, has become increasingly frayed,” he posits. Rowe goes on to construct a withering critique of prevailing economic thought and describe the “epidemic of market-related disease” that is sickening both humans and the planet.
In subsequent articles, ecological economist Herman E. Daly puts forth the framework of a new economic model, and Andrew Simms points out that the current British recession (sound familiar?) may present “a good time for a rethink” of old assumptions. Simms reminds us that such thinking isn’t entirely new, or even all that radical: Forty years ago, he notes, Robert Kennedy famously pointed out that the GNP measures everything “except that which makes life worthwhile.”
4/21/2008 4:36:48 PM
Prius drivers may think they’re green, but they’ve got nothing on Guantanamo Bay. The symbol of American power abuse gets 30 percent of its electricity from on-site wind turbines, Vince Beiser writes for Mother Jones. In fact, Beiser reports that the Pentagon is “vying to be the country’s largest consumer of earth-friendly energy.” No word yet on plans to reuse water from waterboarding.
4/21/2008 10:40:32 AM
There’s nothing like frightening news to ruin a good night’s sleep, especially if the news in question concerns the chemical components used in mattress production. You can’t count sheep if they’ve been vaporized in a cloud of carcinogenic fumes. And carcinogens, such as formaldehyde, are just one of the lovely chemicals that make up the beds we lie down in, according to a recent piece in Mother Jones (subscription required).
While long-term data about the general health risks of mattresses is lacking and difficult to acquire, a few particular brands seem notably questionable. For instance, Walter Bader, author of the book Toxic Bedrooms, had an Atlanta lab test a memory-foam mattress, which conforms to your resting position, and the results sniffed out 61 chemical emissions, including the “carcinogens benzene and naphthalene,” according to MoJo. Moreover, the chemicals, such as antimony oxide and, again, formaldehyde, used to ensure that mattresses are flame-retardant—federal regulations (pdf) require that mattresses resist catching fire from an open flame for 30 minutes—may pose, beyond cancer risks, allergic discomfort to those sensitive to chemicals.
Given the void of data, we should take this news with a measured acceptance. Still, some reliably harmless alternatives, produced with natural latex, organic cotton batting, and organic wool, exist for those seeking a safe mattress. If only beds could be made with the incredibly soft, imaginary wool from the sheep who lull you to sleep. But then the question becomes: Could you fall asleep to shorn sheep? That’d be weird. Forget I brought it up.
4/21/2008 10:26:53 AM
“In 30 years … we won’t be able to have apples, avocados, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, cucumbers, melons, oranges, grapefruit, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers, tangerines, watermelon, clover, and alfalfa,” Jeffrey Hill writes in The Next American City.
There has been a buzz surrounding the dwindling honeybee population in the media for the past few years. But sadly, little has been done about it. A 2007 study by the American Beekeepers Association revealed that “since 1975, 80 percent of honeybee hives in the United States have been decimated by pesticides and a parasitic virus that is wiping out the species,” writes Hill.
Big corporations haven’t been feeling the effects of the shortage, but small farmers are suffering; and so are the wallets of the produce-consuming public.
What’s the solution? Hill says we should all be talking about it; don’t forget that the bee shortage has a major effect on one third of the human diet. Make the issue a real concern, and maybe a swarm of like-minded people will incite some change.
4/21/2008 10:15:16 AM
Global warming is killing one of the world’s most beloved industries: beer. Biofuels have created a shortage of the flavor-giving hops plant, Treehugger reports, and now, climate change has caused a number of barley crops to fail. Australian climate scientist Jim Salinger said that, at least in Australia, "It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up."
While there’s still some suds left in the global keg, Tom Philpott over at Grist has a few brews that tread lightly on the earth. Philpott ran an admittedly unscientific taste test of some organic beers, including the North Coast Cru D'Or Belgian-Style Ale, which he describes as “a party in a bottle.”
4/20/2008 6:30:31 PM
Maybe you’re dreading Earth Day. If you’re aware of the colossal problems facing the environment and are already trying to minimize your carbon footprint, Earth Day can seem tiring and pointless.
Writing for AdAge, Natalie Zmuda argues that Earth Day has become a commercialized holiday for which corporations dress themselves up as eco-friendly to drive profits. “It’s nearly Earth Day: Time to consume more to save the planet,” Zmuda writes. “It seems that just about everyone has found a way to attach themselves to what is fast becoming a marketing holiday that barely resembles the grassroots event founded in 1970.”
But Lloyd Alter at TreeHugger doesn’t think we should give up on Earth Day just yet. “Sixty percent of Americans believe that global warming has begun to affect the climate,” Alter writes. “That is enough to change a government, and we should take every Earth Day to encourage the small incremental changes in people that add up to an environmentally aware majority that understands the impacts of their actions and behavior.”
The folks at Earth Day Network agree. It’s unclear how many people will celebrate Earth Day in 2008, but Earth Day Network estimates its campaigns alone involve half a billion people worldwide each year. That’s half a billion chances to increase support for environmental programs. Many people will observe the holiday with one-time events like concerts and rallies, but some programs will have a broader impact. The city of San Francisco will begin allowing residents to recycle more types of plastics for regular home pick-up, including toys and containers not traditionally recycled.
If you want to join in on the festivities, check out search engines from the Environmental Protection Agency, Earth Day Network, and Envirolink to find an event near you. And for those who want to stay green after April 22 has come and gone, check out TreeHugger’s Go Green Guides for extensive tip sheets on how to green all aspects of your life.
Image by Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory, licensed under Wikimedia Commons.
4/16/2008 11:23:01 AM
Has the very idea of a President Bush speech on climate change driven you to skip work today and stay home with a six-pack or a bottle? If so, Dave Loos at EnviroWonk has just the activity for you.
Image by Justin Cormack, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/15/2008 10:39:03 AM
Goldman Prize–winner Marina Rikhvanova talks about rallying Russians to protect their environment
interview by Lisa Gulya
Civil society in Russia has withered since its post-perestroika heyday. Controls on nongovernmental organizations have tightened, independent media have disappeared, and bureaucratic corruption persists. These conditions, along with the Soviet legacy of an industry-first, environment-be-damned development approach, make Russian environmental protection and restoration daunting. Russian biologist Marina Rikhvanova is undeterred.
Rikhvanova was one of six winners of the prestigious 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize announced Monday, recognized for her grassroots activism protecting Siberia’s Lake Baikal. Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake, is home to 1,700 unique plant and animal species. In Soviet times, a pulp mill damaged the lake's ecosystem by pumping pollution into its water. In 1996, UNESCO noted concern about the lake’s pollution when it declared Baikal a World Heritage Site.
Rikhvanova works with her organization, Baikal Environmental Wave, to protect the lake and its environs through letter-writing, marches, protests, and collaboration with international volunteers. Her most visible victory was the culmination of a four-year campaign against an oil pipeline that would have come within a half-mile of Lake Baikal. She and volunteers gathered more than 20,000 signatures to oppose the proposed pipeline route. In 2006, Rikhvanova led thousands of Russians into the streets of the city of Irkutsk to protest. Soon after, President Vladimir Putin ordered the pipeline to be rerouted. Rikhvanova’s recent efforts have focused on opposing nuclear enrichment and power plants that would threaten Baikal.
Utne.com talked with Rikhvanova about her work and winning the Goldman Prize.
How will the Goldman Prize help your work?
This award will help most importantly my office, my organization, and the environmental movement in the Baikal region to help protect the lake. But even more importantly, this award raises the visibility of our work, and people [in the government] will listen to us more now that I have won this award.
How do you think President-elect Dmitry Medvedev will treat environmental issues?
We’ll see what happens. But I can say that Medvedev in a recent speech did talk about environmental concerns and that they are worth addressing. Unfortunately, often words are not the same as actions.
You’ve talked about the need to improve the parks and preserves surrounding Lake Baikal. How can they be improved?
Unfortunately, the status of these protected areas is pretty weak today in Russia. There isn’t the legal system and the regulations needed to ensure their strength and longevity. Unfortunately, people who have their own self-interest and material gain in mind often achieve the post of directors of these protected areas and exploit the resources of these protected areas to their own gain rather than putting their first priority as protecting the land and the lake.
Who are your strongest supporters among the Russian public?
Everyone supports us from the smallest to the oldest. But if we’re talking about numbers, our greatest numbers of participants come from youth and the elderly because they have free time they can give to the work. The elderly are thinking already about the kind of world they’re leaving their descendants, their children, and grandchildren. And the youth are very active and very creative.
Control of nongovernmentnal organizations has tightened in Russia in recent years, and there’s suspicion of organizations with foreign ties. What is the role of international participants in your organization?
The suspicions are there and the attitude in the government is strange right now, but it doesn’t matter. International participation in our work is still very important.
We have amazing international volunteers. Sometimes our volunteers even come up with their own projects. For example, there’s a woman who’s working with us through the Tahoe-Baikal Institute and she came up with the idea of doing a summer school for children. The kids spent two summers at the school and had a great time. These were underprivileged kids who otherwise would not have had an opportunity to go to Lake Baikal. They were very happy.
Is tourism to the Baikal area helpful or harmful?
It helps and harms at the same time. On the one hand, tourism is a source of income for local residents. On the other hand, it’s sort of a wild, uncontrolled, unregulated development. And we need to be setting aside areas that are exempt from development.
Last year we started a competition to find the best places to develop tourism and to promote those places specifically to contain the tourism. One interesting result is that we’re seeing some people who used to work in some of the protected areas, the preserves and the reserves, as well as some former foresters, go into the tourism business. They’re able to practice different methods to, for example, attract wild birds to their territory and other species to make it a more attractive place for tourists.
I’ve been really pleasantly surprised by interest from business, and overall my impression is that the tourism industry and many people involved want to ensure sustainable tourism. Of course I can’t say that everyone is like that, but there are people like that.
What were the most effective forms of activism for your organization?
To be diverse in one’s actions. Because people get sick of the same format of action, and the mass media are not going to pay attention if we do the same kind of meetings and actions week after week. Therefore, we try to conduct lots of different kinds of events. Not long ago we organized a walk across Lake Baikal. We did a concert on April Fool’s Day.
What is the biggest environmental threat in Russia today?
The biggest problem in Russia today is the convergence of business and government. Business works hand in hand with the federal government to exploit natural resources. And they act without fear of punishment.
Another question has to do with pollution, essentially the remains of industrial development in Soviet times. Also, there’s just no economic incentive for businesses to promote energy efficiency and to promote greener practices and to minimize waste produced.
Another problem is there’s no independent legal system in Russia. We really need an independent court system. Then we could actually force people to answer for their actions that destroy the environment.
4/15/2008 9:55:50 AM
The nuclear energy industry isn’t just mounting a P.R. campaign about the great green hope of nuclear power. It’s also applying good old political pressure to get its way, the Texas Observer reports, strong-arming Texas environmental regulators in order to win approval for a huge nuclear waste landfill over scientists’ objections.
The Dallas-based firm Waste Control Specialists is close to securing approval for a low-level nuclear waste landfill in Andrews County, Texas, Forrest Wilder reports. If the company scores two more necessary licenses from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), “Waste Control could bury more than 60 million cubic feet of waste over the span of 30 years, more than half the volume of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium,” he writes. Which of course would be a radioactive dream come true for all the people who are talking about a nuclear renaissance but still unsure exactly where all that waste is going to go.
The licensing process has led to a clash at the TCEQ between the scientists and engineers who oppose Waste Control’s plans and agency managers bent on approving the licenses. Three employees have even quit because of frustration with the licensing process, Wilder reports. Chief among their reservations were indications that the dump might be dangerously close to the water table and that Waste Control had previous “radiation protection issues” with worker safety.
4/14/2008 3:29:56 PM
While media outlets generously cover large-scale issues like global warming, serious environmental problems affecting disadvantaged Americans often go ignored. Residents of low-income and minority communities are often victims of environmental racism, being disproportionately affected by hazardous waste dumping, pollution, and limited access to healthy food.
But one program is trying to counterbalance these disparities. City Slicker Farms is an innovative urban farm in West Oakland, California, that sells organic food on a sliding scale. In an interview with Earth Island Journal, founder Willow Rosenthal argues that people shouldn’t have to choose between eating cheaply and eating well. Because organic farms aren’t subsidized by the government, the cost of organically grown food is high. Rosenthal thinks people would choose to eat locally and organically grown food if it was more affordable. So far, she’s right. The five empty lots that Rosenthal and volunteers transformed into urban gardens have been very popular with the community.
“There’s this perception, maybe, that the environmental movement is very white, and that people of color don’t understand what’s going on, and that’s absolutely not true,” Rosenthal says. “People of all different walks of life are very capable of understanding what’s being done to them, and what’s happening to them. And they see that our environment is completely inundated with toxins, and that in low-income communities there are more, because people aren’t as able to fight against industries that are polluting.”
For more information on environmental justice, check out the Environmental Justice for All stories in the March-April 2008 Utne Reader.
Image by cogdogblog, licensed by Creative Commons.
4/8/2008 12:43:59 PM
BP may soon sell the renewable energy portion of its business, according to Sustainable Industries. The company has promoted itself as environmentally friendly for years, but it may now concentrate its resources on petroleum excavation.
“A top-down decision has been made to pull away from touting any ‘green’ initiatives in the media,” an anonymous source claims, “and in fact major ‘green’ advertising buys have been canceled.” But that claim comes just as The New Republic launches an environment and energy blog with BP as its sponsor. Is this sponsorship a dishonest ploy by BP, or does the “anonymous source” have it wrong?
Critics who label BP’s green marketing as dishonest greenwashing might welcome the disappearance of advertising linked to environmentalism. But it’s unclear whether BP would totally overhaul its image along with its investments. If BP deserts its renewable research, will it keep the Helios logo, introduced in 2000, linking it in the public imagination to the sun, sunflowers, and renewable energy sources? It’s disappointing to think BP may ditch renewables, but another, even more critical question remains. How can the public, conditioned to consider certain companies environmentally responsible, stay informed about “greenrinsing” companies that abandon renewable solutions after years of green brand building?
Image by futureatlas.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/8/2008 10:55:00 AM
We need to relearn neighborliness, argues Bill McKibben in Orion (article not available online). It’s a skill we need in order to wean ourselves from our fossil fuel–fueled independence. Not only for the predictable reason that cheap fossil fuel may soon run out, but because “we weren’t designed to be this distant from our neighbors—we descend from apes who spend most of the day grooming each other for the practical purpose of removing lice and for … building the deep bonds that give their lives security and meaning.” Plus, by going it alone, we’re defying a deeply rooted national character. De Tocqueville called us a nation of joiners, not a nation of “drive-around-by-ourselfers.” Rather than wait for the oil to dry up, or “weird weather, rising prices, and falling profits” to take their toll, McKibben urges us to rediscover the benefits of mutual reliance now.
Image by junitha, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/4/2008 9:39:18 AM
Visiting my mom’s office building as a child, I often found small birds with freshly broken necks in the hedges outside, lying compacted and still, like sleeping babies. One hundred million birds are killed each year in the United States by collisions with buildings, the New York City Audubon Society writes in its free, 55-page, downloadable booklet, Bird-Safe Building Guidelines. This spectacle of my childhood could perhaps have been avoided, reports BuildingGreen.com, by building modifications as simple as “placing patterns on the glass or adding shading screens in front of the windows” or simply by turning the lights off at night, when large numbers of birds migrate.
4/4/2008 9:27:18 AM
Remember Superfund? It’s the federal program charged with cleaning up the country’s hazardous waste sites: landfills, mines, contaminated water, and the like. But with little funding and zero political momentum, the 1,257 sites listed on the EPA’s National Priority List are just as toxic as ever.
The interactive, info-packed website Superfund365 aims to thrust the ailing program back onto the national radar by spotlighting a different Superfund site every day. Each area’s easy-to-use profile includes history, ethnicity stats, and a breakdown of the site’s contaminants (with helpful links to explain the effects of lesser-known substances like chlordane and trichloroethane).
Image by mangpages, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/4/2008 8:35:47 AM
Tired of the anarchy of Critical Mass rides, when street cyclists often disregard traffic laws, Reama Dagasan launched Critical Manners for the well-mannered bikers, reports Bicycling (article not available online). Critical Manners promises “a helmet-wearing, bell-ringing … good time” the second Friday of each month in San Francisco, Seattle, and Little Rock, Arkansas. There’s even synchronized signaling practice. Dagasan believes that cyclists can encourage motorists to share the road without provoking them or putting themselves in danger.
4/3/2008 5:12:51 PM
Kiribati is a 32-island nation in the South Pacific that’s acutely aware of environmental issues, since it faces the threat of inundation from rising sea levels caused by climate change. Perhaps in part because of this heightened awareness, the nation recently established the largest protected marine reserve in the world.
According to Julia Whitty at Mother Jones, the Phoenix Islands Protection Area is “a California-size ocean wilderness of pristine coral reefs and rich fish populations threatened by overfishing and climate change.” Conservation and protection come in the form of restricting commercial fishing in the area. Subsistence fishing is still permitted for local communities in designated areas.
4/3/2008 12:05:39 PM
When taking a dog on a walk, pet owners are faced with an environmental conundrum: What do you do with your dog’s poo? Using a plastic bag and throwing it in the trash means covering an organic substance with inorganic material and sending it to the city dump. That seems unnecessarily environmentally destructive. So what to do? Utne Reader’s sister publication, Mother Earth News, has some tips on what to do with your pet’s dirty business. The article recommends burying the stuff at least 100 feet from any water sources. If that’s not possible, dog owners can also invest in some biodegradable doggy bags.
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