4/29/2009 3:01:51 PM
For thousands of years, humans have been trading biodiversity for homogeny: Diverse forests for monoculture tree farms, grasslands for agriculture, and oceans for fish farms. This process is simply unsustainable, ecology professor Shahid Naeem writes for Miller-McCune. The drive to domesticate the earth creates an existential crisis for humans, according to Naeem, because “All aspects of human well-being and prosperity trace back to biodiversity for their foundation.”
The natural functions of the earth are based on biodiversity. Naeem writes about a study he was involved in proving that “More diversity led to greater absorption of carbon dioxide.” Even knowing this, biodiversity loss continues to be “the single most prevalent feature of our changing world.”
Species extinction is just one part of the problem, though a significant one. Rounding up wildlife into reserves and domesticating plants and animals also diminishes the earth’s diversity. “Even without the loss of a single species, with increasing homogenization biodiversity declines.”
In order to create a more sustainable ecosystem, humans need to take responsibility for creating a more equitable one, according to Naeem. Rather than the more Judeo-Christian system of human dominion over the animals, people need to think of themselves as a necessary part of the earth’s biodiversity, and they need work to keep it that way.
Cindy Sims Parr
, licensed under
4/29/2009 1:13:46 PM
People shouldn’t count on the emerging green economy to pull the world out of recession, Matthew E. Kahn writes for Foreign Policy. The recession is about the bursting housing bubbles, overleveraged banking sectors, and other problems that won’t be solved with solar panels. Cap-and-trade systems and renewable energy sources are important for environmental reasons, but Kahn cold throws water on the green technology as economic panacea ideal. “Anti-carbon regulations will simultaneously create and destroy jobs,” Kahn writes, but “a little creative destruction will likely be a good thing.”
4/29/2009 11:30:52 AM
A grassroots uprising against the environmentally-disastrous Hawaii Superferry has triumphed—for now. In March, The Nation reported that a coalition of Native Hawaiians, locals of Japanese and Filipino descent, and white settlers joined forces to protest the Superferry’s maiden voyage from Honolulu to Kaui, culminating in a standoff between the mammoth vessel and dozens of surfers and swimmers reminiscent of Tiananmen Square.
The inter-island ferry had plummeted in popularity when locals realized its full toll: it used 12,000 gallons of fuel per round trip; it raced through the habitats of humpback whales, dolphins, and sea turtles; it had the potential to transport invasive species; and, it brought cars to islands already crowded with motorists. Republican Governor Linda Lingle ignored demands for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from environmentalists as well as the state Supreme Court, resulting in the dramatic protest.
Now the Hawaiian State Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that the Superferry has no legal authority to continue its operations in the state. But, don’t count Lingle out. She continues to battle on behalf of the project as well as her own political ambitions. Like the dark lord Sauron in Lord of the Rings, she’s not fading away any time soon.
Image by Ed Yourdon, licensed under Creative Commons
Source: The Nation
4/20/2009 2:00:37 PM
Political protest and designated green spaces are both uncommon sights in Vietnam’s capital city. Recently however, prompted by the protest of one dedicated woman, the Prime Minister of Vietnam officially halted plans to erect a $40 million, American-backed, 4-star hotel from being built at one of the city’s most historically sensitive sites.
That site is Reunification Park, which GlobalPost explains was "a signature project of 'socialist labor' in Vietnam. Unpaid students built it by hand between 1958 and 1960 in a swamp that had served as a garbage dump in colonial times." Tran Thi Thanh Van, a retired landscape architect and leader of the crusade, sprung into action when she witnessed a corner of the park getting bulldozed.
“In one of the documents," says Van, who helped build the park with several thousand other young people years ago, "they said that the hotel will become a resort in the city. What is a ‘resort’? Vietnamese people don’t know English, but they understand that a ‘resort’ is a place for the other people, not for them.”
Now, with the help of angry citizens and foreign NGOs, the city is being forced to find a new location and compensate for some of the $15 million investors had already put into the project.
4/20/2009 1:56:39 PM
Artist and activist (and visionary!) Favianna Rodriguez collaborated with eco-chef Bryant Terry to design these beautiful posters addressing food justice:
The posters debuted a few weeks ago, at the release party for Terry's phenomenal new cookbook Vegan Soul Kitchen (out last month on Da Capo), and just in time to join a host of alt-press stories on food activism. Mother Jones recently published "Smart Growth," a fantastic special report on the subject, and the new issue of YES! profiles Will Allen, whose urban farming operation Growing Power produces a staggering 159 varieties of food—tomatoes, honey, chickens (and their free-range eggs), goats, you name it—in the middle of a Milwaukee "food desert," an area that's home to zero full-service grocery stores.
Sources: Vegan Soul Kitchen, Mother Jones, YES!, RaceWire
Images courtesy of Favianna Rodriguez.
4/20/2009 1:08:37 PM
The future of lithium refining looks bright, and Bolivian President Evo Morales wants a piece of it. Roughly half the world’s lithium lies beneath the salt flats in Uyuni, Bolivia, reports April Howard for In These Times (article not available online). This resource could greatly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, because lithium is a key component of battery-powered cars. However, the prospect of creating a large-scale lithium extraction and refining industry in Bolivia carries with it numerous potential problems, including dangers to the environment.
For one thing, Uyuni's salt flats contain a high concentration of magnesium as well as lithium, making it more difficult to extract the lithium. And, no one knows exactly what to do with the magnesium after the refining process. According to Marcelo Castro, who is overseeing construction of Uyuni’s lithium plant, the refinery will be a “closed circuit” system in which “We’ll throw materials that we don’t use back into the brine with a few less elements.”
This prospect alarms Elizabeth Lopez Canelas of the Bolivian Environmental Defense League (FOBOMADE), who points out that the resulting heightened salinity could harm peasants who use the water for irrigation. Furthermore, brine extraction facilities could damage the salt flat and Rio Grande delta beyond repair, affecting the wild flamingos who breed there.
Lopez Canelas warns that “There’s no information, no water use studies. So how can they begin to project what the long-term effects might be?”
Source: In These Times
4/20/2009 11:24:01 AM
Behold the next generation of agrofuels. In the Jan-Feb issue of GeneWatch (article not available online), Kathy Jo Wetter examines what many scientists and politicians are hailing as the future of fuel: sugar. But, at what cost will this supposedly eco-friendly fuel be engineered?
Synthetic biologists are working on ways to break down cellulose biomass to be converted into fuels that “resemble petrochemicals” and are “compatible with existing infrastructure.” In other words, they hope that in the future cars will run on sugar derived from the residue of plants like rice and corn, and that the resulting “sugar economy” will be both environmentally friendly and sustainable.
But Wetter likens this idea to the Dr. Seuss character Sylvester McMonkey McBean’s claim that his machine will magically turn regular Sneetches into the star-bellied kind. The dream of low-cost agrofuels without any environmental ramifications is just not realistic.
“What happens when all plant matter becomes potential feedstocks?” Wetter writes. “Whose land will grow the residue?”
The February issue of The Ecologist explores just that question. Helena Paul reports that the popular assertion that second-generation agrofuels can be grown on “marginal” land contains potentially damaging assumptions about what exactly constitutes “marginal” land, who owns it, and how much of it exists.
Paul quotes the Indian magazine Mausam, which states: “Rural and forest communities […]say that there is no such thing as wastelands. Most of these lands are grazing lands, common-pastures, degraded forests and also lands of small and marginal communities. They not only support a multitude of livelihoods but also have a critical ecological role. This is where the government and corporations are pushing for their fuels, displacing thousands of people.”
Sources: GeneWatch, The Ecologist
Image by Uwe Hermann, licensed under Creative Commons
4/20/2009 10:04:55 AM
Ken Salazar is your new secretary of the interior. But “despite the title, he’s actually the de facto secretary of energy,” a petroleum industry source tells Alan Prendergast of Westword in the Denver alternative weekly’s April 2 issue.
“The Department of the Interior controls one-fifth of the land mass of the United States, and that land contains half of the country’s coal and a third of its oil and natural gas,” Prendergast writes.
The piece is the most detailed assessment we’ve seen yet of Salazar’s first two months in office, and while it’s ultimately too early to draw big conclusions—Salazar, true to his reputation, has so far displayed an “earnest, let’s-work-this-out centrism”—it does a good job of pointing out the challenges he faces as he makes grand pronouncements about “taking the moonshot of energy independence” and reaching a “New Energy Frontier.”
“He’s already presented glimpses of the kind of multi-layered agenda not seen since the dawn of the New Deal,” Prendergast writes. However, “true reform at Interior will require coming to terms with deep-rooted political realities that promote abuse of public lands and shortchange the public.”
Image by Mike Disharoon, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/9/2009 11:32:50 AM
There are plenty of anti-environmentalists in the U.S. House of Representatives, from Rep. Don Young, who the League of Conservation Voters calls an “oil tycoon,” to Rep. Michelle Bachman, who has talks about a “revolution” to combat cap-and-trade proposals. The building they work in, however, is going green.
The U.S. House claims to reduced its environmental footprint by some 91,000 metric tons of emissions, according to Audubon magazine, by purchasing wind power, natural gas instead of coal for heating, and carbon offset credits. The cafeterias now serve all shade-grown, organic, and fair trade-certified coffee, and Audubon reports that “almost all of the food is cooked with fresh ingredients; about 80 percent is locally sourced when produce is in season.” Styrofoam and plastic have been greatly reduced and recycling bins have been installed in congressional offices. There’s even an effort to use energy-efficient lights to illuminate the capital dome.
Sources: League of Conservation Voters, Audubon
4/9/2009 10:25:09 AM
Last year, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) made headlines when a coal slurry retention pond collapsed into Tennessee's Emory River. The full impact of that catastrophe remains a mystery, according to Kelly Hearn of the Nation, because the TVA may have manipulated data to hide the extent of the environmental destruction.
When the retention pond collapsed, millions of cubic yards of mud, contaminated by waste from a nearby coal plant, spilled out into a nearby neighborhood and into the Emory River. The river is a major supplier of drinking water for the area, and some locals have reported a gray film appearing in their tap water. Residents have also reported a burning sensation after showering, and the Tennessee state health department has stated that a third of local residents are reporting breathing problems.
The TVA, however, insists that the river water is safe. Hearn reports that an investigation by the Nation revealed that the TVA may have manipulated tests on the river by intentionally testing water behind sandbars or upriver from the spill. Independent investigations from the United Mountain Defense and the Environmental Integrity Project have found that “water quality criteria for arsenic, lead, selenium, cadmium and copper had all been violated and that drinking water standards had been exceeded not only for arsenic but also for antimony, beryllium and lead—which are toxic at certain doses”
Image of a house flooded in the retention pond collapse.
Source: The Nation
4/8/2009 12:40:35 PM
Global warming, massive species extinctions, pollution, and myriad other looming environmental catastrophes continue to threaten the planet, while environmentalists insist on preaching a gospel of hope. There’s an inherent contradiction in the hopeful environmental message, Michael Nelson and John Vucetich write for the Ecologist. They point out that films like An Inconvenient Truth and other environmental motivators often boil down to:
1) Scientists give good reasons to think profound environmental disaster is eminent
2) It is urgent that you live up to a challengingly high standard—sustainability
And 3) the reason to live sustainably is that doing so gives hope for averting disaster.
The contradiction of asking people to be hopeful in a hopeless situation threatens to undermine the environmental movement. Instead, Nelson and Vucetich write that environmentalists should abandon hope and instead stress that sustainable living is the ethical and virtuous way to live. People shouldn’t hold out hope for a sustainable future that may never come. People should live sustainably because it’s the right thing to do.
“A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope,” Derrick Jensen wrote for Orion in 2006, “which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place.” Hope implies powerlessness, a lack of agency, and a reliance on forces beyond your control. To focus on an abstract sustainable future neglects the real-world actions that can be taken right now. “When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to ‘hope’ at all,” Jensen writes. “We simply do the work.”
Image by Brian Carlson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sources: The Ecologist (article not available online), Orion
4/6/2009 5:30:10 PM
The Bush administration did a whole lot of overturning, overruling, rewriting, and deleting environmental regulations—but it also did a subtler kind of harm by allowing foot-dragging on all sorts of green initiatives.
One area where things were allowed to slide was in appliance efficiency: Laws already on the books required new energy standards for household and commercial appliances, but they were tied up in missed deadlines, bureaucratic disputes, and lawsuits. Without leadership from the White House, they languished.
The Obama administration has sent a clear message on the appliance standards: Get back on track. Its February order to the Department of Energy to start hitting deadlines “challenges DOE’s decades of failure to comply with laws dating to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975,” writes Environmental Building News.
The upshot is that the DOE has until August to meet the next set of deadlines, which cover lamps and lightbulbs, ovens, microwaves, vending machines, dishwashers, commercial boilers, and air-conditioning units. In other words, some serious energy gobblers, not just blenders and coffee makers.
Lane Burt, an energy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, has tracked these issues on his blog and has especially championed a new lighting standard. “It is an amazing new reality,” he writes, “when the president of the United States speaks directly to the importance of efficiency standards and goes so far as to instruct his energy agency to be proactive rather than reactive in issuing those standards.”
Sources: The White House, Environmental Building News, NRDC Switchboard
Image by Joshua Davis, licensed under Creative Commons.
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