8/31/2009 3:51:15 PM
Just south of the U.S. Mexican Border, a small town called Playa Bagdad has become a hotbed for the worldwide illegal shark fishing industry, according to the Texas Observer. Demand is rising for shark-fin soup, which can sell for $100 a bowl, and the tiny fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico is stepping up—and illegally crossing the border—to satisfy the world’s appetite. Kevin Seiff reports that “Playa Bagdad has no electricity, no running water, and no regulatory enforcement. You can catch, kill, and sell anything that lands in your hull—a scourge to the few environmentalists who know the beach exists.”
Playa Bagdad’s illegal shark fishing was one of the only reliable sources of income for Andres Hernandez, profiled by Kevin Sieff. Then Hernandez’s boat capsized, killing his fellow shipman and nearly killing him. “The demand for shark fishermen is unceasing,” Seiff writes. “The job is so dangerous and so uncomfortable that few are willing to do it.” Unfortunately for the environment, there are still enough people willing to brave the waters and the authorities, and seriously threaten the biodiversity of the entire region.
Source: Texas Observer
Image by the SuperStar, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/25/2009 4:17:09 PM
Public wildlands such as parks and reserves are great—but they’re not enough to save the world’s flora and fauna from mass extinction due to climate change. To do that, writes Jeff Langholz in the September-October issue of World Watch, it will take private landowners with a conservation ethic.
Langholz suggests that we must formally protect around 20 percent of the earth’s land, and the only way to do this is to promote privately owned protected areas:
In many regions, the most critical biodiversity areas are in private hands, and hoping that governments will simply expropriate them—despite the legal, social, and political obstacles—is absurd. Instead of leaving protected-area establishment primarily to governments, we should stimulate a robust private-sector investment in protected-area creation.
There are many types of private landowners, Langholz points out, and they’re not all “affluent outsiders” like Doug and Kris Tompkins, who created the private Parque Pumalín reserve in Chile (pictured). Some are families whose lands have been in the family for generations. Some are nonprofits such as land trusts or for-profits such as corporations. And of course some are environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and Audubon. Furthermore, these lands vary widely in the type of protection, from informal to formal. But Langholz suggests that they are essential, and that the conversation about them is changing:
John Stuart Mill commented that every great movement must go through three phases: ridicule, discussion, then adoption. Once ridiculed by the mainstream, the private protected areas movement is now the focus of considerable high-level discussion. The immense challenges facing society require that these discussions not only continue, but lead to concerted action.
Source: World Watch (article not available online)
8/25/2009 2:44:27 PM
California has drawn a line in the sediment and outlawed suction dredge gold mining, a practice in which frame-mounted, vacuumlike machines suck up the riverbed of mineral-laden mountain streams and spew it out into the water in hopes of capturing a few flecks of gold. The ban is part of a plan to help reverse declining salmon runs on several rivers—but to a bunch of hobbyist gold miners, it’s an affront to personal rights, according to the July 30 Sacramento News and Review.
“The scientific evidence against suction dredging doesn’t pass the laugh test,” James Buchal, attorney for a mining advocacy group called the New 49’ers, tells the newspaper. “This bill will put hundreds of people out of work and destroy the vacation plans of thousands of people for no purpose whatsoever.”
Despite the gold-tinged vacation dreams of the New 49’ers, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the ban into law Aug. 6. Writes the Associated Press: “Small-scale miners still drawn to California to chase dreams of striking it rich will have to find their gold nuggets the old-fashioned way for awhile, with shovels and pans.”
Over at the Nugget Shooter Forum, an amateur prospecting website, compliance with the suction dredge ban doesn’t look promising. And it appears that miners still favor the speech stylings and hotheaded temperament of Yosemite Sam.
“We are now in a lock and load catch me if'n ya can MF state a siege,” writes a poster calling himself “John Hoser Oates.” “Never been caught before and ain’t a givn’ up now either.”
“I say screw them,” writes “Matt.” “I will be dredging the remainder of the summer until the end of the season. I will dredge next summer also. If I get into it with an enforcing agency and my equipment gets confiscated, well, it ain’t worth shit anymore anyways.”
“I know nothing about no stinking new law till I receive a letter saying my dredge permit is revoked,” writes “creekhunter.” “My dredge will be back in the water very soon and my sluice will be full of gold.”
Violators will face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
Source: Sacramento News & Review
Image by K Koski, NOAA Auk Bay Lab, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/21/2009 4:43:18 PM
The Environmental Protection Agency keeps a list of some of the world’s dirtiest criminals on the “EPA Fugitives” section of its website. The violators listed are accused of smuggling ozone depleting chemicals into the United States, issuing fraudulent asbestos training certificates, and illegally dumping oil and hazardous pollutants. The EPA does provide a warning on the site: “Do not attempt to apprehend any of these individuals.” Instead, it suggests concerned citizens contact the proper authorities. The question is, how can we get Halliburton on the list?
8/18/2009 12:02:34 PM
The lumbering Food and Drug Administration is finally showing signs that it may take action on bisphenol A, better known as BPA. The FDA announced yesterday that it is reviewing new studies of the chemical and expects to rule by November 30 on whether BPA is safe for food and beverage containers, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
That’s too slow for some activists, such as scientist Olga Naidenko of the Environmental Working Group, which has long fought for a BPA ban. The FDA is “working to stall science rather than advance it,” she tells the newspaper.
But other observers such as Liz Hitchcock, a lobbyist with the Public Interest Research Group, “were heartened that the FDA was taking another look,” writes the Journal Sentinel.
The Milwaukee paper has been on top of the story for a while, having published an investigative series about BPA and other pervasive household chemicals. Among other angles, the stories have called out the FDA for relying on studies financed by the plastics industry and dug up e-mails showing collusion between FDA scientists and lobbyists for BPA makers in writing safety guidelines. This is the kind of invaluable investigative journalism that’s fast disappearing.
The FDA’s review will include more than 100 new studies.
Sources: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Environmental Working Group, Public Interest Research Group
8/13/2009 9:30:29 AM
Check your plastic water bottle and cut down your canned-food consumption: The chemical bisphenol A, better known as BPA, may be even more pervasive and dangerous than scientists thought. Science News reports on several new studies that point to further harmful health effects. Here’s a rundown of the findings:
Pregnant mice exposed to BPA suffered an irreversible change in one of the “master regulatory genes” of fertility, suggesting the same may happen to humans.
Rat hearts exposed to BPA along with estrogen were more prone to life-threatening arrhythmia, pointing to an elevated danger for premenopausal women.
A study of Harvard undergraduates found that students drinking out of polycarbonate bottles showed a much more immediate rise in BPA than expected.
Another study indicated that there are likely major sources of BPA contamination in our environment other than food, and that BPA may temporarily collect in body fat and slowly empty into the blood.
All in all, the new research makes a case for avoiding BPA whenever possible—and gives you some convincing talking points if you know anyone who still scoffs when you point out that they’re drinking from a BPA-laced water bottle. I hope the FDA, which still remarkably claims that BPA is safe, catches up with the science soon.
For tips on how to avoid BPA, see this post on Treehugger—but be aware, as the Winnipeg Free Press recently reported, that even bottles marketed as “BPA-free” sometimes contain the chemical.
(Thanks, Yahoo! Green.)
Source: Science News
UPDATE 8/18/09: Ask and you shall receive: The FDA just announced a new review of BPA research and expects to rule on its findings by November 30.
, licensed under
8/12/2009 9:03:09 AM
My friend Pete has lymphoma, and it’s been inspirational to watch him as he works methodically and systematically to kick the cancer’s ass. Pete is doing everything his treatment team recommends— foremost chemotherapy and radiation—and then some: He’s gone beyond the realm of the typical hospital dietitian as he eats an all-organic, mostly vegetarian diet packed with suspected and known cancer-fighting compounds like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Writing for Diner Journal, fellow lymphoma sufferer Danny Bloomberg goes down a similar road and finds, like Pete, that he’s caught between two worlds: the old-school, cautious approach of the typical hospital dietitian and the more open-ended but sometimes slightly woo-woo ideas of the alternative dietitian.
Bloomberg visits “Dietitian A” at the hospital first and tells her about all the cancer-fighting diets he’s read about online. She’s suspicious of “wacky theories” and non-FDA-approved diet choices, and is more interested in discussing basics like the four food groups and recommended daily percentages:
She scolded me and tapped the desk gently yet firmly. Then she brought out the silicone molds. She flopped the rubbery faux-foodstuffs onto the desk: A serving of broccoli, a serving of green beans, a serving of potatoes. The molds were fleshy and their flat bottoms slapped happily against the desk, jiggling proudly to attention. The colors were wrong and faded. She demonstrated how many vegetables were recommended to eat daily by organizing different combinations of molds on the desk. … Could all that I had Googled and read have been dangerous propaganda perpetrated by evil hippies?... Clearly, Dietitian A wasn’t for me. She was meant for the guy who thinks vegetables are what’s between the burger and the bun.
Casting about for an alternative, Bloomberg visits “Dietitian B” in the Alternative Medicine building and has a wholly different experience:
Dietitian B knew what kombucha was, the Budwig diet and the possible benefits of turmeric and shiitake mushrooms. We discussed supplements and vitamins, and he was curious and enthusiastic. … He drew me goofy diagrams on ruled paper. He advised me to take only one multivitamin with 100% daily values of all the important stuff. He discouraged supplements … but encouraged the use of medicinal plants, fungi, and spices in cooking, as well as moderate juicing. … He encouraged a leaning toward veganism but expressed concern that too strict a diet would lead to slight deficiencies, which could compromise my fragile system. … The difference between the two dietitians couldn’t have been greater. While they both preached from the same doctrine—of moderation—they had completely different styles at the pulpit.
As you might guess, Bloomberg ends up leaning toward Dietitian B, forced to be “a partisan” and choose between the two schools, even though it’s clear he doesn’t regard B as all-knowing or infallible. Maybe, one day in the not-so-distant future, the two dietitians could get together and talk—and learn something from each other.
Source: Diner Journal (article not available online)
Image by Sami Keinanen, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/9/2009 8:05:39 AM
It’s been two long decades since most U.S. bike companies moved their factories overseas, primarily to China and Taiwan. It’s a story avid U.S. cyclists often lament—the decline of domestic manufacturing—and the death knell seemed to sound this past April when the owners of Cannondale, among the last big brands to have a U.S. production facility, announced they would cease stateside production by 2010.
Perhaps Cannondale’s execs (and bummed-out cyclists) should pick up a copy of the New Internationalist. In its June 2009 issue, the global justice publication predicts that large-scale bicycle manufacturing will return to the United States in the next few years. Overseas shipping has become less economical (not to mention an environmental boondoggle), and U.S. retailers are interested in faster turnaround, industry analyst Jay Townley tells the magazine.
If the prediction bears out, which U.S. cities will nab domestic factories? The New Internationalist article, written by a contributor to BikePortland.org, understandably showcases the many perks of Oregon’s bicycle mecca, while conceding that Portland’s “roads and railways are not placed as favorably as a Midwestern transportation hub like Indianapolis or Nashville.”
Source: New Internationalist
Image by doviende, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/7/2009 2:24:45 PM
Michael Pollan and the rest of the organic-food advocates should pipe down, according to farmer Hurst writes, I’m so tired of people who wouldn’t visit a doctor who used a stethoscope instead of an MRI demanding that farmers like me use 1930s technology to raise food.”
In his screed against organics, Hurst scores a point or two for the industrial farming system. He writes, “the parts of farming that are the most ‘industrial’ are the most likely to be owned by the kind of family farmers that elicit such a positive response from the consumer.” He adds, “If we are about to require more expensive ways of producing food, the largest and most well-capitalized farms will have the least trouble adapting.”
Those large farms also would likely benefit from an economy based on genetically modified foods, which Hurst also advocates. He unfortunately neglects to mention that.
Source: The American
, licensed under
8/6/2009 11:50:49 AM
Greenpeace gets in people’s faces—especially the faces of polluters, politicians, illegal whalers, and others whose actions damage the environment. The environmental group is well known for such stunts as intercepting whaling vessels and scaling high-profile targets such as smokestacks and Mount Rushmore to hang banners. It also publicly shames corporations: Its Kleercut campaign targeted Kleenex maker Kimberly-Clark for using virgin timber in its tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper, and in June the group issued a report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” that called out shoe makers including Nike and Timberland for using leather from cattle farms that are cutting into the Amazon rainforest.
If you think that such tactics are old hat and too confrontational to do any real good, think again: Kimberly-Clark, Nike, and Timberland have all responded to Greenpeace’s prodding in recent weeks and in fact are now working with the group to reform their ways. These successes are a good reminder that it often takes both a stick and a carrot to effect real change.
Is there some good old-fashioned ass-covering going on here? Surely. Any corporation with sense knows that bad PR can hinder profits—especially if, like Timberland, you loudly trumpet your environmental credentials as a selling point and are outed for being less than green. But there are also many other factors at play: Perhaps the company has internal pressures that keep it from greening up its act. Perhaps it was not aware—as Timberland and Nike claimed—that its supply chain was suspect. And perhaps it simply hadn’t felt enough heat from consumers until Greenpeace turned it up to an uncomfortable level.
Greenpeace has gotten pretty good at making the transition from foe to friend, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t kind of awkward. The group put out this hilarious video to capture the next phase of its relationship with Kimberly-Clark:
Sources: Treehugger, Greenpeace, Grist
8/4/2009 11:08:14 AM
It used to be that primitive wilderness skills were the province of rural, bearded men with a fascination for musket loaders and taxidermy.
Urban forager Becky Lerner displays none of these qualities. Her First Ways blog is a digest of “urban foraging and other wilderness adventures” and shows that the audience for this brand of adventure is growing much broader as green-minded city folks try to live lightly and eat locally. It doesn’t get much lighter or more local than eating weeds off the sidewalk.
Last week Lerner described making sun tea from local leaves and flowers. Another time she made “coffee” from baked and ground dandelion roots. And she has extolled the virtues of munching raw sprigs of purslane, a succulent plant often found sprouting through sidewalk cracks. Purslane, Lerner writes, is “rich in iron, vitamins A and C, and believe it or not, omega-3 fatty acids!”
“Wild food is free, healthy, local, and can save your life in an emergency,” she proclaims. “My goal is to inspire and empower my fellow human beings as we work together to build a better world. Through foraging, it is possible to stay close to nature, even in the city!”
(Thanks, Earth First.)
Source: First Ways
Image courtesy of Becky Lerner.
8/4/2009 10:43:17 AM
A Wisconsin farmer has figured out a way to turn cow manure into water that “tastes just like the kind you get at the grocery store.” John Vrieze and his son have developed an innovative four-part filtration system that effectively converts the manure from his 1,200 cows to potable drinking water and highly enriched fertilizer. Vrieze’s son tells Wisconsin People & Ideas that although the technology is not new (it’s typically used in food processing and water treatment plants), “its use in a dairy farm is unprecedented.” The downside? The equipment requires an awful lot of fuel. With rising fuel costs the economy in shambles, Vrieze has been forced to revert to “conventional manure management” for the moment.
Source: Wisconsin People & Ideas
Image by Svadilfari, licensed under Creative Commons.
8/4/2009 10:19:49 AM
Polluted urban air can knock some 4.5 points off of a child’s IQ, according to research cited in Science News. Studying 249 mothers-to-be, the researchers found that exposure to common hydrocarbons—mostly from traffic—can significantly lower a child’s IQ by age 3. The pollution acts much like lead, in that any exposure, no matter how small, appears to have an effect on mental development. While 4.5 points on an IQ test may not seem like a lot, the article reports that “it’s in the range of what might be triggered by exposures to high levels of lead or by fetal alcohol syndrome.”
Source: Science News
Image by Simone Ramella, licensed under Creative Commons.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!