9/30/2008 12:17:27 PM
World economic prospects were looking dire even before Monday’s bailout bill failed to pass Congress, sending stock markets plummeting and nearly everyone into a panic. A “more palatable” version of the bailout bill might eventually be approved, but it’s safe to say that things are going to get worse before they get better, and no one’s quite sure of the long-term effects of our economic crisis.
Eco blogs are beginning to speculate and offer commentary about the situation’s impact on environmental politics, and Gristmill is leading the analysis. Joseph Romm debunks the suggestion that Barack Obama would put funds for the bailout bill ahead of his clean energy plan. David Roberts explains how more energy efficient homes would raise housing stock while lowering the cost of utilities—the unstable housing market being the catalyst, of course, for the current financial crisis. And Kate Shepherd hopes the bailout won’t push Congress’ renewable energy tax-credit bill off the table.
But EcoGeek Hank Green laments that the bailout legislation has already killed carefully crafted solar legislation. “These people simply do not understand. The bailout is about preventing disaster,” Green writes. “But what about planning for an America that can see beyond damage control to growth and prosperity?”
A more optimistic—if long-term—outlook comes from Angelique van Engelen at Triple Pundit, who predicts that the next bull market, when and if it arrives, will be heavily influenced by green investing. “Admittedly, it's a bit obscene to talk of a new bull market now that Wall Street is heavily sick and in need of a trillion-dollar bailout,” she writes. “But perhaps it makes sense to do it anyway because it's very likely that the next bull's going to be colored brightly green.”
Image by Shiny Things, licensed by Creative Commons.
9/29/2008 2:55:59 PM
A group of Greenpeace activists dubbed the “Kingsnorth Six” were found not guilty of criminal damage by a British jury earlier this month, despite fessing up to defacing a coal-fired power plant in an attempt to shut it down. Their creative legal team argued that the damage was justified under a law that excuses property damage inflicted to prevent greater property damage, which the defense said would occur as a result of climate change.
According to the Guardian, “The court was told that some of the property in immediate need of protection included parts of Kent at risk from rising sea levels, the Pacific island state of Tuvalu and areas of Greenland.” NASA climate scientist James Hansen, an outspoken public critic of coal-fired power, testified on behalf of the defense and told the jury the Kingsnorth plant’s emissions could lead to the extinction of as many as 400 species.
The verdict could be interpreted as an endorsement of civil disobedience in the name of climate change, which likely thrills environmental activists who favor direct action. Guardian environment editor John Vidal speculates that “the floodgates have been opened and that it will be open season on coal and other dirty energy industries…History would suggest that the carbon protest movement will gain in confidence like the anti-roads and GM movements, and that coal will be targeted mercilessly.”
Vandalism as a form of protest is a controversial tactic. Writing for the National Review, Henry Payne slams Hansen for endorsing “eco-vandalism,” saying he “has seriously damaged the credibility of a movement that has struggled to separate its apocalyptic rhetoric from more extreme environmentalists who demand violent action to match that rhetoric.” The Lazy Environmentalist blog takes a different stance, seeing the verdict as “a vitally important step in recognising potential legal ‘rights’ of the planet.”
On a related note, Al Gore encouraged young people to engage in civil disobedience to halt climate change at the Clinton Global Initiative gathering last week—which prompted the Christian Science Monitor to ask, “Does Al Gore think he’s too old for civil disobedience?”
Image by Crosbiesmith, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/29/2008 1:43:21 PM
Finally, a little good news regarding the environment: A new report from the SUN DAY Campaign via EcoGeek reveals that renewable energy now makes up 10 percent of the domestically produced energy in the United States. Biomass and biofuels are in the lead, while hydroelectric comes in second and wind, geothermal, and solar energies trail far behind. But those energies with the smallest piece of the energy pie also have the most growth potential: wind power development is up almost 50 percent over its levels last year, and 2008 still has a few months to go. And, as reported earlier, geothermal energy is receiving much-needed attention and funding. Though investment in renewable energy still has a long way to go (especially after Congress caved on offshore drilling), the number is encouraging and shows a step in the right direction.
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9/29/2008 12:59:54 PM
Starting in mid-September, America's northern climes see a drastic change in their forested landscapes: brilliant yellows and flaring reds provide a scenic backdrop for the brief period between beachside summers and fireside winters. Some of these areas are nationally known for their radiant fall foliage, so much so that autumn tourism brings in nearly 40 percent of Vermont’s yearly business, according to Lisa Rathke of the Associated Press. But Abby van den Berg, a research associate for the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center, has already noticed that warm autumns have dulled the landscape in some places.
A new three-year study that will begin this month will look for a link between climate change and a muted autumn palette of the future. Biologists at the Proctor Maple Research Center are researching whether warmer temperatures affect the timing, radiance, and longevity of leaf pigmentation.
“Many variables go into triggering leaf color, but for now the research will focus on temperature. The experiment is starting with the researchers' assumption that the brilliant colors are promoted by cold nights followed by warm, sunny days,” reports Rathke.
Preliminary experiments have already been conducted this year, but it’s far too early to see results. Regardless, I’ll admire this year’s autumnal canvas with a bit more fervor than in recent years.
(Thanks, Live Science.)
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9/23/2008 10:40:57 AM
Launching today, the Green Report Card website promises to rank 300 colleges in terms of their sustainability, helping eco-conscious high school seniors make the right choice.
Green Report Card was created by the nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute, a project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The college rankings are formulated using information gathered from the College Sustainability Report Card 2009, which evaluates schools in nine key categories: Administration, Climate Change and Energy, Food and Recycling, Green Building, Student Involvement, Transportation, Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities, and Shareholder Engagement.
Factors affecting a school’s grade range from the presence of “green dorms and car sharing,” according to the program’s press release, to “shareholder advisory committees and renewable energy investments.” Small liberal arts colleges like Carleton and Oberlin were among the 15 schools that got A grades, joining the ranks of such state schools as the University of Washington and the University of New Hampshire, and Ivies like Harvard and Brown.
Peruse the Report Card to see how your current or former institution fared. (I’m embarrassed to say where I went to college, since my alma mater got a D-minus. Ouch!)
Image by redjar, licensed by Creative Commons.
9/19/2008 10:44:14 AM
It turns out heavy traffic isn’t just bad for the atmosphere. It also erodes the social fabric of communities and squashes neighborly relationships, according to a new study out of Great Britain.
The Guardian reports that the study, which looked at three streets in Bristol, England with light, medium, and heavy traffic flow, found that “people who live with high levels of motor traffic are far more likely to be socially disconnected and even ill than people who live in quiet, clean streets.” Residents on the heavily trafficked street had fewer neighborhood friends and acquaintances than those living on the less congested roads, weren’t likely to let their kids play outside, and felt little sense of community.
Researcher Joshua Hart concluded, “The primary influence on social deterioration is the external effect of traffic, not any possible personality differences among residents of the three streets…It seems that community and quality of life have been neglected whilst planning and transport policies have led to a massive growth in motor vehicles in the UK."
Image by Broken Sphere, licensed under GNU Free Documentation License.
9/18/2008 6:29:43 PM
It’s difficult to tell the difference between ethical, sustainable seafood and the environmentally destructive fish you find on many menus. The seafood industry wreaks havoc on the environment, using massive ocean trawlers that destroy ancient habitats and kill massive amounts of fish unnecessarily. In the September-October issue of Utne Reader, Taras Grescoe, author of the book Bottomfeeder, helps readers navigate the confusing world of seafood and find delicious fish that can be eaten with a clear conscience.
For the latest episode of the UtneCast, I talked with Grescoe about the ways that everyone can enjoy healthy, sustainable seafood without destroying the environment.
You can listen to the interview below, or to subscribe to the UtneCast for free through iTunes, click here.
Interveiw with Taras Grescoe on Sustainable Seafood: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
For more information on ethical seafood, visit www.utne.com/seafood.
9/17/2008 5:34:13 PM
Pamela Ronald, plant geneticist and professor at the University of California, suggests a marriage between two agricultural practices that have long been on opposite spectrums: genetic engineering and organics (Read more about Ronald’s ideas in a recent Utne post). While Ronald’s arguments on their surface seem viable for addressing the global food crisis, she fails to flesh out the vast uncertainties of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the problems they’re already causing to the environment, health, and the future of organic farming. She does, at least, acknowledge these concerns, though labels them as unfounded fears that are “driven more by technological anxiety than by science.” Many scientific findings suggest otherwise, and it doesn’t take long to see that her ideas are as grandiose as they are unlikely.
Ronald uses the example that genetically engineered (GE) crops have resulted in lowered pesticide use, a reduction that has tangible benefits to both the earth and humans. It’s easy to be satisfied with lower pesticide use, but many more factors are considered in calculating and ensuring the health of the environment and the population. The Organic Trade Association lists reasons it is opposed to GE agriculture; one among many refers to a study showing that GE potatoes changed the bacterial communities in the soil. Just this July, U.S. Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced three bills that will help to regulate the use of GMOs because studies haven’t yet been done to gauge the long-term effects of GMOs on our health. One of the bills is the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, which would require proper labeling of GE food. People are starting to raise the roof about the issue, precisely because the risks of GMOs are too great to passively accept the lax regulations on them.
Along with health and environmental concerns, many organic farmers have the future of their business to worry about with the advent of GMOs infused with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Non-engineered Bt is one of the most useful natural pesticides allowed in organic agriculture, and many organic farmers use it along with other techniques to guard their crops from harmful bugs. As Bt-engineered crops increase, so does the concern among organic farmers that they will lose the ability to effectively use Bt because long-term pesticide use in concentrated areas can lead to the targeted pest building resistance. And it’s not just an unsupported concern. Already, weeds have smartened up and become resistant to some strains of herbicide-fortified GMOs, according to Craig Holdrege and Steve Talbott in their new book Beyond Biotechnology (University Press of Kentucky, 2008). Increased resistance means that biotech companies will need to come up with new GMOs to combat the problem, leaving farmers ever more dependent on them for seed.
Ronald suggests that genetic engineering and organic farming join together in order to sustainably produce enough food to feed the world, but the very nature of organic farming rejects this idea. There are reasons people support organic food—the two most common being for health and environment. With very little research coming to conclusive results about the environmental and human health impacts of GMOs, Ronald has no authority to make such an egregious suggestion. Her ultimate goal in combining organics and genetic engineering is to increase agricultural production to address world food shortages, a noble plan, though lacking foresight. Holdredge and Talbott concisely counter her idea:
Feeding the world is not just a question of increasing yields. When we believe it is, we divert our attention from the much broader social, political, economic, and ecological issues influencing food production and hunger. If we continue to live under the illusion that we will find a technological solution to world hunger, and if we set our hopes on such solutions to channel our money and energy into their development, we can be pretty sure that world hunger will only grow.
Image by Jeff Kubina, licensed under Creative Commons.
9/10/2008 9:14:35 PM
“It is time to abandon the caricatures of genetic engineering that are popular among some consumers and activists and instead see it for what it is: a tool that can help the ecological farming revolution grow into a lasting movement with global impact,” argues Pamela Ronald in Conservation magazine (scroll down page).
Ronald’s proposition is a provocative one for organic advocates, who tend to think of genetic engineering as a dirty word. But Ronald says that’s precisely the problem. She contends that avoiding environmental devastation in the effort to feed the world’s swelling population requires repositioning organic farming and genetic engineering as partners in an agricultural movement rather than adversaries.
“Pitting genetic engineering and organic farming against each other only prevents the transformative changes needed on our farms,” writes Ronald. “Without good science and good farming, we cannot even begin to dream about establishing an ecologically balanced, biologically based system of farming and ensuring food security.”
9/10/2008 1:11:33 PM
What exactly makes a building green? Writing for Colorado’s High Country News, Monique Cole takes on the concept of building "green" McMansions after reading about a businessman who built a 6,500-square-foot home near Boulder. The mansion, which uses extensive solar power and ecological building materials, was named "the greenest home in North America" by the Boulder County Business Report. But do these choices actually make the building “the greenest”? No: Even though the materials and power sources are eco-friendly, it still takes gas for the movers, builders, landscapers, and utility workers to get to the property, some 10 miles outside Boulder (not to mention the extra fuel it takes for its owners to get to and from work and commerce). The kicker, Cole points out, is that this house’s square footage is three times that of the median American household. "Everyone’s looking for the silver bullets that will allow us to carry on our consumptive lifestyles just as we always have. But to be truly green, some sacrifices have to be made, such as giving up the home theater or that fourth bay in the garage."
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9/8/2008 2:20:09 PM
With the nation scrambling to learn more about a vice-presidential candidate thrust into the spotlight less than two weeks ago, environmentalists are working to get the word out about Sarah Palin’s environmental record, which could push John McCain’s relatively eco-friendly platform further right.
Grist delves into Palin’s positions on various environmental concerns in an overview called “Palin Around” (see what they did there?) and a more comprehensive article called “Palin Comparison” (and there?). Not surprisingly, Palin leans rightward on most issues, including global warming, where she parts company with her running mate. “I wouldn't call her a climate change denier, but she is extremely close to that position,” says John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. “She seems to be failing to acknowledge virtually all credible science.”
Alaskans are already familiar with their governor’s attitude toward their ecosystem. Yale Environment 360 tells the story of (the appropriately named?) Bristol Bay, whose headwaters cover a massive deposit of valuable minerals. A ballot initiative to protect the salmon-rich bay from development by Northern Dynasty Minerals was publicly opposed by Gov. Palin, despite a constitutional ban on state officials’ involvement in ballot measures. The initiative was defeated and Northern Dynasty is proceeding in Bristol in the face of widespread opposition from various state groups.
And with Palin pushing for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, McCain reversing his position on offshore drilling, and various party faithful chanting “drill baby drill!” at the Republican National Convention last week, a curb on national oil consumption and a greener White House don’t seem terribly likely under a McCain-Palin leadership.
Image by bobster1985, licensed by Creative Commons.
9/3/2008 9:51:20 AM
Wind turbines are sprouting up on American Indian reservations across the country, Megan Gray reports in Cultural Survival Quarterly. On the Great Plains, where the wind blows mightily, a project called Intertribal COUP is promoting wind power on 20 reservations by helping tribes navigate the complex issues in renewable energy markets.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Gray reports, plans to install a 30-megawatt wind plant on its South Dakota land, where winds are rated class 5 and 6, the windiest end of the 1-to-6 scale used to measure wind potential. And over on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the nation’s largest Indian radio station, KILI-FM, on July 31 threw the switch on a new wind turbine that “cuts carbon emissions, saves one of country’s poorest reservations $12,000 per year, and points to the future of alternative energy in Indian Country,” according to a recent announcement.
Wind power is not only a step toward economic and energy self sufficiency for reservations, according to Pat Spears, vice president of Intertribal COUP; it also taps an ancient and mystical power source: “For many tribal peoples, the winds are holy, bringing renewal, warmth, and strength.”
Image of KILI-FM wind turbine by
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