It's the Environment, Stupid.

Friday, September 29, 2006


I've got to head out of town this weekend for my cousin's wedding, and I'm not taking my computer, which means no blogging for me until Monday (maybe Tuesday).

Enjoy the weekend and check out the latest episode of re:FORM!

re:FORM premieres today

A little while back there was a contest to "Name that Television Show" known as Built Green TV.

Green Ground Zero has announced the winner of the contest and is launching the season premiere of the show today under the new name, re:FORM.

The contest winner, James Butler of South Carolina wins a Voltaic solar backpack from 3r living.

You can watch the first episode here, featuring host Neil Chambers in conversation with Mark Townsend Cox with New Energy Fund LP, talking about - you guessed it - energy. (Manhattan residents can also watch it Friday at 7:30pm on Ch.34, or anyone can stream it live online at

Check back for new episodes weekly and for additional online features including podcast segments with interviews from environmental leaders around the world.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Environmental Action - fuel efficiency

Environmental Action's latest e-mail campaign is calling on American car makers to step up to the fuel efficiency challenge.

The pre-typed action letter asks the auto companies to increase the fuel efficiency of their cars, because that's what Americans want and we're willing to pay for it.

Click here to send your message to the American auto industry.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Nokia leads in greening mobile phones

Nokia is heading up a group of cell phone manufacturers in making the industry more environmentally conscious.

The group, aligned by the European Commission, has pledged to reduce some of the toxic materials in the phones and increase public awareness and outreach reagarding proper disposal of unwanted phones and energy saving tips.

According to GreenBiz, "Over the next two years the group will look at the range of existing recycling schemes operated around the world and identify which work most successfully and why. they will also pilot the use of incentive schemes in a number of different markets around the world to understand how these can be used to improve collection rates."

Nokia says they'll stop using Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR) in their phones. And on the energy savings end, the mobile companies will also begin including reminders for users to unplug the charger when not in use.

While I'd like to see more changes on the manufacturing side of things, I do like that the mobile makers are stepping up to address some of the problems associated with their products, and that they seem committed to increasing consumer awareness on these issues.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Gas prices and politics

While it seems that much of the nation is rejoicing over plummeting gas prices - I'm still skeptical. The NY Times questioned the political implications of this in Sunday's Week in Review.

The article mainly pitted the republicans against the democrats citing public opinion polls supporting the positions of both sides, effectively concluding that the jury is still out.

I think the oil/energy thing will last though this election cycle, but oil prices will still dictate future priority. Unfortunately it'll take a big hurricane season to slam America's oil production or other calamity to throw oil back into the national agenda after November.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

NYC announces sustainability office

NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced the creation of a sustainability office for the city.

Together with a pretty good list of advisory board members and a pro-bono partnership with The Earth Institute at Columbia (to provide that much needed scientific and academic support), gotham is one step closer to being green.

While no specific steps are outlined in the press release, it does highlight some recent legislation passed by the NYC council, and true to the book definition of sustainable development, Bloomberg is quoted as pledging his city as a leader for future generations of New Yorkers.

I think this'll be a great move for everyone (New Yorkers and otherwise) if the office can gain momentum and implement some serious policy, because NYC has the potential fora California-like influence nationwide if they can step up to the challenge and take the lead.

Organic Chocolate Factory in Seattle

Seattle boasts the first organic/fair-trade chocolate factory in the United States.

Theo Chocolate took over an old brewery in Seattle's Fremont district last January. It is a small operation compared to its mega (non-organic) counterparts, which produce the confection for companies like Hershey’s and Nestle.

Theo founder, Joel Whinney, not only wants to pursue the fine art of chocolate, but also wants to improve the lives of cocoa growers around the world.

Theo Chocolate is currently available at retail outlets on the west coast of the U.S., or you can download an order form off of their website. If you're in Seattle, they offer tours complete with tasting samples. (I may have to visit on my next trip back home...)

Via The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

(I also blogged about this on EcoStreet).

UPDATE: got a comment over at EcoStreet that Dagoba chocolate in OR has been certified organic/fair trade since 2001. So perhaps Theo is #2?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

No fuel for flexfuel vehicles...

I was reading up a little on biodiesel over the weekend, and realized that although it is seemingly a great way to go, it does no good to folks with cars that run on gasoline.

So unless you're going to get a new car and choose either a hybrid or a diesel, there's not much you can do - unless we all start filling up with ethanol.

Did you know that there are actually millions of cars on the road today that are flexfuel capable? I didn't. Several makes and models of cars since 2000 are ready to take the alternative fuel - the only problem is there's hardly anywhere to fill up on the stuff.

Considering that a lot of these flex fuel vehicles are made by Ford and other American automakers, why haven't they been pushing for some ethanol infrastructure?

They've been heavy handed on selling cars with the "live green-go yellow" campaign - but what good is a flexfuel car if you've got no alternative fuel to make it go? Did they just put all their eggs in the wrong basket? Or are there some greater problems with ethanol that haven't been worked out?

According to a consumer reports article, while emissions might be down, ethanol in flexfuel vehicles doesn't improve fuel economy, and is as expensive - if not more expensive - than gasoline.

Unless the U.S. govt promised something to the automakers that hasn't yet been delivered, and unless we're going to start seeing ethanol arrive at the corner gas station, this flexfuel/ethanol thing doesn't seem like a viable solution to "getting us off foreign oil" as has been touted, nor is it a very green alternative.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

DDT - a necessary evil?

A press release from the World Health Organization made it to the NY Times today. The WHO, is advocating for the widespread use of DDT to help in its mission to reduce (and ultimately eradicate) malaria in Africa.

According to a WHO position paper on Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS), the practice has proven effective in the past at controlling malaria in many parts of the world. Only, somehow sub-saharan Africa was missed in these earlier efforts, and therefore, has a huge mosquito carrying malaria population.

IRS is the practice of spraying the pesticide on walls and roofs of houses and on animal shelters - places where mosquitoes may land in hopes of killing the dreaded vectors. The position paper advocates for the increased use of IRS with DDT. "DDT is the only insecticide which is used exclusively for public health, and, therefore, unlike with other insecticides, resistance development to it is no longer influenced by other uses such as in agriculture. In the context of resistance management, it is, therefore, advisable to maintain the use of DDT until a suitable alternative is available."

Enter those darned environmentalists again (the critics) getting in the way of saving the people of Africa. The WHO argument is that DDT garnered a bad rap (thanks in large part to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring) because of its widespread agricultural and "domestic hygiene" uses, which had drastic (and incredibly negative) effects on human, animal, and plant populations.

I blogged about this back in March, citing an article I had read in 2004 in The Ecologist about polio. The article makes a link between polio and the widespread usage of DDT, suggesting that the scientific history of polio is flawed and that pesticides may be to blame for polio, not a virus.

Of course this is just one article (and it is pretty damn convincing) - but it does make me wonder. Where are the strongest efforts of IRS, and where are the numbers of polio cases increasing?

In just an initial look through the WHO website at the polio eradication pages and the malaria eradication pages, Nigeria's explosion in polio cases seems to be attributed to a refusal by people to take the vaccination. And of the five countries listed in the position paper as being subject to "[t]he application of IRS consistently over time in large areas [that] has altered the
vector distribution and subsequently the epidemiological pattern of malaria," only two have been listed as priority polio countries, Botswana (2004) and Namibia (2006).

I don't disagree that malaria is an important disease that needs to be addressed, but is it an acceptable trade off to push to eradicate one disease at the risk of perpetuating another?

Friday, September 15, 2006

What a difference a state makes

I had this fantastic post I was just about to 'publish' re: an article on California in the NY Times today, when all of a sudden my bleepin browser unexpectedly quit taking my bleepin post with it, and now I've got to go so no time to rewrite and no anticipated online time until tomorrow.

So - Check out this article from the NY Times about California making headway to curb emissions and reduce the energy load in the state. Maybe I'll rewrite my comments up tomorrow.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

WRI on World Bank Sustainable Development

Back in June, The World Bank rearranged a few things and merged the VP for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development and the VP for Infrastructure into a VP for Sustainable Development. While this appears to be a good thing, it raised some reservations within the World Resources Institute - which recently released a report on the matter.

The report is essentially a cautionary note from the WRI regarding the restructuring. While acknowledging it is still too early to tell how this will play out, the report includes some recommendations on how the Bank can continue forward progress in relation to the environment rather than sliding backward in their investment decisions.

Via ENN.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Al Gore - at a stadium near you

A friend forwarded me info today from the movie section of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Al Gore coming to Key Arena.

Key Arena is home to the Seattle SuperSonics, and a some time concert venue, but Al Gore? For $25, $35 and $45 plus a Ticketmaster service charge?

I paid $10 to see the Al Gore movie, got my dose of climate change graphs and facts - I don't know if I'd shell out the extra twenty or thirty bucks to hear it again in person (although it might be worth it if I thought they might actually toss him a question or two from me to answer...)

But I am glad that he's spreading the word and offering 7,264 lucky Seattlites the chance to check it out.

For some down under commentary on the Al Gore movie check out Aussie David Jeffrey's comments on Oikos (whose blog I attempted to comment on yesterday, but couldn't because of Blogger's change over to this google-blog-beta thing that is having a bit of a buggy transition...)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The influence of oil

Today's business section of the NY Times is rife with oil.

First: "Chevron Could Avoid Huge Royalties on New Field"
Chevron may get out of paying the feds some serious cash. Some might think that it's just another oil company trying to finagle its way out of paying taxes - but would you believe that the federal government is actually helping them out?

Back in the day, when oil was "cheap" the leases included what they called royalty relief, which was supposed to be retracted if the price of oil went above $36 a barrel. Well, when leases were negotiated back in 1998, and 1999 it wasn't retracted, reportedly due to an error made by the interior department.

Well, now that mistake may carry over and wind up costing the U.S. as much as $20 billion in lost revenue.

"On Wednesday, the House Committee on Government Reform will begin two days of hearings on how the original calculation came to be. Republicans have been eager to blame the Clinton administration, which was in office when the leases were signed. But the Interior Department’s inspector general is expected to testify that the Bush administration may be in danger of making exactly the same move on new leases."

In other oil news:
"OPEC Production to Remain Unchanged, But Group Says It May Cut Oil Output if Prices Keep Declining"
Oil prices are going down - which would probably be good for Chevron at this point, especially if prices dropped low enough so that the royalty relief could become a non-issue.

"Shares Edge Higher as Investors Back Off Oil and Metals"
Reaffirms that oil prices are on the decline. Better stop that R&D on any alternative technologies - with low oil prices things are safe again.

"Foreign Automakers See India as Exporter"
India is on the move up in the auto manufacturing industry as car makers work their way into this greatly untapped market. But hey, who cares about rising air pollution and traffic congestion in major Indian cities, or the sheer lack of transportation infrastructure such as roads, or fostering an increased reliance on oil - as long as the upper classes are spending more....

Ah, the joys of oil. Good thing we found more right off the coast of the U.S. There's no need to worry. We can get back to business as usual. Carry on.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Climate change - mitigate or adapt?

Word has gotten out - climate change is real. It is happening. And since it takes a few pages to even just sum up the scientific evidence, mitigation policy, the hockey-stick graphs and new technologies, publications find it necessary to devote entire special issues to the topic.

The Economist is the latest to hop on board. Their take: hey, U.S., act now before it's too late. As I read the write up on the cover story, I kept looking for new information, hoping for a different approach to the dialogue. But it's just the same old story. Climate change is happening, it doesn't matter who or how but we should reduce CO2 emissions soon.

If the American public can latch on to this premise with as much enthusiasm as the low-carb craze we might see some serious pressure put on the administration to start making things happen. But like the low-carb craze, we might get so focused on reducing carbs (CO2) and forget about other stuff we're going to need to keep us healthy.

CO2 has become the enemy. The goal is to get rid of it by any means necessary. Unfortunately (while it is not the highest priority) mitigation is the only policy measure under consideration. Many of these special reports on climate change don't bother to mention the fact that CO2 remains in the atmosphere for about a century, and even if all emissions ceased tomorrow (or yesterday) we're still going to be heating up.

The question missing in this dialogue is HOW we're going to ADAPT to a warmer world. (Well, there are a very few people discussing this such as Frances Cairncross in the UK, the government in the Netherlands, and some small island nations around the world.)

In our CO2 craze we have lost sight of the fact that mitigation and sequestration aren't going to do much to solve soil and agricultural changes. They're not going to do much to reduce drought or help flood victims, nor will it really help solve energy demand issues. But I guess if we start talking about how we're going to begin coping in an increasingly warmer world, we will have admit defeat in the grand (manufactured) debate around climate change.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Pollution control? Relax it.

News flash - Bush is still pushing to make it easer for polluting industires to do nothing. Of course it's not big news, or new news for that matter, but it did get an honorable mention in the national briefing section of the NYTimes today.

This administration just won't back off. They got some momentum going back in 2002, and 2003, and are trying yet again to let industry off the hook as far as pollution prevention and mitigation measures go - even though this past March, the courts struck down the latest proposal at easing regulations.

I wonder at what point legal fees surpass the cost of scrubbers?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Time to worry?

On the environmental policy/awareness front, there was a lot going on in the late 1970's. Then Reagan happened and the low oil prices of the 1980's erased environmental concern from the public mind, and effectively disuaded R&D in relevant, alternative (ie. non-oil based) technologies.

After reading about the DOD wind assault, the grand, gulf o' mexico oil discovery, and today, that oil is at a 5-month low, it makes me wonder if we're not doomed to repeat that cycle, which will throw us off the path to finding much needed transportation and energy innovations.

I certainly hope that my concern is premature and that public awareness (and mainstream media coverage) of environmental issues (such as climate change, energy) won't fluctuate with the price of oil, but will instead stay the course and eventually become a priority instead of an after thought.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Feds halt wind power

The U.S. Department of Defense has effectively halted the construction of wind power across the nation because they've decided to drag their feet.

"The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) announced last week that it would miss a legal deadline in a suit that alleges the department is preventing wind farm construction across the nation. The department had until August 28 to file their response to the Sierra Club's claim that it has created a virtual moratorium on the construction of new wind power plants by failing to complete a study of windmills' impact on radar by Congressionally-mandated..."

Whatever the motivations are (use your imagination, it shouldn't be much of a stretch), this (in)action is preventing the expansion and growth of renewable energy sources, at a time when we should be diversifying our power generating options.

"Federal officials have declined to reveal how many wind projects have been blocked from construction, but, according to media reports, at least 15 wind farm proposals in the Midwest have been shut down so far.

The list of stalled projects includes one outside Bloomington, Illinois, which would have been the nation's largest source of wind energy, generating enough electricity to power 120,000 homes in the Chicago area."

Not only is it a bit contradictory considering the Air Force is the largest purchaser of renewable power (even though it is only 11% of their total usage), it also begs another question: if they don't want wind, what are they really pushing for?

Via Environment News Service

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kyoto - a lost hope for China?

China is growing, and a growing economy needs electricity right?

The largest power provider in the nation, Huaneng has recently announced that it is sinking 31 Billion into efforts to double its generating capacity by 2010. (Agence-France Presse via WBCSD.)

So lets see - it is 2006 now (well, nearly 2007). That means in the span of three short years the capacity ramp-up will include an increase in the company's generation of hydro and wind power of 10 to 15%, leaving a whopping 85-90% to be generated by new coal-fired power plants in order to meet this objective (many of which are either under construction, or expansions of current facilities.)

According to the Huanengn website you can find out info about their 28 of the (mainland) plants and subsidiaries, including details such as the installed capacity, power generation and output, utilization hours, and how much coal the plants use. (In theory, I suppose with those numbers, one might be able to calculate how much CO2 is generated per plant per year.)

And while the company states that their operating objectives are, "to enhance the Company's operating efficiency by actively expanding markets, strengthening production safety as well as focusing on environmental protection and cost controls," it doesn't mention what technologies these plants are using - old coal tech or new igcc plants. (Although a further search indicates these are your standard thermal fare - and, subsequently, for the record I'm not completely sold on sequestration as the solution to our CO2 problem, standard for the igcc plants, but that's a blog for another day.)

I should be focusing, as the press release did, on the fact that part of the 31 billion is going to renewables - but given that roughly 70% of China's energy is currently generated by coal-fired plants, and the energy demand is going to increase, that 10% doesn't seem all that great (despite chinese government's pledge from Jan 2006 of boosting renewable generation to 15% - up from 10% - by 2020.) Nuclear power generation in China, currently at just over 2%, won't do much to off-set the coal usage, even though nuclear generating capacity is slated to increase five times that rate - it will still only amount to 10%.

I don't doubt there will be enough energy to keep China on its upwardly mobile trek, but I do wonder what will happen when it comes time for China to sign on to the Kyoto protocol as more than a passive 'developing' country.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The real inconvenient truth?

The tagline to this "PSA" created by blogger, The Poor Bastard, says, "Comedy That Cares." Check out his take on what you can do to save the planet. Perhaps this is the real inconvenient truth...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Environment & the Florida gov'ner race

Who would have thought that the words Florida, Governor and Environment would make it in the same sentence? It made a headline in the metro section in the Tampa Tribune online today.

Current Gov Jeb Bush is going to have some green competition in the next election - even from some republican candidates going into the primaries.

"Two of the candidates, Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist and Democratic Congressman Jim Davis, have impeccable green credentials, environmental groups say. Republican Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and Democratic state Sen. Rod Smith get mixed reviews, but some environmentalists think either would be better than Gov. Jeb Bush... Environmental issues normally get short shrift in gubernatorial elections. But in a primary contest with turnout expected to be low, tens of thousands of environmental activists could affect the outcome."

If Florida has enough pull to affect the presidental elections, wouldn't it be great if that same influence could wield some green power akin to California? This should be a good race to keep an eye on.