It's the Environment, Stupid.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Aussies turn to sewers for drinking water

There's nothing like a little resource scarcity to spur innovation.

The AP reports that due to droughts and lack of rainfall in the downunder state of Queensland, officials are entertaining the idea of recycling sewer water into *poof* drinking water.

And who said lack of clean drinking water was relegated to the "developing" world?

Anyone up for a little adapting to our changing conditions yet?

For more on the Australian water situation (and the talk of importing water) check out David Jeffery's Oikos.

Because I like the whole adapt topic:
Beyond emission reductions
Climate Change - Mitigate or Adapt
Europe Wilting
Global Warming Preparedness Act

Global warming poster child: polar, um I mean, the grizzly bear

While melting glaciers and endangered polar bears get all the press, there are numerous other "canary in the coal mine" occurrences that serve to illustrate the effects of global warming.

A NY Times article features the Rocky Mountain ecosystem - exploding beetle populations, dying pine trees, and grizzly bears. The avg temperature is becoming increasingly favorable for mountain pine beetles, which love to kill whitebark pines, and whitebark pines are a favorite staple of the grizzly bear's diet. So no pines = no bears.

There are efforts towards saving the grizzlies and there's talk of putting them on the endangered species list along with their white coated brethren up north, but saving one species - be it polar or grizzly bear - will require saving thousands of other not as furry or photogenic species that are dependent on that same declining ecosystem.

So pick your bear to get people to donate to the cause, but remember the bear can't live without its habitat.

My previous related posts on the whole ecosystem/species/industry link:
We killed the baiji
Organic fish?
Wheeling and dealing with the timber industry
It takes a polar bear

Monday, January 29, 2007

B&N asks readers to Save the Environment

No, it isn't my locally owned neighborhood bookstore, it's Barnes and Noble - the four story B&N in Union Square. A warm, expanse of a place on a chilly Sunday afternoon in NYC where one can puruse the racks of magazines and scores of books at leisure. (And for the record, every time I'm searching out a particular book title I always go to Strand first to see if they have it.)

Not only was green a popular cover story on several magazines - including the Economist "The Greening of America" - the environment was a topic of a side display facing the high trafficked area near the escalators.

"Save the Environment" featured Joseph Romm's new book Hell and High Water (anyone read that one yet?); 1001 Little Ways to Save our Planet; the paper back version of Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe (I highly recommend that one); and of course the picture book version of the Al Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth (among a few other climate related titles - oh and the massive WorldChanging book was stacked on the floor below.)

While I didn't see a whole lot of people taking in this little display (and I question a few of the selected readings), I commend the book display powers that be for creating this little featurette.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Snow in Anchorage makes headlines

Since when is snow in Anchorage, AK worthy of headlines?

An AP brief in the NY Times this morning says that Anchorage has had more snow this winter so far than is average for an entire winter on average.

"Last year at this time, crews were patching potholes created by a warming trend, and water was running in the streets... In a weather pattern attributed in part to a shift in the jet stream, the Rocky Mountains have had a series of blizzards in the past few weeks and extreme cold in central and Southern California has wiped out citrus crops, while the Northeast has had one of the mildest, least-snowy winters on record."

What's the problem with this? While people (ie the general public/mainstream media) often make the connection between warming weather trends and global warming (El Nino talk aside) the excess rains, and snows and cold weather anomalies aren't usually linked to climate change. For example, climate change talk has all but ceased, and New Yorkers have calmed down now that "normal" January weather has arrived.

Of course there is no hard proof that these little weather blips are in fact connected to the greater global climate shift - but when you add up all the unusual weather conditions around the world - and especially when snow in Anchorage makes the headlines - it does make me wonder...

Friday, January 26, 2007

$128,000 maximum fine for toxic spills in China

The AP reports via The NY Times that Jilin Petrochemical Company was fined $128,000 for "one of the country’s worst toxic spills".

A blast at the chemical plant in Jilin province in November of 2005 let loose around 100 tons of benzene into the Songuha river leaving millions of people without clean water.

According to the BBC, China announced last year that more than $1.2 billion would be spent on the clean-up.

Back when the explosion and subsequent spill was acknolwedged by the Chinese govt, it was also said those responsible for the Benzene slick would be punished. (See this BBC article for a timeline of events surrounding the spill - the acknowlegement came 10 days after the explosion, and an apology to Russia for the cross border contamination 3 days after that.)

China recieved a lot of flack in the international arena for the supposed cover-up (archived in the pay-to-read section of the NY Times online) and it certainly increased tensions with Russia.

But I must ask - is $128,000 (1 million Yuan) a mere slap on the wrist for a petrochemical company? This is the MAXIMUM fine for such toxic releases in the country, which seems to me hardly an incentive to keep things safe. Granted the enviro protections in China have been criticized for not being up to snuff, and even in the US many companies get off easy, but it never ceases to amaze me that penalties and precautions are NEVER more expensive than the clean-up costs (not to mention the ecological and human health damage incurred.)

Links to some related toxic spill/clean-up posts:
Toxic Sludge in Africa
Oil - a valuable commodity?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Fight Climate Change = Fight Terrorism

Well if anyone could pull off this link it'd be GW's speech writers.

The message in the enviro portion of the prez's State of the Union Address last night could be summed up as: our efforts in the war on terror will help us "confront" climate change.

I think it went a little something like this:
America needs a stable energy supply, and foreign oil makes us vulnerable to hostile regimes (aka terrorists), so diversifying our energy supply will make us less vulnerable to said terrorists, and clean coal, safe nuclear power, ethanol, biodiesel and woodchips will help us diversify.

Then, if we take action to reduce gas imports, increase fuel efficiency, and increase the domestic fuel supply and IF AND ONLY IF magical technlogical breakthroughs appear, we will be less dependent on oil [read: less vulnerable to terrorists] and be able to confront climate change.(Applause.)

Of course there may be other ways of interpreting the speech - I don't think political analysts have stopped analyzing it since the final applause broke at 10p last night and GW was swarmed with autograph hounds (your elected congressional officials). You can check out the full text here. Interpret until your heart is content.

More on the other enviro related claims/promises/action items in a bit - but in the mean time here's my favorite excerpt of the night [emphasis mine of course]:

"America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change. (Applause.)"

Photo via

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Al Gore reportedly "Thrilled"

And who wouldn't be really? The AP reports (via Yahoo) that Al Gore was quote-thrilled-unquote by his movie's nomination. His e-mail statement is also quoted as saying, "This film proves that movies really can make a difference." Awwww....

And in case you're not sure who Al Gore is (aside from the featured presentation giver in An Inconvenient Truth) the article also mentions that he's the guy who lost in the race for prez to GW in 2000.

Ecorazzi also picked up on the big nomination.

Update at 3:50p
Oh and so did Grist. And David Roberts over at Grist has suggested starting a betting pool...

Al Gore movie gets Oscar nod

An Inconvenient Truth was among the nominees for best Documentary Feature for the Academy Awards (insert registered trademark logo here).

Personally, I don't necessarily feel that it deserves an Oscar. From a strictly filmmaking standpoint - I stand by my initial review - it is a movie version of Al Gore's slide show. Plain and simple. Sure you've got some feel good, Gore family history used as transitions to spice it up and lend a human element to the climate change issue, but it is a movie version of a power point presentation.

The power behind the nomination though is that Al Gore and the producers of this movie brought an important issue to light in the mainstream consciousness. Gore's presentation is a very good presentation and lays out the facts (hockey stick graph and all) in understandable terms. I mean how can you NOT get the big picture after seeing ice melt from underneath an animated polarbear.

An Inconvenient Truth opened the eyes of a lot of Americans and got people talking and thinking about the world around them. A brilliant piece of movie making this is not. Deserving of a little gold statuette? We'll see. But it is a powerful educational/awareness tool that I believe has made a real difference in bringing climate change to the national agenda.

Links to my previous posts on Gore action:
Tis the Season for Gore
Al Gore e-mails me
Al Gore at a stadium near you

Links to my previous posts on the Al Gore movie:
Al Gore movie banned from Seattle area school
The Al Gore Movie

Monday, January 22, 2007

So you think green is funny...

The soon to be launched Green Options is looking for a writer who can have fun with green issues.

The search for a humor writer for "A Lighter Side of Green Contest" is open now and closes Friday, Feb. 2.

Green Options Senior Editor Jeff McIntire-Strasburg says on the post: "If you think you’ve got the goods to tickle our funny bones, write a 250-500 word column that addresses some element of the green life in a humorous manner, and send it to in MS Word or rich text format by February 1st. Feel free to poke fun at your fellow greenies (we can use it occasionally!)."

The Green Options site will officially launch on Feb. 5.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

South Park takes on the Hybrid

I don't watch a whole lot of TV and without cable I miss a fair amount of the comedy central satirical gems - like this South Park episode - but thank goodness for You Tube.

Via Mark Caserta's 3r living blog South Park took on the Hybrid and all the smugness that goes along with Hybrid owners.

The moral of the story: drive a hybrid but don't be smug about it. The whole episode is posted in 3 parts on You Tube (legally or illegally I do not know... but I enjoyed every minute of it.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

25 percent renewables by 2025

House and Senate concurrent resolution (is that like a joint resolution?) are calling for 25% of energy generation in the US to be provided by renewables by 2025. This is a re-introduction of legislation that first hit the floor last June but subsequently died.

A quick trip to will give you all the brief info on the goal and what constitutes renewable, who supports it etc. (even though they haven't put out a press release since Nov. of 06 - but maybe they're just a little tied up in DC to worry about updating their website...)

I'd love to see this go through with support from the red and blue sides but ultimately it seems a little conservative. Of course 25 is definitely better than a mere 11 or 12% - and if it is successful that will be a big step in the right direction, but it really just seems like some brain child of a clever press staffer - 25 by 20-25. talks a little bit about renewables but the prominent focus is about building support for the legislation and which politicos are behind it - which is probably good legislation 101, but it falls short of saying how 25% will be reached.

I have sneaking suspicion this 25% will be solely focused on mass-scale grid power, when it should really incorporate incentives and other efforts towards micro and distributed generation to take some of the load off of the main grid through renewables. There should also be a concurrent push to get big energy sucking companies to purchase renewables (proven possible by Whole Foods, NYU and the US military) which would help in the 25 by 25 goal - even if the legislation gets stuck or lost in one of the houses in Washington.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Starbucks takes milk hormone free

Although the retail coffee giant was holding off announcing the big news until all of its stores were completely hormone free - according to an article in the Seattle PI yesterday, Starbucks has stopped using milk which contains rBGH in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana, Northern California and New England (whatever New England means.)

I'd say this is pretty good news, even though the article mentions the company will likely pass the cost onto the consumer by raising prices (there isn't a press release on about the switch) I can't see that an extra couple of cents will break the bank for customers already paying $4 and some change for their frothy beverages.

Now, if they'd only make the switch to all fairtraded coffee....

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Greenland - the New Frontier

The NY Times reported yesterday on new cartography efforts for Greenland.

As the glaciers melt modern day explorers are staking claims on new land discoveries. What was once under ice is now exposed creating an "I saw it first and so I get to name it after me!" competition in the region.

One explorer quoted in the article does admit that this change carries a downside with it, “There is a dark side to this,” he said about the new island. “We felt the exhilaration of discovery. We were exploring something new. But of course, there was also something scary about what we did there. We were looking in the face of these changes, and all of us were thinking of the dire consequences.” Yeah - if all goes well, their claim to fame will be submerged - but at least the cartographers will still be in business.

Greenland sidenote: Grists' David Roberts says that Greenland is just overreacting to this whole global warming thing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New Year - New Phone Book

I happened to be walking in my neighborhood and noticed a few guys frantically running to and from a slow moving budget rental truck. They were distributing stacks upon stacks of brand, spankin' new phone books. No stoop was left behind - every single residential door was graced with updated contact information for the entire borough of Brooklyn.

Now, can you tell me when was the last time you flipped through the yellow pages to look up a phone number?

I understand this is a community service thing or paid advertising or something altruistic - but in our digital age (we'll suspend the e-waste topic for this posting) is this tower of telephone books really necessary? Even though they are made on paper that contains "up to" 40% post-consumer recycled material, what if they weren't printed at all? Or what if half as many were printed? (And a side note - they are in spanish and english - same info, two languages, one book)

I think it is time for the phone book to go or at least be reduced. Maybe they can be sent out to those who specifically request one by checking a box on their monthly (landline) phone bill; or maybe a limited number of phone books can be made available at select locations for pick up by those who want one.

However, on a positive note, at least your old volumes can be recycled...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ski area growth omits global warming

There's an article in the NY Times today "Where Snow is all that Glitters, Worry Over Growth's Effect." It highlights a ski area (not resort) in Arapahoe Basin outside of Denver Co. The ski area is facing criticism from "environmentalists" and die-hard skiiers who say that the proposed expansion of said ski area will require the cutting of trees, and will bring undesireable, high-brow skiiers that will change the rustic feel of the area.

As far as I'm concerned, as long as the ski area's expansion is mindful of neighbors, takes into consideration its new environmental impacts and plans accordingly (which isn't addressed in this article) they should be able to expand. Afterall, the owner is quoted in the article as saying that growth is crucial to survival, and maybe the area needs a little economic boost from additional ski bunny dollars. (Of course I'm not an avid skiier so I welcome any perspective from those who are.)

The thing that isn't mentioned at all in this article is global warming (the two key words mentioned in nearly every other article these days). Of course the grand Rocky Mountain range may be a little ways off from feeling the heat and its snow pack may be able to last quite a few more years, which will probably keep the current owner in business until his retirement. But any long term ski resort folks should think hard about extending their spring time activities to accommodate long term viability for their areas.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

It's the Environment, Stupid. Turns One Year Old

It was one year ago today when I sat in my tiny room in my Park Slope apartment trying to figure out just what a blog was. My intention from my first post was to explore the relationship between the environment, economics and societies. I think I've pretty much stuck to that and expanded upon it.

In the coming year I'm planning to do more of the same, but will try and add a little more depth to some of my posts. I'm also going to try out a few other things - let me know what you would like to see here.

I'd also like to thank everyone who has been reading It's the Environment, Stupid. from the beginning (Frank, that's pretty much you if you're still reading), those of you who've found me along the way - especially Jeff from Sustainablog, Mark from 3r Living, Jasmine from Worsted Witch, and Dan from Environmental Action - and all of you new visitors and regular commenters. My numbers are small but keep growing and that keeps me going knowing that people are reading.

The green explosion that happened in 2006 was encouraging - from Dr. James Hansen, Al Gore and Leonardo Dicaprio; to Vanity Fair, Elle, and The Economist; to Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Target; to TreeHugger, WorldChanging and Ecorazzi. With everything from climate change, oil prices, and alternative energy, to eco-fashion, sustainable style and good design - the new environmental movement is shifting and moving forward into the mainstream media, our politics and every day lifestyles.

We've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go. Onward into 2007...

Friday, January 12, 2007

Al Gore movie banned from Seattle area school

Well not so much banned as restriced - most people think that Washington state is a blue state, but really it is more of a red tinged purple in a lot of areas.

A few creationist parents are criticising a Federal Way (an ex-urb south of Seattle) public school for showing the Al Gore movie. I of course laughed out loud when I saw the Seattle PI headline, and wanted to see what others in the green blogosphere thought of the ordeal.

I concur with Grist's David Roberts take on the story:
"I'm sure someone out there will object to this story as parading well-meaning, heartland-values-holding Americans before us for ridicule. But you know what? Screw that. America lives in terror of non-existent dirty hippies. Meanwhile, troglodytes are running the show from school boards all the way up to the presidency. They deserve a little time in the spotlight. It's long overdue."

I encourage you to read his whole post, it is amusing and he breaks down the PI story and the 'free speech' argument well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Winter made a brief appearance

I stepped out briefly in the brisk 32 degree morning for a cup o' (non-fairtraded) joe and encountered a small snow flurry. One of those if-you-blinked-you-missed it things, but I'm sure I wasn't imagining it as the guys at my bagel store also witnessed the strange phenomenon .

Saturday it was spring, wednesday it's winter. But before you start thinking things are "back to normal" I think we've only just hit the tip of this melting iceberg, I expect many more years of fun, surprising weather to come. (My first - and perhaps only - New Year's prediction.)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Air Pollution kills...

According to an AFP article via Yahoo News air pollution in Iran's capital of Tehran killed 3,600 people in just one month (Oct 23 - Nov 23.) It is reported that, "deaths were caused by heart attacks brought on by the air pollution and that the smog was responsible for 80 percent of the fatal heart problems that month..." The article also says that from March 2005 - March 2006 nearly 10,000 people died from air pollution related causes.

Acknowledging a link to air pollution in these deaths is telling of our times, however it does make me wonder if other polluted cities are making similar links and if these types of numbers world wide are, in fact, underestimated as the causal relationships between air pollution and related deaths might be difficult to prove, or just difficult for other local governments to accept.

Monday, January 08, 2007

R&D Funding from Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs is putting its money to good use and funding R&D for market based solutions to climate change. Green Biz (via WBCSD) reports that Goldman Sachs awarded a combined total of $2.3 in research grants to Resources for the Future, World Resources Institute, and Woods Hole Research Center. The projects funded range from researching viable federal climate change policy; testing emission reduction technologies; and researching the vital role of forests and ecosystems.

Goldman Sachs is often hailed as one of the top environmentally minded companies in the US (if not globally), so it is nice to see such a company stick to their word by investing in a much needed element in this whole global climate change thing - research and development. More funding into R&D will help spur innovation and potentially develop real solutions that can make a difference - in this case, market based solutions.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

More on this El Nino thing...

The limitations of a cell phone camera are heigtened when you're trying to take a picture of the small, fuzzy, soft-green buds that have prematurely sprouted on these trees in Prospect Park. I looked around for blossoming cherry trees, but I guess there aren't any in my end of the park.

So about this whole El Nino thing - at first I was amused by it. Not by the weather phenomenon itself, but the fact that the press is latching on to it with both hands and shoving it down our throats. Like we're supposed to breathe a sigh of relief and forget that anyone ever mentioned global warming in the first place, and that it's okay to continue our luxurious carbon-rich lifestyles without worry.

This is just the wrong message to send, especially since we've been able to get a majority of the mainstream media outlets and a fair number of big politicos to hop on board the climate change band wagon. While this unusually warm NYC winter might legitimately be attributed to El Nino, isn't helping to educate the American public about the complexities of climate change.

Climate change is a long term thing that we're not going to see the full effects of for several decades, but we must be aware of these small yearly changes in weather, the changes in migratory patterns of animals and bugs and how these things will affect our agriculture, our water and energy supply, and our global economic society. This continual denial, or lack of acknowledgement (ie. blaming it on short term weather phenomena) will not help us learn how to cope with (or adapt to) our changing planet.

So get out there and enjoy the 68 degrees in NYC in January, but I don't want to hear complaining on those 100+ days in NYC in August, nor do I want to hear any whining if your basement floods because of excessive, torrential rains in March...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Global Warming: A Misnomer

I usually forget to look at the weather report before I leave my apartment, so it's always a surprise when I get out to my front stoop and realize I'm wearing the wrong jacket. If I had flipped on the computer this morning, it would have warned me that the highs are supposed to be in the low 60's, possibly hitting 70 this weekend.

But surely this warmness can't be global warming, because according to the weather expert cited in a NY Times article today, "Global warming is a misnomer." The message in the article was just because it is warm in NY, doesn't mean it's warm EVERYWHERE, so therefore it isn't global warming.

Okay. Whatever. The fact is this is one of the warmest winters on record (at least in NYC) and for the past six months Al Gore has been beating this whole global warming thing into our heads, it's inevitable that people are going to jump to conclusions.

But hey, if you're not down with the whole global warming thing, it looks like El Nino is back. So next time you pass one of those poor, confused, sprouting flowers or blossoming trees (or if you happen to pass a polar bear chilling on a melting ice shelf) just reassure them, it's not global warming, it's El Nino.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Greener Consumer Reports

I know a lot of stuff passes under my radar (and above it for that matter) but I somehow completely missed Consumer Reports environmental website, which was launhed on earthday of '05.

However, their virtual Electronics Waste Reuse and Recycling Center did recently open, offering tips on what to do with all those pesky, unwanted cell phones, computer monitors, and other e-bits and pieces you can't bring yourself to get rid of the old fashioned way.

Not only does the site give you tips on how to dispose of it, it also helps you determine if it is fixable (if your unwanted e-item is in fact broken, and not just out of fashion.) And as an added bonus you can download a 47 page e-waste survey released in March of 2006! (this is actually very interesting and gives a little insight on the 'why' e-waste is generated and 'how' people dispose of it.)

Some of my previous posts on e-waste

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Tidal Turbines and Lightbulbs

The NY Times online video has a few green features.

"Tidal Turbines: Powering up under water" highlights a pilot project off of tiny Roosevelt Island in NYC's East River where two turbines are projected to generate energy for a grocery store and apartment building nearby.

"Understanding Light Bulbs: Wal-Mart backs energy efficient bulbs" takes a walk through Wal-Mart's new light bulb selection and compares the traditional incandescent with the more energy friendly compact flourescent.

These 5-minute-ish news stories get into about as much depth as you can with a simple video segment, but do get to the point and highlight some eco-minded alternatives in this mainstream media outlet.