It's the Environment, Stupid.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Curse of the Honey Bee

Beekeepers won't be the only ones feeling the sting of millions of missing honey bees, soon we all will.

Researchers and bee experts are a bit baffled and have a string of theories as to why the beloved bees just aren't returning home after their days out searching for pollen. Part of the problem comes from the varroa mites, which infest the little bees and explode in their throats (or so I've been told) effectively killing the flying pollinators in droves.

Who needs bees, you may ask? Bees are crucial in helping to pollinate fields and crops (ie your food and potential bio-fuel supply). Bee keepers have been travelling around the country with their buzzing hives to help pollinate fruit, vegetable and nut crops because the little pollinators have been declining over the years. According to a recent NY Times article honeybees pollinate over $14 million worth of crops each year.

Not as cute and cuddly as the polar bears, bees may be yet another casualty in our ever warming world. It makes me wonder - just how many canaries do we need to tell us we've got a problem in our mine?

Via NY Times and ENN.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Al Gore Wins! Al Gore Wins!

If you haven't already heard, the Al Gore movie won for best documentary feature at the Academy Awards (insert registred trademark logo here). And while it is no secret what I think about the movie (quick recap - it's a video presentation about Gore's slideshow on climate change, and not a brilliant piece of doc filmmaking), I am glad to see that it won.

So what does this win mean for the "climate crisis" movement and for the movie? Well first of all getting the academy nod gives the movie a ton of credibility and prestige, and implies to the general public that it is a must-see movie. Thus more people will see it, and more people will be informed about the basics of climate change. A win-win situation.

It is also an indicator of how far the green movement has come. In the span of a year mainstream coverage of global warming and all things green has exploded. This Oscar win will mean that the mainstream coverage will continue (for the time being anyway) and seeing that the green angle is hot, companies will push the eco-friendly aspects of their products or services. We'll also see an explosion of green focused tv shows as programmers are also catching on.

However, the down side of this could mean an increase in green washing and the oversimplification of associated environmental issues, not to mention the great possibility of mis-information and a rise in skeptic spin (or a resurgence in manufactured debate.)

As for the 3+ hour televised award ceremony itself, I thought that the Al Gore/Leonardo DiCaprio interchange was amusing (and a good plug for the green efforts at the Oscars), and was glad to see Melissa Etheridge's song that played during the closing credits of An Inconvenient Truth, also got the nod. I also liked the fact that the speeches for the green wins called for greater action from the celeb crowd, the public and the government.

Whether or not Gore hops into the 2008 prez race, climate change will be an issue in the run up to elections due to the success of the Al Gore movie.

Links to my previous posts on the Al Gore movie:
Al Gore reportedly thrilled
Al Gore movie gets Oscar nod
Al Gore movie banned from Seattle area school
The Al Gore movie

Sunday, February 25, 2007


If you do any blogging - or even if you've got an e-mail account - you get spam. Blogging spam usually involves random press-releases regarding something topically related. They're always impersonal, and even show up in comments (many times.)

So I was thoroughly amused by Shea Gunther's post over at Green Options. "A Funny Way to End the Week - Adventures with a Spammy Consultant." Shea got one of those impersonal press-release things from Willi Paul pushing his green consultant business. He tells of how he intended to forward it to one of his colleagues (including the word "lame" in the response) but actually replied to the sender, Willi Paul. Seeing his error, Shea laughed, shrugged it off and hoped that Willi would be understanding. Willi wasn't amused and replied to Shea with a big ol' F-You (spelled out of course.)

This of course amused me, and I hope you'll also find it amusing. Share it with your friends.

Here's the link to Shea's full post.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Your wine is in trouble...

If you don't care about the polar bears, maybe you care about your wine.
A study by Florence University linking the effects of rain and temperature to wine production found that increasingly high temperatures and intense rains are likely to threaten the quality of Tuscan wines. Italy's farmers association warned the cultivation of olive trees, which grow in a mild climate, has almost reached the Alps.
The AP article mentions that Tuscan vineyard owners aren't too concerned though, afterall it may be a good 20 years or so before there's a real noticeable difference.

It's nice to see that folks are making the bigger connections on the global warming front beyond melting icecaps, but I don't want to hear them complaining in 20 years when the Chianti grapes are shriveling up...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Should Lunch Boxes Contain Lead?

The most obvious answer should be a resounding NO. Absolutely not! But some soft vinyl lunch boxes were found to contain lead in a federal study last year.

However, according to an AP article:

The Consumer Product Safety Commission released a statement that they found "no instances of hazardous levels." And they refused to release their actual test results, citing regulations that protect manufacturers from having their information released to the public.That data was not made public until The Associated Press received a box of about 1,500 pages of lab reports, in-house e-mails and other records in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed a year ago.

First of all I thought that the W administration got rid of the Freedom of Information Act altogether, so I'm glad to know it is still in effect. Secondly, whose side is the Consumer Product Safety Commission on anyhow? The consumers or the producers?

The results of the tests found levels of lead in these soft vinyl lunch boxes (as lead is a stabilizing agent in vinyl), but the levels were deemed insignificant, as was the potential transfer from vinyl to food, or to the children carrying the lunch boxes and eating the food.

Since this info originally came out Wal-Mart agreed to stop selling them, and manufacturers worked to eliminate the toxic stuff altogether. But the bottom line is lunch boxes have lunch in them. Lunch goes into our bodies (and the bodies of kids), a place where lead should not go. So lunchboxes shouldn't contain lead, let alone any other toxic substance.

The Center for Environmental Health has a few lead in lunchbox tips and FAQs. And Jasmin over at Worsted Witch has quite a few non-vinyl lunch box alternatives worth checking out, like the Plastic Melamine Bento Box, the Billboard Lunch Sack, Reed Lunch Boxes, and recycled aluminum can lunch boxes.

For further reading on lead in lunch...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Test drive a hybrid via NY Times

The NY Times article "A Civics Lesson with a Multiple Choice Test" takes the reader on a test drive of three Honda Civics: Civic EX (gasoline), the Civic Hybrid (gas/electric) and the Civic GX (natural gas).

The winner?
All three Civic sedans have their merits and each appeals to particular sensibilities. For the best driving experience, the conventional EX is the hands-down winner. Save-the-planet types can take heart in either the Civic Hybrid or GX, since both have emissions as low as anything but an all-electric vehicle. The Hybrid uses the least fossil fuel, but it still adds to the coffers of OPEC. The natural gas GX is not only the cleanest car sold in America, it contributes to the nation’s energy independence by using a domestic fuel in plentiful supply. But the GX is simply not available — yet — in most of the United States, so the Hybrid may be the best compromise.

While I wouldn't think about driving a natural gas car, I might consider a hybrid or a diesel if I were on the market for a car. But I definitley wouldn't check out anything before reading up on the Consumer Report's guide to fuel efficient vehicles which compares EVERYTHING on the road (and you'd be surprised, it's not just the SUV's that are gas guzzlers...)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Electricity Prices Soar But No One Mentions Conservation

A big ol' article in the NY Times business section highlights the rising price of electricity. The reporter talks to a mayor of a small Illinois town who is quoted as saying, "People should not be in the position of choosing between keeping warm or buying medicine and food, and I fear that too many are going to be in that situation."

The article goes on to talk about regulating the electricity markets - or deregulating them - and then toys with the question of who is going to pay for building more power plants (coal fired I'm assuming). The consumer via higher electric bills? California has shown (by way of Enron) that having electricity price caps and calling it deregulation is a recipe for a very brown-out disaster. (Have a read through Vijay Vaitheeswaran's Power to the People for additional insight.)

What the NY Times article fails to mention is that people will have to choose whether to stay warm or go hungry. But the reason isn't due to higher electricity rates. It is because 1) our buildings/homes are inefficient, and 2) there is no incentive to conserve energy use during peak load time when energy prices are higher than at base load times.

Instead of energy regulation/deregulation politicos should be talking about how to make our living and working quarters waste less energy. Let's work with architects, developers, contractors, landlords to start requiring better insulation, windows, and broilers. (Andrew Padian of Steven Winter Associates gives a very convincing presentation on this matter.)

The positive side of higher electric bills however is similar to the spike in gasoline prices - people will inevitably think about their electric bills, and alternative sources will make headlines. The downside, people will blame the government and utility companies instead of reducing their own power consumption.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

IPCC - too conservative

There's a couple of great articles in this week's issue of New Scientist (on newsstands now). They dig a little deeper into the process of the IPCC and how the group of scientists came to "agree" on the science and the terms represented in the summary of the report.

There are certain aspects of climate science and various indicators that are still under question. However, one should not read into this as there being a debate on the matter of climate change, but rather that there are indications that the situation could be much worse than presented.

The article, "But here's what they didn't tell us. If the official verdicts on climate change seems bad enough, the real story looks far worse," tells of science regarding the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica. If they are really as close to disintegration as some think, the sea level rise would actually be measured in meters rather than the predicted 3.1 centemeters. Other points of worry to some scientists that won't conclusively make it into the report: the slowing gulf stream, and "carbon cycle feedbacks" or the relase of methane and other GHG as a result of permafrost melt.

The sidebar on the same page as that article, "Reasons to be cautious" discusses the debate over the terminology of "extremely likely," "likely," and "very likely" in regards to human activity causing the problem. After a 10 hour debate, and reluctance from Chinese and Saudi Arabian scientists, "very likely" was reached as meaning at least 90 percent, whereas just "likely" means greater than 66 percent, and "extremely" well over 95 percent.

While relatively short, these articles offer a fresh perspective (although saturated with a little gloom and doom) that isn't widely published in the reports about the report.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A rose is a rose even when toxic

Tis the season for news stories on flowers, chocolate and love. Of course the green blogosphere is covering these topics from every green angle possible - but I was surprised to see this AP story come across the MSN headlines, "Valentine Roses Sprayed with Toxic Chemicals."

BOGOTA, Colombia (Feb. 13) - It's probably the last thing most people think about when buying roses - by the time the bright, velvety flowers reach your Valentine, they will have been sprayed, rinsed and dipped in a battery of potentially lethal chemicals.

Most of the toxic assault takes place in the waterlogged savannah surrounding the capital of Colombia, the world's second-largest cut-flower producer after the Netherlands. It produces 62 percent of all flowers sold in the United States.

With 110,000 employees - many of them single mothers - and annual exports of $1 billion, the industry provides an important alternative to growing coca, source crop of the Andean nation's better known illegal export: Cocaine. But these economic gains come at a cost to workers' health and Colombia's environment, according to consumer advocates.

The U.S. requires imported flowers to be bug-free, but unlike edible fruits and vegetables they are not tested for chemical residues.
(My emphasis of course - finish reading the article here.)

And what's the easiest way to get your buds bug-free? Pesticides! Of course the article goes on to say that the South American flower farmers need to keep up with the competition on other continents, and flowers are a big export to America and they really need the cash.

But at what price? Workers in these flower farms are getting sick because of this practice (even though "Causal links between chemicals and individual illnesses are hard to prove because chronic pesticide exposure has not been studied in enough detail.") This is not new news. It has been documented for years, however it is nice to see it exposed in the mainstream media. (Atlhough I doubt that a blockbuster movie about flower growers in Bogota is in the works...)

I'd say hold off on your flower purchase until your local growing season, and then buy from your local farmers markets or as straight to the source as you can go.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Snow, Snow and More Snow

Upstate NY has been hit with a relentless case of snow. So much snow that NY gov'nor Eliot Spitzer declared a state of emergency. Of course snow is nothing new to this community, but this much snow - around 11 feet of the white stuff - is something to talk about. And the weather reports indicate there is more to come.

Of course another little weather anomaly to file as evidence for the global warming anomaly databases.

Via NY Times.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

NY sues ExxonMobil

There's a half-century-old oil slick underneath Brooklyn, NY. NY State Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, is finally doing something about it. He's suing ExxonMobil (and intends to sue BP, Chevron, Keyspan, and Phelps Dodge which don't make quite a stir when you put 'em in the headline).

These companies have at one point had operations in this industrial waterfront area, which is known (although not widely) as one of the most polluted sites in NYC.

The NY Times reports in this particular article that there are 8 million gallons of oil and petroleum byproducts under the surface of Greenpoint, however other accounts say there are upwards of 17 to 30 million gallons of the gooey black stuff hanging out down there (but hey, who's counting?) The fact is the stuff has been oozing for years into uber-toxic Newtown creek and up into the soils above.

Current Gov of NYS (former state atty general), Eliot Spitzer, who ran the show for a while on this, praised Cuomo's move (did they doubt he would?) Praise also came from the Riverkeeper Alliance who also took on the oil giant on this issue in 2004.

My previous posts on oil slicks:
The joys of oil

And on ExxonMobil:
Energy Security - ExxonMobil
Another op-ed from ExxonMobil
And now back to a message from ExxonMobil...
ExxonMobil refutes peak oil theory with op-ed ad

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Let the climate change games begin

China has come out with an official response to the IPCC's report of last friday: We're not gonna do a damn thing about it.

Yep. They're sticking to the "poor us and our developing economy" thing, plus they're throwing in a little "well the US started it why don't they do something first." This is what I call progress.

And in the same NY Times article Brazil of all countries is hopping into the "don't tell us what to do" mix, saying big money countries should lay off on their advice about destroying the Amazon rain forests.

What if for a day - one day - we could put our nasty politics and power play aside and envision the world's countries all on one team. Take out the competition and figure out some real solutions, because in the end pointing fingers and stalling isn't doing any of us any good.

Ecomagination new ads

I think I'm the last in getting around to writing a blog post on this - but if you haven't already check out GE's new Ecomagination ads.

These highly produced, feel good TV ads; clever online ads (I like the salt shaker/water one); and a nice selection of print ads really do make one feel good about GE.

Say what you will about greenwashing, but if a major corporation like this can see the way of the future and modify their products to reflect that, tell everyone about their new products and vision, get a positive response from doing so AND profit from it, maybe more companies should strive to do the same.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Green Options is LIVE

Green Options, a new website dedicated to "Greening the Good Life" is alive and kicking.

So go check it out. Tell your friends to check it out. Oh, and read the blog. It's pretty cool. (And I'm not just saying that because I'm a regular contributor... it is cool. But hey, don't take my word for it. Read it for yourself.)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Horsey on Climate Change

Seattle PI cartoonist David Horsey on the new climate change lobbyists...
My previous posts on Horsey's enviro commentary:
Horsey on Disappearing Ice Floes (this one features polar bears)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Climate change - the report is in

The report we've all been waiting for is in.

(Drum roll please...)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released the Fourth Assessment Report on climate change (the 20pg summary for policy makers is available for download online.) Note to policy makers: GO READ IT! Everyone else can check out the NYTimes article.

The last report (or rather the basis for much of the contrived controversy over the past five years on the topic) was issued in 2001.

Here's a few highlights:
Since the Third Assessment Report (TAR), new observations and related modelling of greenhouse gases, solar activity, land surface properties and some aspects of aerosols have led to improvements in the quantitative estimates of radiative forcing.... Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years (see Figure SPM-1). The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are due primarily to fossil fuel use and land-use change, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.

If I'm not mistaken I think they just said "human activities" (upon rereading I do see that it does in fact mention human activities are responsible - wow that's a bold statement.)

Oh, look here, where the scientist consortium says with emphasis that the planet is in fact warming:
The understanding of anthropogenic warming and cooling influences on climate has improved since the Third Assessment Report (TAR), leading to very high confidence that the globally averaged net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming, with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W m-2.

Here's the bit where they confirm sea levels are rising:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level.

And expanding on that:
Eleven of the last twelve years (1995 -2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature9 (since 1850). The updated 100-year linear trend (1906–2005) of 0.74 [0.56 to 0.92]°C is therefore larger than the corresponding trend for 1901-2000 given in the TAR of 0.6 [0.4 to 0.8]°C. The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13 [0.10 to 0.16]°C per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years. The total temperature increase from 1850 – 1899 to 2001 – 2005 is 0.76 [0.57 to 0.95]°C. Urban heat island effects are real but local, and have a negligible influence (less than 0.006°C per decade over land and zero over the oceans) on these values. {3.2}... Observations since 1961 show that the average temperature of the global ocean has increased to depths of at least 3000 m and that the ocean has been absorbing more than 80% of the heat added to the climate system. Such warming causes seawater to expand, contributing to sea level rise.

Here's the part where they link in some weather changes (noting that not ALL weather patterns are changing however):
More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Increased drying linked with higher temperatures and decreased precipitation have contributed to changes in drought. Changes in sea surface temperatures (SST), wind patterns, and decreased snowpack and snow cover have also been linked to droughts. The frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas, consistent with warming and observed increases of atmospheric water vapour. Widespread changes in extreme temperatures have been observed over the last 50 years. Cold days, cold nights and frost have become less frequent, while hot days, hot nights, and heat waves have become more frequent (see Table SPM-1). There is observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures.

Then they put it in a paleoclimactic perspective:
Paleoclimate information supports the interpretation that the warmth of the last half century is unusual in at least the previous 1300 years. The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer than present for an extended period (about 125,000 years ago), reductions in polar ice volume led to 4 to 6 metres of sea level rise.

And again, back to the human factor (as if we didn't feel guilty enough as it is...):
Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

This is an advance since the TAR’s conclusion that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations”. Discernible human influences now extend to other aspects of climate, includin ocean warming, continental average temperatures, temperature extremes and wind patterns.

And for those of you who are still caught up on the volcanic eruption/natural occurrence thing:
It is likely that increases in greenhouse gas concentrations alone would have caused more warming than observed becaushave taken place. The observed widespread warming of the atmosphere and ocean, together with ice mass loss, support the conclusion that it is extremely unlikely that global climate change of the past fifty years can be explained without external forcing, and very likely that it is not due to known natural causes alone.

Then there's the magic 8 ball predictions for the future: the snow cover will decrease; sea ice will also decrease; expect more high heats, extreme rains, and tropical cyclones; sea levels will rise (mostly attribued to the Greenland melt); but hey, good news the Antarctic ice sheet is too cold for widespread surface melting.

Of course, these are just a few select excerpts (although it does feel like I copied and pasted the whole thing.) There are some great graphs and maps on the final few pages.

But what is the significance of this report?

Basically they're saying that things haven't gotten better since the last report, only this time, instead of taking the tone that "we're pretty sure this is happening," the fourth assessment is more of a "we're pretty DAMN sure this is happening - now policymakers get off your arses and do something about it!!"

Now can we PLEASE officially call the debate over and get going on some real action?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Can sustainable solutions go mass scale?

We see it with organic produce and "free-range" poultry. Scaling up and generating quantities for the masses to meet increasing demand often results in the same problems that the solutions created were trying to get away from.

Case study: Palm Oil.

The NY Times reports that this great sustainable energy solution has bred a number of nighmarish problems. The Netherlands began using palm oil (a biofuel) to run power plants (so much cleaner than coal.) This turned out to work so well that they started making machines that would only use palm oil. This trend spread and the demand for palm oil began to rise.

Enter the problem.

As the demand rises the supply must grow to meet it, so growers in Malaysia and Indonesia had to increase production of palm oil (their new and increasing source of cash). "Rising demand for palm oil in Europe brought about the clearing of huge tracts of Southeast Asian rainforest and the overuse of chemical fertilizer there. Worse still, the scientists said, space for the expanding palm plantations was often created by draining and burning peatland, which sent huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere." Not very sustainable.

The EU is now reconsidering their biofuel policies to take into account how the palm oil is being produced. This should also be cause for concern for Americans as in his State of the Union reading, the prez called for increased production of ethanol and biodiesel. Will this production come at any cost? Will it be okay to use pesticides and genetically modified corn in our fuel? Will our fuel crops be separated from our food crops? How much energy (coal burned) is being expended in the creation of these biofuels?

Biofuels are a good idea. The intention is to reduce dirty emissions by using a (theoretically) renewable resource. But if we're calling something sustainable, we should understand that sustainable has to look at more than just the end result and look at the entire lifecycle and the ability for that lifecycle to continue indefinitely (or for a while anyway.)