It's the Environment, Stupid.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Ocean front property - good investment?

Scanning through the print edition of the NY Times this morning the Escapes section feature is titled "Water, Water Anywhere". Vacation homes or second homes are being snatched up left and right and water front properties are reportedly a hot commodity. The feature article also mentions that these vacation/second/retirement homes are also increasing in popularity in non-coastal regions such as Arizona (a water deprived region I might add).

My take: I suppose this would be a good short term investment - but if you're looking to resell that property down the line or pass it on to your grandchildren it might not be such a wise move. But then, I'm not an economist, or a real estate analyst or anything like that - I just think buying ocean front property or land in an area where demands on water and electricity are rising (possibly beyond adequate supply) is similar to buying property in a flood plain - kind of stupid.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mobile Mayhem

To follow up with my cell phone recycling adventures over the weekend... Just spotted this on Tree Hugger - the Science Museum in the UK has an exhibition "Dead Ringers?"

Not only can you find info about ways the UK is recycling cell phone and other e-waste, the exhibition/site raises a few questions that look at the bigger problem: why do we get rid of stuff even though it works? What happens after you drop off your phone for recycling? What are mobile designers working towards doing differently? What are all the toxic bits and pieces that make up your cell?

You can even play a game - Mobile Mayhem - try to recycle the cell phone parts as they float by.

Horsey - "The Bush Environmental Calendar"

Not much time today so I'll give you a David Horsey cartoon (this one comes from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 4/28/02) "The Bush Environmental Calendar"

Doesn't change a whole lot from year to year...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Brad Pitt - going green

Brad Pitt has moved from being the poster boy for poverty (the ONE campaign) to narrating a new PBS series, design-e2 (pronounced: design e squared). Pitt asks in the trailer, "How can we live in harmony with our earth?" e2 (I don't know how to make the little two) is promoted on the site with the subheading "the economies of being environmentally conscious".

The 30 minute episodes are in HD (that's High Def) and will air on PBS in June - but you can watch the trailer now on the website (which will officially launch April 1.)

Can't wait to see more... and hey, if Brad Pitt supports 'green' shouldn't we all?

(See the treehugger posting about design-e2 - they've got a big ol pic of him too!)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The realization of climate change

As I was making the blog rounds yesterday I kept coming across postings about the new Ad Council/Environmental Defense campaign on global warming. It was all I could do to not jump out of my chair and shout "FINALLY!"

The message: go to while there's still time!

The tv ads are pretty good. They convey a sense of urgency AND the need to protect the 'future generations' all without the use of polar bears or melting ice shelves. They really made me want to go to while there's still time!

So what happens when you go to You can read about the dangers of global warming - disease, extreme weather, economic effects. You can learn some of the basic science behind the phenomena, including some truths about popular climate change myths. Plus, a trim little earth characature demonstrates what YOU can do.

This ad campaign, along with Sunday's coverage from ABC news (George Stephanopolous with Montana Gov Brian Schweitzer in Glacier National Park discussing the topic) and this week's cover story on Time magazine (both blogged about frequently yesterday as well) is a GIGANTIC step for mankind. (Oh and I almost forgot last week's 60 minutes segment with Dr. James Hansen).

This is mainstream press in the United States of America - pretty much the only country holding out on the Kyoto Protocol (for whatever good that'll do at this point), and pretty much one of the few governments that continues to chant with their eyes closed, and hands over their ears, "There is no such thing as climate change, there is no such thing as climate change."

IF the American public can emerge from this commonplace denial and begin to put pressure on the administration and certain industries who will remain nameless (although it's not hard to pick them out of the crowd - they're doing the same chant as the White House) THEN we might start to see some real action where global warming is concerned.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Get rid of that old mobile, it's easy

I recycled my old cell phone this weekend, and was congratulated by a fellow blogger who said, “that's great! i have wanted to find a way to recycle my old phones, and so far i haven't come up with much. you are lucky to have found a place."

Well, now you too can find a convenient place to drop off your antiquated mobile – here’s a few sites I found that have a search by zip-code option where you can just plug in your zip and they’ll direct you to the appropriate collection site.
They’ll help you find participating locations, plus they’ll tell you how you can start collecting cell phones for charity.

Wireless: The New Recyclable
Find participating places, plus get info on industry recycling efforts.

Earth 911, with the slogan of “making every day earth day” is by far the most comprehensive of the three listed here. Enter your zip code (in the top left corner) then click on the product or service you’re interested in (household hazardous waste, battery recycling – and a host of other information) and it pops up with things in that zip code (I tried it with three different zip codes in different states - it's pretty cool). Earth 911 not only gives information on recycling, but info on donating items for reuse and how to buy green alternatives in the future.

While turning your phone in to a collection site doesn't completely take care of the ultimate problem of waste (all those collected phones have to go somewhere) - as consumers, it is still our responsibility to do something with it, and turning it in is a much better alternative than tossing it in the rubbish bin.

Here's a previous post on what I think about consumer/manufacturer responsibility and e-waste legislation.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Seattle - leader in climate change efforts

And back to news about Seattle... Friday, the city was praised for being a leader in taking action on climate change. Here's some excerpts from yesterday's P-I article.

Mayor Greg Nickels and the city were praised for leading the nation on the issue and were urged to continue in their fight against planet-warming pollution in a packed event at City Hall.

"The United States of America has really messed up on this," said former Vice President Al Gore, the event's featured speaker. "But let me tell you about Seattle."

Over the past year, Nickels has led a campaign to get U.S. cities to pledge to meet or beat the goals set in the international Kyoto Protocol... By Friday, 219 cities had joined the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

Critics have questioned how much of a difference individual cities can make, but the cities signed on to the agreement include 44 million people -- and Americans are among the top greenhouse gas producers per capita.

[Seattle's] proposed solutions are multifaceted in their approach and include increasing bus service, building more bike lanes and parking spaces, and discouraging driving by imposing tolls and higher parking lot taxes.The mayor is slated to come up with a final plan -- dubbed Seattle's Climate Action Plan -- in September. It will include funding sources and price tags for reaching the goals, which were not addressed in the recommendations.

But even as the city was basking in the glow of the proposal and successful recruitment of cities nationwide, some at the event already were asking for more.

"Kyoto, my friends, is not big enough," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "We need a bigger dream, we need a higher bar. ..."

"Seattle, lead again."

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Mission accomplished

It was more of a 25 min walk from where I live than my previously guestimated 15-20, but what's an extra five minutes really? When I arrived, there was a small note on the door, "back at 12:35" - only about 7 minutes away by my watch, which I used as a perfect excuse to grab a much needed cup of coffee at Ozzies across the street.

After coffee I headed back to 3r living. I had read Mark's 3r blog earlier, which noted that he and his wife Samantha would be out this weekend, but assured readers that the store would be open and staffed - today Laurence was watching the shop. (When I mentioned this to Laurence, she seemed rather surprised that her likeness was on the internet - but fellow shoppers were amused as she checked it out for herself.)

Before dropping my old mobile into the bin, I took a look around - they carry a TON of cool stuff! Everything from bags, candles, and pencil holders to furniture, cleaning products and dog biscuits - each tagged with its own little story or mission statement.

Although I didn't purchase anything this trip, I did drop off my old cell phone. (I recently upgraded - my new phone takes pictures, as you can see.) 3r Living has a small recycling center where you can drop off crayons, batteries, CDs and cell phones. (Mark's blog posting on a few recycling ground rules.) So there it is, my old cell phone ready to be sent to greener pastures... (a better mental image than say, mobile graveyard.)

If you do live in NYC, you should check out 3r Living. It is definitely worth a trip to Park Slope (plus, there's lots of boutique shops, restaurants and cafes on this end of 5th Ave to warrant an afternoon here) - and if you don't live in the vicinity check out the online store.

Off in search of the local...

Okay - I'm off to 3r living to recycle my old cell phone as promised in my last posting. (Check back later for the exciting conclusion to this story...)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Going local

So as I’m writing up my blog on an article I found on PCB levels around the Duamish river in Seattle, a little IM window pops up from a friend of mine (also in Seattle).

Shawn: so I got my darkroom up and running
Me: great
Shawn: my apartment smells like bleach
Me: That sounds healthy
Shawn: I’ve got the windows open
Me: that’s good
Shawn: got to check my e-bay bid now
Me: I’m writing my blog
Shawn: about?
Me: PCBs in the Duamish
Shawn: but you live in ny
Me: what? too much Seattle?
Shawn: it kinda sounds like you live there if you just skim through

So I abandoned the blog about how some new tests around the Duamish have found PCB levels over 900 times the level considered toxic (this area is already a Superfund clean up site) and went to find something local to blog about.

I figured I couldn’t get much closer than Mark Caserta’s 3r Living – on 5th ave in Park Slope. Although, I am embarrassed to say that I have yet to visit the store (probably only a 15-20 min walk from where I live – no excuse really). Not only do they sell “the worlds highest quality eco-friendly, organic products and gifts” both from their store and online, they also collect batteries, cell phones, ink cartridges, CDs and CD cases.

Even cooler is Caserta’s blog (he talks about things local) and has recently added Ben Jervey, author of the new book, The Big Green Apple, as a blog contributor.

I think I’ll stop by this weekend and turn in my old cell phone… and see what other local stuff I can find along the way.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Yankees vs. South Bronx

The New York Yankees have plans to build a new stadium. They’ve also extended a good will effort towards the South Bronx with a $28 million community benefits program.

According to the NYTimes article yesterday: “The draft plan calls for the trust fund to be endowed in annual increments of $700,000 over the 40-year life of the Yankees lease. It also calls for the Yankees to reserve at least 25 percent of the construction contracts for Bronx-based companies, at least half of which would be run by women or members of minorities. At least 25 percent of the construction and post-construction jobs would also go to Bronx residents. An administrator hired by the Yankees will monitor the team to ensure it is compliant, according to the draft agreement.” Plus Bronx residents will be allocated 15,000 tickets a year (I’m guessing those aren’t going to be Boston tix).

I find it a little ironic that the richest team in baseball plays in one of the poorest communities in the nation. I will admit, the only time I’ve been to the Bronx is when I’ve gone to catch a Yankee game. The 4 train goes right there, so there’s no need to expose oneself to the surrounding community. (To get a better feel for what the South Bronx truly encompasses beyond the stadium, you can take a virtual walking tour of the South Bronx with Green cooperative’s Omar Freilla, featured on Grist).

The stadium itself will cost about $800 million (although I haven’t done my research to find out if that number includes the tear down and hauling away and disposal of the house that Ruth built). The team payroll in 2005 was $208,306,817, the highest in major league baseball (followed by BoSox at $123,505,125). Is $28 million dollars in community benefits really going to make a difference in this community or is it just a good will gesture by the boys with big pockets to appease local opposition?

I’m not against new stadiums. I love watching baseball in Safeco Field as much as I loved seeing the multipurpose, concrete monstrosity known as the Kingdome implode - never again would I have to watch Seattle baseball played indoors, on astroturf. That new stadium not only revitalized baseball in the emerald city, but it helped foster a new economy in a failing area. But unlike the Bronx, Seattle's Pioneer Square and SODO (south of the Kingdome) areas don’t double as residential communities.

The last thing Bronx residents need is another facility plunked down in their neighbrohood that doesn’t take into consideration the impact on ecological and health factors.

Upon a quick search I didn’t find any talk of greening the new stadium. Last I checked LEED didn’t have a special LEED-BP for ball parks – but that hasn’t stopped the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission from proposing that the new ball park slated for the Washington Nationals will be green. (Here's a Common Dreams article that refers to it too.) Renovations of Oregon State University’s Reser Stadium (a football stadium) met green requirements. Even the proposed New York Sports and Convention Center (which I believe has recently been rejected by a state committee) is registered LEED.

If recent Yankee history is any indication, money can't buy a ticket to a world series win - what makes them think it will buy community support?

(For the record, I am not a Yankee fan. As a baseball fan, one is required to have respect for the team's history and legacy, but one cannot grow up a Seattle Mariner fan (don't laugh) and love the Yankees.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Environmental tipping point?

I’ve noticed the term ‘tipping point’ popping up around the environment lately – mainly in relation to climate change, but also regarding an awareness or consciousness of things green.

March 6 on World Changing, Gil Friend posted, “Sustainability – At the Tipping Point?” He lists a few things as to why he believes 2005 might be the year when sustainability reached the tipping point, including General Electric’s Ecomagination campaign, Boeing’s fuel efficient jet, Goldman Sachs’ commitment to renewable energy investment, and the sheer number of hurricanes and tropical storms.

Nick Aster posed the question Feb 2 on triplepundit in response to GW’s admission that the U.S. is “addicted to oil” (Friend left a comment there detailing the above). And on Feb 25, Jeff McIntire-Strasburg of Sustainablog asked, “when will we hit an alternative energy tipping point?” I even found myself using it to describe what I think might happen with the emerging sustainable style movement.

The reference, of course, is to Malcolm Gladwell’s book of the same title, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Gladwell looks at what elements are necessary in the spread of an epidemic – whether it’s a disease, a social movement or fashion trend.

However, it seems the use of ‘tipping point’ in climate change articles is used in a different context - in more of a ‘beyond threshold’ kind of way. The tell tale signs of arctic ice melt, ocean warming and everything else seem to mark a point of no return, like we’ve pushed the limits of the ecological boundaries and there’s no going back. There’s the statement ‘we’ve passed the tipping point.’ The questions, ‘have we reached a tipping point?’ or ‘are we on the verge of a tipping point?’ All valid, but I wondered if this use of the term wasn’t straying a little bit from what Gladwell intended. So I e-mailed to find out.

The response: i applaud the use of tipping point in all contexts. :-)

There you have it.

There is no wrong way to use ‘tipping point’.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Can one be a consumer and an environmentalist?

I recycle – paper, plastic, glass, aluminum. I buy organic vegetables, cage free eggs and fair trade coffee. I read left behind newspapers in cafés and get my java to stay if there’s an available seat. I print double sided at my school’s computer lab. I even stopped to read a pesticide notice on a park fence the other day and thought, “It’s nice that they’re notifying the public, but gosh, isn’t there some integrated pest management they can use here instead?”

I also recently bought toxic bathroom cleaner because it promised to get rid of mold and mildew (and believe me I really needed to get rid of some serious mold and mildew). I bought laundry soap at the laundry mat because I ran out, and it was cold outside and I didn’t want to walk four blocks to the "natural" store, which probably wasn’t open yet anyway. I opted for the bright colored, EXTRA sticky, post-it notes instead of the regular sticky, boring, pastel-colored, post-consumer, recycled ones. I bought a standard light bulb instead of an energy efficient one because I only had two dollars in cash on me, and had forgotten to get a new bulb two days in a row and didn’t want to spend another evening in a dark, dark room. Do I feel guilty about this? Yes. Even as I plunk down the cash at the register, I think to myself, “I shouldn’t be buying this toxic, toxic (or insert the most un-eco adjective of your choice) stuff.” I know it’s bad, but I do it anyway.

Does this make me a horrible person? I’d like to think not – that’d make me, along with millions of other people, horrible, horrible people. Does it contribute to our global environmental problems? Of course. What can we do about it? That’s the million dollar question (okay, probably 500 trillion dollar question, but who’s counting?)

I’m about as eco-aware as they come, but I’m not nearly as eco-friendly a consumer as I should be. So at what point does this guilt turn into consumer behavior changes? Is it a matter of eco-friendly products being accessible and available? Is it a matter of price? Branding? Advertising? Selection? Design?

I don’t believe consuming less is the answer, but I think we can design ourselves out of many problems by creating minimal, bio-degradable packaging or using less toxic/less harmful materials (a-la Cradle to Cradle). I think we’re slowly creating a market place where green products can sit along side their non-green counterparts, and eventually even replace them altogether.

I applaud those who are eco-friendly all the time (or who consistently choose the less bad alternative) and I strive to be like them, I really do. But in reality (at least mine, for now) circumstance trumps conscience.

This blog posting inspired in part by the philosophy of The Lazy Environmentalist and a recent Eco Chick posting.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

And now back to a message from ExxonMobil…

Yes, ExxonMobil again – but they had another one of those propaganda/ads in Thursday’s NY Times (print edition, op-ed page) that I couldn't pass up. Here's a link to the PDF from ExxonMobil's site.

This one is called “Driving for Efficiency” with a subheading, “Despite cleaner fuels and better engines, average U.S. fuel economy hasn’t changed. Science suggests it can." Above the text is a drawing of a big ol car next to a little gas pump, with a little guy climbing up a ladder to fill his tank. I didn't find this one nearly as entertaining as the previous one refuting the peak oil theory, but it's still good.

The text (with my running commentary):
Who would argue against improving fuel economy? (Not me. Would you?)

The obvious benefits of using oil supplies wisely have made most people – including energy producersadvocates for energy efficiency. (Since when?)

America has made progress since the 1970s ‘energy shock’. The U.S. economy today is nearly 50 percent more energy-efficient than 30 years ago (50%! Why that's leaps and bounds in a matter of 30 years!) Every form of transportation – planes, trains and automobiles (not really EVERY form now is it?) – now benefits from improved fuels an engine systems.

So why is it that despite this overall progress, the average fuel economy of American cars is unchanged in two decades? (um, maybe you want to ask GM and Ford? Because I'm sure oil companies fully supported stricter CAFE standards.)

It’s because underlying engine efficiency gains have been largely offset by the increasing weight of vehicles, reflecting a growing share of the market moving to light trucks and sport utility vehicles. (efficiency gains and market share - that's a good way to keep your readers.) The size and flexibility of SUVs have made them popular and to many consumers those benefits are hard to give up, even at higher fuel costs. (so engines have been getting more efficient, but the vehicles are bigger and we like big vehicles, therefore the logic makes sense?)

So what to do? (yes, it is quite a quandary.)

While some technologies hold promise for the longer-term, (no room to list them here of course) the more immediate challenge is to continue improving engines and fuels to achieve maximum efficiency regardless of vehicle size.

(This is the good part...) The best available science suggests that a further 50 percent improvement in the efficiency of the internal combustion engine may be achievable. (Didn't the best science available also say that global warming was real several years ago? I guess you can just pick and choose your science to fit your needs.) How this translates into vehicle fuel economy will depend on factors such as size and weight or other technology improvements like today’s hybrids. (If ExxonMobil would heed the word of Amory Lovins they would know that a lighter material is available NOW for vehicles - no need to wait for technology to catch up, it's here. But listening to Lovins would also mean we'd be a country less reliant on oil.)

Would a 50 percent improvement be worth the investment needed to achieve it? (who's investment are we talking about here?)

We think so. And through partnerships with leading vehicle manufacturers (so the car companies are in on it) we’re working on fuel and engine systems that could dramatically improve efficiency and reduce emissions – without restricting America’s ‘right to drive’. (Keep oil, reduce emissions, drive more - makes sense.)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Score 1 for clean air

Leading the NY Times home page (for the moment) is a win for clean air enthusiasts everywhere. Friday, the federal court of appeals wasn't buying the sham that the Clean Air Act really is - an opportunity for more pollution, not less - and ruled against GW and the EPA on the matter. This is a great victory for environmental regulation - for at least the next 45 days anyway, which is how long the govt has to decide whether or not they want to bring it up for review by the entire appeals court.

However - as I'm scanning the blogs it may not be good news after all... check out this post from the Environmental Economics blog. Here's a posting from David Roberts on Friday from Gristmill.

More climate change in the news: Weekends are usually a time when I can catch up on stuff I didn't have a chance to read during the week. So as I'm scanning the NY Times online environment section I spotted this article by climate change reporter, Andrew Revkin, "Ice Retreats in Arctic for 2nd Year; Some Fear Most of It Will Vanish", published March 15. This of course was the day before my climate change in the press rant, and according to Revkin's article, "The new findings on winter ice were first reported yesterday [March 14] in the British newspaper The Independent." The Independent also ran an article about the recent Prudhoe Bay spill that same day (as did the NY Times - guess they needed a few days after the AP story ran on 3/11 to check some facts and create a map showing where Prudhoe Bay is.) The LA Times ran a couple of short articles by staff reporter Robert Lee Holtz, about storms and surface warming temperatures March 16, and March 17.

So by that account seems like climate change is gaining a little ground on the press circuit - or maybe a few studies on the topic were released all in the same week... but hey, at least they warranted coverage.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Climate change in the press part 2

Well, really it's climate change in the Seattle P-I again - combined with the 'what can you do' question. P-I environment reporter, Lisa Stiffler reports that "[Seattle] Mayor Greg Nickels -- who rallied city leaders nationwide when he launched his fight against global warming more than a year ago -- will unveil next week his plan for curbing Seattle's greenhouse gas emissions." The article details a few programs and policies on city and state levels that address climate change, such as a tax credit for hybrids, and a state requirement for 2% of fuels to be bio. Stiffler also features business and transportation efforts, and a 60 yr old substitute teacher who heats her home on biodiesel.

What's great about this article is that I didn't even search for it! It was just sitting there at the top of the Seattle P-I home page waiting to be clicked on. (confession: the main reason I check the P-I daily is not so much for the news from home, but for baseball updates - the P-I has great Mariner coverage. The decent coverage of environmental isses and David Horsey cartoons are a bonus.) If it were the NYTimes that had climate change sitting on the top, I'd probably blog about that too - but they don't, at least not today anyway.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Climate change in the press

To continue with the climate change theme....

Seattle P-I columnist, Joel Connelly, wrote about warming in the West in his column yesterday. Dry forests and barren ski slopes are just a couple of indicators he refers to - but the thing is he's not plugged by the P-I as an environmental reporter. He's covered issues pertaining to the environment in his reporting days, but right now he mainly sticks to commentary on NW issues. (climate change being one of them).

P-I reporters Lisa Stiffler and Robert McClure, on the other hand, strictly cover the environment. Yesterday Stiffler posted a blog (the P-I has a great blog section, the environment one is Dateline Earth) "Are Americans finally getting hot under the collar over climate change?" about a new poll indicating Americans are wising up to the realities of climate change and don't think the current administration is doing enough about it.

This is just from one newspaper (online - as the blog is not in print) in a fairly eco-aware city - what's the climate change coverage/discussion in your area?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What can you do? Send a letter to congress

On Monday, I blogged about early spring and climate change and an anonymous commenter responded to my request for people to think twice before complaining about the weather, "But I wonder what I can actually do beyond thinking twice?"

I suggested they check out Calvin Jones' Climate Change Action.

Here's another suggestion - write to congress.

But I don't have time to write to congress, you say? No excuses.

Environmental Action does the work for you - their latest letter involves sending your support for The Energy of Our Future Act (HR4384). Two minutes and you've done your part.

David Suzuki's website also lists some things you can do.

I would also suggest writing a letter to the editor of your local paper or blogging about climate change on sites that don't normally talk about it. Help continue a wider dialogue on the topic. Ross Gelbspan's book, The Boiling Point talks about how the media has largely ignored or downplayed global warming issues, in part due to heavy influence/spin from oil companies. At the moment, climate change/global warming seems to slowly (every so slowly) be merging into mainstream outlets, but it will really require a shift of thinking in the collective consciousness in order for any action to truly make a difference, which is why I suggested thinking twice before complaining about the weather.

It is sunny outside this morning and I'm going to take a stroll through the park - but first I'm going to send off a letter to congress.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I really don’t mean to keep picking on ExxonMobil, but…

Everyone's favorite oil company has just signed a deal with Indonesia’s Pertamina to jointly operate a giant untapped oil reserve! (do you think any one told them that Bush wants to get the U.S. off foreign oil?) According to the AP: “Exxon and Pertamina, which plan to jointly invest $2 billion to develop the block, said in a joint press statement Monday that they'd agreed to a 30-year production-sharing contract in which each company would share 45 percent interest in the block. The remaining 10 percent would go to the local governments, they said.” That’s nice that they’ll give 10% to the Indonesian government, it's such a good will thing to do (and totally spinnable for a giving back to the community campaign – plus the untapped reserve thing supports their ‘no peak in sight’ propaganda/ad.)

I wonder though, with all this untapped potential wealth, if ExxonMobil will have anything left over to pay out the $4.5 billion they still owe over the Valdez spill? I mean, it was nearly 17 years ago – surely, everyone has forgotten about the blackened coastline, and the oil soaked birds and sea otters, and the devastated economies around Prince William Sound. Well, I guess not EVERYONE, some people are still pretty ticked off – as was reported in the Seattle PI yesterday. The P-I also did a little Valdez/Exxon(Mobil) number crunching:

· $300 million: Paid by Exxon in actual damage claims
· $2.3 billion: Spent by Exxon in cleanup
· $4.5 billion: Punitive damages against Exxon
· $25 million: What Exxon claims it owes in punitive damages
· $36 billion: ExxonMobil 2005 profit
· 32,000: Remaining plaintiffs
· 11 million: Gallons of crude spilled
· 1,300: Miles of coastline fouled
· 2,800: Number of sea otters killed by spill*
*Estimate by Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

Being able to tap into an untapped oil reserve while simultaneously litigating your way out of your debt to society: priceless.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Early spring

It annoys me when people complain about the weather. How it’s always yucky when it rains and beautiful when it’s sunny. It’s like arriving to work on a Monday with everyone wishing it were Friday. I never complained about the weather until I came to New York. Even coming from Seattle, where it could be gray day in and day out, drizzling, sprinkling, misting, mixed with the occasional afternoon clearing and sunshine – it never bothered me. It wasn’t until living in NYC that I understood what people were complaining about. It gets cold during the winter and stays cold for so long there becomes a point where you’re just tired of being cold and wish for warmth. Then in the summer, when it’s so blasted hot, there becomes a point where you’re just tired of being hot and long for October when it finally cools off.

I actually like the weather in the northwest – I miss it. I miss the arrival of spring in March, marked by the pink and white blossoming of trees and the sprouting of tulips (or whatever greenery that is that sprouts up at the same time the trees wake up). In NY, one random day in May (or late, late April) the trees will get leaves overnight then – poof – its summer.

It was the early spring factor I was complaining about the other day. Wednesday evening it was cold. I hadn’t brought my scarf with me. I longed for spring (even though it has been an extremely mild winter, despite the groundhog’s warning.) Thursday was a bit windy, but sunny. I thought if I closed my eyes and imagined it were spring, the trees just might grow a green bud or two. Then Friday it was in the 70s (as in Farenheit). It was warm outside. This is March? But I wasn’t complaining – I was warm. It was like LA sans smog and palm trees. People were happy and drinking iced coffee, birds were singing.

The only problem is that it is going to keep getting warmer. Not just this year in NY, but globally in the very near future. (Here it comes…) 2004 was the hottest year to date (debate the hockey stick all you want,) and there’s no telling how the earth will regulate itself – it may be negligible, or it may prove James Lovelock correct – but there will be change and it will have devastating effects because we’re just not ready for it. (Here’s an article from the Poughkeepsie Journal from Saturday that picked up on the early spring – climate change connection.)

Humans will be able to adapt but our dependence on wildlife, water and agriculture, which will also be affected, might make things a little difficult on us. And, if the anticipated increase and severity in storms materializes, governments around the world will be stuck in crisis mode jumping from one ‘natural’ disaster to the next. Then there will really be reason to complain about the weather.

Right – so early spring – um, I guess the moral of the story is be careful what you wish for, and don’t take what you have for granted. And hey, if Dr. James Hansen (the NASA scientist the government tried to hush up) believes that we can stop it before it gets all that bad, then there’s hope.

So enjoy the sunshine, but think twice before complaining about the rain.

(Check out this animated climate change model posted by Treehugger....)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Washington State facing water problems

A common misconception out here on the East Coast (at least when talking to folks who haven’t ventured west of the Mississippi, or those who stick to major metropolitan areas) is that Washington State is all green, all the time. They think Seattle = trees & rain (lots and lots of rain) = the entire state. That's like comparing Manhattan to Utica, NY - vastly different.

People are shocked when I tell them Washington state is, in fact, divided by the Cascade mountain range, which makes Western Washington the green, rainy machine everyone has come to know and love. Eastern Washington is more like Montana than it is Seattle. Across the mountains there’s agriculture and apple orchards (not to mention a massive nuclear facility/superfund site called Hanford). It gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter, or so I’m told by the tv weather men - I’ve only driven across in the summers to the Gorge (a fantastic concert venue), Spokane (a long time ago) and the Grand Coulee dam (where they’ve got this great, cheesy, narrated laser light show, which is borderline propaganda for the controlling of the power and strength of the “mighty Columbia”).

I bring this up because Eastern Washington is having water problems and gov, Christine Gregoire, recently signed off on $200m to investigate new dam sites along the mighty Columbia. According to the P-I article, dams are increasingly being dismantled nationally – so why is WA looking seriously at it? Will new dams be the answer to the regions water problems? Are there other solutions? A few dam critic’s alternative picks are listed in the article, but even these are conservation and efficiency measures, which in themselves may not be adequate to meet the demand.

Water is not like power. We can't just create a technology to generate more. Water, as we’ve learned to use it and rely on it, must be controlled, managed, stored. However, with increasing development and changing weather patterns , it will be difficult to manage water with technologies and solutions that have worked in years past. We need to come up with new solutions. Perhaps there are ways of capturing rain water on a large scale, or more efficient ways of stormwater management. What if there was a way to prevent winter floodings in the Skagit Valley and help out farmers on the other side of the mountains?

Developing new ways of thinking about how we deal with water isn't impossible. I’ve used the example of Tree People in LA before. Tree People founder, Andy Lipkis, branched off into watershed management (Tree People began in the 1970’s as a reforesting organization). He was able to convince the city to let him try out a new storm water management system in LA. Instead of building more concrete culverts (as the Army Corp of Engineers was set on) he found a way to retrofit school yards and back lawns with cisterns and infiltrators to help handle the flow.

The T.R.E.E.S. project might not be the solution for Washington, but it is a clear example of how an alternative can be viable when we start thinking beyond the boundaries of solutions past.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

More oil spilled in Prudhoe Bay than first thought

Last Saturday I blogged about an oil spill in Prudhoe Bay, AK, where a leak was discovered in a BP pipeline that had released an estimated 19,000 gallons of oil.

Well, the BBC reports (based on the AP article I think) that it was more like 267,000 gallons - which they're calling the largest oil spill on AK's north slope. (The 1989 Exxon Valdez spilled 11m gallons in to the region's water. The now second largest north slope incident occurred in 2001 with 38,000 gallons).

The NY Times listed an AP article that says clean-up crews have recovered about 5,700 gallons in the Prudhoe Bay spill, and officials have reassured the press that ''The volume is large, but the footprint is small...It's contained and controlled, which is the really good news. Morale is high, despite the cold temperatures and harsh conditions.''

BP told KTVA, an Alaskan TV station, “We're obviously not happy that we've had a spill, but I think at the end of the day what the story will be--it will be that even though we had a spill of this size, we were able to contain it to a small area, less than two acres, and that we had a fantastic spill response.” KTVA also reports that Alaska's Dept of Environmental Conservation is pleased with the clean-up response. (Warm fuzzies all around!)

The source of the leak was a small hole in the pipeline, perhaps caused by corrosion, which was detected March 2 (at least that's when the first press stories ran.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Lazy Environmentalist on NPR

Host of radio show The Lazy Environmentalist, and CEO/founder of Vivavi, Josh Dorfman, will be a guest today on NPR's science Friday to talk about trends in sustainable style and other contemporary, hip, environmental things (3:40p EST). Thanks to Treehugger for the posting:

I’ve also begun shooting a documentary featuring Dorfman and his sustainable ventures - so stay tuned to the progress of that (here or I may start a vlog...)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Another climate change book - Linden

My pal Dave Press commented about a guest featured on The Daily Show who wrote a book on how climate change has destroyed cultures of years past - I erroneously jumped to the conclusion that it must have been Jared Diamond, author of Collapse (which is themed similarly).

The guest in question was Eugene Linden, who wrote the newly published book, The Winds of Change.

On an initial search I found little written about it in the enviro blogosphere - has anyone read it? Heard of it? Groundbreaking or more of the same?

Art going green

Featured in today's NY Times is Deborah Fisher's sculpture "Glacial Melt" at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens NY - an alternative way of communicating the climate change issue, and making it accessible. "I want to change the way people do stuff in the world..." she says in the audio slide show online.

Museums are also taking their exhibitions green:
The Museum of Arts & Design (right across from MOMA in Manhattan) is currently featuring "Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art". I was just there yesterday - it is very cool.
Here's how they describe it:
"Sustainable design, which balances environmental, social, economic and aesthetic concerns, has the potential to transform everyday life and is already reshaping the fields of architecture and product design. Beyond Green explores how this design philosophy resonates with an emerging generation of international artists who combine a fresh aesthetic sensibility with a constructively critical approach to the production, dissemination and display of art. While "green" architecture has been widely explored, this is one of the first exhibitions to focus exclusively on sustainability in art and design."
The Beyond Green Exhibition ends May 7.

The Skyscraper Museum in lower Manhattan is currently featuring an exhibit "Green Towers for New York: from visionary to vernacular".
"The show will examine a new generation of sustainable skyscrapers that are either currently under construction or contract in Manhattan. These range from high-profile corporate headquarters, such as The New York Times Building, The Hearst Tower, and One Bryant Park, to lower-profile, but highly innovative residential projects designed to high-performance "green" standards, such as the new west-side apartment buildings the Helena, Mosaic, and W. 31st St. mixed-use project and new residential blocks in Battery Park City, which is also home to the Museum."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Rustle the Leaf and DDT

If you don't already know about Rustle the Leaf, check him and his little acorn buddy out. The weekly eco-comic was created by Dan Wright and Dave Ponce as an environmental educational tool. Along with the strip, the creators also include some thoughtful commentary - this week the topic is pesticides, particularly DDT.

The DDT topic reminded me of an article I read a while back in The Ecologist magazine, that shows strong evidence linking polio to pesticides - not a virus. (Here's a link to the full article by Janine Roberts 1/5/04, The Ecologist)
Below is the article summary:
Polio: the virus and the vaccine
There is a rarely mentioned epidemic raging in the world today, one that is crippling children in more than 100 countries. In extreme cases the disease starts with a fever, which is followed by vomiting, delirium and spreading pain. Within days of being infected, the motor-neurone cells in victims’ spines cease to function properly. Pain intensifies as victims’ limbs are paralysed. In the very worst cases, their chests are also paralysed, which prevents them from breathing. Even when the children recover, the illness often returns in later life. Health authorities say it has no cure. The number of cases increased by over 250 per cent worldwide between 1996 and 2003 1. It is a disease with a long history and many names. The condition’s official name now is ‘Acute Flaccid Paralysis’ but it was once known as ‘infantile paralysis’/ ‘poliomyelitis’ (polio for short). Some people called it ‘the crippler’. A shot in the dark Polio is a devastating disease; the preferred method for fighting it is vaccination. Yet there is a mass of historic evidence that suggests it is not caused by a virus but by industrial and agricultural pollution.

DDT is currently used to control mosquitos (and thus controlling malaria) in many African countries (Africa Fighting Malaria is just one organization that lists DDT as an effective way of fighting malaria.) It would be interesting to see if there is a positive correllation between the use of DDT today and polio cases as there was in the early part of the 20th century in the United States.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The state of the seas

The state of oceans, and other earthly waters seems to be in the news a bit lately, as is the state of the fish within them.

A U.S. Geological Survey report about pesticides in rivers and streams (and the fish in them) came out Friday (check out this article “Pesticides reach most rivers” from the Seattle-PI 3/4/06).

The March 2006 issue of Scientific American has an article “Dangers of Ocean Acidification” (no link because you need subscriber access to get it online, but its easily browsable at your neighborhood magazine stand.)

ENN posted a story from the Sacramento Bee about new (or at least newly accessible) computer technology where you can check the mercury levels in your fish before consuming (3/2/06).

Mother Jones entire March/April issue is dedicated to this topic – oceans, fish, the fishing industry: “Last Days of the Ocean: We’re pushing our seas to the brink. Can they be saved?” I particularly liked Daniel Duane’s commentary “Navigating the Catch of the Day”
WE’RE ALL AT RISK, when it comes to fish, and not just of long-term mercury poisoning, but of the more immediate hazard familiar to anyone who has tried to buy seafood recently—anyone who reads a newspaper, that is. I refer to the moral and practical decision-making paralysis brought on by an almost laughable set of contradictions. The very same fatty tissues in which mercury builds up, for example, in the big fish that eat the little fish, pack loads of omega-3 fatty acids, the health elixir that has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure, and may even stave off certain cancers and ease depression. We should all eat fish all the time, in other words—except that we should try not to eat fish.” (read the rest here…)

Our waters are polluted, it is tainting our fish – but why are we in acceptance of this? Granted there’s a ton (well a heck of a lot more than just a ton) of mercury, PCBs and other toxins in our waters, most of which is either beyond the scope of clean-up or is deemed as cost prohibitive, but why are we even still allowing these chemicals to be emitted at all?

Minnesota state legislature is talking about reducing air-borne mercury emissions 90% by 2011. I would love to see that happen, but I’m sure, as with ALL environmental policy, big industry is likely to pull the same old sob story about how devastating it’ll be to the economy and economic growth, etc. and will still be allowed to spew mercury into the world.

I don’t think market based mechanisms are the way to go for toxins such as mercury, unless the end goal is zero over a relatively short period of time. If a trading system gets us to zero quicker that's fine, but otherwise it should be regulated in the old fashioned command and control style. Until then pass the mercury laden sea bass....

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The joys of oil

Did you hear about the oil spill in Prudhoe Bay on Thursday? A few news outlets picked up on the AP article (3/2 article, 3/3 article). There were about 19,000 gallons of oil spilled (although clean-up crews are working to clear snow around it to determine the full extent of the spill.) Early March (or the winter in general) seems to be a great time to have an oil spills (if you need to have one) since temperatures are still below freezing and the ground it still frozen, which makes for easier clean up because the snow acts as a barrier and the oil itself congeals.

But simply hearing about this oil spill is good news, as BP apparently hasn’t had the best track record in reporting spills and other operational problems up at Prudhoe Bay. (Check out this article published on Common Dreams from May 2005 by Jason Leopold.)

And they’re not the only oil company trying to shirk responsibility lately (like that’s a shocker). ExxonMobil is still trying to get out of their $5 billion debt to society. In late January 2006, ExxonMobil told a federal appeals court that they’d already spent plenty on cleaning up the 1989 Valdez oil spill and wanted their penalty reduced further. According to the 1/28/06 AP article I got from the Seattle Times: “The case has come before the San Francisco-based appeals court twice before. Both times, the 9th Circuit ordered U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland of Anchorage to reduce the award.” That's GREAT! So a few more times in front of the right judges and they’ll be free and clear.

But what about penalties for an oil spill even larger than the Exxon Valdez? What could be bigger than nearly 11 million gallons you ask? Why, the 17 million gallons under Greenpoint, New York. The oil slick under Brooklyn made the news this week as residents in the area are fed up and want the place cleaned up – now (they’ve even got Erin Brockovich on board). The only problem is that refineries that used to line Newtown Creek have long since ceased operations, and as usual no one company can be tied directly to the leftover oil, so it still leaves the "Who pays?" question unanswered.

Oil sure is a messy business. Good thing there's no peak in sight.

For more information on Greenpoint and Newtown creek:

Friday, March 03, 2006

ExxonMobil refutes peak oil theory with op-ed ad

Found this ExxonMobil ad in the NY Times op-ed page yesterday (in the lower righthand corner, A27 to be specific.) You can check it out here. (It is a pdf file. You really should click on it to get the full effect – it’s got a cartoon/drawing and everything.)

I’ve also included the text below with my comments interjected throughout just for the heck of it:
Will we soon reach a point when the world’s oil supply begins to decline? Yes, according to so-called “peak oil” proponents. They theorize that, since new discoveries have not kept up with the pace of production in recent years, we will soon reach a point when oil production starts going downhill. So goes the theory. (Theories-schmeories.)

The theory does not match reality, however. (Not the ExxonMobil reality anyway.) Oil is a finite resource, but because it is so incredibly large, a peak will not occur this year, next year or for decade to come. (Message: you can still drive your SUV without worrying about gasoline drying up – actually the message is probably more like: PLEASE keep driving your gas guzzling vehicles to keep us in business).

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Earth was endowed with over 3.3 trillion barrels of conventional recoverable oil. (I like their use of ‘endowed’ as if all this oil was a special gift from Earth created specifically for the use of fuel/power - but who is to say it wasn’t?) Conservative estimates of heavy oil and shale oil push the total resource well over four trillion barrels. To put these amounts in perspective, consider this: Since the dawn of human history, we have used a total of about one trillion barrels of oil. (I’d like to see the ratio of how much of that has been used prior to 1900, and then how much has been used in the last century?)

Moreover, new technologies – such as multidimensional mapping tools and advanced drilling techniques – have improved our ability to recover oil from previously discovered fields. (That appears to be fairly stated.) Because of such technology gains, estimates of how much recoverable oil remains have consistently increased (their emphasis – not mine) over time. Oil production and production capacity have increased, too. (Yeah - not to mention oil CONSUMPTION.)

So there is a lot of oil yet to be tapped. (What a relief!) And we are getting better – technically and environmentally – at tapping it every day. (Note: by stating the word “environmentally” at this point it shows they take the environment into consideration.)

As a large scale, broad-based transportation fuel, oil currently has no equal. Demand for it is increasing to support economic growth worldwide. (And if ExxonMobil has their way, these two things will never change.) Thankfully, there is enough potential supply to meet this demand. (Indefinitely right?)

Realizing this potential, however, means we all must do our part. Energy companies help through investment and technology. Governments help by providing an attractive business environment. (There they go using the word environment again – that’s twice!) And we all can help by using energy more efficiently. (Break out the cardigan.)

With abundant oil resources still available – and industry, governments and consumers doing their share – peak production is nowhere in sight. (I repeat, peak production is nowhere in sight, as the illustration explicitly points out, and in case you forgot that was the main point of this propaganda – er, I mean, ad.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

California to try out desalinization

Yet again – California takes the lead. Huntington Beach, CA approved construction for a big ol desalinization plant. (ENN posting from Reuters.) Environmentalists reportedly want to err on the side of caution saying we don't know what this'll do to our oceans. But is this really all that different than carbon sequestration? New technology - short term solution for a big problem - long term effects unknown.

If desalinzation can prove to be successful and even prompt some technology innovations that would bring the price down on new plants this would solve HUGE water issues in the world. Aside from the environmentalists critiques of pumping back excess salt into the water, and not knowing the effects on the marine ecosystems, there could potentially be other problems. Desalinization would mean our oceans would be a new resource for water, a seemingly endless supply of water – would that change the way we consume water? Would we (the global we) use more water than ever? Who is going to reap the rewards for pumping to it inland areas? Would we find out, as we learned the hard way about animals and trees that the ocean may not really be an inexhaustible resource? Or with predicted rising ocean levels due to climate change, maybe overuse of ocean waters would actually end up saving our islands and low-lying coastal cities.

While I usually am in favor of abiding by the precautionary principle, I don't think desalinization in California should be stopped. But we do need to be smart about it's use and monitor (and acknowledge) externalities so we can remedy them before potential problems get out of hand.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Alaskan congressman to stop wind power

Speaking of Alaska (see yesterday's post) - Republican congressman, Don Young, is trying to put through an amendment that would change the siting criteria for wind turbines. This would effectively shut down the proposed, and extremely controversial Cape Cod wind farm, before it even gets started.

This is the subject of Environmental Action's latest action. They are asking you to send off your letter to "Senators McCain and Inouye asking them to Stop Don Young’s Power Play."
It's as easy as clicking here (to Environmental Action's pre-made letter), typing (you know how to do that), then clicking send.

Here's a link to a Feb 28 NYTimes editorial about Young's proposed amendment: "Sneak Attack on Cape Wind"