It's the Environment, Stupid.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Over reaction or inadequate action?

Well, if Al Gore didn't scare and overwhelm you with his power point presentation of the cold, hard climate change facts, here's further predictions that should really get you worried. From the British publication The Observer comes, "£3.68 trillion: The price of failing to act on climate change."

The Observer article sums up a new report on climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern, commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that evaluates the economic consequences for (insert your favourite climate change doomsday scenario here).

"Stern also warns that a successor to the Kyoto agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions should be signed next year, not by 2010/11 as planned. He forecasts that the world needs to spend 1 per cent of global GDP - equivalent to about £184bn - dealing with climate change now, or face a bill between five and 20 times higher for damage caused by letting it continue. Unchecked climate change could thus cost as much as £566 for every man, woman and child now on the planet - roughly 6.5 billion people." Additionally, The Observer also says the report proposes implementing a 'green tax' to, in part, help pay for early compliance of necessary emission reduction measures.

I think green taxes are a great idea and should be considered by all governments around the world - either that or prices of goods should be altered to incorporate environmental costs. But of course this will never happen in today's global marketplace (nor is it feasible for immediate implementation without collapsing a few national economies and plunging a few million more people into poverty). And I seriously doubt Kyoto will be discussed any earlier than 2010 (anybody want to place wagers on that one?)

However, I am very glad to see that a 700 page, OFFICIAL report has been issued on this topic (haven't had a chance to check it out myself just yet), and that it got coverage in a mainstream media outlet.

But I'm wondering whether this scare-tactic-doomsayer approach is very effective in getting people/governments/businesses to act - a criticism which is not new within the climate change dialogue. While we can't just start handing out rose-colored glasses to everyone and pretend our global environment isn't changing, I just hope there is some way to spur people into action soon before we are forced to re-act.

(some of my previous blogging on the whole act/re-act/adapt stuff can be found here, here, here, and here.)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Population crisis - round two

Resource depletion was a core concern in the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Conserving the resource base for future generations was one of the main goals, and predictions and questions about the earth's burgeoning population were paramount.

With all the green talk in the past few years (and a renewed movement since the early 1990s) the population concerns are reemerging. And when USA Today picks up on it, well, that's a sure indication the issue has gone mainstream.

The article, "How will the USA cope with unprecedented growth?" looks more at space issues within currently built up areas, the accompanying sprawl, and all the issues that go along with planning and development - traffic congestion, new housing availability, unsightly derelict stripmalls, (and just a little bit on the energy needed for these things.)

The article indicates that the U.S. is getting away from the suburban sprawl and getting back to community-urban(esque) settings where amentities are being built closer to people's homes, and vacant buildings or brownfields are increasingly being redeveloped.

Overall I found this article encouraging - one, it's in the USA Today; two, it acknowledges the consequences of sprawl and bad planning; three, it makes the environmental link (ie mentioning the Al Gore movie).

Friday, October 27, 2006

ConEd Solutions - Green Power

A few weeks ago I finally sent off the form to ask ConEd (power provider for NYC) to switch my apt to ConEd solutions. My roommate and I haven't yet received the 'new' bill reflecting this change (I don't even know if my roommate knew I had requested the change), but we just got a letter from the utility congratulating us on selecting ConEdison Solutions as our new energy services company.

According to the ConEd Solutions website, it appears this alternative power service is more a product of deregulation than of demand for green power - but green power is the main reason I made the switch. It's one of those small things you can do to live a little more eco-friendly.

Now this doesn't mean that ConEd can pipe separate electricity to just my apartment, but it means they are required to purchase a little more renewable power over all. And I'm not the only one who is helping the renewable energy cause - recently NYU became the largest purchaser of wind power of any university in the U.S. This makes them the largest wind purchaser in NYS, and 11th largest in the U.S. Now if only other NYC universities would follow suit....

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Bottled Water Challenge

How do you feel about drinking your tap water? Many in the U.S. balk at the thought, preferring the bottled variety, even though the stuff that comes from the faucet often isn't any different.

An Alternet article sums up this debate well and highlights a taste test the author compared to the Pepsi challenge. Most of the tasters couldn't tell the difference between Boston's tap water and their bottled favorites. The motivation behind the taste tests, given by Corporate Accountability International (CAI), is to try and deter the "increasing commodification of a resource that should be a basic human right, not a product on sale for $1.50 at the local convenience store."

In the U.S. tap water is strictly regulated by the EPA, while the FDA monitors much of the bottled variety. However, "A 1999 study by the National Resources Defense Council of more than 1,000 bottles of water found that, while most bottled water was safe, some brands violated strict state standards on bacterial contamination, while others were found to contain harmful chemicals such as arsenic. The report concluded that bottled water was no safer than water taken from the tap."

Of course there are other issues such as the draining of acquifers in some areas, (at times unsuccessful) water privatization of municpal systems, and the costs and conveniences of the bottled stuff. Outside of the U.S., especially in mid and lower income countries, people are forced with tougher circumstances than just preference over which safe drinking water to choose. At the very least the CAI taste testing will hopefully get a few Americans to have a greater appreciation for a resource they often take for granted.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Al Gore e-mails me

I subscribe to A LOT of enviro related e-mail updates. I get around to reading about 1/3 of them, those with subject headings that strike me as interesting have a higher probability of getting read. One such e-mail was from Al Gore.

Of course Al Gore probably isn't e-mailing me personally, so I thought it might be from, whose e-mails are usually sent by Laurie David (who also doesn't personally e-mail me.) Upon opening the e-mail I see it is from (one of the things I've subscribed to) with a message from Al.

It begins, "If you want to solve the Climate Crisis," (which of course I do) "if you want accountability for Iraq, if you want to regain our nation's moral authority in the world, I have one request for you - help us on November 7th."

Gee Al, how can I help? "You can make a difference by supporting candidates who are in neck-and-neck races. Can you contribute $25?" Then it keeps going on about how you can help make a difference and keep people in office accountable by sending in some cold hard cash.

Well, when I think of greening the world, this isn't really what I have in mind. I know that money, and lots of it, considerably helps on the campaign trail, but this is just another impersonal e-mail I'm not impressed by. (I'm also not impressed by junk snail-mail asking for money...)

However, if you would like to contribute to Al's cause through MoveOn, you can click here. Or, you can go out and get your 2-cents in the old fashioned way - vote.

Celebrity powers activate

I'm a huge fan of celebrity power pushing the green agenda forward - so naturally I was curious when I saw a headline touting Pierce Brosnan as a leader in protests against a proposed natural gas facility in California.

Brosnan and a slew of other celebs came together to raise awareness against the proposed facility off the Malibu coast. While the interest might stem in part from the NIMBY phenomenon (not-in-my-backyard), it is encouraging to see celebs coming together over something that doesn't have an animal or impoverished kid as the posterchild.

I would love to see the momentum continue on this - but I would also like to see some alternatives discussed - piping natural gas in to California would serve to supplement the anticipated increase in future energy requirements of the southeast US. So if it isn't natural gas, maybe it can be renewables, which also need a little celebrity love.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

The right price for solar

An article today in the NY Times business section, "Sunny Side Up" talks about the financial realities of businesses going solar.

The article features a GE facility in California that has recently installed rooftop PV panels - but it was the deal making behind the panels that is the real story. Often times although a company wants to go solar, the upfront costs often aren't worth it - which is where the energy financiers come in.

"The installation, which G.M. expects will provide half of the building’s electricity, cost G.M. nothing... A solar developer called Developing Energy Efficient Roof Systems — commonly called Deers — bought the equipment with money it raised from private financiers. Deers and its investors own the cells; G.M. signed a long-term contract to purchase the solar-generated electricity from them, at a discount to the prevailing rate for electricity in the region."

Of course there are emission credits involved, and the deals are sweetened by tax breaks and other incentives, which (unfortunately) vary by state, as does the sunshine factor. But overall it sounds like a good deal for all parties involved, and similar deals are being made with other big corporations. This would be a good time for governments (fed and state) to take notice and keep renewing and creating those incentives for alternative/renewable energy/fuel sources.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Endocrine disruptors in children

Endocrine disruptors in fish have been talked about recently - chemicals or high levels of hormones that have changed the sex of fish in some rivers. Now news is re-surfacing that these endocrine disruptors are affecting children.

A recent article in the NY Times reveals some recent studies of pre-school aged children showing signs of early puberty - the reason in many of the cases is speculated to be chemicals released into the environment and hormones used in shampoos, cosmetics and steroid creams.

Preventing these hormone changing chemicals from being released into the environment has been stalled due to lack of hard, scientific proof (what else is new), and preventing their use in cosmetics and shampoos looks like a lost cause.

According to the NY Times, "In 1989, the Food and Drug Administration proposed allowing up to 10,000 units of estrogen per ounce of cosmetic, the approximate oral daily dose of hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women...a spokeswoman for the F.D.A. said that the agency was 'aware of some reports describing premature sexual devolepment' with shampoos but that it had concluded that 'there is no reason for consumers to be concerned.'

No reason to be concerned? I always find it troubling when agencies and product producers insist there is no cause for concern when apparent (though not scientifically backed) correllations exist. Such as when, "In 1973, thousands of Michigan residents ate food contaminated by a flame retardant, PBB, which was later correlated with earlier menstruation in girls. In Puerto Rico, which has some of the world’s highest rates of early puberty, the condition was linked to higher levels of a plasticizer called phthalate in affected children."

If problems in fish don't isn't worrying people, maybe problems in their children will. This is yet again an example where the practicing the precautionary principle would be advised.

Some endocrine disruptor faq from NRDC.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Beyond emission reductions

Funny how whenever there's a drought, or heat wave or severe thunderstorm, or hurricane, or flooding the talk of climate change makes it back to the front page.

This time the talk is happening in Australia (the other country that hasn't ratified the Kyoto Protocol - but then, they don't have nearly the same consumption/population/emissions as the Americans...)

The talk is about financial relief for farmers, it's about the uranium supply in the country and nuclear power, it's about the Kyoto Protocol.

But I wonder how long we're going to be able to keep extending financial (short-term) relief to those whose livelihoods are wiped out by weather related incidents - not just in Australia, but around the world - especially if changing conditions continue and we maintain our reluctance to adapt to them.

Signing on to the Kyoto Protocol at this point will not help solve the water issues in Australia, nor will it help protect the southeastern seaboard of the U.S. against hurricanes. Nor will trading carbon emissions, setting new target levels, or bringing hundreds of new nuclear power plants online.

The international policy process is long, and while we're waiting for the next round of Kyoto, the carbon concentration in the atmosphere will continue rising right along with the global temperature and our energy consumption. All these one-off weather anomalies will become more frequent, and the numbers of people suffering hardships will grow.

The global 'we' must take actions beyond Kyoto and begin to incorporate other policies that go above climate mitigation efforts, such as better planning and development practices, and green building and energy efficient solutions. We've gotten sidetracked by our end goal to reduce carbon emissions to the extent where anything goes as long as the CO2 is kept out of the skies and our light bulbs remain on.

We can't afford to wait until after we've gotten the CO2 level down to deal with the externalities we're causing - we must deal with them now. Haven't we learned by now that cleaning up after the fact is a lot more expensive than tidying up as we go?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Insurers get into Green Building

A new report from Allianz Group and WWF, "Climate Change and Insurance: An Agenda for Action in the United States" has made some interesting, and practical policy recommendations, which bring together insurance companies and green building.

The report lays out the current climate change science, uses case studies, predictions and other scenarios in examing the resulting economic implications, specifically in regard to risk of damage due to forest fires, flooding and other natural disasters.

The report recommends that insurers use incentives to influence 'green' policy and land use development to reduce insured losses, and to protect the consumer.

For example, Fireman's Fund Insurance Company will provide a discount to LEED certified buildings, and damaged product replacements will be upgraded to 'greener' or more energy efficient counterparts - roofs, windows, lighting systems etc.

Additionally, losses from natural disasters can be avoided by better spatial planning, such as "better forest management that simultaneously decreases risks from wildfires, mudslides, and floods, while sequestering carbon, or conservation of mangroves,which also sequester carbon while providing a natural buffer from storms, surges,and waves."

The report concludes that with better understanding of the potential effects of climate change, governments and insurers will be better able to evaluate and communicate risks that will increase preparedness and reduce losses in the event of future catastropic events.

Download the report (pdf)

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Life has just been getting in the way of blogging lately - nothing exciting just a little tendency I have to over commit myself to things.

I did, however, make time to go see the new British documentary Black Gold on Tuesday. When I get a chance I'll write up a little something about it. The brief review: Good. Go see it.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

3R Announces gift registry

Since I discovered 3R Living earlier this year, I've been doing most of my gift shopping there. I've bought housewarming and birthday presents for friends and will more than likely return for the holidays this season.

3R makes green gift giving easy - and now they've made gift receiving a snap as well with their new gift registry. And you don't have to be in Park Slope to register - you can also register online.

If you are in the NYC area, it looks like events at 3r are going to start up again soon at their store on 5th Ave in Brooklyn. The next one is Oct. 26 with The Green Big Apple Guide author, Ben Jervey.

Monday, October 09, 2006


I had the opportunity to go to the swap-o-rama-rama on Sunday (for some fantastic pics check out fiftyRX3 blog).

I had heard of this event before, but had never gone and so I never really 'got' the concept. But it is actually very cool. Thought up and organized by Wendy Tremayne, in a nutshell, swap-o-rama-rama is a clothing swap combined with a DIY - the epitome of the 3Rs.

You bring in clothes, shoes etc. that you don't want any more, pay $10, then go for it. Volunteer staff sort the stuff people bring in and separate it into piles - t-shirts, pants, skirts, men's shirts, pyjamas (and on, and on). Then you go through the piles and look for inspiration. And there was plenty of inspiration to be had. Clothes were being cut-up, sewn up and re-newed all over the place. People were coming in with big bags of things and leaving with some very funky garments. Even if you think you're not creative (like me) they've got stylists and seamstresses on hand to help you turn a dull find into a fantastic treasure.

What once started in Tremayne's apartment has grown into a huge event - and swap-o-rama-ramas have become popular in other parts of the US and Canada. If there's not one near you, she'll help you get one going.

It is a fantastic event - even for the non-fashion savvy folks like myself - it is fun to see the diversity of styles and expression, not to mention the fashion show of creations at the end of the day.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Italian oil baron comments on American consumers

It's always nice to have an outsiders perspective on the American way of life - I enjoyed Saturday's NY Times interview excerpts from Italian oil baron Paolo Scaroni. Below are my favorite excerpts of the excerpts.

"Q: Some people believe high oil prices are here to stay. Do you share that view?

A: First of all prices are not very high. Sixty dollars a barrel is not very high. If they were high, the American consumer in particular would behave differently. As long as each American consumer burns 26 barrels of oil per year against 12 for Europeans, this means that the prices are not high. High means that people start to say that I can use my energy better. Today, a barrel of oil is worth half a barrel of Coca-Cola. So you should put things into perspective. It has been clear to everybody that the Western world can live with oil above $30, $40, $50, $60, $70 a barrel and economies expand, inflation is low, and consumers continue to drive S.U.V.’s and air-conditioners are so high in American restaurants that you have to put on a coat otherwise you get sick.

Q. Are you saying the American economy is wasteful in its energy use?

A: Certainly it doesn’t use energy efficiently. Look, if in America cars had the same efficiency as European cars, we would save the total production of Iran. That’s four million barrels a day.

Q. So it’s all the fault of Detroit and carmakers?

A. Even if the United States were independent, hydrocarbons would remain a limited resource. We have a total interest in using that limited resource to increase our efficiency, lengthening the life of the fossil fuels, for environmental reasons. This will more than compensate all the efforts we make in renewable energy. This is not to say we don’t have to make renewables but the potential for efficiencies we have is enormous."

Glad I'm not the only one who thinks folks in the U.S. abuse their energy privileges...

For the rest of the excerpts click here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Outbreak of dengue fever brings insecticides

An outbreak of dengue fever in Northern India has prompted officials to spray insecticide to kill mosquitoes and hopefully contain the disease. The outbreak has drawn criticism in regards to the inadequate public health services in the region.

I'm sure everyone is crossing their fingers that this spraying will prevent further cases of dengue fever, I only hope that the long term effects of this direct exposure to the mosquito killer, won't also become another human killer. (AP photo via the NYTimes).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Toxic Sludge in Africa

This article from Monday's NY Times hit my inbox several times as a fwd, "Global Sludge Ends in Tragedy for Ivory Coast."

A toxic, black sludge (petrochemical and caustic soda cocktail) washed up on the Ivory Coast sickening (and killing) local residents. And true to form, those who are responsible for the spillage of this waste are either denying its toxicity or are working hard to point fingers and place blame on someone else.

"How that slick, a highly toxic cocktail of petrochemical waste and caustic soda, ended up in Mr. Oudrawogol’s backyard in a suburb north of Abidjan is a dark tale of globalization. It came from a Greek-owned tanker flying a Panamanian flag and leased by the London branch of a Swiss trading corporation whose fiscal headquarters are in the Netherlands. Safe disposal in Europe would have cost about $300,000, or perhaps twice that, counting the cost of delays. But because of decisions and actions made not only here but also in Europe, it was dumped on the doorstep of some of the world’s poorest people."

A few things that can be taken away from this tragedy:
1) the poor are disproportionately (negatively) affected by waste (or accidental wastes).
2) NIMBY only applies to those with resources (see #1)
3) there needs to be greater adherence to the precautionary principle - if you can't prove a chemical or process not toxic you shouldn't be able to use it.
4) the "environment" is more than just conservation and green spaces, it is about creating healthy living areas for humans.
5) clean up is ALWAYS more costly than prevention.