ENN Weekly: October 24th - 28th
Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
Innovation Spotlight: Green Building III
Guest Commentary: Storm Warnings
The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter
In the news October 24th - 28th: A bird ban in Europe, new steps toward opening the ANWR, Wal-Mart greens up, and Prince Charles speaks up.
1. EU Plans Temporary Import Ban of Pet Birds
Amidst the bird-flu concerns cropping up worldwide, the EU announced this week a plan to put a temporary stop to the import of captive birds. "It will be a general ban, not just on one specific country, on imports of captive birds," said EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou. "And we also have to regulate pet birds ... there has to be control of imports of these birds as they can also transmit disease."
2. Louisiana Wants Illinois Mud as Building Block for Devastated Marshes
The battered wetlands of Louisiana, slammed by Hurricane Katrina, might soon benefit from mud from the north. Illinois mud, to be specific, seems to have what it will take to help heal wetlands erosion and protect the marshland from future onslaughts. According to Illinois Department of Natural Resources scientist John Marlin, "The material we have here is very much like what the delta was built up with."
3. Wal-Mart Launches Environmental Drive To Cut Energy Use, Waste
Wal-Mart made the environmental news once again this week, with a new plan aimed at increasing energy efficiency, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing waste. In response to the plan, World Resources Institute vice president Elizabeth Cook said, "Wal-Mart is one of the world's largest companies in the world so they have a huge influence in the marketplace. There is a huge opportunity for them to influence the marketplace."
4. Scientists Draft Blueprint To Protect World Oceans
A plan of a different nature is in development by scientists from around the world, with the aim of stemming the rising tide of pollution and fish stock depletion. According to Achim Steiner of the World Conservation Union, "...in the face of big challenges such as habitat loss, pollution of coastal zones, and species loss, and the high seas collapse of fish stocks, the whole marine realm is becoming rapidly more important."
5. House Moves Toward Easing Offshore Drilling Ban, Opening Alaska Refuge
The potential fate of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge came into clearer focus this week, with the approval in the House of a measure that would pave the way for oil and gas exploration. The provision, which passed the House Committee on Resources by a vote of 24-15, would open the ANWR to oil drilling, among other things. An ENN Commentary by author T.A. Barron presents a point of view on the subject. Read that here: Wondrously Blank: A Plea for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
6. Earthquake Dramatizes Human Ecological Assault on the Himalayas
The October 8th earthquake that struck India killed many people, displaced others, caused massive destruction, and brought to light the true extent of the damage inflicted on the Himalayas by people. Thanks to extensive cutting and overgrazing, for example, the land was especially vulnerable to landslides. "If there had been more trees, we would not have lost as much," said Qayoon Shah, a teacher in the region. "The impact would not have been as great. It is our mistake,"
7. Group Tracks Cougar Population in Midwest
Lacking government statistics, a Massachusetts-based group has taken up the task of determining exactly how many cougars have taken up residence in the Midwest. Hunted to the brink of extinction in the Midwest early in the 1900s, cougars appear to be on the rebound, with occasional sightings fueling the suspicion that cougars, also known as mountain lions, are back.
8. Prince Charles Says World Should Give Climate Change Greater Priority
The battle to curb climate change received the honor of some royal support this week, with none other than Prince Charles speaking up about the urgent need to tackle global warming as an international priority. In an interview on Thursday, the prince said, "...if you think about your and my grandchildren, I mean this is what really worries me. I don't want them, if I'm still alive by then, to say 'why didn't you do something about it, when you could have done' -- and this is the point."
9. Japan Struggling To Meet CO2 Emissions Target
Japan has a long way to go to hit the carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets that went into effect in February. The country registered a less-than-one-percent decrease in emissions in the year ending March 31 over the year prior, due in part to the recovery of some of its nuclear power plants, which provide approximately a third of Japan's energy. But with public acceptance of nuclear energy waning, and reduction deadlines creeping closer, the need to speed up improvements is becoming ever more urgent.
10. Mexico Baby Turtles Thriving as Poachers Kept Out
On a positive note, efforts by armed guards to thwart the attempts of poachers to snatch Olive Ridley turtle eggs for illegal sale have proven successful along Mexico's Pacific beaches. Scientists estimate that about 13 million hatchlings of the endangered species made their way to sea. According to Cuauhtemoc Penaflores of the Mexican Turtle Center, "It's a good figure. We can't consider them out of danger yet, but they are recovering."
Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary
This week in the ENN Sustainable Economy channel, energy dominated the headlines despite a softening of the price of oil. The onset of cold weather in two of the world's most populous and energy-hungry regions, the Northeastern US and Northern Europe, helped to keep the focus on the drive for alternative energy.
Though we continue to report on mainstreaming and innovation in this area, the reality is that renewable energy is still just more expensive than traditional oil and gas:
But there are signs that alternative energy research is paying dividends, and in some areas at least, is actually cheaper than traditional fuel:
Biodiesel Working Its Way into the Nation's Fuel Supply
Voluntary Green Power Purchasing up 1000 Percent in 5 Years; Large Corporate Purchasers Driving Growth
EPA Green Power Partnership Tops 3 Billion Kilowatts
Alternative to Idling Trucks on Horizon
It was a good week for wetlands restoration and preservation:
Though business plays a large role in improving the environment, government still holds the carrots and sticks:
Public Interest Groups Ask Government to Ban Common Household Products Containing Controversial Germ-Fighting Ingredient
Keep America BeautifulĂs Great American CleanupĂ´ Efforts Result in $135 Million in Value to Community Improvement Initiatives
Conservation Groups Applaud European Decision to Ban Import of Wild Birds
Expert Says Conservationists, Chesapeake Bay Farmers Must Work Together
Computer Industry Dominates EPA's 'Best Workplaces for Commuters' List
Private entities continued their positive efforts as well, and we chronicled those for you this week:
Timber Traded for Improved Habitat
More Retailers Building Environmentally Friendly Stores
SMART Papers Earns Forest Stewardship Council Credentials
Los Angeles Magazine's Green Home Features GridPoint's Intelligent Energy Management Appliance
Toyota Scrambling To Produce Hybrids To Meet Growing Demand
Inventor's New Drying Process Could Boost the Value of Coal
For terrific information about green products and services, go to ENN Innovation Expo, where companies tell their story and consumers can find the latest in environmentally responsible goods. Visit ENN Expo regularly, as more and more companies are featured each week.
And check ENN's Sustainable Economy channel every business day to get the latest news about the economy of environmentalism and "green" thinking" businesspeople. You can find it here on ENN on our Sustainable Economy News page.
Also, check out ENN's Innovation Spotlight, where we bring to you the latest in cutting edge products and services from the most forward-thinking companies. In October we featured companies and products from the fast-growing green building industry. See it here.
EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary
This week in EarthNews Radio, Jerry Kay brought you examples of how different facets business and investing can be beneficial to the environment.
EarthNews Radio introduced -- or more likely re-introduced -- you to one of the pioneers of the green company movement:
Investing and business development can have a green component. The concept that business and environmentalism are dichotomous is slowly eroding, in part thanks to organizations such as these:
With all of the chemicals circulating in our modern society, it's a good idea to be informed about them, and their ramifications for your health and safety. These four spots will help you to be a more informed consumer (or perhaps now, non-consumer) of common chemicals:
EarthNews also brought you interesting historical information about a plant thought to be one of the most healthy:
You can get tips about issues such as these, as well as many other topics, in this magazine where the editors have turned their love for green living into a national publication:
You can still download the second Sky Tour, with guide Bing Quock of the Morrison Planetarium of the California Academy of Science as your personal guide. The Sky Tour is available as a podcast download, so that you can bring your iPod or MP3 player with you to view and recognize what you see in the fall night sky.
You can link to the podcast here: ENN Sky Tour
EarthNews Radio this week gave you a sample of the fascinating information that the Planetarium offers on a regular basis:
Be sure to visit EarthNews Radio's home here at ENN often. Jerry Kay interviews environmentalists, scientists, and green businesspeople on a wide variety of topics. These 90-second blasts are packed with information that will really make you think. You can find them at ENN Radio Network.
EarthNews Radio is available as a podcast as well. Here is the link: http://www.enn.com/news/podcast/earthnews.xml.
Innovation Spotlight: Green Building III, by Paul Geary
Innovation Spotlight presents examples of state-of-the-art environment-friendly products and services of interest to the green consumer. In the spotlight in October, each week we're featuring five cutting-edge companies and products from the growing array of offerings available to the green builder and the environmentally conscious do-it-yourselfer.
The demand for homes and home building products is constantly growing, and more homes and buildings means more resources used. Recently many builders have become aware that they can have an enormous impact on our future energy and resource use simply by the way they build homes and buildings. Paying attention to "green building" design and methods and using environmentally friendly products and materials is becoming commonplace.
Consumers as well are becoming more savvy about green building. As homes are being remodeled at a record pace thanks to soaring real estate prices, the demand for remodeling products and services has skyrocketed to record levels. Actually, the trend is expected to continue even as the real estate market starts to cool. With prices already high and interest rates expected to go up, many people will choose to remodel or add on to the home they already have rather than buy up.
Last week we brought you the Staker Parson landscape design, which features xeriscaping; GE Plastics wire coatings; Mansfield Plumbing EcoQuantum toilets that give you a "half-flush" option; Solar Design Associates, which provides solar building plans; and the energy-efficient LG Washer-Dryer combo. This week, five more companies and products are featured.
Loewen windows go much farther than providing simple energy efficiency for the home. The windows are designed to be environment-friendly throughout their life cycle - and that life cycle is intended to be a long one. The windows are made of wood -- no PVC here. The majority of the wood used to make the windows come from forests certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. The Canadian company recycles nearly all of the wood waste that is produced in the making of the window sills. And of course, Loewen windows are rated highly for their insulating ability. You can learn more about Loewen windows and the company at its website here.
GFX Hot Water Reclamation Technology
One of the biggest energy uses in any home is heating water. All of that energy that's used to heat water for showers, dishwashers, and washing machines ends up going literally down the drain. WaterFilm Energy Inc.'s GFX device reclaims some of the heat that's being washed down the drain as hot water leaves the house or apartment. The plumbing product, which was created with the help of a grant from the US Department of Energy, is installed below drains where copper and film heat exchangers absorb the heat from the out flowing water. The devices triple the virtual capacity of a water heater, and can make oil- and gas-powered water heaters several times more energy efficient. You can learn more about GFX technology at the company's website here: gfxtechnology.com.
Packer Industries Site Clearing Recycling Equipment
Anyone who's driven by a building site knows how much debris is generated: Huge piles of waste material are not uncommon to see, and usually a building contractor will rent an industrial-sized dumpster from a waste management company to haul away the waste. However, that could become a thing of the past with waste-grinding technology from companies such as Packer Industries. Packer's two primary pieces of equipment are used to grind waste material into reusable material. Wood waste can be ground into mulch for landscaping; asphalt and pavement waste can be ground into material that can be used in driveway cement; and drywall waste can be ground into material suitable for a soil additive. Huge amounts of material would be reused rather than end up in landfills if more contractors used Packer's recycling equipment at their building sites. You can learn more about Packer Industries at the company's website here: www.packer2000.com.
FasWall Concrete Fittings
Everyone knows that constructing a house or building with tight insulation is a key to energy efficiency. That efficiency can be brought to another level, however, when the material that's used to build and insulate is made from recycled material itself. K-X Industries does just that with its FasWall concrete forms. Concrete forms are the molding into which concrete is poured. FasWall forms are made from 85% recycled wood and 15% concrete, and they're left in place rather than removed, lowering a builder's material costs. The forms insulate and allow the building to breathe, and they're hurricane and earthquake resistant. Drywall or other material can be attached directly to the surface of the forms, and drywall screws will work in them as well. You can learn more about FasWall products at K-X Industries' website here: www.faswall.com.
SunTerra House Plans
SunTerra specializes in building energy-efficient homes in cold climates. The company is based in Oregon and can be the lead contractor if you build a home in the Pacific Northwest, or the company will sell their plans to you for use in other parts of the country. SunTerra homes are designed to use much less energy than a typical home. The buyer can choose from various types of alternative energy to power the home, and the design has inherent energy-savers such as passive solar, energy-efficient roof design, reduced wood framing, and well-placed windows. Solar water heating and heat recovery systems are part of the design, as is hydronic radiant floor heating. As a bonus, anyone who buys house-building plans from SunTerra receives the company's Energy Conservation Guide, which provides tips for such things as home placement, framing, air sealing, and insulation, as well as general building guidelines. The company won the US Department of Energy's National Award for Innovation for its energy-saving design. SunTerra's home plans range from a 1082 sq. ft. two-bedroom home to a huge 5 bedroom, 4610 sq. ft. home. With the average size of US homes rapidly increasing, the need to build energy-efficient large homes has never been greater. You can learn more about SunTerra House Plans at the SunTerra website.
Be sure to visit ENN Innovation Expo, where we feature the latest in cutting edge environment-friendly products and services from a number of innovative companies and organizations.
by Peter H. Gleick, the Pacific Institute
As New Orleans dries out and some semblance of normalcy begins to return for its luckier residents, we are just starting to think about the lessons that will have to be learned. But it is not too early to see that a series of missteps, mistakes, and human mismanagement of our natural resources, especially water resources and our climate, made things far worse than they would otherwise have been. For skeptics who think that our wealth and economic strength insulate us from our natural world, Hurricane Katrina is an urgent wake-up call.
The seeds of the destruction in New Orleans were planted more than a century ago, when we began to manipulate the mighty Mississippi River. By channeling the river, constructing levees, and building in the floodplains, we ultimately condemned New Orleans to become a sunken, walled city, surrounded by water. As the Dutch learned long ago, living below sea level behind earthen walls requires a level of attention, awareness, and careful management that cannot waver over time.
The mismanagement of the Mississippi River also contributed to the destruction of the Gulf Coast marshes south of the city by depriving them of their sustaining silt, now disappearing into the depths of the Gulf. As the silt was lost, so were the marshes and their rich ecosystems, along with the physical protection they offered in absorbing the power of hurricanes and storm surges. The Dutch have begun to restore marshes and protective floodplains and to limit construction in vulnerable areas. In the coming years, we must rebuild our coastal wetlands as we rebuild our devastated communities. And we must rethink insurance programs that make it possible to build in vulnerable areas.
Simultaneously, our elected state and federal officials misjudged the proper balance between fiscal restraint and the maintenance of the defenses needed to protect our citizens. We cannot let our politicians pretend there is no relationship between cutting taxes and cutting essential services. They are one and the same. By cutting taxes, they dried up funds used maintaining and strengthening levees, setting the stage for those levees to fail. By cutting taxes, they cut emergency service capabilities at all levels. Just two months before the storm, funding for an analysis of how to protect the Gulf Coast from a Category 5 hurricane was shelved due to federal budget cuts.
To compound the problem, one of our key forms of disaster response ”“ local National Guard units ”“ is largely committed in Iraq. Nearly 6,000 Guard troops from Louisiana and Mississippi, about a third of the total from the two states, are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. These troops have the vehicles, communications equipment, and skills most suited for disaster relief. While other states, and the generosity of Americans as a whole, eventually helped to deliver what is needed, the local response was not as large or as effective as it would otherwise have been. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has noted the ripple effect this will have on the entire military and National Guard structure.
Finally, some of our elected officials continue to believe there is no relationship between human-induced climate change and our well-being, or they assume the impacts will be acceptable. This is simply wrong. Scientific evidence of climate change is undeniable. Some of this evidence suggests that global warming will intensify hurricanes, and we are already witnessing rising sea levels, which over time will greatly increase coastal risks from storms and flooding. Was Katrina ”“ thought to be the strongest hurricane ever seen in the Gulf of Mexico ”“ even slightly more energetic than it would otherwise have been? Perhaps -- we don’t know for sure. Was that little bit of energy enough to make the difference between levees that held versus levees that failed? Perhaps. Again, we cannot be certain. But we know enough now to realize that twentieth century tools for managing our natural resources are inadequate for the twenty-first century and that the kind of disaster we’re now dealing with along the Gulf Coast may await people living in Miami, Washington, California, and indeed, much of the world.
Dr. Peter H. Gleick is President of the Pacific Institute, a MacArthur Fellow, a member of the Water Science and Technology Board of the US National Academy of Sciences, and an expert on water and climate issues.
ENN welcomes a wide range of perspectives in its popular Commentary Series. To find out more or to submit a commentary for consideration please contact Jerry Kay, Publisher of the Environmental News Network: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: A small stream runs through what was once a huge lake. In an area used to ample rainfall a drought as severe as this in the Amazon basin is having a dramatic and devastating effect on the wildlife and people of this unique region. Credit: (c) Greenpeace/Alberto Cesar Araujo