ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week.
Environmental News Roundup
Sustainable Economy This Week
EarthNews Radio Review
ENN Commentary: Extended Producer Responsibility
Photo Credit: Two girls play by a pool of water in Guatemala - Â©2002 Robert Rice/Family Health International, Courtesy of Photoshare.
Environmental News Roundup, by Carrie Schluter
Earth Day dawned on Friday, capping off a week in which several new reports offered clues about the health of our planet. In Antarctica, a thorough glacier survey reveals a trend of ice shrinkage with worrying implications for coastal areas. More at Study Shows Antarctic Glaciers Shrinking. Not only are the oceans rising, but apparently they're also getting louder due in large part to commercial shipping, according to a bioacoustics scientist. Read what impact researchers suspect a noisy ocean may have on marine wildlife at Oceans Getting Louder; Effects Unclear. Going forward, a "Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System" could provide nations with a steady stream of data about Earth's health. Find out more about a new White House plan to monitor the planet at Officials Want to Wire Earth for Continuous Readout of Vital Signs.
In the first conclave of the millennium, the cardinals elected a new pope on Tuesday. Some environmentalists anticipated the choice with hope that this pope would be more likely that John Paul II to favor the environment in his interpretation of Biblical passages related to human dominion over nature. Get the full story at New Pope Could Swing Bible Debate on Environment.
In the wake of warnings by President Bush that a new energy bill won't magically save consumers money at the pump (see Energy Bill Won't Ease Fuel Prices Quickly, Bush Says), the House on Thursday passed a bill widely embraced by Republicans and denounced by Democrats as pandering to industry interests. Find the full story here: House Passes Energy Bill; Conflict with Senate Likely over Gas Additive, Alaska Refuge.
Several interesting articles this week shared the theme of special places in peril. In Venezuela, a prominent ecotourism reserve struggles as President Chavez's land redistribution plan gains momentum. Read more at Venezuela Ecoreserve Says It's Fighting for Survival. In Pittsburgh, Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Fallingwater -- designed to symbolize man in harmony with nature -- is under attack by invasive plants. Get the whole story on this ironic turn of events here: Designed for Harmony, but Plants Invade Fallingwater's Land. And a pristine stretch of Puerto Rico's coast is the target of developers. Find out why environmentalists are campaigning hard to protect the 3,200-acre site at Environmental Battle Looms as Developers Press Plans for Resorts along Puerto Rico's Coast.
Apparently some other special places will benefit from Hollywood interest. In Illinois, Warner Bros. will pay $40,000 to preserve Maple Lake, near Chicago, where it will shoot scenes for the romantic drama "Il Mare" starring Keanu Reeves. More here: New Warner Bros. Project at Forest Preserve Gains Environmentalists' Support. In French Polynesia, the Tahitian beach beloved by late actor Marlon Brando will be the site of an "environmentally sensitive" bungalow resort, scheduled to open in 2008. Read about plans for "The Brando" at Brando Island to Become Luxury Resort.
In animal news, couple of canine tales made headlines this week. In Merry Old England, Tony Blair's Labour party has incurred the wrath of many rural residents over its recently imposed ban on fox-hunting with dogs. More on this divisive issue here: Rural Britons Take Hunt Ban Anger to the Ballot Box. From Alaska, sad news that the alpha male wolf of Denali's well-studied Toklat family was killed by a hunter last weekend. Read the whole story at Hunter Kills Well-Known Alaska Alpha Wolf.
As you enjoy the first spring breezes, complete the sensory experience by listening to a new podcast from ENN that provides a fascinating tour of the Springtime Night Sky. Happy Earth Day!
Sustainable Economy This Week, by Paul Geary
Garbage and Gas.
These were two of the recurring themes in Sustainable Economy this week. And in one case, one is used to produce the other.
Several of our stories discussed the age-old problem of what to do with our trash. Recycling is one obvious andedote, but recycling has been a hard sell for some particularly difficult to recycle items. Two organizations -- one a company and one a community-outreach group -- tackled two of the toughest: computers and tires.
Read about those efforts here:
Traditional recycling efforts are still with us of course, and in the spirit of our gardening theme for April we told you about one company that creates good soil from solid waste: Texas Compost Facility Turns Solid Waste into Rich Dirt. And, more and more smaller towns, rather than just big cities, are embracing recycling. Here's an example of one debate about recycling in a small New York town: Recycler Shows Off Plant
The search for gas and gas alternatives dominates environmental news perenially; this week was no different. The search for ever more oil, and the ability to deliver that oil to energy-thirsty consumers hasn't yet been eclipsed by alternative energy sources, resulting in the perceived need for more pipelines through otherwise untouched land. Environmentalists aren't concerned only about the Alaska oil situation in the US; there are other flashpoints. Read about one here:Japanese, Russian Leaders Meet to Discuss Siberian Oil Pipeline.
Different types of efforts continue in the alternative fuel and fuel conservation arena, however, and we presented several of them to you this week:
,brAs we mentioned, one company recycles, and produces gas, methane gas, from the process. Read about that here: Burlco's Recycling Project is Garbage In, Gas Out.And, we presented a number of other stories concerning the environment and business in our Sustainable Economy section:
United Technologies Touts Environment Record
The Potential of LEDs
Salmon Fishing Halted on Columbia River Amid Concern about Chinook Population
Last Shipment of High-Level Radioactive Waste Leaves Colorado
Visit ENN's Sustainable Economy section to see regular coverage of the world of the environment and business.
EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary
This week EarthNews Radio's primary focus was the exciting new series on PBS, "Deep Jungle." The concept behind the series is to lift the curtain on animal life in the deeper parts of the wild. If you were dropped in the middle of the jungle, you'd see a lot of green, but not many animals. "Deep Jungle" uses unusual film techniques to show you creatures that inhabit the "Deep Jungle."ENN's Jerry Kay spoke to Fred Kaufman, the Executive Producer of the Nature series on PBS and Co-Producer of "Deep Jungle." In this round of EarthNews Radio, Kaufman talks about the concept:
Kaufman tells us about some of the innovative methods used by his team to film some of the most fascinating creatures in nature for "Deep Jungle."
Scientists got the opportunity on "Deep Jungle" to talk about their feelings about the wilder parts of our planet. Jerry spoke also to Dr. Kimberley Bostwick, Curator of Birds and Mammals at the Cornell Museum of Vertebrates about her role in the series, including her passion for nature and the "lighter side" of the otherwise serious documentary:
PBS is also airing a documentary called "Strange Days on Planet Earth," which tries to put into perspective the news we hear about things such as global warming and invasive species. Are events global-scale, or local and manageable? Jerry spoke to Mark Shelley, Executive Producer of "Strange Days": Listen to EarthNews Radio: "Strange Days on Planet Earth"
PBS is running a large number of documentaries in honor of Earth Day; you can learn more about them at PBS's website: www.pbs.org.
Another feature of EarthNews Radio this week was the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian organization that works to get local communities get involved in the environment. Jerry talked to David Suzuki, the founder of the eponymous foundation.
Suzuki also talked about the dichotomy between the billion people dealing with obesity, in contrast to the billion living with malnourishment. He says we should take a more holistic approach to our eating: Listen to EarthNews Radio: Holistic Approach to Obesity
You can learn more at the David Suzuki Foundation's website: www.davidsuzuki.org. Jerry Kay will be interviewing Suzuki again when he makes an appearance in San Francisco on April 27.
Of course, check back to ENN's EarthNews Radio section to hear the latest interviews from Jerry Kay, or to catch up on broadcasts you may have missed.
Extended Producer Responsibility -- An ENN Commentary
by Bill Sheehan and Helen Spiegelman, The Product Policy Institute
A century ago Europe and North America unknowingly adopted a policy that gave rise to the modern Throwaway Society. For reasons that made sense at the time, convenient collection and disposal of “municipal” refuse became a public service provided by local communities at taxpayer expense. We all learned to put our refuse out to the curb and uniformed crews working for the city or its contractors or its authorized franchisers hauled everything away and “disposed” of it in locations remote from the sensibilities of politically influential municipal ratepayers.
There were some big winners. One was the garbage industry, which in 1999 earned $33 billion in the United States alone providing goods and services to local governments. But the biggest winners have been corporations that mass-market consumer goods. They make profits selling short-lived products, many containing chemicals of known and unknown toxicity ”“ yet bear none of the cost of managing the waste when the products are discarded by their consumers. Meanwhile local communities cut back on funding for teachers and police in order to provide a public service that makes wasting economical for big brand-owners.
A new way of thinking is turning the century-old “municipal waste” mindset on its head. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) shifts the burden of product waste management from hapless local communities back onto the companies that make the products that become waste. In effect, EPR ends the “welfare for waste” provided by taxpayers and government programs. Brand-owners, of course, may pass costs along to consumers. But when true lifecycle costs ”“ such as the price of waste disposal or pollution clean-up ”“ are reflected in product prices, consumers of specific products pay more, rather than all taxpayers or ratepayers. That creates a market incentive for producers to design better products, or offer services instead. If you have to pay for managing your products when they are used up, you have an incentive to make products last longer, recycle easily, and not contain a lot of toxic chemicals.
EPR is established as European Union policy and has spread to most industrialized countries except the United States. It is being applied to products as divers as packaging, automobiles, electrical and electronic items, batteries, paint and pharmaceuticals. Even Canada has moved beyond debating whether EPR is good policy to figuring out how to best implement it.
Can EPR progress in the current pro-business, anti-environment climate of the U.S.? We think so. Politically, EPR is a fertile synthesis of approaches from the left and right. From a fiscal conservative perspective, EPR makes sense because it gets waste management off the tax base and it is based on the notion that market competition is more efficient and effective than government-managed programs. Those of a more liberal bent support EPR because they believe that producers should have responsibility for pollution prevention. And take-back legislation is already being passed at the state level for electronic waste and mercury-containing products.
Change needs to happen from the bottom up. To get to the root cause of waste, communities need to stop picking up after the producers of products that become waste and begin demanding that they do so themselves. Citizens who want to make production and consumption systems more sustainable can start by asking our local governments to start phasing out waste management subsidies for products.
Related article: Activists Push Recycling to Fight "E-Waste"
The Product Policy Institute is an independent nonprofit research and communications organization focusing on the link between production and consumption, on the one hand, and waste generation and disposal, on the other, in order to promote public policies that encourage more sustainable practices.