ENN Weekly: May 9th - 13th

ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week. In the news May 9 - 13: The financial impact of global warming, a new manmade island project in the works, backpackers rally to clean up in the wake of the tsunami, and schools address lunchtime waste.

Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
ENN Commentary: The Power of Fair Trade

Photo: The entrance to the Yosemite Valley
at Yosemite National Park, ©pdphoto.org

The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter

In the news this week: The financial impact of global warming, a new manmade island project in the works, backpackers rally to clean up in the wake of the tsunami, and schools address lunchtime waste.

1. According to the EPA, there's less toxic pollution in the air this year than in 2003. Thanks in part to efforts by metal mining companies and chemical makers, the positive news is tempered by the fact that levels of highly toxic chemicals, like PCBs and dioxin, are actually on the rise.
>> EPA Says Toxic Pollution Levels Fall Six Percent

2. News of the environmental impact of global warming is ubiquitous, but what about the cost of in real dollars and cents? More than 300 participants met at a daylong summit this week to explore ways to mitigate the financial implications of climate change.
>> Climate Change is 'All about Our Money,' Big Investors Say

3. A federal appeals court sided with the American Chemistry Council in a ruling handed down on Tuesday that the EPA can no longer regulate the use of methyl ethyl ketone, a common ingredient in plastics and paints. Animal studies show that MEK is an eye irritant that might cause fetal malformations.
>> Court Tells EPA to Stop Tracking Releases of Widely Used Chemical Solvent

4. The same fun-loving demographic that enjoyed the beauty and laid-back atmosphere of Thailand's Phi Phi Don is rallying to rebuild it in the wake of December's tsunami. Scores of 20-somethings have joined in loosely organized relief effort -- focused mainly on clean-up -- that's causing some controversy.
>> Backpackers Flock to Rebuild Thai Party Island


5. In other island news, an official, noting exorbitant energy costs in the U.S. Virgin Islands, points to the ready availability of the sun as an alternative power source. Alberto Bruno-Vega, chief of the territory's power authority, said, "It may sound crazy to tell customers to shop somewhere else, but we need to switch away from fuel oil."
>> U.S. Virgin Islands Should Use Caribbean Sun, Switch to Solar Energy, Says Official

6. In China, local authorities have been warned to penalize polluters, or else. The State Environmental Protection Agency this week identified dozens of major polluters in nine industries, and has taken an uncharacteristically aggressive position on regulation at the local level.
>> China's Environmental Agency Warns Local Officials against Shielding Polluters

7. One is shaped like a palm tree, a string of them resemble pearls... and now plans are in the works for another manmade island in the Persian Gulf -- in the shape of a seahorse. Ironically, real seahorses, along with coral, dolphins, shrimp, and other marine life, could suffer from the massive land reclamation and development project
>> Bahrain Adds Sea Horse-Shaped Island to Odd Collection of Manmade Gulf Archipelago

8. Across the country, school lunchtime generates tons of trash, with each student producing an average of 45 to 90 pounds of garbage per year. Increasingly, schools are working to raise the level of consciousness among students, teachers, and parents alike, about ways to minimize waste.
>> In School Cafeterias, Trash Piling High Despite Recycling Efforts

9. In Britain, wild plants are in jeopardy. A new study identifies 345 plant species native to Britain that face the threat of extinction. Possible causes identified by botanists include increased use of herbicides in agriculture and over grazing.
>> Report Says British Flora Faces Extinction

10. ENN's own Paul Geary launched a new series this week that offers an interesting overview of ENN reader opinions. Each Thursday, Paul will highlight comments drawn from ENN's forums, and sum up some of the week's compelling poll results. This week in The Forum Report: auto emissions, global warming, and recycling.
>> ENN Forum Review: Our Readers Speak

Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary

This week in Sustainable Economy on ENN, we told you about a summit being held for institutional investors about climate change. Institutional investors are those who manage money for pension funds, mutual funds, and other large investment companies.

These people have a great deal of influence over the markets, and they want to know how climate change is going to affect the portfolios they manage. This is not important just for the hyper-wealthy: If you have a 401k or a pension, or any money in a mutual fund, this pertains to your savings as well: U.S. & European Investors Tackle Climate Change.

The event itself was "climate neutral." That's explained in this article: U.N. Headquarters Hosts 'Climate Neutral' Event. If you want to learn more about the financial aspects of socially responsible investing, we ran this informative story this week: Socially Responsible Investing: FTSE4Good Index Series.Meanwhile, the search for renewable energy continues unabated. We told you about efforts in three of the most intriguing possibilities for a non-fossil-fuel future:

The Solar Store Helps Central Oregon Shine in Renewable Energy Resources
Used Cooking Oil Might Be Fuel for Higher Profits at American Biofuels
Wind Power Industry Gaining Ground across U.S.

We featured large companies taking initiative to improve the environment:

GE to Unveil New Environmental Initiative
Xerox to Cut Greenhouse Emissions by 10%

And smaller ones:

Green Cleaning
Developers Going out on a Limb for Trees

Unfortunately there are still challenges to overcome, and we told you about a few of the less positive developments in the sustainable economy arena:

DuPont Settles Charges over Pollutant
EPA Drops Regulatory Effort on Lead Paint Exposures
Fishing Industry Suffering as Salmon Runs Drastically Drop

Be sure to check ENN's Sustainable Economy section regularly for the latest news about the business, economics, and the environment.

EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary

This week EarthNews Radio brought us a cautionary note about the precarious existence of one of the Earth's most beautiful animals: the cheetah. Jerry Kay talked to Dr. Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund:

EarthNews Radio: Cheetahs in Danger

EarthNews Radio: World Cheetah Population

Jerry interviewed several businesspeople who are creating organic and natural products to bring to consumers, advocating for natural products, and teaching consumers how to tell organic products from those that falsely claim to be.

Sometimes, you have to be careful about products labeled "organic":

EarthNews Radio: Organic Beauty Products

The false organic products make things more difficult for companies that put in real effort to bring you organic and natural products. Selling organic and natural products requires extra effort:

EarthNews Radio: ForesTrade

EarthNews Radio: Spices

One company in Canada sells hemp-based natural products, and one global organization wants to clear up some of the misunderstandings about hemp:

Listen to EarthNews Radio: Ruth's Hemp Foods

Listen to EarthNews Radio: Hemp Industries Association

EarthNews Radio also brought you two interesting interviews from the scientists at California Academy of Sciences:

EarthNews Radio: Cultural Biodiversity

EarthNews Radio: New Moon

Listen to EarthNews Radio regularly to hear Jerry Kay's interviews with scientists, activists, and environmentalists. Be sure to visit EarthNews Radio's home here at ENN; you can find it at www.enn.com/enn_radio_main.html.

The Power of Fair Trade -- An ENN Commentary
by Hunter Jackson

A few days ago I was talking to a friend about shoes. I'd recently read that Nike owns Converse, which shocked my friend, an oblivious Converse-wearer. She had thought that by buying Converses she was withdrawing her support of the big shoemakers who are notorious for utilizing sweatshop labor. Our conversation turned to how these days it seems everything for sale comes from somewhere problematic, so much so, in fact, that sometimes it feels like you either have to buy nothing or just ignore ethics altogether.

But that's not true. Though market-led 'free' trade encourages companies like Nike to contract production to sweatshops in Asia to minimize costs and maximize profits, there are practical alternatives. As concerns about the effects of such practices spread, conscientious consumers are increasingly turning to Fair Trade.

Fair Trade is a departure from the standard 'free' trade of the past that is driven by profit alone. In contrast, Fair Trade focuses on establishing a sustainable, balanced relationship between buyer and seller and guarantees a living wage to participating farmers and artisans.

Take coffee, the most common Fair Trade good. Wholesale buyers of non-Fair Trade coffee want the cheapest beans they can find, regardless of how the coffee beans are grown. Because global competition has driven prices down in recent years, sometimes farmers have to sell their coffee for less money than they spend to produce it, driving them deeper into poverty. Fair Trade growers, on the other hand, are guaranteed a minimum price for their coffee as long as they meet certain production standards and can receive three-to-five times as much money for their labor. According to Transfair USA, an internationally recognized Fair Trade certifier, in the past five years small farmers have made an additional $34 million by selling Fair Trade coffee.

By compensating producers for operating responsibly, Fair Trade helps preserve small scale, sustainable farming methods. Seller cooperatives and associations put individual producers in contact with organizations that market and sell the goods to North American and European audiences. Fair Trade items--such as handicrafts, furniture, clothes, jewelry, coffee, tea, and chocolate--can be found on the Internet or in specialty shops, like Global Exchange's Online Store or Fair Trade stores in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Portland.

Fair Trade is more than just talk. By buying Fair Trade goods, consumers are actively supporting both an alternative, just system of exchange as well as the well-being of individuals involved in the growing and making of Fair Trade goods. And the results are real.

Tex Dworkin, the manager of the Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store, recently returned from a month-long buying trip to Vietnam and Thailand where she met with local artisans and organizations that work with to get their goods from sometimes remote villages to the global market. "The lives of these people are greatly improved by the profits of the sale of these [Fair Trade] items," she said. "That's what it comes down to--their lives were a lot different before we started buying from them. That's the truth."

Getting a product into a Fair Trade store or website can drastically affect a town or village. According to Dworkin, entire communities in Guatemala are supported by the work of weavers' cooperatives. In Peru, all of one village's income comes from the sale of their handmade Incan chess sets in Global Exchange's stores. "If someone buys 500 of something, that could be an entire village that's changed forever," she said.

The best part is that Fair Trade is growing rapidly. According to the 2003 Report on Fair Trade Trends, total sales went up by 44% from 2001 to 2002. Increasingly consumers in the Global North concerned about where their food and crafts come from are willing to pay a little more for Fair Trade goods so they will know where their money is going. In doing so, they are putting money right in the hands of small-scale producers rather than large unethical corporations.

This Saturday, May 14th, is World Fair Trade Day. In sixty countries and hundreds of cities there will be events, rallies, seminars, fashion shows, and sales to help promote Fair Trade as a socially, economically, and environmentally responsible alternative to conventional 'free' trade. It will be a chance for people to learn about the power we, as consumers, have to positively affect the lives of people who make the things we buy.

And mixed in with the food, shawls, paper, and jewelry that will be on display and for sale this weekend are even No Sweat Sneakers--the only 100% union made sneakers in the world, guaranteed sweatshop-free, proving there really are alternatives to Nike.

Hunter Jackson is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist and volunteer with Global Exchange.