ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week. In the news June 13 - 17: Higher air quality standards for U.S. parks and wild places, the tsunami's drastic toll on leatherbacks, interim nuclear waste storage plans stall, and strict pollution laws protect Antarctica.
Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
ENN Commentary: Who Owns the Earth?
The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter
In the news June 13 - 17: Higher air quality standards for U.S. parks and wild places, the tsunami's drastic toll on leatherbacks, interim nuclear waste storage plans stall, and strict pollution laws protect Antarctica.
1. On Wednesday, the Senate voted in an energy bill provision requiring refineries nationwide to double the current use of ethanol in gasoline. Hailed by supporters as a means of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, the move could tag an additional four to eight cents per gallon onto the cost of gas, the EPA estimates.
>> Senate Approves Ethanol Mandate for Gasoline as Part of Energy Bill
2. Watch out, Yogi, your days of living the good life could be numbered. Plans are in the works at the Fish and Wildlife Service to end Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears. Delisting would subject the species to federally approved population control measures at the state level, rather than making them fair game for ambitious hunters.
>> Feds to Seek End of Federal Protection for Grizzlies in Yellowstone Area
3. At least Yogi will be able to breath a little easier. Mid-week the EPA set new rules requiring significant industrial air pollution reductions in specific regions near national parks. According to EPA air quality head Jeff Holmstead, "Some areas will benefit more, because they're more polluted than other areas, but we are predicting improvements in all of them."
>> EPA Sets New Rules for Cleaner Air in Parks and Wilderness Areas
4. The resignation of Philip Cooney, former chief of staff on the White House Council on Environmental Quality, following allegations that he watered down language in administration climate reports made headlines last week. This week, the revelation that Cooney will be reporting for work at ExxonMobil in the fall brought renewed allegations of the Bush administration's inappropriately close ties to the oil industry.
>> Democrats Say White House again Cozy with Big Oil
5. A human disaster of extreme proportion, December's tsunami also took a drastic toll on a species already teetering on the brink of extinction. Several beaches that served nesting grounds of leatherback turtles, the largest marine reptile, were washed away by the tsunami, leaving the turtles with scarce amounts of vital habitat.
>> Tsunami Pushes Leatherback Turtles Towards Brink
6. A message to would-be polluters of the Antarctic: "clean up or pay up." At an Antarctic Treaty meeting in Sweden this week, 45 nations agreed on measures to prevent pollution of the enormous continent, where recent increased human activity makes environmental disaster ever more likely to occur.
>> New Laws Make Antarctic Polluters Liable
7. In Brazil, news that army engineers are poised to divert water from one of the country's largest rivers to the northeast, where drought has left 12 million people in desperate need of water. The project will involve pumping water from the Sao Francisco river through a total of 435 miles of canals, which critics allege are unnecessary and expensive.
>> Brazil Army to Divert River in Disputed Project
8. The ongoing debate over the proposed nuclear waste dump in Nevada hit a bump in the road on Tuesday in the Senate. The House had attempted to provide for the establishment of temporary, back-up storage sites, but the Senate shot the measure down. Said Harry Reid (D-Nev.), "All the House has done has been to stir up members in an unproductive way."
>> Senate Panel Rebuffs House Call for Interim Nuclear Waste Storage
9. An unusually severe toxic red tide outbreak is wreaking havoc on the northeast shellfishing industry, with a new Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries ban on fishing in federal waters. Formerly restricted from fishing within three miles of shore, crews now are banned from activity within 100 miles.
>> Massachusetts Extends Shellfishing Limits to Federal Waters Due to Toxic Red Tide
10. Political banter heated up this week in ENN's Forums, where the "Water Cooler" section features an ongoing discussion about the dichotomies between U.S. political parties. The subject of the pros and cons of hybrid cars spurred some lively debate, and a thought-provoking thread examines a theory about the impact on industrial society on the intellect and the environment. Read all about it here:
>> ENN Forum: Our Readers Speak
Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary
This week in Sustainable Economy, we saw that legal wrangling is often part of the fight to preserve the environment, as is bureaucratic wrangling. Loopholes, rulings, standards, tariffs: They were all represented in stories that we brought you this week about the legal side of environmental protection:
New Report From World Resources Institute Finds Environmental Loophole in Standards for Multilateral Development Banks
Panama Banana Growers Fear EU Tariffs May Spell End
Snowmaking Upheld; Court Fight Next for Arizona Snowbowl
Texas Supreme Court Announces Ruling in Texas Environmental Cleanup Case
There were plenty of business innovations happening while juries and judges deliberated and bureaucrats set tax rates. We covered a number of examples of businesses and businesspeople creating innovations that bode well for a cleaner, cooler future:
Environmental Power Corporation Unveils New Anaerobic Digester Technology; Electricity from Cow Waste
Old Tires Help Produce Cement
C&A Floorcoverings Earns Environmentally Preferable Product Certification for Ethos Brand Carpet Backing
Market Operates in Environmentally Friendly Building
U.S. Microbics Ventures into Mexico, Will Provide Spanish Website
N.H. Firm Carves Niche Selling Pasteurized Chicken Manure as Organic Fertilizer
Businesses that we covered this week were not only innovating, but were also involved in advocacy of sorts. Here are some examples of stories we covered about businesses that aren't just getting the environmental message, but are giving it as well:
Rebates Encourage Businesses to Try Alternative Sources of Energy
Hong Kong Disneyland to Tell Customers about Environmental Harm of Shark Fin Soup
Firm Expands PC Recycling
Dim the Lights and Turn Up the Thermostat
And finally, ENN gets raw! And we're not the only ones:
Be sure to check ENN regularly to get the latest news about business and the environment. You can find it here on ENN on our Sustainable Economy News page.
EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary
This week EarthNews Radio touched on several topics that are germaine to the onset of summer. (We presume that most of our friends in the Southern Hemisphere are in temperate enough climates to relate!) Jerry Kay's interviews this week touched on food -- seafood in particular, and flowers.
Many of us love not only the flavor but also the health benefits of seafood. Hitting the local clam shack is a staple of summer for millions. But which fish are safe to eat? And what else should you be considering before you choose that fish dinner?
One company is looking to supply institutional eating venues with sustainably grown and harvested food:
Not everyone has the luxury of indulging in a seafood dinner though, but one organization is trying to help one urban community to enjoy healthy, affordable food:
One of the inedible joys of spring and summer is flowers. Jerry Kay brought useful information about flowers both wild and organically grown:
Finally, we featured author Robert Glennon last week, but we think that this topic is so compelling as to warrant mention again. Listen to Jerry Kay's interviews with Glennon about America's drying groundwater:
Of course, check back to ENN's EarthNews Radio section often to hear the latest interviews of environmentalists, activists, and businesspeople from Jerry Kay. Also, you can catch up on broadcasts you may have missed.
Who Owns the Earth? -- An ENN Commentary
by Steven J. Moss, San Francisco Community Power
The first time it happened I was on a rafting trip with my wife, Debbie. “What’s this,” she asked, holding a glass bottle she’d picked out of the rocks. I took it from her, and my heart beat a little faster. It was an antique liquor bottle stamped with the date “1856,” a prized artifact from the Old West. “Let me see that,” said our guide, who, because of his age and river wisdom, we’d nicknamed “Old Man River.” “I’ve been rafting this river twenty years and I’ve never seen an intact bottle like this. Must’ve been dislodged by the rains.” He took it from me. “Best to leave it here at the river where other people can come across it,” he said, as he squatted down and wedged it between the rocks.
I grimaced at his back ”“ although my wife had found it, I wanted to take it with me; own a piece of history. As if reading my mind Old Man River stood up, brushed his hands on his shorts, and said to the sky, “a single person can’t own history; it belongs to everybody.” I thought about what he said for a moment, but still wanted that damn bottle.
The second time I was on a wilderness hike in Mexico with a group of friends. We were sitting on a beach, cleaning the fish we’d caught, when our guide walked up to us with a huge smile and a cylindrical object in his hand. “Look what I found,” he said, holding out a small vase-shaped object the color of dull salmon. “I think it’s an Indian pot, maybe a few hundred years old.” I licked my lips in envy, “what are you going to do with it?” “Give it back to the tribe,” he responded without hesitation, “it belongs to them.”
The rest of the trip I kept my eyes glued to the ground, searching for artifacts that I could smuggle home, forgetting about the wild beauty around me. I found nothing. Later, after we’d canoed back to the Indian village from which we launched, our guide handed the pot to a tribal elder. He told us, in Spanish, that he’d never seen an object like this; only heard about its use in ancient ceremonies. He thought it might be eight hundred years old. “We’ll keep this pot for our children,” he said, his eyes moist, “so that they can see how their ancestor’s lived.” I was glad they had the pot, but knew I wouldn’t have given it so willingly.
My internal lust to own old found objects is not altogether different from the external struggles over ownership that define environmentalism. At one end of the continuum, Americans strongly believe in the right to own, and sell, almost everything, from cleaning products that emit health-damaging volatile organic compounds to nature itself, in the form of large tracts of private property populated by wild animals. Where we draw the line between what can be owned and what cannot defines how strongly we feel about environmental protection, and about the common good.
Today we can own gas guzzling heavy-weight vehicles that, depending on how much they're used, emit hundreds of pounds of polluting and greenhouse gas emissions. We can own, and readily discard, mounds of plastic used temporarily to carry around items or to package other commodities. And we can own large sways of acres that, with a few exceptions, we can do pretty much what we want with.
Of course none of these things can really be owned forever. Even the objects that are mine ”“ my new Mini Cooper convertible; the computer I’m writing with ”“ are really only temporary companions. We’ll part company some day. Which makes our collective lust for objects quixotic. How can I own an object that will last longer than I do? And if that object harms the planet I live on, or puts by daughter’s future at risk, who really owns who?
I don’t know how I’ll feel or act the next time I come across an ancient found object. I hope, though, that if its meaning spans more than a moment that I’ll leave it where it lies, or carry it to a place where it belongs.
Steven Moss is the publisher of the Neighborhood Environmental Newswire. He serves as Executive Director of San Francisco Community Power, www.sfpower.org.
Photo: A Loggerhead Sea Turtle at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville, Florida. Credit: Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.