Wed, Feb

ENN Weekly: June 20th - 24th

ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week. In the news June 20th - 24th: A solar sail saga, the Senate debates energy, the meaning behind chickadee chirps, and benchmarks set for Boston Harbor.

Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
ENN Commentary: Scientific Whaling Program Weak on Science

The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter

In the news June 20th - 24th: A solar sail saga, the Senate debates energy, the meaning behind chickadee chirps, and benchmarks set for Boston Harbor.

1. Senate Nears Completion of Energy Bill; Conflict Expected with House
The cause of conservation fared well in the Senate during a busy week in which Senators made progress in hammering out the details of a broad national energy bill. Favoring environmentally friendly fuels, the bill is expected to meet with resistance in the House, which two months ago approved a bill weighed more favorably toward oil and gas producers.

2. Kenya Reclaims Famed Game Park from Poachers
Anti-poaching operations in Kenya's largest national park, Tsavo East, are carried out with military precision. Long closed to the public due to the dangers posed by hordes for heavily armed poachers, the park has succeeded in its anti-poaching efforts to such an extent that the park has been re-opened. And tourists have returned, to the tune of $556.3 million in 2004.

3. Private Space Group to Launch Solar Sail Orbiter / Solar Sail Craft Likely Didn't Make Orbit
On Tuesday, a privately funded solar spacecraft, Cosmos 1, blasted off for the farthest reaches of space. On Wednesday, a disappointed group of project organizers acknowledged that a faulty booster rocket probably doomed the mission. But there's a slim chance Cosmos 1 is out there: The spacecraft is programmed to deploy reflective sails, which could be visible from Earth on Saturday.

4. Group Sets Benchmarks To Evaluate Boston Harbor's Health
After 20 years and $4 billion, people actually swim in Boston Harbor, an act unthinkable two decades ago when raw sewage was rampant. New standards set by Save the Harbor/Save the Bay will measure the real progress of the cleanup, which a public survey indicates has widespread public support even though respondents question the high price tag.


5. WHO Starts Drive against Environmental Cancer Risk
The World Health Organization (WHO) is on a mission to increase public awareness of the link between radon exposure and cancer. The gaseous form of uranium, radon occurs naturally in the environment and is a leading cause of lung cancer. For smokers, in particular, radon exposure increases cancer risk dramatically.

6. U.S. Biotech Firm Sees FDA Approving Cloned Meat
One firm sees a day in the near future where the meat and milk of cloned animals will make its way into supermarkets and onto kitchen tables complete with the FDA seal of approval. Currently, the FDA is carrying out extensive risk assessment research, but ViaGen Inc. co-founder Scott Davis says that data suggests that consumption of cloned food by humans is safe.

7. Cheery Chickadee Chirps Carry Complex Information, Study Reveals
If you hear a bird call "chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee" you can assume that the neighborhood tom cat might lurking nearby, spotted by a chickadee whose cheerful chirp actually sounds an alarm through its long series of repeated "dees." So suggests research into the complexities of chickadee communication published this week in the journal Science. Scientists believe that other species have similarly sophisticated "languages" that we're not yet able to decode.

8. Alaska Natives Push for More Toxin Studies
High rates of cancer among Alaska Natives -- a population that rarely experienced the disease only 50 years ago -- has compelled indigenous groups to investigate the levels of toxic chemicals in traditional foods such as moose, caribou, and fish. "We see things our elders never used to see," said Shawna Larson of Alaska Community Action on Toxins. Indigenous groups suspect constant low-level exposure to toxins is the culprit.

9. Nuclear Dump a Step Closer
Utah's Skull Valley Indian reservation is one step closer to hosting a nuclear waste storage facility, despite the state's protests. With only one challenge remaining prior the granting of a Private Fuel Storage license by the NRC, Utah could still challenge the granting of the license in a federal appeals court.

10. Big Fish Important in the Gene Pool
Heading out on a fishing trip this weekend? Before you throw back the small fry and fry up the big fish, consider the environmental implications: Scientists have found that having larger fish in the ecosystem helps maintain populations. Taking them out of circulation disproportionately damages fertility rates and effectively breeds smaller fish. So let the big ones get away!

Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary

This week on ENN, we covered numerous "alternative" types and methods of business (and one mainstream business entering an alternative niche), each of which in its own way helps to improve the environment. If you were following sustainable economy on ENN all week, you got a sense of the many different ways that businesses that care about the environment are working toward real sustainability. They ranged from investment, to power, to toothpaste:

One Year After Investment: Pre-Financing Used To Make Possible The Sale Of Over 22.3 Million Pounds Of Coffee, Improve Circumstances For Small Coffee Farmers
In New Jersey, Solar Sells
Tom Chappell Grows Tom's of Maine Into a National Company
Fetzer Valley Oaks Estate Grown Organic Olive Oil Available on Web
Nissan to Build Altima Hybrid in 2006
New Reports Pinpoint Climate Options for Building, Electricity Sectors

And in what's becoming a regular litany, large companies continue to issue sustainability reports and tout awards that they've won. Are they really doing all they can for the environment? We report, you decide:

UPS Releases Report on Sustainability Goals
Novozymes Receives EPA Presidential Green Chemistry Award 2005

There were plenty of reports about controversies, challenges, and ongoing problems that businesses and governments still face in the quest for an improved environment. The news is not always good:

New Regulations Cut Number of House Paints for Five States
New England Shellfish Growers Feel Snubbed by Red Tide Loan Program
Emergency Workers Deal with Electrocution Threat from Hybrid Cars
Whale Burger Goes on Sale in Japan Amid Growing Criticism over Its Research Whaling
Valero and Sunoco in Consent Decree with US, Will Reduce Harmful Emissions by 44,000 Tons Annually
High-Tech Recycling: It's a Trashy Future

Among those controversies is one brewing on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, where a power company wants to develop a huge wind-power farm off the coast. Normally wind-power projects are not very controversial, but the scope and placement of this one has caused a stir. Politicians and interest groups are weighing in, lawsuits have been filed and decided, and the PR battle is in full tilt. Read the story, and tell us what you think in an ENN poll at the end of the story. Do you support this type of project? Or is it ill conceived?

Wind Power Project Stirs Controversy on Cape Cod

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 brought you several features about seafood, which is a popular staple now that summer has started. Jerry Kay's interviews provided information about safety, labeling, and sustainable fishing practices that will help you to make sensible decisions about what to order at the clam shack, or what to buy in the market for your grill:

Sensible Seafood Choices

Seafood Labeling

Seafood Guide

Seafood Watch

For many in some urban communities, however, healthy food choices are very limited. One organization that EarthNews Radio featured this week believes that nutritious, affordable food is a human right, and strives to make just that available in West Oakland:

People's Grocery

Food Equity

Often, family farms are suppliers of organic and healthy foods to retailers of all kinds. But the number of family-run farms is declining. One group is dedicated to helping to preserve the centuries-old tradition of the family farm:

Family Farms

Organic and sustainable food is a growing industry, but there are reasons why gardeners should also look to organic methods to grow their inedible plants too:

Organic Flowers

Be sure to visit EarthNews Radio's home here at ENN regularly. Jerry Kay interviews compelling environmentalists, and scientists, and activists in 90 blasts of information will make you think -- and prompt you to act. You can find it at www.enn.com/enn_radio_main.html.

Scientific Whaling Program Weak on Science -- An ENN Commentary
by Dr. David Suzuki, David Suzuki Foundation

I'm no economist, but from my understanding of the basics, when supply overshoots demand, prices will drop and producers will generally lower production accordingly.

Well, simple economics apparently doesn't apply to whaling. This week, the Japanese government asked the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to double its annual whaling quota of Antarctic minke whales to nearly 1,000 animals. It also wants to take an additional 50 humpback and 50 fin whales. At the same time, demand for whale meat in Japan is in serious decline.

So why expand the hunt now? Japan says the move will further "scientific research." Critics say it is really a thinly disguised expansion of commercial whaling. Whatever Japan's motives are, the reality is that there has been little scientific benefit from its whaling program and, interestingly, increasingly smaller economic benefits.

Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1986 when whale populations the world over crashed and public sentiment turned against whale hunts. Since then, Japan has killed more than 8,000 whales for "scientific research" and sold the meat. However, as sales have declined, the Japanese government has started promoting whale meat through product giveaways and whale cookbooks in hopes of renewing consumer interest.

With whale meat demand dropping, it seems like a strange time for Japan to be doubling its catch. Of course, Japan insists that its interest in whaling is scientific, not economic. However, according to an analysis by a group of researchers from Australia, Japan and the United States recently published in the journal Nature, Japan's whaling program is also of dubious scientific value.

For example, the scientific whaling program has been operating for 18 years, yet it has resulted in very few published papers. None of them has appeared in the International Whaling Commission's own journal, in spite of the journal's emphasis on stock management - a supposed focal point of the Japanese program. And only one published paper by the program in any journal over nearly two decades has been relevant to the issue of species management.

If Japan carries out its expanded program, over the next 18 years whalers will take some 17,000 minke whales, 820 fin whales and 800 humpback whales from the Antarctic, in addition to an expanded Pacific hunt. According to the Japanese proposal, the increased hunt will benefit ecosystems - including whales. It argues that a selective cull of humpbacks and fins will reduce competition for food (krill) with the endangered blue whale, thereby increasing the world's largest animal's chance of recovering.Critics, however, point out that competition amongst whale species is hardly a major issue today, as whale populations are a mere fraction of what they were a century ago. Furthermore, population trends for all whale species are highly uncertain. Finally, the research used to justify the Japanese hypothesis is largely from unreviewed and unpublished data collected through Japan's own controversial program.

All this makes it exceptionally difficult to justify an expanded hunt, especially since humpback whales are internationally listed as a threatened species and fin whales are endangered. Faced with an array of ocean threats, including pollution and climate change, many whale populations could not handle the added burden of hunting.

There is no credible scientific basis for expanding Japan's whale hunt. Nor is there much of an economic one. Giving away blubber ice cream, as the Japanese government did in 2002 to encourage citizens to develop a taste for the stuff, hardly amounts to a strong and growing market. The IWC clearly needs to reexamine the justification of whaling in the name of science. If Japan's program is any indication, there's little knowledge to be gained.

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: A close-up of an iridescent green Sweat Bee. Credit: www.pdphoto.org.