ENN Weekly: June 27th - July 1st

ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week. In the news June 27th - July 1st: Teflon under fire, global warming's toll on sand dunes, an environmentally dubious land trade, and supporters and detractors weigh in on the Kyoto protocol.

Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
ENN Commentary: Reform Badly Needed in Fisheries Department

The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter

In the news June 27th - July 1st: Teflon under fire, global warming's toll on African sand dunes, an environmentally dubious land trade, and supporters and detractors weigh in on the Kyoto protocol.

1. Kyoto Protocol: Waste of Cash or Green Lifeline?
With the Group of Eight Summit just days away, the pros and cons of the Kyoto protocol are on the minds of many. Specifically, the question of whether the economic cost of Kyoto justifies the environmental payoff. The U.S. says no, while supporters in the EU, Canada and Japan clearly think otherwise.

2. Land Trade Targets Wildlife Refuge's Oil and Gas
In Alaska, another question weighs heavy: Whether or not to re-draw the borders of the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Doing so could free up portions of the land for oil and gas drilling in an area where oil reserves could be significant -- up to 592 million barrels -- according to the USGS. The debate has delayed the deal until the USFWS conducts a full environmental impact study.

3. British University to Conduct Major Survey of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises
In Scotland, the University of St. Andrews' Sea Mammal Research Unit plans to launch an ambitious survey of the whales, dolphins, and porpoises living around the European Atlantic continental shelf. For assessment purposes, the results, anticipated to be available in mid-2006, will be compared with the numbers from a similar survey done in 1994.

4. G8 Leaders' Cars to Use Eco-Fuel Made from Straw
Fuel derived from straw and other agricultural waste will power the vehicles that will transport world leaders to next week's G8 Summit in Scotland. As Brian Foody, CEO of Iogen Corp., which makes the fuel, says, "This is an excellent illustration of changes that can be made that don't have to change peoples' lifestyles, don't change the kinds of cars they drive, but can yet make significant improvements."


5. Warming May Harm Africa's Sand Dune Fields
New research published in the June issue of the journal Nature warns of yet another adverse impact of global warming. Africa's southern sand dunes, stable and supporting vegetation, also support hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods could be destroyed within this century if droughts turn the ecosystem desert-like.

6. Official Says Efforts to Solve Global Water Crisis Falling Short
In the developing world, water quality and quantity remain problematic despite the economic aid of developed nations. According to UNICEF environmental expert Vanessa Tobin, "there are still 2.6 billion people without improved services -- over half the developing world's population -- and 1.1 billion still using water from unimproved sources."

7. Rwanda Symbolically Names Endangered Baby Gorillas
With only approximately 700 mountain gorillas remaining in the world, each baby is precious. Last weekend, a traditional naming ceremony in Rwanda, where 380 gorillas live, drew attention to the plight of the species while raising funds for gorilla protection.

8. U.N. Rejects Bulk of Environment Claims on Iraq
From 1990-91 the occupation of Kuwait caused environmental damage estimated by Iraq to have a price tag of $50 billion. On Thursday, the U.N. Compensation Commission (UNCC) approved a mere $252 million in reparations -- a fraction of the claim. UNCC executive director Rolf Knutsson said, "I wouldn't say the claims were inflated. They reflected the impression of claimant countries of the magnitude of damage, which is a subjective matter."

9. Review Board Finds EPA Downplayed Potential Risks of Chemical Used for Teflon
It looks like DuPont might not be able to keep EPA charges of a link between cancer and Teflon from sticking. Perfluorooctanoic acid, the active ingredient in Teflon, is implicated by the EPA as a potential human carcinogen in a draft assessment. DuPont's studies show no such link, though the company's investigation is still ongoing.

10. Activists Want Fish off California Aquarium Menu
Comparing serving fish for lunch at an aquarium to grilling "poodle burgers at a dog show," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) requested the removal of fish from the menu at Long Beach, California's Aquarium of the Pacific. In response, aquarium president Jerry Schubel emphasized the aquarium's commitment to conservation education and stated that the facility serves only sustainable fish.

Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary

With the summer travel season in full swing, and last month's small dip in the price of gas a thing of the past already, alternative energy returned to the forefront in ENN's Sustainable Economy section. We covered a number of stories about various alternative energy technologies, starting with a survey showing the emerging consensus in the US about removing the dependence on oil from the Middle East:

Survey to Show Americans Want July 4, 2015 to Be Set as 'Energy Independence Day' Ending U.S. Reliance on Middle Eastern Oil
Parking Lot's Photovoltaic 'Solar Trees' Offer Shade, Provide Power
By 2007, IndyCars Will Run on Pure Ethyl Alcohol, a Cleaner Fuel
BAE Uses Fuzzy Logic to Make Wind Farms Vanish
Illinois Institute of Technology Professor Develops 'Clean Energy Technology'
Sales of Hybrid, Diesel Cars Projected to Soar by 2012
Honda Leases First Fuel Cell Vehicle to a Family

Climate change and the other ramifications of our current energy-use practices -- and the attempts to change them -- have earned the attention of corporate executives and investors alike. Businesses want to learn about it, investors want to profit from it, and companies want to appear to be on the correct side of the issue:

Merrill Lynch, World Resources Institute Make Stock Picks Based on Climate Change
Business for Corporate Responsibility to 'Green' November Conference
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts in Environmental Partnership With Celebrity Green Power
Grace Sponsors Teachers to Attend Environmental Issues Curriculum Development Program

Some companies still are having difficulty doing the right thing. ENN brings you those stories as well:

Pepsi Bottling Plant Identified as Major Cause of Organic Overload
States Sue Allegheny Energy over Alleged Clean Air Act Violations
Beef Testing Inadequate Says Organic Prairie Family of Farms

On the lighter side, summer is a great time to pick a nice spot outdoors on a warm day and read a good book. If you're one of the millions of Harry Potter fans, you can read the latest incarnation knowing that all that paper was produced in an environmentally responsible manner:

124 Tractor-Trailers to Deliver Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the Barnes & Noble Warehouse

EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary

This week EarthNews Radio brought you a myriad of stories to pique your imagination and keep your brain engaged in this summer season. People are busy, especially in summer, with family and travel and typical summer pursuits. Jerry Kay presented an organization that can help you keep abreast of everything going on in the world of the natural sciences:

Science Updates

Two other organizations were featured on EarthNews Radio that can help keep you aware of science, art, business, and environmental issues:

Green Museum Online

Focus Earth

Among the many good things about summer are bird watching and chocolate. Jerry Kay brought you features about both of these simple pleasures:

Chocolate Exhibit

Boreal Birds Organization

Pollen is becoming an issue in our cities. Places such as Tucson that formerly were pollen-free are now seeing high pollen levels because of the planting of male trees by landscapers:

Pollen Laws

Finally, before you order the fried clams at that chow stand on the beach, do you know what you're getting? Is the food safe, healthy, and environmentally sustainable? EarthNews Radio brought you ways to learn just that:

Sensible Seafood Choices

Seafood Labeling

Be sure to check back to ENN's EarthNews Radio section often to hear the latest interviews from Jerry Kay, or to catch up on broadcasts you may have missed.

Reform Badly Needed in Fisheries Department -- A Guest Commentary
by Dr. David Suzuki, the David Suzuki Foundation

The Economist magazine is not exactly known for having a particularly green image. So when the magazine turns its gaze to issues of environmental conservation, you can bet that there is either a serious environmental problem or a real political mess somewhere. In the case of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), it's both.

Recently, the magazine published an article about the DFO and Canada's West Coast fisheries woes, describing "...anarchy on the Fraser (River), stocks in peril and an unreformed fisheries department." The article concluded by saying that B.C.'s salmon fisheries seemed to be swimming towards the same fate as the East Coast cod - in other words, practically extinct.

The Economist isn't the only one to get on the DFO's case. In fact, it seems that there has been a never-ending stream of reports, analyses and stories coming out about how the department is chronically underfunded, mismanaged and failing to protect marine ecosystems. The DFO has responded to these complaints by denying the problem or shuffling money around and saying that everything's under control.

It isn't. A comprehensive analysis of the department's Pacific Division conducted by independent consultants for the David Suzuki Foundation has found that the DFO needs a radical overhaul if it is to have any chance of meeting its conservation mandate and protecting the country's fish stocks.

The report is based on House and Senate committee testimony, auditors-general reports, analyses of internal DFO records and budgets, and extensive interviews with fisheries scientists. It concludes that the department simply does not have the information it needs about fish stocks to adequately protect them. What's more, the DFO's capacity to do the necessary research has been severely hampered by slashed scientific budgets.

Meanwhile, spending to keep the bureaucracy afloat has increased - although whether or not it's money well spent is difficult to tell because there is little transparency or accountability within the department. What we do know is that the DFO itself has managed to become increasingly complicated in its machinations, replete with "partially responsible" agencies that pass the buck from one to another - assuming there is any communication between them at all.

All of this adds up to a department which, instead of being focused on conservation, is torn between conflicting mandates, hindered by political interference and fraught with internal dissent. Faced with these challenges and a diminishing budget, staff have been forced into "triage" mode, where they deal with only the most publicly contentious issues and leave the rest adrift.

Let's face it, the place is a mess. But with a little political will and adequate funding, it can still be turned around. It isn't too late to bring accountability to the department, with clear goals, targets and timelines. It isn't too late to develop real reporting systems, conduct adequate research and essentially have the department live up to its legal mandate.

When we fail to learn from our mistakes, history inevitably repeats itself. In the case of the DFO, the department knew for years that there were serious problems with the cod stocks off the East Coast, yet failed to take any sort of timely action to prevent a collapse of the fishery. As a result, there is still no cod fishery, even after more than a decade.

When the Foundation released the report, staff hoped it would get attention as being the most comprehensive analysis of the DFO to date. But when they talked to reporters about it, the response was essentially, "Yeah, tell us something we don't already know."

In other words, the Canadian media is already well aware the DFO is a mess - they're just waiting for some "news" to happen. That could mean either the federal government gets its act together and reforms the department or another fish stock collapses. Let's hope for the sake of Canada's marine ecosystems and the people who depend on them that it is the former.

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

Source: An ENN Guest Commentary

Photo: On May 19, 2005, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captured this stunning view as the sun sank below the rim of Gusev crater on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell.