ENN Weekly: July 11th - 15th

ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week. In the news July 11th - 15th: Saving glaciers, turning waste to wealth, the state of ocean health, sustainable community planning, and much more.

Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
Guest Commentary: Reading, Writing & Human Experimentation

The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter

In the news July 11th - 15th: Saving glaciers, turning waste to wealth, the state of ocean health, sustainable community planning, and much more.

1. Scientists Raise Alarm About Ocean Health
With ocean temperatures averaging two to five degrees above normal along the coast, and dead birds washing up on beaches in record numbers, scientists this week pointed to the dire state of ocean health. Addressing the issue of dwindling plankton populations, NOAA oceanographer Bill Peterson said, "If this continues, we will have a food chain that is basically impoverished from the very lowest levels."

2. Chemical Contamination in Arctic Linked to Bird Droppings
Decidedly annoying when splashed across a car windshield, bird droppings actually have serious environmental consequences in the Arctic, according to research led by scientists from the University of Ottawa. Through the process of biotransport, birds feed on chemically contaminated marine life and carry it back to shore, releasing pollutants including mercury and DDT on land in their excrement.

3. Turning Waste to Wealth Advancing at Landfills, Farms
A potential sunnier side of waste came to light this week, with the report of a new trend toward harnessing the noxious methane gas produced by garbage as a source of energy. Currently, approximately 380 landfills in the U.S. sell methane for industrial use. Farmers, too, see the possibility for tapping into a burgeoning market by selling the methane gas produced by animal manure.

4. California Disabled Win Long Legal Battle for Access to National Parks
After a seven-year-long battle, it looks like many of California's state parks will become more accessible to the disabled. The debate has been drawn out and heated. According to Deputy Attorney General Caryn Craig, "There are people who would like to see no man-made improvements made in the natural environment and obviously that perspective might not allow for disabled individuals to get out."


5. Unborn Babies Soaked in Chemicals, Survey Finds
The conclusions of a report by the Environmental Working Group shed new light this week on the impact of chemicals in the environment: A slew of industrial contaminants show up in umbilical cord blood. According to the report, "Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests."

6. Hollywood Could Help Save Madagascan Forests
Not traditionally a hot tourist destination, the island of Madagascar could benefit economically and ecologically from its starring role in the hit DreamWorks Studios movie of the same name. Plagued by poverty but blessed with rich and rare biologically diversity, the island suffers from extreme poverty that could be tempered by an influx of tourism prompted by moviegoers eager to experience the "real" Madagascar.

7. Program Encourages Governors to Help with Sensible Community Design
The non-profit group Smart Growth America teamed up with the EPA this week to help launch a program intended to encourage sustainable community planning. Under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts, the program aims to support governors in the quest for more environmentally friendly residential development.

8. Expanded Energy Program Aims to Save Homeowners 10 Percent or More on Utilities
Energy conservation has its benefits. That's the message of the U.S. government's Energy Star program, now expanding to include home contractors. "In this new program, contractors who help customers identify inefficient uses of energy and determine which projects in the home will fix the problems can market their services as backed by the trusted Energy Star label," said EPA Administrator Steve Johnson.

9. South Africa's Cape Baboons Being Maimed
A mischievous nature is proving to be the downfall of South Africa's baboons. Gifted at breaking and entering, baboons have incurred the wrath of those who resent the ransackings... and do something about it. Shootings and maimings of baboons are rampant. "Monitors" in key locations make every effort to prevent the marauders from destroying human property, and essentially save the animals from themselves.

10. Glacial Cover-Up Won't Stop Global Warming, But It Keeps Skiers Happy
Waging a labor-intensive war on the effects of global warming in Austria might not solve the problem, but it's good for business. Using innovative methods of keeping the glaciers cold at an Austrian skiing station slows the melt, but the ice retreat continues. Maintenance worker Alois Ranalter sums it up best: "It's not a good feeling. The glacier is our life."

Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary

This week on Sustainable Economy, ENN brought you our monthly Special Report for July on corporate social responsibility (CSR). If you read the Sustainable Economy section of ENN regularly, you know that this is becoming a hot topic, typically competing with hybrid cars for generating the most news.

With almost all companies now touting either a newfound or decades-long environmentalism, the consumer has to keep an eye out for greenwashing. No doubt, many companies are doing their best to reduce their environmental footprint, or create products that are better for the environment. But just as undoubtedly, some companies will treat the occasion to discuss environmental stewardship as a public relations opportunity. How do you know when a company is being clean, or greenwashing?

Our Special Report brought you dozens of resources so that you can be as educated as possible about CSR. The report includes radio, television, books, magazines, and websites among other things that are devoted to CSR. As the movement gains steam, more and more information is being created about CSR. ENN helps you wade through the information with our structured resource guide. Find that here: Corporate Social Responsibility

Also, I brought you a story about the nature of CSR -- what it is, and what it means for the future of business. You can read that here.As we do every week, we presented to you a number of stories about companies touting or actually performing CSR:

Canon Envirothon Draws Teenagers To North America Environmental Competition
Socially Responsible Investment Analysts Find More Large U.S. Companies Reporting on Social and Environmental Issues
Wells Fargo Announces 10-Point Environmental Commitment
ACI-NA Announces Winners of the 2005 Airport Environmental Achievement Awards
Progressive Design Playgrounds Meets California Criteria for High Performance Schools

Consistently alternative energy competes with corporate environmentalism and social responsibility for news attention. This week was no different, with alternative energy stories featured a number of times:

North Carolina Power Program Will Convert Manure, Garbage into Energy
Lab Helps Design a Better Turbine Blade to Produce Electricity
Toyota's New President Says Fuel-Cell Tie-Up with GM is Coming Soon -- But Vows to Beat GM

However, dependence on traditional fuel sources is not yet abating:

Statoil Plans to Develop New Offshore Oil Field in the Norwegian Sea
Driven by Fuel Shortages, China is Going Nuclear

The intersection of animals -- particularly cows -- and business made news this week:

Ranchers, Environmentalists Differ on New Grazing Rules
Dairy Industry Skeptical About Cloned Cows
PETA Unveils Ads Attacking California Dairy Industry

Finally, we continued coverage on the search for a solution to the growing piles of electronics-based waste:

E-Waste Helps First Responders
Pilot Program Shows Strong Interest in E-Recycling

Be sure to check ENN regularly for the latest news about the efforts made by business to create a greener world as well as a greener balance sheet. (We keep an eye on those trying to pull the "green" over your eyes as well.) We bring you new and timely stories each weekday about business and the environment in our Sustainable Economy channel.

EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary

This week EarthNews Radio review brought you stories not only of innovative products from businesses who want to do their part to improve the environment, but also from investors who want to make sure that those business have an opportunity to succeed. Jerry Kay spoke to Mark Bernhard from FocusEarth.com, a company that provides investment services to socially responsible companies. Two of its featured companies are EarthShell and Coffee Pacifica:


Coffee Pacifica

Many companies are getting in on the act. Here are two more examples of environmentally friendly products.


Recycled Glass

We know how difficult it is to keep up on science and environment news while you're enjoying your summer activities. EarthNews Radio featured places you can go to catch up on the latest science happenings:

Science Updates

This Week in Science

EarthNews brought you two organizations that don't need to be reminded to stay engaged in science and environment activities in summertime:

The Student Conservation Association

Weather Watching

And since nobody can resist chocolate, we continue to bring you the amazing chocolate exhibit:

Chocolate Chemistry

All About Chocolate

Be sure to check back to ENN's EarthNews Radio section often to hear the latest interviews from Jerry Kay. EarthNews Radio broadcasts are 90-second blasts of information packed with interesting news, views, and facts from scientists and environmentalists. Catch up on broadcasts you may have missed.

Reading, Writing & Human Experimentation -- An ENN Guest Commentary
by Brandon Stirling Baker

The 14th Amendment of our Constitution says that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law. I'm 17 years old, and I'd like to live way past 18.

Too many kids have cancer and asthma and lots of learning problems and kids need to be protected from anything that might make health and learning problems worse. Our constitution seems to agree, because if they didn't want kids to be protected our founding fathers would have said that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law except kids. And it doesn't say that.

California law today allows pesticides that have not received full health, stability and efficacy tests to be used on school campuses. These products that are not fully registered are known as "experimental" or "conditionally registered" products. The fact that K-12 public schools are being targeted to test experimental or conditional use pesticide products is downright creepy.

To close this dangerous loophole, Assemblywoman Montanez (D) has written a bill called AB405. The sponsors are California Safe Schools, a children's environmental health coalition dedicated to protecting kids from environmental toxins. Keep in mind, the law requires that kids attend K-12 public schools, so it's not like we have a choice about what we have to sit through during the school days. The bill, which has been approved by the Assembly, was created to protect kids, and prevent K-12 public schools from being used as test sites for experimental chemicals.

To understand why this bill is important, here's what's missing on some products that they can now legally use in schools. It's not Halloween but hang on because this is scary:

EFFICACY TESTING. This has to do with how well a product kills pests. So, if you're a school district buying products, the last thing you want is to buy something that may or may not work, or use any product around schools where the chemical manufacturer never bothered to complete safety testing.

STABILITY TESTING. For those who weren't lucky enough to have a great science teacher like Ms. Macion like I did, and may not have learned about stability tests, they tell you about a chemical's storage ability. Some chemical interact with other chemicals and can become more dangerous the longer they are stored, and some others don't work if you store them too long. Even worse, an unqualified person multi mixing chemicals could end up causing an explosion or a release of chemicals in your school that if they don't kill you make you sick.

Kids are lucky at Los Angeles Unified, which is the largest school district in the state and the second largest in the country, because the district doesn't allow experimental pesticide products, and it has a smart program called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that requires low-risk methods for killing pests and weeds. But hey, what about other school districts? When teachers and students visit, are they being used as lab rats? Without AB 405, it sure seems like it.

Anyway you look at it, K-12 public school kids, teachers and school workers can be used as lab experiments, without our knowledge. In the words of one of my favorite actors, Wallace Shawn as Vizzini in Princess Bride, it's "inconceivable!"

Brandon Stirling Baker is a 17-year-old student from Los Angeles.

Photo: Antelope on rangeland in central Wyoming. Credit: USDA Photo by Ron Nichols.