ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week. In the news July 25th - 29th: Powering Windsor Castle, protecting apes, combating climate change, compromising on energy, and much more.
Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
Guest Commentary: Testing for Mad Cow Disease: Too Little, Too Late
The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter
In the news July 25th - 29th: Powering Windsor Castle, protecting apes, combating climate change, compromising on energy, and much more.
1. Congress Set to Pass Far-Reaching Energy Bill, Breaking Years of Stalemate
A new national energy plan passed the House and is headed for the Senate today, containing policies that, according to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) "we as a nation will benefit from not tomorrow, but for the next five or 10 years." Supporters contend that the bill will create jobs and support the development of cleaner energy sources. Critics argue out that it helps pave the way for oil and gas exploration.
2. U.S. Joins with Five Asian Countries to Counter Climate Change
Six countries -- the United States, China, India, Japan, Australia, and South Korea -- entered into an agreement on Wednesday to help curb pollution by using cleaner energy technologies. Dubbed a "results-oriented partnership" by President Bush, the agreement does not, however, commit participating countries to reaching specific emission reduction targets.
3. Scarce, Degraded Land is Spark for Africa Conflict
A host of environmental influences, including erosion, climate change, and overgrazing, has led to deadly battles for scarce, degraded land in Africa -- and vice-versa. According to a 2004 U.N. assessment of ecological hotspots in Africa, "Conflict creates conditions promoting ecosystem degradation, or environmental resource depletion could be a cause of conflict."
4. Conservationists Seek to Protect Apes
In a campaign funded by the Austrian government, the Austrian branch of the World Wildlife Fund will be educating tourists about the potential impact of collecting souvenirs made from the body parts of apes. With some species faced with the threat of extinction in 20 to 50 years, the trade in decorative souvenirs could play a significant role in pushing them over the brink.
5. U.S. House Approves $26 Billion Environmental Bill
On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed an appropriations bill to fund agencies including the EPA and U.S. Forest Service to the tune of $26 billion for the year beginning October 1st. The bill cuts funding for clean water programs to $191 million below this year's level, but increases spending for firefighting efforts in wilderness areas and prohibits the use of pregnant women, babies, and children as pesticide-testing subjects. (See "Congress Banning Use of Data from Pesticide Tests on Pregnant Women, Infants," ENN, 7/29/05)
6. Scientists Say Many More Right Whales May Be Dying than Previously Thought
Only approximately 350 North Atlantic right whales are left in the wild, and according to marine scientists, they might be dying faster than we think. Published in the journal Science, a recent article estimates that right whale deaths are underreported to the tune of 83 percent a year and calls for the implementation of emergency protections for the whales under the Endangered Species Act.
7. In China's Dash to Develop, Environment Suffers Severely
"Acid rain is falling on one-third of the Chinese territory (and) half the water in our seven largest rivers is completely useless," says Pan Yue, of the State Environmental Protection Administration. China's economic boom is taking a huge environmental toll, with polluted air and water sickening citizens who are beginning to protest -- violently, in many cases -- their diminished quality of life.
8. Study Warns California Will Need 40 Percent More Water in 25 Years
The thirst for a beautiful landscape could be a significant culprit in a huge jump in California's water consumption over the next 25 years. Projected population growth in the state is cause for concern over how to control the demands for water to irrigate lawns, among other things. Economists are promoting the use of native plants and minimal lawns to aid water conservation efforts.
9. Witnesses Say Bears Back in Switzerland
On Monday, three eyewitnesses spotted a bear in eastern Switzerland. It's the first bear sighting in Switzerland -- whose capital, Bern, means "bear" -- in a century. The news comes as no surprise to Swiss park officials, who have been expecting bears to re-emerge in the country for a couple of months, but still, they're searching for physical evidence to support the eyewitness accounts.
10. Queen Elizabeth to Use Water to Help Power Windsor Castle
"We're constantly looking at ways of saving energy," read an official statement from Britain's royal family this week. "We use energy efficient light bulbs at Buckingham Palace." Longtime supporters of environmental projects, the British royal family also plans to power close to one-third of Windsor Castle with hydroelectricity using water from the River Thames beginning some time in 2006.
Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary
This week in Sustainable Economy, we saw more evidence of the credence being given in the business press to alternative forms of energy. No longer among stories about futuristic technology and risky ideas, hybrids and fuel cells are commonplace today:
Hybrid Cabs Get a Look from New York City
First Field Tests in Germany of Low-Temperature Fuel Cells for Homes
TST, Inc. Purchases Fuel Cells to Reduce Pollution While Managing Energy Costs and Reliability
Another trend in environmentalism is the increasing participation of large corporations in the effort. We've initiated polls to gauge whether ENN readers trust that these efforts are genuine and effective, or are ineffective attempts at greenwashing. In the cases of Wal-Mart and Canon below, it's nearly split down the middle though listing to the negative side:
Goodwill Industries And Dell Launch Innovative Computer Recycling Service In San Francisco Bay Area
Canon Unveils Recycling Program to Consumers
Wal-Mart Hopes 'Green' Store Brings Greenbacks
PNM Resources Seeks LEED Certification for New Building
Itochu to Create 'MOTTAINAI' Brand for Environment Conservation
One smaller company has an unquestionably innovative product that will benefit the environment:
The politics of environmentalism doesn't take a break in summer, nor does it take a backseat to business. We brought you those stories as well:
Outsourcing Forests to India
Lightly Polluted Sites Seek Developers
Brothers, Town Officials Envision Nature Park in Abandoned Area
Michigan Attorney General Opposes Federal Interference in Great Lake Protection
Finally, the larger green business picture: More proof that business that go green create green:
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 page.
EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary
This week, in typical fashion, EarthNews Radio brought you features spanning from geography to youth activism to museums to bugs. The program always brings you a wide variety of scientists and environmentalists; this week was no different.
Jerry Kay interviewed representatives of institutions that will keep your mind engaged during the otherwise leisurely days of summer:
Young people are getting more and more involved in environmental activism; here are two great examples of that:
Wildlife was well-represented this week, what with loud insects and extreme bacteria. But also, we brought you an organization that can help you make your backyard an appropriate habitat for the local wildlife in your area:
Finally, EarthNews listeners learned about biased geography and investing: the investing biased in the good way, the geography, not quite so:
Be sure to visit EarthNews Radio's home here at ENN regularly. Jerry Kay interviews compelling environmentalists, 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.
Testing for Mad Cow Disease: Too Little, Too Late -- An ENN Guest Commentary
by Joyce H. Newman, The Green Guide
Over the past year, an estimated 230,000 cattle have been tested by the USDA. This only amounts to less than 1 percent of the cattle slaughtered in the US every year. The other 99 percent will go untested, even though under current FDA rules, these cattle may be fed animal byproducts that can be contaminated, exposing them to the deadly disease.
The recent, long-delayed confirmation of mad cow disease in a Texas cow, born and bred in the US, has raised a red flag that it’s time to expand the number of cattle we test and also to enforce more stringent safety rules on animal feed, closing loopholes in the 1997 so-called “animal feed ban” that still permits the disease to spread.
How much testing is really needed to adequately protect our beef supply --and ourselves? Most independent experts recommend that all cattle over 20 months of age be tested at slaughter. Adopting this level of testing is in line with practices and the views of expert officials throughout Europe and in Japan.
To put the numbers in perspective, by law since 2001, the European Union countries, have tested more than 30 million healthy cattle, in addition to many tested that were actually suspected of have the disease. The surveillance in the EU countries involves active monitoring of healthy slaughtered cattle, as well as cows at risk or with a link to known cases of the disease.In contrast, the USDA surveillance program now consists primarily of collecting and analyzing brain samples only from older cattle with neurological symptoms and from cows that were “fallen” (not walking or downer animals) at slaughter.
A recent editorial in the Boston Globe (July 7, 2005) calculated that “”¦. the United States tests about one in ninety cattle; Europe”¦. tests one in four; and Japan tests every animal. The US rate is a significant improvement over the one that prevailed until 2003: 1 in 1,700, when the first US case of mad cow was detected”¦.”
While USDA is doing more surveillance than it used to, the program is still full of dangerous loopholes. For example, contrary to the strong recommendations in 2004 by the US General Accounting Office, which investigated the risks of spreading mad cow disease, the USDA surveillance does not include cows at high-risk that die on farms. The GAO report advised that such animals, which may be infected, are a significant potential source of mad cow disease. Once they are dead, farmers may have them rendered for use in pig and poultry feed—a practice that is perfectly legal under current FDA rules. The pigs and poultry can then be fed back to livestock, exposing other cattle to the disease.
The Texas cow that was confirmed to have the disease was at least 12 years old, so it could have been infected by eating feed made with rendered cattle parts before that practice was banned in 1997. But it could also have been infected after that date with contaminated feed still in use as a result of a loophole in the 1997 ban.
Consumers Union, the Center for Food Safety, and many other food safety experts recommend closing all the loopholes-- all mammalian material should be banned from all animal feed. More information on their safety recommendations can be found at www.notinmyfood.org and www.centerforfoodsafety.org, which provides a consumer guide on mad cow disease.
In the meantime, to minimize any possible risk of exposure to mad cow disease, you can buy organic beef, which cannot be fed any animal byproducts. Least likely to contain infectious agents are solid cuts of beef with no bone in them. The riskiest materials are brains, followed by cuts like hamburger and sausage, which, if not properly handled in the slaughterhouse, may contain central nervous system tissue that is infected. Consumers Union’s new web site www.greenerchoices.org spells out how to make the right beef choices. For the best beef products and where to buy them, consumers can check The Green Guide’s “Smart Shopper’s Guide to Meat and Pork” available at www.thegreenguide.com
Photo: A moose with its calf. Credit: Danielle G. Jerry/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service