ENN Weekly: August 15th - 19th

ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy stories of the week. In the news August 15th - 19th: E-waste contamination in Asia, John Roberts and the environment, southpaw chimps, and home on the range...for lions?

Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
Guest Commentary: Madagascar: Animation Meets Reality

The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter

In the news August 15th - 19th: E-waste contamination in Asia, John Roberts and the environment, southpaw chimps, and home on the range...for lions?

1. Group Wants to Transplant African Animals
A "wild" proposal by a group of ecologists that appeared in the journal Nature has left scientists, conservationists, and much of the public aghast. In an effort to help save some of Africa's most charismatic species from extinction, the group suggested transplanting wildlife including lions, elephants, and cheetahs to the North American Great Plains. Imagine that....

2. Supreme Court Candidate No Stranger to Environmental Law, Politics
Supreme court nominee John Roberts has encountered environmental issues numerous times throughout his legal career, and critics say that his record reveals a pattern of siding with industry. According to Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, "He defers to economic interests over the public health, to executive agencies over the Congress, and to secrecy over the public's right-to-know."

3. Study Reveals Most Wild Chimps Are Southpaws
While the right hand dominates for the majority of homo sapiens, our closest living relatives in the wild kingdom appear to be lefties. So says research out of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where a three-year study of chimpanzee handedness revealed that the left hand prevailed in 12 out of 17 animals. "This reinforces the view that the whole historical link between language and handedness is probably not a correct one and people need to rethink those ideas," said research team leader William D. Hopkins.

4. American Electronic Waste Contaminates China and India
Electronics recycling in the United States could be having more serious effects than expected in Asian countries where recycled products are often disassembled. Much of the waste generated in the states is shipped to China and India where environmental safety standards are relatively weak. Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition founder Ted Smith summarizes: "The extent of the contamination is even worse than we had feared. The levels analyzed are really scary and very concerning."


5. Engineers Modify Hybrid Cars To Get Up To 250 MPG
In these days of skyrocketing gas prices, some of us might fantasize about a car that gets 250 miles per gallon. But "plug-in" hybrids -- hybrid vehicles enhanced with a battery system that stores extra electrical power -- do exist, and some have been known to get upwards of 200 MPG. "The average for people's usage of a car is somewhere around 30 to 40 miles per day," said plug-in hybrid pioneer Ron Gremban. "During that kind of driving, the plug-in hybrid can make a dramatic difference."

6. Cameroon Dam Nears Collapse, 10,000 Lives at Risk
As of Thursday, thousands of people in Cameroon and Nigeria were known to be in danger's way as erosion ate away at the weakened dam separating them from a lake in northwestern Cameroon. The barrier, made of volcanic rock, is compromised by multiple fractures, and could collapse at any time, according to geologist Doctor Isaac Njilah. "If (the collapse) occurs, there will be serious losses in human life, domestic and wildlife, and many natural ecosystems would be destroyed," Njilah said.

7. Britain's Climate Blamed for Bird Changes
Yet another side-effect of climate exchange was explored this week: New patterns of bird distribution in Britain. Scientists believe that mid winters are to blame for the eastward migration of some birds, resulting in new species turning up in England. In response, "It is now clear that we must adapt the recovery plans for our threatened bird life to take account of the likely effects of climate change on our rural and coastal landscapes," said Phil Grice of the English Nature group.

8. Explorer Says Preserving African Resources Key to Relieving Continent's Poverty
At the conclusion of a seven-month flight around Africa documenting his 70,000-mile journey photographically every 20 seconds, explorer Mike Fay urged conservation of the continent's resources as a means of addressing the poverty of its people. Long term, Fay suggested, foreign aid can have unforeseen negative consequences, while natural resource preservation has the potential to empower the people of Africa.

9. Experts Say Man, Nature Threaten Asia's Cultural Landmarks
Asia's cultural gems are at risk, say experts, and man and nature are the culprits. According to Suvit Yodmani of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, "The greatest threat is actually people like ourselves who do not have much appreciation for cultural heritage and often go overboard to try to get income from tourism." Other threats to landmarks like the Taj Mahal and Angkor Wat include earthquakes, floods, and looting.

10. Mysterious Reptile Evades Capture in L.A. Park
On a much welcomed lighter note, an unlikely hero has emerged from a 53-acre urban lake in Harbor City, California. Assumed to be a caiman early in the week, the rogue reptile dodging would-be captors in the tough L.A. suburb turns out to be none other than a seven-foot-long alligator. (See Fugitive L.A. Alligator Becomes Local Folk Hero.) As of Thursday the clever critter was still at large, much to the delight of onlookers lauding its wiles with t-shirts bearing an alligator image and a taunt: "Harbor City You Will Never Catch Me."

Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary

This week on ENN's Sustainable Economy channel we presented the latest in our features on innovative environment-friendly products to hit the market. We'll be presenting these periodically, but if you can't wait, you can have a look at ENN Expo where new and innovative product and services are offered every day. You can find it at www.enn.com/expo.

The latest feature is about decking-building products made entirely from recycled and reclaimed materials:

Innovative Environment-Friendly Products: Trex Backyard Decking

This week we brought you a number of business innovations that were a lot more esoteric than lumber:

N2Revolution Tire Inflation System Improves Vehicle Performance, Gas Mileage, and Environment
Tunnel Boring Machine Technology to Eliminate Sanitary Sewer Overflows in Austin
New Tests Show Bionís Process Produces Only 0.08 Pounds Per Cow Per Year of Volatile Organic Compounds
Mass Megawatts Wind Power Starts Feasibility Study of 50kW Multiaxis Turbosystem for Wind-Diesel Application
JMAR Receives Purchase Orders for Three Advanced Sensor Systems for PCB Monitoring

Almost as esoteric are some of the methods being used to finance environmentally positive activities:

RecycleNet Announces Municipal Recycling Market Co-op Service
Advocates Hope Credit Moves Solar Power Beyond Niche

We brought you several stories about the conflicts some businesses are having with government and activist over the environment:

ConAgra Signs Clean Water Act Permit Plea Agreement
Three Republican New Jersey Lawmakers Join Call to Protect the Arctic Refuge
South Bronx Is Eyed for New Power Plant in New York
Golf Course Proposal Hits Bump
Oil Leases Endanger Wildlife, Coalition Says
Asarco's Bankruptcy Leaves Environmentalists Wondering about Cleanups

Two entities that we don't generally associate with environmentalism showed a different side this week:

Chevron Issues Corporate Responsibility Report
Fast-Food Chains to Use 100% Renewable Energy

In California, leaders call for expanded use of ethanol, whereas in Oregon, they're putting their money where their mouths are:

Environmental, Labor, Agriculture Leaders Call for Expanded Ethanol Use in California
Rising Fuel Costs Drive Oregon Trucking Company to Biodiesel

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 on EarthNews Radio, Jerry Kay brought you business, bugs, and blue sky.

On the business front, EarthNews Radio told you about several innovations in the business world that should help the environment. Businesses behaving a little more like environmentalists, and environmentalists adopting best practices from successful businesses can really make a difference toward a sustainable economy.

Businesses are realizing that there is a "triple bottom line" rather than just a profit margin, and one MBA program is teaching just that:

Triple Bottom Line

Sustainable Business MBA Program

Meanwhile, environmental organizations are realizing the benefits of traditional business practices such as the gathering of venture capital and public/private partnerships:

Venture Capitalfor Conservationists

Environmental Partnerships

Also, we learned about insects, including one of their primary predators, frogs, which happens to be an "indicator" species:

Ladybird Beetle

Frog Watch USA


EarthNews Radio answered two astronomy questions; "Why is the sky blue," and, "Why does the moon appear larger near the horizon?":

Moon on the Horizon

Blue Sky

Be sure to visit EarthNews Radio's home here at ENN often to hear Jerry Kay's interviews with environmentalists, and scientists, and activists on a wide variety of topics. You can find it at ENN Radio Network.

Madagascar: Animation Meets Reality -- An ENN Guest Commentary
by Mia MacDonald

In early July, as members of the G-8 met in Scotland and singers convenedfor the Live 8 concerts seeking to make poverty in Africa history,moviegoers were flocking to see DreamWorks SKG's latest cartoon hit,Madagascar. In it, a quartet of animals from New York's Central Park Zooin search of adventure end up in Madagascar, an island country off the eastcoast of Africa.

Here, they encounter Nature in all its strange and compelling forms,including lemurs, small, wide-eyed primates found nowhere else on Earth.(Having separated from the African mainland millions of years ago, evolution in Madagascar produced a unique set of animals and plants.)

Despite mixed reviews, the film's U.S. box office is hovering near $200million and overseas audiences are also entranced. Madagascar may wellearn half a billion dollars globally, not counting DVD sales and lucrativeproduct tie-ins. The Lion King, an animated film set in East Africa,earned $750 million from ticket sales alone. Merchandise added millionsmore.

In the context of Africa, these are small fortunes. The irony is that asHollywood makes a mint from cartoons with African landscapes, the real-lifecountries struggle to meet basic human needs and fund conservation programsto protect the endangered animals and habitat the films capitalize on.

Wouldn't it be magnanimous of Hollywood to lend its support to the campaignfor Africa, not by way of a handful of celebrities, but through revenue fromits successful films that trade on exotic African landscapes?

Madagascar is one of the world's poorest countries. Its government isunable to provide jobs, health care, education and clean water to itsfast-growing population, nearly half of which is under 15. These adolescentswould make a prime audience for Madagascar. But with over 80% ofMadagascar's population surviving on less than $2 a day, a movie ticket andsmall popcorn are largely out of reach.

And poverty is putting pressure on Madagascar's famed "spiny forests," hometo species that "star" in Madagascar. Industrial development, traditionalslash-and-burn agriculture that consumes more and more land as thepopulation grows, and the heavy reliance on wood for fuel are all taking atoll on Madagascar's forests and animals.

And when international lending agencies demand that poor countries tightentheir belts, environment-related budgets are often the first to feel the ax.In this, Madagascar is no exception.

So, while Madagascar has brightened DreamWorks' profit projections,Madagascar is not guaranteed any similar pay-off. News reports variouslysuggest that the country's tourist agency is unsure how to capitalize on itsnew (and perhaps fleeting) fame and lacks funds to do so, or that it isreadying new tourism campaigns. But tourists are fickle. Madagascar may loseout, even as Madagascar cashes in.

Like other African countries, Madagascar is under pressure from donornations to wean itself from aid by developing new enterprises and welcomingprivate investment from overseas. Countries and species cannot (yet)trademark their names or images to harness their profit potential. Theystill have to depend on the goodwill of strangers or responsiblecorporations.

What if DreamWorks bought in and invested a percentage of Madagascar'sfilm and merchandise revenues in ventures to support human development andconservation programs in Madagascar? Given the world's appetite fornature-themed cartoons this could mean millions of dollars for a desperatelypoor country with little dent in DreamWorks' bottom line.

Another bonus: plaudits from anti-poverty and environmental campaigners. Ifthis idea gains traction, it could mean goodwill on a scale akin to themillions raised for African famine relief 20 years ago by Live Aid, Live 8'sprecursor.

In tune with the times, there is a pragmatic element, too, for DreamWorksand other studios to consider. If poor countries with rich biodiversitycontinue to lose the animals and landscapes that so delight the rest of theworld, Hollywood studios could be stumped.

Films like Madagascar would no longer offer audiences a tantalizing worldthat could be visited, but rather a brightly colored version of what alreadyhas become history. If this comes to pass, it won't be only filmgoers whowill feel the loss.

Mia MacDonald is a policy analyst and writer on environment, development,gender and population issues. She is a graduate of Harvard's Kennedy Schoolof Government, has taught in the human rights program at ColumbiaUniversity's School of International and Public Affairs and is a seniorfellow of the Worldwatch Institute.

Photo: Morro Rock at Morro Bay, California. Credit: www.pdphoto.org.