ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy stories of the week. In the news October 3rd - 7th: Energy Hog comes to life, global warming hits wildlife, China aims for green growth, and a Capitol Christmas... minus the tree?
Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
Innovation Spotlight: Green Building Companies and Products
Guest Commentary: 'Political' Science: The Rise of Junk Science and the Fall of Reason
The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter
In the news October 3rd - 7th: Energy Hog comes to life, global warming hits wildlife, China aims for green growth, and a Capitol Christmas... minus the tree?
1. Louisiana Ecological Harm Called Unprecedented
One month later, scientists sum up the ecological catastrophe wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Louisiana coast with a single, definitive word: unprecedented. Acknowledging the resiliency of nature, Paul Coireil of the Louisiana State University Agriculture Center says, "It will always come back to some stable system; we'll have shrimp and oysters again." But scientists say that in the meantime, damage assessment and cleanup efforts will be arduous and lengthy.
2. Wildlife Effects of West's Gas Boom Still Unknown with More Development Looming
In the never-ending quest for energy, the wild in the West could be taking a hit. The recent surge in oil and gas development in the Rocky Mountain West -- "right in the middle of the Wildlife Mecca" of Colorado, according to Ron Velarde of that state's Division of Wildlife, could affect wildlife migration patterns, among other things, for serious long-term consequences.
3. Experts Say Spanish Fishing Devastates Sharks
From the Rockies to the deep seas, where a different sort of human activity is also having negative impacts on wildlife. An investigation by marine experts from several European countries revealed that the fishing methods frequently used by Spanish fisherman are devastating deep-water shark populations in the northeast Atlantic. "What they're doing is not illegal, and that's the problem," said Dominic Rihan of the Irish Sea Fisheries Board. "The European Union needs to restrict and regulate the fishery properly."
4. China To Eschew Fast Growth in New Economic Plan
A movement toward "green growth" is the expected upshot of China's 11th Five-Year Plan that will be hammered out this weekend for anticipated release next Tuesday. Akin to a "strategic plan for the nation," according to Arthur Kroeber, managing editor of The China Economic Quarterly, the plan is expected to reflect a shift toward sustainable growth.
5. U.S. Government Unveils Energy Hog To Promote Conservation
Back in the U.S., "Energy Hog," a new cartoon mascot, emerged on the scene in a campaign with a conservation message. With energy prices expected to skyrocket this winter, Energy Hog symbolizes those "nasty critters that hide all over your home and pig out on wasted energy," says the Energy Hog web site. Public service announcements featuring the blue-jean clad pig emphasize the power of consumers to take actions that will lower their energy bills.
6. Gasoline Spike Fuels Surge in U.S. Bicycle Sales
On the subject of energy cost, it appears that what's bad for our wallets might be good for our waistlines. A recent surge in bike sales could indicate that more of us are relying on muscle power to transport us from point A to point B. "Independent dealers, specialty sporting stores and big-box stores have told us that since August 1, bicycle sales have jumped dramatically," said Tim Blumenthal who leads a national coalition of bicycle suppliers and retailers.
7. Congress Seeks To Slash Food Aid for Poor, Conservation
Once again, conservation appears to be on the chopping block. A congressional proposal by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) would slash conservation programs by $1 billion as part of a total $3 billion cut in agriculture spending. Responding to the proposal, Environmental Defense spokesman Scott Faber said, "Subsidies get $20 billion a year. Conservation gets less than $4 billion -- to expect farmers who want to help the environment to shoulder as heavy a load as fat-cat cotton producers is terrible policy."
8. Global Warming To Hit Migratory and Static Species
Another week, another grim report on the likely long-term impacts of global warming. A study commissioned by Britain's Department of the Environment warns, "Although it is thought that no species has yet become extinct solely because of climate change -- the Golden Toad is a possible exception -- many are predicted." British biodiversity minister Jim Knight said, "The report is sobering. It shows very clearly the devastating effect that climate change will have on migratory species."
9. New Uses for the 'Big Boxes'
What happens to the "big boxes" -- massive structures with expansive parking lots built for the likes of Wal-Mart and K-Mart -- once these tenants move on? That's the question driving Kentucky native Julia Christensen. With a book on the topic in the works, Christensen focuses on the "recycling" of the space. In this case, recycling begins "when the community starts to breathe its character back into these buildings," she says.
10. Forest Service Says Court Order Stops Capitol Christmas Tree, Other Projects
On July 2, U.S. District Judge James K. Singleton Jr. found that the Forest Service was failing to engage in the proper process for vetting projects publicly prior to approving them. In what has been characterized by some as an extreme interpretation of the ruling, the Forest Service has put hundreds of small projects -- including the cutting of the traditional U.S. Capitol Christmas tree -- on hold pending review.
Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary
This week ENN brought you our first Innovation Spotlight, where we'll feature five different providers of environment-friendly goods and services. In the spotlight in the month of October, we'll be bringing you the most cutting-edge products from forward-thinking companies in the green building industry. You can read it here:
Green building was in the news this week in ENN's Sustainable Economy channel as well:
We brought you a number of stories on the continued march toward more sustainable alternative energy. Automobiles make up a significant percentage of the pollutants in our air, and burning less (or no) fossil fuel is an important goal:
And of course, there are many good reasons why we need to look to alternatives to fossil fuels:
Extracting Oil From Shale Complex Process
August and September of 2005 Two Warmest Months in Boston
ACE Opens Environmental Risk Business in Europe
Katrina Slams Outdoor Industry in Louisiana, Coastal Mississippi
Business and Legal Reports Foresees Major Air Emission Reductions Regulations
EPA Releases Annual Superfund Report
Companies large and small are adapting to the practice of marketing to the green consumer, whose increasing dollar power is getting noticed:
Meanwhile, companies and nonprofits continue to create innovative products as well as programs to educate the public:
American Zoos and Aquariums Announce 'Audubon October'
Starch-Based Cigarette Filter Can Reduce Environmental Impact
Staples, Earth Force Aim to Empower Young Environmental Citizens
International Rectifier Wins Industry Environmental Award
For terrific information about green products and services, go to ENN Innovation Expo, where companies tell their story and consumers can find the latest in environmentally responsible goods. Visit ENN Expo regularly, as more and more companies are featured each week.
And check ENN's Sustainable Economy channel every business day to get the latest news about the economy of environmentalism and "green" thinking" businesspeople. You can find it here on ENN on our Sustainable Economy News page.
EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary
This week EarthNews Radio featured information that the everyday person can use in daily life to immediately improve his or her health and environment as well as that of our planet as a whole.
Jerry Kay introduced you to two publications for earth-friendly readers, to help you live your environmentally conscious lifestyle:
Products we use every day have ramifications for our health and environment, and being a careful consumer of these products can have real benefits, specifically avoiding health problems:
The foods you eat have the same impact on health and environment:
Patronizing environment-friendly businesses is something you can do regularly to green our world:
Now that you've got plenty of tangible information for this week, here's food for the intellect, namely, interesting information about genetics and astronomy:
Also on EarthNews Radio, Jerry Kay brought you the second Sky Tour, with guide Bing Quock of the Morrison Planetarium of the California Academy of Sciences. The Sky Tour is available as a podcast download, so that you can bring your iPod or MP3 player with you to view and recognize what you see in the fall night sky.
You can link to the podcast here: ENN Sky Tour
Here's an idea of what's included in the 15-minute Sky Tour:
EarthNews Radio is available as a podcast as well. Here is the link: http://www.enn.com/news/podcast/earthnews.xml
Be sure to visit EarthNews Radio's home here at ENN often. Jerry Kay interviews environmentalists, scientists, and green businesspeople on a wide variety of topics. These 90-second blasts are packed with information that will really make you think. You can find them at ENN Radio Network.
Innovation Spotlight: Green Building Companies and Products, by Paul Geary
Innovation Spotlight brings you examples of many of the latest in environmentally conscious products and services of interest to the green consumer. Each week in the spotlight this month, we'll feature five cutting-edge companies and products that will show the widening array of offerings available to the green builder and the environmentally conscious do-it-yourselfer.
As we mentioned in the previous Innovation Spotlight, the demand for homes isn't declining since the population isn't, and more homes and buildings means more resource consumption. Recently, though, many builders have become aware that they can have an enormous impact on our future energy and resource use simply by the way they build homes and buildings. Paying attention to "green building" design and methods and using environmentally friendly products and materials is becoming commonplace.
Consumers, as well, are aware of green building. As homes are being remodeled at a record pace thanks in part to soaring real estate prices, the demand for remodeling products and services has skyrocketed to record levels. Consumers are starting to see the array of green products now available to them.
With both of these factors in mind, last week we brought you the Green Building Resource Guide, Crossvile Eco-Style tiles made from recycled and reclaimed material, BioShield low-VOC Paint, Sea Gull ENERGY STAR lighting, and Bosch tankless water heaters. This week, five more companies and products are featured.
Staker Parson landscape design
One of the best ways for a homeowner to save water is to "xeriscape," that is, to plant and landscape in a way that uses the least amount of water, and which are local and adapted to the weather conditions of a given area. Traditional lawns use vast amounts of fresh water.
In fact, in Las Vegas, watering lawns and gardens uses more than half of all the burgeoning metro area's water, whereas the casinos -- despite the appearance of water waste from the spectacular fountains and pools -- actually use only about 7% of all the water used in Las Vegas. The amazing water cascade in front of the Bellagio may seem a target for conservationists, but the real culprit just may be that innocent looking homeowner watering a lawn.Part of xeriscaping is removing lawns and replacing them with different ground surfaces. One company in Utah -- the southern part of Utah is arid desert like Las Vegas -- Staker Parson, a provider of rock, sand, mulch, and trail chat, has a "Landscape Center" that can provide builders and homeowners with the tools they need to xeriscape with both the environment and aesthetics in mind.To learn more about Staker Parson, visit its website.
GE Plastics wire coatings
The power needs of buildings and homes mean that structures are going to have their walls filled with wires. The typical home has about a quarter mile of embedded wire, and that amount is going up as homes get bigger and more, well, wired. (Typical new cars have more than a mile.)
All wires are coated with plastic to prevent fires. When a wire's useful life is over, that plastic becomes a virtually non-recyclable waste product. So less plastic insulation over those wires means less waste.
An esoteric product like wire insulation not surprisingly comes from a large company, in fact one of the largest: General Electric. The company's plastics division is working on making wiring more environment-friendly by creating new plastic insulation that's thinner, and therefore creates less waste, without losing the protective qualities of the coating.
To learn more about GE Plastics' wire coating (which has many uses beyond just homes and buildings), here is a brochure in pdf format.
Mansfield Plumbing EcoQuantum toilets
The bathroom is the most water-intensive room in the house. The typical person uses more than 20 gallons of water per day simply flushing the toilet. That's actually way down from just 15 years ago, before the US government mandated a 1.6 gallon-per-flush (gpf) limit for new toilets. It's down from just a few years ago as well, as in the mid 1990s, many of the old 3-5 gallon gpf toilets were still in use, and as many of our readers will remember, the early 1.6 gpf toilets didn't work very well, causing people to flush twice and negate the savings.
Those problems have been solved for the most part; low-flow toilets actually work well today. One company has taken it a step further. Mansfield Plumbing offers the "EcoQuantum" toilet that has the ability to use only one gallon per flush for a "partial flush." Push down the handle for a partial, 1 gallon flush, and pull up the handle for a full 1.6 gallon flush. The flushes are pressure-assisted to ensure that any partial flush occurs because you chose to.
To learn more about the EcoQuantum toilet, visit the company's website at www.mansfieldplumbing.com.
Solar Design Associates
Nearly all homes today would be prohibitively expensive to retrofit into solar-powered or even passive solar or solar-assisted homes. Building a home from scratch as a solar or passive solar home is much more cost effective, but falls out of the expertise of most contractors and builders. A comprehensive design firm with expertise in solar design and building can be the solution to that issue.
Solar Design Associates has been in business for 25 years and was founded by solar power advocate Steven Strong. The company employs architects and engineers with an expertise in renewable energy systems, and can provide design, systems engineering, development planning, and project management, among other services. The company has designed dozens of custom solar homes all over the US.
One home designed by Solar Design Associates in central Maine uses no fossil fuels at all (in fact it has no central heating system!) yet keeps the house warm throughout Maine's brutal winters. To learn more about Solar Design Associates, visit www.solardesign.com
LG Washer-Dryer combo
Washer-Dryer combos are much more prevalent in Europe than in the US. They save space, which makes sense in European homes (which tend to be smaller than US homes), and remove a step from your laundry effort: no transferring clothes from washer to dryer. The unit does both.
LG's model, a front-loading washer-dryer, saves energy during its useful life. It exceeds ENERGY STAR's highest efficiency standard. What makes a combo washer-dryer doubly environment-friendly is the end-of-life issue. When the unit is replaced, one instead of two appliances are rendered obsolete. You can learn more about the LG washer dryer combo here.
'Political' Science: The Rise of Junk Science and the Fall of Reason -- An ENN Guest Commentary
by Peter H. Gleick
Democracy depends on information and good science. And in a democracy that faces a dizzying array of threats and challenges, the need for sound knowledge has never been more important. Our national security, environmental well-being, and personal health rest on a true understanding of critical issues, like climate change, water shortages, and industrial pollution.
In theory, science is non-partisan. The Earth is goes around the Sun, gravity is a constant, smoking causes cancer, whether you are a Republican, Democrat, conservative, or liberal. In practice, however, as Galileo and many others discovered, science is not always pure or certain, our knowledge is not always complete or correct, and politics sometimes trumps rationality. Many important public policy questions rely on uncertain or complex scientific questions and on the interpretation of knowledge, as we understand it at any point in time
Unfortunately, in recent years, the creation of deceptive science and false information has become a thriving industry at a time when independent government research budgets are being threatened and cut. And this economy of lies is being supported by major corporations, laundered through seemingly independent organizations, and served to the American public as truth.
One of the most important examples of this kind of scientific abuse can be seen in the arguments over climate change. Climate scientists have, for decades, understood the fundamental relationship between the composition of the atmosphere and what we put into it, and what will happen as a result. There are plenty of scientific uncertainties around climate change, as all good climate scientists readily acknowledge (sometimes to the frustration of media, the public, and policymakers). The climate, as one of the most complex geophysical features of our planet should and will engender legitimate scientific debate and research for decades to come. But this ongoing dispute about the details of impacts, the costs and benefits of mitigation and adaptation policies, and appropriate national and international policy should not be used to obfuscate the overwhelming consensus that exists among climate scientists. Climate change caused by human activities is real, is already well underway, and poses an unprecedented threat to human health and well-being.
Despite this historic consensus, bolstered by thousands of studies and decades of research, a tiny group of well-funded climate "contrarians" has managed to stall decisions about climate policy action in the United States with reams of junk "science," misleading arguments, and outright obfuscation funded, almost entirely, by corporations and political interests.
Although the challenge of climate change is complex, the agenda of these contrarians is easy to understand: Taking action could cost their backers serious money. Thus certain corporations, whose economic interests are tied directly into the production of carbon dioxide and other climate-changing gases, have poured millions of dollars into organizations dedicated to cranking out pseudo-science and opinion articles to try to counter the real science of academic and government scientists and delay policy decisions. While most contrarian organizations and spokespeople refuse to identify their funding sources, one of the most influential anti-climate funders is Exxon-Mobil, which publicly reports nearly $5 million in funding (from 2001 to 2003) to groups committed to obfuscating the truth about climate science.
As a result of this strategy, a proper and difficult debate about values and policy is being delayed and sidetracked. It is time to move on. Rapid climate change is a real problem. Humans are causing it. It will get worse as we continue to produce greenhouse gases. The vital and difficult questions of what we should do about climate change, what it will cost, and in what time frame must be answered through a public debate on values, priorities, and policy. That debate must be full, fair, transparent, and it must happen now.
Based in Oakland, California, the Pacific Institute is an independent, nonpartisan think-tank studying issues at the intersection of development, environment, and security. Information on The Pacific Institute's funders is posted on its website.
Dr. Peter H. Gleick is a 2003 MacArthur Fellow, member of the US National Academy of Sciences Water Science and Technology Board, a lifetime member of the International Water Academy in Oslo, Norway, and President of the Pacific Institute, Oakland. Dr. Gleick did some of the earliest research on the impacts of climate change for water resources in the early 1980s. His findings, suggesting dramatic impacts of climate change for snowfall, snowpack, and runoff, still form the basis for our understanding of some important risks of climate change, despite vast improvements in models, computers, and climate analysis over the subsequent two decades. He was recently appointed to the UN-Sigma Xi Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development analyzing approaches and policies for adapting to and mitigating climate change.
Photo: Louisiana -- According to the United States Coast Guard, a total of 44 spills have been documented so far, with more than 7 million gallons of oil pouring into residential areas and neighboring wetlands and waterways due to the recent hurricanes. Credit: Â© Greenpeace.