ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy stories of the week. In the news October 10th - 14th: Environmental refugees, drought hits the Amazon, the deforestation-flood link, and dolphins return to Lake Pontchartrain.
Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
Guest Commentary: How Safe are Chemicals in Cosmetics?
The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter
In the news October 10th - 14th: Environmental refugees, drought hits the Amazon, the deforestation-flood link, and dolphins return to Lake Pontchartrain.
1. Environmental Decay May Prompt Refugee Surge, Study Says
A U.N. study released this week suggests that the number of "environmental refugees" -- people driven from their homes by deteriorating environmental conditions -- could increase dramatically over the next five years. From flooding to desertification, changes in the environment are bound to produce significant upheaval for people, the study says. "We're ringing a kind of scientific and political alarm bell," said Janos Bogardi of the Institute for Environment and Human Security.
2. Deforestation Doesn't Trigger Floods, U.N. Report Claims
In another report from the U.N. this week, news that blaming deforestation for floods is misguided. "There is no scientific evidence linking large-scale flooding to deforestation," said the report, from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Indonesia-based Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
3. Eight Dolphins Seen in Lake Pontchartrain
"The big critters are back, the lake is definitely coming back," said Carlton Dufrechou of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. The reason for Dufrechou's optimism: the sighting of eight dolphins frolicking in the lake this week. Despite grim predictions about the long-term impact of hurricane Katrina on the lake's wildlife, the return of dolphins and pelicans offer hope that Pontchartrain will rebound.
4. Florida Announces Okeechobee Cleanup Plan
Another lake in the U.S. is on target to receive some much-needed attention. In Florida, Lake Okeechobee, the state's largest freshwater lake, is slated for an estimated $200 million cleanup job, to include new marshes and larger reservoirs. Like Lake Pontchartrain this year, Okeechobee was hit hard by a series of hurricanes in 2004, churning up pollution and killing native wildlife.
5. House GOP Drops Plans To Try To End Offshore Drilling Bans
A proposal from the House Resources Committee to lift the ban on offshore drilling along much of the U.S. coastline was abandoned this week amid concerns from environmentalists, Florida lawmakers, and others. Instead, the House is poised to review a proposal to increase the capacity of U.S. refineries as a component of new energy legislation.
6. Nuclear Power Quietly Confident in Energy Debate
Also on the energy front, the worldwide recognition that the time has come to seek sources of clean energy has fueled the nuclear power industry's conviction that it holds the answer. Environmentalists question that conclusion. Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth said, "We are not taking an ideological view ... We have analyzed the pros and cons ... and we have concluded that (nuclear power) is the wrong answer."
7. Court Rejects EPA Limits on Air Pollution Monitoring
Last year's revisions to air pollution monitoring requirements made by the Bush administration were shot down in federal appeals court late last week, reinstating a tougher air quality standard for power plants, factories, and oil refineries. According to the EPA's Eryn Witcher, the agency is "pleased that the court is allowing EPA to address the procedural flaw in the rule, by providing an opportunity for additional public comment on the agency's approach to monitoring requirements."
8. Report Says U.S. Reduces Protection of Waters, Wetlands
While air quality received a boost, water and wetlands protections seem to be on the want, according to a report by the General Accountability office issued this week. In a reaction to the report, U.S. PIRG's Christy Leavitt said, "Losses of wetlands in many areas in the United States are unprecedented, yet the corps is allowing many of the remaining wetlands to be destroyed, in violation of its Clean Water Act obligations, without even trying to figure out why."
9. Amazon Rainforest Suffers Worst Drought in Decades
While some areas of the world are contending with more water than they can handle, there's a critical water shortage in the Amazon. With fish dying off and people falling ill, a valuable and rich ecosystem has been thrown into even greater jeopardy as drought takes hold. Ecologist Dan Nepstadt from the Woods Hole Research Institute said, "If the warming of the north Atlantic is the smoking gun, it really shows how the world is changing."
10. Experts Link New Mexico Tree Die-Offs to Warming
Scientists this week pinpointed another end-result of global warming: A massive tree die-off in New Mexico. Drought compromised the health of the state's pinion forests to such a degree that bark beetles took hold. Warmer temperatures were cited as the root cause. "Across a whole landscape, this system got whacked," said ecologist Dave Breshears.
Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary
There were stories running the gamut of businesses and the economy this week, so we've decided to start our roundup with the awards, accolades, and otherwise good news about sustainable economy:
National Recycling Coalition Honors Starbucks Coffee Company for its Leadership in Recycling
Patagonia Among 70 Vying for Green Business of the Year Award
Hybrids, Diesel Cars Dominate List of Most Fuel Efficient Vehicles for 2006
Cherokee International Sites Certified to ISO 14001
MBDC Announces "Cradle to Cradle" Environmental Certification for Six Industry Products
Some companies and organizations are working toward similar recognition by creating environmentally sound products or providing green services:
Wheelchair-Accessible Campground Opens Up Adirondack Experience
New Project Will Reduce School Bus Emissions in Minnesota
Flexcar Launches Car Sharing Service in San Francisco
Ohio Recycling Center Now a Reality
Green Mountain Energy Company Introduces New Renewable Energy Product in Pennsylvania
On the other side of the coins, some organizations are on the wrong side of the law, or environmental activists:
As we focus on the environment and the business response to it, sometimes it's easy to forget that those businesses have stakeholders to answer to, and what they do has a larger economic effect. Government officials have many stakeholders to consider as well. Predicting outcomes is a risky business, but someone's got to take a futurist's approach in order to map out a long-term plan whether in business, government, NGO, or activist group. We brought you several instances of the need to look forward, as well as the methods and outcomes:
Oyster Farmer Ponders Future as Endangered Species Tag Looms
Devices To Save Energy are Hot Sellers
Chicken Growers Hope Measures Will Prevent Flu Breakout
Impact of Higher Energy Prices on Overall Economy Minimal, Says S&P Report
Goldman Sachs Adds Own Twist to Social and Environmental Assessment
Limited Growth Ahead for Environmental & Waste Management Industry, Says Standard & Poor's
Don't forget that ENN is featuring the latest products on ENN Innovation Expo, where companies can tell their story and green consumers can find a myriad of environmentally responsible products. Visit ENN Expo regularly.
Also, check out ENN's first Innovation Spotlight, where we bring to you the latest in cutting edge products and services from the most forward-thinking companies. This month, we're featuring companies and products from the fast-growing green building industry. See it here: ENN's Sustainable Economy channel brings you the latest news about business and the environment every business day. You can find it here on ENN on our Sustainable Economy News page.
EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary
This week in EarthNews Radio, Jerry Kay brought you several interviews with people from organizations that can help both businesspeople and consumers make educated decisions about how to live a greener, cleaner, more healthy and environment-friendly lifestyle:
EarthNews also brought you interesting historical information about a plant thought to be one of the most healthy:
You learned about one of the pioneers of the "green" company movement:
And we brought you more fascinating information about our universe from the Morrison Planetarium of the California Academy of Sciences:
Also on EarthNews Radio, Jerry Kay brought you the second Sky Tour, with guide Bing Quock of the Planetarium. 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
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.
Gender-Benders: How Safe are Chemicals in Cosmetics? -- An ENN Guest Commentary
by Joyce H. Newman
For the first time in a human study, scientists have discovered that some of the most common industrial chemicals, called phthalates, actually alter male sexual and reproductive development in the womb. They are calling these effects by ominous sounding names like “phthalate syndrome” and “testicular dysgenesis syndrome”. An investigation by Peter Waldman on the front page of the Wall Street Journal October 4th, reveals serious new questions about these chemicals.
In the latest studies reviewed by Waldman, researchers have demonstrated a highly significant relationship between a mother's exposure during pregnancy to phthalates and changes in the ways that baby boy's genitals develop. The “demasculinized effects” in baby boys include low sperm counts, undescended testes at birth, and benign testicular tumors later on.
Phthalates (pronounced thal-ates) are found in all sorts of everyday products from face creams and food wrap, to pills and plastic toys, In 2000 the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported phthalate exposure was very widespread across the population but higher in women of childbearing age than in men. When the CDC tested thousands of people again in 2003, they confirmed surprisingly higher levels in women and CDC experts theorized that women might have higher exposures due to their greater use of beauty products with skin penetrating properties.
But no one seems to know what exposure level, if any, is safe. By law, companies do not have to test and prove the ingredients are safe before selling the products in the U.S. Exposure guidelines set by U.S. government agencies are based on old studies. Meanwhile phthalates aren’t even listed on many product labels because of loopholes in the labeling laws. So how is a consumer supposed to know what products contain these chemicals?
The current issue of The Green Guide and its website, www.thegreenguide.com, will give you an update on the latest research on phthalates and other reproductive hazards as well as simple ways to reduce exposure to them. The site provides a “Dirty Dozen” list of ingredients to avoid in personal care products.
To be on the safe side, last year the countries in the European Union banned certain phthalates in cosmetics and toys. Plus they are reviewing a huge range of additional products that may pose risks. As a result, the European market for one of the most common phthalates DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate) is collapsing and the manufacturer will stop producing in Europe. But production in the U.S. and elsewhere will continue according to the Journal article.
A coalition of public health and environmental groups concerned about reproductive toxins in cosmetics, has urged U.S. companies to follow suit. According to the Environmental Working Group, which has been in the forefront on this issue, dozens of companies have promised to address these concerns. Their investigation is detailed on their website at: http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/. To help you make safer product choices, the group also provides a “Searchable Product Guide” where you can select information on brand name products by product category and other user-friendly methods.
An award-winning broadcast journalist and new media executive whose credits include a wide range of environmental and "green consumer" websites and programs, Joyce H. Newman is a Trustee of the Green Guide Institute, a nonprofit, independent publisher of consumer health and safety advice, product reviews, and shopping tips. She currently heads Newman Productions, specializing in strategic communications for a variety of national nonprofit organizations.
Photo: Sunset over the “Volcan de Agua” in Guatemala. Credit: Â© Ana Lilia Cervantes, Courtesy of Photoshare.