ENN Weekly: October 17th - 21st

ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy stories of the week. In the news October 17th - 21st: The many perils of invasive species, a real rat race, a tool-wielding gorilla, and a sultry September.

Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
Innovation Spotlight: Green Building II
Guest Commentary: The Up-Hill Road to a Better America

The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter

In the news October 17th - 21st: The many perils of invasive species, a real rat race, a tool-wielding gorilla, and a sultry September.

1. Scientists Study Gorilla Who Uses Tools
Apparently chimps aren't the only tool-wielding great apes. Scientists say that a gorilla at a Congo sanctuary has been observed extracting oil from nuts by smashing them between rocks. This "hammer and anvil" technique is considered to be one of the most complex tool-use behaviors. According to Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society, "Very often the use of tools is triggered by certain needs and it seems that gorillas have only little needs to use tools in the wild."

2. U.S. Navy Sued over 'Ear-Splitting' Sonar on Whales
The U.S. Navy's use of sonar is a cause of injury to dolphins and whales, a coalition of enviro groups contended in a lawsuit filed this week. The coalition has cited evidence of a correlation between sonar blasts and mass whale strandings and deaths worldwide. Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "In violation of our environmental laws, the Navy refuses to take basic precautions that could spare these majestic creatures. Now we're asking the courts to enforce those laws."

3. EU Says It Will Not Weaken Drive for Action on Climate Change
Steadfastly determined to address global warming, the European Union said this week that it will adopt a more flexible approach to the problem for the purpose of gaining allies in the effort, but that a softer approach should not be confused with a softer stance on the issue. "It is not a sign that the European Union is in some way diminishing our strong pursuit of strong action to tackle climate change," Britain's secretary of state for environment Margaret Beckett said. "We have to engage with other players and we cannot simply dictate."

4. China Announces Plan To Use Desalination To Combat Water Shortages
With explosive population and economic growth, China is plagued by lack of water. According to the Xinhua News Agency, the country will be tackling the problem by using desalinated sea water -- producing up to 250 million gallons a day by the year 2010 -- accounting for an estimated 16 to 24 percent of water used along the coast that year.


5. Icebox Eyesore Symbolizes Massive Challenge: Removing Katrina Debris
Unhealthy and environmentally hazardous -- not to mention ugly -- the foul-smelling refrigerators strewn about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are presenting a weighty cleanup problem on top of the already extreme waste removal task facing officials there. "We're adding more and more trucks everyday," said Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson Mary Beth Hudson. "It's a huge undertaking."

6. Report Details Non-Human Invasions on Military Properties
Never mind terrorists, these days, invasive species are breaking into military properties and wreaking havoc. From causing blackouts to inflicting wounds, non-native species such as brown tree snakes and wild parsnip are a real issue, potentially compromising safety and security. Dubbing the problem a "silent invasion," Marine Corps naturalist Heidi Hirsh said "Usually it's too late by the time they're noticed. In many cases, we don't have the technology to remove them."

7. Bill To Prevent Invasive Species Languishes in Congress
Also on the invasive critters front, news this week that a bill aimed at protecting the Great Lakes from invasive species often transported via the ballast water of oceangoing ships has stalled in Congress while the shipping industry advocates less restrictive legislation. According to the General Accounting Office, "U.S. waters remain vulnerable to species invasions because many ships are still not required to conduct ballast water exchange."

8. Denmark-Based Group Urges Halt in Fishing for Threatened Deep-Sea Species
Deep-sea species including the roundnose grenadier and the leafscale gulper shark are in danger, and on Tuesday, Denmark's International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) requested the implementation of fishing bans as a protective measure. "All our evidence indicates that the current fishing pressure on these stocks is much too high," summarized ICES's David Griffith.

9. Rat Race? Rodent 'Razza' Eludes Scientists
How's this for a real "rat race": Set free on a deserted island in New Zealand, a rat named Razza dodged traps, resisted the lure of poisoned bait, and otherwise survived any and all potential hazards thrown his way over the course of 18 weeks before swimming to a new island in search of mating opportunities. Explaining the reason for the study, its author Mick Clout said, "We wanted to test how difficult it would be to catch a single rodent using the standard methods of elimination (used for) for higher density populations."

10. Planet Sees Warmest September on Record
The global warming data just keeps rolling in, this week with word that, worldwide, September 2005 was the warmest September ever documented, averaging more than one degree Fahrenheit above normal. In the U.S. alone, this September was the fourth warmest on record.

Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary

This week on ENN's Sustainable Economy channel, we told you about how several of the worlds' largest companies are either joining the fight for a better environment, or are hoping you think so. You be the judge:

EPA Review Names Intel No. 1 Workplace for Commuters
Coca-Cola, Ford Issue Sustainability Reports
Wal-Mart Switches to Corn-Based Plastic Packaging
Xerox Reports on Environment and Sustainability

Meanwhile, smaller outfits with better reputatations continued their efforts:

Whole Foods Market Establishes Whole Planet Foundation
Colorado Energy Groups Team To Find Way To Store Energy Created by Wind Farms
Delano Debuts High-End Women's Coat Made With 100% Organic Wool

And as we showed you, research is the best medicine:

'Clean Coal' Push Concerns Environmental Activists
Sniffing Out Crop Pests, Naturally
Biodiesel Gets State Mandate in Minnesota
Ecology Research as Good Green Fun
Green Oil: New Energy Crop for Farmers?
Detroit Area Clean Cities Coalition to Celebrate Nationwide Billion Gallon Petroleum Savings

Though many businesses are driving to become "green," it's sometimes not easy. Well-intentioned businesses sometimes experience problems while "greening." Its instructive for environmentalists to understand these issues:

Gardenburger Heads for Private Control
Dallas-Area Toyota Dealership First in Nation to Seek Green Certification
Casino Companies Plan To Rebuild, Possibly Reshape U.S. Gulf Coast after Hurricanes
San Jose Water Company Files Plan to Harvest Timber in Santa Cruz Mountains Watershed

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.

Also, check out ENN's 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:

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:

Environmentally Sensitive Banking

Network for Business Innovation

Natural Medicines

Chemical Soup

Green Living

Managing Indoor Air Quality

Chemical Risk

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:

Patagonia's Environmental Programs

And we brought you more fascinating information about our universe from the Morrison Planetarium of the California Academy of Sciences:

Sounds on the Red Planet

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.

Innovation Spotlight: Green Building II, 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. In the spotlight in October, each week 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 going down since the population isn't, and more homes and buildings means more resources used. 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.

Watch for the next Innovation Spotlight here on ENN next week. Also, if you know of an innovative product or company you'd like us to know about -- they're growing in number all time -- write us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and tell us about it. And if you don't want to wait until next week to learn about environmental products and services, visit ENN Innovation Expo, where we feature the latest in cutting edge environment-friendly products and services from a wide range of industries.

The Up-Hill Road to a Better America
by Kateri Callahan, Alliance to Save Energy

As we all are painfully aware, in addition to the human tragedy of the recent hurricanes, the catastrophic storms also are inflicting economic hardship on American consumers and businesses coast-to-coast in the form of high energy prices. Gasoline prices in some areas of the country already have exceeded $3 a gallon and the price of a barrel of oil is now in the $70.00 range. American consumers are finally waking up to the personal and societal implications of our country’s over-reliance on petroleum in the transportation sector. An Associated Press/AOL poll released in August showed that 60 percent of American consumers expect fuel costs to cause them financial hardship in the next six months. The domestic automobile industry even recently noted that it has witnessed a significant drop in SUV sales as a result of higher gasoline prices.

Importantly, Americans are turning to their political leaders for help in reducing the high price of gasoline. A Gallup poll showed that energy prices were one of the top five topics that Americans would discuss with the President if they had 15 minutes of his time. Consumers are not the only ones worried: as a stark indicator of this dire situation, energy companies are taking out full page ads in national newspapers calling for consumers to conserve gasoline! Hopefully the recent recognition that energy prices are having an impact on consumers will lead to the Congress and the Administration to take additional actions.

The Congress and Administration may think it sufficiently addressed the issue of energy when the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) was signed into law by President Bush on August 8. But it really only nibbles around the edges of our transportation woes. Perhaps the “shining star” of the transportation measures included in EPAct 2005 is a consumer-based tax credit for the purchase of hybrid vehicles. This sliding-scale credit ($250-3,400), which is determined by the qualifying car’s fuel economy and actual gas savings as compared to similar non-hybrid models, is capped at 60,000 vehicles per manufacture, and will be phased out by 2010.

Unfortunately, the new energy law took a step backwards when it included an extension of the current “dual-fuel” Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) credit. The Alliance continues to advocate for revising this program since dual fueled vehicles today are being fueled almost exclusively—99% of the time—with gasoline. This credit has encouraged manufacturers to put millions of dual fuel vehicles on the road, but it also has allowed them to put more gas guzzlers on the road, and thus the overall effect of the credit has been to increase gasoline use. Though Congress added a new caveat that duel-fuel vehicles must be labeled as such, the Alliance strongly believes that this credit should be tied to the actual use of alternative fuels, not just the ability to run on alternative fuel.

But perhaps the most glaring aspect of the transportation title of the law are the omissions. Amendments to increase fuel economy standards for cars and trucks failed in both chambers of Congress. Provisions to close loopholes and to fix faulty CAFE testing procedures were rejected. According to EPA, model year 2005 light-duty vehicles are estimated to average 21.0 mpg ”“ significantly lower than the required 27.5 mpg. CAFE standard. During the energy bill debate, the Alliance urged Congress to revise the testing procedures so that fuel economy ratings actually reflect real, on-road fuel economy, and to redefine SUVs and minivans to be what they actually are: passenger vehicles, but our attempts proved unsuccessful.

At the Alliance to Save Energy, we believe that the cheapest, quickest, and cleanest way to lower pump prices is to reduce demand through federal policies that encourage greater efficiency in the transportation sector. We will continue to sound our “call for action” by Congress to support policies and programs that will improve the efficiency of our transportation sector, a critical key to national energy security, a cleaner environment and a more competitive economy.

We are encouraged by the persistence of energy efficiency champions in Congress, who continue to introduce legislation that will cut our oil use. On September 14 , Congressmen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) introduced H.R. 3762, which would require automakers to build vehicles that meet a fleet-wide average of 33 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016. This bill would reduce the amount of oil used by cars in the U.S by 10 percent beginning in 2016. Similar legislation may be introduced in the Senate in the near future.

Policy makers must recognize that we cannot have a real energy policy in this country unless it tackles the enormous threats to our nation posed by the transportation sector’s near total reliance on petroleum ”“ most of which comes from unstable regions of the world, and the price of which is determined largely by demand that continues to grow inexorably. With only 2% of the world’s proven oil reserves within U.S. borders, and a thirst for oil that represents 25% of the world’s consumption, supply-side measures alone will never be enough. Energy efficiency is the cheapest, cleanest and quickest way to extend our supplies; and improving the efficiency of our vehicle fleet helps us toward a secure and sustainable energy future.

Kateri Callahan is President of the Alliance to Save Energy, a coalition of prominent business, government, environmental, and consumer leaders who promote the efficient and clean use of energy worldwide to benefit consumers, the environment, economy, and national security.

ENN welcomes a wide range of perspectives in its popular Commentary Series. To find out more or to submit a commentary for consideration please contact Jerry Kay, Publisher of the Environmental News Network: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo: Zebras in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Credit: ©2004 Marcela Aguilar, Courtesy of Photoshare.