ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy stories of the week. In the news October 31st - November 4th: The high cost of grazing, the health impact of global warming, compassionate angling, and singing mice.
Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
Innovation Spotlight: Alternative Fuels I
Guest Commentary: Wondrously Blank: A Plea for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter
In the news October 31st - November 4th: The high cost of grazing, the health impact of global warming, compassionate angling, and singing mice.
1. Report Says Keeping Public Lands Open for Grazing Costs $123 Million a Year
Livestock grazing on public lands comes with a hefty price tag: $123 million annually, to be exact. Enviros reacted this week to the recently released figure, saying that the exorbitant cost supports the argument that grazing on public lands should be limited. Greta Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity summed up that point of view: "If we are going to allow grazing on our public lands, the very least we should be doing is we should be recovering the costs."
2. South Africa Takes Aim at 'Canned Hunting'
The creepy practice of canned hunting is under fire in South Africa, where hunters have been allowed to shoot captive-raised big game in enclosed spaces. Of similar concern is the raising of antelope and other species for the purpose of releasing them to be hunted. "Once they are fed and imprinted by humans in a confined space, then in our view, you cannot reconcile that with the principle of fair chase," said Crispian Olver, chairman of the panel that submitted its recommendations to South Africa's Environment Minister.
3. Environmentalists Blast New Policy on Off-Road Vehicles
A new policy announced by the Forest Service on Wednesday would open the "renegade routes" blazed illegally by off-roaders to legal use while putting a stop to the creation of more roughhewn trails. Critics contend that the policy's shortfalls include inadequate provisions for enforcement. "The practical effect is that you are going to have to take out rogue routes created by off-roaders one at a time," said Natural Trails and Water Coalition director Jason Kiely.
4. Greenpeace To Pay Fine for Damaging Philippine Reef
More accustomed to being the party taking the environmental shots, Greenpeace this week found itself on the receiving end of a penalty over a mishap at sea on Monday. The organization's flagship, the Rainbow Warrior II, crunched a coral reef in the southern Philippines that has been designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. Characterizing the accident as "very regrettable," Greenpeace pointed out that maritime charts indicated that the ship was more than a mile away from the reef.
5. Animal Rights Group Baits Anglers with Ethics Pledge
Another enviro group with a media presence this week, PETA requested that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game require anglers in that state take an angling ethics pledge as a condition of receiving a license to fish. The director of PETA's Fish Empathy Project, Karin Robertson, reasoned, "The least the state can do is to ensure that the pain and suffering that anglers inflict on millions of fish and other aquatic animals is kept to a minimum."
6. Sea-Based Windmills Could Blunt Eyesore Criticisms
A major drawback to wind energy has been the unsightliness of land-based turbines. A new idea from Norsk Hydro of Norway could provide the solution in the form of floating windmills far out at sea. According to Hydro's Alexandra Bech Gjoerv, "On land there are objections partly to visual pollution, partly problems with birds and other environmental issues like laying cables through the countryside." An additional benefit to the floating windmill concept is the fact that it tends to be windier at sea than on shore.
7. Montana Wildlife Officials Kill Nine Wolves
In a series of admittedly "aggressive" measures, wildlife managers in the state of Montana killed nine wolves over the course of about a month after the animals apparently attacked livestock. One of the wolves killed, a female wearing a radio collar, was subsequently identified as not involved in an attack, leaving her group without designation as a breeding pair, which has scientific significance. Environmental groups emphasized that nonlethal control measures would be preferable.
8. Climate Change Linked to Rise in Malaria, Asthma
This week's most interesting climate change report focuses on the impact of warming on human health. Malaria and asthma, in particular, seem to be on the rise. In regions where cool conditions usually prevented malaria from taking hold, warming has spread the range of parasitic insects that carry the disease. In other areas, storms fueled by climate change has kicked up dust -- containing a host of pollutants that irritate asthma.
9. Dubai's Man-Made Islands Anger Environmentalists
Wealthy tourists might benefit from "getting away from it all" on vacation to the man-made islands off of Dubai, but environmentalists denounce the environmental impacts on the fragile marine ecosystem. But according to Sultan bin Sulayem, chairman of the development company, "The bottom of the sea in Dubai is like a desert. I used to scuba dive there and there's no real significant amounts of coral, few rocks. It's flat and sand, with no life basically and not a habitable area for fish."
10. Study Reveals Mice Sing in the Presence of Mates
A study published this week reveals that mice are among a very few creatures that can sing to members of the opposite sex. Others on that list include songbirds, insect, and porpoises. The high-frequency sounds, out of the range of human hearing, are complex and have a pattern to them. "There was joy in this discovery," said researcher Timothy Holy. "We didn't expect it."
Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary
This week on ENN's sustainable economy channel, we told you about some of the current controversies. The included two huge companies that are trying to change their image. Wal-Mart wants a greener image, and McDonalds wants to get into the fair-trade game. Meanwhile, oil industry executives travel to rough turf, and some animal rights activists won't be travelling anywhere.
McDonald's Brews a Java War
Two Public Relations Campaigns Pit Wal-Mart against Critics
Animal Extremists Face Travelling Ban
Oil Industry Executives Anticipate Grilling in Senate Next Week
Trial Begins in Rhode Island's Lead Paint Lawsuit
There were a number of benchmarks reached and environment projects started this week:
EPA Announces Environmental Bioinformatics Centers in North Carolina and New Jersey
Save The World Air, Inc. Signs Its First Distributor Agreement for the Sale of Its ZEFS Devices
Brazilian Start-Up Offers Minicar for Land of SUVs
Governor Rendell Opens East Coast's First BioDiesel Injection Blending Facility
Microchip Technology Ships 1 Billionth Lead-Free Device
We learned that sometimes the common wisdom isn't always right:
Every week we bring you news about the latest products and practices that favor the environment, and this week there were a number of examples:
Patagonia Staff Learns about Organic Cotton Production
Vegetarian Dog Food Is Now Available Throughout the U.S.
Sara Lee Food & Beverage To Discontinue Wood Pallets; Environmental Benefits Cited
Intel's New Process To Reduce Water Use at Microchip Plant Several Years Away
Finally, a good way to end the week is this story about people who have made environmental protection their lives' work:
For 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.
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. e featured 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 two stories that can help you be greener in your every day life:
Teaching the next generation about environmentalism is crucial to keep the positive momentum going:
The production of food goes hand in hand with environmentalism. Here are two examples:
EarthNews featured two interesting initiatives that provide opportunities for communities to come together:
Astronomy was on tap as well this week:
In that vein, EarthNews Radio also featured a clip from Sky Tour:
You can download the Sky Tour, with guide Bing Quock of the Morrison Planetarium of the California Academy of Science as your personal guide. 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
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.
EarthNews Radio is available as a podcast as well. Here is the link: http://www.enn.com/news/podcast/earthnews.xml.
Innovation Spotlight: Alternative Fuels I, by Paul Geary
Innovation Spotlight presents examples of state-of-the-art environment-friendly products and services of interest to the green consumer or businessperson. In the spotlight this week we're featuring five cutting-edge companies that are active producing products in the still small but quickly growing alternative fuels market.
The public seems only to pay attention to the alternative fuels market when the price of gasoline or electricity or home heating fuel gets high. In the late 1990s oil fell to below $20 per barrel on the world market, and gas prices fell to below 80 cents per gallon in the US in the late 1990s -- nearly half (36.7 cents) was federal tax -- making the effective price of gas below 50 cents per gallon. There was very little economic incentive for people to worry about, or companies to invest in, alternative fuel sources. One consequence of this was the rapidly increasing popularity of large vehicles, especially SUVs, which reversed an historic trend toward more fuel-efficient vehicles.
But that has all changed. Though oil is still being pumped out of the ground at record levels by oil-producing countries, demand for energy continues to rise. That, combined with geopolitical concerns and diminished refining capacity because of weather events, has the market on edge, and oil is hovering around $60 per barrel. US gas prices topped $3 per gallon in 2005 for the first time.
The cost isn't the only consideration in the traditional vs. alternative fuel debate, of course. Fossil fuels pollute. For 40 years many cities have battled many days per year of choking smog, replete with all of the health concerns that creates. Debate about the existence of global warming has nearly evaporated, and changed into dialogue about what to do about it.
Fossil fuels and their derivatives still provide the vast majority of the world's fuel to power cars, heat and air condition homes and buildings, and generate electricity. That is slowly changing though. Replacing fossil fuels will require change throughout the power generation and delivery infrastructure. It will require changes in the way consumers think, and the way businesspeople think. Here are five companies and products at the forefront of creating these changes.
Much of the upsurge in popularity of hybrids has been attributed to the Toyota Prius, the best-seller, but the car that gets the best mileage of any production car sold in the US is the Honda Insight. The Insight beats the Prius in mileage by several miles per gallon, with an EPA rating of 66 mpg on the highway which puts it nearly on par in that regard with several motorcycle makes. We have to give credit to Honda rather than Toyota for being a pioneer in the US market: The Insight was actually the first hybrid sold in the US, having been introduced in 1999 (the Prius started selling in the US in 2000). Its styling is bold and unorthodox; it's most distinctive features are rear wheel skirts that contribute to its aerodynamic design. You can learn more about the Honda Insight at its website here.
BladeZ b*mobile President
One alternative form of modality that is popular among New Urbanist thinkers is the concept of car-free communities where mobility comes in the form of electric golf cart- or scooter-like vehicles for short trips within the community, with cars reserved only for long-distance use and kept at the periphery of the community. If that were to become reality, vehicles such as BladeZ b*mobile President could become common. Designed originally for people with mobility challenges, the higher-end models from BladeZ could compete with vehicles such as the GemCar from DaimlerChrysler or Bombardier's NV, mainly because of price: The President costs about $3200, thousands less than the larger golf-cart like models. It's capable of travel at 7.5 mph, with a nearly 30 mile battery range. It is for single-person use, and one drawback might be that you're not covered if it rains. However in a speculative market where the New Urbanist vision may never come to fruition, the President might be a good hedge bet. You can learn more about it here.
Electric vehicles have not caught on even in places where fuel has been prohibitively expensive for many years, such as Europe. Less radical alternative fuels for cars and trucks include biodiesel, which is simply diesel fuel made from plants such as corn or soy. Biodiesel can run efficiently in any diesel engine without having to make modifications to the engine. Diesel cars are more popular in Europe than in the US, but with the advent of plant-based fuel, diesel may make a comeback here. Government fleets are increasingly using biodiesel blends, and providing the new fuel are companies such as SoyPOWER Biodiesel. The company is part of the West Central Cooperative's Soy Processing Division, located in Ralston, Iowa. Biodiesel could help not only the environment and reliance on fossil fuel, but could make farms more profitable as well. You can learn more about the company at its website here: www.soypower.net.
North American Bus Industries
Another alternative fuel that is becoming popular mostly among public transit entities and government fleets especially is compressed natural gas (CNG). CNG burns with much lower emission than either diesel or gas, and as such is probably even more friendly to the environment than biodiesel blends. Many cities are transitioning their formerly diesel bus fleets to CNG; New York and Boston are among the cities moving to CNG. Bus companies are responding to the demand; one such company provides CNG buses to several US cities' public transit fleets: North American Bus Industries. Actually owned by a Hungarian holding company, NABI's buses are built in Alabama. The cleaner, more fuel-efficient engines allow transit authorities to run larger vehicles and the latest trend is 60-foot long articulated buses -- buses that are two connected sections which pivot in the center and hold more than 40 people seated. You can learn more about the company's products -- which will run you about $200,000 each -- at its website here: www.nabiusa.com.
If CNG is to truly become mainstream, then the infrastructure must be extensive enough to make fueling CNG vehicles convenient. In order for that to happen, someone's got to deliver CNG to fueling stations. That actually must happen now rather than in the future for the public transit, government (such as the US Postal Service), and private fleets that run on CNG. CenterPoint Energy is one company that services CNG fueling stations. It's logistically more difficult than gas delivery because there are simply many fewer stations to which to deliver, and this company is at the forefront of this supply-chain challenge. You can learn more about CenterPoint Energy here.
Wondrously Blank: A Plea for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
by T.A. Barron
The world would be far poorer, Aldo Leopold famously observed, "without a blank spot on the map." Yet it wasn't long ago that U.S. Senator Frank Murkowski from Alaska stood in the Senate chamber and declared indignantly that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was no more remarkable than a blank piece of paper.
What, really, is a blank spot on the map? What is its value? These questions are difficult to answer -- especially for a money-driven, mechanized society such as ours.
A blank spot, despite its lack of attention from mapmakers, is not empty. While it is devoid of cities, villages, roads, and monuments (as well as drill rigs, trash heaps, billboards, and wrecked vehicles) -- it may be full of other attractions. Such as scenic wonder. Or silence. Or wildlife in grand abundance.
And something else, as well. A blank spot on the map often contains precious opportunities for people to explore their outer world -- and their inner selves. For a blank spot implies no limits. It is a place of endless reach -- for the sunlit horizon, as well as for the human spirit.
No place on our planet is more richly, wondrously blank than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Within its nearly twenty million acres of terrain lies the last stretch of protected coastline in Alaska, as well as the coastal plain -- the fragile tundra wetland that is America's premier birthing ground for arctic wildlife. Caribou migrate over 1,000 miles round trip every year to reach this place; migratory birds from every corner of the country seek refuge here.
This is the place that George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their supporters in the energy industry want to invade and cover with roads, drilling pads, and heavy machinery. It doesn't seem to matter to them that the basic reasoning is entirely spurious: Even the most aggressive estimates of the oil that might be recovered from the Refuge total far less than one percent of America's needs. That's the equivalent of a few months' worth of our nation's oil demands. And the most optimistic predictions say that none of this oil would actually reach the market for a decade.
This debate over one of the most pristine places on Earth is only a microcosm of the Bush administration's short-sighted and intellectually bankrupt energy policy. Bush and his team have adamantly refused to do anything that might improve energy conservation in America. They have stonewalled every attempt to gain increased mileage from Detroit's car manufacturers. And they have rejected all suggestions that we should make a top national priority the development of renewable energy sources.
And yet they want to risk destroying one of our country's last truly wild places, a priceless piece of our national heritage, for the possibility of a tiny increment of oil. Go figure.
The administration claims that the risk is actually minimal, that the development would be contained in a tiny area and could not possibly affect wildlife migrations and the fragile tundra landscape. Reality and experience prove otherwise. All anyone needs to do is to observe the wreckage-strewn development nearby, off Prudhoe Bay -- a morass of waste ponds, dumps, rusting machinery and rutted roads. Besides, who is this administration kidding? They, like their energy industry allies, know the truth -- that once the gates to this sanctuary are opened, its irreplaceable qualities will be lost forever. Future generations of Americans will never even have the choice of experiencing this wondrous place.
Unfortunately for the administration, the American public also knows the truth. That is why, backed by the Republican leadership in Congress, they have given up trying to pass Arctic drilling legislation directly. Instead, they have opted for a bit of legislative subterfuge: By burying an Arctic drilling provision deep within the federal budget, they can avoid any filibuster and eliminate any up-or-down debate on this particular issue. Such debate, they have concluded, would be both messy and unpopular. So within the next few weeks, they will attempt to sneak through Arctic drilling as part of the overall budget resolution.
Where is the call for America to use its vaunted ingenuity and economic muscle to de-hook itself forever from oil? Where is the leadership to create a national mission to solve this problem through energy conservation and alternative fuels -- to inspire an effort of man-on-the-moon proportions? Where is the wisdom to see that our nation's continuing dependence on oil helps us fund the very same radical militants in the Middle East who are bent on terrorizing our people?Nowhere.
If Bush and Company succeeds in drilling up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they will fill in that place on the map, darken one of our brightest natural wonders. With the inevitable oil spills on the tundra. With the bodies of dead caribou calves. And, worst of all, with the shadows of a lost opportunity to protect a place that is truly sacred -- and wondrously blank.
Related Article: U.S. Senate Backs Oil Drilling in Alaskan Refuge (11/4/05, ENN)
T. A. Barron grew up in Colorado ranch country, traveled widely as a Rhodes Scholar, managed a successful venture capital business in New York, and then changed careers to become a full-time writer and conservationist. His passion for the wonders of nature, and his belief in the heroic potential of every person, radiate through his books, many of which are international bestsellers. His award-wining novels, read by children and adults alike, include: his new trilogy The Great Tree of Avalon (a New York Times bestseller); The Lost Years of Merlin (currently being developed into a feature film); and The Ancient One (the story of a brave teenage girl and a great redwood tree). He has also authored children's books such as High as a Hawk, and photo-essay books about Colorado wilderness. His non-fiction book, The Hero”šs Trail, describes how every person can help our planet, and expands on his experiences creating the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. Tom also devotes significant time to education and conservation causes; speaking widely; serving on the boards of Princeton University and The Wilderness Society; and writing articles on the environment, creativity, and heroism for publications as varied as The New York Times, Family Circle, School Library Journal, and High Country News. His favorite pastime, though, is hiking on mountain trails with his wife, Currie, and their children. Visit his website at www.tabarron.com.
Photo: Many Boreal forest wildlife species like these black bear are endangered due to habitat loss from logging. Credit: © Greenpeace/Taylor.