ENN Weekly: April 25th - 29th

ENN's editors summarize the most compelling environmental and sustainable economy themes of the week.

Top Ten Stories of the Week
Sustainable Economy News Roundup
EarthNews Radio Review
ENN Commentary: New Nukes? No, Thanks.

Photo Credit: Lotus Flower,
Courtesy of pdphoto.org.

The Week's Top Ten, by Carrie Schluter

From an EPA leadership confirmation to a pond full of exploding toads, it was an environmental news week to remember. Here's a list of the ten stories that, for one reason or another, stood out as particularly significant this week.

1. As the day dawned on Friday, news that with a 61-37 vote in the Senate, Stephen Johnson will be the next EPA chief. Johnson's nomination had been stalled by Sen. Thomas Carper's (D-Del.) protest of the administration's air pollution reduction proposals.
>> Senate Confirms New EPA Chief

2. In a turn of events compared to "finding Elvis" by an Audubon Society ornithologist, the "extinct" ivory billed woodpecker has been documented alive in Arkansas. One of six bird species of North America assumed to have gone extinct since 1880, the woodpecker has a chance to rebound, with good management of its habitat.
>> Ivory Billed Woodpecker, Feared Extinct, Isn't

3. Space is at a premium on the tiny island of Taiwan, and its landfills are reaching capacity. To address the logistical challenges of dealing with waste, leaders are aiming for a "zero-waste policy" in the form of a controversial forced recycling plan.
>> Taiwan Gets Tough on Trash as Space Runs Out

4. How's this for an ingenious alternative-energy scheme: Harness the power of the sun to generate electricity for a human outpost on the moon. Researchers believe that they can, indeed, turn science fiction into reality, and overcome what has been considered one of the biggest obstacles to establishing a human presence in space.
>> Power for Moon Base Could Come from Sun

5. With the recent removal of protections for mustangs comes a development unforeseen by the Bureau of Land Management. A total of 41 wild horses have been slaughtered since December, with 35 of them killed on Monday. Mustang carmaker Ford Motor Co. stepped in this week with financial support to care for the remaining mustangs at risk.
>> 35 More Wild Horses Killed in the West

6. In a story with broad, nationwide implications, a California suburb is reeling from the news that close to half its drinking water is tainted by rocket fuel. Development has brought homes ever closer to the once-remote source of the perchlorate contamination, and mitigating the health threat is a costly and challenging problem.
>> California Town's Water Tainted by Perchlorate; 36 States Face Contamination

7. On Wednesday, President Bush outlined his energy plan while acknowledging his inability to curb gas prices in the short term. The president's initiatives include promoting energy-efficient vehicles and accelerating the construction of nuclear power plants.
>> Bush Lays Out Energy Plan As Prices Soar

8. In case you had any doubt, there's new evidence that our planet is, indeed, getting warmer. Data derived from the ocean depths and from the outer reaches of space indicates that the Earth currently absorbs significantly more heat than it emits, leading to the conclusion that there's an Earth-warming energy imbalance in effect.
>> Experts Say New Data Show Global Warming

9. In other warming news, Greenpeace will be sponsoring a trek across the Arctic Ocean to illustrate the impact of global warming on the northern ice cap. Two men from Minnesota will embark on the four-month, 1,250-mile endeavor by kayak on May 12, prepared to confront extreme conditions in their quest to prompt action that will curb global warming.
>> Greenpeace Plans Arctic Trek to Highlight Warming

10. Squeamish? Read no further. Claiming the last spot on this week's top ten list is the horrifying explosive toads story. First, ENN brought you the news that thousands of toads were inexplicably puffing up and then blowing up in a German pond. Then later in the week, a plausible explanation for the gruesome phenomenon:
>> Exploding Toads May Have Been Pecked by Birds for Their Livers, Veterinarian Says

Sustainable Economy News Roundup, by Paul Geary

Though Earth Day is behind us, people, communities, and companies continue to work toward a sustainable economy. This week we brought you a number of different themes, but alternative energy was the recurring, if not dominant one. And within these two sectors, the increasing marketability of the products continues to be of paramount importance.

In order for alternative energy to become mainstream energy, people have to want to buy the products that use it. In Japan, Toyota is getting three times the orders that it anticipated for hybrid SUVs. Read it here: Toyota Gets Triple the Orders it Expected for Hybrid SUVs.

Hybrids are gaining traction, but natural gas vehicles are still relegated mostly to public utility vehicles like buses. But with natural-gas-powered vehicles, there's the potential for refueling right at home. Read about that here: Home Vehicle Refueling Becomes a Convenient Alternative.

Consumers use the most energy in their homes, so even if everyone drove a hybrid or natural gas car, there would still be the potential for cutting individual use of energy. Of course the power companies decide how electricity gets generated. One choice those firms have is increasingly wind power. Read here about the prospects for that industry: Wind Energy Industry Sets Sails for Good Year during 2005.

Across the Pacific, the same focus is on water power as well. You can read that here: China Eyes Turbines at Sea to Boost Wind Power

The debate over "the nuclear option" -- the one outside of the us Senate that is -- continues. Is nuclear power a viable alternative energy? Is it safe enough? Safety of Nuclear Power Plants Remains Emotional Issue in Energy Debate.

In other sustainable economy news:
On the recycling front, two office supply stores, one large and one small, touted the sale of environmentally friendly office products:
Office Depot Garners Outstanding Recycling Retailer Award
Office Products from Recycled Material

And as usual, we told you about innovations. One food wholesaler wants to change the way big supermarket chains market natural foods. Read that here: Coleman Natural Foods Announces Natural Product Line for Conventional Grocery Retailers. A new lead-free paint, combined with "nano-painting" technology plied by artisans in Japan has led to the development of an environmentally-friendly electrode:New Environment-Friendly Technology Developed

Be sure to check ENN's Sustainable Economy section regularly for the latest news about business and the economy.

EarthNews Radio Review, by Paul Geary

EarthNews Radio continued its look at PBS's April television programming, which is loaded with fascinating science, nature, and environment programs. Jerry Kay spoke with the producers of "Deep Jungle" and "Strange Days on Planet Earth":

Invasive Species

"Strange Days on Planet Earth"

"Deep Jungle"

Scientists Share Stories

EarthNews Radio also brought you two interesting interviews about wildlife -- cheetahs and frogs:

Fascinating Frogs

Cheetah Preserves

Jerry Kay also introduced you to two institutions dedicated to the environment, science, and learning:

Master Gardeners Conference

California Academy of Science

Listen to EarthNews Radio regularly to hear Jerry Kay's interviews with many compelling scientists, activists, and environmentalists. And be sure to visit EarthNews Radio's home here at ENN; you can find it at www.enn.com/enn_radio_main.html.

New Nukes? No Thanks. -- An ENN Commentary
by Chris Clarke, Earth Island Institute

James Lovelock, the British scientist best known for his co-authorship of the Gaia hypothesis, has turned heads recently with searing essays exhorting environmentalists to drop their opposition to nuclear power. An odd opinion for an environmental icon? Not from Lovelock's perspective. An atmospheric chemist by trade, Lovelock is scared to death at the prospect of global climate change caused by the combustion of carbon fuels. Nuclear power plants release no carbon into the atmosphere and so, says Lovelock, they are the only answer to the looming climate threat.

Lovelock is right to be worried. Our society's carbon addiction will seriously alter life on Earth, and soon, and not in a good way. It's not unlikely that sea levels will rise by seven meters within a couple centuries, forcing abandonment of coastal cities; rising temperatures will consign whole biomes to extinction. No more Amazon rainforest; no more boreal forest.

But Lovelock's call for a nuclear renaissance is based on mushy, ill-informed thinking.

For one thing, nuclear power is not climate-neutral. Uranium fuel reprocessing plants are responsible for a large fraction of atmospheric chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals best known as ozone-depleters but which are also powerful greenhouse gases.

But the biggest problem with Lovelock's nuclear boosterism is that it is based on the worst sort of industry propaganda. In an article published by the UK paper The Independent in May 2004, Lovelock writes:

"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. "

Coal power is horribly dangerous to the environment, as is oil. But point out a coal-fired power plant that has rendered an area the size of Ukraine essentially uninhabitable, as did Chernobyl.

Even the so-called "safe" Generation Four nuclear reactors now in development buy their allegedly greater margin of reactor safety at the cost of hugely increased amounts of nuclear waste. In the US, desert preservation activists have fought pitched battles to prevent the opening of one radioactive waste dump after another, from Ward Valley to Yucca Mountain to the proposed surface dump on the Goshute Indian reservation. What Lovelock advocates is, essentially, killing specific ecosystems with radioactive waste in order to save unspecified ones.

And the worst part of it is that even if nuclear were safe, new plants would be unlikely to produce energy for another ten or fifteen years - unless Lovelock also advocates gutting environmental and worker safety regulations. The earth cannot handle ten or fifteen years of continued carbon emissions without serious resulting damage.

Oddly enough, there are technical fixes readily available that could replace TODAY the same amount of energy that would be produced ten years from now if industrial societies went all out to build nuclear power plants. Here's just one: the compact fluorescent light bulb. Switching two thirds of the incandescent bulbs used in the US alone - which could be done in less than a year, given the social will - would reduce energy consumption by seven gigawatts. That's fourteen big coal-fired plants. Incentives to replace wasteful appliances, weatherize homes, use mass transit and find other ways to reduce our profligate energy use could provide immediate benefits, unlike Lovelock's radioactive pie in the sky.

Environmental writer Chris Clarke is Publications Director at Earth Island Institute. He has written extensively on politics and the natural world. His most recent writings are available at his website (http://www.faultline.org/place/pinolecreek). He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.