Environment Blogs

Environmental Defense Fund recently released a series of videos profiling some of the new energy technologies that are featured in President Fred Krupp’s book Earth: The Sequel. The videos are fascinating, and describe some technologies that not only baffle the mind, but also make you completely baffled as to why the government is not helping these innovators bring these technologies to the public. Watch all five videos here:

Unleash the Future – http://www.edf.org/page.cfm?tagID=22080

Then, take action on thepetitionsite to tell your leaders to Unleash the Innovators!:

Help Unleash a New Energy Future Today – http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/616684775

Here is the video on Solar Ink:


The much talked about Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act failed to win the 60 votes needed to end delay tactics on the bill (such as sucking up about nine hours by demanding that clerks read the entire 492-page bill aloud), but came very close with 54 votes. But environmental organizations, including Environmental Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife, are optimistic that the strong support shown for the cloture (including 10 senators who had consistently stood opposed to all cap-and-trade legislation) is a good sign for the progress that will hopefully be made when the Congress reconvenes.

There are lots of great resources on the bill online. While some environmental organizations oppose the bill, many see it as an important step in the right direction. The bill would put in place a cap-and-trade system for heavy emitters, as well as building regulations and efficiency standards for residential areas. Obviously the 500-page bill has more than just that, but that’s the centerpiece.

Defenders of Wildlife has also emphasized the important provisions that the bill includes for wildlife, conservation and habitat restoration, all of which are dramatically affected by climate change.

If you’d like to see how your senator voted, visit this Senate webpage. When there is new info, we will definitely have some more info and a petition you can sign to support the passing of this important bill!

I grew up next to the Pacific Ocean. I have fond memories of playing along its beaches as a child, and there were many days as an adult when I found myself staring out into its immensity. If there is any natural place in the world for which I feel an affinity, it is the Pacific Ocean.

North Pacific Gyre

You can imagine my distress then, when I read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Technically, this area of the northern Pacific Ocean is called the North Pacific Gyre, a clockwise-swirling vortex of ocean currents twice the size of the continental United States. It’s called the Garbage Patch because the motion of the currents tends to accumulate marine debris.

In the past, this was not a problem for the Pacific and its denizens. Sea birds, marine mammals, and fish were well adapted to make use of driftwood and other debris in the Gyre. The last few decades, however, have seen a dramatic new threat to ocean health arise — plastic.

According to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, more than a hundred million tons of plastic debris have accumulated in the North Pacific Gyre. A hundred million tons! There is so much plastic, that it outnumbers the zooplankton six to one.

This is plastic that will never disappear. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Instead it photo-degrades, which means that sunlight breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces. Those small pieces drift in the ocean and are mistaken for food by fish and birds.

Plastic Jellies

For example, seabirds like the North Pacific albatross are often found dead with innards full of plastic. Things like cigarette lighters and toothbrushes. Also, sea turtles will mistake plastic bags for food, thinking that they are jellyfish. These turtles will often be found dead with their intestines clogged by plastic bags.

The result? One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year due to ingestion of or entanglement in plastics. And even worse — these small bits of plastic act as sponges for non-water soluble pollutants and toxins. These poisons reach concentrations up to one million times higher in the plastic than in their free-floating state.

Filter feeders that eat these plastics are in turn eaten by fish, which are in turn eaten by larger and larger predators. In many cases, this chain concentrates the poisons even further and leads it directly to human beings.

Recycle Plastic

The scope of the problem is astounding, but I refuse to believe that nothing can be done. Care2 is about making a difference in the world. There are places around the world contemplating banning plastic bags, and I plan on supporting those efforts. On a more personal level, I will re-commit to using cloth bags and reusable drink containers.

If you think that won’t make much of a difference, think again. For each reusable bag, another 400 plastic bags will keep from being used. Every reusable water bottle will keep another 167 plastic bottles from entering the environment.

If you’d like to join me, our friends at the Surfrider Foundation are hosting a pledge at http://go.care2.com/15229743. Won’t you commit to keep our oceans healthy?

For more information on plastics and the ocean, check out:

WetlandsMay is American Wetlands Month, and as such it provides an opportunity to explore these amazing places. For too long, wetlands were perceived as wastelands, whose value came only once they were drained and converted to other uses. This was the prevailing view for centuries. In the 1600s, in the area that would later become the lower 48 United States, there were approximately 220 million acres of wetlands. Today, there is less than half that amount remaining.

And yet wetlands are the link between land and water, where the flow of water, the cycling of nutrients and the energy of the sun combine to create a unique ecosystem sometimes called a “nursery of life.” In addition to their importance for the sustainability of terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals, wetlands replenish and clean water. They provide needed rest places for migratory birds, and help reduce the risk of floods. They provide opportunities to get away from our cities and get in touch with the natural world. They are precious resources.

American Wetlands Month was first established in 1990, and it signifies a recognition that wetlands are not wastelands — that they are important to life and to the health of the larger ecosystem. But still more needs to be done to educate about their importance and encourage respect for them. The sad fact is that the United States loses approximately 80,000 acres of wetlands per year.

This alarming figure needs to be turned around. Required is more respect for the natural world, not less. If you can, this month pledge to do your part in protecting America’s wetlands.

One place to start is the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/573485811.

If you would like to learn more about wetlands, Wikipedia has very thorough article, although be warned that it’s slanted towards the biologists among us.

I just read an incredibly insightful story on Mother Jones about nuclear power. From the get-go, Judith Lewis pinpoints the problems many Americans have, which is that they are either dramatically for or against nuclear power, but they don’t know why.

“When we talk about nuclear power these days, we talk about environmentalists for nukes, and about people posing as environmentalists for nukes. We talk about Dick Cheney’s energy bill defibrillating a faltering industry with $12 billion worth of incentives and tax breaks. We talk about who is for and who is against, and whether we can trust them.

But no one talks about fission. No one talks about the letter Albert Einstein wrote to FDR in 1939, advising the president that “it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium” to produce enormous amounts of power.”

Her article talks about the waste problem, the benefits as far as emissions, the risk of accidents, environmentalists who support and don’t support nuclear power, France’s embrace of nuclear power back in the ’70s and what that’s brought them, and many more fascinating and informative parts of the nuclear equation. It’s a fascinating read, and everyone who wants to have an informed opinion of nuclear power should read it.

Read the story here on MotherJones.com >>

Take Action on Care2>> http://go.care2.com/14823610

The 2008 Farm Bill has been a hot topic among our nonprofit partners and the news media for months now. But one common complaint among us average folk is that the bill is overly complicated and hard to understand. I’ve had my share of question marks hovering over my head as I read petitions or news stories about the Farm Bill, so I myself was anxious to do some demystifying.

So, with the risk of over-simplifying the issue, I did some research, and I thought I would try to explain at least the two issues that are important to our nonprofit partners, which are commodity payments (and their repercussions for our economy, global hunger and poverty) and conservation programs.

First, a general summary. The Farm Bill is a gigantic bill that affects agricultural business and trade, rural development, research, conservation, food assistance, nutritional programs and more. It’s basically one big bill that has lots of separate laws having to do with either policy issues or budget. Some of these laws need to be renewed (ie – go through a Congressional approval process) every year and others are larger-scale laws that do not need to be approved every year, though these can be changed with subsequent legislation.

Basically, this is one large beast to tackle. Our current Farm Bill passed in the Senate on Dec. 14, 2007. Now, the bill needs to travel through a conference committee that includes House and Senate members. They face many challenges in this process. There are many amendments to this bill that were debated heavily, but President Bush has threatened to veto the bill due to its lack of reform and its reliance on taxes to pay for conservation, nutrition programs, etc. According to many of our nonprofit partners, a veto would be a very bad thing, as that would mean that they bill would return to the debates, and conservation programs would likely be cut to balance the budget further. The best scenario at this point would be for the committee to agree on a reformed bill that includes strong conservation programs, and that would be signed by the President.

Even as we drill down to the details of commodity payments, the issue remains complicated. Commodity payments are cash payments that the government gives farmers for certain crops, namely corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans. Though these payments were initially intended as a safety measure to protect farmers from falling prices, they currently allow large farms to sell these items at a price lower than what it costs to produce them. This causes smaller American farms and farmers in other countries (such as Senegal, Mali, Chad, etc.) to be completely unable to compete with the extremely low prices, driving them out of business and further into poverty.

This is just one of the areas of the farm bill that drastically needs to be reformed, and you can see already that it is an enormous task. Also, many organizations have made it clear that just getting rid of these payments is not going to solve the problem – it’s going to take a comprehensive model of supply management and price stabilization. To go into detail here would be excruciating, so I’ll leave it at that.

On the conservation side, it’s really a matter of funding. There are some great conservation programs available, but the truth is that two out of three farmers who apply for these voluntary programs get rejected because there is just not enough funding. There are 20 programs in the conservation section of the farm bill, which provide incentives for farmers to better manage their land, reduce chemical use and emissions and meet environmental laws on clean air, water and habitat for endangered species. These are all great things, and what environmental groups are pushing for is that all farmers at least have the opportunity to participate in these programs without being turned away.

So, while that’s a rapid-fire summary of some of our hopes for the farm bill, hopefully some of the links included will help you get a better grasp on the issue. Here are a few more very helpful resources:

Oxfam’s Farm Bill 101

2008 Senate Farm Bill (Environmental Defense)

In the meantime, you can take action and make sure the committee knows that you want conservation programs in the Farm Bill to remain intact: http://go.care2.com/14823610

The bill is back in debate, and a vote could happen any day…although, the timing in itself is up for debate.