May 5th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Birds—from ducks and herons to terns and the brown pelican (Louisiana’s state bird)—are becoming the latest victims of the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf Coast.
“It’s a full moon, a high tide, and it’s bringing the oil on a free ride right into the coastal salt marshes on a southerly wind,” says Dr. Ken Rosenberg, director of conservation science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “It is also peak migration season for birds crossing the gulf; tens of thousands of exhausted shorebirds are going to be arriving in the next two weeks. They’re flying over water and stopping to refuel on the beaches and in the estuaries along the Gulf Coast, directly in the path of this massive spill.”
As with other environmentalists, Dr. Rosenberg blames “our thirst for fossil fuel” for this unprecedented manmade disaster.
“We’ve been playing Russian roulette with our environment, and the gun just went off,” he says.
Precursor to Human Harm
“Birds are an important first indicator of environmental health, and the old analogy of the canary in the coal mine is really relevant here,” Dr. Rosenberg says. “A lot of these birds are going to die, but that’s just the beginning of the story of what might happen to the coastal environment for both wildlife and people if the oil doesn’t stop flowing.”
At first, breeding bird colonies along the coast will be devastated. Next, thousands of brown pelicans—removed from the endangered species list only last year—will be affected, along with other water-bird colonies. Dependent on fish and other marine life for food and survival, bird populations will die as oil comes ashore. Gulf Coast ecosystems are already extremely fragile because of Hurricane Katrina and other storms.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates millions of birds are at risk.
“When a bird’s feathers become clogged with oil, they no longer act as a waterproof coat,” says Dr. Ian Robinson, IFAW’s emergency relief director. “Cold water penetrates to the bird’s skin and rapidly leads to hypothermia.
“At the same time, as the bird preens to try and clean the oil from the feathers, it inadvertently ingests toxic oil, which leads to symptoms of poisoning, including diarrhea and dehydration.”
“There will be a lot of people mobilized to try to save individual birds by bringing them into rehab and de-oiling them,” Dr. Rosenberg adds, “and there will be some success in saving individual birds. But whether that can save the breeding populations in these areas—we don’t know. If the oil then comes into the coastal marshes and the inshore ecosystems and kills the oyster beds and the shrimp and the fish nurseries, then there are much longer-lasting effects not only on birds, but on an entire way of life for people of this region.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Shattered Lives: Anatomy of an Oil Spill
Read More:Playing Russian Roulette with Our Environment
May 2nd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The April 22 British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is shaping up to be the worst environmental disaster in decades—a crisis Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says is a stark reminder of the “high human, environmental and economic costs associated with the extraction of fossil fuels.”
The spill occurred after an April 20 explosion on a BP rig, which killed 11 workers. The rig capsized and sank 2 days later, and oil began to seep into coastal waters.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 210,000 gallons of oil (5,000 barrels) are leaking into the Gulf each day, endangering marine life and Louisiana’s seafood industry. Oil may now drift toward the Atlantic Ocean.
“We are taking every possible step to protect the health of the residents and mitigate the environmental impacts of this spill,” says Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
Louisiana’s Way of Life Threatened
“This incident is not just about our coast,” says Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. “It is fundamentally about our way of life in Louisiana. Our shrimpers, our fishermen, the coasts that make Louisiana [a] sportsmen’s paradise—this all makes up Louisiana, and this is our way of life. We have to do absolutely everything we can to protect our land, our businesses and our communities.”
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has issued recreational and commercial fishery closures. Biologists are monitoring activities and conducting daily field assessments for signs of oiled areas and wildlife.
Because 2,500 sea turtles may be affected by the spill, scientists are also surveying and reporting on oil-tainted animals and other marine life.
Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, expects the spill to reach two wildlife areas: the Delta National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the Mississippi River and the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, designated as a wilderness area in 1903 by eco-conscious President Theodore Roosevelt. Both sites are critically important to numerous species, including the brown pelican (recently removed from the endangered species list).
“Crucial That We Address Our Dependence on Oil”
Sen. Leahy doesn’t mince words in his assessment of the disaster.
“The evidence is clear that we cannot drill or mine our way to long-term energy security,” he says.
“We need to adopt a comprehensive energy strategy that addresses the challenges of the 21st century and does not simply rely on the energy sources of the past,” he adds. “We need to be more creative and in ways that strengthen our economy, our security and our environment. Our long-term energy security depends on promoting energy efficiency and supporting domestic sources of clean, renewable power, such as biomass, solar and wind energy.
“Instead of focusing so much on securing more fossil fuels,” he concludes, “it is crucial that we address our dependence on oil, invest in renewable energy, and offer incentives for utility companies and others to use these clean, domestic forms of energy.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Over a Barrel: The Costs of U.S. Foreign Oil Dependence
Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory
Read More:BP Oil Spill: Worst Environmental Disaster in Decades?
April 30th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Buy tickets for Disney’s Oceans, and you’ll see sobering footage of a shopping cart on the ocean floor—a sure sign of consumerism run amok.
This simple image conveys an incredibly important message: We’re destroying our environment. Climate change may garner more headlines, but ocean pollution remains a considerable concern.
What can you do to reduce your impact?
- Don’t Litter. Litter is a huge contributor to ocean pollution because it ends up in storm drains that eventually empty into rivers and streams. Even if you live miles away from the ocean, your litter will likely contribute to water pollution.
- Follow the Three R’s. How committed are you to the environmental mantra reduce, reuse, recycle? Your answer has a direct effect on the health of our oceans. Failure to embrace the three R’s leads to ocean pollution and mile-high landfills.
- Increase Your Sewage Awareness. Anything that goes down your dishwasher, washing machine, toilet and sink drains will eventually make its way into the ocean. This often leads to oxygen depletion that harms marine life, as well as nutrient loading, which occurs when excessive nitrogen and phosphorous are deposited into the ocean’s ecosystem. Sewage also increases ocean bacteria and parasites, creating a ripple effect that endangers the fishing and tourism industries.
- Understand the Dangers of Toxic Pollutants. Arguably, nothing is more detrimental to the world’s oceans than toxic pollutants, which have been linked to birth defects in wildlife and may contribute to cancer in humans. Lead and mercury collect in marine animals’ tissues, causing reproductive problems and nerve damage. World Wildlife Federation researchers have found that other wildlife, including polar bears and frogs, have experienced decreased fertility, thyroid dysfunction and demasculinization (in males)—a result of exposure to pesticides and industrial chemicals. Other toxic ocean pollutants include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are typically used to manufacture electrical equipment and have been known to cause reproduction problems in marine life. Genetic abnormalities have also been seen in marine animals exposed to polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are caused by burning wood and coal, as well as oil pollution.
- Participate in Community Cleanup Programs. Many seaside communities offer volunteer beach clean-up programs to keep their beaches clean and safe. By volunteering for such programs, you’re not only doing your part, but you’re also giving yourself an excuse to spend a day at the beach.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: The Culture of Flushing: A Social and Legal History of Sewage
Read More:5 Ways to Help Save Our Oceans
April 28th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
According to a new Department of Transportation (DOT) report, the United States can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by:
- Using low-carbon fuels
- Increasing vehicle fuel economy
- Improving system efficiency
- Reducing travel that involves high levels of carbon emissions
“Reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change is one of the great challenges of our time,” says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Transportation is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases, and the transportation sector must be a big part of the solution. This report provides valuable information that will help us in our effort to protect the environment.”
The report states:
- 29% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 5% of global emissions are caused by the fuel burned to power U.S. vehicles.
- Almost 60% of these emissions come from light-duty vehicles, followed by freight trucks (19%) and aircraft (12%).
- Between 1990 and 2007, greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. transportation increased 27% and accounted for almost half of the total national increase during that period.
The report, while making no specific recommendations, analyzes available strategies that would reduce transportation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Among the findings:
- More fuel-efficient gasoline vehicles could reduce per-vehicle emissions by 8% to 30%; hybrid vehicles, 26% to 54%; and plug-in hybrids, 46% to 75%.
- More direct routing of airline flights using NextGen technology, as well as more efficient takeoffs and landings, could reduce aviation greenhouse emissions by up to 10% by 2025.
- Reducing the number of vehicle miles traveled through a combination of strategies—improved public transportation, coordinated transportation, land use, opportunities for walking and biking—could reduce transportation greenhouse emissions by 5% to 17% by 2030.
The report discusses policy options for implementing these strategies, including efficiency standards, transportation planning and investment, market-based incentives, research and development, and economy-wide carbon policies.
“Earlier this month, we established historic new fuel economy standards that will save nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the lives of the vehicles covered,” LaHood says. “In aviation, DOT has put energy and environmental concerns at the heart of NextGen, the initiative to modernize the U.S. air traffic system.
“The Department’s Sustainable Communities Partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing low-carbon transportation options.”
Environmental Groups Praise Report
“Ray LaHood made an important contribution to addressing climate change,” says Michael Replogle, global policy director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
“Key strategies in this report would cut emissions at less cost than most other approaches to greenhouse gas reduction when considering vehicle operating cost savings. Such smart transportation strategies would put money in the pockets of consumers and businesses, create good jobs, and support livable communities and more efficient mobility. That’s good for business, the economy and environment.”
“Congress should use the report’s findings to guide investments and policy for transportation,” adds Kathryn Phillips, an expert on federal transportation policy for the Environmental Defense Fund.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Auto Mania: Cars, Consumers and the Environment
Read More:Cutting Transportation-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions
April 23rd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
After achieving great success with Earth, its first theatrical release, Disneynature released the G-rated Oceans on Earth Day (Thursday)—a film Associated Press movie critic Christy Lemire has called “a stunningly beautiful documentary.”
French codirectors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud profile the bodies of water that cover almost 75% of our planet, while sending a message about the environmental threats they face.
Narrated by actor Pierce Brosnan, the film features never-before-seen imagery captured by the latest underwater technologies.
Walt Disney Co. President and CEO Robert Iger says he hopes Disneynature films “will contribute to a greater understanding and appreciation of the beauty and fragility of our natural world.”
Disney held a “blue carpet” premiere last Saturday at Hollywood’s famed El Capitan Theatre. Brosnan was joined by Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas, who sang the film’s end-credit song, Make a Wave. Purchase the song on iTunes, and all proceeds will benefit environmental charities.
See Oceans by Wednesday, and Disneynature will make a contribution to The Nature Conservancy for every ticket sold. The money raised will be used to help save coral reefs.
For Your Organic Bookshelf
Oceans: Official Companion to the Disney Feature is now available for $23.10, a 34% savings over the $35 list price.
Read More:Disney’s “Oceans” Now in Theaters
April 22nd, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Today is Earth Day, and teens who want to make a difference in the fight against climate change now have a place to share their pledges, actions and ideas.
Inconvenient Youth, the Alliance for Climate Protection’s new teen education initiative, launches today. The program will also enable five teens to participate in upcoming in-person training with Nobel Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore.
“Inconvenient Youth is built on the belief that teens can help lead efforts to solve the climate crisis,” Gore says. “It will give this generation—which has a unique stake in this issue—a chance to organize and exchange ideas with other young people who want to do their part to address the climate crisis. Perhaps most importantly, this initiative was inspired by youth and shaped by youth, with their unique viewpoint guiding it forward.”
“It’s not a website; it’s a community,” explains program manager Sam Davidson. “We are building a community—a place where people engage, encourage and empower one another to take action. We’re not broadcasting ‘green tips’ from on high; we’re creating a space where teens can share their ideas and their solutions.”
Interested teens can visit the organization’s website from now until May 15 and apply for the opportunity to attend a Gore-led training session in June.
Students will go through a committee review process. Those selected will become official presenters who can deliver a new slide show to their local communities based on Gore’s latest book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis.
“The ultimate goal of Inconvenient Youth, at least for me, is to provide ideas and to consciously act on those ideas, while pursuing efforts that make obstacles entirely irrelevant,” says Shilpi Misra, a member of the teen advisory board.
Read More:Inconvenient Youth: Al Gore’s New Earth Day Initiative
April 21st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Over the last month, I’ve been updating you on the Dow Live Earth Run for Water, a series of 6K runs/walks held last Sunday in 150 cities across 50 countries to help combat the global water crisis.
If you couldn’t attend any of the events, you can watch a 1-hour special at 7 p.m. Friday (ET/PT) on Bravo.
The program will feature discussions with musician/activist Pete Wentz (Fall Out Boy) and water-crisis expert Alexandra Cousteau, a look at solutions being implemented, and concert performances by Collective Soul, Estelle, Melissa Etheridge, John Legend, Rob Thomas and The Roots.
“We think this special, which airs as part of NBC Universal’s Green Is Universal initiative, will resonate with Bravo’s eco-conscious viewers, and through heightened awareness comes change,” says Frances Berwick, Bravo Media’s general manager and executive vice president.
“The goal of this TV special is to engage audiences in the challenges and solutions associated with the global water crisis in an educational and entertaining format,” adds Live Earth Founder Kevin Wall. “Bravo is the ideal network for this program because its viewers are very tuned in to environmental and social issues.”
Live Earth was built on the belief that entertainment has the power to transcend social and cultural barriers to move the world community to action.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: The Environment in Crisis: An Environmental Reader from Dollars & Sense
Photos: John Michael Maas, Global Water Challenge
Read More:Live Earth Special Airs Friday
April 20th, 2010 - Laura Klein
If you haven’t seen Food Inc. yet, now is your chance. It is a must see. It premiers on PBS’s POV April 21st! Check your local listings for the broadcast schedule. You can even download materials from the POV website to host your own viewing party.
This Academy Award nominated film is a powerful eye opening documentary about the truth behind America’s food supply. It questions whether America’s industrial food system produces healthy, nutritious, life-sustaining stuff we call food. If you take one look at America’s current health care crisis you might ask the same questions.
Food Inc., features several poignant interviews that caution us about the nutritional value of America’s food supply and question if our food products, including processed foods, fresh meat and produce, are in fact a threat to public health and safety. Interviews include Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) (two food movement heroes), sustainable, organic farmer Joel Salatin of Virginia’s Polyface Farms and mother, Barbara Kowalcyk. Kowalcyk’s 2 1/2 year old son died 12 days after eating a hamburger contaminated with E. coli.
The documentary also raises serious questions about ethical business practices of food giants Monsanto, Tyson, Perdue and Smithfield companies. When these companies were asked to tell their side of the story to filmmakers, they declined to comment.
This past week California public health officials issued another recall on ground beef products sold at WinCo food stores in six western states, stating it could be contaminated with E. coli.
Despite some of the heavy issues Food Inc tackles, the film is driven by visionaries of alternative businesses and activists that are leading the food movement to delicious, healthy, safe food for America.
Read More On America’s Food Safety Issues:
Monsanto’s Seedy Business
Tyson Foods Lied To Consumers About Drugs Used To Raise Their Chickens
FDA Fills New Position with Monsanto Hormone Guy
Monsanto is Hogging Hawaii’s Water
Big Agribusiness Dictating U.S. Food Safety
A Chemical Reaction to the White House Garden
E. coli Outbreak and Our Contaminated Food Supply
Most Chicken Producers’ Safeguards “Inadequate”
Russia and China Say Thanks, But No Thanks, to U.S. Poultry
Antibiotics: Tyson Chicken Wants to Lie to Consumers
USDA Allows Contaminated Chicken in Stores
Read More:Food Inc To Air on PBS’s POV
April 19th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Thursday is Earth Day!
PBS stations will air Dirt! The Movie tomorrow evening as part of the network’s Independent Lens series. (Please check your local listings for time.)
Filmmakers show how 4 billion years of evolution have created the dirt that recycles our water, gives us our food, provides us with shelter, and serves as a source of medicine, beauty and culture.
But as the 1-hour documentary demonstrates, mankind has become greedy and careless, endangering this vital living resource with destructive methods of agriculture, mining and urban development—and with catastrophic results: mass starvation, drought, floods and climate change.
The film uncovers ways we can repair our relationship with dirt and create new possibilities.
“Dirt is a living engine for life on Earth,” says director/producer Bill Benenson. “It recycles everything that falls to the ground. If we didn’t have a living skin on the Earth, we wouldn’t exist.”
“We are treating dirt as a story, not a topic,” adds director/producer Gene Rosow. “We want people to start off with an emotional connection to dirt. Then, we want to instill a sense of caution about the destructive things we are doing to nature and dirt and how those behaviors impact our daily lives.”
The “Ecstatic Skin” of the Earth
The film was inspired by natural-history writer William Bryant Logan’s book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, a collection of essays on the important role dirt plays in everyday life.
“After reading the book, I realized how out of touch I had become with the ground beneath my feet,” Rosow says. “Like most city people, I take dirt for granted.”
“The challenge for a filmmaker was, how do you make this subject interesting?” Benenson adds. “We try to give people hope and empower them to see the possibilities and their potential to change things.”
Interviewing Global Visionaries
In their 3 years of filming, Benenson and Rosow “got dirty” filming in more than 20 locations, including Argentina, Brazil, France, India, Kenya and several regions of the United States. They wanted to interview 25 renowned global visionaries who are leading the charge to repair this critical natural resource, including:
- Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, an organization that works to “green the ghetto”
- Chef Alice Waters, owner of Berkeley’s sustainable Chez Panisse restaurant and founder of the Edible Schoolyard, a 1-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom at an urban middle school
- Andy Lipkis, found of the Los Angeles-based environmental group TreePeople
- Wes Jackson, PhD, president of The Land Institute and author of Altars of Unhewn Stone: Science and the Earth
Hope for the Future
On their journey, the filmmakers found:
- Farmers and agronomists rediscovering sustainable agriculture
- Tiny villages standing up for their right to feed their families
- Scientists discovering connections with soil that can help reduce global warming, including ways to generate electricity from soils and sediments
- Prison inmates who are finding inner peace and job skills in a prison horticulture program
- Children uncovering the secrets of soil fertility and eating from edible schoolyards
“This film is not about environmental disasters,” Benenson says. “It’s about environmental potential. There are a variety of solutions to the problems we face. There’s a lot of hope for the future, if we come back into balance with dirt.”
Photo courtesy of Dirt! The Movie
Read More:“Dirt! The Movie” Airs Tomorrow on PBS
April 18th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Thursday is Earth Day!
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a guidance designed to strengthen requirements for Appalachian mountaintop removal and other surface coal mining projects.
The agency’s stated goal is prevention of significant and irreversible damage to Appalachian watersheds at risk from mining activity.
It’s too little, too late. The practice of mountaintop removal to access eco-filthy coal must be banned altogether.
Waste & Water Quality
Even the EPA admits that a growing body of scientific literature shows significant damage to local streams that are polluted with runoff from mountaintop removal.
As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) notes:
“Just one mountaintop removal mine can lay bare up to 10 square miles and pour hundreds of millions of tons of waste material into as many as a dozen ‘valley fills’—some of which are 1,000 feet wide and a mile long.”
This waste can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It’s estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining.
Salt Levels Kill Fish
A new EPA report establishes a scientific benchmark for unacceptable levels of conductivity (a measure of water pollution from mining practices). The EPA says its new parameters are intended to protect 95% of aquatic life and freshwater streams in central Appalachia.
And the other 5% (assuming the EPA is even close to being right)?
Runoff from dumped mining materials raises salinity level, turning fresh water into salty water. When this happens, living organisms must struggle to survive.
As with any federal guidance, EPA will solicit public comments; however, the guidance will be effective immediately on an interim basis. EPA will decide whether to modify the guidance after consideration of public comments and further technical review.
How You Can Help
Please sign the NRDC’s petition, which asks Congress to pass the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696). It would end mountaintop-removal mining and prevent coal companies from dumping waste into streams.
The bill is also supported by the Sierra Club and Earthjustice—and, not surprisingly, opposed by the National Mining Association.
For Your Organic Bookshelf
Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future
Photo: nrdc_media | Creative Commons
Read More:EPA Guidance on Mining Endangers Environment