March 2nd, 2013 - Jill Ettinger
Putting aside the moral debate about whether or not there really is such a thing as “humane” meat (or eggs or dairy products), there are other issues equally as confounding at the forefront of the discussion about whether or not to eat meat, namely the impact on the environment.
Read More:Vegetarian Diet Decreases Environmental Impact By At Least 30 Percent
February 21st, 2013 - Jill Ettinger
Scientists from the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) are urging citizens of the richest nations on earth to reduce meat intake by half, in order to thwart any further damage to the environment.
Read More:“Eat Half as Much Meat”, New UN Report Says to World’s Richest Nations
October 20th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Much has been written about cows’ role in producing greenhouse gas emissions. (Think burps and farts.)
A 2006 United Nations report stated that livestock were responsible for 18% of these emissions. To be fair, this statistic also included land use and degradation, deforestation, pesticide use and water pollution. Cow flatulence, however, continues to incur blame (not to mention really dorky jokes).
Fear not, bovine lovers: Researchers at the University of Arkansas and Michigan Technological University have found that the dairy industry is responsible for only about 2% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Using 2007 and 2008 data from more than 500 dairy farms and 50 dairy processors, as well as data from more than 210,000 round trips transporting milk from farm to processing plant, Arkansas researchers examined the trail of carbon emissions—from dairy farms to the milk in your coffee. They concluded that total greenhouse gas emissions associated with the fluid milk Americans consume were lower than previously reported.
Read More:Dairy Cows Produce Fewer Greenhouse Gas Emissions Than Previously Reported
June 14th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
My environmental hero of the week is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who actually cares about the ramifications of climate change and the quality of the air we breathe.
Before the June 10 defeat of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to enforce the Clean Air Act, Leahy employed an apt “punt, pass and kick” football analogy to chastise the “drill, baby, drill” crowd.
Murkowski’s resolution, he explained, “would punt away constructive action to begin addressing the many threats that each and every American faces from climate change, and the threats we face every day to our national security. It would pass on the opportunities to foster cleaner air and water for us, and for the generations that will follow us. And it would kick away the progress already negotiated by the Obama administration and key industries, such as our automobile and truck manufacturers, to usher in new products that would pollute less while creating good American jobs—jobs that cannot be sent overseas.
“Many on the other side of the aisle have been adamant in trying to wish these problems away and to forfeit the economic opportunities at our fingertips to lead the world in these new energy technologies,” Leahy added. “Powerful corporate interests are more than glad to contribute to these efforts to stalemate any progress.”
Passage of Murkowski’s resolution would have signaled that we’re “content to keep relying on the outdated, dirty and inefficient energy technologies of the past, and to let every other industrialized nation leap in front of us in developing and selling these new technologies,” Leahy said.
There’s no doubt that greenhouse gases are a “clear and present health and economic threat to the American people,” he added, noting that Murkowski’s resolution would give Congress permission to “undermine America’s ability to clean our air and our waters.”
Leahy wants the EPA to remain focused on protecting the American people, “whether it is arsenic in our drinking water, smog in the air, mercury in the fish we eat or greenhouse gases.”
He’s also calling on Congress to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation.
Read More:Vermont Senator Stands Up to Anti-Environmentalists
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 7th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Cars, sport utility vehicles, minivans, pickup trucks used for personal transportation and passenger vehicles emit about 60% of all mobile-source greenhouse gases—the nation’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
That’s why EDF President Fred Krupp believes the new standards for vehicle emissions and fuel economy offer a “trifecta” of benefits:
- Less dependence on Middle Eastern oil
- Less pollution
- More savings at the gas pump
“Cleaner cars will deliver immediate results as the Senate finishes work on bipartisan climate and energy legislation,” he says.
What the Future Holds
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expect automobile manufacturers to meet the new standards by more widespread adoption of conventional technologies already in commercial use, such as more efficient engines, transmissions, tires, aerodynamics and materials, as well as improvements in air-conditioning systems.
And while the standards can be met with such technologies, EPA and NHTSA also predict some manufacturers will pursue more advanced fuel-saving technologies, including hybrid vehicles, clean diesel engines, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles.
“These historic new standards set ambitious, but achievable, fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies,” confirms Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air.”
The Automakers’ Perspective
Even the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) seems to approve.
“We have long supported a single, national program that provides clear guidance for AIAM members to meet these important program goals, and these regulations harmonize the efforts of EPA and the Department of Transportation to do just that,” says Michael J. Stanton, the organization’s president and CEO.
Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, agrees.
“America needs a roadmap to reduced dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gases, and only the federal government can play this role,” he says.
“A year ago, the auto industry faced a regulatory maze resulting from multiple sets of inconsistent fuel economy/greenhouse gas standards,” he adds. “NHTSA was promulgating new fuel economy standards required by Congress under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, while EPA was preparing greenhouse gas standards under the Clean Air Act.
“Meanwhile, California and 13 other states were planning their own state-specific greenhouse gas standards. When our engineers struggle with changing or conflicting laws, it derails efforts to introduce new technologies with long-term research and development timeframes. The national program announced [Thursday] makes sense for consumers, for government policymakers and for automakers.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability
Read More:Even Automakers Approve of New Standards
April 4th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Following a major directive from the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Thursday established historic new rules that set the nation’s first national greenhouse gas emissions standards.
The standards will significantly increase the fuel economy of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States. The rules could potentially save the average buyer of a 2016 model-year car $3,000 over the life of the vehicle and, nationally, will conserve about 1.8 billion barrels of oil.
The new program will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 960 million metric tons over the lifetime of the vehicles regulated, equivalent to taking 50 million cars and light trucks off the road in 2030.
“This is a significant step toward cleaner air and energy efficiency, and an important example of how our economic and environmental priorities go hand in hand,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “By working together with industry and capitalizing on our capacity for innovation, we’ve developed a clean cars program that is a win for automakers and drivers, a win for innovators and entrepreneurs, and a win for our planet.”
Starting with 2012 models, the rules require automakers to improve fleet-wide fuel economy and reduce fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 5% a year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established fuel economy standards that strengthen each year, reaching an estimated 34.1 mpg for the combined industry-wide fleet for model-year 2016.
Because credits for air-conditioning improvements can be used to meet EPA standards (but not NHTSA’s standards) , the EPA standards require that 2016 models must achieve a combined average vehicle emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. This is equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon if all reductions came from fuel economy improvements—a 10-mpg increase over current standards.
“These are the first national standards ever to address climate change,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy. “Over the coming years, America will witness an amazing leap forward in vehicle technologies, delivering fuel efficiency that will save us money and protect the environment.”
Read More:New Rules: Fuel Economy, Vehicle Emissions
January 31st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
A farmer may have more than 1,000 cows on his land, which create a steady stream of revenue—and manure.
In fact, a dairy cow typically produces 150 pounds of manure per day. Multiply this by scores of cattle, and you get a large—and odoriferous—waste situation.
Concerned about groundwater contamination and fecal-borne disease, farmers are continually on the lookout for ways to ensure safety and make cleanup easier.
One approach involves methane digesters, which operate on an old technology and handle cleanup effectively. As an added bonus, they produce electric energy.
By definition, a methane digester is a wastewater and solids treatment technology, according to Sustainable Conservation, a San Francisco-based environmental advocacy organization. When used on a farm, a digester processes animal waste under anaerobic conditions, yielding methane gas and reducing the volume of solids and treated liquids. The methane can be sold or used to generate electricity on the farm. The solid matter left behind is a valuable soil amendment. And the liquids become an easily applied fertilizer, with plant-available nutrients and low pathogen levels.
Typically, large farms will store liquid and solid manure produced by livestock in large waste ponds. The manure is later pumped back onto fields as a source of fertilizer.
But this type of storage scenario poses a host of problems, including strong odors, pathogens in the manure, and flooding of ponds and land when heavy rains or storms occur (allowing manure to reach local water sources). A methane digester provides a workaround solution, and harnessing the methane—a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide—benefits the environment.
To offset costs, the U.S. government has started giving subsidies to farmers who wish to install methane digesters. Some, however, believe digesters may not be the best solution for small farms. Other communities fight large-scale digester installation because of their industrial appearance and added traffic from waste haulers.
Nonetheless, many environmentalists say the positives outweigh the negatives.
- Organic Dairy Powered by Methane Digester (Straus Family Creamery)
- Manure Power: Dairies Harness Methane to Create Renewable Energy (Checkbiotech)
- Idaho Energy Czar Aims to Harness Cow Pie Power (Associated Press)
- A Refreshing Idea for Barnyard Odor (Boston Globe)
- A German Town Embraces Manure Energy (Fast Company)
- Introduction to Methane Digesters (Oregon Department of Agriculture)
- Energy Savers: Anaerobic Digesters for Farms and Ranches (U.S. Department of Energy)
- Anaerobic Digestion of Animal Wastes: Factors to Consider (National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service)
Read More:A Possible Solution to the Methane Menace
December 11th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
Several groups are lauding Monday’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, which officially concluded that human activity causes greenhouse gases that threaten our health and welfare.
Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international coalition of more than 430 organizations in 52 countries, has long maintained that the impacts of climate change would be devastating to the health of world populations through increased famine, heat waves, disruption of the ocean food supply, flooding, disease encroachment, drought, population displacement, war and chronic illness from air pollution.
“As an organization, our goal is to protect public health through reduction of pollution and environmental factors contributing to illness,” say Executive Director Anna Gilmore Hall, RN. “We welcome the EPA statement as a powerful commitment of support to our climate change reduction efforts.”
“With this announcement, the EPA is taking an important step forward,” adds Josh Karliner, the HCWH’s international coordinator. “It is now up to the President to follow through by negotiating a strong and fair agreement in Copenhagen that leads to a binding accord to protect public health from climate change.”
HCWH has placed an advertisement in the New York Times to draw attention to the public health aspects of climate change, and the group has also helped launch an online Prescription for a Healthy Planet initiative. For more information on HCWH’s climate change program, click here.
The National Wildlife Association also hails the EPA decision.
“This action clears the way for serious measures to reduce the pollution that is accelerating global warming, and the timing couldn’t be better,” says Joe Mendelson, the organization’s global warming policy director. “The Obama administration’s action enforces the Clean Air Act and strengthens the President’s hand for the upcoming talks to forge a global deal to fight climate change.
“The announcement follows the recent diplomatic breakthrough with China and India, who both announced their willingness to take action to control pollution if the world acts. For the first time ever, the leaders of the world will gather with offers to act from China and the United States, the world’s two biggest emitters. I am optimistic that the talks will yield a workable plan to protect our children’s future.”
Read More:Groups Praise EPA Report on Greenhouse Gases
December 9th, 2009 - Barbara Feiner
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed Monday what most of us have suspected for quite some time: “science overwhelmingly shows greenhouse gas concentrations at unprecedented levels due to human activity.”
The report, delivered by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, proves that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten Americans’ health and welfare, and emissions from on-road vehicles contribute to this threat.
Greenhouse gases are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that:
- Threaten the health of the sick, poor and elderly
- Increase ground-level ozone pollution that’s linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses
- Pose other threats to Americans’ health and welfare
“These long-overdue findings cement 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform,” Jackson says. “Business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the United States Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse-gas pollution that is causing climate change. This continues our work toward clean-energy reform that will cut GHGs and reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy.”
EPA’s final findings respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that GHGs fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. The findings do not, in and of themselves, impose any emission reduction requirements, but they allow the EPA to finalize the GHG standards proposed earlier this year for new light-duty vehicles, as part of a joint rulemaking with the Department of Transportation.
On-road vehicles contribute more than 23% of total U.S. GHG emissions. EPA’s proposed GHG standards for light-duty vehicles (a subset of on-road vehicles) would reduce GHG emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of model year 2012–2016 vehicles.
EPA’s endangerment finding covers emissions of six key greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride—that have been the subject of scrutiny and intense analysis for decades by U.S. and international scientists.
Scientific consensus shows that as a result of human activities, GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are at record-high levels, and data show the Earth has been warming over the past 100 years, with the steepest increase in warming in recent decades. The evidence of human-induced climate change goes beyond observed increases in average surface temperatures; it includes melting ice in the Arctic, melting glaciers around the world, increasing ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans due to excess carbon dioxide, changing precipitation patterns and changing patterns of ecosystems and wildlife.
Jackson and President Obama have publicly stated that they support a legislative solution to the problem of climate change and Congress’ efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation. However, climate change is threatening public health and welfare, and it is critical that EPA fulfill its obligation to respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
EPA issued the proposed findings in April and held a 60-day public comment period. The agency received more than 380,000 comments, which were carefully reviewed and considered during the development of its final findings.
Read More:EPA Reaffirms Human Role in Climate Change