Wednesday, February 27, 2008

NY Electronics Recycling Program to be Vetoed by Mayor

Following up on the passage of a plastic bag recycling law in New York City on January 9th (to go into effect in July), the City Council passed an electronics recycling law on February 14th that would require manufacturers to set up recycling programs in the city.

Unfortunately, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vowed to veto it. And if the veto is over-ridden as expected, the mayor has vowed not to enforce it. “Look, nobody’s more in favor of recycling, and the reason that we focus on electronic equipment is there’s a lot of very heavy metal chemicals in electronic components that if you just put in a garbage dump they don’t just go away with time the way paper would and some of the other things that get thrown away. Organic materials go away. These really pollute and they pollute badly. The trouble with this law that the City Council passed is that you hold the manufacturers responsible for the public to recycle and the manufacturers can’t do that. They don’t sell directly to the public in many cases, they sell to wholesalers, and the wholesalers, you’re not holding them responsible, but also it’s the individual’s responsibility.”

The individual cannot shoulder this responsibility alone. The manufacturers are using these toxic metals in their products and they should be required to take them back. There should be a cost for making corporate decisions that harm the environment.

Meanwhile, for individuals who would like to recycle electronics in New York City, it is certainly not easy. The city has a take-back program (paid for by the taxpayers) that requires you to cart your electronics to a specific location on a specific day. If you are busy that day? Wait 2-6 months for the next one in your borough. If you have no car, like more than half of the city’s population? Carry it on the subway or the bus? That’s easy enough if you are young and strong and in good health.

New York City’s Wastele$$ website also advises individuals about manufacturers and retailers who already have take-back programs. According to the site, Most charge a processing fee, and some restrict the brands that they will accept.

I generally think the mayor has done a lot of good for the city and has been receptive to environmental issues, but I think he is way off base on this one.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lead by Example (or, "Go Green, Pt. 2")

I work in a large office building that has an equally large cafeteria. Recently, the management replaced the usual loose stacks of paper napkins with plastic dispensers that allow only one napkin to be removed at a time. On each dispenser are the prominent signs showed above.

Although that seems like a positive development, consider what surrounds the dispensers. Large bins of "disposable" plastic forks, spoons, and knives. Stacks of folded cardboard trays for carting your food (which the cafeteria will only give you on styrofoam plates, bowls, and cups.) Plastic straws wrapped in paper, paper salt/pepper packets, and plastic-lined foil packets for condiments. And underneath the countertop? Giant trash cans for throwing all this stuff away, along with any half-eaten food. Not a single recycling or composting bin.

Be a leader!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Poor Sea Turtle

This is a really sad image, but I felt that it was necessary to share it so that we can all be more vigilant about cutting apart plastic rings before throwing them away. Also, when you throw away a plastic bag, cut open the bottom so that if it gets swallowed by a sea creature, it will pass through them instead of blocking their intestines. You never know where your trash will end up.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Record-Setting Recall of Beef Follows Humane Society Video

In the wake of a video released by Humane Society investigators (reported here on February 8th), the USDA today recalled 143 million pounds of beef processed at the slaughterhouse shown in the tape. The recall will affect beef produced since February 1st, 2006 by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. of Chino, California. It covers the past two years of the plant's output. The previous record-holder for recalled meat products was a quarter of that amount (35 million pounds in 1999.)

The Humane Society videotape showed so-called "downer" cattle (cows too sick to walk or stand) at Westland/Hallmark being forced upright by electric prods and forklifts. Despite such practices, the beef from these cows was rendered and shipped from the plant without intervention from USDA inspectors. Approximately 25% of the meat was destined for the National School Lunch Program. Spokespersons for the USDA admitted that most of the beef recalled today has likely already been consumed.

In an audio briefing held today, the agency's Undersecretary for Food Safety, Dr. Dick Raymond, took exception with a Humane Society claim that USDA inspectors were at the Westland/Hallmark plant for only two hours a day. Raymond declared that inspectors were on-site at the facility "continuously" (read a transcript here.) He also stated that the animals videotaped by the Humane Society were ambulatory and appeared healthy when they passed the FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service) ante-mortem, or pre-slaughter, inspection. He claimed that the "downer" symptoms shown on the tape only appeared afterwards, as the FSIS-approved cows moved from inspection areas into the slaughter facility. (Raymond noted that the USDA's policy is that once cattle have passed FSIS inspection, it is the slaughterhouse's responsibility to notify them if any animals exhibit sick behavior.)

Despite questions this raises about the effectiveness of its' screening procedures, the USDA today also issued a Q&A press release that includes the following:

Q. Has USDA increased its inspection procedures at other facilities since these allegations?

A. No. FSIS believes this to be an isolated incident of egregious violations to humane handling requirements and the prohibition of non-ambulatory disabled cattle from entering the food supply.

It is worth noting that although the Westfield/Hallmark plant was shut down well over a week ago, both Hallmark and the USDA waited until today—Sunday, on a three-day holiday weekend—to announce the most massive beef recall in American history.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Polar Bear Land Leased for Oil and Gas Exploration

As reported here on January 10th, January 14th, and February 3rd the US Fish & Wildlife Service delayed its decision to list the polar bear as threatened until February 8th.

Reuters reported yesterday that The United States has missed its own postponed deadline to decide if polar bears need protection from climate change, and critics link the delay to an oil lease sale in a vast swath of the bear's icy habitat.

"When it comes to the survival of the polar bear, the Bush administration is putting the 'dead' back into 'deadline,"' said Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who heads a House of Representatives panel on climate change...

The Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service was required by statute to decide by January 9 whether the polar bear should be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but three days before that, the agency's chief told reporters the deadline would be pushed back 30 days. The second deadline passed on February 8 with no decision.

On February 6, the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service sold oil and gas rights across some 29.7 million acres in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast for a record $2.66 billion -- about four times what the government expected to get.

Goodbye, polar bears.

Read more.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Turn a Shower Caddy into a Birdfeeder

Future Earth friend Cary had a creative idea for reusing an old shower caddy. She filled it with birdseed and stuck it on the outside of her window. This is a particularly great idea for apartment dwellers without a yard of their own. It also prevents window collisions by alerting the birds that there is a surface there.

Cary says I bought the plastic shower caddy at Target for the shower. The suction cups were large, but they overlapped the grout lines around the tiles. Of the four cups only two held suction at a time, because of the overlap. The shower caddy was thrown into the closet until i had a brainstorm- attach it to the window for the birds! The plastic dish holds a large quantity of brid seed. There is plenty of room for the smaller birds to sit in the food and the lip around the edge is also a nice place for them to sit. The four suction cups provide adequate strength to support bluejays and cardinals (at our old apartment) and doves (our current apartment). The birds do not mind that there is no cover and rain is not a problem since the water runs out of the holes in the botttom.

Last year the excess birdseed fell to the ground below our first floor window creating a nice sunflower garden. This year the feeder is located over a porch so there is a little more cleanup involved and there will be no sunflowers. Some seed does get trapped around the suction cups, but it is easy to clean. In the past I have not had much of problem with seed sticking to the window, but right now i am using a song bird mix that is very sticky and it makes clean up much harder.

The Audobon Society website says Bird feeding can benefit birds and also provides great bird watching from your own backyard. The obvious time to feed birds is in winter when natural food supplies are scarce; however, additional species visit feeders during the spring and fall migrations, and also during summer while nesting.

To keep birds coming back to your feeders in any season provide them with the following three essential elements:

* Variety of quality seed.
* Fresh water for drinking and bathing.
* Ample cover, preferably provided by native plants. Native plants also provide potential nesting sites and a source of natural food.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Geoengineering Global Warming Away

I invite you to look at this interesting article on The National Geographic website. They explain in simple terms some of the global-scale projects that scientists are considering to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. While fascinating, some of these ideas could potentially have massive unintended consequences. What do you think? Should carbon dioxide be reduced at any cost? Is it impossible to simply get humans to reduce their output?

I hope to take a more in-depth look at some of these ideas soon.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Save Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty from Oil Drilling Damage

As much as I am concerned with preserving the environment for the future, my real job is as a conservator of art. So, in that capacity, I bring to your attention the threat to one of the world's most famous earthworks, pictured above. The Dia Art Foundation has sent out the following press release:

Robert Smithson's monumental earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) is located on the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Using black basalt rocks and earth from thesite, the artist created a coil 1500 feet long and 15 feet wide that stretches out counterclockwise into the translucent red water. Spiral Jetty was acquired by Dia Art Foundation as a gift from the Estate of the artist in 1999.

The expansive natural setting of the Great Salt Lake and its environs is integral to the artwork and provides an essential frame for experiencing Smithson's project. Visitors come from around the world to Rozel Point in Box Elder County to see the Spiral Jetty which was conceived in relation to the specific geology and topology of its unique site. The fragile balance of earth, salt lake, and local flora and fauna, symbolized in the form and structure of the artwork, must be maintained to preserve the experience of the Spiral Jetty in this unique landscape.

How is it threatened?

Spiral Jetty is threatened by a permit application to allow oil drilling nearby in the Great Salt Lake. Drilling activity would disrupt the Jetty's viewshed and the area's silent and isolated character, and would degrade the natural environment of the lake. Moreover, construction and operation will introduce toxins and chemicals to the delicate saline water, potentially
deteriorating the sculpture's immediate environment and threatening the physical integrity of Smithson's extraordinary artwork. In addition, drilling activity could lead to increased traffic and heavy transport on the rural road that leads to the Spiral Jetty through Golden Spike National Monument, as well as the potential for noise pollution from drilling and operations.

How can you help?

Write letters to Utah's Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office explaining the national and international significance of the Spiral Jetty, and urging them to deny filing #8853, and any future filings that similarly constitute a threat to the artwork and the surrounding environment. Please note, letters must be sent by February 13th and should reference application number #

This link has a sample letter to get you started.

Thanks, Nina, for the heads-up on this!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Secret Filming by the Humane Society Leads to Shutdown of LA Slaughterhouse

The United States has numerous state and federal laws that prohibit the slaughter of 'downed' animals for human consumption. This is to prevent both the spread of disease, especially mad cow disease. The term 'downer' refers to any animal too weak to stand on its own. The USDA has regular inspections of the nation's slaughterhouses to prevent this, but an undercover agent for the Humane Society who worked at a slaughterhouse called Hallmark Meat Packing was able to film how they got around the regulations. The video (which can be seen here along with other very graphic Humane Society videos) recorded several horrific scenes of employees using inhumane devices such as electric shocks and forklifts to get the cattle to stand long enough to pass inspection.

According to the LA Times, the anonymous agent said federal inspectors were lax in conducting the screening for non-ambulatory cattle. The screening requires that cows walk from one pen to the next and back to prove that they are not sick or immobile. "It would take two or three of us to get the cow to stand in front of the inspector, on wobbly legs, and he would say 'That's fine,' " said the activist, who said such incidents happened about once a week during his six weeks at the plant...

The activist said another pitfall in the system was the handling of cattle that collapsed after the pre-slaughter inspection. According to the final ruling on downer cows issued last year by the inspection service, slaughterhouse employees are obligated to notify the inspector for a reevaluation if cattle become unable to stand or walk after inspection.

"When you read these rules and apply it to the practical workings of these plants, they're just absolutely not going to do that," the activist said.

A week after the Humane Society posted the video on its site and news organizations such as the Washington Post reported on it, the USDA ordered inspections to stop at the plant, effectively shutting it down. The slaughterhouse had been providing meat to the school lunch program.

The Washington Post article explains One reason that regulations call for keeping downers -- cows that cannot stand up -- out of the food supply is that they may harbor bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It is caused by a virus-like infectious particle that can cause a fatal brain disease in people.

Another is because such animals have, in many cases, been wallowing in feces, posing added risks of E. coli and salmonella contamination.

The Humane Society and other groups have for years urged Congress to pass legislation that would tighten oversight at slaughterhouses...

Mad cow disease is extremely rare in the United States, but of the 15 cases documented in North America -- most of them in Canada -- the vast majority have been traced to downer cattle. When the United States had its first case a few years ago, 44 nations closed their borders to U.S. beef...costing the nation billions of dollars.

Further reading about mad cow disease:
The New York Times
Organic Consumers Association

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Presidential Candidates and the Environment

You may have noticed that The Future Earth has not endorsed any presidential candidates. It's great that the movie An Inconvenient Truth has gotten all of the candidates to talk about global warming and to pledge some modest proposals for lowering greenhouse gas emissions, but none of them has proposed anything close to what scientists say will be necessary to prevent irreversible changes in the world's climate.

Further, climate change ranks only third in my opinion of the serious environmental threats we face. Number one is chemical pollution (this includes plastics, a favorite topic on The Future Earth). Number two is loss of biodiversity around the world. These other two issues need an 'Al Gore' to bring more public awareness to them.

Due to the Republican fanaticism about deregulation, any Democrat is a better choice from an environmental standpoint, however none of the democratic candidates has spoken seriously about environmental issues. It seems that so far, they feel it is not important enough to the public. As unfortunate as the pet food adulterations and the toxic toy scandals were this year, they are the kinds of news stories we need to bring this to the forefront.

"I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise, what is there to defend?" - Robert Redford

Monday, February 4, 2008

Go Green

Future Earth friend Dani spotted this on a subway journey. In her words:

This is a picture I took on the subway of an exterminator’s equipment—he has been ordered by management to “go green” (I asked him) and that is why part of the tank that holds the poison is in the “earthwise” green bag. He declined my request to put him in the photo.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Attack on Alaskan Wilderness Continues

As reported here on January 10th and January 14th, the US Fish & Wildlife Service has delayed listing the polar bear as threatened so that they can open 29 million acres of the Chukchi Sea, an important part of their habitat, to oil drilling. The New York Times reported on Friday that

A coalition of environmental organizations and Inupiaq native groups filed suit in federal court in Anchorage on Thursday to force the Interior Department to do a new analysis of the environmental consequences of oil and gas exploration in the Chukchi Sea, off northwestern Alaska.

The plaintiffs hope to stop plans to develop 29 million acres, which they argue could harm the endangered bowhead whale, a staple of subsistence hunting, and the polar bear, which is under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The current environmental assessment, the suit says, fails to adequately analyze the impact of the lease sale in the context of a warming climate. The assessment also “understates the potential impacts of oil and gas development,” including the risks of an oil spill, the suit says...

The sale of leases in the Chukchi Sea is scheduled to take place next week. While the lawsuit does not seek to block the sale, should the judge agree with the environmental and native groups that the original environmental assessment was flawed, any leases might be voided...An earlier sale of oil and gas leases in the Beaufort Sea, to the east of the Chukchi lease area, ended with Royal Dutch Shell winning the right to exploit the vast reserves believed to lie in that area.

However, a different coalition of native and environmental groups sued to overturn the Interior Department’s decision to approve Shell’s three-year exploration and drilling program. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, has enjoined further activity by Shell pending the resolution of that lawsuit.

Additionally, representative Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts and Jim Ramstad (R) of Minnesota introduced a January 17th bill (HR 39, or the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act) to block the sale. Contact your congressional representative and ask them to support the bill.

Meanwhile, on January 25th, the US Forest Service opened 90,000 more acres of Alaska's Tongass National Forest to logging. This is in violation of the 'Roadless Rule,' a policy instated in January 2001 under the Clinton administration. According to the National Resources Defense Council: The plan was adopted after a two-year process that included more than 600 public meetings...Support for the forest-protection plan has poured in from scientists, religious leaders and newspapers across the country, and polling has shown strong support among outdoor-recreation enthusiasts -- according to one survey, 86 percent of anglers and 83 percent of hunters back the plan.

Since taking office in 2001, the Bush Administration has been using the courts to overturn or undermine the law. (see chronology) The National Resources Defense Council websitestates that many former industry lobbyists and executives now hold key positions in the Bush administration.

The World Wildlife Fund explains:By the time the roadless rule was adopted, the Forest Service was facing an $8.4 billion backlog for road maintenance. The rule, as originally written, allows for efficient reconstruction and maintenance of Forest Service roads; construction of new roads necessary for national forest system resource management; and future construction, restoration, and maintenance of roads with minimal long-term adverse environmental impacts...As the battle over the Roadless Rule is fought in the courts, the Bush administration continues efforts to undermine it. In mid-2001 the administration reopened the rule to public comment, a move which ironically brought the total number of comments in its favor to 2 million. Administration officials have even failed to defend the Roadless Rule against nine lawsuits filed by logging companies in an effort to undermine it.

On December 14, 2001 the chief of the Forest Service issued a series of directives that further undermined the rule by eliminating requirements that there must be a compelling need to build roads in roadless areas and the requirement that an environmental impact statement be prepared prior to building roads in roadless areas.

In September 2006, Judge Elizabeth LaPorte of the U.S. District Court of Northern California ruled that the Administration violated both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act when it illegally repealed the Roadless Rule and ordered the Bush administration to reinstate it.

The Environment News Service reports that But the long term status of the roadless areas in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska was not settled by Judge Laporte. In 2003, the Bush administration exempted the Tongass from the roadless rule by creating a separate amendment that was based on the validity of the Tongass Land Management Plan...The land management plan released [on January 25th] was ordered more than two years ago by a federal court which concluded that the old plan justifying opening Tongass wildlands for development was invalid due to several factors, including a gross overestimation of demand for Tongass logs...

"The new plan suffers from the same central problem as the old plan. It leaves 2.4 million acres of wild, roadless backcountry areas open to clear cutting and new logging roads," said Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo. "The Tongass is worth a whole lot more to the American people as a standing forest than it is as a sea of stumps and logs."

...According to Trish Rolfe of the Alaska Sierra Club; "The Tongass is the crown jewel of our nation's roadless wildlands. Wild salmon, bears, eagles, and wolves thrive there among moss-draped ancient trees, along crystalline fjords and untamed rivers. It has nine million acres of roadless areas that lack permanent protection. The Bush administration has just put some of the best of them on the chopping block."

The thing that I find the most bizarre is that American taxpayers will pay for the roads that will be built to get the equipment in and the timber out, many of which will be off-limits to the public. The Massachusetts Republican says Call it the Tongass Chainsaw Massacre, starring the American taxpayer as the sap...Aside from the environmental damage done to the national forest, the largest old-growth temperate rainforest in the world, the Forest Service estimates that each mile of new road will cost between $160,000 and $500,000. In a time of war and deficit, is this how we should be spending our money? To make immediate profit for a small group of people by destroying resources we won't have available to us in the future?

On June 27, 2007, the House of Representatives passed the Chabot-Andrews amendment, which would have been added to the appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior and related agencies for fiscal year 2008 (Section 503 of H.R. 2463). The amendment would have forbid the use of taxpayer funds to build logging roads in the Tongass. It was not included in the Senate’s companion legislation (S. 1696), however, as described here. FYI: Alaska Senator Ted Stevens (R) is on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Key to Real Change: Peer Pressure

By Dirt, special correspondent to The Future Earth

According to an article in today's New York Times, plastic shopping bags have virtually disappeared from Ireland. How? In 2002, Ireland instituted a tax on plastic bags, along with a public-awareness campaign. The results were astounding. Virtually overnight, plastic bag use declined 94%—and now the vast majority of Irish carry cloth bags for shopping.

Was it the tax? Was it the information campaign? Those certainly helped; but the Irish believe the biggest motivator was... good old-fashioned peer pressure. It quickly became socially unacceptable to use plastic bags. More than anything else, glares of disapproval prodded many stick-in-the-muds to sheepishly purchase reusable cloth bags and learn to spurn the plastic.

While it's inspiring to see how people can influence one another to change for the better, it's worthwhile to look at what made that possible in Ireland. Their "plas tax" is now approximately 33 cents U.S. That's a substantial amount—but Ireland has no native plastic bag industry, which meant the government faced far less opposition when proposing the tax. Protests did come from Irish retailers; but some have changed their tune after the success of the government's effort (some, such as the Superquinn supermarket chain, now claim to be great supporters of the idea.)

Ireland's stunning achievement clearly rests on two related factors: 1) A determined government agency, promoting an innovative and effective policy (while successfully countering big-business opposition); followed by 2) the power of societal pressure, as the citizens influence one another to make positive changes. Could this model work in the United States, one of the world's largest plastics consumers? It's not difficult to imagine Americans responding to peer pressure (for example, advertising has exploited Americans' fear of negative public image for many decades.) What seems far more difficult is creating the catalyst for such social change. It has been quite some time since the United States government acted as a leader in that regard.