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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Snowden is missing.  The IRS scandal is ongoing. SCOTUS struck down DOMA and punted on affirmative action. A Texas filibuster over a proposed abortion bill was picked up by a historic crowd at the state capitol who effectively blocked the legislation through sheer willpower. A red panda went missing from the National Zoo. DC United won a game. It’s been a hell of a week, and it’s only Wednesday.

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I feel ya, buddy.

In the middle of it all, President Obama delivered the policy speech that environmentalists have been waiting for since the day he took office: the one on climate change. The President’s agenda outlined broad goals for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, respond to the ongoing impacts of climate change, and finally, lead the international community in all of those areas, too. The official White House fact sheet is available here. But what about the details?

Coal, more than any other industry, took it on the chin in this one – not surprising given just how much pollution is generated by coal-fired power plants.  The plan directs EPA to move forward with regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants by June 2014.  The plan also included expanded effort to fund renewable energy and use public lands for renewable energy sources, efficiency initiatives, and reforestation measures.

The plan was met with mixed reactions.  Commentators were quick to judge the measures as a scaled-back version of the lofty goals that Obama set at the outset of his Presidency, and not surprisingly, many Republicans continued the drumbeat of erroneously pitting environmental initiatives against economic goals. (Side note: when will they give up, and realize the renewable energy can also create jobs? Sigh.)  Coal stocks responded by plummeting.  Many environmental groups, including Sierra Club and 350.org applauded the measures as the long-awaited concrete action to back up the President’s constant promises to tackle climate change.  Former Vice President and environmental advocate Al Gore called the speech “terrific and historic,” responding optimistically to the steps proposed in the President’s plan as well as his willingness to finally move forward on a longstanding issue.  The mention of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline caught many by surprise, as did the President’s comments that the pipeline will not go forward if it is found to increase GHG emissions.  That of course, is a finding that in reality is stupid – of course expanded tar sands development, and continuing to enable fossil fuel exports, will increase emissions and accelerate climate change.  But, the “official” outcome could go either way depending on how groups calculate the emissions and how directly they tie the impacts to the pipeline itself.  You know the saying- lies, damned lies, and impact assessments.  Another surprising feature was the mention of fossil fuel subsidies, which was included in the President’s international goals, but not within his steps to curb emissions in the US.  (Honestly, I don’t know why nobody listens to me on this one.  Cut fossil fuel subsidies, cut federal spending, and cut emissions by forcing people to think about how much and how often they drive and make better choices. Oh well.)

Overall, while the actions were not as bold as some groups hoped, the result of the speech was a net positive – an acknowledgement that climate change is real, here, and happening, and a specific plan for moving forward.  Let’s hope that the follow-through is real.

A summary of the main points of the plan is available through Grist.org right here. A full transcript of the President’s speech is available here. As for Team Spinach, a detailed analysis of the plan by our resident climate expert, El Nino, will follow soon.

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Hi all!

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I think everyone was busy last week worrying the NSA is judging them for not calling their grandmother more often.  I know I was.  Which is why it took me a bit to get this post up, and also why so many fascinating things happened in the energy and climate world that I had to talk about them all in one post.

First of all, our least favorite pipeline that doesn’t even exist yet is back in the news.  The Sierra Club has quietly taken the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline over to the judicial branch.  The litigious environmental nonprofit (for those of you who don’t know, Sierra Club has acted as plaintiff for some of the nation’s most pivotal and groundbreaking environmental lawsuits – it’s one of their specialties as an organization) filed suit against the State Department last week regarding the sketchy-as-all-hell (from what I’ve read) environmental impact statement that the agency issued about the pipeline.  The impact statement – which suggests the pipeline will have no negative impacts – was prepared by a third-party contractor that has an active membership in the American Petroleum Institute, which Sierra Club and other environmental groups widely regard as evidence of a conflict of interest.  Perhaps more critically, the State Department did not respond to requests to produce documentation proving that the department screened for such a conflict of interest.  The lawsuit is seeking access to those documents and extension of the public comment period for the agency to finalize the determination so that the documents can be considered.  In the continued debate, Al Gore weighted in on the pipeline in a recent interview, stating that the project was ‘an atrocity.’  

Meanwhile, climate change is happening, you guys.  A five year study by FEMA that was just released has predicted a 45% increase in flooding in the United States during the coming decades – as a result of climate change.  (Except in North Carolina, of course, where flooding and climate change is illegal.  I suppose all the hurricanes will have to stick to Florida and South Carolina this year?) FEMA, which manages disaster relief, is expecting to have to insure 80% more properties, with a 90% increase in the average cost of a claim when filed.  But, this is all totally worth it, because it was definitely too expensive for us to regulate carbon through a cap-and-trade or tax system, and it was also definitely too expensive to make some of those fossil fuel companies maybe pay a little instead of collecting government subsidies.  What? Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit?

Fine. I’ll end on a good note.  Behold, Robert Redford for NRDC:

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Still better looking than you.

Redford, an environmental activist and partner to National Resources Defense Council, has put together a series of short ads calling for action on climate change and clean energy initiatives.  You should watch them.  Because it’s Robert Redford.  And, he’s got something really important to say.  And then you should send them to everyone you know.

That’s all for now folks.  I’ll be back next week, and maybe I’ll be less cranky.

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We haven’t talked much about Keystone XL here at Spinach HQ for a while now, mostly becauase the news on that front continues to be more of the same – and more depressing.  Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether or not the general public (those of you outside the environmental field, that is) are sick of hearing about Keystone or not.  False claims and an incredibly convoluted regulatory and political process regarding approval of the environmental impact determination as well as the pipeline itself have slowly muddied the waters better than an oil spill.  I’ll be honest, even I’ve had a hard time keeping track of the timeline and the number of times the pipeline has been resurrected and then killed.

Which is why I was somewhat surprised (but excited!) to wander into the Foggy Bottom Metro stop in D.C. on Tuesday and be greeted by something that looked like this:

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I couldn’t capture the whole ad in my camera phone (especially while trying not to look like some creeper taking a picture of the metro floor during rush hour….) but activist group SumOfUs.org is continuing to fight the good fight not just against Keystone XL, but against the expanded Tar Sands extraction that would come with it.

The ads direct you to the SumOfUs anti-tar-sands site, where they have already collected more than 17,000 of their goal level of 20,000 signatures for a petition to President Obama regarding the pipeline and expanded tar sands extraction.  Rather than solely attacking Keystone XL, the group is focusing on the impacts of the recent ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill in Arkansas.  Exxon’s response to the spill has been heavily criticized, with many community members voicing their doubts that the spill is contained or that Exxon is truly doing their part to take responsibility for the spill, contain it, and mitigate damages.

While the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to be decided by politics and not environmental impacts, the statement made by SumOfUs here is clear – and is taking the debate one step farther.  Instead of focusing on the impacts of the pipeline alone, the group is working to inform regarding some of the inherent risks (both environmental and economic) to expanded tar sands oil use as an energy source.  I’m happy to see these ads placed front and center in several key metro stations – maybe it’s a chance to finally have some dialogue about the real issue here, which is the overall direction of our energy future, and not one single pipeline.

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To our Spinach readers and web searchers – Happy Earth Day!  This month is my one-year anniversary with the Spinach blog and I will say it has been a happy one-year relationship.

Here is my Top 10 List of things you should do this Earth Day:

  1. Take your trash out and dump it in the closest park near your home
  2. Go for a very long drive, in a Land Rover
  3. Pour some hazardous chemicals in your street drain
  4. Cut down one tree for every year of your age
  5. Start a bonfire with random materials like Styrofoam, asbestos and tires
  6. Throw some grocery store plastic bags in the ocean or river near your house
  7. Make sure your house is being supplied by oil or coal power ONLY
  8.  Spray extra untested pesticides on your fruit and vegetables
  9. Sit idle all day, don’t even move to refill your soda, keep the soda bottle at your feet
  10. Put your newspapers , junk mail, and cardboard boxes in your regular trash; actually put those in the bonfire, see #5

I hope those gave you a laugh.  Continue to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors, use public transportation, and only use the energy you really need – you’ll find it will save you money and it will be better for your health! Have a great day!

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I am going to keep this one short.

Last week, we voted for 4 more years of Barack Obama to move this country FORWARD. I love this diagram of how the top and bottom  educated states  in the nation voted. Check it out here.

This next tool just might be my favorite.  Thank you Sierra Club.

Ever been stuck in that awkward holiday family discussion of how to deal with issues of the environment and public health?

I certainly have (and I know Pam has been there too).  This diagram sets up all the scenarios, from your crazy right wing Uncle Dave to grandma who’s kind of with it, to your cousin who doesn’t want to vote, to your sibling who just needs a refresher.

Oops, I just gave you a glimpse of my family.

Enjoy it here.

Cheers,

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As I’ve mentioned before, under the mental sub-heading “confessions of a quasi-hippie,” I”m not always perfect when it comes to spending my money on the greenest products.  I try, but somehow those non-organic vegetables and conventional skin care products keep cropping up in my apartment.  Why?

It usually comes down to this dilemma: have you ever been out shopping, buying something that should be simple, and suddenly found yourself really, unnecessarily overwhelmed by the number of choices?  Sometimes, crunchy brands are prohibitively expensive, or even if they’re not, it’s hard to justify spending two or three times the amount you would for a conventional brand without knowing exactly why.  On top of it, there’s greenwashing.  It can be tricky to know what products are worth the extra cash when so many are labeled “green” or “natural” without any evidence to substantiate the claim.  Unless you’re going to go through the effort to research a brand in detail, it’s pretty hard to know which products have a rap sheet that you’d want to avoid and which to buy into.  What’s a hippie to do?

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This time, “Make love not war” isn’t the right answer. Try again!

Turns out, there’s a team who already realized this problem existed — came up with a solution.  In one of my earliest posts here at Spinach, I blogged about the Transparency Toolbar that I read about on The Lazy Environmentalist blog.  It’s a nifty toolbar that you can install which guides your internet shopping, ranking products on a scale of 0 – 10 in three categories: health, society, and environment.  You can also screen products based on your own core values: for example, whether or not a product is vegan, or if a company engages in animal testing.

I discovered today that it actually gets better.  The Transparency Toolbar is actually one of a line of products (including their website and and mobile app) developed by GoodGuide.  They use the same system to rate brands as a whole online, which you can read about on their website.  In addition, their mobile app allows you to scan the bar code of an item and see the ratings for that specific product. The methodology is explained online, so you can learn about the system and what they’re using for scoring.

As a side note, I’m actually a big fan of their ranking system in general.  Ideally, all of our consumer goods would be produced in a method that is environmentally and socially responsible.  Ideally, they’d also avoid being harmful to human health.  I was skeptical at first of how they’d rank this last category, but their methods section reveals that they use a ratio of healthy to harmful nutrients as well as the presence of potentially harmful additives to determine the health rating.  It’s basically telling you how much bang you’re getting for your caloric buck – i.e. how much of what you’re consuming will have actual nutritional value associated with it, and how much is fluff – plus whether or not there are ingredients that you might want to avoid.

I don’t know how extensive their list is, given the enormous number of products on the market, but what they have online represents a pretty substantial start with some very well-known brands.  And, with the ability to tailor rankings to you own particular values, this could be a huge asset to those of you who want to make sure your money is going to the right places.

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Hold onto your hats for this announcement.  NASCAR fans are in for some environmental education.  Not the sit down classroom kind, but the kind that provides resources on recycling, green products, and sustainability (just what The Green Light loves) at its races.  Last week, NASCAR and EPA signed an agreement to promote environmental awareness at NASCAR events and to work together on solutions that benefit the environment (can hybrids hit the same speeds as race cars?).  Perhaps the next Fast & Furious film will include hybrid race cars – they are making a F&F 6!  Maybe it will include this Porsche electric race car?

Mobil appears to be a fan of electric race cars

That aside, the announcement is exciting (despite the immediate fan backlash in the comments section on the NASCAR press release).  NASCAR is the second most popular sport in the U.S. to football, which is a very large fan base!  Initial practices under this agreement will include:

information on sustainable concessions at NASCAR events, expanding the use of DfE-labeled chemical products, conserving water, and continuing to grow the promotion and practice of all applicable types of recycling.

Additionally, NASCAR is committed to adopting greener products and to reducing its footprint such as proper recycling of automotive fluids.  Congrats to NASCAR and EPA on reaching this agreement; I too believe that if you show the benefits of sustainable practices it can save people and businesses money and protect your health.  Cheers.

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