Archive for March, 2008


Big League Enviros

Monday, March 31st, 2008

With the start of the baseball season underway, The Wall Street Journal’s enviro blog (“Environmental Capital”) takes a look at what teams are preaching green this season, and no we don’t mean signing bonuses or debating natural versus fake turf.

Rob Nuttig, the Mother Earth News publisher and owner of the Pittsburg Pirates, is one of the champions of a new, greener image. And, our own regional favorites—the World Champion Boston Red Sox—have even taken to public service announcements.

Baseball isn’t any different than the scores of other businesses that have suddenly discovered the virtues of environmental stewardship—with one huge difference. Lots of people actually watch, and care about, what happens in baseball.

“Our other businesses have the scale. The Pirates aren’t as big, but they have the visibility,” said Mr. Nutting.

Read more of Keith Johnson’s report here, and find out how and why big league owners are seeing green.

Toxins in toys … scared yet?

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Hey, when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll. You just can’t seem to click on your mouse without finding more evidence that parents are taking seriously the role of scrutinizing what’s in the products their kids play with. Shocking, I know. Remember the good old days? Lead paint on your metal toy? Hanging out the back of the station wagon? Good times, good times.

Around the country, parents and advocates are getting together to screen their toys for  toxins. A recent example occurred in Norwalk, Connecticut, a state where lawmakers are hoping to pass House Bill 5601, An Act Banning Children’s Products Containing Lead, Phthalates or Bisphenol-A.

And, who says Californians get to have all the fun banning these chemicals from toys.

Here’s a story on an event as reported in the Stamford Advocate.

NORWALK – The handheld device resembled a price scanner, but after it zapped his son’s Fisher Price roller vacuum toy, sticker shock wasn’t what upset state Sen. Bob Duff.

The device, an X-ray fluorescence analyzer, discovered 200 parts per million of lead, far more than the 40 parts per million that pediatricians consider acceptable on toys.

Worse than that, the toy’s paint contained 250 parts per million of mercury, said Damian Fox, who conducted the tests.

“There should be zero mercury,” said Fox, who owns Glastonbury-based Aremytoyssafe.com, a service that tests chemical levels in toys and other items.

“This is going into the garbage,” said Duff, D-Norwalk. “Actually, it’s going in on household hazardous waste day.”

When is “organic” milk not organic?

Monday, March 31st, 2008

A class action suit hopes to answer this question.

Our friends over at Organic Consumer Association have the scoop here.

Here’s a taste:

Attorneys representing 52 consumers in a lawsuit against Boulder, Colorado-based Aurora Organic Dairy and some of the nation’s largest retailers will face off in court today at the federal court in the Eastern District of Missouri, Judge Richard Webber, presiding. The consumers allege that the milk they purchased, although labeled as “organic”, did not meet federal organic standards. Their attorneys will argue claims including breach of contract and of implied warranty, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, and also claims under the consumer protection and deceptive trade practices statutes of several states.

EPA drops ball on danger of chemicals to children

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Just when you think there are no more shoes to drop in the Bush Administration’s march to decimate any and all public protections …  Imelda Marcos stops by after a shopping spree.

In relation to a couple of recent posts related to Mark Schapiro’s book Exposed, where he is taken to task by some apologists for chemical companies, you read a story that shows that the Environmental Protection Agency has been stacking its review panels with scientists who are financially linked to chemical companies.

Take this pice of reporting from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to evaluate compounds in products such as flame retardants in mattresses and car seats to see if they are especially harmful to children.

But it doesn’t.

The EPA’s Voluntary Children’s Chemical Evaluation Program, which relies on companies to provide information about the dangers of the chemicals they produce, is all but dead.

Funding ran out last August.

If you think investigative reporting is dead, read on here.

This story only underscores a key point Schapiro raises in his book—if you think someone is paying attention to what chemicals companies are putting on and in kids’ products, think again.

Low Salmon numbers should spawn action

Monday, March 31st, 2008

If you’re not sufficiently PO’d or freaked out by the lede to this story in The San Francisco Chronicle:

The Central Valley fall run of chinook salmon apparently has collapsed, portending sharp fishing restrictions and rising prices for consumers while providing further evidence that the state’s water demands are causing widespread ecological damage.

Then read the whole, disturbing story here.

Turns out that pollution and other contaminant runoff, combined with new dams and water withdrawal, are sucking the life out of the state’s fisheries—literally.

George Lakoff hearts Obama

Monday, March 31st, 2008

George Lakoff, the master of all master debate framers, has a great piece up on OpenLeft called
“What Made Obama’s Speech Great.” Lakoff believes Obama’s speech was a turning point in U.S. politics, and was a broad sweeping look at the state of politics and people today, and not just on race as the media have portrayed it. Here is a sample of the greatness Lakoff sees in Sen. Barack Obama’s March 18th speech:

We are on the cusp of a new politics in America. It should be dated from March 18, 2008, the date of Barack Obama’s landmark speech, A More Perfect Union. The usual pundits have looked mainly at the speech’s surface theme: race. They weren’t wrong. It was indeed the most important statement about race in recent history.

But it was much more. It was a general call to a new politics and an outline for what it needs to be. Just as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was about much more than the war dead on that battlefield, so Obama’s speech-widely hailed as in the same ballpark as Lincoln’s-went beyond race to the nature of America, its ideals, and its future.

(…)

What makes this great speech great is that it transcends its immediate occasion and addresses in its form as well as its words the most vital of issues: what America is about: who are, and are to be, as Americans; and what politics should be fundamentally about.

The media has missed this. But we must not.

I know plenty of people are calling for Sen. Hillary Clinton to get out of the race for the good of the party, but part of me agrees with those who say that by staying in the race she is helping, not hurting, Obama, by making him hone his policies and message. It may be mathematically difficult, if not impossible, for her to win, and if she loses any more big contests, the pressure on her to get out will mount.

Building Green in Kansas

Monday, March 31st, 2008

This just in from our good friend and Chelsea Green author Dan Chiras and the efforts to rebuild Greensburg, Kansas as a sustainable community from the ground up. The community was nearly wiped off the face of the Earth by a tornado last year, and Chelsea Green has donated green building books to help the community develop a sustainable library—and has urged other book publishers to join us.

“Businesses are showing an outpouring of generosity,” notes Chiras, who’s leading a team of architects and builders to build two of the “greenest homes on the planet” in Greensburg.

Chiras’s team, EverGreen Design-Build Partnership, consists of green architect, James Plagmann of HumaNature Architecture in Arvada, Colorado; designer-builder, David Parker of Denver Colorado; and Brandon Dardanis, a builder and manufacturer of Tech Block, arguably the greenest insulating concrete form on the market today. The team plans to build two homes, one from Tech Block and another from straw bale.

“Our homes are two of dozen planned eco-lodges, places people can stay in when they come to visit and view the green building efforts of Greensburg,” says Chiras. “The two-bedroom 1,200-square foot state-of-the-art guest homes, powered entirely by wind and solar energy, will cost about $250,000 each.”

“These homes are models that will demonstrate what individuals in Greensburg and throughout the world can do — how green they can build their homes and how much this will save them—all the while helping combat global climate change that spawns vicious storms like the one that devastated their town in 2007,” Chiras adds. “My team members and I have donated a considerable portion of our time and energy to the project, worth an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 on each home.”

A number of businesses have either donated cash or products and services—or offered generous discounts on them—to help make the green dream homes a reality.

Here’s a rundown of who’s joined Dan’s team effort:

Eco-Structure magazine was first to join our team. As an official team partner, they are helping Ever Green Design-Build raise both awareness and money – efforts that have already begun to pay off.

Two of Chiras’ publishers Chelsea Green Publishers and New Society Publishers agreed to help publicize this work through their newsletters and blogs. Both publishers have donated numerous books on green building and sustainability to the citizens of the town and Chelsea Green has made a cash donation to our project.

Three wind turbine manufacturers, Entegrity, Endurance, and Abundant Renewable Energy, have offered discounts on their turbines. ICS, which manufactures a structural insulated panel that the team will use to build the roofs of their homes, is offering a discount on their product.

American Clay, which manufactures a natural earthen plaster, has donated 100% of the all-natural plaster and clay paints for the interior walls and ceilings of both homes.

Chiras’s long-time friend and associate, Gary Dillard of Red Pueblo Construction has volunteered to apply the interior plaster for both homes at a generous discount.

Hathmore Technologies, LLC, Blue Springs, MO has agreed to perform energy analysis, energy rating, and LEED certification at a discounted rate.

Harvest Solar Energy has volunteered to donate and install a solar electric system at a generous discount and, if necessary, help with wind turbine installations.

“The support extends beyond building trade,” notes Chiras. Linda Stuart who owns and operates Evergreen Candleworks, which makes all-natural, organic soy candles in Chiras’s hometown will donate cash to the project through candle sales.

The CU Continuing Education, through which Chiras offers workshops on green building and residential renewable energy, has donated two scholarships to residents or builders associated with Greensburg to attend three of Dan’s workshops on passive solar design, green building, and residential renewable energy.

Last but not least, Desiree Rengert, a students at SUNY Brockport, who heard about our efforts through a professor at her University, has volunteered to help raise money support our project.

For more information contact Dan Chiras, Ever Green Design-Build Partnership, at (303) 674-9688 or [email protected]

The surge, the Shias, and the sham

Monday, March 31st, 2008

I’ve seen arguments before that the “surge” didn’t actually do much to reduce violence in Iraq, but instead benefited (from the perspective of public relations) from the more-or-less independent and coincidental decision by popular Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr to order the large militia under his control to halt attacks against Iraqi government and U.S. forces. The proof is in the past week’s pudding: when Sadr authorized his militia to engage in attacks, it forced the Iraqi government to say uncle–even though the Iraqi government had artillery, air power, and special forces support from the US and UK. Then, when Sadr told his militia to knock it off, the (relative) quiet returned.

Iraqis returned to the streets of Baghdad after a curfew was lifted, and the southern port city of Basra appeared quiet on Monday, a day after the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called for his followers to stop fighting and in turn demanded concessions from Iraq’s government.

Conclusion: it is not US troops that are holding down the level of violence. It is the choices of powerful factions within Iraq, choosing for their own reasons and not because of fear of the US. Friends, it’s time to come home.

Keeping kids’ toys safe

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Journalist Mark Schapiro, whose book Exposed was recently the basis for a special feature on PBS’ NOW program that focused on phthalates—a hard-to-pronounce but damaging group of chemicals found in many children’s toys—is taking on the chemical industry’s apologists.

Elizabeth Whalen took him to task earlier this year on The Huffington Post, calling him an “activist,” which to journalists is about as slanderous as it gets. Schapiro took up Whalen’s outing and used what all journalists use when they write stories—facts—to show that his book and his reporting are on firm ground, not simply based on alarmist claims.

Check out Whalen’s post here and Schapiro’s riposte.

And, in case you were wondering phthalates make plastics soft and pliable and chewy for kids—the reason why a rubber ducky is so darn inviting.

Here’s a sample of the back-and-forth:

Whalen: Contrast the activist scare about phthalates with the scientific reality: there is no evidence whatsoever—not even a hint—of health problems from phthalates in any consumer products used by children or adults. That is the conclusion of esteemed scientists from the Food and Drug Administration, Consumer Product Safety Commission, and universities around the world — and a blue ribbon panel on phthalates and health chaired by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. The issue has been addressed and studied extensively.

Schapiro: Dozens of studies of rodents and, increasingly, of humans have demonstrated precisely that: the evidence suggests strongly that phthalates disrupt the developing endocrine system of infant boys (at this stage, most of the research does focus on boys because phthalates affect production of the male sexual hormone, testosterone). A study published last week in the journal Pediatrics found evidence of phthalates in every one of the 163 infants under thirteen months that a team of scientists tested for the synthetic substance. Why does this matter? Studies in Denmark concluded in 2006 that high levels of phthalates in mother’s breast milk contributed to lower levels of testosterone production in their male offspring in the first three months of life.

After challenging Whalen’s claims, Schapiro has found a new foe in Trevor Butterworth, who offers a counter-argument Schapiro’s counter-argument here. Here’s a snippet:

But there’s a problem: if you are going to muckrake with science, you need to be able to refute scientific evidence which doesn’t agree with your hypothesis. That’s how science works. Posit a theory, find evidence (or find data and posit a theory), test that evidence and theory against everything else out there.

This, Shapiro doesn’t do. He takes only the evidence that supports his position and avoids addressing the problems with it, even though these problems are substantial.

OK, Mark, the squishy phthalate-soaked ball is in your court.

Rethinking Limits to Growth

Monday, March 31st, 2008

When Limits to Growth was published nearly 35 years ago by the Club of Rome, critics scoffed at its interpretations of data, arguing that its view of the world was skewed. Today, however, as we come to realize that “peak everything” is not an illusion, many are rethinking some of the basic assumptions laid out LTG.

Earlier this year, Cameron Smith, a columnist for the Toronto Star, had this to say:

Ever since the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth 35 years ago, the path to global collapse has been mapped. But few paid attention: The threat was far off, the steps toward it seemed easy to accommodate, there was no sense of urgency.

Now, however, a perfect storm is on the not-too-distant horizon. Global warming and “peak everything” are meshing at every turn, and the list of possible consequences is fearsome.

Our friends to the north never cease to amaze us with their powers of perception and awareness to the reality  that surrounds us, but imagine our surprise when the Wall Street Journal opened the same dialog on its front page.

In fact, they point out that one economist who dissed the original argument in Limits to Growth, is now alarmed by the rate at which humans are depleting the world’s resources:

As a young economist 30 years ago, Joseph Stiglitz said flatly [of Limits to Growth]: “There is not a persuasive case to be made that we face a problem from the exhaustion of our resources in the short or medium run.”

Today, the Nobel laureate is concerned that oil is underpriced relative to the cost of carbon emissions, and that key resources such as water are often provided free. “In the absence of market signals, there’s no way the market will solve these problems,” he says. “How do we make people who have gotten something for free start paying for it? That’s really hard. If our patterns of living, our patterns of consumption are imitated, as others are striving to do, the world probably is not viable.”

Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of “The Limits to Growth,” says the book was too optimistic in one respect. The authors assumed that if humans stopped harming the environment, it would recover slowly. Today, he says, some climate-change models suggest that once tipping points are passed, environmental catastrophe may be inevitable even “if you quit damaging the environment.”

Indeed.


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