Nature & Environment Archive


Zero Waste: A concrete step towards sustainability

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

By Dr. Paul Connett

I can’t remember exactly when I concluded that we were living on this planet “as if we had another one to go.”

We would need at least four planets if the whole world’s population consumed like the average American and two if everyone consumed like the average European. Meanwhile India and China are copying our massive consumption patterns. If we want to move in a sustainable direction then something has to change. In my view, the best place to start that change is with waste. Because every day every human being on this planet makes waste. All the time that we do that we are living in a non-sustainable fashion, but with good political leadership – especially at the local level – we could be part of a movement towards sustainability. A sustainable society has to be a zero waste society.

The zero waste approach is better for the local economy (more jobs), better for our health (less toxics), better for our planet (more sustainable), and better for our children (more hope for the future).

How do we get there?

Zero Waste a New DirectionIn The Zero Waste Solution I outline “Ten Steps to Zero Waste,” which are essentially common sense. Most people would have little trouble dealing with the first seven steps:

• source separation
• door-to-door collection
• composting
• recycling
• reuse and repair
• pay-as-you-throw systems for the residuals, and,
• waste reduction initiatives at both the community and corporate level.

However, it is Step Eight where some people are going to have trouble and where, if we are not careful, the waste industry could easily co-opt all our good work.

The incineration industry has discovered that by introducing two words it can continue to insert its poisonous, polluting activities into the mix. The phrase “Zero Waste to Landfill” cynically takes the good intentions of the Zero Waste movement and moves it back in a non-sustainable direction.

Instead, step eight calls on communities to build a residual separation and research facility in front of the landfill. The point of this step is to make the residual fraction very visible as opposed to landfills and incinerators that attempt to make the residuals disappear.

It is at this facility that we have to introduce a new discipline on waste. The community has to say to industry “if we can’t reuse it, recycle it or compost it, you shouldn’t be making it.” In other words waste is a design problem, and that is Step Nine: We need better design of both products and packaging if we are going to rid ourselves of the wretched “throwaway ethic” which has dominated both manufacture and our daily lives since WW II. We need to turn off the tap on disposable objects.

The final step is to create interim landfills — and I use interim because the goal of zero waste initiatives is to eliminate the need for traditional landfills. These interim landfills should be seen as temporary holding facilities until we can better figure out how to recycle, reuse, or better dispose of these materials than just tossing them in the ground, and capping them.

Summing it up with the Four Rs

Zero Waste four RsThe simplest way to explain Zero Waste is that it involves four Rs. The three familiar R’s of community responsibility—Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (including composting)—are joined by the less familiar “R” of industrial responsibility: Re-design.

In fact, the first person that talked about zero waste was one of the greatest designers of all time: Leonardo da Vinci. Somewhere in his writing he said that there is no such thing as waste: one industry’s waste should be another industry’s starting material. No doubt he was copying nature’s approach to materials. Nature makes no waste; she recycles everything. Waste is a human invention. Now we need to spend some effort to “de-invent” it.

Dr. Paul Connett is the author of The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time.

Intelligence and Intuition: Ben Kilham’s Groundbreaking Work with Bears

Monday, November 18th, 2013

A man who holds hands with full-grown bears, crawls into their dens to photograph their cubs, and comes face-to-face with their sharp teeth? It sounds crazy, but it’s just another day in the life of Benjamin Kilham, author of Out on a Limb.

Kilham has been studying and researching wild black bear behavior for nearly two decades. See some of that groundbreaking (and, at times, yes, cute) work in this video footage, complete with images of cute bear cubs.

Kilham’s dyslexia—which initially barred him from traditional academic outlets for his research—has offered him the chance to provide us with unique observations that offer a fascinating glimpse at the inner world of bears. In observing how bears communicate to one another, Kilham has made some startling discoveries—ones that may provide insight into how early humans communicated and shared resources in order to thrive. It’s also helped Kilham gain additional insight into his own dyslexia.

“Different minds work in different ways, and we need to find ways to foster a variety of talents,” writes Temple Grandin in the Foreword. “Ben forged ahead and did what made sense to him, despite tough times in the academic world. As a result, he has unveiled their wild world for us, helped orphaned bears reenter it, and helped solve human-bear conflicts.”

Many of the bears Kilham works with view him as a surrogate mother, especially Squirty, a 17-year-old bear who is the matriarchal bear who grants him a unique perch into her territory. He feeds them, walks them, and helps them discover their natural habitat before reintroducing them into the wild.

“Like Jane Goodall’s studies of chimps, Ben Kilham’s work with black bears is more than just revealing: it’s revolutionary,” writes Sy Montgomery, author of Walking with the Great Apes and Search for the Golden Moon Bear. “This riveting book supports two astonishing conclusions: that bears are far more sophisticated than most scientists dared imagine, and that dyslexia, once considered a failing, may simply be another, and often valuable, way of thinking. Ben’s work will transform our understanding of how animals live—and how science should be done.”

Kilham’s discoveries and methods are now being recognized in China, where he is working with researchers who are emulating some of his tactics in order to improve their own program to reintroduce Pandas in the wild.

Of possible interest to Chelsea Green’s longtime readers: We published Ben’s father – Lawrence Kilham, too. Lawrence Kilham’s book On Watching Birds (1988) similarly approaches bird watching with the same kind of keen eye and mind that Ben Kilham uses in approaching bears. On Watching Birds was also awarded the prestigious John Burroughs Medal for environmental writing.

Out on a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me about Intelligence and Intuition is available now and on sale for 35% off until November 22nd. Read the foreword (by Temple Grandin) and Introduction below.

Special Coverage: UN Climate Change Summit via Democracy Now!

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

If you wanted a front row seat to the United Nations climate summit in Warsaw, Poland, but couldn’t make the trek — you’re in luck.

Our fellow Media Consortium friends over at Democracy Now! are in Poland and will bring special coverage of the special United Nation climate summit throughout the week of November 18, and are providing us with a direct link to their live coverage.

Democracy Now!, an independent, global news hour, brings you live reports from the annual United Nations Climate Change Summit taking place this year in Warsaw, Poland. Tune in from Monday, Nov. 18 through Friday, Nov. 22 for on-the-ground coverage of the official U.N. negotiations, as well as interviews with journalists, scientists, policy makers, stakeholders and activists — who are working to sway opinion both inside the conference and with protests outside in the streets.

If you miss the live broadcast from 8-9 AM EDT, Democracy Now! will post a repeat show on their Livestream channel by 10:30 AM EDT, which you can access through the embedded player below.

This is the fifth year that Democracy Now! is providing a live television broadcast from the U.N. climate summit. Click here to see coverage from previous meetings in Doha, Durban, Copenhagen and Cancun

While you’re watching – see if you hear any of the solutions put forward by Chelsea Green authors like Amory Lovins in his book Reinventing Fire, which calls for reliance on renewable energy by 2050 and an end to the Age of Oil, or the calls by Dr. Paul Connett, in his new book The Zero Waste Solution, for an end to the wasteful consumption and packaging that is ravaging the planet. Hopefully, we won’t hear or anyone pushing the notion that nuclear is a legitimate option for energy sources of the future. Author Gar Smith dispelled the myth of the nuclear renaissance in his damning exposé Nuclear Roulette.

If you’re looking for additional insight into what the world will look like in the face of climate change in the coming 40 years, be sure to check out Jorgen Randers’ latest book, 2052. Randers was one of the original authors of Limits to Growth, which was published in 1972 and represented a major shift in many people looked at growth as it affected the climate, planetary resources, and the human condition. In 2012, on the 40th anniversary of the publication of Limits to Growth, Chelsea Green published 2052, which originated as a special report to the Club of Rome, that looked at what could happen in the coming 40 years — from population growth and inter-generational disputes to climate adaptation an perpetual, stagnant economic  growth. In this summary, Randers looked at eight ways the world will change, as well as how we can prepare ourselves for these changes.

So, sit back – get informed. Take action.

Watch live streaming video from democracynow at livestream.com

Zero Waste: How to Untrash the Planet

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Waste. We make it every single day. But how often do we think about it? It’s easy enough to throw your garbage in a trashcan and never think of it again. Out of sight, out of mind—right?

Not for long. “New research showed that the annual volume of that waste could double by 2025, thanks to growing prosperity and urbanization,” writes Paul Connett, author of The Zero Waste Solution and contributor to the documentary film Trashed. “Translation: Rather than producing 1.3 billion tons per year, as we do now, we could soon be producing 2.6 billion tons.” Soon, it will be impossible for us to avoid our own waste.

But there’s hope. Through research, case studies, and profiles, Paul Connett’s The Zero Waste Solution introduces problem-solving techniques to rid the planet of as much waste as possible by 2020. “If we lave the waste problem to itself, we are part of a nonsustainable way of living on this planet with huge consequences for human health and the global environment,” writes Connett in the Foreword. “However, with good leadership we can become part of the solution.”

Inspiring Zero Waste initiatives already exist worldwide, in places like:

  • San Francisco, CA: By 2012, they achieved 80 percent waste diverted and are continuing to move forward;
  • Austin, TX: Has plans to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills 90 percent by 2030;
  • Sicily, Italy: This small island is playing a large role in the fight against incinerators—expensive, unsustainable, toxin-producing waste disposers; and many more.

In his latest book, Connett imagines a world in which cities, regions, and countries with zero waste initiatives were not mere case studies and hopeful examples, but the worldwide norm.

The Zero Waste Solution is for all those concerned about humanity’s health and environment, writes Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons in the Foreword. “Essential reading for anyone fighting landfills, incineration, overpackaging, and the other by-products of our unthinking and irresponsible throwaway society.”

The Zero Waste Solution: Untrashing the Planet One Community at a Time is available now and on sale for 35% off until November 11th.

Read Chapter 2: Ten Steps Toward a Zero Waste Community:

Flying Blind: Buckthorn, Bureaucracy & Bats

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Flying Blind is more than just a story about one man’s battles with bats, buckthorn, authority and byzantine government regulations.

Celebrated author Howard Frank Mosher says Don Mitchell’s forthcoming memoir “does for rural New England what Wendell Berry’s essays do for Kentucky and Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It does for the American West.”

As the title suggests, the book is also about…bats. Not just any bats. Endangered bats. Or, as Mitchell first thinks of them — “flying rats.”

“On the few occasions when I’d actually seen a bat skitter through the night sky—flying with the crazy, unpredictable movements that call to mind the way a fox can dance across the land—my response was apprehensive,” writes Don Mitchell in the opening of his new book, Flying Blind. “Flying rats, they seemed to me.”

How could a man with such an aversion to these nightly creatures dedicate much of his post-retirement to their conservation, literally crawling on hands and knees to create a safe, nesting habitat?

It wasn’t easy. Flying Blind tells the story of Mitchell’s coming to terms with authority figures, whether in the form of his father or the federal government, as he navigates—mentally and physically—regulations, pesky invasives and ends up connecting deeply with a species that once gave him “the willies.”

Flying Blind is now available. Take 35% off through August 19, 2013.

Click below to view photos of Mitchell’s work at Treleven Farm:

Flying Blind Slide Show by Chelsea Green Publishing

Mosher, the author of Where the Rivers Flow North, and Walking to Gatlinburg, among other novels, notes that Flying Blind is “the story of how place, the past, family, and meaningful work can still form character at a time when much of America is increasingly alienated from nature, history, and community. Beautifully written, relentlessly honest, and unfailingly entertaining, Flying Blind is the book Don Mitchell was born to write.”

Join Don Mitchell for a Bat Walk
Interested in experiencing the book’s setting firsthand? Don is offering tours of the forest at Treleven Farm in Vermont to take readers through the bat zones, share his experiences and discuss Flying Blind. If you’re visiting the green mountains during leaf peeping season, stop by Don’s on a Saturday morning at 10am to take the 90-minute tour (last tour will be Saturday, November 2, 2013).

Read an excerpt from Flying Blind below.

Authority by Chelsea Green Publishing

Five Cities that Could be the Next Chernobyl

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Twenty-seven years ago today, a power surge caused an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Pripyat, Ukraine. A plume of radioactive smoke spread fallout across Europe, making this the most devastating nuclear accident since we first smashed atoms to make electricity.

Could your town be the next Chernobyl? If you live near one of these five nuclear plants you might want to invest in a family-pack of haz-mat suits.

No power plant is completely problem-free, but five are the worst because they’ve suffered from the most dangerous accidents, or have had an abnormal number of near-misses, or are located near massive numbers of people who would suffer in a catastrophe. Despite a dodgy record of ignoring safety abuses and refusing to reprimand violators, even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission agrees that these plants are accidents waiting to happen.

From New York City to San Diego, the danger of nuclear catastrophe hits far too close to home. Literally in the case of Vermont Yankee, which is, unfortunately, on this list. We’ve put together a slideshow of images of the five plants, as well as an excerpt from Nuclear Roulette that details the inexcusable mistakes and alarming history of mismanagement that makes them all so scary.

What has Four Legs, Says “Moo,” and Could Save the Planet?

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Many of us have been taught that overgrazing, methane-emitting livestock turn green pastures into arid deserts and are responsible for the widespread desertification that threatens precious biodiversity, soil quality, and more.

Not so, as Allan Savory explains in his TED Talk, “We were once just as certain that the world was flat. We were wrong then, and we are wrong again.” You can see in the photograph below the difference between properly managed land on the right, and overgrazed, eroded and degraded land on the left:

In the aptly-titled Cows Save the Planet, journalist Judith D. Schwartz debunks the myth that cows and livestock pose threats to our land. You may think it unlikely that these pastured grazers are the soil saviors we need, but it’s true. Through holistic management and planned grazing, cows can help rebuild soil and restore land to its rightful state—improving carbon sequestration, natural water cycles, and soil fertility and nutrient density.

The solution to climate change, and a host of other environmental ills, is right under our feet, Schwartz explains. And what better time than the week of Earth Day to join Schwartz and the many scientists, ecologists, farmers, and experts (including Savory) featured in Cows Save the Planet and uncover all the reasons why we should be celebrating cattle as a way to improve our soils.

When managed properly, soils can help reverse the effects of:

  • climate change
  • desertification
  • biodiversity loss
  • droughts, floods
  • wildfires
  • rural poverty
  • malnutrition
  • and obesity

In the foreword, Gretel Ehrlich puts it best: “Judith Schwartz’s book gives us not just hope but also a sense that we humans—serial destroyers that we are—can actually turn the climate crisis around. This amazing book, wide-reaching in its research, offers nothing less than solutions for healing the planet.”

Cows Save the Planet is available now and on sale for 35% off. Read the introduction below.

Cows Save the Planet: Introduction

A Chilling List of Nuclear Meltdown Near Misses

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Three Mile Island, the nuclear plant in Pennsylvania that melted down on this day in 1979, is synonymous with nuclear disaster. The meltdown was stopped before any serious damage occurred, but 34 years after this near miss at Three Mile Island, how safe are we from this kind of catastrophe?

Ask the residents of San Clemente, California, who live in the shadow of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The plant has been offline for months since an “unusual” leak was found to be releasing radioactive steam into the environment. Or ask the folks of Burlington, Kansas where the Wolf Creek Generating Station suddenly lost power last winter after faulty wiring tripped a breaker and blew a transformer.  These are just two of the dozen nuclear plants that had close calls last year. From equipment failures to bumbling workers, and vulnerabilities to extreme weather and earthquakes, nuclear plants are ticking time bombs.

In the excerpt below, Gar Smith, author of Nuclear Roulette, reminds us that while we imagine nuclear technology to be as advanced as what we see on Star Trek, in reality the first reactors began construction in the US actually predate NASA — and the control rooms that manage these relics aren’t even as advanced as Homer Simpson’s — they still use out-dated analog dials and alarms. Not exactly the kind of thing you’d want to be all done up in retro style, right?

But that’s okay, because surely the industry watchdog tasked with keeping us safe from the hazards of nuclear radiation is doing its best to monitor safety violations and respond to lackadaisical plant managers with harsh fines and penalties. Well no. In fact the Nuclear Regulatory Commission more often than not fails to enforce its own regulations, seriously undermining the safety net between us and the inherent dangers posed by nuclear power.

A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists takes the NRC to task for these failures, pointing out how the even culture within the Commission itself encourages a lack of oversight. For example, NRC managers don’t listen to their employees, and actually chastise them for pointing out safety violations at inspected plants! The UCS report goes on to outline the year’s most serious malfunctions at nuclear reactors across the country: 14 worrisome mishaps at 12 reactors.

Do you live near one of the faulty reactors? Read the full report, and all the scary mishaps that occurred last year on the UCS website. And then stock up on potassium iodide and haz-mat suits.

If you still feel good about nuclear energy, the excerpt below from Chapter 19 of Nuclear Roulette, should fix that. It covers a morbidly fascinating list of worker errors, stories of the NRC ignoring serious violations, and even more plants that have come awfully close to blowing their radioactive tops. And last but not least, check out Mat Stein’s article about the risks posed by that other nuclear energy source we love so much, the sun. With a big enough solar flare we could be facing “400 Chernobyls.”

Near Misses and Unbelievable Mishaps: From Nuclear Roulette by Chelsea Green Publishing

What They Won’t Tell You About Nuclear Power Could Kill You

Monday, March 11th, 2013

There’s a reason why we still haven’t heard the official story about the extent of contamination after the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima: when the radioactive waste hits the fan, the regulators just plain lie.

Two years ago today, the tsunami that swamped eastern Japan set off a nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, just 200 miles north of Tokyo — the largest metropolitan area on Earth. The resulting disaster was the biggest since Chernobyl (whose anniversary is also coming up, on April 26th).

Add the near-disaster at Three-Mile Island on March 28, 1979, and the nuclear power industry is averaging either a major meltdown or a terrifying near-miss every decade. Yet the regulators are quick to tell us everything’s fine, nothing to see here folks, just keep using our cheap, plentiful, clean electricity…

The truth is, nuclear energy is neither clean, nor cheap, and it certainly is not safe.

The excerpt below from Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth explains why you shouldn’t be so quick to listen to the official story.

Why You Can’t Believe the Official Story About Nuclear Energy by Chelsea Green Publishing

Spotlight on Sourlands at Top Environmental Film Festivals

Friday, February 1st, 2013

From Golden, Colorado to Washington, D.C., the story of a small forest in New Jersey is finding admirers.Sourlands, distributed on DVD by Chelsea Green Publishing and Hundred Year Films, hits the road in 2013 as an official selection of the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, and the Princeton Environmental Film Festival.

“The film explores a timely question: With 7 billion people on Earth, how can we make sure the natural world doesn’t get squeezed into oblivion?” says director Jared Flesher.

To find answers, Flesher went to a small forest in New Jersey — the nation’s most densely populated state — and started following around the locals. The colorful subjects of the film are a diverse bunch: hunters, farmers, birders, biologists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

“Ultimately, this isn’t a story about trees,” says Flesher. “It’s a story about regular people looking for good, meaningful work, a sense of home, and some balance in their lives.”

Flesher worked as a one-man film crew, exploring every corner of the Sourlands forest and the surrounding community over 16 months of production. He credits a 1968 book by author John McPhee, The Pine Barrens, as an inspiration for the film.

“John McPhee showed me that the best way to tell an environmental story relevant to people everywhere is, paradoxically, to tell a good story about just one small corner of the world.”

Sourlands screens at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival on Feb. 9, the Colorado Environmental Film Festival on Feb. 24, and the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital on March 13. A full listing of upcoming Sourlands screenings is available at www.sourlands.com.

Director Jared Flesher can be reached at [email protected]


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