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For one thing, they come several decades too late to transform much of our built environment into something more sustainable. In Ontario, for example, the area of land under cultivation dipped below the supply of "dependable" farmland during the 1990s and continues to lose out to sprawl, meaning more of our agriculture rests on marginal land that requires greater inputs of fossil fuel-based fertilizers and water and is more susceptible to failure.
Among those who have given the issue some thought and agreed to share their ideas with us, responses have ranged from the grim ("I think what we'll see is that the suburbs will become, to some extent, salvage yards") to the glib ("I think the answer is obvious: suburban infill. Think discovered spaces.") and much in between.
Read the Responses
(21 October 2005)
The original article has interviews with the various contributors.
Get your company to clean up its janitorial act
Joel Makower, Grist magazine
Three years ago, the National Geographic Society's director of general services wanted to clean up his cleaning operations. Bob Cline launched an investigation into the impacts of maintaining the society's facilities, examining everything from the chemical composition of cleaning products to the decibel level of vacuums, from filtration systems to fuels.
"Basically, it was a matter of goal congruency," Cline says. "Conservation is part of the National Geographic Society mission, and we felt that it would be good if our facilities matched our vision." As he discovered, cleaning up can be a dirty business.
Consider this: Institutional cleaning uses some 6 billion pounds of formulated chemicals a year, according to consultant Stephen Ashkin. Commercial buildings also use 4.5 billion pounds of hand towels and toilet tissue, much of it chlorine-bleached and from virgin pulp, and some 35 billion plastic trash bags a year.
But all that's changing. Green cleaning -- using products and processes that reduce the environmental and health effects of housekeeping on both the indoor and outdoor environments -- is catching on in companies, schools, and government agencies, thanks to some powerful players.
(1 November 2005)
Entrepreneurs hear that green is trendy way to go
Co-op America conducts 3-day S.F. conference
Carolyn Said, SF Chronicle
Green business is going mainstream.
Companies that qualify as green -- because they take a socially responsible approach to the environment, their community and their employees -- have become interwoven into the fabric of many consumers' lives, said speakers at Co-op America's three-day Green Business Conference, which started on Wednesday in San Francisco.
The most telling recent example: McDonald's this week said it will carry free-trade certified, organic coffee at 658 restaurants in New England and Albany, N.Y.
Backpacks rather than briefcases were the tote of choice for about 300 casually dressed entrepreneurs who gathered at a Civic Center hotel to learn about topics such as workplace democracy and organic market trends, to network with one another, and to get an infusion of fresh ideas.
(3 November 2005)
Sustainability Network Newsletter #54 (514-KB PDF)
Elizabeth Heij, CSIRO Sustainability Network
- A sustainable energy future is possible - built on energy efficiency and existing renewables;
- Recycling of organic wastes is vital to the health of people and ecosystems;
- How can we reduce environmental footprints in the workplace?
(1) The sustainability challenge is bigger, harder, and more urgent than our actions suggest; and
(2) Can we afford to ignore nuclear power? Taking corks out of wine bottles - the long-distance trade-offs; and more.
(1 November 2005)
Climate warriors and heroes
Meet the 28 leaders -- scientists, politicians, activists, celebrities and inventors -- who are fighting to stave off planetwide catastrophe.
Global warming is a planetary emergency everywhere but in the White House. While the Bush administration fiddles, the rest of the world burns with concern about the earth's rising temperature. With our industries billowing a relentless stream of gases into the atmosphere, trapping heat, we're decimating our natural ecosystems, exacting an incalculable toll on our planet and future health. The climate warriors and heroes honored here embody the environment's best defense. They are scientists, ministers, students, politicians, activists, lawyers, celebrities, inventors, and world leaders. As Al Gore says in his accompanying essay, they share little in common. "But each of them recognized the threat that climate change poses to the planet -- and responded by taking immediate action to stop it," Gore writes.
The range of their actions is remarkable. A college dropout tours the country in a bus that runs on vegetable oil, educating young people about fuel efficiency. The CEO of General Electric, one of the world's biggest polluters, argues for a federal policy to reduce global warming. An emissary from the Inuit in the Arctic accuses the United States of violating the rights of her people by refusing to curb its climate-heating pollution. "Their stories should inspire and encourage us," Gore writes, "to see with our hearts, as well as our heads, the unprecedented response that is now called for."
To see the rest of the story, you have to be a subscriber of Salon or watch an ad. Also in Salon is an essay by Al Gore: The time to act is now: The climate crisis and the need for leadership.. Commentary on these stories appears in WorldChanging.
The natural history of architecture
An interview with Seattle green architect Johnpaul Jones
Christian Martin, Tidepool
Seattle-based architect Johnpaul Jones is a nationally renowned "green designer" who blends sustainability concepts like energy efficiency, recyclable building materials and native landscaping into his overall site plans. Born half-Welsh, half-Choctaw, Jones' unique blended heritage contributes to the ways in which he works. His designs often reflect the common Native American belief that the world contains four realms: the natural world, the animal world, the spirit world and the human world.
"In designing a project," Jones explains, "I draw upon the Indian realm to help make something good for our environment."
(27 October 2005)
All the king's media
William Greider, The Nation
...The centralized institutions of press and broadcasting are being challenged and steadily eroded by widening circles of unlicensed "news" agents--from talk-radio hosts to Internet bloggers and others--who compete with the official press to be believed. These interlopers speak in a different language and from many different angles of vision. Less authoritative, but more democratic. The upheaval has only just begun, but already even the best newspapers are hemorrhaging circulation. Dan Gillmor, an influential pioneer and author of We the Media, thinks tomorrow's news, the reporting and production, will be "more of a conversation, or a seminar"--less top-down, and closer to how people really speak about their lives.
...How did it happen that the multiplication of outlets made possible by technology led to a concentration of views and opinions--ones usually anchored by the conventional wisdom of center-right sensibilities? Where did the "freedom" go? Where are the people's ideas and observations? Al Gore, who found his voice after he lost the presidency, recently expressed his sense of alarm: "I believe that American democracy is in grave danger. It is no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse." The bread-and-circuses format that monopolizes the public's airwaves is driven by a condescending commercial calculation that Americans are too stupid to want anything more. But that assumption becomes fragile as other voices find other venues for expression. This is an industry crisis that will be very healthy for the society, a political opening to rearrange access and licensing for democratic purposes.
For the faltering press, the bloggers will keep sharpening their swords, slicing away at the established order. This is good, but the pressure will lead to meaningful change only if the Internet artisans innovate further, organizing new formats and techniques for networking among more diverse people and interests. The daily feed of facts and bile from bloggers has been wondrously effective in unmasking the pretensions of the big boys, but the broader society needs more--something closer to the democratic "conversations and seminars" that Gillmor envisions, and less dependent on partisan fury and accusation.
As an ex-Luddite, I came to the web with the skepticism of an old print guy. Against expectations, I am experiencing sustained exchanges with many far-flung people I've never met--dialogues that inform both of us and are utterly voluntary experiences. This is a promising new form of consent. Democracy, I once wrote, begins not at election time but in human conversation.
National affairs correspondent William Greider has been a political journalist for more than thirty-five years. A former Rolling Stone and Washington Post editor, he is the author of The Soul of Capitalism (Simon & Schuster).
(2 November 2005)
Also posted at Common Dreams. Although Greider is mostly talking about national US politics, his remarks reply as well to the media's poor performance with peak oil and global warming. As an ex-journo, I echo Greider's enthusiasm about the Web -- this is where the action is. -BA
CSIRO goes for high tech and big impact
Anna Salleh, ABC Science Online
Australia's leading scientific organisation, the CSIRO, is preparing for a big change in its research priorities, according to a leaked report, and not everyone is happy.
The internal report, Science Investment Process Broad Direction Setting, signals CSIRO's planned move away from areas such as traditional agricultural research and some renewable energy projects towards technological research with high economic impact.
... "We really want to increase the impact and the relevance of the work that we do," says Dr Ron Sandland, CSIRO's acting chief executive officer, about the organisation's research focus.
Sandland says research will be prioritised if it helps to develop higher value-added products that benefit industry, the economy and environment. He says one area CSIRO will focus on is the convergence of the biological, physical, mathematical and information sciences, "using large scale information to create breakthroughs".
...Sandland says in terms of agriculture, CSIRO will be shifting away from "incremental agricultural research", towards biosecurity and technologies that will transform the value of farm produce, such as functional foods.
CSIRO will also boost research aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions from the use of coal, including geosequestration, and will reduce it's research on renewables.
...Dr Max Whitten, former chief of CSIRO Division of Entomology, rejects the move. "They're moving away from the traditional areas of work and looking for trendy areas where there are big bucks," says Whitten who is now a commonwealth visitor for a number of Co-operative Research Centres.
"This is a survival strategy for corporate CSIRO." He criticised the decision to scale down research that supported small incremental changes in productivity, saying big achievements in the past had come from such research.
(4 November 2005)