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Carbon plans that make you cut down
Terry Slavin, The Observer (UK)
Terry Slavin on activists making big changes to their lifestyles to limit their environmental impact
When Andy Ross weighs up the merits of putting on a woolly jumper or turning up the heating on a cold January morning, his gas bill is not the only consideration; there's also the small matter of the planet to weigh up.
The civil engineer is at the vanguard of a small but growing band of people across Britain who have decided to cut their own carbon emissions rather than rely on the 'green salve' of carbon-offsetting, the merits of which are increasingly questioned by environmentalists.
In the past year, seven carbon reduction action groups, or Crags, have started in the UK. Their members commit themselves to measuring their carbon emissions: they agree limits and can be penalised by the group if they exceed their carbon budget. At the launch of the last one, in Leeds just before Christmas, speakers included the journalist George Monbiot, who inspired Ross to begin the first Crag in Stratford-upon-Avon a year ago.
'I'm a member of Friends of the Earth Warwickshire, and when I went to the climate march in December 2005 I heard Monbiot's speech about us having to be the first generation to "ask for less rather than more" and to "riot for austerity",' says Ross. 'When we drove back we decided we couldn't shout about what to do about climate change if we weren't prepared to do it ourselves.'
A month later the first Crag was born.
(21 Jan 2007)
Nobel laureates say sustainability needs more than science
Erin Allday, SF Chronicle
The United States has the technology -- or at least the brains to build it -- to make significant progress in the fight against global warming. However, without widespread public and government support of energy conservation, technology can only go so far, say some of the brightest minds in Berkeley.
Half a dozen Nobel laureates -- five UC Berkeley professors plus the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory -- met before a vibrant crowd of 600 at the East Bay campus Saturday afternoon to exchange suggestions for battling global warming, from expanding the country's nuclear power program to designing nanotechnology that would mimic the way insects dispose of energy waste.
"Science is not the problem," said Donald Glaser, a UC Berkeley physics professor who won the Nobel Prize in 1960. "We can certainly build fuel-efficient cars. (But) year after year, Congress has refused to improve the mileage requirements for automobiles. We have to get together as a democracy and get our government to make changes."
...Like Glaser, McFadden noted that the immediate strategy in fighting energy addiction is personal conservation. "The best answer is to just say no to energy," he said.
"Adoption of currently feasible energy-efficiency standards would go two-thirds of the way to energy independence," McFadden said. "It should be feasible for us to achieve energy sustainability by 2050 using primarily existing standards. Then we support research into new technologies, which we will need in the last half of the century."
Still, as tempting as it might be to focus on existing conservation techniques, it's going to take technological advances and, perhaps more important and more difficult, public support to accomplish any significant changes in energy consumption.
"There is widespread agreement that conservation is something we can do now. But that's the lowest-hanging fruit," said Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a 1997 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics.
On top of that, Chu said, no one really wants to pay $6 or $7 a gallon for gas -- even if such prices would have a huge impact on reducing how much oil the country uses. New technology has to play an important role, because humans aren't going to let go of their energy addictions, he said.
"There are some opportunities in new science that can really change the landscape," Chu said. "There's not one solution. But it's not going to be a scientific solution or an economic solution. In the end, the public has to buy into this."
(21 Jan 2007)
Beyond the green corporation
Moving away from platitudes to strategies that help world and bottom line
Pete Engardio, MSNBC
...As Cescau [of Unilever] sees it, helping such nations wrestle with poverty, water scarcity, and the effects of climate change is vital to staying competitive in coming decades. Some 40 percent of the company's sales and most of its growth now take place in developing nations. Unilever food products account for roughly 10 percent of the world's crops of tea and 30 percent of all spinach. It is also one of the world's biggest buyers of fish. As environmental regulations grow tighter around the world, Unilever must invest in green technologies or its leadership in packaged foods, soaps, and other goods could be imperiled. "You can't ignore the impact your company has on the community and environment," Cescau says. CEOs used to frame thoughts like these in the context of moral responsibility, he adds. But now, "it's also about growth and innovation. In the future, it will be the only way to do business."
A remarkable number of CEOs have begun to commit themselves to the same kind of sustainability goals Cescau has pinpointed, even in profit-obsessed America. For years, the term "sustainability" has carried a lot of baggage. Put simply, it's about meeting humanity's needs without harming future generations. It was a favorite cause among economic development experts, human rights activists, and conservationists. But to many U.S. business leaders, sustainability just meant higher costs and smacked of earnest U.N. corporate-responsibility conferences and the utopian idealism of Western Europe. Now, sustainability is "right at the top of the agendas" of more U.S. CEOs, especially young ones, says McKinsey Global Institute Chairman Lenny Mendonca.
(19 Jan 2007)
My Knotty Problem with Wood
Heather Ramsay, The Tyee
I've hugged trees. But I also wanted a beautiful wooden house.
I love wood in all forms, standing as trees, carved as masks, strewn about as driftwood. I love the sharp pine smell, the musty red cedar, the soothing balm of cottonwood. I love the rings in the grain, the leaves littered on the forest floor and the web of bare branches in winter. Over the years, I've flung my arms around trees and attempted several times to protect them. After all, here I am on the mystical islands of Haida Gwaii, amidst the inspiration for Bill Reid's poetic ode to the cedar tree.
Then again, like young adults from a variety of species, I want to build a nest. But that seems to mean I must be complicit in the massacre of majestic trees.
...This is where the real guilt-free thing comes in. Most of this wood came from Abfam in Port Clements, the island's only mid-size mill. It's the kind of place where you can go and pick out your clear pieces and get a special order or two sawn up. Some of the cedar came from another local guy, Tim Fennell, who can remember which tree each one-by-six in his pile came from. These people have families here, and try (against tough odds sometimes) to make a living. As Jim Abbott, proprietor of Abfam once told me, he's in his line of work for the way of life, not just a job. "Somebody says I'm local, I've worked here for 20 years. And I always say, when your job goes away where do you go? A lot of them say Nanaimo or Chilliwack," he said.
The floor still makes me cringe. It's tight-grained old-growth Douglas fir, and it's beautiful. I called our friend in Quesnel, who milled it up, then personally drove 1,000 kilometres, then took the ferry across Hecate Strait, to deliver it to us in the spring. Knowing full well my desire to be green, our friend with the sawmill just laughed when I asked if it was ethical. It shouldn't have been cut, he said. "West Fraser couldn't put it through their mill, the logs were too big."
"But if I hadn't have turned it into flooring, it would have become pulp," he added to make me feel better. Then to further soften the blow, he described how the beautiful wood may even have been reduced to newsprint for a no-good newspaper.
Not to mention that he created several jobs too. "Too many," he muttered looking at his bottom line.
At least, he said, really trying to cheer me now, it's not laminate. Or some petroleum product. Nor did we buy from a large corporation.
(16 Jan 2007)
Latin America takes on urbanization
Marcela Sancez, Seattle P-I
Recycling didn't have a government program or environmental study behind it when I was a kid in Bogota, Colombia, in the 1970s; it just happened. Every week, a wooden cart would appear in the street and we'd hear the cry -- botellas, frascos, papel! My mom would rush out with whatever bottles, jars and newspapers she had saved and exchange them for a few pesos with those Bogotanos who eked out an existence in repurposed trash.
I didn't think much about it then, but I realize now this type of recycling was an adaptation, an innovation if you will, born from urbanization and poverty. Now, some 30 years later, those same circumstances writ large across the globe are demanding unprecedented innovations. Sometime next year the majority of the world's population will live in cities.
Some of the most aggressive responses to the challenges of urbanization are coming out of Latin America, a new report from the Worldwatch Institute suggests. "State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future" reveals Latin America as a "fascinating region that is inspiring imitation worldwide," says Molly O'Meara Sheehan, the report's project director.
Not long ago, Loja, Ecuador was a city afflicted by deforestation, pollution and uncontrollable sprawl. In the past decade, under the leadership of Mayor Jose Bolivar Castillo, Loja has managed to transform itself into an "ecological and healthy city." Loja makes some serious demands on its citizens with tough land use and environmental protection policies. Among other things, the city requires developers to set aside 20 percent of the land for public space. The resulting parks and green spaces have improved water management and public health.
Loja's recycling program has an amazing 95 percent compliance rate while recycling "all organic waste and over 50 percent of the inorganic waste," according to the report. This is not achieved with polite reminders to recycle printed on cans and bottles or mere 5-cent return deposits. The city will ultimately shut off your water if you don't comply.
(17 Jan 2007)
Top 10 Things You Can Do to Green Your Community
1. Reduce Traffic and Air Pollution: Carpool, take public transportation, and organize bike-to-school or walk-to-school groups
Driving alone creates more air pollution, carbon emissions and traffic congestion than using public transportation and carpooling. Some communities are organizing successful bike-to-school and walk-to-school groups, which besides being fun, help keep children and group leaders more fit.
2. Save Energy: Install a thermostat timer, use Energy Star appliances and compact florescent bulbs, and wash clothes in cool water.
Home energy use accounts for the largest percentage of the average American’s energy consumption. That’s why this is the best category for saving money.
SustainLane Government is a knowledge base and newsletter for state and local government official best practices in sustainability.
Not on the list, but probably the most significant thing people can do is to avoid air travel. -BA