States vs. Fed: Environmental Justice Comes to the Fore

| Saturday January 19th, 2008 | 0 Comments

ppp-nywater.jpg The issue of states’ rights was a central and hotly debated one in the late 18th century as the U.S.’ Founding Fathers sought to establish an independent nation. It continues to be one today, and environmental laws and regulations are often at the cutting edge.
The field of environmental justice is the offspring of two prominent, originally counter-culture movements of the 1960s and ‘70s Рthe civil rights and environmental movements. It began to coalesce and take shape in the 1980s and in Oct. 1991 the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit was held in Washington D.C.
“Seventeen principles of environmental justice were drafted and adopted. Among those were assertions that environmental justice ‚Äòdemands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias’,” wrote Taylor Sisk in a Nov. 15 article in North Carolina’s Carboro Citizen.
This charter statement of principles also “affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples”; “demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making”; and “protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages.”
Environmental justice has since evolved and grown, and now serves as a nationwide forum for a wide range of related issues – from emissions, fuel efficiency and renewable fuel and power standards to where and how we should dispose of our trash and toxic waste – as well as a well-spring of grass roots, democratic action.

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Toyota and Ford Give In and Plug In

Shannon Arvizu | Friday January 18th, 2008 | 2 Comments

toyota.jpgToyota and Ford unveiled plug-in hybrid-electric versions of their vehicles at this week’s Detroit Auto Show. This decision to give in and plug in is monumental. Consumer pressure from organizations like PlugInAmerica and Plug-In Partners most likely played a significant role. The growing number of entrepreneurial companies that offer plug-in conversion services could have also influenced Toyota’s and Ford’s decision to offer plug-in models themselves.
Both the Plug-In Toyota Prius and the Ford Escape Hybrid will run on lithium-ion battery technology known for high-efficiency and high-range capabilities. Although Ford did not announce when it plans to deliver its model to the public, Toyota President Watanabe said it will offer its Plug-in Prius models to fleet owners and governments in 2010.

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Patagonia and the Footprint Chronicles: Showing that Honesty is the Best Policy Toward Sustainability

| Friday January 18th, 2008 | 2 Comments

Yvon Chouinard - Founder of Patagonia“There is no business to be done on a dead planet.”
-David Brower

These are the words etched into the front door of Patagonia’s headquarters in Ventura, California. And it has been Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s mission to model his company upon that foundation.

Chouinard and Patagonia aren’t new to readers of Triple Pundit, but what you may not be aware of is a new online project called the Footprint ChroniclesFrom here you can track the environmental footprint of five Patagonia products from design through delivery. Each product is thoroughly examined including distance traveled (an admitted weak spot for Patagonia’s production cycle), carbon emissions, waste produced, and energy used.

Under Chouinard’s leadership, the company has never been prone to – dare I even use the word – greenwashing. Patagonia is, in fact, the antithesis of that dreadful term. The Footprint Chronicles advances that antithesis and with it comes complete honesty – the good, the bad, and the ugly. A customer can easily get a complete picture of the impact a product has on the environment, something sorely missing in mainstream consumer products, where at best there is only a vague notion of what happened before those nifty hiking boots showed up on the store rack. 

For Patagonia, the idea is simple:
“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

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McMansions: Unsustainable Housing Meets Unsustainable Finance

| Thursday January 17th, 2008 | 6 Comments

A hillside of unsustainable homes - how many are in foreclosure?The “sub-prime meltdown” hit me personally when my bank calmly informed me one day last fall that they had ceased to be, and, due to the bank’s apparent policy of making questionable loans that were simply unsustainable for too many borrowers, had become insolvent  and thus had gone into receivership by another bank.

With news today of a 306 point drop in the Dow precipitated by $16 billion in mortgage related “write downs” for a net quarterly loss of $9.8 billion coming on the heels of an $18 billion dollar write down with another $9.83 billion loss posted for Citigroup’s fourth quarter, the impact of the sub-prime mortgage spree is clear and pervasive.

At the other end of this scenario are the homes going up for foreclosure. A recent report by Matthew Yglesias of the Atlantic Monthly describes the areas hardest hit by the sub-prime collapse: subdivisions built on the edges of urban areas where once arable land is bulldozed to make way for over-sized, energy-intensive houses, with landscaping consisting grassy yards adorned with non-native species of trees and shrubs, the whole lot of it out of character with the natural surroundings and located so that most residents are forced to drive miles and miles to get to work, for too often there is no public transportation available. McMansions tucked cheek-by-jowl in some aspirational attempt to find the American Dream.

But is this the American Dream run amok, paid for with money people don’t have?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

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Sierra Club Way Too Bothered By CA High Speed Rail Plan

| Thursday January 17th, 2008 | 8 Comments

tgv.jpgI never thought I’d say this, but shame on the Sierra Club. That venerable organization is opposed to a particular routing for the long overdue California High Speed rail line which will someday connect the Bay Area with Los Angeles. [more here] The organization is threatening to sue if another, less convenient route is not chosen as the favored one by planners.
My beef is this – although the Pacheco Pass routing of the rail line may involve a higher immediate impact on certain environmental grounds (read those articles to see what I’m talking about), you’d have to be out of your mind to think that you’re doing the environment a favor by delaying high speed rail in California. This is a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees and meddling on relatively trivial matters when great progress might otherwise take place. It makes environmentalists look bad and slows down one of the most environmentally beneficial projects in the history of the State.

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Amazon Kindle: Save Trees, Support E-Book Readers

| Thursday January 17th, 2008 | 2 Comments

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As much as I love to read, turning pages one by one, breaking a new paperback book into a well-weathered memory to trophy in my book case, I realize it is costing some forest, somewhere, a tree.
Although e-books have existed since the 90’s a portable platform designed just for e-books that is truly functional has not been available until recently. I read up on two products out there, Sony Reader, which I liked, and the Amazon Kindle, of which I liked a little better.

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Aptera: Entrepreneur developed 3-wheeled hybrid

| Wednesday January 16th, 2008 | 2 Comments

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The Aptera has received a lot of press during the past couple of months, thanks in part to two critical characteristics: One- Its radical three-wheeled design. Two- the hybrid gas-electric version claims to be capable of 300 miles per gallon! How? The inventive drastic reduction by means of weight and drag.
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Although many concepts remain just that, a “concept,” the great news here is that the Aptera Typ-1e hits California streets sometime this year. The Aptera looks like it has been time-warped from the future and brings with it some relatively radical innovations. The skin of the car is constructed of epoxy resin and let’s not forget that is has only three wheels, two in front, one in the back.

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Ask Your Senators to Strengthen Promising New Climate Bill

| Wednesday January 16th, 2008 | 0 Comments

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To quote the following:
” Over the last year, Union of Concerned Scientists supporters across the country have sent thousands of letters to state and federal lawmakers urging them to reduce global warming pollution. While we’ve laid important groundwork and celebrated some concrete victories at the state and regional level – the United States still needs national comprehensive climate legislation.”
“Recently, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA) introduced America’s Climate Security Act (S. 2191). The bill’s bi-partisan support and strong framework for reducing global warming pollution will help build momentum for real congressional action. However, the Senate must act to strengthen a few elements of the bill. Please urge your senators to ensure that the bill helps avoid the worst effects of global warming.”

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Inflatable Cars

| Tuesday January 15th, 2008 | 4 Comments

Inflatable cars? What?!! A Bay Area startup, XP vehicles is tossing in its radical idea for a proposed ultra light, ultra-efficient car that is powered by both fuel cells and batteries. The body of this radical concept is proposed to be made up of preinflated airbags, of which, the company claims will be so safe that you could actually drive the car off of a 25-ft cliff without inflicting injury. The inflatable car is scheduled to be targeted at Asian markets initially.

The entire car will ship in two smash-packed, Costco-type, cardboard boxes that consumers should be able to assemble and hit the road in roughly two hours after initial assembly. Keep in mind that this will only happen if the manufacturers are able to convince the local authorities that the inflatable vehicles are actually roadworthy.

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UPS launches a small zero emissions fleet

| Tuesday January 15th, 2008 | 0 Comments

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UPS has secured a lease for 42 electric three-wheeled utility vehicles with green in mind, as in the bengamins. This environmentally friendly investment is part of a pilot program in Petaluma, California that is geared toward increasing profits by reducing transport costs.
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The ride, a very small three-wheeled one-seater called the Xebra Truck. This tiny truck-like rig has a small bed in the back, bearing the two wheels and a tiny little cab in the front, riding on the one wheel. These little cars can only travel 35 to 40 miles per charge on the few lead-acid battery powertrain and top out at 40 mph.

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Compact Stellarator: Fusion reactors that produce star-like power

| Tuesday January 15th, 2008 | 7 Comments

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Fusion Reactors have long been a mystical potential energy source that have been conceptualized and debated for over fifty years now. But today, the reality of the possibilities within these complex reactors is much closer to becoming a generating truth. The U.S. Department of Energy has commissioned the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory began building a machine called a “compact stellarator.”
This star-studded machine is intended to perfect the magnetic fields needed to control the intense thermonuclear activity involved. The interior of the stellarator machine contains 18 of the most advanced electromagnets ever designed. Princeton Engineers are creating coils that weigh some 6000 pounds and come in a variety of three different shapes. When linked up to the stellarator compactor the coils form a precisely shaped magnetic field. This field can manipulate superheated ionized gas, otherwise known as plasma in this case.

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Wind Power and M&A: A Moveable Feast

| Tuesday January 15th, 2008 | 0 Comments

Multi-billion dollar renewable energy enterprises seem to have sprung up full-blown practically overnight, providing investment bankers, venture capitalists and financiers with their latest moveable feast. Wind power projects and companies were among the first to attract serious attention and capital. While solar and biofuels have likewise come to the fore, wind power investment continues to grow at a healthy clip, constrained more by a lack of key materials than by lack of capital, opportunity, industry or even political will.
Take Airtricity Holdings, for instance. Just four years after beginning to develop wind power projects in North America, signed off on a deal to sell the business to German utility E.ON for US$1.4 billion in order to concentrate on its European business. Less than three months later, early this month, management decided its best course of action was to sell that business, for something like €1.83 billion (US$3.59 billion), to Scottish & Southern Energy, which itself recently moved into the #2 spot as a producer and distributor of electricity and natural gas in the U.K.

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Climate Change 2007: Credible Science, Tipping Points, Feedback, and the Great North

| Monday January 14th, 2008 | 4 Comments

An Arctic SunsetAndrew Burger posted two excellent articles on 3P here and here regarding the general state of research, science, and the modeling of climate change. I refer you to those article for a good foundation. There are also a variety of excellent resources on the web, some of which Andrew cites in his posts, and other worthwhile sources such as RealClimate, The National Academy of Sciences, USCap (an alliance of business and environmental research and advocacy groups), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

One of the best sources for getting a grasp on science in general and climate change in particular is the video series from “WonderingMind42”, mentioned previously on this blog. If you are at all concerned or interested in climate change, even if (especially if) you harbor skepticism regarding the efficacy of the science and are bothered by words like “consensus” I can’t recommend these videos highly enough. Look especially for the “Nature of Science” videos to get a great overview of the process of science and a guideline to assessing the credibility of sources. (here’s a hint, individual bloggers are toward the bottom of the list – more on that in a moment)

Of course, not everyone agrees with the peer-reviewed science represented in the aforementioned sources and so aptly explained in Andrew’s posts. James Inhofe has released his report from 400 “prominent” scientists refuting the reality of anthropologic climate change. I make no bones about what I think of the “James Gang” – but you should make up your own mind. Good scientific theories are continually challenged as a means of making them stronger.

I’d like to follow up in this post regarding tipping points, a look at 2007, and why I expect to be very cold next month as I try to learn more about climate change.

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Corporate Voluntary Environmental Programs: Do They Work?

Shannon Arvizu | Monday January 14th, 2008 | 0 Comments

EPSE.gif Voluntary Environmental Programs (VEPs) are very popular these days. Organizations that join these programs agree to voluntarily reduce their environmental impact beyond what is required by law. Examples of VEPs include the U.N.’s “IS0 14001,” the E.P.A.’s “33/50 Program,” the U.S. Chemical Manufacturers Association “Responsible Care,” the National Ski Areas Association “Sustainable Slopes Program,” and the Department of Energy’s “Climate Challenge Program.” But how effective are VEPs? Do they demonstrate that industry can reduce pollution without more stringent government regulation? These questions are posed by a recently released study by Nicole Darnall and Stephen Sides entitled, “Assessing the Performance of Voluntary Environmental Programs: Does Certification Matter?”

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Wild and Scenic Film Festival : How to fit 120 films into a town of < 3000

| Monday January 14th, 2008 | 0 Comments

How do you fit the biggest environmental film festival in the country into a town with a grand total of two movie theaters? Get creative, and reach out to groups you may not have otherwise thought to do so.
Such was the case for this past weekend’s Wild and Scenic Film Festival, taking place in tiny but lively Nevada City, California, population a bit shy of 3000. From an Odd Fellows hall (you know, those mysterious buildings that say I.O.O.F. on them?) to a solar powered Masonic hall , plus a Vets hall, an elementary school, and a former mining equipment manufacturing plant gone cultural center thrown in for good measure.
The focus of this festival was not what one might expect when you hear the words environmental film festival. Rather then a roster full of what’s wrong, they had films all from all over the spectrum, with the overall theme of this year being “Turning the tide.” As in seeking solutions, giving hope, rather then focusing on what’s not working.

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