Category Archives: Environment

Sweden Wants Your Trash

One of Many Trash Piles_4467c

Sweden Wants Your Trash : Move over Abba, Sweden has found new fame. The small Nordic country is breaking records — in waste. Sweden’s program of generating energy from garbage is wildly successful, but recently its success has also generated a surprising issue: There is simply not enough trash.

Only 4 percent of Swedish garbage ends up in a landfill, according to Swedish Waste Management. Due to its efficiency in converting waste to renewable energy, Sweden has recently begun importing around 800,000 tons of trash annually from other countries. (via NPR.)

This is nice. Awesome even.  But only for now, as a kind of stopgap.  There is simply no way that the energy which Sweden gets from the waste comes anywhere close to the energy used in making that trash (and transporting it to Sweden).

Sweden’s trash importing only makes sense in a world where too much trash is produced, and countries are running out of landfill and other disposal options.

There are – or should be – concerns about pollution and toxics, though Sweden being Sweden I’m sure they’ve addressed this fairly adequately.

But even so, no one should be lulled into thinking this is anything other than an emergency measure for a crazy, unsustainable time.

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Joe Oliver, Dangerous Allies and Carbon Footprints [updated]

Oil sands pipeline battle turns ugly | Environment | guardian.co.uk.

Cananda’s natural resources minister Joe Oliver has issued a public letter, which an article in the Guardian calls “an extraordinary rant,” attacking opponents of the tar sands pipelines, including Keystone XL, saying they have a “radical ideological agenda” and “dangerous allies.”

“They use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest. They attract jet-setting celebrities with some of the largest personal carbon footprints in the world to lecture Canadians not to develop our natural resources,” he said.

Oliver would know all about ideological agendas and dangerous allies.  His background is in investment banking and securities–you know, the folks who brought you the global financial crisis:

Prior to his election to Parliament, Mr. Oliver had a career in the investment banking industry. He began his investment banking career at Merrill Lynch, and served in senior positions at other investment dealers and as Executive Director of the Ontario Securities Commission. He was then appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada. (via Meet Joe « Joe Oliver.)

Clearly, based on their sterling role shepherding the global economy, investment bankers are the best choice for overseeing natural resources.   Seriously, though, if you appoint someone with this background as natural resources minister, your take on things is pretty clear: nature is a pile of economic resources to be exploited for profit. So it’s hardly surprising that Oliver is apoplectic about resistance to his money-spinning plans for pipelines running across the continent and oil shipping in sensitive waters.

As for his comment about the carbon footprint of those “jet-setting celebrities” who have opposed the Keystone XL project and other tar sands exploitation projects, I’ve written to his office and requested that he provide details on his carbon footprint, both in his role as minister and also personally, for himself and his family, as well as for any businesses in which he might hold a controlling interest.  In the interests of full disclosure and a “fair and balanced” assessment of his attack. In this day and age, it really makes sense to request ecological as well as economic transparency and accountability from government officials.

[Update: Still haven’t heard from him.]

If you want to write to him yourself, the email address for his Ottawa office is: joe.oliver@parl.gc.ca

Finally, in the current climate of the war on terrorism, and after the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act with its provision for indefinite detention, language about “dangerous allies” and “radical ideology” should sound alarm bells.  In the UK, we’ve seen recently the extent of government infiltration of radical environmental and peace groups. It doesn’t seem a huge leap to imagine groups such as those, groups branded as dangerous and as having a “radical ideology,” in the UK, the United States and Canada, getting identified as “terrorist” and subject to the full power of the endless war, anti-terrorist surveillance state that the US is fast become.

For more…

Green Consumerism Fail: Carbon Fiber Hybrid Yacht

Carbon Fiber Hybrid Yacht is Decked Out With Wind Turbines: “The tang generates energy using propellers located under the sail, which turn a pair of 18-kilowatt propulsion motors that send electricity back to the batteries. Not only can this energy power the yacht’s propulsion systems, but also the luxurious interior, which features a 37 inch flat screen TV, a Bose entertainment system, LED lighting, a café-size espresso machine, two refrigerator-freezers, a dishwasher, and a water maker, among other amenities… (via Inhabitat.)

The tagline for the website Inhabitat is “Green Design Will Save the World.” This “carbon fiber hybrid yacht” shows the shallowness of that philosophy.  But I don’t want to rail against Inhabitat, which I find consistently interesting and informative.  And I’m sure (I hope) they don’t see their tagline as more than a catchy slogan – which it is – don’t mistake it for a complete solution. So, instead what I want to focus on is this yacht itself, what its creation and celebration seem to me to indicate – which is simply green consumerism at its worst.

The term “green consumerism” can cover a wide range of phenomena, may of them positive. We all need to be “green consumers” when we shop. But really greening our world, achieving some sort of sustainable, permaculture life(style), is going to be a bit more complicated than swapping out all our batteries for rechargeables, our lightbulbs for CFLs or LEDs, and making sure that our snacks come in compostable bags (hopefully quiet ones). Or sailing in hybrid luxury yachts rather than regular diesel ones.

Greening our consumerism, if it is to lead to a genuinely sustainable future, will have to include a fundamental rethink of consumerism, of the kind of things we think we need or have to have. And also of how those things are produced and distributed.

A wind-powered luxury yacht? The technology might be sweet, but there’s nothing green about this. To take just one example, our addiction to toys like that “37 inch flat screen TV” means that the United States’ energy consumption is the same now as it was 30 or 40 years ago, despite all the Energy Star-type improvements in efficiency. What we’ve saved with our refrigerator and washer, we’ve blown on our TVs and toys.

On a deeper level, yachts have always been emblems of wealth and privilege, and this “green design” yacht is no different. The structures of money and power that are driving us to ever increasing income inequalities are the same structures that are driving much of the climate change. They may enjoy driving us in hybrid vehicles, but that is the wrong direction to go if we want to save the world. Some people may see “green” when they look at this hybrid yacht, but all I see is the yacht, the privilege and waste. I see red.

Background

“Are air fresheners bad for the environment?” – Do you really need to ask?

Yes. Of course. What did you think?

Are air fresheners bad for the environment?: “I like having air fresheners around the house, but the other day it occurred to me that I don’t know what exactly they’re puffing into my living room. Am I despoiling the planet by freshening my air?” (via Slate Magazine.)

Slate’s environmental guru, The Green Lantern (in this instance, Brian Palmer), does a bit of background on old-school air fresheners – those aerosol cans with their ozone-depleting CFCS – before tackling the current crop of air fresheners – which work in a variety of ways, the plug-in ones mostly by heating substances to release an in theory pleasing odor into the room…

manufacturers don’t have to reveal exactly what’s in their fragrance recipes, and some of them don’t even know the ingredients themselves. Many purchase their scents from a half-dozen or so major fragrance houses worldwide. The fragrance houses often make their customers promise not to chemically analyze their super-secret blends, or at least not to disclose the recipe.

Palmer goes on to discuss some of the chemicals found in these air freshers and some of the health and other issues associated with those chemicals – phthalates (hormone-disrupting), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and acetaldehyde.

But are health impacts really what people have in mind – the first or main thing they have in mind, anyway – when they talk about environmental impact? The original question posed to “The Green Lantern” – about “despoiling the planet” – would seem to have more to do with issues like air and water pollution, resource depletion, carbon footprint and so on than personal health impacts.

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The truth is, though, that we don’t need to think too hard to answer that question. Just look at them sitting on the shelf at Walgreen’s and Safeway:  little plastic containers of chemicals, in cardboard boxes, probably made in China or Indonesia or someplace like that, shipped halfway around the world… Do we really need to ask if they are bad for our environment?

And even when it comes to the individual health aspect, it doesn’t take a medical degree to figure out that devices that heat chemicals to release fumes into your breathing air are probably not such a great idea…

I don’t like stink any more than anyone else. (Though clearly I am less fussed about it… I prefer the smell of my sweaty underarms to using chemicals to stop the sweat or mask the smell.) I particularly dislike the smell of the cat litter. That and fly-blown rotten potatoes – though that seldom comes up in my current situation.

But artificial air fresheners (as opposed to, say, DIY potpourri) are, generally speaking, one of the many, many products that we really could live without, and should seriously consider giving up. All of these products – even if they are locally made and not stuffed full of harmful chemicals – are going to have an impact on the planet. Energy and water are going to be used in their manufacture, if nothing else – and we now need to face the fact that we are over-extended, that we have overshot the carrying capacity of the planet, that we are using up resources too fast – and for what? For plug-in air fresheners?

Air fresheners and a huge percentage of the vast array of products that line the shelves of our supermarkets, big box stores and Wal-Marts are part of a whole culture of consumerism that is consuming the planet. Make no mistake: I blame corporate capitalism more than the individual, and I think the answer to the crisis we face is going to have to be more profound than changes in our shopping list. But shopping lists are one of the places that change is going to have to take place.

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Completely trivial and off-topic: Did Slate Magazine have to get permission from DC Comics to use the name “The Green Lantern”?  Whatever the answer, the use of that name in this context inevitably recalls the famous Dennis O’Neil-Neal Adams-created Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up from the 1970s when a variety of contemporary political and social issues – including ecology – were taken on. The graphic novel release of those classic comics is out of print, but keep an eye out for its reprinting.

The $200 Fast Food Burger

The $200 Fast Food Burger | Jonathan Safran Foer: “there was a study … that tried to quantify the environmental costs of a 50-cent hamburger, fast food hamburger.  Putting the human health costs, putting aside the question of animal welfare, and the number they came up with was $200 per 50 cent burger.  It’s not a hypothetical, it’s not an imaginary number—that’s what it actually costs.” (via Big Think.)

Another idea whose time has come: Seed Banks

Two articles I ran across yesterday both concerned seed banks – something I’d never really given much thought to until reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s award-winning science fiction novel, The Windup Girl, earlier this year…

[The Pavlovsk research station] holds the world’s largest fruit collections and was protected by 12 Russian scientists during the second world war who chose to starve to death rather than eat the unique collection of seeds and plants which they were guarding during the 900-day siege of Leningrad.

More than 90% of the plants are found in no other research collection or seed bank. Its seeds and berries are thought to posess traits that could be crucial to maintaining productive fruit harvests in many parts of the world as climate change and a rising tide of disease, pests and drought weaken the varieties farmers now grow. At stake, say campaigners for the station, are more than 5,000 varieties of seeds and berries from dozens of countries, including more than 100 varieties each of gooseberries and raspberries.

via Russia launches inquiry into Pavlovsk seed bank after Twitter campaign | Environment | guardian.co.uk.

Trekking into the wild unknown and scaling sheer cliff faces is probably not in the typical botanist’s job description.

Then again, Cai Jie is not your typical botanist.

As collection coordinator for China’s first national seed bank for wild plants, the 31-year-old spends much of his time searching for endangered plants in some of Southwest China’s most challenging terrain.

via ‘Noah’s Ark’ gives rare plants seeds of survival.

An idea whose time has come: Climate Camp

The Climate Camp is a place for anyone who wants to take action on climate change; for anyone who’s fed up with empty government rhetoric and corporate spin; for anyone who’s worried that the small steps they’re taking aren’t enough to match the scale of the problem; and for anyone who’s worried about our future and wants to do something about it.

via About Us » Camp for Climate Action.

One of the things I particularly like about this group is its focus on the corporate criminals responsible for so much of what is creating climate change.

What Could You Do with $150 million?

You could make Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time…

Movie review: ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’: With apologies to Ben Franklin, the only things certain in life are death, taxes and that a Jerry Bruckheimer film will do its bombastic best to pummel, pound and, now, parkour you into submission. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is all that — deaths by the thousands and the sort of spectacular spectacle possible with a rumored budget of $150 million and change. (via Los Angeles Times.)

or Angelina Jolie’s new movie Salt, which cost $130 million – so you could make that and have a few million to put away for a rainy day. But you couldn’t make Inception, which reported cost $200 million to make.

Or you make a small contribution to help the people of Pakistan, devastated by floods in recent weeks, in what has been described as a “global disaster” that is worse than the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake put together.

Pakistan floods are a ‘slow-motion tsunami’: The US has pledged an extra $60m in help, bringing America’s total aid to $150m. (via The Guardian.)

How is it that the US government has pledged no more in aid money for this global disaster than was spent making Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time – a disaster of a movie?

Who Cooked the Planet?

Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you’ll find that they’re on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades.

read the whole thing at Op-Ed Columnist – Who Cooked the Planet? – NYTimes.com.

Doonesbury on the BP Oil Spill

Read the whole sequence at Doonesbury@Slate – Daily Dose.

BP Oil Spill: Why we can’t nuke it closed…

“It’s crazy,” one senior official said.

(via Nuclear Option on Gulf Oil Spill? No Way, U.S. Says – NYTimes.com.)

I was never seriously suggesting the nuclear option as a real approach to sealing the leak – as a solution to the environmental problem it seemed as batshit crazy as Glenn Beck’s rants. As one sensible fellow/felless put it, “What’s worse that an enormous oil spill? An enormous radioactive oil spill.”

Read the NYTimes.com article article for other, more technical, albeit less succinct reasons why this would be a bad idea. As if you needed convincing. Something to think about tomorrow – World Environmental Day. Thanks for lending it so much extra poignancy, BP – creating a disaster so impossible to manage and global in potential scope than the idea of nuking it has been seriously tossed around. What’s next? Proposing that Dr. Evil use sharks with frickin’ lasers to melt it shut?

BP Oil Spill: Behold our dark, magnificent horror

Behold our dark, magnificent horror: There is, you have to admit, a sort of savage grace, a tragic and terrible beauty, to the BP oil spill.

Like any good apocalyptic vision of self-wrought hell, the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history has its inherent poetry. You see that creeping ooze of black, that ungodly wall of unstoppable darkness as it slowly, inexorably invades the relatively healthy, pristine waters adjacent, and you can’t help but appreciate the brutal majesty, the fantastic, reeking horror of this new manifestation of black death we have brought upon ourselves, as it spreads like a fast cancer into the liquid womb of Mother Nature herself…  (via sfgate.com.)

Interview: Naomi Klein on oil spill: “Frustration is growing among residents of the US Gulf of Mexico coast over the pace of efforts to combat the growing oil spill in the region. Author and activist Naomi Klein has been visiting the state of Louisiana. She told Al Jazeera that patience is running very thin…….” (via digg.com.)

White House Tries to Regroup as Criticism Mounts Over Leak: The Obama administration scrambled to respond on Sunday after the failure of the latest effort to kill the gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. But administration officials acknowledged the possibility that tens of thousands of barrels of oil might continue pouring out until August… (via NYTimes.com.)

BP’s Newest Plan As ‘top kill’ failed: “BP is moving on to other cleanup efforts now that its ‘top kill’ operations failed to stop the flow of oil from the gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico.” (via digg.com.)

Oil could hit Florida Panhandle by Wednesday: “A Florida beach might get hit with oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident for the first time Wednesday as sheen likely caused by the accident was reported less than 10 miles off Pensacola Beach.” (via digg.com.)

Another Torrent BP Works to Stem – Its C.E.O.: BP, already bedeviled by an out-of-control well spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, now finds itself with one more problem: Tony Hayward, its gaffe-prone chief executive.

Among his memorable lines: The spill is not going to cause big problems because the gulf “is a very big ocean” and “the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to have been very, very modest.” And this week, he apologized to the families of 11 men who died on the rig for having said, “You know, I’d like my life back.”… (via NYTimes.com.)

Media must have unrestricted ability to cover the oil spill: “One of the most disturbing aspects of British Petroleum’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent continuing oil spill is the company’s ham-handed attempts to restrict media coverage. BP officials seem to be more adept at cutting off information flows than oil leaks.” (via digg.com.)

Breaking: Feds Approve More Offshore Drilling in Gulf Coast: “The Mineral Management Service (MMS) decided today to grant a permit allowing Bandon Oil and Gas to start drilling just 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.” (via digg.com.)

Gambling site lets you bet on oil spill related extinctions: “Gambling website PaddyPower.com placed odds on which species would be the first to go belly-up forever because of impacts from the spill. The Kemp’s ridley turtle, an endangered species that migrates to along the coastline from Mexico to Florida, is seen as the most likely winner, with a $5 bet likely to bring back $9 if it’s listed as extinct.” (via digg.com.)

About $%^& Time!!! Feds Launch Criminal Probe of BP Oil Spill: “We will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law anyone who has violated the law, Holder told reporters today in New Orleans.” (via digg.com.)

Punishing BP for the Oil Spill: 6 Brutal Proposals: “Eleven people are dead and the Gulf of Mexico has become ground zero of America’s worst-ever oil spill. Who’s to blame? In the eyes of most commentators, BP tops the list. More than a month after the Deepwater Horizon blew up and crude began spewing into sea and calls to punish the oil giant are gaining in volume. But what’s the right penalty?” (via digg.com.)

BP’s New Spokeswoman is Dick Cheney’s Former Press Secretary: “A rising star in Bush-Cheney circles since the 2000 campaign, Anne Womack-Kolton served as Cheney’s press secretary during the 2004 election before running public affairs in the Bush Department of Energy. She’s now BP’s new spokeswoman.” (via digg.com.)

BP Oil Spill – xkcd: Worst-Case Scenario

Oil’s Well That Ends Well?

BP’s new plan to cap well risks worsening oil spill: “A maneuver that includes severing a leaking pipe from the well may increase the flow as much as 20%. Officials also say there is no immediate remedy to plug the well until August… (via latimes.com.)

Let’s review, shall we:

  • BP has a long and ignominious history of negligence, safety violations and oil spills in their American operations.
  • A relatively cheap (half a million) safety device could have prevented the spill. Such devices are used on a number of other platforms and mandated by some governments. Was it too expensive?
  • BP knew there were serious safety problems at the site almost a full year ago – and did nothing.

  • The companies involved initially went round in circles blaming each other. Their conduct was so atrocious they had to back down after being excoriated in the press, and by Congress and the President.
  • BP eventually acknowledged responsibility and said they would take care of it. They then clarified this responsibility by saying it extended only to the clean-up and reasonable claims for damages. So far, they have made no indication that they intend to honor any claims for damages above the $75 million limit set by federal law. Republican Congressmen with ties to the oil industry have blocked attempts to amend the limit on damages in Congress.
  • The BP CEO said the spill was “relatively tiny” compared with the “very big ocean.” It has now turned up on the Florida coast and entered the Gulf Loop which is carrying it into the Atlantic. It is damaging wetlands and breeding grounds used by a wide range of species, including migratory birds, which will extend its impact from Antarctica to the Arctic. Scientists are saying the oil spill may continue to affect the region for decades or even the rest of the 21st century.
  • After six weeks, every attempt BP has made to stop the oil spill has failed. These attempts have included such rocket science-like approaches as putting a concrete dome on top of the leak and plugging it with junk.
  • A review of BP’s oil spill response plan found it to be “studded with patently inaccurate and inapplicable information.” (We didn’t need a review to tell us their plan wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on – all you had to do was look at the Gulf of Mexico, or the beaches of Louisiana and Florida, or read about the golf balls, pantyhose and human hair.)
  • When staffers from the Minerals Management Service were not getting whacked out on crystal meth and watching porn at work, they were off enjoying meals and entertainment at the expense of the oil companies they were supposed to be overseeing. Understandably, this left them too busy to handle those pesky oversight responsibilities, so they often had the oil drillers fill out the paperwork for them.
  • BP withheld access to a video feed showing the oil spill from scientists and reporters, while insisting over and over in public on an estimate of the rate of the spill that was vastly lower than the estimates of scientists and other industry officials. It turns out the rate of the spill was much, much higher.
  • They deployed a highly toxic chemical to “disperse” the oil from the spill. Scientists and environmentalists argue this chemical will compound the environmental damage of the spill while doing little to actually “clean” it up, other then keep it from washing up too visibly on the shore. The chemical BP used is so toxic that it is banned in other countries and the EPA eventually stepped in and forced them to stop using it.
  • BP hired locals to deploy this toxic chemical but reportedly did not provide them with any safety equipment. The LA Times recently reported that clean-up workers had “become ill after working long hours near waters fouled with oil and dispersant” (here).
  • BP has vast resources – including profits of $14 billion in 2009 – but they seem to be trying to do this thing on the cheap. So far, they’ve only spent $940 million on their efforts to stop the spill and clean up, but that’s less than the profit they made in the same period. In fact, BP’s profits have soared recently: “net profit soared 137 per cent to 6.08 billion US dollars in the three months to March compared with the same period in 2009.”
  • If BP is “absolutely responsible,” as their CEO acknowledges, why aren’t they doing everything in the power to stop the spill and clean up the oil? The truth is, the longer they go without cleaning up the oil that has already spilled, the less they will have to do. The oil will still be there, still be damaging the environment and people’s lives and livelihoods, but it will be widely spread and out of sight. BP will never – never – clean up all the oil. They won’t even try.

Climate Change! Geoengineering! Terraforming!

An interview with the author of Hack the Planet on the science fiction website Tor.com

GGG#020: Climate Change! Geoengineering! Terraforming! (Guest: Eli Kintisch): Eli Kintisch, author of Hack the Planet, joins us to discuss some of the ambitious and risky geoengineering schemes that are being proposed to address climate change… (via Tor.com / Science fiction and fantasy.)

For more of Kintisch’s views, check out his website/blog, Hack The Planet