Climate Crossroads Blog
Posted by: Rachel Butler at 3:08PM PST on September 30, 2010
Newsflash: bikes are chic, and more and more people are hopping on bicycles to get around. The urban commuter cycling trend is getting some much-deserved encouragement from cities across the US that are joining the bike share bandwagon -- last week, our nation's capital (re)joined their ranks.
Last week, Washington D.C. saw the launch of the Capital Bikeshare program, which replaces the smaller SmartBike program in D.C. to become the largest bike sharing program in the country. By the time the program is fully up and running at the end of October 2010, D.C. and metro area residents will have 1,100 bikes at their fingertips, located at 110 stations across the city and in Arlington, VA.
A handful of other cities across the country also have bike sharing programs, including Minneapolis (700 bikes at 60 stations), Denver (425 bikes at 42 stations), and Des Moines (18 bikes at 4 stations, expanding to 100 bikes by 2011). Plans are being made for a bike program launch in Miami later this year, and New York City is studying a bike share program of its own with over 30,000 bicycles.
The upswing in bicycling and bike sharing programs in cities across the U.S. is big news -- it's a sign of the public demand for a transportation system that provides convenient and affordable choices for users. With more cities and transportation departments realizing that you can’t build your way out of congestion -- we’re going to need more creative, healthy, and innovative solutions like D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare.
For a transportation system dominated by cars and addicted to oil, the advent of bike share programs in cities across the U.S. is a step in the right direction. The Sierra Club’s Green Transportation program is hard at work to create a 21st century transportation system that moves us beyond oil and provides transportation choices for all -- join the Sierra Club’s Transportation Activists to be a part of the solution.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:32PM PST on September 30, 2010
I like to read. On the computer. And I like to tell people about it. Here are some intriguing items related to green transportation that I recommend taking a look at:
-- In Austin, Car2go hits 10,000 members. What's Car2go? It's a car sharing program that has drawn in people from all age groups and backgrounds. The fleet comprises 41-mpg Smart Fortwos, "he most fuel-efficient non-hybrid vehicle in the United States." Car2go executives are so pleased, they're looking to expand to other U.S. cities.
-- "Should cyclists pay a road tax?" Bicyclists already pay, and overpay, taxes. "If you don't drive a car, even for some trips, you are subsidizing those who do -- by a lot."
-- Bicycle champ Lance Armstrong has a new Nissan LEAF and he's tweeting about it. Take a look at his video over at Treehugger. "Lance has said before that one of the reasons why he likes EVs so much is because he has to ride his bike behind gas and diesel vehicles, and he's sick and tired of breathing their fumes."
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 9:36AM PST on September 30, 2010
This post is the latest in our series of coal ash community profiles. Our work on coal ash unfortunately becomes timely yet again, as news came out this week of a breach at a coal ash impoundment in North Carolina. This week's profile was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Andrea Sanchez.
There is nothing little about Little Blue Run Dam, the coal fly ash impoundment that reaches into both Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Coal ash is the toxic by-product of burning coal for electricity - the Little Blue Run ash impoundment belongs to the Bruce Mansfield Plant. This plant is FirstEnergy's largest coal-fired power plant, burning around seven million tons of coal annually.
At full capacity, the three plants that make up Bruce Mansfield complex produce four million gallons of coal slurry daily. This is where Little Blue comes in.
Seven miles of pipeline will bring you to a 1,694 acre disposal site known as Little Blue (see its eerie blue color in the above Google Maps satellite image). By the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) own admission, Little Blue is one of 49 sites around the country whose dam currently has a High Hazard Potential rating. This rating means that if the dam holding back Little Blue's toxic slurry - the largest earthen dam in the country - were to breach, it would result in probable loss of life, largely to communities across the river in Ohio.
In addition to the structural hazard, coal ash also contains toxic metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and selenium, to name a few, and so far EPA has not required special liners to ensure that coal ash does not contaminate nearby waterways.
Debbie Havens, of the West Virginia side of the impoundment, remembers the first time the energy company spoke to her about the expansion of the impoundment years ago. A man came to her home armed with a colorful brochure and said, "There will be swimming, boating, walking and bike trails, a place my family could spend time together."
She told him, "I'm sorry sir, but I have a hard time believing that." That was the first and only time that anyone came to her door. Now large properties are being bought off left and right to make room for more coal ash waste at Little Blue.
For those living near unlined coal ash impoundments the risk of cancer can be as high as 1 in 50, which is 2,000 times higher than EPA's "acceptable cancer risk of 1 in 100,000." This statistic only takes into account the risk of cancer from arsenic exposure in drinking water.
When looking at the entire list of toxins contained in coal ash, the health risks are even worse. Havens' husband had his thyroid removed several years ago after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and now Havens herself has a thyroid nodule which doctors are watching. Doctors also found three benign tumors doctors in her breast.
With no family history of thyroid problems, her endocrinologist has assessed that environmental exposure as the cause and told her, "You need to move or you will never survive this stuff."
In her community three men have already died from cancer this year. One thing is sure, she said, "Life is a lot different than that pretty brochure 36 years ago."
On the other side of the impoundment in Pennsylvania, Barb Reed and her son are living about a mile away from the site in Georgetown. Reed has lived in the area since 1978; her son is now living with her because he can no longer use his own water. His home is closer to the impoundment and after both FirstEnergy and the state Department of Environmental Protection found that the levels of arsenic in his water were exceeding the maximum EPA levels, he decided he had to leave his home.
"It's terribly upsetting because he can't even take showers or wash dishes, he's had to leave his home, and he's still paying a mortgage on it," said Reed. "They haven't even offered him a viable water supply because they claim it is not their fault."
If the risk of cancer, the potential for contaminated water, and the destroyed landscape isn’t enough - there is also the smell of rotten eggs. "You can't breathe because of the smell. Your throat burns, your eyes burns, everyday we're surrounded by fly ash," said Havens.
Even from a mile away Reed is reluctant to use her water because of the smell of rotten eggs coming from the tap. While she used to garden in her own backyard, she now grows vegetables out of buckets with store-bought soil to avoid eating contaminated produce.
It is time for EPA to treat coal ash as the toxic waste that it is. Both of Reed and Havens have attended the EPA coal ash public hearings in their areas hoping to get the agency to enact federally enforceable standards that will treat coal not like household garbage - but as toxic waste.
"A banana peel is household waste, not fly ash," said Havens.
Posted by: John Byrne Barry at 3:25PM PST on September 29, 2010
I have many good excuses for not having written a Lazy Organic Gardener post since July, but the main one is that I haven't spent much time in the garden.
That's actually a testament to the success of my garden beds and drip irrigation system — that I was able to ignore the garden for most of the summer, and here it is almost October and I have a bounty of vegetables to harvest.
Tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes.
I told myself after last year's disappointing tomato harvest that I wanted to have too many this year. I do. Despite a staggeringly lazy summer. Between traveling and a busy work schedule and some out-of-town visitors and plain old loafing around thinking about doing garden chores and not doing them, well, I didn’t log many hours over the summer in the garden. The beds and the irrigation allowed me to be lazy. Almost like I planned it that way.
The tomatoes thrived, and now, in September, I have more of them than I know what to do with. I’ve sliced them up for sandwiches and salads. I've taken bowls of them as presents to others. But mostly I’ve made salsa. Here's what's left of one of the three big bowls I made. (I've never been much on food processors before, but now I see the light.)
Ingredients: Tomatoes, peppers, onion, cilantro, lime. The first two ingredients came from the garden. Plus salt and pepper. Last weekend, salsa for lunch, salsa for dinner. With tortillas and cheese or rice and beans. (I froze some, though my experience is that it loses its texture, gets mushy when thawed. But I can mix it in with chili or soup.)
When I built the bed, I set out to intentionally segregate the cultivated area from the wild. I filled one bed with tomatoes, peppers, and basil, and though it looks pretty shabby at the moment, it's still pumping out the produce. I could fill a big salad bowl to the rim right now and still leave a lot unpicked.
The second bed is more of a mixed bag. The corn grew tall and strong, though it tasted a bit starchy, The zucchini and other squashes were not as prolific as the cliché would have it, but I came back from one trip to find some baseball bat sized plants. I sliced them lengthwise and grilled them with olive oil and spices. Pretty good. I also chopped up another and added it to the salsa. Not bad.
But the eggplant didn’t produce a single fruit and the strawberries, though delicious, were not prolific like the tomatoes.
This time of year, the garden looks bedraggled and unkempt. The side fence is full of blooming morning glories, and that's about the extent of the flowers. However, as I sit here in my study at home, which looks out on the garden, I can see one manifestation of my laziness a foot from me — a tendril of morning glory snaking into the house through the two-inch crack in my sliding window. There are tendrils like that all over the yard, some of them four or five feet long. Weed-whacker time! You can see the morning glory starting invade the garden, and below that, their lovely flowers covering a chain link fence.
I got a lesson in the importance of water this summer, as if I didn't already know this. One of my favorite easy plants — Peruvian lilies — were blooming like crazy in spring and early summer. Now, with the exception of one patch, they've dried up. The difference is water.
Last year, before I built my beds and segregated the "crops" from the wilder shrubs and flowers scattered around the garden, the lilies were getting regular water — partly on purpose and partly because my drip system was so unfocused and spaghetti-like. This year, I restricted the watering to the beds and a few other spots, and only got a drip line hooked up to one patch, which you can see below. Well, there's always next year.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:22PM PST on September 29, 2010
Did you catch Thomas Friedman's strong words about gas prices? In China, gas is twice the price as it is here. The country has recently announced a commitment of a cool $15 billion toward electric cars and infrastructure. Via Autobloggreen:
In his words, "you'll import your new electric car from China just like you're now importing your oil from Saudi Arabia."Plug-in hybrids will also be subsidized in China. It seems like there's a lack of urgency here when you look at what's happening in other parts of the globe.
There are some tax credits that come with EVs. But the new technology, and benefits that come with it, is still maturing. What does the future hold for these cars? Read my interview with Plug In American co-founder Chelsea Sexton. She makes a good point that policymakers should think holistically about incentives for future EV owners who switch their homes -- and car fuel sources -- toward renewable alternatives.
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:25PM PST on September 28, 2010
A new study that came out today concluded that offshore wind energy along the Atlantic coast could provide more energy than dirty, conventional energy sources. The study, sponsored by Oceana
estimates that the 13 coastal states could together generate 127 gigawatts of power. That represents the potential for far more wind power than the United States currently generates. At the end of 2009, the nation's land-based turbines were capable of producing some 35,000 megawatts of power -- enough to meet the needs of 28 million typical American homes.Read critiquing of the report over at NYT's Green blog. If you agree that the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind, and you're contemplating ways to bring it home, read my interview with a small wind expert from the American Wind Energy Association. Are you a fan of renewable energy? Check out Sierra Club's clean energy program.
Posted by: Heather M at 10:27AM PST on September 28, 2010
Yesterday was the first day of a two day hearing by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. The hearing is covering the response following the BP spill, impacts on the Gulf and approaches to long-term restoration.
At the hearing, our own Sierra Club Apprentice Jenny Kordick testified about the Sierra Club's involvement and wishes for the cleanup and restoration. Here is her testimony: (You can also watch it at C-SPAN's website - her testimony starts at about minute 59)
Last week, the Sierra Club brought a delegation of Gulf Coast residents impacted by the spill to Washington DC - these individuals included Sierra Club staff and volunteers working on oil spill response, fishermen, and coastal business owners. The group met with Professor Lazarus, Director Bromwich, representatives from NOAA, and members of Congress with a clear message that the BP oil disaster is not over. Although the BP well may be capped, the Gulf Coast and its residents are still recovering from the disaster, with job losses in fishing and tourism, and massive fish kills as oil finds its way into our shores and ocean bottoms. The environmental, economic, and social impacts from the spill will be felt in years to come.
The Gulf of Mexico and affected coastal communities need federal resources for restoration and recovery. Funding these resources can come from Clean Water Act penalties, creating a Gulf Coast fund whereby penalties from the BP spill go directly towards restoration projects, and securing immediate funding under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. We also support the creation of a permanent regional community council to guide recovery efforts and ensure continued community driven oversight of the offshore oil industry.
In wake of the disaster, we must ensure full accountability by the oil industry. A portion of oil and gas industry profits should be directed toward ocean protection and restoration. Long term funding can be provided for independent, peer-reviewed science to supplement federal and state research to obtain a full assessment of the BP spill's impacts on Gulf of Mexico resources like fisheries and marshes as well as seafood and public health monitoring.
A third generation Alabama fisherman who was a part of the Gulf contingent in DC last week expressed concern about the safety of the seafood industry as fishing waters re-open for the first times following the spill. The industry faces challenges ahead to not only restore the fishing stock but also to restore public perception about the safety of Gulf seafood.
The BP disaster reinforces the need to move America beyond oil dependence towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. The BP spill demonstrates the certainty that there will be adverse economic and environmental outcomes as drilling continues. Instead of more offshore drilling, we should be building a 21st century transportation system, and investing in the kind of clean energy that will create jobs and infuse new life into our economy.
Posted by: Heather M at 8:16AM PST on September 28, 2010
Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt rallies against mountaintop removal coal mining with her baby Hazel. Photo courtesy of Appalachia Rising.
Yesterday's massive Appalachia Rising rally and march was a big success - with more than 2,000 activists taking to the streets in DC to call for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining.
Posted by: Brian F. at 12:18PM PST on September 27, 2010
Photo courtesy Green Drive Expo.
Chelsea Sexton, who co-founded the electric vehicle non-profit Plug In America, was in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Sexton will give the keynote address at the Green Drive Expo in Richmond, Ca on October 9. She took a few minutes to talk about the future of EVs.
There’s a perception out there that EVs are not affordable to the average middle-class person.
It's true that new technology tends to be more expensive. However, we’re already seeing that with volume and tax incentives, these first vehicles are coming in much cheaper than what anyone expected, and fairly accessibly. With the federal tax incentive, the Nissan LEAF is roughly $25,000, and in California it’s $20,000. The Chevy Volt with incentives will be about $33,000, which isn’t cheap. But it's in the ballpark with what people can afford.
Early adopters of these cars will increase volume and lower prices down the road. The first VCR was $2,000 or so. Now they’re $50. You’ll see the same kind of thing with these vehicles.
What about the fact that gas and maintenance costs bring these price tags down? People seem to forget that.
Absolutely. The reality is if you factor in the total cost of ownership, it’s a very good scenario. Not everyone will consider that in the upfront costs. But economically, politically, environmentally, these vehicles make so much more sense than continuing to go to the gas station.
But I’m not really seeing that point in the marketing so far.
I think that’s right. A lot of this is awareness and an exercise in storytelling and education. You only have a few seconds to convey your message and it’s tough to get it into this new concept. That’s where organizations and stakeholders can help with having conversations that a 30-second Nissan commercial isn’t going to be able to do. So a lot of these automakers need to get better at it. But everyone else and consumers can help as well.
What are some of the commendable things car companies are doing right now when it comes to EVs?
Particularly with GM and Nissan is that they’re aggressive. They’re both committed to “sooner rather than later,” and that helps draw a line in the sand for all the other automakers. A lot of companies are targeting 2012 and 2015, but GM and Nissan are 2010.
They are also going to make a large number of vehicles. It’s no longer, “We’re going to make 1,000 vehicles and see how it goes.” Both of those things are aggressive and ambitious. Especially with GM, which got pretty beaten up and had the most angst about jumping back into these waters after dropping the EV1.What’s your opinion of the Tesla? It gets a lot of flak for being an expensive sports car.
I adore the Tesla. I think it’s wicked fun to drive. A bit out of my price range [laughs], but I think they’ve been a catalyst for the industry. They blew the “golf cart” myth. They got people off this nerdy perception of electric cars. It’s an expensive car, let’s not pretend. But there’s a market for those cars, just like the Porsche and Ferrari.
What can car companies do better?
I’m most concerned about the marketing, educational aspect, and consumer experience and I’d like to see those things get better. I’d like to see them engage more with industry veterans as well as communities. This is a social, community-oriented technology and automakers are skittish about embracing that. They have to work on the community and the experience of it. Building a good car is fantastic, but it’s not enough.
You’ve said that half of EV purchasers end up converting to solar power at home because of their increased awareness of where their power comes from. That’s great, but how do we get more EV drivers to do that sort of follow-up?
What we haven't begun to thoroughly consider is how to use the vehicles to incentivize renewables of all sorts: giving EV drivers certain incentives if they commit to powering that vehicle either through a private system like wind or solar, or purchasing renewable electricity through their utility. This is most likely to be policy-driven, but it could happen at the federal, state, or even municipal level, offering lots of flexibility. As we look to the future, we need to think creatively about how we might capitalize on the passion and visibility of automobiles to also accelerate other types of good behavior and technologies.
What will you talk about at the Green Drive Expo?
Well, we have a new movie coming out. We’re aiming to release it next spring. It’ll focus more on the human-interest elements and the people who are trying to bring the electric car back; as well as the challenges and what role consumers will play in terms of voting politically and with their dollars and spreading the word. Consumers have the unique ability to infiltrate their own networks and accomplish that.Do you still drive a Saturn?
I am still driving my Saturn. It’s a good little car. But I’m hoping someday there will be some with a plug on it.
Posted by: Carl Pope at 9:51AM PST on September 27, 2010
One of the most interesting panels at the Clinton Global Initiative, chaired by John Podesta of the Center for American Progress, dealt with the world's forests: how to save them by investing in their value as, among other things, carbon sinks.
On one level, the panel -- which included the President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo; Kuntoro Mangkusubotra, the Indonesian minister in charge of forests; Nobel Prize laureate Wangari Maathai; U.S. Climate Negotiator Jonathan Pershing; and Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia -- was very hopeful. Everyone on the panel agreed that you can't solve the climate crisis without saving the world's forests, that saving forests was highly affordable, and that it would yield almost immediate beneficial results. And it was clear that the nations with the biggest tropical forests -- Brazil, Indonesia, and the Congo Basin -- are at the table and open to change.
But it's not clear that the nations responsible for most of the carbon pollution are ready to do their part, with the noble exception of the Norwegians, who are the real leaders here. President Jagdeo of Guyana put it very plainly: his nation is willing to give up the huge economic benefits that come from cutting down its forests, but needs replacement revenue. The rich nations are not willing to commit to meaningful reductions in their carbon emissions, so private carbon markets won't generate enough income to save forests. And the rich nations claim that the economic crisis makes it impossible for them to provide public funds. Forest protection is absolutely essential, and is the lowest-hanging fruit. But it's not being picked. As Jagdeo said, "this leaves me seriously worried about whether we have any chance of doing the things that are more expensive than saving forests."
Indonesia's Mangkusubotra made the point that forest nations are being asked to make enormous changes and sacrifices. "Our people had an easy source of revenue, cutting down forests and then planting oil palms. You are asking us to give up that choice, but saying you can offer nothing in return because of your politics. Well, we have politics too."
And even when the money flows, the historical arrogance of Europe and the U.S. is getting in the way. President Jagdeo complained that when Norway provided a billion dollars for Guyana, it was almost impossible to get the World Bank to sign a clean transfer agreement that recognized that this was not charity, not aid -- it was a fee paid by those who dump carbon to those who provide the service of storing it for them in their forests.
Eventually Guyana signed an unsatisfactory payment agreement, but this kind of refusal to change our ways is going cripple our ability to make rapid progress -- the kind we need -- for the utterly absurd reason of our unwillingness to admit that our enormous carbon emissions constitute theft from the rest of the world. If we are going to squat on the forests of the Congo or the beaches of the Seychelles, we should at least have the decency to pay our rent on time.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:40AM PST on September 27, 2010
However, what this video implies (h/t Felix Salmon) is that the obstacles that bicyclists encounter go beyond just cars and pedestrians. The particular bike lane in question on has turned into a loading zone. And watch two minutes in -- established bicyclists talk about the different types of bicyclists: the daily commuters versus the casual riders going for a pedaling stroll. "The reality was the bike lanes were slower and more dangerous than what First Avenue ever was before," she says at the 3:20 mark.
Take a look at the slow motion sequence around the 3:40 mark. For some of these bike commuters, it's safer to use the bus lane.
There's a lesson to be learned here. As people ditch cars, hop on their bikes, and clutter the thoroughfares, urban planners work to accommodate the trend and come across unexpected implications.Salmon writes:
It’s going to be very interesting to see how fast cyclists cope with an influx of slower cyclists in Manhattan, as bike lanes continue to get built and average bike speeds continue to decline. I love to zoom down avenues at high speed, but I also love being safe. Maybe that means I’m just going to have to start going a little slower.
Posted by: Guay at 9:19AM PST on September 27, 2010
It is difficult to comprehend in a society where owning a car is often a prerequisite to a 16th birthday, that nearly 3 billion people, about half of humanity, lack such ubiquitous modern conveniences as clean efficient stoves. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) these inefficient stoves lead to 1.9 million annual deaths from indoor air pollution (IAP) every year. What’s worse, the impact is primarily borne by the most vulnerable in society - women and children. The good news is that a relatively “simple” technology - improved cookstoves - can help rectify the situation by providing a myriad of benefits including saving lives, improving livelihoods, empowering women, and combating climate change. Perhaps the most compelling reason to invest in improved cookstoves is the opportunity to reduce morbidity and mortality. For example, in India, the Lancet found that the distribution of fifteen million improved cookstoves every year for the next decade could supply 87 percent of households across India with a technology that would reduce premature deaths by 17 percent. In addition to reducing pollution, more efficient stoves reduce the frequency and duration of trips spent foraging for fuel wood, which can help women in conflict areas avoid being brutalized. The reduced need for firewood not only protects women, it reduces what can be severe deforestation in conflict areas and refugee situations (as occurred in the Kivu region of the Congo after the Rwandan genocide). In addition to reducing deforestation, improved cookstoves play an important role in mitigating climate change by reducing black carbon that lasts days to weeks in the atmosphere (compared to one hundred years for carbon dioxide). This fast acting mitigation strategy is critical for India where black carbon emissions account for thirty percent of the changes associated with Himalayan glacier melt. By eliminating the use of open fires for cooking and the accompanying black carbon emissions, it is possible to reduce an estimated 0.5-1 billion tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent gases in India alone. Considering the fact that black carbon emissions result in nearly one-fifth of temperature increases associated with global warming – the second-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide – it is clear that an investment in improved cookstoves is an investment in combating climate change. However, until recently progress on achieving the win-win-win associated with this technology has been held back for decades by a variety of cultural, technological, and market-related factors. However, in 2009 India announced a National Biomass Cookstoves Initiative, under the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy to provide improved cookstoves for an estimated 160 million Indian homes. The program will help eliminate the 570,000 premature deaths poor women and children suffer. In 2010 the initiative was bolstered by the announcement of a partnership with the X Prize Foundation and the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi to create a global competition to develop and deploy clean and efficient cookstoves. While these efforts are critical, the truly catalyzing moment came last week at the Clinton Global Initiative when the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was announced with a US contribution of $50 million. By addressing past failures and creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions, the Alliance plans to reach its ‘100 by 20’ goal that calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. The Alliance’s effort rests on its ability to work with public, private, and non-profit partners to overcome the market barriers that currently impede the production, deployment, and use of clean cookstoves in the developing world. Ultimately, addressing the critical issues that surround inefficient cookstoves yields benefits that far outweigh the meager costs; Costs which pale in comparison to the unacceptable burden borne by the worlds' poor. While cookstoves themselves are only one step towards saving the world, by addressing the fundamental issues of women’s empowerment, improved health, and improved environmental sustainability we are investing in a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for us all.
Posted by: Brian F. at 9:30AM PST on September 24, 2010
SIERRA magazine's answer guy Mr. Green, a.k.a. Bob Schildgen usually writes a column. And it has a lot of fans. But he's also pretty good on the small screen -- the small screen of YouTube, that is. Enjoy these clips of helpful advice.
Some people out there think hand washing dishes preserves water and energy. In this segment, Mr. Green explains the fallacies in that line of thinking.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 8:34AM PST on September 24, 2010
This week's coal ash community profile was written by Elizabeth Irvin, a Sierra Club Apprentice.
Ash about 20 feet over containment berm, 50 yards from residents’ homes in Riverside Gardens. Picture is taken from 2nd story window of resident's house. Credit: Thomas Pearce, Sierra Club.
For one weekend each year in early May, Louisville, Kentucky, boasts an abnormally high concentration of horses, jockeys, mint juleps, and elaborate hats. Less than ten miles from Churchill Downs, the neighborhood of Riverside Gardens has been dealing with an abnormal and deadly concentration of toxic chemicals every day for more than 40 years. A low income neighborhood in an area of Louisville known for its concentration of chemical plants, landfills, and power plants, Riverside Gardens may soon be forced to deal with yet another threat: a second coal ash dump in their community.
Monica Burkhead thought she was living the American dream when she bought a house in Riverside Gardens at the age of 17. She was assured that the neighborhood was safe, but has since learned that she is surrounded by growing quantities of all forms of toxic waste. The sources of these toxins include 11 chemical plants, a 2.4 million cubic yard unlined chemical landfill that is one of the state's oldest superfund sites, and multiple unlined coal ash waste ponds at the Cane Run coal plant owned by Louisville Gas and Electric.
The oldest of these coal ash ponds was built in the 1970s, but there are no records of any monitoring of any pond until 2005. The largest of these ponds is one of 49 nationwide that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated as "high hazard" - meaning that a dam failure like the 2008 disaster in Tennessee would probably result in loss of life. Ash in this pond looms 20 feet over the containment berm, 50 yards from homes and within 350 yards of the Ohio River.
Louisville Gas and Electric is currently seeking permits to "expand" the pond at the Cane Run coal plant by constructing a new 5.7 million cubic yard, 14-story-tall pond some 1,500 feet from the existing one. What little data can be obtained about the existing ponds shows that they have been leaking sulfates into local groundwater. Neither the coal plant nor the state government has made public any tests of the toxic heavy metals found in coal ash, including arsenic, selenium, and mercury.
Monica and her neighbors live in a community ravaged by cancer. EPA has found that people living near coal ash ponds have a risk of cancer greater than that of smoking a pack of cigarettes every day. Community organizers say that behind every door they knock on is someone with either cancer or kidney failure.
When Monica took the community's concerns to the chemical and coal companies, they told her that it was their lifestyles, and not the toxic contamination, that was making them sick. Monica doesn't smoke or drink, eats healthily, and gets regular exercise. All of her family members except her husband have battled cancer. The industries evidently consider living in Riverside Gardens a lifestyle choice, even though the neighborhood existed long before plants that are now polluting it.
Resident Terri Humphrey expressed a common sentiment when she told a community meeting, "I believe the companies think that it’s already so bad down there that it doesn’t matter if they dump something else on us."
Monica, Terri, and other Riverside Gardens residents will testify at the upcoming EPA coal ash hearing in Louisville on September 28th. Monica says that EPA can begin to repair her trust in government’s ability to protect communities by enacting a strong, federally enforceable rule that ends dangerous practices like the ones employed at the Cane Run plant.
Last spring, a group of children at nearby Farnsley Middle School were top 10 finalists in a competition to be "America's Greenest School." In the video they produced, students talk about their plans to manage the school's waste more responsibly. Strong leadership from EPA and Administrator Lisa Jackson can make coal companies live up to the example set by the students in their own community.
See www.sierraclub.org/coalash to learn more and take action on toxic coal ash.
Posted by: Don Knapp, ICLEI USA at 10:43AM PST on September 23, 2010
The City of San Francisco is now diverting 77 percent of its waste from landfills, the highest rate of any city in the nation. The City increased its rate from 72 percent the previous year, and exceeded its goal to divert 75 percent of waste by 2010.
In 2008, the City diverted more than 1.6 million tons of material through recycling, composting and re-use. Congratulations to Mayor Gavin Newsom and his SF Environment staff for yet another groundbreaking effort.
Mayor Newsom's comments on the achievement:
San Francisco is showing once again that doing good for our environment also means doing right by our economy and local job creation. For a growing number of people, recycling provides the dignity of a paycheck in tough economic times. The recycling industry trains and employs men and women in local environmental work that can’t be outsourced and sent overseas, creating ten times as many jobs as sending material to landfills.(Read more at ICLEI USA's Local Action Blog.)
Posted by: Rachel Butler at 1:29PM PST on September 22, 2010
Today is World Car Free Day, a day when cities and people across the globe walk, bike, take public transit, and imagine what life in their community would be like without a car.
Going car-free or car-lite makes a big impact: every day, Americans burn roughly 557 million gallons of oil for transportation. Our oil addiction not only sends billions of dollars a year to overseas regimes, but it also pushes oil companies to drill in more and more dangerous places, putting us at risk of more disasters like the BP spill we witnessed this summer.
Reducing the amount we drive also has benefits for public heath, lowering the amount of smog-producing pollutants that go into our air and lungs. In the U.S., public transit saves 37 million metric tons (pdf) in carbon emissions every year. It also saves a lot of money in gas, car maintenance, and insurance.
Getting out of the car and onto our own two feet, on our bikes, and on public transit is fun, and a big eye-opener on the way we design our communities and our lives around transportation:
• First, how livable is your community? Are destinations like grocery stores, local businesses, restaurants, work, or school within easy walking or biking distance, or within reach of public transportation? Do crosswalks allow enough time for people—including the elderly and other slower-moving folks—to cross the street?
• Second, are your streets complete? Do they take the needs of all users into account, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users, and cars? Are there sidewalks in your neighborhood? Are there benches or other places to rest on the street? Are there bike lanes?
• Third, do you have good access to public transportation? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 54% of American households have access to public transportation, though more than 80% of Americans support an expanded and improved system.
The Sierra Club’s Green Transportation Campaign is working to promote transportation choices that reduce the need to drive and create a 21st century transportation system that moves beyond oil. Join the Sierra Club’s Transportation Activists to get to work on making 21st century transportation a reality.
Happy Car Free Day!
Posted by: Jennifer Schwab at 1:19PM PST on September 22, 2010
I am not old enough to remember, but I have heard plenty of stories from older folks about how a literal cloud of smog once hung over downtown Los Angeles. On a perfect sunny morning, you could see only the lower floors of buildings, no real skyline. This is hard to imagine now, as air quality has improved SO much over the past three decades that downtown L.A. can now join the ranks of other major American cities with its own signature views.
Photo: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library
Downtown Los Angeles; January 2010
California has always been a leader in environmental legislation, perhaps to a fault. Many in the oil and automotive industries have accused the state’s lawmakers of trying to “legislate technology” by mandating virtually impossible reductions in carbon emissions spewing from the tailpipes of our autos. Funny how after all the complaining, they managed to do so, to the point that literally one 1959 Cadillac, like the ones Elvis used to drive, makes more emissions than 100 of the new Cadillac CTS models that are commonly seen around Los Angeles.
The results of this technology improvement are obvious on most mornings. I can see clearly now, as the Johnny Nash song goes, the skyline of L.A. is very visible on a bright sun-shiney day. As the old cars are scrapped and the age of our national fleet is modernized, the improvement in the air we breathe continues. Being able to actually see this only adds to the proof of concept: sometimes “legislating technology” can actually work.
Despite this improvement in science, technology and air quality, it comes as no surprise that a movement is heating up to set aside the Global Warming Solutions Act, which became law over four years ago. Why? Well, oil companies and their backers contend that with California’s 12.4 percent unemployment rate, continuing to make the clean air laws tougher will cost jobs and cause higher prices at the pump. You know the drill.
At the same time, there is a contingent of intelligencia led by former Secretary of State George Schultz, who claim that the new laws are fostering the birth of the green economy and should be upheld. Makes sense to me — and the large venture capital firms who already have hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars invested in alternative fuels and renewable energy development plays.
Please contact your legislator no matter where you live to reaffirm your support of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, otherwise known as A.B. 32 — and your opposition to the sentiment that gave life to Proposition 23, the move to suspend A.B. 32. As we know, many states follow California’s lead on things environmental, so if Prop 23 is successful, shock waves will be sent throughout the country.
A lot of folks will be watching closely on November 2nd. Please support A.B. 32 and “just say no” to Prop 23.
Thanks for reading, as always, comments please….
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:05PM PST on September 22, 2010No Can Do Cancun
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:02PM PST on September 22, 2010
There's talk. And there's walk. When it comes to climate change, there's a lot of talkin' and no walkin'. Will it be the same old song next month at the international climate talks in Mexico? Read the latest on how the U.S. plans to approach it:
[U.S. climate negotiator Todd] Stern said that unlike Copenhagen, “nobody is anticipating or expecting in any way a legal treaty to be done in Cancun this year.”
Posted by: Gabriel Derita at 10:31AM PST on September 21, 2010
Last week, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and three other Senators flew to Alberta to inspect the source of the world's dirtiest oil, the Alberta tar sands, adding to the flurry of high-profile political players weighing in on the tar sands as a major energy issue.
Though Alberta's tar sands oil has come under heavy scrutiny in recent months, drawing fire and raising questions from the EPA, more than 50 members of Congress, and tens of thousands of Americans, the senators chose to ignore these concerns. According to trip reporters, the delegation met with a number of oil industry representatives and government backers of the project, but did not hear from opponents of the project, or the people who live near it who have reported higher-than-average cancer rates attributed to water contamination. Just today, a number of Canadian First Nations and Tribal leaders were in Washington testifying on the devastation of the tar sands to their land and people.
Senator Graham offered the rosiest view of the tar sands yet by an American politician, perhaps colored by his one-sided meetings.
Satellites can see the tailing ponds and open pit mines from space, yet Graham says the tar sands “really blend with the natural habitat”. Not surprisingly, tar sands producers led Graham’s tours.
Graham went so far as to call the tar sands a “national treasure”, and urged that proposals to expand risky pipelines into the United States proceed "full speed ahead"
While Canada's tar sands pits may be a treasure to the oil industry executives whose coffers they line, the project represents a massive threat to American water and health. The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would carry toxic oil directly from the massive tar sands pits across America's Ogallala aquifer, which supplies one-fifth of the water for America's breadbasket.
Grahams’ “full-speed ahead” approach would put the health of millions of American families and farms on the line, while enriching foreign oil companies and locking us into decades of dependence on the world's costliest and dirtiest oil. In fact, cash is flowing from America to Canada to the tune of nearly $122 billion a year. Well-paying, lasting jobs in the American clean energy economy are directly undercut as a result.
It's not surprising that Graham’s top campaign contributors include some of the nation's largest fossil fuel energy firms .
One thing is clear: more and more American leaders are paying attention to Alberta's tar sands. We will choose a path; one of protecting American water and communities and reducing dependence on toxic, risky fuels, or another that locks us into a dirty energy future with spiraling health and economic costs.
Leaders like Lindsay Graham must choose which they want to defend: Clean water and the health of American families or the growing billions of Canadian oil industry profiteers.
Posted by: Janet Gardner at 10:25AM PST on September 21, 2010
What to do with those old, worn-out gym clothes? You don’t want to toss them, but they’ve reached the point where they definitely aren’t cute enough to wear to your favorite kickboxing or AntiGravity Yoga (yes, that’s a real class offered at my gym!) class? And you certainly can’t donate them to Goodwill – let’s be honest, no one wants your pit-stained tees.
I recently found myself with a stack of politically incorrect tank tops that had seen way, way better days. Instead of tossing them in the garbage where they’d be sure to make their way to Landfill Access Road*, I decided to throw them under the sink and use ‘em to clean my always slightly dingy kitchen floor. Seriously, who puts white tile in a kitchen? This might not be breaking news to those of you whose moms did the same with their dad’s old t-shirts, but I was pretty excited when this repurposing idea crossed my mind. Just wash your clothes-turned-rags first (obviously!), add a little soapy water, put on your cleanin’ clothes and your favorite Pandora station, and start scrubbin’ away. Sometimes I even go barefoot, throw a shirt under each foot and slip-slide my way to clean. I’m loving this method – my floor ends up way cleaner than when I use a mop. Besides, is it just me, or are mops totally bs? I feel like I’m just pushing wet dirty puddles around. I think I might be missing the cleaning gene.
*My sister and I, who drive by this freeway exit often, have a long-standing joke that this would be the worst street address ever.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:32PM PST on September 20, 2010
Did you catch yesterday's scathing editorial in the New York Times that called out Congress for its inaction on coal? It was pretty great. The dirty-energy industry has had a really bad year when it comes to workplace safety. But there are few signs that anything's being done about it. Read the editorial. Here's a snippet:
If further impetus is needed for Congress to pause amid its politicking for actual lawmaking, there’s the gulf oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and mesmerized the nation all summer. The House mine bill now includes occupational safety amendments to deal with some of the lessons of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.Coal's a big obstacle in getting to a clean-energy economy. Click here to send a message to Congress about toxic coal ash -- the dangerous by-product that is seeping into people's drinking water.
Posted by: Guay at 6:21AM PST on September 20, 2010
It is an often unchallenged premise that the road to development must be paved with fossil fuels. One which has lead international finance institutions (IFIs) charged with enabling development for the billions of poor around the world to heavily finance and subsidize them. The results of this lending are on prominent display at the World Bank. From fiscal year 06-10, World Bank lending for fossil fuels increased from $1.5 billion to $6.2 billion. In fact 2010 represented a record year for fossil fuel lending at the Bank with $4.4 billion for coal projects alone.
While the World Bank and other IFIs pursue this destructive lending the projects are often met with fierce resistance by local communities who refuse to shoulder the burden fossil fuels will exact. Projects which are coming online at a time of near crisis levels of climate change impacts; Impacts, which are overwhelmingly borne by the billions of poor in vulnerable areas of the world. It is truly a sad and cruel fate that the remedy offered by IFIs for a lack of modern energy service that restricts development opportunities, is a devils bargain that threatens to literally wash away the hard fought development gains of recent decades.
However, the Bank as well as other IFIs, (including the United States Export Import Bank, which is on a fossil fuel binge of its own) continue their incoherent lending when it comes to fossil fuels and climate change. They do so by maintaining that fossil fuels, particularly coal, are the cheapest forms of energy, and are therefore vital for eradicating poverty. Moreover, with a lack of leadership from the industrialized world it is impossible to let climate concerns trump the urgent necessity of poverty eradication.
Unfortunately the either/or narrative of eradicating poverty through fossil fuel development or addressing climate change falls painfully flat for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is the widely acknowledged fact that simple cost/benefit analyses fail to internalize the laundry list of costs imposed upon society (particularly the poor) by fossil fuels including climate change, human health impacts, and ecosystem impacts. In addition, fossil fuels are subject to significant price fluctuations. For example, due to its high dependency on oil to power its mining operations the price of “cheap” Appalachian coal tripled on the U.S. spot market from 2007-2008 to over $140/ton.
While concerns over the true cost of fossil fuels justifies a fundamental shift in lending practices, the deeper issue remains their inability to provide access to energy for the world’s poor. Nowhere is this issue more clearly illustrated than India where according to the UNDP and WHO 28% of the 1.5 billion people lacking access to electricity live. There are any number of reasons for the failure of centralized fossil fuel energy supplies to reach rural India including the high cost of grid extensions, and the countries notoriously "leaky" transmission system.
However, in spite of these issues the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, provided nearly $450 million dollars in 2008 to create one of the world's largest point sources of greenhouse gas emissions the 4,000 MW Tata Mundra coal based power project in Gujarat. It then backed this colossal mistake with a further $1 billion in financing two years later to "strengthen the transmission network for bulk power transfers."
What's worse, in an Orwellian attempt to justify the project and the broader fossil fuels narrative Tata Mundra applied for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The applications was based on the faulty logic that supercritical technology employed at the plant would more efficiently burn coal thereby lowering levels of CO2 emissions. The Executive Board of the CDM saw through this absurd attempt and rejected the project. However, with Indian supercritical coal technology attempting to position itself as a low carbon alternative eligible for carbon credits and the government's coal ministry firing salvos at Jairam Ramesh for standing up to this destructive form of development it is absolutely vital that IFIs recant the false narrative from which this lunacy has sprung.
Ultimately, it is access to modern energy services that is a fundamental prerequisite to poverty eradication and economic development - an area where the fossil fuel led development narratives ultimate failure rests. Energy sector lending must ensure that energy access becomes the central priority of international financial institutions. Doing so clearly demonstrates the need to look for innovative solutions for the poor by supporting the rural market infrastructure for decentralized renewable energy rather than propping up the failed policies of the past. Because when the world’s children look back and ask why did you choose new coal? No amount of "pro-poor" rhetoric will be able to put a positive spin on the dark future fossil fuels will have forged.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:39PM PST on September 17, 2010
Today is (Park)ing Day, when people take over parking spaces around the world and turn them into parks and other fun things. My colleagues and I grabbed a bunch of plants off people's desks and headed downstairs to partake.
(Park)ing Day was started by REBAR, a San Francisco art-design activism organization. The idea is to transform a parking space into a natural place and get people to think about and scrutinize how we use our urban areas.
We got many curious passers-by and answered questions. One person fed our meter. (Thanks, friend!) It was fun to see people's reactions. We were encouraged to learn about the several other festive parking spots all over San Francisco.
We handed out free seeds in little biodegradable pots. I don't think it's too early to start thinking about what we'll do next year.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual...
Posted by: Heather M at 12:10PM PST on September 17, 2010
Our Oklahoma Beyond Coal Campaign folks have recently launched their new website - and it features this amazing documentary about one small town in eastern Oklahoma that is coping with a coal ash dump. Watch "In the Air We Breathe" now, all about the town of Bokoshe and its health problems caused by the nearby toxic coal ash.
Posted by: Canyon Kyle at 3:10PM PST on September 16, 2010
In April, the Obama administration raised the fuel efficiency standards for model year 2016 vehicles to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon. That was a good improvement and proved popular with the public. More efficient cars mean less money spent on gas, after all. Plus, better efficiency improves air quality, reduced imports of oil, and reduces climate change pollution. With the success of the 2016 standards, the administration is now set to announce standards for 2025. By looking far to the future, the administration is giving automakers plenty of time to develop more efficient fleets.
The public is decidedly on the side of more efficient cars. In a recent national poll (pdf), 74 percent of respondents said they supported the federal government requiring the auto industry to increase average fuel efficiency to 60 miles per gallon by the year 2025. That makes sense, since fuel efficiency affects so many people directly. More fuel efficient cars are better cars. It’s pretty simple.
The most telling response from the poll, perhaps, is that sixty-six percent of respondents still supported the idea even if it added $3,000 to the price of a new car. Indeed, eighty-three percent of respondents said they would favor the policy if a $3,000 cost were recouped in four years through savings at the pump, a likely outcome.
Some automakers are fighting against the stronger standards just like they fought against seat belts and early fuel standards. But the truth is the technology to get us to 60 mpg is already here. We don’t need some new, unknown fuel source. We just need 55 percent hybrids, 15 percent electric vehicles, and the rest well-designed gasoline vehicles to get there. For more information and to take action, check out go60mpg.org.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:13AM PST on September 16, 2010
Via Coal Tattoo, Physicians for Social Responsibility is releasing a new report that further confirms the detrimental implications toxic coal ash has on public health. According to PSR, "Coal ash is much more toxic than previously understood, and it is endangering communities and the environment in state after state." Read more about the report here.
There's no safe way to handle this waste. In 2008, nearly 1 billion gallons of the stuff poured across countless acres in Tennessee. This is why the current EPA hearings on coal ash waste are so vital. Click here to send a message to the EPA.
Coal ash sites are all around us, often without us knowing. That's why the Sierra Club launched a site locator on its Facebook page. Visit it to find out where these sites are in relation to your home and your friends.
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:50AM PST on September 16, 2010Threat Remains Despite VA Coal Plant Delay
Posted by: Heather M at 8:23AM PST on September 16, 2010
This is a guest Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign blog post written by Gabriel DeRita, a Sierra Club Communications Apprentice. Also, follow today's EPA coal ash public hearing in Chicago via our @SierraClubLive and @SierraClubIL Twitter accounts.
The area around Surry County, Virginia, is already home to some sinister projects, including several major coal ash disposal sites and Michael Vick's infamous dog fighting operation. One of the disposal sites is the local golf course, the Battlefield Golf Club. The green is sculpted with 1.5 million tons of coal fly-ash.
Now a major Virginia power provider, the Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), wants to site a 1500 mega watt coal plant, accompanied by several hundred acres of ash disposal sites, along the Blackwater River in Surry.
This project, if completed, will be the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia. Its coal ash will be stored in several landfill areas around the plant. If the power plant itself falls through, ODEC representatives have indicated an option of developing the site as an exclusive coal ash landfill.
Executives announced on Wednesday, September 8, that the project deadline is being pushed back from 2016 to 2020, citing concerns over pending federal regulations and lagging electricity demand. Though ODEC remains committed to pursuing the project, the delay comes as a welcome relief to local residents, and backs up arguments made by environmental and community groups that there is no pressing need for coal-fired power from such a massive plant.
Local residents like Betsy Shepard, mother of two, have been fighting ODEC tooth and nail since 2008, and the announcement comes as a major vindication of their efforts. Shepard is a busy full-time mom, but found the time to take a leading role in her community's fight to curb the march of coal ash contamination.
"I had no intentions of taking such an active role in the fight, but as is often the case in small communities, one has to step up and lend a hand when there is a need," said Shepard.
Posted by: Heather M at 1:31PM PST on September 15, 2010
This is a guest post by Rachel Butler, National Conservation Organizer for the Sierra Club Green Transportation Team.
On Labor Day 2010, President Obama made an announcement unveiling preliminary plans for transportation reform and spending to boost the economy. The president's announcement is a step in the right direction-- transportation reform can't come too soon for our broken transportation system and lagging economy.
However, the President's announcement leaves many details yet to be resolved, and entrenched interests will be fighting for continuation of the status quo. This is the beginning of a long push ahead on transportation reform.
We have a lot of work ahead of us to create a 21st-century transportation system that ends our dependence on oil. To highlight the extent of our transportation and oil problem in the United States, check out these mind-blowing facts:
Add your voice by joining the Sierra Club's Transportation Activists as we work for a 21st century transportation system in the United States that moves us beyond oil.
Posted by: Heather M at 7:42AM PST on September 15, 2010
We've got a Sierra Club staffer in today's House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing on that devastating Enbridge oil spill up in Michigan from earlier this summer. Follow her tweets at Twitter.com/SierraClubLive for real time updates.
You can also watch the hearing on the web via the House Committee's website.
This July spill dumped more than one million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River. To learn more about this oil spill in Michigan, check out the Michigan Sierra Club's website.
Above photo of the Enbridge spill taken by Lucas Evans of the Michigan Sierra Club. More photos here.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 10:29AM PST on September 14, 2010
You've seen our push against toxic coal ash continue over the past few months as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks public comment on how to regulate coal ash. Our push continues this week with the unveiling of a new coal ash video we produced and a Facebook application. Take a look at the video first:
Posted by: Brian F. at 2:11PM PST on September 13, 2010
In today's coal news, the Wall Street Journal reports on an accelerating trend in which power companies are switching from coal to natural gas. You can read the whole article by clicking here. Here's a snippet:
The switch is occurring globally and is getting a push from regulators who want to limit emissions that contribute to climate change, haze and health problems such as respiratory illness. Though efforts in Congress to pass legislation attaching a price to carbon emissions appear stalled for now, utilities still anticipate eventual carbon restrictions. The Tennessee Valley Authority, for example, recently announced a 20-year development plan that emphasizes nuclear and gas, and includes fewer coal units.However, India and China have yet to see such a trend, according to the article. While it's nice to read any news that suggests coal's demise, natural gas is the culprit behind the destructive and dangerous practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." There is barely any oversight. Click here to learn more. What's preferable is a safe, clean energy future and economy.
Posted by: Heather M at 9:39AM PST on September 13, 2010
This is a guest post by David Veliz of the Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors (BBTO) Program in New York City.
This year on September 11th, the weather was eerily similar to that of nine years ago. It was a beautiful day. The differences are of course un-measurable, since the events that we honor and remember every year, changed the world and our lives forever.
I usually spend every 9/11 remembering the feeling of fear and uncertainty that I felt as ashes fell upon my face, and remembering how the youth at the community programs I coordinated felt lost and unable to verbalize the their feelings - I knew they had lost a sense of innocence and security that in my community is already scarce.
This year however there was a new feeling that brought a sense of hope to all of those around me --the feeling of service, the feeling of giving back to the community as a way to honor and remember. This year as I stood on the roof of an urban farm in the South Bronx, surrounded by community residents and youth leaders, I saw the hope that brings change through action. The Building Bridges to the Outdoors program in NYC, as part of Sierra Club's national "Serve Outdoors" campaign, helped coordinate this amazing service project which allowed for this hope to shine through.
In partnership with Get Dirty NYC!, the Horticultural Society of NY, and BBTO, 25 community residents, youth leaders, Sierra Club members and partner organizations came together to carry bags of soil, fill garden boxes and plant seeds. The urban farm is located on the roof of a green building that is used for women and children exiting the shelter system in NY State.
In a community that has very little to no green space, the urban farm provides a place for residents and youth to learn about nature and horticulture, and provides a place to get fresh vegetables, something that is also scarce. Local farms like this one as well as community gardens help communities learn about food sustainability, nutrition and in turn creates healthier communities and helps combat climate change.
This year on 9/11, we honored and remembered, but we also got something back, by giving back - hope.
Posted by: Guay at 8:59AM PST on September 13, 2010
As the old adage goes, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”. When it comes to decarbonizing the world economy this statement is surprisingly true. Energy companies and fossil fuel driven industries face sunk costs in physical and market infrastructure, assets and equipment, as well as human resources that can not necessarily be recouped or retooled for a clean energy economy. They are also set to earn the largest profits in world history as diminishing supplies and rising demand for the lifeblood of global society send energy prices constantly upward.
The collapses in
For too long in our quest for global decarbonization we have hammered away at what we thought was a nail. This has resulted in a neglect of many potentially critical policies including fast acting mitigation strategies. Perhaps most importantly however, has been the lack of recognition of the need to ensure clean energy access for all.
While sweeping statements like this sound great it is
important to understand their practical implications. One such example is SELCO-India founded by Harish
Hande, a pioneer of the social entrepreneurship movement focused on solving
the problems of
SELCO, like all social entrepreneurs, relies on the axiom promoted by the late CK Prahalad that the poor should be viewed as customers, not beneficiaries. Directly stemming from this philosophy came one of SELCO’s primary innovations - matching the irregular and inherently low cash flows of rural consumers with appropriate micro financing tools. The result was a successful engagement of third party micro financing to provide “doorstep” financing and service. This innovative commitment to building rural microfinance relationships focused on energy loans is a critical component to creating the market infrastructure for a clean energy economy in rural areas of the developing world.
SELCO now operates 25 energy service centers in Karnataka
SELCO is now building further upon these innovations by incubating a clean energy marketplace through its latest effort an innovation center for the poor. The ICP was created because many poor households and small enterprises lack the infrastructure necessary for poverty alleviation. The ICP, funded by the Lemelson foundation, brings together the Self Employed Women’s Association Bank, Manila Housing SEWA Trust, and SELCO to provide innovative solutions (technology, financing, and process) that are building the renewable energy market infrastructure necessary to support improved earnings, enhanced quality of life, and improved working conditions for India’s poor.
Much like the infamous venture capital valley of death, renewable energy solutions in the developing world face the “last mile” implementation gap where many clean energy innovations fail to reach end consumers. SELCO’s innovation center employs a number of methods to help bridge this gap: 1) It partners with NGOs that enable it to draw from the large networks of low-income consumers for new product demos, refinement of products and ideation, 2) It supports a rotational program that brings the most experienced SELCO staff onsite allowing the lab to draw new product and process ideas from the field, while sharing new products for dissemination, 3) Its partnership with the established rural training center allows training courses designed by the Lab to piggyback on existing rural training infrastructure.
Perhaps the most impressive (and least conventional) aspect
of the innovation center is the fact that it is open source. It has a stated
goal of accelerating the growth of potential entrepreneurs by providing hands-on
training, prototyping, pilot testing and mentorship. It also provides
performance testing and consumer research services to third parties who have
developed products for rural areas but lack the means, networks, or field
presence for effective dissemination. A concept that
Ultimately, SELCO and its innovation center are moving beyond the failed approach of the past 30 years to begin actually building the desperately needed market infrastructure to provide clean energy to all. Undoubtedly further policy and private sector support will be needed to help scale these bottom-up solutions. Now, more than ever, it is time to free our thinking to focus on innovatively delivering clean energy to every citizen on this planet - a concept whose time has truly arrived.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:39PM PST on September 10, 2010
Climate advocate and 350.org head honcho Bill McKibben was rebuffed by the White House, after he tried to appeal to the president's staff that solar panels should return to the executive home.
Panels were first constructed and placed on the White House's roof under Jimmy Carter in 1979. Reagan took them down as soon as he moved in. That was more than 30 years ago. Imagine how much further renewable energy would be if our presidents committed to it.Via the NYT's Green blog:
Mr. McKibben met with three mid-level White House officials Friday morning who told him, politely, no dice.Dot Earth's Andy Revkin has reported that the Secret Service took issue with putting panels visibly on the roof. For what it's worth, the White House installed photovoltaic and hot water panels in 2002, albeit "under the radar."
McKibben's goal is to get this issue out from under the radar. That's why the Sierra Club and others have partnered with 350.org for 10/10/10, or Global Work Day, a national call to action in which people will put climate solutions into practice and relay a message to our elected officials in Washington. Click here to get involved.
Posted by: Brian F. at 3:26PM PST on September 10, 2010Pelosi Meets with Tribes and Activists to Get Clearer Picture of Tar Sands
Posted by: Gabriel Derita at 9:26AM PST on September 10, 2010
In a diplomatic visit turned tar sands marathon, Nancy Pelosi was in Ottawa yesterday with other top democratic officials, including Ed Markey, to meet with industry and environmental groups following their dinner with Canadian premieres from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec last night.
Her meetings included face time with three top Canadian environmental activists, and two tribal leaders from the Chipewyan and Athabascan First Nations. As the speaker and top lawmakers weigh the decision to approve or deny the Keystone XL pipeline, the critical meeting with those directly affected by tar sands provided an on the ground account of just how damaging tar sands can be. Speaker Pelosi was particularly moved by the presentation from Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca First Nations, who spoke of the downstream health problems and increased cancer rates his tribe is suffering as a direct result of tar sands pollution.
These real stories are stronger than any Alberta public relations campaign can ever be, and Albertan premiere Ed Stelmach knows it. He was reportedly on the defensive at their dinner meeting Wednesday night in his attempts to paint the tar sands industry in a more flattering light.
After the presentations, the speaker’s told environmental and tribal leaders that “taking action on climate change was a major priority”, and both Markey and Pelosi affirmed their personal commitment to reducing our damaging reliance on fossil fuels.
According to Graham Saul, director of Climate Action Canada, Pelosi “..spoke very eloquently about the moral imperative for action on climate change in terms of how we owe it to future generations, and she spoke clearly about God’s creation and the need to respect and honor that.” (quote from Globe & Mail)
As the speaker and her fellow leaders return to Washington in the coming weeks, we hope these meetings will impress upon them the need to take decisive action to stop the poisoning of Canadian air and water, mitigate the risk to American communities from continued pipeline spills, and work to end our reliance on fossil fuels by saying no to the Keystone XL pipeline.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 7:58AM PST on September 9, 2010
The Environmental Protection Agency is in the middle of a series of public hearings at sites around the country to gather input on new protections from toxic coal ash. This week's blog post comes from Sierra Club Apprentice JennyKordick.
The Environmental Protection Agency is in the middle of a series of public hearings at sites around the country to gather input on new protections from toxic coal ash. This week's blog post comes from Sierra Club Apprentice JennyKordick.
After watching a deer refuse to drink water from a reservoir on a hot summer day last August, Colstrip, Montana area ranchers knew something was wrong. The water, found to contain toxic levels of sulfates, was traced back to a coal ash dump.
Coal ash contamination in Colstrip, Montana dates back nearly 30 years. Colstrip sits on one of the largest coal deposits in North America, and is home to four coal-fired power plants owned by Pennsylvania Power and Light (PP&L).The company disposes of coal ash, the toxic by-product of burning coal, in wet ash dumps, known as settling ponds,in the area.
Insufficient pond linings and poor construction techniques, in addition to lack of state environmental regulation,have led to widespread contamination of water resources in Colstrip. "The state of Montana has had every opportunity to right this wrong, and has failed in every way," said Clint McRae, a Colstrip area rancher.
The ranching community in Colstrip, including McRae, expressed concern about the ash settling ponds used to dispose of coal ash, but were assured by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality the ponds would not leak, and if they did, the power plants would be shut down.
"We were lied to." McRae stated. "We trusted our state and federal agencies to represent our best interests, and keep us from damage. This has not happened."
The livelihood of McRae and other ranchers in Colstrip is threatened by toxic coal ash, as healthy water quality is critical to the success of ranching operations. Simply put, cows drinking toxic water will die. Two coal ash ponds in the area were found to be leaking water containing 16 times the amount of sulfates needed to cause death in cattle.
Instead of cleaning up the coal ash contamination and fixing the leaks, PP&L has opted for a cheaper method to silence the issue. This involves fencing off contaminated ponds, and buying up damaged and polluted land, including the land containing the reservoir where the deer refused to drink.
PP&L is getting by with this for now, but McRae, whose family has been in the area for five generations, makes one thing clear: "Our places are not for sale."
In 2008, PP&L settled for $25 million with 60 homeowners in Colstrip whose drinking water became contaminated. McRae, who was not involved in the lawsuit, is acting as a voice for his family and neighbors that settled with PP&L and can no longer speak out on the issue. McRae traveled to the Denver coal ash hearing last week to speak out for strong, federally enforceable protections from coal ash as the Environmental Protection Agency considers a proposal to federally regulate toxic coal ash disposal for the first time-a proposal that, after more than two decades, may finally help stop leaking coal ash ponds and protect the families in Colstrip.
The Denver hearing McRae attended was the second of seven hearings nationwide that are being held to gather public opinion on how to regulate toxic coal ash disposal. See www.sierraclub.org/coalash for more information and to find out how you can tell the EPA what you think.
Posted by: Guay at 9:31AM PST on September 7, 2010
Following the failure of the United States Senate to pass climate change legislation, and the ensuing finger pointing, weeping and gnashing of teeth, many in the international environmental community have been left to ponder the enormity of the implications. With an already beleaguered set of UNFCCC negotiations, an embattled IPCC, a fading climate agenda at the annual G-20 meetings (which just a year ago pledged to phase out fossil fuel subsidies) and the continual onslaught of rising temperatures and climate related disasters, things look bleak to say the least. Indeed, if there were ever a time for energy and passion to be infused in the climate movement it is now.
Enter 350.org's efforts to build a global movement to not only demand action, but get to work on the change they wish to see. Building upon the incredible success of last year’s international day of action the organization is planning a global work party that already counts 1,077 groups in 109 countries.
During the global day of action in 2009 India alone was home to more than 160 actions in over 70 cities with the number 350 formed by shikaras on Dal Lake in Kashmir and by school children next to the Taj Mahal. This year is no different with 22 states already signed up for 350 actions spanning the Amber fort in the colorful deserts of Rajasthan to the far flung north eastern state of Assam to the glittering financial hub of Mumbai.
What’s most striking about these events is the youth participation at a grassroots level in a nation where, according to UNICEF, 37% of the population is under 18. In addition to 350 organizations like the Indian Youth Climate Network, Greenpeace India and Whynewcoal.com, are demonstrating the youth’s refutation of destructive fossil fuel technologies of the past and the generations powerful embrace of a clean energy future.
It is in this spirit that every corner of
As we stand amidst the wreckage of action at a political level it is the world’s every day citizens that are rising to the challenge and reinfusing the climate movement with the fierce urgency of now. As Bill Mckibben put it on the David Letterman show, “if we can get to work, we damn well expect our politicians to”. After all, it’s hot as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.
** The Sierra Club is helping 350.org by organizing work parties in several states across the country. If you are interested in joining these efforts please look here for more information or here to host a work party.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:22AM PST on September 3, 2010
Labor Day is upon us -- a good time to highlight a praise-worthy program that connects the dots of a green economy and American military families.
Because of the Sierra Club's commitment to both a blue-green economy and military families, the Club's partnership with Veterans Green Jobs -- a non-profit that puts veterans to work in the emerging green economy -- makes a lot of sense.
Veterans Greens Jobs, partnering organizations, and the local construction business Ardently Green has launched a program to weatherize homes for free (worth about $4,500) of at least 50 military families in northern Virginia and create job opportunities for nine local veterans this year. Applications from military families in the northern Virginia are currently being accepted.
The veterans' unemployment rate hovers in the high teens, much higher than the national rate. With this program, veterans will receive 30 days of training to become energy auditors and weatherization technicians. Home owners enjoy a 20 percent reduction in their energy bills.
“This program is training veterans and putting them to work and also supporting military families who are sacrificing the most in a time where we are at war on two fronts,” said Zack Bazzi, Director of Mid-Atlantic Programs for Veterans Green Jobs. “The partners in this unique coalition recognize the importance of taking care of our veterans – providing good paying jobs and career advancement opportunities – while those veterans in turn are taking care of their military buddies.”For more on the Sierra Club's participation in building a green energy economy, click here (pdf). Click here for more on the Sierra Club's Military Families Outdoors program.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 4:10PM PST on September 2, 2010
One familiar talking point from rich coal executives is the notion that coal is cheap and clean. "Clean coal" is, of course, a myth. Not only is coal mining dirty, but so are the habits of coal companies that try to circumvent protective environmental and public health regulations.
That's why Patriot Coal was held in contempt this week by a federal judge for dumping of a toxic byproduct called selenium into streams of West Virginia. The judge also ordered Patriot Coal to cough up (pun intended) $45 million to pay for the treatment of the poisonous toxin that was coming from two of its coal mines in West Virginia.
Selenium is a toxin that deforms fish and keeps them from reproducing. It's commonly linked to coal ash, one billion gallons of which flooded Roane County, Tennessee in December 2008. There have been several dirty-energy disasters in the U.S. since then. So where does the "coal is cheap" meme come from?
A deeper look at the true of cost of coal reveals something that is anything but cheap. The most recent example comes from the land of Honest Abe. In Taylorville, Illinois, Tenaska Energy has pushed a proposal for a $4 billion coal plant. The cost, at $212.73 per megawatt-hour, would far exceed a clean alternative, like a wind-energy project at $88.80 to $121.97 per megawatt-hour. Who says this? The Illinois Commerce Commission, an agency of a major coal-producing state.
Like many coal plant proposals, this one is meeting stiff local resistance. While Tenaska claims to be a jobs creator, opponents are rightly pointing out that building clean energy would create more jobs and avoid rate shock.
Cheap? Clean? Big coal is out of flattering adjectives that pass the truth test. Which is why activists are battling new coal plants all over the country and winning.
Posted by: Bruce Nilles at 1:05PM PST on September 2, 2010
As I have mentioned on this blog before, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently holding public hearings at sites around the country to hear your input on draft regulations for the disposal of toxic coal ash. This week’s blog post comes from Sierra Student Coalition Apprentice Margaret Hoerath, who writes about an activist who travelled to the coal ash hearing in Virginia earlier this week.
“This is a bureaucratic mini-Katrina because FEMA doesn’t know what’s going on here,” said James McGrath, a citizen from Giles County in Southwest Virginia, where a coal ash disposal site is located.
Posted by: Brian F. at 11:52AM PST on September 2, 2010
Another oil rig exploded today in the Gulf of Mexico. The breaking news reports are saying that all on the rig were rescued. And that's great news. But the explosion itself is just one more reason to join the "No Impact Experiment," -- a campaign partnered by the Sierra Club -- which scores of people across the country are trying out this week.
Everyday this week, people are challenging themselves to, in a way, audit themselves and their daily habits and find ways to lead a sustainable, zero-impact life. The campaign is spearheaded by Colin Beavan, who documented living a zero impact life for a year in New York City.
When you sign up for this experiment, you get a helpful how-to manual. Every day takes on something new. Earlier this week, the experiment attacked consumption, trash, transportation, and food. While consumption and trash are areas I can improve (I wrote about them yesterday), transportation and food are things I feel better about.
Here's my commuter train. It's a pleasure to take public transit to work everyday. In the U.S., public transit saves 37 million metric tons (pdf) in carbon emissions every year. And it saves a lot of money in gas, car maintenance, and insurance.
If you need help and you're wondering where to turn, start with Google Maps, which provides directions that include public-transit information. If buses or trains aren't your cup of carbon-cutting tea, see what's out there in terms of car-sharing services -- like Zipcar or CarSharing.net.
The U.S. food system is another enormous consumer of petroleum and energy. Food is also the focus for Wednesday of the "No Impact Experiment" week. Cutting meat out of your diet for just one day each week is equivalent to driving 1,000 miles less per year. As a meat-eater, I can honestly say that reserving a once a week meatless day is easy and reasonable.
Another tip is to take your reusable bags to a local farmers' market. Most of the market vendors are local, seasonal, and sustainable. It's a better alternatives than buying produce grown in South America. Food that travels 1,500 miles to your plate shouldn't be on your menu.
I've been following these bloggers A Mom Writing and Christy the Writer, who have taken on the "No Impact Experiment" challenge. And I've been heartened to read their honest takes. Here's a passage from A Mom Writing:
The No Impact Manual highly suggests swapping the processed for the local, and I am sitting here staring at this list trying to figure out what I would do differently.[...] I'm seeing a lot of spices and baking ingredients as main offenders. Other issues? Those foods which are not in season or native to our area, such as lemons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and pears.It's not too late to challenge yourself. Click here to join the No Impact Experiment. By joining, you get the manual and begin!
Posted by: Brian F. at 10:21AM PST on September 2, 2010
Big Coal has an image problem. This commercial is bound to help, right? "It's like visiting the moon in your own backyard!"
Posted by: Brian F. at 1:57PM PST on September 1, 2010
I admire Colin Beavan, not just for his "no impact" venture, but also for the message. Beavan is the center of the documentary No Impact Man, which follows his goal of one year of a sustainable, no-impact lifestyle.
Want to be like Colin? Now's your chance (although you can start at anytime). The "No Impact Experiment" takes place this week for anyone who wants to give it a try. (Sign up by clicking here.) What's nice about this campaign is that it lets us decide for ourselves how far we want to go with it. Colin's undertaking of 100 percent sustainability feels impossible to emulate. ("It's extreme relative to the culture we live in," he says during his interview on Sierra Club Radio.)Thanks to the "No Impact Experiment" campaign, we can dip our toes in the water everyday this week without feeling like we're diving head first into the unknown.
Like so many others in the Sierra Club, I decided to give this a try last weekend. Day one on Sunday and day two on Monday concerned consumption and trash, respectively. This makes sense. These two things come hand in hand.
For me, refraining from shopping (except for essential groceries and such) is easy. Reducing my waste stream is harder. I do not have a good track record when it comes to things like buying in bulk. I go through paper towels like crazy. And I'm not the best at reusing certain kitchen items, like aluminum foil. I do, however, have some friends, namely reusable bags and my super-cool, retro looking coffee mug:
Luckily the Experiment's handy manual for Monday has some great tips that I can easily adopt and encourage others (like you!) to try. From the manual:
-- Steer clear of goods that come in a box, wrapper, throw-away bag, plastic container, tin can ... you get the idea!Visit the No Impact Experiment network to share with others your experience. Also, some participants are using their own blogs as a journal about their week. Read the blogs A Mom Writing and Christy the Writer to follow their week. Tomorrow, I'll get into Tuesday's and Wednesday's tasks: transportation and food.
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