Holiday Gifts For The Green Movement

There’s no better time than the holiday season to reflect on the events of the past year – and there has been no shortage of environmental news stories that have both inspired us and made our blood boil. As Christmas approaches, let’s consider some appropriate gifts for those who have left their mark on green news in 2011:

President Obama: A microphone and some earplugs. Since the beginning of his term, the president has become notably less enthusiastic about clean energy and environmental issues, perhaps succumbing to Republican pressure and inevitably “compromising” with natural gas, as well as totally giving in by opening up areas off the U.S. to offshore oil drilling. In fact, the positive steps his administration has taken to support renewable energy and clean technology have flown somewhat beneath the radar, for fear of appearing “too partisan.” Advice to the president: Speak up about the benefits green technologies can bring the nation, and block out the noise from the Republicans in Congress and fossil-fuel lobbyists.

Newt Gingrich, and the other GOP candidates: A science textbook. Ten years ago, climate change was fact to everyone – not a partisan issue. It’s time for GOP leaders to stop denying science and accept that the planet’s future is resting on our action to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and combat climate change.

TransCanada executives: Some red tape. The best we can hope for, at the moment, is for the Keystone XL pipeline to face more regulatory delays and to ultimately fail in the face of a decision by the Department of State.

Former Solyndra employees: A new job in the growing solar sector. Solyndra grabbed all of the negative headlines with its failure, but that does not mean that the U.S.’ entire renewable energy future is doomed. The solar industry represents a flourishing employment sector that has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years.

The mainstream media: Some White-Out. It would be nice if the mainstream media could undo the mistakes it made in chastising solar company Solyndra for its DOE loan-guarantee debacle. In reporting so excessively and sensationally on an exception, rather than a rule, mainstream media outlets – including The New York Times and The Washington Post – cast the entire renewable energy industry in a poor light and questioned the justification for government aid of a growing, environmentally responsible industry.

BP: Some oil-covered shrimp cocktail. This year, we did not forget BP’s massive negligence and sin against the environment, as the Gulf still struggles to emerge from the disaster’s aftermath. BP needs a taste of its own medicine – or, perhaps of some oily shrimp for a nice holiday hor d’oeuvre.

Monsanto: A gift card to Whole Foods. Maybe, if Big Ag saw how much better organic food really is, it would stop attempting to overhaul the world’s food supply with a Soylent Green approach to genetically engineering food. Unlikely, but it’s worth a shot.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity: A reality check and an inhaler. In addition to coal in its stocking (naturally), the ACCCE needs to admit that coal will never be “clean,” and the nation’s reliance on the filthy substance is endangering our children and grandchildren, not to mention future generations.

Alec Baldwin: A train ticket. Traveling by rail should help lower the outspoken actor’s carbon footprint, as well as allow him to avoid future airline conflicts. Besides, you can use your iPhone – and Words with Friends – on trains.

Sustainable nonprofit organizations: Your donations. There are plenty of responsible organizations doing their part to care for the planet and its future. This holiday season, replace a couple of peppermint-mocha lattes (or more) with a donation to your favorite conservation groups – they need your help.

Special thanks to my colleague, Phil Hall, for inspiring this post.

DOI: Florida Everglades Deserve More Protection

Florida’s Everglades are set to receive new protections under a new initiative proposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

The project would establish a new national wildlife refuge in Florida’s Kissimmee River Valley, as well as afford the area new protections. Under the program, the DOI would purchase 50,000 acres of the designated area from willing sellers in order to establish a wildlife refuge.

An additional 100,000 acres would be protected through conservation easements purchased from landowners, the DOI explains. These private landowners would still own their land, as well as retain the right to develop crops and raise cattle; however, the easements would ensure that the land could not be developed.

Although the preliminary proposal for the Everglades conservation project was first announced in January, it was refined using input from public comment periods.

The DOI’s announcement comes less than two weeks after Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann commented to the Associated Press that she’d be willing to drill for oil in the Everglades if it were done “responsibly.”

How she intends to destroy a World Heritage site “responsibly” is quite the enigma. But here’s hoping that the DOI can finalize the protections before she – or another member of her political party – has a crack at it.

 

‘Clean Coal’ Industry Accidentally Admits It’s Not Clean

U.S. power plants will now be subject to stricter emissions standards, thanks to a new measure finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule imposes tougher regulations on power-plant emissions in 27 U.S. states – many of which are coal-dominated – and aims to reduce harmful emissions that travel across state lines. (Read more about the new regulations here.)

Evidently irate that the U.S. agency tasked with protecting the environment would issue a ruling to help reduce pollution, the coal industry fired back with such a ludicrous response that only a sector with a moniker as oxymoronic as “clean coal” could have invented.

In its statement, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) condemns the new emissions regulations, claiming they “will increase electricity prices and destroy U.S. jobs.” Here’s what Steve Miller, president and CEO of ACCCE, had to say:

“The EPA is ignoring the cumulative economic damage new regulations will cause. America’s coal-fueled electric industry has been doing its part for the environment and the economy, but our industry needs adequate time to install clean coal technologies to comply with new regulations.”

Sounds like cry of desperation to me. But that’s not the most absurd aspect of ACCCE’s response. As a “clean” energy group, ACCCE says it “advocates for the development and deployment of advanced clean coal technologies that will produce electricity with near-zero emissions.”

Near-zero emissions? So why the desperation? “Clean coal” could easily meet the EPA’s new standards… right?

We all know “clean coal” is the ultimate oxymoron. But this dirty industry is not only unethical in its environmental practices, but also its communication to the public, using blatant scare tactics clearly targeted toward Middle America. Miller continues:

“We urge EPA to take a realistic look at the enormous impact of all the regulations they are considering and how those regulations affect families and businesses. In a time of high unemployment, we should be pursuing sensible policies that create jobs, not eliminate jobs.”

Maybe he was forgetting that these “lost” jobs are being replaced with abundant employment opportunities in a newer, burgeoning sector called clean energy.

Natural Landmarks: True Conservation Or DOI Greenwashing?

Hanging Lake is one of the sites recently designated by the DOI as a natural landmark.

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has designated six new natural landmarks as part of the agency’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.” The following six sites have joined the more than 500 places already designated under the National Natural Landmarks Program:

Barfoot Park. Located in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona, this site is known for its unique plant and animals species, as well as for its meadows and springs. The site comprises 680 acres of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Morrison-Golden Fossil Areas. This newly designated landmark, located west and north of Golden, Colo., is one of the most important paleontological sites in the western U.S., and is known around the world for its abundance of reptile, mammal and bird fossils.

Hanging Lake. Located east of Glenwood Springs, Colo., this 72-acre site represents a rare wetland ecosystem within the White River National Forest and includes natural wonders such as hanging gardens.

The Island. Situated on an isolated plateau at the intersection of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers in Oregon, this is one of the best preserved examples of native juniper savannah. The site is a Designated Research Natural Area and is managed by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.

Round Top Butte. This Oregon landmark includes flat, volcanic plains, and is home to over 700 acres of native bunchgrasses, making it a unique habitat. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), it also includes a preserve run by the Nature Conservancy.

Kahlotus Ridgetop. This site represents the remains of the Palouse Prairie, which the DOI says is the most endangered and altered landscape in the inland Pacific Northwest. Only about 1% of the original prairie remains.

Kahlotus Ridgetop

A passive approach

Federal recognition of new landmarks is a start, but it is far from what these natural landmarks deserve. The National Park Service’s (NPS) National Natural Landmarks Program encourages conservation, but it does not impose any new land-use restrictions on the sites.

The NPS says the goals of the program are to “encourage the preservation of sites illustrating the geological and ecological character of the United States, enhance the scientific and educational value of sites thus preserved, strengthen public appreciation of natural history, and foster a greater concern for the conservation of the nation’s natural heritage.”

Pretty passive approach, if you ask me. Without any real federal protections for these landmarks, the designation can be rendered useless – essentially the product of a lame image-building campaign from the federal government.

The National Natural Landmarks Program is hardly a PR stint unique to the Obama administration; the program was founded in 1962. Yet the DOI’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative” – which actually encourages hunting and fishing under the mantra of conservation – raises my suspicions.

If the U.S. is truly serious about conservation, it needs to start taking a stronger stance on preservation and stop greenwashing the American public.

Money Over Matter: Poll Finds Americans Value Economy Over Environment

(Image: Copyright © 2011 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.)

A new Gallup poll finds that Americans prioritize the economy over the environment by a wider margin than in almost 30 years, reflecting large attitude shifts among conservatives and widening political divides.

Results from Gallup’s annual environmental poll show that 54% of Americans prioritize the economy over the environment, compared to 36% who view environmental issues as more pressing. (It is assumed that 10% of those surveyed were “Undecided,” but Gallup does not account for the missing 10%.)

These results contrast drastically from those released in 2000, when Americans prioritized the environment over the economy by a greater than 2-to-1 margin (67% to 28%).

Gallup notes that the widest swing in views came from right-wingers. Republicans actually picked the environment over the economy by a 26 percentage-point gap in 2000. In the latest poll, however, their views seesawed a dramatic 81 points to favor economic prioritization by 55 points. Among conservatives (which Gallup defines as a separate group from “Republicans”), there was a significant 71-point swing.

Views from Democrats and liberals (defined as two separate groups, in this study) did not change as dramatically, with 38% and 32% shifts, respectively, toward economic prioritization.

‘The question should not be Environment vs. Economy.’

The results of the poll clearly reflect a drastically different economic climate in 2011 vs. 2000, as well as political views influenced by a current agenda propagated by the likes of the Tea Party and Fox News.

But as disconcerting as the lack of concern for the environment is, the mere existence of this Gallup poll, which has been conducted annually since 1984, could be even more troubling. Indeed, the question should not be Environment vs. Economy. The political discourse of late, however, has increasingly encouraged a divide between issues that do not inherently contract each other.

Environmental preservation is not a hindrance to nor an opponent of economic development, but rather a catalyst to its growth. The clean-energy sector, for instance, represents a giant opportunity for economic proliferation. It is through this symbiotic relationship, and bipartisan cooperation, that the U.S. economy — as well as our planet — will have the opportunity to truly flourish.

(Survey methodology: Results are based on telephone interviews conducted March 3-6, 2011 with a random sample of –1,021—adults, aged 18+, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit dial sampling. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of error is ±4 percentage points. For results based on the sample of –494—national adults in Form A and –527—national adults in Form B, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.)