Sunday, January 31, 2010

Drive the Markets Green!

Upon retiring, the value of a budget looms large in my life. Suddenly, with a fixed income, how I spend each and every penny has become an obsession. No more: “want more, work more.” Now, I think “Do I really need it?” The Great Recession, this financial collapse we’re living though, has steeled my resolve to question all my purchases. I now equate the price of the stuff to the work I must do to pay for it. I now question whether the ‘stuff’ is worth it in the first place. It makes me wonder where our stricken economy is going if the majority are seriously pinching their pennies.

Previously, I thought that one of the ways our country was going to work itself through this financial disaster was to create a green market, whereby we create a new economic infrastructure that equates the health of our environment with how we extract, transport, consume, and dispose of stuff. People would get trained for jobs that would boost our economy and improve our environment. After listening to President Obama’s State of the Union speech the other night, I doubt we’re going to see anything from the top on green jobs work its way down to us who are looking for those new green jobs. Things aren’t really changing, except fixing up those old local railroad tracks for high-speed rail, which won’t be all that fast. The rich bankers are getting richer and the poor who bailed them out are getting poorer.

Naomi Klein (author & activist), when asked about her reaction to the Obama speech, said it all: “Well, I mean, we knew the spending freeze was going to come, but to me, it’s really striking. I think what this moment represents is the decision, which we all feared would come, to pass the bill on from saving Wall Street, from saving the elites of this country from their own mess, a bill worth trillions of dollars, to regular people in need in this country. I mean, that’s what a spending freeze really means.” (DemocracyNow.org Jan. 28, 10)

So, I guess one choice is to keeping doing the same thing, looking for the same old jobs, in the same old ways, hoping at least one of the political parties will stop worrying about their reelection possibilities or wallowing in their obsessive political partisanship and start using our money to get us jobs.

Or, you can drive the markets green. As long as you’re scaling down your lifestyle anyway, hoping for a better health option (other than the present one-health-issue-away-from bankruptcy option), and wishing for one of those green jobs you keep hearing about, why not force the markets to change?

How do you drive the markets green? Get on a tight budget. Track all your expenses, your vehicle expenses, food, entertainment—everything. Decide to buy only what you need to get by (lower your environmental footprint). Consider only buying from businesses that are green and proving it. Work only for places that are moving towards an environmentally healthier planet. Greenwashing won’t do. The public is on to that scam.

Rather than thinking of yourself as down and out. Think that you’re absolutely in charge. What you buy, where you work, how you vote, what media you listen to—all drive the markets. Of course, all this has to be done on a large scale to affect massive economic change. But, why keep doing the same thing, expecting different results? The economic cliff we are falling off is not sustainable anyway, so why not change our own behavior and force the government and the markets towards a more sustainable lifestyle?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

We’re Going Blind

Trying to negotiate the world as your sight gets worse does not make life easier. Rather, it becomes more difficult because you often miss critical warning signs. That’s worth keeping in mind as this week’s news illuminates a further decline in the public’s ability to ‘see’ the world around them.

Story #1. Supreme Court Voids Campaign Spending Curbs - BusinessWeek.com- msnbc.com “A divided court strikes down decades-old restrictions on corporate campaign spending, 5-4, reversing two of its precedents and freeing companies to advertise” Although there has always been a disproportionate advantage for large corporations to self-servingly frame issues before public via the media, lately it has become more blatant and dire. Relying on corporations, who own most mainstream media, to report on environmental malfeasance is putting the fox in the henhouse.

Story #2. Media Executives Plan Online Service to Charge for Content - NYTimes.com If the NYT, one of the last major media institutions that have the capability to do major environmental investigations, decides to charge online readers for its content, and many media follow suit, fewer people will read critical environmental reporting. It means that only a minority will be able to afford reading an important series like Toxic Waters - Series - The New York Times.

Slowly, we are losing our collective ability to monitor the health of our environment and it means we are probably going to make some very bad decisions going forward. If we had the inclination and resources we could do independent objective reporting and discover the ramifications of everything we dumped into our air, land, and water. It’s obvious from the direction mainstream media is going that we are not so inclined. Rather our tendency is to rush forward with every new earth-altering idea that comes to mind and believe everything will turnout OK. That’s delusional.

We can get a more honest view of how we treat our environment by using a wider perspective, that of time. Then it’s clear that we tend not to consider the environment as we live and plan for the future. Three books I suggest that will give you a glimpse of our region before great human changes took place: “A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations” by Clive Ponting; “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann; and “Paradise Found - Nature in America at the Time of Discovery” by Steve Nicholls. 500 years ago our continent was rich with life, now it’s poor in biodiversity and collapsing in slow motion.

Putting up barriers between the masses and our media by making it more difficult and expensive for them to get accurate and in-depth environmental information will lead to disaster. But should reporting be publically funded, as John Nichols & Robert W. McChesney argue in How to Save Journalism? I don’t know. All I know is: Absolutely no environmental problem goes away by blinding the public to them.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Solving Climate Change should not be a political football.

But, it is. In these extraordinary times, with many political sides fighting about Climate Change, including those who don’t even believe it is happening or due to human influence, there’s a player in the fracas that the media rarely allows to speak—Nature. If our media doesn’t learn how to objectively, accurately, and deeply go after this issue, the increase greenhouse gases in our atmosphere will warm the planet up—regardless of the political spin.

Climate bill setback forces clean development rethink | Reuters "LONDON (Reuters) - Still reeling from disappointing UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December, clean energy project developers were dealt another blow this week when U.S. Democrats lost their Senate supermajority, potentially killing a federal cap-and-trade scheme for years to come. Although the passage of a U.S. bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 was far from certain, the election of a Republican in Massachusetts to the Senate on Tuesday derailed any momentum President Obama had following his healthcare push toward introducing a cap-and-trade scheme this year." (January 22, 2010) Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com

Monday, January 18, 2010

Cars: expensive to you and the environment:

Our love, here in the United States, of our cars comes at a ridiculously high price. Much that is contained in this cost is not simply the ticket price of the vehicle, or the insurance, or the license fee, or repair bills, or the yearly inspections.

Much of the taxes you pay are gobbled up by road and bridge repair. The cost to our environment is hidden from most of us because we refuse to see the greenhouse gas emissions, the incredible amount of paved-over land required, and the innumerable hindrances to plant and wildlife because millions of cars and roads carve up their former ecospheres.

Plants don’t grow on busy pavement, nor do many animals cross, as streets and highways now define their boundaries instead the boundaries these species evolved to eek out a living over millions of years. So, the next time you climb in your car (instead of walking, or bicycling, or taking mass transit, or voting for alternative transportation) consider the incredible cost that short ride is really costing you.

Worn roads, bridges costing area driver | democratandchronicle.com | Democrat and Chronicle Rochester's deteriorating roads and bridges are costing motorists hundreds of dollars every year, a transportation research group said Thursday. TRIP, which is based in Washington, D.C., and funded by groups with a financial interest in better infrastructure, found that a third of the major roads in Rochester are in poor or mediocre condition and 27 percent of the bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. (January 15, 2010) democratandchronicle.com | Democrat and Chronicle | Rochester news, community, entertainment, yellow pages and classifieds. Serving Rochester, New York

Strong Language about Climate Change:

In Dr. James Hansen’s Book, Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, by James Hansen, there is, despite all the explanations, science and cajoling, just one message, crystal and clear: Get the carbon dioxide levels down to 350 parts per billion or we’re in trouble. Who is Dr. Hansen? James Hansen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia "Hansen is best known for his research in the field of climatology, his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in 1988 that helped raise broad awareness of global warming, and his advocacy of action to limit the impacts of climate change. "

Should the Rochester area compost more?

There are areas that require composting. But, our area doesn't. And a lot of compostable stuff goes into our landfills which are filling up. Will we go the way of San Francisco? In S.F., thou shalt compost: It's the law - Sacramento Politics - California Politics | Sacramento Bee San Francisco, renowned for its civic will to save the planet, is now ordering residents and businesses to compost food scraps and biodegradables, or risk fines for not properly sorting their garbage. (January 3, 2010) Northern California local news and information from The Sacramento Bee - sacbee.com

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Don't forget the Environmental Health Issue of Radon:

You can do something about it: Radon Test Kit "If you wish to obtain a radon test kit from the New York State Department of Health, please print this "Radon Detector Order Form", fill it out and return it with $8.50 per detector ordered. (New York State Residents ONLY). Requests for the form in an alternate format can be made by contacting the New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Environmental Radiation Protection.

The Loss of Rochester’s Biodiversity

The United Nations has declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. It is a wake-up call because we know that biodiversity around the world is crashing, which is why our age is sometime referred to as either the Holocene Extinction or the Sixth Great Extinction. However, unlike the other five mass extinction events (caused by asteroids, volcanoes, or global warming), this one is human caused.

It is big news: “The UN launches the International Year of Biodiversity on Monday, warning that the ongoing loss of species affects human well-being around the world. Eight years ago, governments pledged to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, but the pledge will not be met.” (January 11, 2010) BBC.

So, how does this affect the Rochester, New York area? To answer that we must first ask: What is biodiversity? “Biodiversity is the variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or for the entire Earth. Biodiversity is often used as a measure of the health of biological systems.”—from Biodiversity - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Next, we must ‘see’ our region not only as our home, our place of work and play, but as a distinct part of our planet’s environment. Sounds silly to have to make this point, but you’d be surprised how many people tend to forget we are an integral part of the four billion year experiment called life on this planet. And if you think those new HDTV’s are complex, they’re nothing compared to LIFE (biodiversity). Life is a factor of complexity on this planet beyond your wildest dreams with its components so interconnected as to make the smallest change affect all other life—sometime big changes (like death), sometimes small changes (like a faint whisper when a bug buzzes by your ear).

So, what is the state of our area’s biodiversity? Answer: Hard to tell. No individual or institution has actually gone out and compiled all the information and reviewed all the historical data one would need to come up with that information. You’d think people would want to know; how else can you tell how things are going? How do you know what we are losing in biodiversity without a sustained effort to collect the data?

What can be teased out of just the Wildlife (sorry, no room for Plants in this essay) news of the past couple of years to get a sense of the biodiversity in our region? Here’s what I came up with: These guys are doing well: dogs and cats (boy, these creatures made out great hitching their fortunes to us humans) and deer, crows and pigeons. Bears are coming back and so are Bald Eagles, otters, Peregrine Falcons, and cormorants (which have come back so quickly that measures are being considered to halt their spread for fear of robbing fishermen of fish).

Troubling are the species that aren’t doing so hot. Bat populations nearby are collapsing (due to white nose syndrome) so rapidly that some fear their disappearance altogether. Great Lakes fish populations are being decimated by VHS disease, botulism, and toxins (Up to the Gills: 2009 Update on Pollution in Great Lakes Fish), and maybe the Asian Carp if it gets established. Bird populations have changed according to “the National Audubon Society that shows how local and national threats are combining to take a toll on birds, habitat and the environment across the country.” (June 15, 07) New York State News on the Net!

What does it all mean? Can we possibly tell from the ad hoc information that exists on our local biodiversity whether we have enough endemic plants and animals in the right proportions for a sustainable biodiversity here in Rochester, NY? I’d say we should be conduction studies trying to find that out—as a part of a larger, comprehensive study. Just guessing about the state of our area’s biodiversity might not turn out so well for

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Green Business As Usual

Depending on your point of view, the Recession is either chugging along nicely (though cruelly) or it’s showing signs of a cascading collapse. Meaning, the banks we bailed out last year are thriving and many businesses are holding on, but job loss is dreadful. “The pace of layoffs has slowed sharply in recent months, but businesses still cut 85,000 net jobs in December, the Labor Department said.” (U.S. job loss report is blow to still-fragile recovery 1/09/10- washingtonpost.com)

All these job losses make you wonder how we are going to recover our economy. Who is going to buy all that stuff from businesses if most of us are broke, can’t get loans, and are losing our houses? We could ask the rich (who horde a wildly disproportional share of the wealth in our country) to go out and spend more money. But, how many sneakers can even a rich person wear?

The answer could be a greening of our economy, creating new businesses and environmentally friendly business models that would catch the new green wave. Rather it should be the way out of this Recession. Since the beginning of the Recession, there has been a lot of fanfare about retrofitting our economy with green sector jobs—fixing our water infrastructure, conserving energy, creating renewable energy jobs, and curbing greenhouse gas emissions--but, realistically, those still waiting for the green job revolution to sweep them up are going to be very disappointed. They’re going to miss the trickle beneath their feet that was supposed to be a flood. The good news is that the green job revolution is happening, but proceeding so slowly you wouldn’t notice. The bad news is that it’s pretty much business as usual: Bankers, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders got most of our tax dollars in the bailout. The public got extensions on their layoff benefits, but even that is now drying up.

This is our present reality: Businesses are not hiring and training people off the street to help these businesses become environmentally friendly. Grants are granted to those who retrofit and train people who already have jobs. There’s no wave of new jobs, no massive FDR-like jobs programs to restart our economy. There are just the same old craven scams on the Internet and the same old jobs that were out there before the Recession but for some reason never get filled. You can go back to school to get green training but no guarantee of a job. Shell out more money in a desperate time for a slim chance at a job.

Thus, a very neat and quiet Recession. Politicians keep feeling sorry for people out of jobs, and businesses keep battening down their hatches, tossing out their employees, while we ignore the warnings of climate change: “Nearly half of the asset managers surveyed, or 44 percent, said they don't consider emerging climate risks a financial threat to their clients' money.” Does Your Money Manager Worry About Climate Change Risk? The Odds Are 50-50 – 1/07/10 NYTimes.com Doesn’t seem to be a system based on reality or one that is going to thrive any time soon.

It could be different. It could be something other than a slow (but getting faster) steady collapse of the American work force and our environment. Businesses could take a leap of faith in their ability to move to a new economy (that Europe and others are moving to) and retrofit their business to go green, from the top down, inside out. Hire new people and train them to comply with strict environmental standards, making their commitment to sustainability so obvious that we’d all start to feel good again about our future.

Here’s the way I see it: If the public doesn’t drive the new green economy, they won’t get new jobs. The public can drive the new green economy by refusing to buy or invest in companies not going green or vote for any who don’t provide green jobs, or listen to a media that doesn’t tell us what is actually going on.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

What we’re reading:

Dr. James Hansen’s new book Storms of My Grandchildren is a must if you want the Climate Change threat clarified. Dr. Hansen struggles to help the public understand the true climate threat in a age where so many ignore, refuse, or actively discourage others from understanding the critical and complex science that backs the Climate Change issue.

Getting Climate Change

I recommend anyone who cares about Climate Change to read this excellent editorial on the ability to for the public to 'get it' on this critical issue. We tend to argue Climate Change like we do all partisan issues, if we don't get this issue right all of us cook, including our children.

"On issues like global warming and evolution, scientists need to speak up "The battle over the science of global warming has long been a street fight between mainstream researchers and skeptics. But never have the scientists received such a deep wound as when, in late November, a large trove of e-mails and documents stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at Britain's University of East Anglia were released onto the Web. In the ensuing "Climategate" scandal, scientists were accused of withholding information, suppressing dissent, manipulating data and more. But while the controversy has receded, it may have done lasting damage to science's reputation: Last month, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 40 percent of Americans distrust what scientists say about the environment, a considerable increase from April 2007. Meanwhile, public belief in the science of global warming is in decline. " --from washingtonpost.com - nation, world, technology and Washington area news and headlines

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The State of Rochester’s Environment 2009

Summing up the year in a variety of ways (best films, biggest stories, funniest incidents, most tragic, etc.) has become such a tradition in the media at the end of the year that we expect it. It’s fashionable. (Not that this sort of thing is necessary, for has anyone actually forgotten the rotten economy and all the awful wars?) So as long as we are counting our chickens this New Year anyways, why not have a wrap-up about something useful, like the state of our environment? This kind of rundown does matter. We won’t have any more ‘best films’ or ‘most awkward moments’ for the year if our environment crashes.

In truth, I don’t have a lot of space so let me take only one slice of our environment, the one around Rochester, NY. And further, let’s pretend that someone can accurately sum up the state of any one community’s environment by scrutinizing the media on this topic. Admittedly, this is a poor way to go about such an impossibly intricate issue. Because even if one had all the available information on our environment, that still wouldn’t touch the surface of the information we would need to understand exactly what is going on in our ground, air, and water. There are such gargantuan gaps in our knowledge about our environment that we could drive entire planets through them. In short, we’re just trying to get the big picture here, a kind of ballpark assessment of how we are doing on our environment here in the Rochester, NY area.

Climate Change: Our atmosphere is warming up, even in Rochester, despite the ineffectual arguments of the climate change deniers who fail to convince—but who are becoming increasingly angry and vitriolic. Yet, there are signs that Rochester is beginning to ‘get it’ on climate change. New groups have formed for getting the public to monitor and curb their energy consumption, while older established groups provide public events on climate change. Local governments are adopting green divisions and even green web pages on how to become more sustainable communities. Our local institutions of higher learning are creating more courses to prepare students for a greener economy and even providing critical research on better energy efficiency. However, there was a great dearth of media attention on the Copenhagen Climate Change coverage, making us wonder just how much we in Rochester, NY recognize our place in the world environment. The world-wide 350.org event also went mostly unnoticed by our media. These blind spots in our media could account for a recent poll that says most Rochesterians don’t think Climate Change is a serious issue.

Recycling: Efforts to get the public to recycle more and more often are getting better. Many businesses are doing what they can in a collapsed recycling market to keep recycling. Similarly, individuals in our area will bring their spent stuff in massive quantities when offered events to dispose of recyclable materials and hazardous waste However, too much garbage is going into our landfills, including over 10% which is food waste that could be composted and sold as fertilizer. In short, we won’t really make any great strides in recycling until we stop recyclable goods from going into our landfills, insuring that all that can be recycled is being recycled by enforcing existing laws, getting all seven plastics recycled (our area only accepts # one and # two plastics) like some surrounding counties are doing. Finally, a major leap forward in Rochester’s recycling would be deconstruction, instead of simply tearing down old buildings and hauling the useful remains to landfills.

Transportation: How we get around has a profound effect on our local (sprawling) environment because a lot of land needs to be paved and most transportation modes pollute, including spewing greenhouse gases into our environment. our local transportation institutions have all they can handle in maintaining the roads and bridges we have, let alone heralding in new transportation corridors—like high speed rail. Much could be done to improve our area’s transportation if the public changed their attitudes: walked more, bicycled more, and operated within existing traffic laws to create safe and environmentally friendly ways to move around.

Water Quality: Because of our area’s many lakes (including the Great Lakes), we have extraordinary water resources. Here in our area, we are taking major steps in preventing pharmaceuticals from going into our lakes and in monitoring phosphorus leaching into our wastewater. Our infrastructure, which tends to release ‘everything’ during a major storm, will never be truly clean until we make sure our waste treatment plants can filter out anything toxic. This year we saw the expanded bottle bill take hold. And while it may have unfairly fallen on small store operators to collect returnable’s, this law has the potential to clean up our trash problem and put our faith back in our municipal water systems. Think about it: If you are not happy with your community’s water you can complain and ask questions. If your water bottling company goes out of business, there’s no regress.

I could go on, (check RochesterEnvironment.com) but I’m running out of space. Like I said above, accurately assessing the state of our environment is impossible at this point. There have not been enough studies to find out how our way of life is affecting our environment. But, we must try. Without an accurate measure of our impact on our environment, we are ‘flying blind.’ Misguided ideology, anger, impatience, and inattention to our environment just won’t do. Nature is a harsh mistress: adapt or perish.