Monday, June 29, 2009

Another reason to be a vegetarian

For all you pescetarians, I highly recommend you see this movie: End of the Line.

It is about overfishing, and while I have only seen the trailer, it looks like something everyone should see. Here's the description:

"Narrated by Ted Danson and based on the book by Charles Clover, THE END OF THE LINE explores the devastating effect that overfishing is having on fish stocks and the health of our oceans. Scientists predict that if we continue fishing at the current rate, the planet will completely run out of fish by 2048."

Here is a website that gives some examples about what to do: Seafood Watch. If you don't think you can give up eating fish, at least check to see which fish populations are less endangered, or how the fish you eat were caught. The more you know...!

(Image from:

Acing Aces (and other bills): How to Organize Over the Summer

Bill Scher of wrote an article on Huffington Post earlier today about his disappointment with the lack of grassroots activism around the climate bill. As we know, the bill got passed by a tight margin--only with the work of a lot of last minute deals (and 300 pages worth of amendments).

Reading this made me reflect on the role of activism over the summer. Obviously, as a college environmental group, we have a much easier time rallying support during the academic year. We can go out to Red Square and hold call-ins, we can expect that our members are regularly checking emails, and everyone tends to be very engaged and politically active. Over the summer, people disperse, get busy with work, or get distracted with leisure.

What lies ahead, then, when the bill goes to the Senate?

One thing that I would recommend for everyone to do is to follow 1Sky on twitter. Some of you have twitter accounts, and some don't, but I truly appreciated the value of twitter last Friday. I was walking home during a lot of the debate on the House floor, but that didn't stop me from knowing exactly what was going on. 1Sky was tweeting the comments that each Rep was making, and better still, they provided a link to a site where you could send an email to the Reps who did not support the bill to tell them why their arguments were wrong. During the 45 minute walk back, I was hooked.

Back on the main point, I know our google group is not the best tool for the instant dissemination of messages because messages can be received in a weekly digest. Facebook messages can easily be ignored--since the amass too quickly. Facebook events also don't get immediate response.

Blogging can be valuable if you have a constant readership.

So, here is my question to all of you eco-active Hoyas: What do you think is the best way to organize in such a climate (that of dispersion/summer) for the sake of the climate?

Friday, June 26, 2009

American Clean Energy and Security Act PASSES the HOUSE!

Don't know if you guys followed this like Jon and I did this afternoon, but the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (also known as the Waxman-Markey bill and HR 2454).

If this bill becomes law, it will enact a Cap and Trade system for the United States.

The bill passed 219 - 212 - so it REALLY just squeaked by. 211 Democrats voted in favor of it, with 44 Democratic noes. 8 Republicans voted in favor of it [including my Representative, Leonard Lance!!] with 168 Republican noes.

This bill was expected to pass through the House, however the bigger fight will be when it comes to the Senate in a few months. It will likely undergo major changes and there will be a ton of revisions on it before it comes to vote. To pass the Senate, it will need at least 60 votes (to overcome the filibuster).

To read the full bill, click here [Warning: it is about 1000 pages long...]. To read a summary of the bill, click here. To see if your Representative voted for it, click here. For more information on what cap and trade is, read on.

ALSO: if your Representative voted in favor of it, PLEASE send him/her a thank you note!! (It's only polite...)

Have no idea what cap and trade is? It is essentially an economic-driven basis for carbon emissions regulation.

Each building and business emits carbon dioxide. The government would then, in this case, give permits to each business based on how much carbon dioxide they emit.

If the businesses emitted less carbon than their permits allowed, then they could sell it to other businesses. If they emitted more carbon, they would be required to buy permits. This creates a market, where businesses who emit less carbon can profit. The idea is that the government, over time, would decrease the permits in the market, meaning less carbon would be emitted.

Great in theory, difficult in real life, as shown by the EU, which enacted a mandatory carbon emissions program with the Kyoto Protocol. In Phase One, businesses set the bar too high. They told the government that they emitted much more carbon than they actually did, and they all got more carbon permits than they needed. Therefore, no market was created because there was too much supply and no demand. It has been fixed and is successful now, in it's current stage (Phase Two).

The US DOES currently trade carbon emission permits (as I was surprised to know), but it is on an optional basis. This law would make it mandatory.

Sounds great, right? Well there are, admittedly, a lot of problems with this particular law.

Republicans, in general, would have you believe it is a "Cap and Tax" bill. It's not. It would increase the price of energy by approximately $200 a month, much less than the $1500 or so the Republicans claim. This is because certain energy will cost more than other, less efficient energy - encouraging people to switch to more efficient energy. (Duh.)

Other issues are that it would negatively impact certain industries, notably farming (which produces a ton of carbon emissions) and coal (for obvious reasons). Representatives with heavy populations in these industries understandably were reluctant to vote for this bill.

Propaganda from the Republicans were that it was a "tax" and that jobs would go to China. No, really. One major argument was that the US would be at a huge disadvantage and lose jobs to China. As one Representative, in favor of the bill, pointed out, the jobs that would have been lost to China have ALREADY gone there. (Simply because labor is cheaper there... basic economics.)

What it comes down to is that other countries are going to enter this. Regardless of India and China's status (do we really need to wait for them to take action before we do? So much for being leaders of the world...) this is the direction that the world is headed in. We can either get into it now, or fall behind.

Here are two sites that explain cap and trade in basic terms: here and here.

Image from the Environmental Defense Fund.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book Review: Food Politics

Leaving the realm of traditional environmentalism for a minute to quickly discuss Food Politics by Marion Nestle, a professor from NYU and an adviser to/member of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration.

SIDE NOTE: She also keeps a blog, appropriately titled Food Politics, dedicated to giving consumers/readers up-to-date information about food in the news.

This book was particularly interesting to me, since I have a particular affinity for the relationship between food and the environment. It may be a bit too in depth for some likings, but it is very (as the title alludes to) political.

For example, the FDA is powerless to recall many products, particularly beef. Following the mad cow disease breakout, Oprah Winfrey had a guest from the Humane Society on her show, where they discussed the fact that cows are fed to other cows. (Gross.) She replies, "It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!"

As a result, she got sued by the beef industry under veggie-libel laws, i.e. for inciting fear in consumers. She went to trial in January 1998 and ultimately won, but the legal fees were astronomical - and certainly enough to quiet any regular consumer.

(Nestle also discusses "McLibel," which I won't get into here but I found fascinating. It was a group of poor activists who distributed "libelous" pamphlets about McDonalds in the UK and were sued by McDonalds. They won.)

At the heart of this book, is the fact that some foods are good for you and some are bad for you. This goes against what food providers want you to think - since if you believe that every food can be good for you, then you can't write their food off.

Nestle discusses how companies/lobbying firms can seem bigger than governments - at least in terms of the amount they have to spend on advertising/lawsuits. The connections between food lobbies and members of Congress seem pretty indicative to me that there's a lack of impartiality going on.

This book also provides certain insights into how government agencies work regarding food. Nestle devotes a large section to supplements, which are in limbo regarding regulation - not food, not quite medicine. They essentially have free reign over how they market their product.

Most disturbing is the fact that the FDA is powerless to carry out many of the actions that it is meant to do. The FDA has not banned any supplements following the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, although there have certainly been harmful products, because of budget deficiencies.

Nestle also discusses food fortification (which she calls "techno-foods"), which has many flaws. Conceptually, it fails because foods like fruits or vegetables are so intricate that isolating one chemical or one vitamin is not the equivalent of eating the entity. Though in some circumstances, it has worked - see: salt and iodine. However, industrialized countries consume much more iodine than they need.

At the end of her book, she briefly discusses "food ethics," which she describes as eating food that is close to its source and local - foods which are good for you and the earth.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Economic Impact of Climate Change

Interesting post to the New York Times Green Inc. and Economix blogs today about a report released by the Obama administration detailing the economic impacts of climate change. The report, prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), lays out a veritable orgy of consequences if we can't get our environmental house in order and global warming is allowed to continue unabated. This sounds scary:

Flooding in particularly may cause mayhem in coastal areas like New York, the report says:
What is currently called a 100-year storm is projected to occur as often as every 10 years by late this century. Portions of lower Manhattan and coastal areas of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Nassau County, would experience a marked increase in flooding frequency. Much of the critical transportation infrastructure, including tunnels, subways, and airports, lies well within the range of projected storm surge and would be flooded during such events.

Opponents of aggressive action to curb the dangerous changing of our climate like to claim that such action would have a catastrophic impact on our economy. Rarely, however, do we consider the economic impact of not doing anything. Here's what the report has to say about the potential cost for the insurance industry of more powerful storms and more unpredictable weather:

The insurance industry — especially government-sponsored insurance — will face major challenges. “In an average year, about 90 percent of insured catastrophe losses worldwide are weather-related,” the report says. “Escalating exposures to catastrophic weather events, coupled with private insurers’ withdrawal from various markets, are placing the federal government at increased financial risk as insurer of last resort.”

As illustrated by the debt-fueled consumerism that inflated our national economic bubble so large that it finally came crashing down all over itself and everything else, we live in a country that doesn't always like to take the long view. But despite any near-term economic sacrifices that might have to be made to legitimately battle climate change, it's clear that these pale in comparison to what may be faced under a business-as-usual scenario. Indeed, the most compelling argument for doing something, and doing something now, is still the promise of building an economy that doesn't depend on carbon emissions for its health and overall growth. It will take a whole lot of jobs to build the renewable energy systems needed to replace the amount of energy currently generated from dirtier technologies like coal and oil, far more than we will lose from letting these industries ride off into the sunset. There's a lot more promise in the potential growth of clean technologies than in the senseless propping up of an economic framework that seems bound to cost us more in the end.

For a country recently driven by "buy now, pay later" credit card debt, "invest now, or pay later," seems like the more relevant phrase when it comes to making the necessary changes to our economy.

Global Climate Changes, National Impacts (NY Times)
The Economic Impact of Climate Change (NY Times)

Image courtesy

Friday, June 12, 2009

Farmer's Market Closer Than Ever!

It's summer time and that means all sorts of yummy fruits are in season - and what better place to go than the NEW farmer's market in Glover Park/Burleith, located at Wisconsin and 34th, right across from where Safeway is (was?).

It's open Saturdays from tomorrow until the beginning of October until 1pm.

For more information, go here. This is a great addition to the other set of great farmer's markets in DC (including the one in Georgetown at Rose Park on Wednesdays from April to October from 4-7pm and the one in Dupont on Sundays year round until 1pm).

Hungry for Change?: Food Inc. Opens Today

Back in April, Kristin, Mara, Alice, and I went to an advance screening of Food Inc. at the National Geographic Center here in DC (16th and M, in case you ever go in the future).

I believe Kristin wrote about it in the past, so I won't go into great detail. You can read a lot of reviews on it at Rotten Tomatoes (linked above) or at Huffington Post.

Regardless, you must go see it! It is, to make an analogy, the "Inconvenient Truth" of the food system...but much more colorful and more enjoyable.

Photo is the movie poster for Food, Inc.:

Monday, June 8, 2009

UPDATE: GUTS Buses Reroute

If you haven't been following up on the GUTS bus debacle...

The facts are: there are some members of the ANC/Georgetown community who are unhappy with the GUTS buses running on Reservoir because, they claim, that the buses cause the old roads to shake and thus cause the locks (the barrels in them) to shake and that their doors don't properly lock.

Our very own Mike Durante lives on Reservoir and agrees that while the roads do shake, that the problems aren't as serious as some members claim that they are, and that the other vehicles which travel on this public road also contribute to this problem.

As a result, the university has been "testing" a new route, as shown in the picture above, from the Voice. (Click it to enlarge... the new route is about 4.7 miles, increased from the current route about 2.1 miles.)

Obviously, besides inconveniencing the hundreds of workers who depend on the GUTS bus to get to/from work, it will increase mileage and, you guessed it, contribute more to carbon emissions.

This has resulted in a lot of name-calling/mudslinging on both sides of the conflict. So what can we do to stop this?

Here's what one poster, Tom Veil, said:

As an alum, let me give you 3 pieces of advice on how to fight the ANC’s anti-GUTS nuttiness:

1. Run as many candidates for ANC2E as you can. I know they’ve gerrymandered it so that Campus coincides with seat 4. (See But if you get off-campus students to run for seats 1, 2, 3, and 5, you may lose the vote, but you will force the “town” candidates to moderate their anti-student bias in order to fend off the challenge.

2. Get the Student Association to talk to your City Councilman, Jack Evans, about getting a DC Circulator to replace the DuPont shuttle. If the bus made a couple stops on Q St, soon the locals would start using it for their work commutes, and they’d end up being the bus’s strongest supporters.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk to regular University employees, especially hospital staff. For these guys, travelling to & from campus is not an option — it’s how they get to work every day. The University tends to forget that most of its employees are ordinary folks who can’t afford to drive a car to work every day, but when the employees remind them, the University tends to snap to its senses REALLY fast.

There are two recent posts from the Voice blog for more information, here and here.

So... is anyone registered in DC?