Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sen. Warner Fighting Wind Power?

I've been trying to make sense of a strange story I just learned about today. According to a recent US News & World Report article, "2006 was supposed to be a banner year for wind power. Instead, experts say, the industry is faltering while it awaits the results of the study mandated in this year's defense authorization bill by [Virginia] Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee."

Obviously no one wants to put national security at risk. But this "study" has gone beyond cautiousness to the point of blatant foot-dragging.

The Sierra Club reports Donald Rumsfeld and the Dept. of Defense have not only missed a deadline for completing a study on the issue, they've just missed a deadline for explaining why they missed the deadline for completing the study:

According to media reports, at least 15 wind farm proposals in the Midwest have been shut down so far. The list of stalled projects includes one outside Bloomington, Illinois, which would have been the nation's largest source of wind energy, generating enough electricity to power 120,000 homes in the Chicago area. Coal and natural gas will likely replace the lost wind generation, resulting in higher energy costs and increased soot, smog and global warming pollution.
No one's pretending wind power is going to replace fossil fuels as our main power source anytime soon. But at a time when Republicans are so furiously pushing "energy production" (a.k.a. drilling for oil & natural gas), I don't understand why they would block new sources of energy.

Please email Sen. Warner to ask why he's helping block important new sources of renewable energy, and forward this information to your environmentally-minded friends! Just use the little envelope thing at the bottom of this post.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More Evidence Virginia's Going from Red to Purple

A new Wall Street Journal/Zogby poll has Jim Webb and George Allen in a statistical dead heat in Virginia's US Senate race. A Survey USA poll shows the same thing.

As I've mentioned before, neither candidate takes much of a stand on environmental issues, and I don't expect that to change. Putting on my pundit hat for a minute, Allen doesn't have many options besides sticking to the I'll-cut-your-taxes-and-save-you-from-terrorists mantra that has served Republicans so well. And if Webb is smart, his Tim Russert dry-erase board will look like this:


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Are All Organic Dairy Products Created Equally?

A new study from the Cornucopia Institute tries to answer that question, rating organic dairy products from different farms & companies.

I was eager to read it, since organic dairy products often have an especially high mark-up over their non-organic counterparts. However, the study seems to be so determined to prove its organization's points that it's not helpful to the everyday shopper.

It actually only rates smaller farms and companies, saying private-label firms refused to participate in the study. Therefore only one product I frequently buy is even rated -- Stonyfield Yogurt.

The rest are given a zero score, but grouped into types of company (store-brand, large corporation, etc.) and painted with a broad brush. Harris Teeter- and Whole Foods- brand organic milk get zero scores but "two-cow" ratings, while Horizon gets a zero score but a "zero-cow" rating. Little explanation is given other than a general bias about the type of company.

All that is fine if you're trying to make a political statement, but not terribly helpful for the average consumer. I guess I'll avoid the Horizon milk/eggs from now on? Let me know if you have any tips on buying organic!

UPDATE: The Nation devotes this week's entire issue to the politics of food

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Best Way You Can Help the Environment: Change the System

At last weekend's Arlington County Fair, several people came up to the ACE booth and asked the best way they could help improve Arlington's environment.

For me, that's always a tough question to answer. People want simple solutions, like "If your office doesn't recycle, take your empty containers home and recycle them yourself." It's easy and doesn't force anyone out of their comfort zone. If you try to challenge them to take the next step, like "Go to your facility manager and ask why your office doesn't recycle," they're often reluctant.

As helpful as it is for you to change your behavior, you can do exponentially more good by changing the system. Buying a hybrid car is good, but getting your company to change its fleet to hybrids makes a lasting impact on our air quality. Installing a rain barrel is good; organizing people in your civic association to install rain barrels can save a stream. Buying organic beer & wine is good; getting your favorite restaurant to carry organic beer exposes hundreds of people to green products.

Here are more ways to help the environment at home, on the road, and in your community!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Shifting Winds of the Global Warming Debate

At this point, even the harshest critics of global warming (like Gregg Easterbrook) are giving up on their argument that the planet is just going through some sort of a natural cycle. The evidence is overwhelming that the planet is warming due to human actions.

The few remaining people clinging to their belief that nothing is wrong have simply stopped debating. Much like Kevin Bacon's character in Animal House, no matter the evidence, they insist all is well.

But many of those global warming critics are now trying to re-frame the terms of the debate, shifting tactics and digging new trenches in the political battle, and environmentalists need to change with the times or risk being caught off-guard.

Republicans who once argued the planet wasn't warming are now admitting that the planet is warming, but that either there's nothing to be done about it, or that the costs of doing something are so high, they're not worth doing. Instead, we should "adapt to inevitable changes."

Corporations are now trying to duck responsibility by painting themselves green. General Motors, famous for being a prime suspect in the murder of the electric car, continues to flog its hydrogen car prototype as proof that it's trying to go green, despite mountains of evidence that hydrogen cars are nothing more than a red herring. And they're still fighting higher fuel economy standards (they haven't been raised in 20 years).

But just because Wal-Mart is now stocking organic products doesn't mean it's suddenly a net benefit to the environment. It's a band-aid on the open wound Wal-Mart has inflicted.

No matter the distractions, environmentalists need to stay focused on what's important. We've played a role in the planet's warming, and we have a role to play in helping return it to balance. It will take major shifts in energy usage and major advances in techology to help that happen. But we have to try. We're already seeing signs of the consequences of inaction.

UPDATE: Another tactic -- don't deny the facts of global warming, just accuse your opponents of being hypocrites.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

The Green Burial Movement

This week's edition of's Main Dish tackles an uncomfortable subject -- how to carry your environmental principles over to the afterlife. It profiles Joe Sehee, the executive director of bizarrely yet accurately named Green Burial Council.

"There's a cultural barrier to green burial in mainstream culture," says Kim Sorvig, a landscape architect at the University of New Mexico who serves as an advisor to the Green Burial Council. "We have a detachment or denial about people dying. You can go your entire life and never be confronted with the actual facts of death."

It's something we all prefer not to think about, but Sehee makes a great case that properly planning out your burial can make a real contribution to the environment, both by avoiding the toxic materials usually involved, and by directing the funds to organizations concerned with conservation.

Too creepy for a Thursday morning? OK, read this instead.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Too Many Trees?

UPDATE: The Sun-Gazette published our letter ... and apparently we're not the only ones to object!


This comes from the July 31st "Political Notes" column in the Sun-Gazette newspaper ...

TREES? WE'VE GOT PLENTY OF TREES: Among those who joined us for dinner at the Lead Virginia field trip to Tysons Corner on July 21 was Gerald Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.We don't always agree with Connolly, but we like him. Along with Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton, who also attended, Connolly made some valid points about the deteriorating relationship between the state government and Northern Virginia's localities.

But another thing Connolly said struck us as interesting. He noted that, in Fairfax County, there are more trees today than there were 100 years ago or 200 years ago. Tree-huggers (our phrase, not his) don't believe this, but it's true.

Hmmm. Could the same thing be true in Arlington? We know that a whole lot of old-growth trees were cut down in the building of Arlington National Cemetery, but is it possible that there are more
trees today than in years gone by? If so, the county government's hysteria over preserving trees (although it does a rather shabby job of maintaining trees on its own property) would seem to be a bit misplaced.

Here's the letter to the editor Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment sent in response ...

It was surprising to see a friend of the environment, Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerry Connolly, take a jab at environmentalists in the Sun-Gazette's July 31st Political Notes column. "[Connolly] noted that, in Fairfax County, there are more trees today than there were 100 years ago or 200 years ago. Tree-huggers (our phrase, not his) don't believe this, but it's true."

Yes, in terms of sheer numbers, there were fewer trees in our region's agricultural economy than there are today in our high-tech age, and yes, there are probably some tree lovers who feel no tree should ever be cut down for any reason. But it's disappointing to hear Chairman Connolly using the low point of Fairfax's arboreal history as his frame of reference, and using the views of a few extremists to represent all environmentalists.

The need for trees is not about a numbers game. We need to find sustainable solutions to our region's prolonged pollution problems, and a comprehensive tree management plan is a part of the answer. The US Environmental Protection Agency has designated the Washington region (including Fairfax and Arlington Counties) as a nonattainment area for both ground-level ozone and fine particles. According to the International Society of Arboriculture, trees can help absorb that ozone and filter out those particulates. Trees also reduce water pollution by absorbing stormwater runoff, offer shade and cool urban heat islands, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Beyond the technical talk, trees are fun for climbing, picnicking, and yes, for providing the paper to print our favorite local newspapers. Let's work together to make sure they're around for generations to come!

Miles Grant
Board Chair
Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment