Friday, April 27, 2007

"Get Fuzzy" on Global Warming

Green Living Challenge #4: Driving Sucks.

I was going to come up with some flowery title like, "Why I Wouldn't Drive to Work Even If They Let Me Park for Free," which is true, but why say all that when you can sum it up in two words:

Driving sucks.

Which is why my fourth task in the Green Living Challenge was easy:

Don’t drive one day a week (use public transportation, bike, carpool, or telecommute)

I already Metro to work every day and 90% of the time it's smooth as silk. There are infrequent days when there are delays and trains are crowded, but then again, if I was driving there would be backups a lot more than 10% of the time.

Just this morning, I got a reminder of what life would be like if I drove to work every day. I'm heading up to Pennsylvania right after work to visit a friend, so The Green Girlfriend, a coworker, and I carpooled from Ballston to McPherson Square. After slogging through the rain-slowed traffic to the point of a simmering low-level road rage, we found a parking lot under my office building. There we were greeted by the Parking Nazi, an attendant who demanded I re-park my car three times to within inches of his specifications, a problem that was exacerbated because he:
1) Didn't give instructions or speak English very well
2) Insisted he gave clear instructions and spoke perfectly fine English and it was all three of us who couldn't understand him
So I went to another parking lot and ended up 5 minutes late for work. Needless to say, I won't be giving up my SmarTrip card anytime soon.

And why would I? My commute only takes 30 minutes door-to-door, including a walk through Oakland Park past some blossoming trees. I've read more books in the last year of Metroing than I had in the previous five years (which is sorta sad but true). I'm guaranteed exercise every day, with 20 minutes of walking round-trip. And since we both go to work at the same time, I'm also guaranteed daily time with The Green Girlfriend.

Points for this action: 15
Total points to date: 60
Points needed to complete Green Living Challenge: 100

Thursday, April 26, 2007

CNN: How Going Green Can Save You Money

Yesterday CNN featured some tips on how going green can help you save money on your energy bills! Check it out ...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Crappy Way to Stop Global Warming: Sheryl Crow's TP Rationing Scheme

I'm all about the small steps approach to environmentalism -- little things that can add up to make a big difference in improving our environment, like the Green Living Challenge.

But you have to pick your battles. Why? Because if people think going green means they have to change every single thing they do and give up every nicety, they're liable to tune you out.

Take Sheryl Crow's recent blog post on toilet paper conservation:

Crow (4/19, Springfield, Tenn.): I have spent the better part of this tour trying to come up with easy ways for us all to become a part of the solution to global warming. Although my ideas are in the earliest stages of development, they are, in my mind, worth investigating. One of my favorites is in the area of forest conservation which we heavily rely on for oxygen. I propose a limitation be put on how many squares of toilet paper can be used in any one sitting. Now, I don't want to rob any law-abiding American of his or her God-given rights, but I think we are an industrious enough people that we can make it work with only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where 2 to 3 could be required.
Is making toilet papers out of new trees a big issue? Absolutely. Vanity Fair's Green Issue recently reported 500,000 acres of virgin forest in northern Alberta and Ontario are clear-cut every year to make toilet paper. Allen Hershowitz, an expert on paper consumption at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "We're wiping our asses with endangered habitat."

But is a solution asking people to ration their TP usage? No. The NRDC's website has a guide to recycled alternatives, although I will warn you ... the recycled brand I tried wasn't nearly as soft as the virgin forest variety.

And here's where nit-picking can backfire. After Laurie David and Crow confronted Karl Rove at the White House Correspondents Dinner last weekend about the Bush administration's indifference on global warming, conservative media outlets were looking for something -- anything -- to use to bash Crow. She's a great singer, smart, gorgeous, and a breast cancer survivor. What could they possibly use to make fun of her?

Monday, April 23, 2007

New Site Aims to Make Climate Crisis a Top Issue in '08

I was browsing the Step It Up site and noticed a link to a new site, Its goal is to make the climate crisis one of the three main issues that decides the 2008 election, alongside jobs and terrorism.

Here in Virginia, we need to make climate change one of the key issues in the 2007 election. Virginia has "no official position" on global warming, and just passed legislation that will allow Dominion Virginia to build new coal-fired power plants. If you see a candidate on the campaign trail this year, you need to ask them why Virginia hasn't taken action on global warming, and what they'd do about it if given another term! Thanks to Lowell at Raising Kaine for his original rant on this article.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Some Great Earth Day Tips ... and the One They Leave Out

National Geographic's The Green Guide celebrates Earth Day with its Top Ten Tips for Preserving Biodiversity. All good stuff. marked Earth Day with a chat called Tips for Living Environmentally Friendly with two writers from Very interesting.

None of the tips will stop the biggest environmental crisis of our time -- global warming brought on by carbon emissions from human activity.

Look, I know small personal choices can add up to make a huge difference. I'm the one relentlessly pitching the Green Living Challenge.

But personal change without political change will not be enough to stop climate change. At a time when Virginia's carbon emissions are skyrocketing and Dominion is planning new coal-fired power plants, only government action can reverse the trend.'s Jacob Gordon says the site doesn't get into political issues because "we try not to pigeon hole ourselves too much -- we'd like to have as broad an appeal as we can."

Welcoming as many people as possible into the green tent (especially when you're trying to make money with your website) is fine, but when it comes to politics, environmentalists are too quick to compromise, back off, or never make their case at all. I hate them as much or more than you do, but the NRA's radical extremism has won the gun war despite widespread public support for gun control, while the environmental movement's cautious incrementalism has gotten us nowhere on emissions. I'm not suggesting we emulate the NRA's ideology, but I envy their strategy and discipline.

So I have just one tip for you on Earth Day 2007:

Write your Representative and Senators today and tell them America must cut its carbon emissions 80% by the year 2050 -- the goal laid out in last weekend's Step It Up rallies.

It may not happen this year. It may not happen at all unless a Democrat is elected president in 2008. But we have to let our elected officials know we want action and we want it now.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pedestrian, Motorists Team Up to Make Distracted Driver Feel Like Jackass

I Metro home from work to the Virginia Square station on the Orange Line, and have to cross Wilson Blvd. in one of its least pedestrian-friendly stretches. There's only one traffic light on Wilson Blvd. between Washington Blvd/10th St. and N. Quincy, creating a nearly mile-long, four-lane wide straightaway. It's only a 30mph zone, but it's easy for drivers to go a lot faster.

There's a crosswalk at Wilson & Oakland, but in a bizarre sequence of events, the county, drivers, and pedestrians all ignore it:
* The county hasn't fixed the broken flashing yellow pedestrian warning in at least a year, and rarely does any kind of pedestrian or traffic enforcement there

* Because of that, drivers may or may not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk (usually not)

* Because of that, pedestrians rarely bother to use the crosswalk -- if you're just standing there waiting for all traffic to go by so you can run across, then the crosswalk is no safer than any other spot in the road
All that means I have two options for crossing Wilson Boulevard on the way home:

* Walk up to the corner of Wilson & N. Monroe, which has a traffic light but adds a minute or two to the walk

* Try to cross at the dreaded Wilson & Oakland crosswalk, where cars fly by at 30-40mph

You can see a Google Map of the options here. Coming home I'm walking southwest, across the park to the crosswalk.

Since it was still bright out last night and I was feeling frisky, I decided to press my luck at the crosswalk. Traffic was heavy, but the first guy stopped, and when one stops the others usually follow.

Then I looked up and there he was -- a douche in a sports car, stopped in the middle of the crosswalk waiting to make the left turn onto Oakland. Worse yet, he had his cell phone earpiece in and was jabbering away.

I got halfway across the street and started to walk around his car. He gave me a Towlie-esque look, like, "I have no idea what's goin' on." I noticed his sunroof was open, so I pointed to the ground and barked, "It's a crosswalk!"

All of the sudden I heard another car's horn honking, and I was ready to take on two cars at once. But when I looked up, the driver behind him was smiling and giving me a thumbs-up. Apparently I wasn't the only one who'd had enough of Cell Phone Douche.

I just laughed and finished crossing the street. Soon a couple of other cars joined in the honking, and Cell Phone Douche finally got the hint and completed the turn he'd started nearly a minute before.

The lesson -- if you're a driver, respect crosswalks and (rolling my eyes that I actually have to say this) pay attention. If you're a pedestrian, be safe first and foremost, but if someone's driving dangerously, don't be afraid to do something about it. While I doubt you'll get to tell the driver personally like I did, write down the license plate number, or call your local police department and board/council member and ask for more pedestrian enforcement.

Any other particularly dangerous spots for pedestrians in Arlington? Post them here!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Just Announced: 2nd Annual ACE Organic Wine Tasting

UPDATE: The link to buy tickets just went live here

Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment has just unveiled the details of its second annual Organic Wine Tasting! Last year's event at Potomac Overlook Nature Center sold out, so this year we're moving it to a bigger, more Metro-accessible venue:

An Organic Wine Tasting
Benefiting Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment

* Friday, May 11, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
* The Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
* Organic wines from around the world presented by The Curious Grape

* Light refreshments will be served.
* Tickets are $50 each ($40 for ACE Members) and can be purchased at the ACE website

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Step It Up Rallies Draw Crowds Nationwide

UPDATE: More pictures from photographer Elvert Barnes

Thanks to the thousands of people who came out to over 1,400 Step It Up climate change rallies nationwide on Saturday!

The Green Miles was invited to speak at Arlington's "Creating a Climate of Change" event. I had a few "models" help me display unfashionable items (like incandescent bulbs) and their more cutting-edge counterparts (like compact fluorescents).

The day's damp, chilly weather brought to mind a recent Newsweek article on the language of the climate change debate. The term "global warming" doesn't have as much impact when it's in the 40s in April, but "climate crisis" is accurate year-round.

Lowell and Eric have much more on the event at Raising Kaine. You can see a couple of other photos of the Arlington event, plus pictures and recaps of events nationwide, at the Step It Up website.

Not much coverage of the rallies in the mainstream media, just a handful of paragraphs in Sunday's Washington Post. But then again, if the media covered all the stories we wanted it to, you wouldn't need to read blogs like this, would you?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

George Will's Paranoia

George Will has yet another column today that desperately tries to prove how wrong all us tree-huggers are about so-called "global warming". He has a bizarre obsession with proving to his readers how global warming is a hoax dreamed up by liberals who want to use it as a political tool.

It's not so much his opinions as the language he uses to describe them that comes across as so paranoid. He uses terms like "media-entertainment-environmental complex" and "indoctrination" and "opinion-forming institutions" that connote a shadowy conspiracy. You'd think environmentalists were like the Masons or Skull & Crossbones Society, meeting in underground caves. Really, we're not all that hard to find -- try looking in Rosslyn's Gateway Park on Saturday.

Will also embarrassingly latches on to a report from CNW Market Research, that paragon of science, to make the argument that we really all should just go about our business and stop talking about this silly climate change nonsense. Conservatives LOVE to cite the CNW report, which very few independent sources have analyzed. A Google search only turned up one actual reader of the report, a letter to the editor in The Oregonian:

After spending eight hours on Sunday reading and analyzing the 458-page "Dust to Dust" report from CNW Marketing, I can report that this document has no basis for its findings, and lacking these, I can only attack the ludicrous conclusions that follow from the endless tables of results.

Did you know that at the end of a car's life, the societal energy cost to dismantle the Prius is $326,000; $363,000 for the H3 Hummer, and $400,000 for the Honda Civic? There is no information to suggest why the end-of-life energy costs are about 10 times higher than the car's initial purchase price. And this is purported to be only energy cost -- no labor, no equipment.

Here is the crowning gem: If you take the reported energy cost and apply it to the 14.6 million vehicles scrapped each year, you can calculate that the total annual incurred societal energy cost is
$6.2 trillion. This is higher than all U.S. energy expenditures as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Keep driving the hybrids and don't trust marketers to report societal energy cost information!

Southwest Portland

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On Sale Monday: Tickets for Gore's NJ Climate Change Concert

Organizers for Al Gore's "Live Earth" concerts have announced details of the American concert venue and date. The concert will take place on July 7th at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ (town motto: "We'll Understand If You Don't Stick Around After It's Over"). Tickets go on sale Monday morning, and you can get a more details at the Live Earth website.

Scheduled to perform so far: The Police, The Dave Matthews Band, Alicia Keys, Fall Out Boy, Akon, Melissa Etheridge, Kanye West, Bon Jovi, John Mayer, AFI, Kelly Clarkson, The Smashing Pumpkins, Rihanna, Ludacris, KT Tunstall and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters.

As the Washington Post reports, the concert was originally proposed as a free show on The National Mall, but Republicans would have none of that. You see, if they let a climate change concert take place on the steps of the Capitol, some people might think they were admitting global warming is actually happening. And conservatives would never do something like that.

Republicans always say the environment isn't a partisan issue. But why is it that it's only Republicans blocking a free climate change concert on The National Mall?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Financing Global Warming, Taxing SUVs, and Buying Stock in Arctic Ice?

The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued a new action alert:
Across the United States, utilities are proposing the construction of more than 150 coal-fired power plants. Construction of these plants would increase U.S. global warming pollution by 25 percent, making it virtually impossible for the United States to bring emissions down to levels scientists say are needed to avert the grave threats posed by global warming. The Wall Street Seven, a group of banks including JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley, are the major funders for the new plants. Please send a letter calling on these banks to end their support for proposed coal plants and to help finance clean, renewable energy instead.
You can take action here!

Should we tax gas-guzzling, carbon-spewing SUVs to discourage ownership? One London suburb is doing just that.

Check out Leonardo DiCaprio's personal environmental site. I hadn't been a big fan of his, but he was one of the few bright spots in The Departed, and I have to respect his work on climate change. I just bought Vanity Fair's "Green Issue" with DiCaprio and Knut on the cover, I'll let you know how it is.

And if you're bored at work today, take a look at my friend Kyle's site, -- made up stuff that sounds true. It's the detail that cracks me up. One from last week:
The Chicago Board of Trade has filed notice with the SEC that it intends to offer "Arctic Ice Futures" starting Sept 1, 2007.

Monday, April 9, 2007

New Speakers Added to Step It Up Rally. Plus: Apparently You're a Cheapskate.

New speakers have been added to Saturday's Step It Up: Creating a Climate of Change rally in Rosslyn, including DC Council Member Phil Mendelson and Sierra Club President Lisa Renstrom. You can get more details and RSVP at the Step It Up website!

Oh, and I wasn't sure how I should say this, but ... apparently you're a bunch of freeloaders. There's a new survey that says people making more than $150,000 a year love to read blogs, yet I haven't gotten a donation in weeks through the ACE badge on the right side of this blog. All you wealthy misers can't spare $20 to become an ACE Member? Don't make me start charging a cover in this place. Come on, much like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, I keed, I keed!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Bush's Global Warming Strategy: Gum It to Death

A new climate report out this morning from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that in the next century, temperatures will rise, droughts will worsen, and floods will become more prevalent. Here in America, the report is especially dire for the hurricane-prone Southeast and the already-arid Southwest.

But the Bush administration seems less concerned about protecting its citizens from disaster than with
looking out for its oil interests:

The United States, China and Saudi Arabia raised the most objections to the phrasing, most often seeking to tone down the certainty of some of the more dire projections.

The lead U.S. official at the meeting, Sharon Hays, said climate change is a global challenge that needs more study.

"Science in this area is evolving. Determination of the certainty that scientists can place any particular finding is important," she said. Pressed to describe changes sought by the U.S., Hayes would only say, "Every aspect of this report generated discussion."
The science of global warming has been clear for years -- it's not evolving any more than the Bush administration's denials of reality. There's very little difference between the above quote and this one:

"Global warming needs to be taken very seriously, and I take it seriously. But science, there's a lot -- there's differing opinions. And before we react, I think it's best to have the full accounting, full understanding of what's taking place."
That was presidential candidate George W. Bush on October 11, 2000. Nearly seven years later, Bush and friends are still studying the issue. Just last month, the undersecretary of the Energy Dept. offered only a halting admission of man's role in global warming.

But that's exactly the strategy the Bush White House takes on this and many other issues -- don't act, just talk until it goes away. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, spelled it out in the middle of the
U.S. attorney scandal:
"I think we should gum this to death," Sampson wrote, and after rattling off a list of stalling tactics, added: "All of this should be done in 'good faith,' of course."
Our only hope is that Congress can pass strong, uncompromising legislation to combat global warming by tightening fuel efficiency standards, taxing carbon emissions, and encouraging development of new technology. President Bush can choose to veto it. After all, he is the decider. But for a president who is so concerned about his legacy, it would be a huge blow to leave a vetoed climate change bill as one of his last major acts.

You can help tell Congress that we don't need a watered-down compromise. Come to a
Step It Up 2007 rally to mark the National Day of Climate Action on April 14th. It's time to send a message to Washington that we won't accept inaction any longer.

The Green Miles Grows

The Green Miles can now be found at Raising Kaine, one of Virginia's top liberal blogs! I'll be posting (or just cross-posting) items there that are more policy and Virginia politics-oriented.

You can read all my Raising Kaine posts here.

I'll also still be posting to What's Up Arlington. All of my WUA posts can be found here.

The one thing I'm not so sure about? Sleeping. Going to have to figure out how to work that one into my blogging schedule. I'm sure it will sort itself out.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Vanity Fair's Green Issue, Starring Leo & Knut

Vanity Fair's 2nd Annual Green Issue has hit the stands. On the cover -- environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio and the Berlin Zoo's polar cub, Knut.

Vanity Fair's website has a behind-the-scenes video of the Knut shoot, as well as an outtakes photo gallery of Leo and Knut (thanks to The Green Girlfriend for the links!).

The Joys of Metro: Fun with Inefficiency

I'm poring over the roll call vote from yesterday's smoking ban vote, sorting the delgates by party and location. So far, I've already found one Democrat from Northern Virginia who voted against the statewide ban, Del. Charles Caputo of Chantilly. Anyone know what his deal is?

In the meantime, we'll continue this week's theme of the staples of lazy blogging. Yesterday it was a links list, and today it's bitching and moaning about something I have no control over.

Last night when I tried to get on Metro at McPherson Square at 6:10pm, this was the sequence of trains:

Blue (half-full)
Orange (too packed to get on)
Blue (half empty)
Blue (barren)
Orange (too packed to get on)
Orange (half empty, I finally got on this one)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Virginia House Turns Back on Voters, Rejects Smoking Ban

UPDATE: Here's the link to the roll call vote.

Virginia's House of Delegates today rejected a statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants by a vote of 40-59. I'll post a link to the full roll call vote as soon as it's up.

As the Not Larry Sabato blog reported this week, a Survey USA poll had shown a full 65% of Virginians supported the ban -- and that number includes smokers. The demographic breakdown of who supports the ban:

- 20% of smokers
- 70% of Northern Virginians
- 83% of nonsmokers
While this is a defeat for the health of Virginians, even the vote itself is progress. Until recently, delegates were able to hide behind a subcommittee. But now those 59 delegates will have to go home and explain why they sided with the cigarette lobby over their constituents.

No Fire & Brimstone This Morning, Just Cool Links

I'm working on a couple of more detailed posts, but for now, here's the lazy blogger's standby ... a links roundup!

- Here's a site that I'd love to hear from techies about. It's called LocalCooling, and here's what it offers: "Download the 100% Free LocalCooling Application and it automatically optimizes your PC's power consumption by using a more effective power save mode." All you people who know a lot more about computers than I do -- does it seem worthwhile? is not impressed.

- Tips on green commuting at the
CommuterPage blog.

GreenSpace is the Arlington County Dept. of Libraries' environmental information site. Lots of interesting links to other green sites.

- On much the same theme as the ACE Green Living Challenge, IdealBite says, "Small changes, done by many, create big results." (Thanks to my friend Myra for the link!)

- I Heart Being Green organic cotton t-shirt.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Does the Planet Only Need Our Pity?

If you believe an article on last week, "It Isn't Easy Being Green," all you need to do to be green is ... nothing.

That's right, you don't need to do lift a finger! You just have to feel bad about global warming, and you're an instant environmentalist, doing your part to save the planet from the comfort of your SUV.

Jill Hudson Neal calls herself a "green mom" and writes how An Inconvenient Truth left her guilt-ridden about global warming and her impact on the planet. Yet she methodically dismisses ways she could reduce her environmental footprint, saying, "I'm essentially too lazy and cheap to walk the path of a truly committed environmentalist."

But Hudson Neal's self-analysis stops short of truth. Living green is neither difficult nor expensive. What is hard is to admit that it's not suburban sprawl or grocery store prices that are keeping you from helping the planet, but your own refusal to make the leap from sympathy to support.

And hey, not all of us can support every cause. There are plenty of issues that all of us are sympathetic to that most of us don't actively support.
Save Darfur or global poverty are among them. While we all feel they're terrible problems, most of us don't give our money or time.

That's what makes going green so simple -- it doesn't require major investments of cash or sweat. And that's what makes the article so frustrating -- Hudson Neal's eagerness to dismiss green options that don't fit her grim outlook:

* No matter how cheap you claim to be, reducing, reusing, and recycling are better than free -- the first two can actually save money. But the green trinity are barely even mentioned.

* She derides compact fluorescent light bulbs as "twice the price" of old incandescent bulbs. True, but a typical CFL will save you $30 (ten times the cost of the bulb) in energy costs over its lifetime! Multiply that by dozens of bulbs in a typical house, and you're looking at serious savings.

* She writes, "Trading in our family's SUV for a hybrid car and riding a bike to the grocery store are compelling thoughts, but neither is going to happen." Who says you have to do either? Living green isn't about sacrifice and self-denial, it's about making smart choices. If you're buying an SUV, choose a Ford Escape Hybrid that gets 40 city miles to the gallon. If you need to hit the grocery store, save on gas by stopping on the way home from work instead of making a separate trip.
In fact, Hudson Neal doesn't list a single thing she does do to be green. The only step she'll even consider is switching to organic bananas and milk. While that's certainly a healthy choice, saying the purchase of organic bananas and milk makes you an environmentalist is like saying standard food buyers are pesticide-loving Earth-haters. It's just one pixel of a much bigger picture.

Strangely, Hudson Neal admits she's fine with being the shade of green that, as Kermit the Frog himself put it, blends in with so many ordinary things. "If I picked apart every lifestyle choice my family made in the past few years, there'd be a long non-green list with which to contend, though probably not too different from the average American clan."

This sympathetic complacency won't solve global warming. What will? Reducing the environmental impact of yourself, the businesses you work for and patronize, and the governments that your tax dollars support.

That's why Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment created the Green Living Challenge, to show that smart, sustainable choices and a low-cost, small, simple steps can add up to make a major change in your environmental impact without making major changes in your lifestyle.

In the face of a problem as daunting as climate change, CFLs, car sharing, and reusable coffee mugs may not seem like powerful weapons. But if every American took up the fight, they'd be the tools of revolution. Will Hudson Neal and others like her answer the call to arms, or continue to be comfortable with complaining?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Breaking News: Supreme Court Rebukes Bush on Global Warming

From the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ordered the federal government on Monday to take a fresh look at regulating carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a rebuke to Bush administration policy on global warming.

The High Environmental Cost of China's Economic Boom

Two recent Washington Post stories detail how China's economic growth has trumped environmental conservation. And in both cases, the United States shares part of the blame.

In yesterday's article, Corruption Stains Timber Trade, the Post reported on how furniture giant Ikea is trying to promote itself as green, but hasn't backed up its talk with action when it comes to its sources of wood:

Ikea cultivates a green image, filling its cavernous stores -- including three in the Baltimore-Washington corridor -- with signs asserting that its products are made in ways that minimize environmental harm.

But in Suifenhe, a wood-processing hub in northeastern China, workers at Yixin Wood Industry Corp. fashion 100,000 pine dining sets a year for Ikea using timber from the neighboring Russian Far East, where the World Bank says half of all logging is illegal.

"Ikea will provide some guidance, such as a list of endangered species we can't use, but they never send people to supervise the purchasing," said a factory sales manager who spoke on condition she be identified by only her family name, Wu. "Basically, they just let us pick what wood we want."


Two years ago, Ikea set a goal that by 2009, at least 30 percent of the wood for its products will be certified by the
Forest Stewardship Council. But now, the company says, only 4 percent of the wood used to make its wares in China meets that grade.

And last week, the Post article Olympic Trials for Polluted Beijing detailed how the Olympics were awarded to Beijing despite its status as one of the world's most polluted cities.

When I first saw the picture on the right, I thought it must've been taken during a forest fire or something. But no, it's a satellite picture of the smog over Beijing on an ordinary day.

China is taking steps to ease the problem, but will they go far enough?

In all, by the time the Olympics begin Aug. 8, 2008, 300 million trees will have been planted, some on tops of buildings.

According to internal Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee documents described to The Washington Post, the city hopes to increase clean-energy usage in homes fivefold, make sure 80 to 90 percent of streetlights around Olympic venues are solar-powered and nearly double the capacity of the subway.

Even with the improvements, however, environmental experts say they have mixed feelings.

Some steps the city has taken are only stopgap measures, akin to hiding the dirty laundry in the closet before guests arrive. "Moving factories outside of Beijing doesn't mean much for solving China's environmental crisis," said Sun Shan, director of Conservation International in China.

Particles in Beijing's air are still 40 to 50 percent worse than in Los Angeles, the most polluted city in the United States.