Thursday, January 31, 2008

Today: Maryland Dining Industry to Collapse Into Quivering Pile of Goo

Maryland bars and restaurants might as well not bother opening their doors this weekend. No one's coming out anyway.

A statewide smoking ban is taking effect today.

We've all seen how the smoking ban has turned DC into a ghost town on nights and weekends. Young professionals head straight to Metro after work, ride home in listless silence, and sit at home reading the collected works of Henry David Thoreau.

OK, so that's all a big lie. Like every other community in the country, DC's smoking ban has had absolutely no noticeable impact on the city's economy. The same can be said of Maryland's counties that had already banned smoking:
In Howard County - smoke-free for eight months - officials have not received any complaints of lost revenue, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the county's health officer. Since the Howard ban took effect, the county's smoking hot line has received about three dozen calls, but no fines have been issued, Beilenson said.

"The biggest news is that there is no news," Beilenson said. "It came in with a bang and went out with a whimper."
While Gov. Tim Kaine is pushing a Virginia smoking ban hard this year and the Virginia Senate is likely to approve it, the House vote will once again be close. Considering a full 70% of Northern Virginians support a ban, the eleven Northern Virginian delegates who voted against the ban last year are especially in focus. The nine Republicans and two Democrats are:
  • Dave Albo (R-Springfield)
  • Chuck Caputo (D-Chantilly)
  • Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg)
  • Jeff Frederick (R-Woodbridge)
  • William J. Howell (R-Fredericksburg)
  • Tim Hugo (R-Centreville)
  • Bob Hull (D-Falls Church)
  • Scott Lingamfelter (R-Woodbridge)
  • Robert G. Marshall (R-Manassas)
  • Joe T. May (R-Leesburg)
  • Jackson Miller (R-Manassas)
You can contact your delegate directly, or if you don't know who your delegate is, use the General Assembly's search feature.

In the meantime, one clean air activist isn't counting on the General Assembly to do the right thing. He's going to court:
[James] Bogden is the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against four local restaurants in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. The suit seeks to require the restaurants to become smoke-free, arguing that they must accommodate Bogden's disability, coronary artery disease, and eliminate secondhand smoke so he can eat at them. Each of the restaurants allows smoking in designated areas.
While all the legal and legislative shenanigans are sorted out, Arlington residents have a great resource in the Arlington Civic Federation's list of smoke-free bars and restaurants (recently updated).

Tuesday: Potomac Overlook Regional Park - The World in 70 Acres

Here's a cool event coming up on Tuesday the 5th at the Arlington Central Library:

Join us for Potomac Overlook’s 2008 Kickoff Event

Featuring the debut of our documentary video

Potomac Overlook Regional Park; The World in 70 Acres”

At Arlington County Central Library, 1015 N. Quincy Street, Arlington, VA.

(Near the VA Square and Ballston stops on the Metro Orange Line)


In addition to the documentary video, this event features:

> The ever-popular “Jazzy Juggler”
> Live music

Great fun for adults and kids age 6 and older.
RSVP by calling 703-528-5406

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Did Climate Action Deliver Florida for McCain?

UPDATE (Wed. 10:30am): Two hours after I originally posted this to DailyKos, Grist miraculously drew the same conclusions. What are the odds? :)

McCain leads in Florida.

McCain supports climate action.

Thompson drops out.

Romney picks up Thompson's supporters, who
deny global warming even exists.

takes lead in polls.

Romney attacks McCain for supporting climate action.

Climate action mack daddy Gov. Charlie Crist endorses McCain.

McCain regains lead in Florida polls.

McCain wins Florida.

Coincidence? I think not.

Cross-posted from Daily Kos

Bush's Final SOTU: One Last Blast of Hot Air on Global Warming

Today I'm going to try for the rare pre-work, pre-coffee blog post. Short and likely not sweet. Buckle up.

So this guy gave this big speech down the street last night:
Together we should take the next steps: Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions. (Applause.) Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power. (Applause.) Let us continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to power the cars and trucks of the future. (Applause.) Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources. And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases. (Applause.)
After that last line, a couple of friends at the Arlington Young Democrats State of the Union watching party turned around and gave me the Fonzie. Bush said he supported an international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, right? Awesome!

Unfortunately with Bush you have to pay attention not just to what he says, but the loopholes he leaves himself. An agreement that has the potential to cut greenhouse gas emissions (no mandatory caps). And then it got worse:
This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride. (Applause.) The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology. (Applause.)
Every economy. So if Turkey won't act, neither will we. And isn't the White House helpful to point out when people applauded? It's like the State of the Union with a laugh track.

How far have we come on regulating our greenhouse gas emissions since Bush's last State of the Union address? Since then, as ThinkProgress via Gristmill points out, Bush has blocked progress on many of the very topics he mentioned last night.

OK. Coffee's ready. And this thing isn't worth any more of our time.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Best-Case Carbon Capture Viability Prediction: "Decades"

Within the Chesapeake Climate Action Network's report on an Air Pollution Control Board hearing in Alexandria comes this juicy little nugget:
The presentation from Dominion to the Board included a large section about CCS, carbon capture and sequestration, and how compatible the Wise County plant may be, if the technology one day becomes available at a cost-effective price, with CCS and how that should mean that Virginians should not worry about this plant’s estimated 5.4 million tons of annual CO2 emissions. When asked when we could expect the plant to start to turn CCS compatibility into CCS reality, the Dominion speaker said, “decades.”

When asked where the sequestered carbon would be stored if it could be captured, the Dominion speaker replied, “there is great potential for storage in abandoned mines in Dickenson County, Virginia.” Board member: “Potential, what does that mean?” Dominion: “we are in the process of doing studies with Virginia Tech that should determine the Dickenson county site suitability — we will know for sure in 2018.”

So, what Dominion is basically saying is: “in 10 years we will know whether we can adequately store sequestered carbon in Virginia, and maybe a few decades after that we will figure out whether we can actually sequester carbon…”
Look, we all want affordable carbon capture and storage technology. Some of the best minds at Virginia Tech are working on it right now. But even Dominion admits it's still "decades" away, while affordable solar, wind, and tidal power technology are available right now. While we wait for affordable CCS, the plant would emit 5.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide each year, the primary greenhouse gas causing global warming.

And let's not forget what else won't be captured. The plant would be allowed to release more than 12,500 tons of pollution each year, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, the latter a cause of serious breathing problems for people with respiratory illnesses. The facility would also spew more than 70 pounds of mercury a year into Virginia's air at a time when studies estimate that as many as eight percent of American women of childbearing age may have mercury at levels of concern.

Green-collar jobs are springing up all over the country in states with mandatory renewable portfolio standards, including bordering states like Maryland and North Carolina.
But here in Virginia? We don't care what other states do, or what carbon-limiting legislation Congress will pass within the next year, or whether even China has a 20% RPS. We built this coal-fired Titanic, and we're going down with the ship!

Cross-posted from Raising Kaine

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What to Do About Little Pimmit Run?

Interesting article on Little Pimmit Run from the Arlington Connection:

In April of 2007, the Arlington County Board approved the widening of a culvert that allows Little Pimmit Run to pass underneath Old Dominion Drive near Marymount University.

This made life easier for those whose homes were located upstream from the culvert. Before its widening, the culvert would act as a dam during heavy storms. Excess water would build up in front of Old Dominion Drive and spill into nearby homes.

However, homeowners that lived downstream from the culvert said that its widening has negatively affected them by increasing Little Pimmit Run’s speed. After a heavy rainstorm this past October, Barbara LaPlante said that 14 inches of her property near the stream were eroded away. [...]

Larry Silverman, an environmental activist in the D.C. area who is working with the commission, said that these problems are not unique to Little Pimmit Run and stem from a lack of long-term planning.

“This is typical for a D.C. stream,” he said. “There is not a comprehensive plan. There is not a watershed plan. This is symptomatic of all urban streams in the D.C. area. They’re all struggling. We’re not winning the battle.”

Arlington County recently completed a major restoration project at Donaldson Run, which was experiencing similar problems -- excessive runoff due to paving, high water volume and speed, extensive erosion.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bush to NoVA: Drop Dead

Hate sitting in traffic on Interstate 66 or the Dulles Toll Road? You ain't seen nothin' yet. Yesterday the Bush administration's Federal Transit Administration pulled the rug out from under the plan to extend Metro to Dulles Airport.

Would rail to Dulles cut the current congestion on Northern Virginia highways? Probably not. The region is growing so fast, the "Silver Line" as it's referred to would likely just keep things from getting a lot worse. Which is what they're going to get every year this project gets put off.

Was the plan perfect? Of course not. It would've been very expensive and without a dedicated funding source. The tunnel through Tysons was scrapped in hopes of cutting costs, ironically enough, to please the FTA. The line would've been built by Bechtel, one of the contractors that botched Boston's Big Dig.

But in a region that's already in violation of federal air quality standards, the project would take thousands of cars off the road every single day. And as Marc Fisher points out, "the feds were only asked to contribute 20 percent of the cost of this project, compared to the usual 50 percent or even 80 percent on other big transportation jobs around the country."

So why did the Bush administration move to kill the project? Just three days before the FTA's announcement, the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt hinted at the true motivation -- an ideological opposition to federal funding for transportation:

"We believe, however, that a failure to properly align supply and demand, not a failure to generate sufficient tax revenues, is the essential policy failure," the Bush dissenters wrote. "When consumer demand determines supply, it will engender funding sufficient to meet the demand."

This is an astonishingly radical view of government's role in transportation. Cast backward, it would suggest that President Dwight D. Eisenhower never should have built the interstate highway system; it should have been left to private companies to build roads wherever tolling could generate a profit, and nowhere else. The result -- an incomplete, disconnected patchwork of highways -- might indeed have suited [Secretary of Transportation Mary] Peters, given that another of her goals is a reduced federal role in transportation policy. But the country would have been poorer for it.

Hiatt took that ideology to its logical conclusion, giving him a premonition of the project's death:
You can see the effect of the Bush ideology in recent reports, as recounted by The Post's Amy Gardner last week, that the administration is yet again looking for excuses to kill rapid transit rail to Dulles Airport. Having jumped through every hoop demanded -- giving up on a tunnel through Tysons Corner, cutting $300 million in costs -- the region finds itself facing another, unexplained roadblock. But if you understand the Bush philosophy, the roadblock isn't so hard to explain: If profit alone -- and not clean air, or joining the rest of the civilized world in connecting airports to cities, or any other consideration -- matters, then Dulles rail no doubt slides down the priority list.

But Marc Fisher sees a light at the end of the tunnel:

A pause of a year or two might be good for the project's future--if the Dems regain the presidency. ... a transit-friendly Democrat in the White House would likely be far more aggressive about making sure Metro found a way to get the new rail line.
I hope Northern Virginia voters keep that in mind in November. In the meantime, I'm glad Gov. Tim Kaine and Sen. John Warner have pledged to keep fighting for Dulles rail, and I'm sure the next Sen. Warner will do the same.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

My Boy Bernie Sanders Takes on Bush's EPA Administrator

Classic stuff this morning with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) questioning EPA Administrator Steven Johnson at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting. Background of the EPA's decision to deny California an emissions waiver from the AP. Among the highlights:
Is global warming a major crisis facing the planet? [Sanders] wanted to know.

"I don't know what you mean by major crisis," Johnson responded.

"The usual definition of the term 'major crisis' would be fine."
Read all about it at TPMMuckraker or watch this clip:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why Lobby Day Reminded Me of the Maitre-D' in Ferris Bueller's Day Off

As much fun as I had at Monday's Lobby Day in Richmond and as impressed as I was to see so many people come out to ask their legislators to protect our environment for our children's future ... the event left me with some nagging concerns.

What bothered me was ... well, don't take my word for it. Let's play a little game and see if you come to the same conclusions I do.

Take a look at this picture:

Now answer these questions (yes, you can look back at the picture, I'm not keeping score):
  1. How many non-white people do you see?
  2. How many people under the age of 30 do you see?
  3. Doesn't my giant head (back left) stick out like a mylar balloon?
I counted two non-white people and about a dozen people under 30. (Most depressing moment of the day - realizing I'm no longer part of that demographic.)

To quote the maitre-d' in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, "I weep for the future."

Why so little diversity? Because minorities have seen the environmentalism as a movement of rich white suburbanites, and frankly, they've been right. If you're a poor city-dweller, you've probably never seen an eagle or a bear that wasn't in a zoo. What do you care about saving wildlife?

There are people and groups, like Van Jones, Dick Gregory, and the African American Environmentalist Association, trying to make the green movement more accessible to people of all backgrounds. But they can't do it alone. Traditional environmental organizations also need to diversify their issues, outreach, and publicity to bring more people into the movement.

There's one issue that's shifting the traditional paradigm over who has the most to lose -- climate change. The wealthy can afford to move away from rising seas. People in New Orleans didn't have a choice. The wealthy can afford to buy solar panels when carbon pricing like the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act makes fossil fuels more expensive. Renters who don't own a roof to put it on, never mind the money to buy a solar panel, won't have a choice (though the Climate Security Act does include $350 billion in transition assistance for low-income families).

It's also possible to draw in the other missing demographic - teenagers and young adults - through the same issue. Global warming has galvanized millions of young people, as the Step It Up rallies have shown.

Many traditional conservation organizations, especially local ones, still haven't caught on. At lobby day, the day's program didn't contain the words "global warming" or "climate." Instead, the top priority was "energy efficiency." While that was carefully coded to avoid scaring off climate change deniers, it also failed to capture the urgency of the issue and the passion of climate activists. Other priorities included preserving citizen environmental commissions and improving land use - important issues, yes, but also considered snoozers for the younger crowd.

Would modernizing the message turn off the well-respected lobbying groups who turn out now like the Virginia Garden Club? It doesn't have to. There's plenty of room between avoiding climate talk and destroying Hummers. Our challenge is to find that moderate ground.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Live from Lobby Day

UPDATE: Full review of my day posted at Raising Kaine.

The Green Miles is live in Richmond today at the General Assembly building! A friend and I are lobbying in conjunction with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

If I could sum up the day so far in a word, it would be: Whew. Was up at 6am, on the road by 7am, getting briefed on lobbying by 9am, and in Sen. George Barker's office by 11am. We said a quick hello to Sen. Chap Peterson's legislative assistant and now we're waiting outside Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple's office. We're asking members to support Chap's Clean Energy Future Act.

There were about 150 people at this morning's lobby planning session, so we're bumping into lots of fellow conservationists as we wander the halls. The other most noticeable group? People wearing bright orange "GUNS Save Lives" stickers. Yes, "guns" gets the caps lock while "lives" is lower case. Definitely shows the priorities.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My Mini Fireplace

On cold nights like this, I appreciate the one incandescent light bulb left in my apartment that I use regularly. It's in the lamp next to my bed. It might as well be a mini-fireplace. You can feel the warmth even a few feet away.

The surface of an incandescent bulb can reach temperatures of 400 to 550 degrees, which is why they're used in situations where contained, local heating is needed, like chick incubators and Easy-Bake Ovens.

That's one reason compact fluorescent light bulbs are so much more efficient. They don't waste nearly as much energy by radiating heat, helping CFLs use less than a quarter of the electricity of an incandescent.

Yet here in the United States, incandescent bulbs still outnumber CFLs on store shelves. Even though CFLs will save many times their higher initial cost through electricity savings, people just grab the bulb that's the cheapest to purchase. There's also a great deal of inertia - people tend to stick with what they know and are reluctant to change.

It's remarkable that states or Congress haven't moved to follow Australia's example to ban incandescent bulbs altogether. It would save consumers money, reduce the burden on our energy grid, and cut our greenhouse gas emissions. What's the downside?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Monday: 2008's Best Chance to Help Virginia's Environment

Putting on my movie announcer voice -- if you only do one thing to help Virginia's environment this year ... make it this one:

Clean Energy Lobby Day

On Monday, January 21, 2008 join us for a environmental lobby day of massive proportions.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network is teaming up with the Virginia Conservation Network and the Garden Club for one unified action to bring a message of clean energy and sustainability to the Virginia General Assembly. CCAN will be fighting for the "CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE ACT," which has been introduced by Senator Chap Petersen.

Clean Energy Lobby Day is a chance to:

+ Speak to your legislator face-to-face. Tell your legislator in person that clean energy is a priority to you.
+ Network with other activists
+ Learn more about the legislative process and how you can help throughout the legislative session.


+ When: January 21st, Martin Luther King Day. Registration starts at 8:30 (alternative registration at 11:45 if you only have afternoon lobby visits)
+ Where: Centenary United Methodist Church , 411 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA 23219
+ WHAT DO YOU DO NEXT? After your register, you will receive an email with details on how to set up your lobby visits and maximize your impact during session.
Face-to-face contact is far and away the most effective form of lobbying, better than five phone calls or a dozen emails. And lobbying as part of a group can exponentially magnify your power to move legislators. That's why this is will likely be the single most effective thing you can do this year to move the Virginia General Assembly.

The Green Miles will be getting up at the crack of dawn on Monday (still hungover from the Patriots' big win over the Chargers on Sunday) to make the drive down to Richmond. If you live in Arlington/ Alexandria/Falls Church and want to carpool down,
email me!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mercury Dropping, Power Use Rising? A Tip to Cut Your Bill (and Emissions)

Here's a tip to cut down your winter power bill. Set your house to 68 degrees during the day and turn it down when you're going to bed. If you're leaving the house, turn it down to 55 degrees. For every degree you lower your heat, you'll save three percent in energy costs.

Or better yet, as Professor Robert Farr explains, you could install a programmable thermostat:

On top of the energy savings, there's a global warming benefit. By one estimate, every home that monitors its thermostat can cut its household greenhouse gas emissions 300 pounds annually!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Green Miles Meets The Gray Manatee

I was down in Miami this weekend for the National Wildlife Federation-sponsored Carbon Neutral Sailfish Tournament. We were hanging out on the docks while crews from CNN and CBS interviewed tournament organizers, when a manatee popped up right under our feet ...

I think the "sea cow" comparison isn't fair to cows -- it underestimates just how lethargic the manatees are. I've seen cows hustle when they're spooked, but I can't imaging the manatee rushing for anything. That's one big reason they're so vulnerable to boat motors (note the notch in the manatee's tail).

You can learn more about manatee conservation at the Save the Manatee Club!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wise Co. Officials Bribed by Dominion? "It Probably Happened If The Company Said So"

The Wise County Board of Supervisors' efforts to endorse the proposed coal-fired power plant turned into a comedy of errors last week. Within the story is an anecdote that tells you all you need to know about how ...
  1. Easy and inexpensive it is to buy off local officials
  2. It's always been so easy for energy companies to have their way with rural communities
  3. No great atrocity can be committed without the help of enablers
Am I overselling it? You tell me:
Some county officials and a handful of supervisors traveled to Richmond earlier this week to speak in favor of the plant during a State Corporation Commission hearing that eventually will determine if Dominion receives a permit to build it.

Dominion officials who met with the Bristol Herald Courier’s editorial board on Friday said the company picked up the tab for 24 supporters who stayed in $99 hotel rooms. Dominion also paid for a meal.

[Board Chairman Bob] Adkins was asked by the Herald Courier before Friday’s meeting if Dominion paid for hotel rooms of county officials who attended the SCC hearing.

"They reserved the rooms for us," he said. "We paid our own way up."

He said the tab "may or may not be picked up by the county administrator," but those who attended paid for their own meals and expenses.

When told Dominion officials said earlier in the day the company paid for a catered meal, Adkins replied, "We had a nice supper."

When told Dominion officials also said they paid for the rooms, Adkins said it probably happened if the company said so.
You can almost picture it as a comedy skit, with the chairman saying, "Whatever Dominion's answer is? That's my answer too. What? You say Dominion changed their answer? Then I change my answer too. And if they change their minds, my mind will then change with them." I just hope the voters of Wise County are paying attention.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Making the Best of an Ungreen Hotel

The Green Miles is in Miami this weekend for the National Wildlife Federation-sponsored Carbon-Neutral Sailfish Tournament. I'm staying at the Royal Palm South Beach. It's a decent hotel, but if it wasn't right on the beach it would be nothing to write home about.

One thing that makes the Royal Palm so ordinary - its lack of green features. They give you a newspaper every day whether you want it or not, but there's no recycling anywhere - it's not even accepted at the front desk. About the only positive I noticed was the compact fluorescent light bulbs.

One little thing I do when I'm staying by myself is to leave the "do not disturb" sign on the doorknob, letting the cleaning staff know that the room doesn't need service. Do I really need new soaps, shampoo, towels, sheets, etc. every single day? I'm fairly confident they can survive more than one use.

Keep an eye on the the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Green Lodging Program. While relatively few hotels have been approved so far, there's a long list of applicants. Once the list expands and there are more choices, it should be a lot easier to find a green hotel.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Spotted at the Verizon Center

Went to the Verizon Center for the Wizards-Sonics game on Sunday and spotted this - a recycling bin! I gladly recycled my plastic bottle.

As excited as I was to see it, the bin looked a bit lonely. Not only was it the only recycling bin I saw in the Verizon Center all day, it didn't have a trash bin next to it. Seems like that would increase the chances of people just shoving garbage in.

Unfortunately, I can't find much more information about green initiatives at the Verizon Center, the website facts focus on events and luxury features.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Another Mordecai Sighting

I was walking down Wilson Boulevard in the Virginia Square area Sunday afternoon and made another Cooper's Hawk sighting, the bird that recently scared the hell out of the animals in my backyard. I pulled out my cell phone camera, but unfortunately the hawk was circling very high overhead and the camera quality is lousy, so all I got was this:
From an Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment friend who's a major birder:
This seems to be a good winter for Cooper's Hawks. In your neighborhood, keep an eye out for (endangered) Peregrines. We lived for a year in Randolph towers on the 20th floor and would often see one when we were out on the balcony. I suspect they nest on some high-rise there in Ballston.
Any cool hawk sightings to report?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Now That's Progress: Chap Peterson's Clean Energy Future Act

UPDATE: Details of Chap's plan are now up at Raising Kaine

Monday morning at 10am in Richmond, Chap Peterson will reveal the details of his Clean Energy Future Act:
Senator Chap Petersen to unveil new Clean Energy Plan for Virginia

Environmental, faith, and student allies pledge support for the "Clean Energy Future Act"

RICHMOND, VA - At 10:00am on Monday, Senator-elect Chap Petersen will join allies and advocates to unveil his new initiative, the "Clean Energy Future Act". This bold initiative will re-direct Virginia's energy policies towards a sustainable future, setting long term goals for investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as special incentives for in-state generation and manufacturing.

Despite its extreme vulnerability to global warming, Virginia is currently far behind the curve on efficiency and conservation. The Commonwealth currently ranks last among all 50 states in investment in energy efficiency, and lacks any binding renewable energy standards. The Clean Energy Future Act would shift the direction of Virginia's energy policy to clean renewable energy.
From what I've heard, Chap's plan would represent not only huge environmental progress, but take the first steps towards preparing Virginia's economy for our low carbon future. Renewable energy and green jobs are critical components that will go hand in with Gov. Tim Kaine's energy plan, which would make efficiency a priority for state government. Let's hope it gets a fair hearing in Richmond!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Show Virginia Where Global Warming Starts

I know what you're thinking. "I want to show my concern about global warming, but I don't want to stop dressing like my idol Ashton Kutcher. Why can't I do both?"

Well rest easy. Now you can. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network has opened an online store where you can buy a trucker's hat emblazoned with "Dominion: Global Warming Starts Here."

OK, so you might actually prefer the t-shirt printed on 100% organically-grown cotton. Or the bumper sticker, ready-made for slapping on your Prius. Or the mug, which will advertise that you and your coffee are hotter than they should be.

It's a purchase you can feel good about because not only will you get high-quality merchandise, but a portion of all sales will go to benefit CCAN and its fight to cut our region's greenhouse gas emissions.

Can I have a private conversation with The Green Girlfriend for a minute here? Just skip down to the next paragraph. OK? Thanks. Here goes: Yes, I'm buying a trucker's hat. No, I won't wear it around you. Yes, I promise never to be photographed wearing it. Or tell anyone you're my girlfriend while I'm wearing it. Or admit we ever met while I'm wearing it.

Whether you decide to help usher in the new trend of climate fashion or not, please take action now to tell your legislator to support the Virginia Clean Energy Future Act. The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Chap Peterson, would create incentives for in-state renewable energy and manufacturing, create a Green Jobs training program, and set a statewide standard of 20% renewable energy and 10% improvement in efficiency!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Seattle's Best Coffee Turns Away Reusables

For the second time in two flights on AirTran from Sarasota, FL to National Airport, my trip took at least an hour longer than it was supposed to. With a longer-than-expected layover at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, I grabbed my reusable mug and set off in search of coffee.

Even The Green Miles knows he’s not going to find organic or fair trade coffee in an airport, so I stopped at Seattle’s Best Coffee, a subsidiary of Starbucks. I held my mug out to the cashier and asked her to fill it with regular.

“I can’t do that,” she said. “It’s store policy. I can only sell you coffee in one of our paper cups.”

Unfortunately, I’m no longer surprised by this answer. I’ve had trouble using my reusable mug at two different Dunkin Donuts locations. I checked with Starbucks, which owns Seattle's Best, and they said it's up to individual franchises to decide whether to accept reusable mugs or not.

Every year, Americans drink more than 100 billion cups of coffee. Of those, 14.4 billion are served in disposable paper cups— enough to wrap the earth 55 times if placed end-to-end. Those paper cups contain a plastic lining made from a petrochemical that would produce enough energy to heat 8,300 homes. The plastic makes them impossible to recycle or compost.

You’d think Starbucks would do better since they’re so often accused of greenwashing. While Starbucks coffee cups are made with 10% post-consumer recycled content, they all end up in the trash - 2.3 billion of them every year.

The Starbucks website hosts an extensive corporate social responsibility policy, but it’s long on study and short on commitments. The chain is working with the US Green Building Council to establish LEED standards for the retail sector … but doesn’t say it’s actually committing to making any its stores meet those standards. While Starbucks purchases the equivalent of 20% of its in-store energy use in renewable power, it’s been incredibly slow to embrace fair trade, organic, or shade-grown coffee (respectively, 6%, 4% and 1% of its total coffee purchases).

Even its recognition of global warming is wishy-washy. “Climate change is believed to be the greatest environmental threat of our generation.” (emphasis mine)

The actual Starbucks chain gives a 10 cent discount for reusable coffee mugs. While that discount was given 17 million times in 2006, that’s less than one percent of the 2.3 billion paper cups Starbucks served that year. And reusable mug use actually dropped from 2005 levels. I’ve said before that a 10 cent discount won’t change people’s behavior, and Starbucks is unfortunately proving me right. That long corporate social responsibility policy says nothing about trying to reverse the trend in falling reusable usage.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Two New Smoke-Free Blogs

As we hope the Virginia House of Delegates makes a New Year's resolution to follow the will of the 65% of Virginians who want a statewide smoking ban, I wanted to give a shout out to two new smoke-free blogs. Check out the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation blog, as well as the Smoke Free Virginia Now blog from Virginians for a Healthy Future!