Monthly Archives: February 2008

ecoSCRAPPED

A year ago, the federal government launched a program to levy an extra charge on gas-guzzling vehicles and rebate a chunk of the purchase price on small, efficient ones. They called it ecoAUTOI was skeptical.

Today, they put it on Death Row.

The Conservatives did not, however, replace it with an emissions tax, or anything resembling one, which would be the logical replacement.

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Carnival of the Green #116!

Carnival

Hi, everyone, and welcome to Carnival of the Green #116, the latest in a weekly digest of environmentalism-themed posts from around the Web. Here at the EcoLibertarian, we try to find solutions to environmental problems by persuasion and, where that’s not enough, by market mechanisms that are as unintrusive as can be.I’m your host, David Reevely, taking over ringmaster duties from The Greener Side, where Carnival of the Green#115 was ably hosted last week. For more on the carnival concept, and to sign up yourself, check out the first carnival posts at TreeHugger, where they started the whole thing.

Lots of good stuff here. Let’s get started. I’ve saved my favourite for the end.

First through the gate (actually, last through last week’s gate, so she came first in the new race before there even was one) is Lynn of OrganicMania, struggling with the ethics of forcing her perfectly innocent kindergartener to make green valentines instead of giving out wasteful commercial ones.

Did I want him to grow up with a complex about Valentines Day? Flash forward twenty years. “Sorry, darling,” he would tell his fiancée, “I never celebrate Valentines Day because I hate it. I think it’s because as a kid my mother made me make these queer ‘green Valentines’ when all the other boys got to hand out Hot Wheel Valentines. Now I hate Valentines.” His fiancée would sob, break up the relationship, and there would go my future grandkids!

Next, Tao Oliveto of The Tao of Change meditates on the joys of collecting his own food and sharing the bounty through a community farm:

When I was loaded up, I found myself reluctant to drive away. Something drew me in to this scene on this cold, sunny day. I can only imagine it was life itself.

I know the farmer who raises and milks the animals who give me milk to drink and feeds the chickens whose eggs I eat. I now know the animals themselves. I know a whole lot more than I used to.

JP Davidson of Green Deals Daily offers up a video review of some stuff in a bottle called Eco Touch, which purports to help you wash your car while using a heck of a lot less water and dumping a lot less gunk down the storm sewers. He gives it 8.5 out of 10.

Too much of that stuff gets in the water supply, and it’ll start worrying “MamaBird” of SurelyYouNest, whose curiosity about what endocrine disruptors and hormone-mimicking chemicals in the river are doing to her children led her to actual research. The good news, says biology professor Alan Kolok of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is that city tapwater isn’t much to worry about … but be careful where you swim.

DrK: Your drinking water is most likely safe. In fact, with governmental regulations for drinking water, the water that you get out of the tap is probably better for you than the water that you could drink out of a plastic bottle! Buy a Brita filter (these are fairly cheap) and keep filtered tap water in your fridge, if you are still concerned (this is what my family does).

Sewage effluent will not be a direct problem for your children providing you are vigilent about where they swim (in Connecticut, when I grew up, I used to swim at a beach near a river that drained the town dump! I wouldn’t let my children swim there today), and also where your fresh seafood comes from.If you fish or enjoy other local seafood, make sure that you eat in moderation and that it comes from clean environments

Betsy Teutsch of Money Changes Things, meanwhile, finds herself a home improvement that appeals both to her — a detail-oriented type who figures if she takes care of the small things, they’ll add up a big help for the planet — and her husband — a bottom-line guy who’ll throw money at a problem if it’ll make a difference, but doesn’t want to be bothered with hard work for little reward. The solution: an innovative home capacitor that cuts their energy use.

Fortunately you don’t need to know what one is to benefit from its installation, but as I understand, you draw more electricity than you can use. A capicitor minimizes this loss by 15-30%. The technology has been available for factories for a long time, but recent advances have made them suitable for the home market. Joe and Joe Jr. installed one yesterday. They attached a watt meter thingy on the electrical panel, and when they plugged in the capacitor, a small box mounted near the electrical panel, you could see the number plummet. Wow!

You can’t get cheaper than free, and Joe of EcoJoes (“Green thinking for the average joe”) likes that about ECover washing-up liquid.

Once you’ve got some of that, you’ll need something to scrub the dirty dishes with, and Jenn Sturiale at Tiny Choices would like to help.

I’ve been using Scotch-Brite Dobie scrubbing sponges for my whole life, practically. I grew up using them, and everyone in my family still uses them. In fact one of my sisters-in-law once said something along the lines of, “What’s up with you Sturiales and the Dobie?” which I thought was really funny. But I guess we all use it because it’s really really good at what it does– it cleans dishes like nobody’s business. I’m never left with crusted-on anything, it never scratches, and it lasts for months (which is more than I can say for most alternatives I’ve tried). So, yes, love. And my family are not the only ones who feel this way–read the reviews! and watch the video review! and the other video review! (C’mon, do you love your sponge so much that you would actually review it?) Well, I just kind of realized that this thing is in no way green, as it’s “a urethane sponge encased in plastic,” and it just seems like the kind of thing that’s easy to replace with some kind of more eco option

“David” of The Good Human could do with some free stuff, if he’s hoping to keep buying the prodigious quantity of shoes he likes to collect. I’m kidding: he says he only owns six pairs, and I suspect I have as many. But he’s struggling with the balance of indulging his passion and trying to avoid waste.

Now, I don’t have that many other articles of clothing, so is it OK to own this many pairs of shoes? I don’t know, but if I had to choose, I would definitely choose more shoes over more t-shirts. But trying to buy only “eco-friendly” shoes can be difficult. How about you? When you go shopping, do you try to buy eco-conscious goods? Do you have an addiction to a certain article of clothing?

You might have caught wind of last week’s long and fascinating discussion at EconLog about which is worse for the planet — an SUV or a pet dog. The consensus seems to have settled on the idea that the SUV is worse, but the people who make this product called Skooperbox are trying to improve the ratio. Is their dog-doo-collecting product any good? Go find out at Life Googles.

Assembling her own digest, Elizabeth of Go Green Travel Green has 45 tips from 35 sources on the environmental and lifehackerish advantages of travelling light.

Enough with the stuff, time for some environmentalist theory. MJ Solaro of Brave New Leaf offers up a concise explanation of what a cap-and-trade system is for carbon-dioxide emissions, with pictures. It’s a very excellent primer, if you’ve been stymied or decided to put off understanding the idea till later.

There are concerns over the complexity of the cap-and-trade systems. The programs will force difficult accounting practices on business, and difficult oversight on government to ensure that businesses are reporting their carbon emissions accurately. Still, out of all possible carbon taxes and programs designed to cutback emissions, US businesses would rather adopt this type of program than any other, because it makes it possible to balance environment and economic concerns.

To be honest, I find the artwork Tracy Stokes blogs on at EcoStreet this week a little busy and I don’t think I’d want it in my home, but it’s undeniably striking and if art’s supposed to provoke a reaction, it certainly does. Stokes’s reflection on the work of Cynthia Korzekwa does, too.

[While in the west many housewives have lost the crafts of their ancestors, Cynthia has brought back to life the spirit of the housewife creating works of art for her home, from what she has at her disposal. And by recycling the junk that would otherwise just end up being trucked to the nearest landfill, and evolving it into this new (and yet old) art, housewives can play an important role in protecting the planet.

Over at EcoNewMexico.com, Tim Fowler looks into how an energy-intensive industry that’s threatened by climate change, namely the ski business, is trying to help itself out, particularly in his corner of the world.

There are certainly companies that are more or less environmentally responsible than the examples in this article. I am encouraged that some companies in the snow sports industry are working to address global warming. I encourage you to patronize the companies and resorts that are moving towards sustainability. We can also make suggestions to those companies that aren’t moving quickly towards environmental responsibility. After all, no one who loves the snow wants global warming.

Also in New Mexico, oddly enough, “marigolds2” takes up the environmentalist cause in electoral politics in this U.S. election year, commenting on Tom Udall’s campaign for the Senate and checking out congressional candidates’ environmental records.

While national attention is riveted on the three ring circus of the race for presidential nominees, we all need to focus some steady attention on congressional candidates who will turn both House and Senate into legislative bodies that will work with a Democratic president to change this ship of state’s direction. I’m convinced that in Tom Udall I have found a local candidate for whom I can happily volunteer my time and effort in this election cycle.

Building to a crescendo, there’s Beth Terry’s post at Fake Plastic Fish — where Beth writes about plastic, what it’s doing to the oceans, and how we might stop it — considering the many ways “better” is the enemy of the good. In this case, how even though a recycling program might seem to excuse needless consumption of Clif Bars, it’s better than not having a recycling program at all.

I get so worked up about finding the absolute best solution to problems that I forget there are also good solutions that aren’t necessarily the best but might head us in the right direction. Various shades of green. Terracycle is definitely doing a service by keeping plastic bottles, juice boxes, yogurt containers, and now wrappers here at home where we can take some responsibility for our own waste instead of shipping it to Asia. And yet even Clif Bar admits that the Wrapper Brigade is not the best solution.

My favourite post of the week, one that made me see an old problem in a new way, is about fish. We’re overfishing, ocean conservationist Mark Powell writes at blogfish, but people who want to stop it are relying much too much on guilt and not enough on promoting the appealing alternatives.

OK, so we do try to conserve by defeating human desires. But are there some examples of working with desire to conserve? How about ecotourism or festivals that celebrate rivers or slow food? Some parts of conservation focus on fun, but many conservation purists attack ecotourism as harmful exploitation and say festivals just allow people to feel good without doing anything significant.

Can we find a way to elevate the role of desire in conservation? Yes, we can work with human desires instead of fighting against them.

Next Monday, I’m handing off to Confessions of a Closet Environmentalist. Go look!

Second-rate marketing

Consider the logo of the Recycling Council of Ontario.

Consider the message it might be subliminally sending.

Wonder how much that cost.

Green tax-shifting in action

B.C.’s doing it, imposing a low but rising tax on fossil fuels — from gasoline to home heating oil — and cutting personal and business taxes to make up the difference. Tax the bad stuff, reward the good.

I’m not sold on a carbon tax as the best way to tackle climate change, but (1) it’s a hell of a lot better than shrugging helplessly, and (2) if you’re going to do it, this is how.

We’ll have to see whether Finance Minister Carole Taylor, or her successor, pushing the tax beyond $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent when it reaches that upper limit in 2012. With any luck, the benefits of the move will be manifest by then, though, and it might be easier to sell.

When fact’s at odds with theory, your theory has a problem

Jim Manzi, guestblogging at The Daily Dish while Andrew Sullivan is away, niftily summarizes the whole premise of this blog. He’s talking about the vast galaxy of nonsense that is Intelligent Design “theory, but it applies just as surely to virtually any other kind of science where observable facts are at odds with the magical world that some (inaccurately) self-described conservatives wish they lived in:

The debate about evolution is a great example of the kind of sucker play that often ensnares conservatives.  Frequently, conservatives are confronted with the assertion that scientific finding X implies political or moral conclusion Y with which they vehemently disagree.  Obvious examples include (X = the Modern Synthesis of Evolutionary biology, Y = atheism) and (X = increasing concentrations of atmospheric CO2 will lead to some increase in global temperatures, Y = we must implement a global regulatory and tax system to radically reduce carbon emissions).  Those conservatives with access to the biggest megaphones have recently developed the habit of responding to this by challenging the scientific finding X.  The same sorry spectacle of cranks, gibberish and the resulting alienation of scientists and those who respect the practical benefits of science (i.e., pretty much the whole population of the modern world) then ensues.

In general, it would be far wiser to challenge the assertion that X implies Y.

Private conservation

Mapa antiguo de Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia

There’s something missing from this otherwise very interesting and well-reported story from the Guardian about the impact of conservation efforts that see wealthy people from the First World buying up vast tracts in the Third.

[I]n the US, where the government is selling off public land, conservation is increasingly geared towards private ownership. “It is a genuine new model of conservation,” says Kim Vacariu, who works with the Wildland project in the US, which wants to secure millions of acres of land running from Atlantic to Pacific and from Canada to Mexico. “It is too much to rely on governments to protect the land. The only way to make [conservation] happen in time is to buy it from willing sellers.”

Conservationists with deep pockets are mostly welcomed in rich countries, such as Britain and the US, because they maintain or increase the market price of land. But in poor countries they are often met with fear and hostility.

This is hardly surprising. Foreign conservationists have a dreadful record in developing countries. First colonialists took control of countries and communities in order to expropriate their resources, then the conservationists came and did exactly the same thing – this time, in the name of saving the environment. Tens of thousands of people have been evicted in order to establish wildlife parks and other protected areas throughout the developing world. Many people have been forbidden to hunt, cut trees, quarry stone, introduce new plants or in any way threaten the animals or the ecosystem. The land they have lived on for centuries is suddenly recast as an idyllic wildlife sanctuary, with no regard for the realities of the lives of those who live there.

What’s missing is an answer to the question of who is selling the land the rich people are buying. John Vidal talks about the reasonable concerns about traditional land uses being displaced, but it’s not at all clear from the story whose land it is the locals are currently using.

It’s also, I think, a bit disingenuous to wrap in the problems with governments’ converting private land into inviolate national parks with the problems of willing sellers turning property over to willing buyers. The only thing they have in common is that large amounts of land are generally involved, and that’s not enough to tie them together.

As you might expect, I don’t share Vidal’s apparent concerns over First Worlders buying up all this land, at least not in itself. If it works here, and it demonstrably does, it should work there. But I do worry about some of the online-shopping operations he points out, some of which are probably about as legitimate as the outfits that’ll sell you the rights to name a star, or some of the cockamamier carbon-offset vendors. Private ownership in a working market system is good, but chiefly because it brings with it a sense of proprietorship. If you own your own house, you take care of it, improve it, defend it from external threats.

Absentee landlordism, though, is almost invariably a bad thing, and all the more so in this case. If you aren’t there, if you don’t know which square metre of rain forest is your square metre of rain forest, you can’t defend it, and your property will inevitably fall victim to whoever is most eager to break the rules and take advantage.

(Via Planetizen.)

Greening the ‘burbs

Interesting story in the Sunday New York Times on efforts among suburbanites to make their low-density communities greener.

Since 2005, the mayors of hundreds of suburban communities across America have pledged to meet or even beat the emissions goals set by the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty to reduce greenhouse emissions.

In November, Levittown, N.Y., the model postwar suburb, declared its intentions to cut carbon emissions by 10 percent this year. And a few suburban pioneers are choosing solar heating for their pools, clotheslines for their backyard, or hybrid cars for their commute.

But the problem with suburbs, many environmentalists say, is not an issue of light bulbs. In the end, the very things that make suburban life attractive — the lush lawns, spacious houses and three-car garages — also disproportionally contribute to global warming. Suburban life, these environmentalists argue, is simply not sustainable.

Where the environment’s concerned, I’m of two minds (for civic budgeting, I’m not — the suburbs are a major problem for city budgets). They’re certainly unsustainable in their current form, but they’re also where an awful lot of the famous low-hanging fruit is. If current suburbanites just went with xeriscaping instead of heavily chemicalized lawns, kitted themselves out with high-efficiency heating, went with fans instead of air conditioning, and drove fuel-efficient cars, we might find that went a long way.

I do suspect that 21st-century housing-bubble McMansions aren’t going to work, but expensive oil should put paid to those. Post-war suburbs are, I suspect, quite salvageable even in a low-carbon, low-energy future, if the owners are prepared to invest in them.

I have no research to support this, but I think we should push in that direction and see what happens. At a minimum, it’s much more palatable for a mass audience than saying everybody’s got to move into apartment blocks.