The Aftermath of Severe Drought in Texas

Texas-Austin-Drought-Bastrop-Wildfire-2011The people of Texas were wishing, hoping, and praying for rain. Governor Rick Perry even proclaimed a three day session for Texans of all faiths to pray for rain April 22 through 24 2011. This was before Texans even felt the worst of the drought—over 75% of the state would become classified with “exceptional” drought conditions, the highest possible drought ranking given. Many Texans would suffer greatly in the dry, relentless heat—some losing their homes, livelihoods, and even loved ones before the year ended. Residents of Austin, Texas heartily welcomed 2012, hoping to put both the driest and hottest year ever recorded behind them.

The people of Austin, Texas are used to hot summers—customers continue to eat in the outdoor seating of restaurants in triple-digit temperatures and are kept cool with rows of mist spraying fans. Barton Springs, a crisp blue pool of spring fed water that maintains a temperature of around 68 degrees year round, is a favorite place for the locals to gather and cool off. As summer temperatures peaked at 112 degrees, however, many heeded the heat warnings of the National Weather Service and stayed inside their air-conditioned homes.

One of the most devastating events of the drought was the wildfire in Bastrop, the most destructive fire in the history of Texas. The fire raged for over a month, destroying over 1,500 homes and 1.5 million trees, and damaging over 34,000 acres of land, including the majority of Bastrop State Park. The 2011 drought caused staggering agricultural losses: Texas lost half its cotton crop and many ranchers had to sell off their cattle due to the inability to keep them fed and hydrated. Monetary losses were estimated to be over $5 billion. Due to wildfires and drought, Texas is estimated to have lost over half a billion trees. The Texas Forest Service estimated the costs to remove the trees and the increased energy bills from their shade loss to cost $840 million.

The people of Austin, Texas have been thankful for rain received so far in 2012, with inches of rainfall in February and March exceeding normal amounts. Still, the lakes around the city and groundwater levels have much recovering left to do, and drought conditions are expected to continue through 2012. In the face of such devastating losses in 2011, many individual Texans and organizations have worked to help those in need. TreeFolks, a non-profit organization that plants trees throughout central Texas, helped plant 2,000 saplings specifically in areas such as Bastrop that suffered from wildfires. The organization planted over 13,000 trees throughout central Texas in 2011 with the help of over 2800 volunteers. The organization has been encouraging citizens to plant and care for trees despite the drought because of the services they provide, such as shade to reduce the heat island effect and energy costs, root systems that keep moisture in the soil and filter groundwater impurities, and the provision of food and shelter for struggling wildlife.

Has your neighborhood suffered from recent droughts? Learn how to combat drought in your home and care for drought-mitigating trees here.

Photo credit: climatewatch.noaa.gov

Fox News Attacks Muppets, Lorax, And Arrietty As Leftist Propaganda; Cause Of Environmental And Occupy Wall Street Movements

muppets-fox-news-occupy-wall-street-environmentalShortly after The Muppets was released in November 2011, Fox News attacked the film for its liberal agenda. The film was described as anti-corporate, anti-oil industry, and ultimately, The Muppets were called communist. What was the cause of these attacks? The villain in the film, an oil baron named Tex Richman, attempts to destroy the Muppet’s old theatre in order drill for an oil reserve beneath it.

“It’s amazing how far the left will go just to manipulate your kids, to convince them, give the anti-corporate message,” said Dan Gainor of the conservative Media Research Center. He then proceeded to blame The Muppets and its predecessors, including Captain Planet, Nickelodeon’s Big Green Help, and Cars 2 among others, for the Occupy Wall Street and environmental movements.

The Muppets are not environmentalists, and not fighting against Tex Richman solely because he is in the oil industry—the heroes of the story never use the fact that Richman is an oil baron as a means to insult him. The claim that the Muppets are communist is markedly inappropriate—communism is defined as a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, stateless and socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production. In the Muppets’ battle against Tex Richman for the ownership of the Muppet’s theatre, not a single one of these themes are promoted.

Fox News neglects to mention even one of the numerous positive messages of the film. Valuable lessons for children demonstrated in the film include the rewards of following dreams, teamwork, celebrating differences, perseverance, love and support between brothers, forgiveness, and the values of friendship, among others. Fox News host Eric Bolling later apologized for calling the Muppets anti-capitalist.

Fox News turned the attack towards two new films in February 2012, however. This time, Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty and Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax came under fire for trying to make what Matt Patrick of the Matt Patrick Show called “occu-toddlers”. Once again, Fox News incorrectly tied environmental stewardship to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Fox News claims that The Secret World of Arrietty is about the redistribution of wealth and encourages envy between economic classes. Fox featured a clip of Arrietty, the main character of the film, explaining what a borrower is to her human friend, Shawn.

“My mother, father and I are all borrowers. We borrow things like soap and cookies and sugar—things that (humans) don’t miss if they’re gone.”

Lou Dobbs responded by claiming that “Hollywood is once again trying to indoctrinate our children”. The Secret of Arrietty film was originally created in Japan, and is based off of the 1952 novel, The Borrowers, written by English author Mary Norton. Disney’s main role in the film was to dub English voices for its U.S. release. Given the international roots of its storyline, this film isn’t appropriate to stereotype Hollywood. In addition, the items that the borrowers steal go unnoticed for decades until Shawn physically sees a borrower taking a tissue in his room. It is doubtful that money is a fair substitute for the items the borrowers take, as missing monetary funds would be much more noticeable.

The Lorax is equally blamed by Fox News for contributing to the creation of “occu-toddlers”, however, environmental stewardship is not the purpose of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which focuses on income inequality and wealth distribution. In order to combat the pro-conservation and anti-corporate messaging in The Lorax, Matt Patrick encouraged moviegoers to purchase a lot of food products and leave their trash on the floors of the theatre. Once again, any positive themes of The Secret World of Arrietty and The Lorax were completely ignored.

While one if not more of the three movies attacked have pro-environmental and/or anti-corporate greed messaging, Fox News has completely ignored any virtues of the films, used incorrect terminology to characterize them, and has wrongfully blamed pro-environmental messaging in children’s movies as the cause of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. These films aren’t appropriate to “blame” for the environmental movement either—the environmental movement began well before the invention of the television, and has had many positive impacts on the United States, such as the creation of its National Parks. 

If you believe The Muppets, The Secret World of Arrietty, and The Lorax have positive messaging and more films like them should be made, be sure to spread the word. If you disagree with the claims made by Fox News about these films, you can let them know here.

 Photo credit: bnl.gov

2012: The Year Of Battery Recycling?

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In 1994, the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation was created in order to promote the recycling of rechargeable batteries in North America. The Battery Act of 1996 helped develop an infrastructure to help the public recycled rechargeable batteries more easily, which has led to the recycling of over 55 million pounds of rechargeable batteries…but what about other battery types? Americans throw out about 180,000 tons of batteries annually and there continues to be no infrastructure for consumers to recycle other very common battery chemistries, such as alkaline, which account for 90% of batteries used by U.S. consumers.

The five leading manufacturers of batteries in the U.S., Energizer, Duracell, Rayovac, Kodak, and Panasonic, decided to tackle this issue in April 2011, when an unprecedented industry-wide stakeholder Battery Summit was held in Dallas, TX. This meeting was attended by 75 professionals from 8 different stakeholder groups, including individuals from recycling facilities, NGOs, federal and state regulators, consumers, retailers, device manufacturers, municipalities, academics, and waste haulers, with the goal of developing an environmentally and economically sound zero-waste program to recycle batteries.

Why wasn’t an infrastructure to recyclable all battery types created when the rechargeable battery recycling initiatives were started in 1994? There have been two main barriers to recycling batteries: cost and environmental impact. The cost of recycling batteries is $1.03 per pound compared to $0.22 per pound to put them in a landfill. In addition, according to a Life Cycle Assessment commissioned by Energizer Battery from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which accounts for the environmental impact of a product in various categories from material extraction through disposal, technology has just reached a point where recycling alkaline batteries will cause less environmental harm than disposing of them in a landfill. The reason the environmental impact of recycling alkaline batteries was greater was because the technology was not available to efficiently collect, transport, sort, process, and produce new products from disposed alkaline batteries. In addition, harmful chemicals such as Mercury were removed from alkaline batteries over 20 years ago, making them much safer to dispose.

The Summit is planning to effectively address these issues by collaborating with its diverse group of stakeholders. Members of the Summit met again in December 2011 to discuss progress, and more meetings have been scheduled through 2012. The goal of the Summit is to have a zero-waste battery recycling program developed at the end of 2012 and ready to launch in 2013. Keep up to date with the Summit’s progress here

Photo credit: cityofshoreline.com/Modules/ShowImage.aspx?imageid=1270