Shell Won’t Drill in the Arctic This Year

Earlier this month, Shell Oil announced that it will not begin drilling for oil in the Arctic this year, due to numerous problems with its equipment. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, say that the decision came after millions of petition signers and environmental activists spoke out against the drilling. The projected drilling sites are in the Chukchi Sea 70 miles off the northwest Alaskan coast and in the Beaufort Sea in northwest Canada.

“There are many reasons Shell wasn’t able to drill this year, but the big culprit is Shell’s own lack of preparedness. From not meeting its Clean Air permits to a damaged oil spill containment dome, Shell showed that it just couldn’t drill safely,” says the Sierra Club. It is clear “that the unpredictability of the Arctic environment, from sea ice to storms, makes the Arctic one of the most challenging places to work in the world.”

Shell has admitted that it is not prepared to drill in the Arctic. While testing a containment dome that would collect oil in the event of a spill, the dome malfunctioned. One of the company’s oil containment barges has not been able to obtain certification from the United States Coast Guard, due to fluid leaks and problems with safety systems and onboard stowage.

“Company officials said they will continue to drill “top holes” off the Alaskan coast through the end of this season’s drilling window, but will not attempt to reach any oil deposits this year,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

While top holes are not deep enough to reach underground oil, they can be further drilled and expanded to become oil wells in the future. Drilling in the Arctic is hazardous due to harsh and unpredictable environmental conditions, and could have massive negative effects on the environment and wildlife – including polar bears – if a spill were to occur. Additionally, Greenpeace found deep-sea soft corals in the drilling area of the Chukchi Sea this summer, but Shell has denied that its drilling operations would significantly and permanently harm the corals.

Amidst halting its oil drilling operations, Shell Oil, whose global headquarters are in the Netherlands, sued Greenpeace International (also based in the Netherlands) last week over protests by the environmental organization. Shell claims that protests conducted by Greenpeace supporters and activists have gone too far, citing a recent event in which protesters obstructed more than 70 of the company’s gas stations in the Netherlands. Shell is seeking a six-month restraining order against Greenpeace that would require all of the organization’s protests to be held more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from Shell’s properties or face a $1.3 million fine. The pending lawsuit will be settled soon in Dutch courts and will only apply to protests held in the Netherlands.

Environmental organizations – including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Credo Action – have all pressured the federal government to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic. The federal government has expressed support for Shell and for domestic oil production recently, but if the United States wants to play a leading role in stopping climate change, becoming less reliant on foreign oil – or, better, oil in general – and developing forward-thinking ways of responsibly using natural resources as forms of energy, the federal government must take action and invest in cleaner energy. To express your approval for Shell’s actions in halting its drilling plans for this year, and to urge the federal government to prohibit further drilling and environmental damage in the Arctic, sign the Sierra Club’s petition and encourage your friends and family to add their names as well. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/gsfc/7348953774/

Arctic Sea Ice Nears Record Low

The National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), based in Colorado, has reported that Arctic sea ice is melting at a record rate with its volume and density declining greatly. This summer, Arctic sea ice has been melting at a pace of 38,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) per day, but that rate doubled in early August. The ice’s melting overlapped with a storm, referred to by the NSIDC as the Great Arctic Cyclone of 2012, but it is unknown as to whether this storm and its effects caused the swift melting, as the ice was already expected to melt. While the ice is still above record-low levels (set in 2007), there are still a few weeks left in the season, and the ice could melt further during that time. This summer, the weather in the Arctic Circle has been inconsistent, making it difficult to predict weather patterns or determine what is causing these changes in the weather.

Arctic sea ice measured 3,118 cubic miles in the summer of 2004, but had dropped to just 1,679 cubic miles by this summer. The ice melted by 77,220 square miles in only three days at the beginning of last month. This summer, 97 percent of arctic ice in Greenland has begun to melt on its surface, and the ice on the Eastern Siberian Sea is melting rapidly as well; only the ice off of the northeastern coast of Greenland has remained at a normal level (levels measured between 1979 and 2000). Overall, 30 percent of Arctic ice has been lost since 1979, when levels were first recorded via satellite.

Implications of Arctic sea ice melting can be felt around the world as ocean levels rise and coastal communities continue to be threatened with flooding. Although it is difficult for scientists to pinpoint the exact culprit of the Arctic sea ice’s decline, it is likely caused in part by the increased temperatures that climate change brings, but also by natural fluctuations in weather patterns. It is possible that melting ice leads to a loss of more ice as the melted ice absorbs more heat, but scientists consider this an unlikely explanation for how rapidly the ice has declined this year.

The NSIDC is a research-based group that studies the Arctic environment, glaciers, snow, ice, and frozen ground, and publishes data regarding the state of the Arctic. Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, 350.org, and the Sierra Club have drafted a petition to reach out to the general public and gain support for reducing carbon pollution. The petition is aimed at the EPA, which the groups want to enforce science-based regulations on carbon pollution in order to preserve the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change. The petition’s supporters are urging the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to cut pollution by restricting the concentration of carbon in the air to 350 parts per million (ppm) (down from the current concentration of 392 ppm), a move that would drastically reduce the effects of pollution and global warming.

“While carbon dioxide isn’t the only global warming pollutant we need to control, it’s the number-one contributor to climate change,” the petition says. “For four decades, the Clean Air Act has protected the air we breathe through a proven, successful system of pollution control that saves lives and creates economic benefits exceeding its costs by many times. It’s time to fully use one of our strongest existing tools for reducing greenhouse gas pollution: the Clean Air Act.”

Add your name to the petition and tell your friends and family to support these environmental conservation efforts today.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/gsfc/6151061573/

Voters Could Mandate GMO Labeling in California

This November, Californians will head to the polls to potentially make history as the first state to vote in a bill that would mandate labeling of genetically modified foods. California’s Proposition 37 would come at no cost to consumers, but would be a major success for environmentalists and food activists. The bill would also disallow genetically modified food from being labeled as “all-natural,” one of the most deceptive terms in today’s food labels. Nationwide and statewide polls have shown that more than 90 percent of Americans are in favor of labeling GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and that more than 80 percent of Californians would approve the bill.

Modern genetic science has been applied to food in order to produce crops that are resistant to drought, disease, and pesticides and to increase production. The food’s genes are altered and sometimes injected with a pesticide that allows the plant to fight disease on its own or with vitamins such as Vitamin A and beta carotene to enhance the food’s nutrition benefits. These gene alterations have raised concern over whether or not GMOs produce allergens – potentially explaining the recent spike in food allergies – and other health concerns. Common crops subjected to genetic modification include corn, soybeans, and canola.

Because GMOs are bred to become resistant to pesticides, more pesticides and herbicides are needed, resulting in an increased amount of these chemicals that pollute the groundwater and soil and cause harm to the environment. The California campaign for Proposition 37 explains, “Because of the massive use of such products, herbicide-resistant weeds have flourished—a problem that has resulted, in turn, in the use of increasingly toxic herbicides. These toxic herbicides damage our agricultural areas, impair our drinking water, and pose health risks to farm workers and consumers. California consumers should have the choice to avoid purchasing foods production of which can lead to such environmental harm.”

Genetic modification has affected organic farming as well – although regulated organic food is not allowed to contain GMOs, seeds from genetically modified crops in nearby fields can travel and find their way into organic farms, contaminating these crops.

Agricultural giants, such as corn grower Monsanto, have invested millions of dollars to fight this legislation. With little research done on GMOs, these foods remain controversial, but regardless of one’s stance on genetically modified food or whether these foods are safe to eat, consumers deserve transparency and the right to know what we are putting in our bodies. If GMOs are labeled, consumers and scientists will be able to track the long term health effects of eating such foods.

“The giant pesticide and food companies are afraid of the mothers and grandmothers who want the right to know what’s in our food,” said Stacy Malkan of California’s Right to Know initiative. “These companies will try to buy the election, but it won’t work. California moms and dads will prevail over Monsanto and Dupont.”

Fifty countries in Europe, South America, and Asia, as well as Australia and Mexico, already mandate labeling of GMOs. The United States lags behind these countries in terms of food safety laws, and the federal government does not require safety testing for genetically modified food, making it uncertain and unproven that GMOs are safe for human consumption.

Because California is the nation’s largest producer of agriculture and the world’s eighth-largest economy, mandating GMO labeling will have a big impact on the food industry – and environmental groups and food activists believe that the bill has enough public support to pass. If you are a registered voter in California, don’t forget to vote on Election Day to help pass this important law! 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/plant_diversity/7490650534

Johnson & Johnson Vows to Eliminate Chemicals from Cosmetics

Carcinogens are the last thing that people want in their shampoo or makeup, but yet, these chemicals lurk in hundreds of beauty products sold around the world. However, this week, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a group composed of 175 nonprofit organizations dedicated to eliminating harsh chemicals from commercial cosmetics, announced that its efforts have led major global beauty company Johnson & Johnson to join the cause. Johnson & Johnson, which also owns Aveeno, Clean & Clear, and Neutrogena, will begin reformulating all of its baby and adult products with the goal of eliminating harmful chemicals by the end of 2015.

Johnson & Johnson’s commitment will extend to hundreds of products in all 57 countries it serves, including the United States. The company will phase out triclosan, carcinogens, formaldehyde releasers, diethyl phthalate, and animal products, and will significantly limit parabens and 1,4 dioxane. These chemicals have been indicated as health risks to humans, causing health issues such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, and birth defects – and yet these chemicals are still approved by the United States government as safe for humans to use.

In 2009 and 2011, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested Johnson & Johnson baby products and found carcinogens in some of these products, including a chemical that uses formaldehyde to kill bacteria. Last year, after the group released two reports and pressured Johnson & Johnson to manufacture safer products and after consumers voiced their concerns for using products containing carcinogens, the beauty company announced plans to eliminate chemicals from baby products by 2013.

Lisa Archer, cofounder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, called this week’s decision “a major victory for public health.” She said, “We applaud Johnson & Johnson for its leadership in committing to remove cancer-causing chemicals from its products. We will be vigilant in making sure it meets its commitments and will continue to encourage it to remove other ingredients of concern. And we call on other cosmetics giants—Avon, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever—to meet or beat J&J’s commitments and signal they take consumer safety as seriously as their competitor. As always, we encourage consumers to seek out the safest products for their families and support companies that are avoiding chemicals of concern.” 

Now, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is urging other industry giants like L’Oreal, Estee Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Avon, and Unilever – and these companies’ subsidies, which include several major cosmetics brands – to commit to a plan for removing cosmetics chemicals that is as good as or better than Johnson & Johnson’s.

“Today’s action by Johnson and Johnson is another example of a company responding to their customers and the public interest community,” said Nneka Leiba, another cofounder of the campaign. “Unfortunately, not every company will take similar steps to protect consumers from potentially toxic ingredients. That is why we need Congress and the cosmetics industry to support the Safe Cosmetics Act that will require substances be safe for human health before being used in the products we all use every day.”

In response to Johnson & Johnson’s announcement, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has released a petition encouraging other cosmetics companies to eliminate chemicals from their products and make cosmetics and beauty products safe for human consumption. To celebrate Johnson & Johnson’s monumental commitment and insist that other companies follow suit, add your name to the campaign’s petition here. To ask your local Congress representatives to support the Safe Cosmetics Act, a bill proposed last year that would require companies to use safe ingredients and thoroughly label products, as well as create health standards for cosmetics, click here.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/earthlydelights/4425728895

Report Indicates Potential For Western States to Generate Clean Energy

The Center for American Progress has released a report indicating the massive potential for western states to generate renewable energy. Statistics released by the Bureau of American Labor in 2010 showed that there are already more than 527,000 clean energy jobs in these states.

According to the issue brief, “Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—the ‘Four Corners’ states plus their western neighbors—are home to some of the best renewable electricity potential in the country. These states have consistently sunny skies for solar power, wind-blown plains and deserts for turbines, and underground heat perfect for geothermal energy. They also have incredible potential for smaller-scale technologies like rooftop solar panels and energy efficiency improvements.”

These southwestern states have been leaders in the renewable energy field, supporting new energy initiatives and developing innovative projects and technology to generate green energy. Industry experts expect this region to continue leading the way and moving forward on green technology, and predict that over the next twenty years the region will generate more than 34 gigawatts (more than 34,000 megawatts) of clean energy to 7 million residences and provide a $137 billion boost to the economy.

The Center for American Progress concluded that, in the next twenty years, nearly an additional 35,000 renewable energy jobs – in the solar, wind, and geothermal energy fields – could be created on government property alone and a total of more than 209,000 additional jobs in these six western states.

The organization reported that a 2012 poll of residents of western states conducted by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies program found that support for clean energy is high: 61 percent of those polled wanted states to encourage solar energy, while 49 percent favored wind energy; only 11 percent of respondents wanted states to push for oil and 9 percent for coal.

Besides becoming popular in residential areas, clean energy projects managed by the federal government are gaining traction as well. The United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management manages about 68 percent of all land in Nevada, 43 percent of land in Utah, and between 12 and 17 percent in Colorado, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Dozens of green energy projects have been completed or are scheduled for development on government land in these states, leading the states to a goal of producing 20,000 megawatts of clean energy by the end of this year and closer to President Obama’s goal of running 80 percent clean energy in the United States by 2035.

The Center for American Progress stated that they support the president’s goal, but “also urge that the standard include a requirement that at least 35 percent of electricity be generated by wind, solar, geothermal, other renewables, and efficiency by 2035 to ensure continued investment in these technologies. This would help energy development on public lands by stimulating a strong market for renewable energy across the country.”

The Center for American Progress noted that, although clean energy projects on public land are a positive development, the organization would like to see portions of this undeveloped public land preserved or used for nature and recreational activities, such as fishing and wildlife.

These recent studies and reports show that the American West is quickly becoming a leader in producing renewable energy and, according to experts’ estimates, is on track to provide 34 gigawatts of clean energy to consumers in the next two decades. With effective and updated national and statewide standards for green energy, renewable resources, and reasonable zoning for clean energy projects, these six western states can help establish a future in which Americans don’t have to rely on foreign energy and outsourced jobs. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/knowmybackyard/2394376192

United States Continues Commitment to United Nations Climate Change Goal

Earlier this month, the United States reaffirmed its support for the United Nations’ goals to halt climate change, particularly the goal of keeping rising temperatures around the world to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. The move came after the European Union and small island nations questioned the United States’ dedication to the worldwide goal, which would ensure that the average global temperatures do not experience more than a 2-degree increase.

The Huffington Post reported that, in a statement, United States climate envoy Todd Stern said, “The U.S. continues to support this goal. We have not changed our policy.”

Think Progress, a blog by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, reported on the issue and said, “The U.S. can’t easily reverse course on the 2C target any more than it could announce tomorrow that it was pulling out of the U.N. climate negotiations altogether.  Since the president put his own credibility on the line in forging the language of these agreements, he’d have to provide some explanation to other global leaders. It would, in short, be a diplomatic train-wreck for our chief climate negotiator to announce a reversal of the US position in a speech like this one.”

Environmental advocates joined the European Union and the small island states in encouraging UN member states to continue their commitments to the 2 degree Celsius target. The United States’ first approval of the 2C target was by President Obama in 2009, who endorsed the goal with leaders of other developed nations. Scientists expect average global temperatures to rise by 3 degrees Celsius if climate change continues at the current rate, and some experts believe that, right now, the 2-degree target is unattainable because not enough ambitious and aggressive action is being taken against climate change. Others still continue to deny that global warming is happening or that humans are causing the Earth’s temperatures to rise.

Some scientists and organizations, including NASA experts, believe that the target of 2 degrees Celsius will not be enough to adequately slow the effects of climate change, and instead favor a goal of limiting temperature changes to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This translates to limiting the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (ppm); current CO2 levels are at 392 parts per million, while a century ago, the concentration was 275 parts per million. 

Despite efforts to reduce emissions and embrace green technology, carbon dioxide levels continue to rise and peaked in 2011, bringing warmer temperatures. The 2000-2010 decade set a record for the warmest decade since the mid-1800s, and July 2012 was the warmest month ever on record in the United States. Extreme temperatures – both warm and cold – as well as natural disasters such as droughts, torrential rains and floods, and fires have hit countries around the world in recent years. The impact of these natural disasters has devastated crops and local economies, including agriculture in the United States, where 88 percent of the nation’s corn is affected by drought. All of these devastating events have occurred with only a small increase in global temperatures; the effects of climate change will become much worse if temperatures are allowed to rise above 2 degrees Celsius.

Because carbon dioxide enables the atmosphere to retain heat, some CO2 is necessary to maintain a livable climate, but too much leads to global warming and the problems associated with it, including ocean acidification, increased particle pollution and respiratory illnesses, drought and other natural disasters, glacial melting, and the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever due to mosquitoes that breed faster in warmer temperatures. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/mpd01605/2462760192 

Net Zero Energy Middle School Built in Arizona

A new Arizona middle school has joined a small but growing number of net zero energy buildings in the United States, after working with the International Living Future Institute to develop the net zero building. Colonel Smith Middle School, located in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., will serve 330 students – mostly children of military families – in sixth through eighth grade when it opens its doors this fall. At Smith Middle School, students will learn about energy conservation through applied learning and will be able to see the benefits of saving energy firsthand.

Smith Middle School’s energy-efficient features include solar panels, three wind turbines, and efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. Students will learn about the 88,693-square-foot school’s energy systems through real-time data sent to their iPads, where children can follow the building’s energy usage. School programs include STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities, which will feature an energy efficiency component to teach students about energy consumption and conservation as well as integrating lessons from the middle school’s conservation center and an outdoor education program.

The Huffington Post reports, “[Colonel Smith Middle School] was dedicated on Friday, August 3, in an opening ceremony where Tony Wall, Program Manager and President of 3W Management, was quoted as saying, ‘This is one of the great schools in America.’ 3W Management oversaw the construction of the building. … The school was designed to engage students in real-world problem-solving in a collaborative environment, with classes taking place both indoors and outdoors.”

Colonel Smith Middle School is among about two dozen net zero energy buildings in the United States, including two other middle schools (Irving, Texas’s Lady Bird Johnson Middle School and George V. Leyva Middle School, located in San Jose, Calif.); more buildings are expected to be certified as net zero in the near future. Net zero energy buildings are on the rise recently because of an increase in energy prices, the mounting threat of climate change, and the collapse of the economy. These energy-efficient buildings are no longer limited to industry structures; now, they are taking shape as schools and universities, libraries, homes, and businesses. Businesses, homeowners, and schools looking to save money on energy bills are creating net zero buildings more and more.

The first net zero energy building was constructed at Oberlin College in Ohio in 2000, and since then, the movement has grown as awareness rises about environmental issues and the cost of energy. Of the college’s decision to build the experimental efficient structure, Oberlin director of environmental studies, David Orr, said, “We intended to create not just a place for classes but rather a building that would help to redefine the relationship between humankind and the environment — one that would expand our sense of ecological possibilities.”

As conventional homes and businesses consume 40 percent of the country’s energy and produce greenhouse gases through the use of power, net zero energy buildings are a great way to reduce a building’s carbon footprint. With recent advances in technology, designing and constructing a net zero building is becoming more accessible to the public, and although this method of building is still not cheap, those who are dedicated to preserving the environment believe it is worthwhile.

The official definition of a net zero energy building, according to the United States Department of Energy – Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is a building that “produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.” While some net zero buildings use traditional electricity from the common power grid, they return that energy by producing power through solar panels or wind turbines.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/rurallearningcenter/3552299903

Beverage Companies Adopt Water-Saving Practices

Upon realizing the implications that climate change could have on their industry due to a growing global water shortage, several beverage companies have invested their money and effort into conserving water around the world. The Dr Pepper Snapple Group has dedicated $1.1 million to the Nature Conservancy, and is now working to conserve a pristine field outside of Houston. The coastal area is so large that it could hold 300 football fields, and is ripe for development – but Dr Pepper is fighting to keep it undeveloped and wild in order to preserve the environment and conserve water.

The money it has invested in the Nature Conservancy will go towards conserving five watersheds in Texas (where the Dr Pepper Snapple Group sources the water in its beverages from) and re-seeding grass in the coastal prairie area to restore the ecosystem to its natural state.

The company, which also bottles several other popular beverage brands including Sunkist, 7-UP, A&W root beer, Nantucket Nectars, and Hawaiian Punch, says that a deficiency of water would hurt their business, as water is the main ingredient in their drinks.

Other global beverage companies, such as Coca-Cola and MillerCoors, have stated that a lack of water is a concern for their businesses. These and other soft drink and brewing companies formed the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) in 2006 to address problems regarding low water supply, energy, and other topics that are central to the beverage industry’s prosperity. The group has invested an estimated $500 million in water conservation projects since its inception, bringing clean and ample water to people in India, China, and Africa and renovating their own factories to include water-efficient processing equipment and technology that has saved millions of gallons of water and dollars.

Laura Huffman, Texas state director for the Nature Conservancy, said, “If there’s not fresh water, there’s no business — it’s just that simple. It is their number one infrastructure concern. … Water tops the list, above roads, above energy, above all else, because if you don’t get water right, you’re not making anything.”

Future expansion plans have also given beverage companies an incentive to conserve water, as many of these companies hope to establish a presence in developing countries. These nations are the most likely to be the most severely affected by the effects of climate change, including drought, and without a sufficient water supply, beverage companies will not be able to operate in these countries.

These companies have committed to reaching concrete and attainable goals to save water, including cleaning bottles with air rather than water, reducing water consumption and waste, and preserving waterways worldwide. Their efforts have paid off: BIER companies as a whole have reduced their water use by 9 percent and 10.3 billion gallons; Dr Pepper is on its way to reducing water use and waste by 10 percent per gallon of finished beverage; Coca-Cola has decreased water use by 20 percent, given 35 percent of water used back to the environment, and plans to achieve water neutrality; and Pepsi Co. has also raised its water efficiency by 20 percent, projecting a water savings of $17 million in the next five years. With its initiative to provide access to clean drinking water to rural areas of developing countries and its partnership with environmental groups, Pepsi hopes to reduce the number of hours – currently estimated at 200 million every day – that people spend delivering water to dry areas, and therefore enable people to work more (and buy more Pepsi products).

While the beverage industry has made great strides and an impact on the world’s supply of water, it still faces the issue of plastic, as most of its products are bottled in plastic containers that aren’t recycled. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/toprankblog/2978925649

Save the Colorado Encourages Preservation of the Colorado River

Save the Colorado, an organization dedicated to preserving the Colorado River, declared and celebrated the first Colorado River Day this summer on July 25, and has organized several campaigns for the conservation of this major waterway.

The Colorado River originates in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and flows through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California (forming the southern borders of the latter two states) before it enters Mexico, where it runs through Baja California to its endpoint in the Mexican state of Sonora. In addition, its tributaries reach New Mexico and Wyoming. Between thirty and forty million people in the southwestern United States and Mexico rely on the Colorado River for water, and the river and its water usage are highly controlled through the use of dams and aqueducts. As the largest source of water in the southwestern desert climate, the 1,450-mile-long Colorado River provides vital agricultural irrigation and urban tap water to this region and allows the area to produce hydroelectric power. The river is also home to wildlife, river ecosystems, natural and architectural spectacles such as the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam, and vacationers who swim and play on the river. The river supports fifteen percent of the country’s crops, 250,000 jobs, and $26 billion of the national economy.

For six million years, the Colorado river emptied into the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California), located between the Baja California peninsula and mainland Mexico, but in the 1990s, the river stopped short of the sea. Human consumption of the Colorado River’s water has led to a severe depletion of the river’s resources; in the past ten years, five trillion gallons of Colorado River water has disappeared due to human use. Because Americans consume so much of the river’s water, farmers in Mexico are left with little to irrigate their crops with. Major agricultural companies in the United States drain the river of its water by growing crops that require large amounts of water, and are able to buy the water at much lower prices than citizens pay. Some of the river’s water is lost to the desert heat due to evaporation in the surrounding rocks and sandstone canyons.

Environmentalists have long been concerned about the future of the Colorado River and have wondered whether it is sustainable as a major waterway and provider of essential water services in the southwestern American desert. The population of cities in the Colorado River basin is expected to grow by more than fifty percent by 2030, and with serious effects of drought and climate change getting worse and the water supply lessening, it is uncertain that the river will be able to support the increasing population. Lake Mead, which is fed by the Colorado River and generates hydroelectricity for the metro Las Vegas area, will not be able to provide power to the area’s homes if the water supply drops too low. In addition to losing water, the river is also threatened by pollution from companies that mine its natural resources (such as shale, oil, and uranium).

Save the Colorado is calling on politicians to create a more efficient way to utilize the river’s resources and find a solution to the growing water problems. Noting that increasing the water supply is difficult and expensive, the organization favors increasing efficiency in existing water use. Their petition on Change.org says, “As another drought and an expanding population continue to strain this vital river, utilities and governments are faced with tough decisions on a path forward … In a political environment that is ripe for division, we are happy to report that, as river conservationists and fiscal conservatives, we’re all in the same boat: it’s time to improve the efficiency with which we consume the Colorado River’s water.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/squeaks2569/3728715678

Tell the FDA to Ban BPA From All Food Packaging

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently banned Bisphenol A (BPA), a harmful chemical found in plastics and some metals (such as the lining of canned foods), from baby bottles and sippy cups. The hormone-enhancing chemical has been linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, obesity, and damage to the reproductive organs, and is emerging as a public health risk. Studies found BPA in 80 percent of people’s bodies and in 96 percent of pregnant women. As a result, some companies are taking notice of public demand and concern for eliminating this chemical from food packaging by manufacturing BPA-free items, but many people feel that the FDA needs to tighten its regulations and completely ban the chemical from the food industry.

BPA presents an especially high risk to fetuses, babies, and young children, whose BPA intake is highest and whose developing bodies are more likely to suffer damage from toxic chemicals. Scientists have expressed concern about the effects of BPA on fetuses’ brain development, and have noted that BPA may cause earlier puberty in children. Tests conducted on several brands of canned food showed that almost all of the products contained BPA, presenting consumers with a very high risk of exposure to the chemical.

Although BPA has been used for more than four decades without serious health implications, new research suggests that there is cause for concern regarding the safety of this chemical. Additional research is needed to confirm the severity of this chemical’s health risks, but health officials now recommend that people, especially parents with babies, stop using plastics that contain BPA. Parents are encouraged to stop using old baby bottles, especially ones that are scratched or used, as these are more likely to leach BPA into food and infant formula. Parents who are still using bottles that contain BPA are encouraged not to heat or boil the infant formula, as heat facilitates the release of BPA.

Canada and the European Union have joined the United States in banning BPA from baby bottles, and Canada has determined it to be a toxic substance. Congress has pushed for legislation banning BPA, but it has not passed. Earlier this year, the FDA decided not to ban BPA from all food and beverage containers, saying that it needed to conduct broader and more thorough research on how severely it can affect public health.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has noted that plastics marked with recycling numbers 1 through 6 usually do not contain BPA, but plastics marked as number 7 can contain the chemical.

Protecting my kids doesn’t stop when they graduate from bottles and sippy cups. I am counting on the FDA to help regulate this dangerous chemical so the people I care about most in the world are safe — no matter how old they are,” says Change.org petition writer Susan Beal. “BPA isn’t just found in baby products — routine tests have found BPA in more than 80% of Americans’ bodies.”

While previous petitions to the FDA by organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have been unsuccessful, Beal’s previous petition on Change.org mobilized people in her hometown in Oregon to take action and ban BPA; the successful petition led to legislation banning products for children that contain BPA from being sold in her local community. She is hoping that her current petition to the FDA will elicit similar results.

To support Beal’s newest endeavor and join the growing public movement to completely eliminate BPA from food packaging, sign her petition at Change.org and share it with your friends and family.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/iskir/4433695947/