Bali School Immerses Students in Green Living

January 17, 2011- By Jen Noelken

John Hardy and his wife Cynthia planned to retire quietly from their jewelry business until Al Gore ruined John’s life.  After watching the former U.S. vice president’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Mr. Hardy decided he didn’t want to simply retire.  Instead, the movie propelled the couple to take an active role in doing their part for the environment.  In 2007, John and Cynthia sold their jewelry business and started building the Green School in Bali, Indonesia. 

Green School was a concept idea come to fruition by the Hardy’s strong belief in doing your part for society and the environment.  The focus of Green School is not new – to change the way young people act toward the environment, but the school’s approach is unique.  According to Hardy and the school’s teachers, Green School “is unique in that it completely immerses children in a world of sustainable practices throughout the school day.” 

Embedded in the lush vegetation of the Ubud region of Bali, Hardy used bamboo to construct virtually every aspect of the school.  The school’s structure, but also many of the school’s furnishings, such as desks, chairs, and chalkboards were constructed from bamboo.  The school is free of walls and air conditioning, relying instead on jungle breezes.  With two dozen buildings for teaching, bamboo bridges extend to allow easy access from one area to another.  Surrounding green space offers a soccer field with bamboo goalposts, a grassy playground area, vegetable patches, and a streaming river.      

Green School’s beautiful façade is just a bonus to the work done under the bamboo roofs.  Sustainability is at the forefront of lessons.  With a strong belief in stimulating young people to consider what needs to be done to save the earth, curriculum was developed based on the four intelligences.  Cynthia explains that Green School is not only based on IQ, it also focuses on KQ, which is the physical, EQ, which is the emotional, and SQ, which is the spiritual.  Through the four intelligences learning is done through active doing. 

With around 200 children, from 40 countries, Green School has the resources to teach grades kindergarten through tenth.  Within the next year (by 2012) they hope to expand through grades eleven and twelve.  Classroom curriculum focuses on three main objectives:  Essential Studies, Green Studies, and Creative Arts.  Essential Studies include English, Mathematics, and Science.  Green Studies offers hands-on lessons which progress as the children age to Nature Studies, Study of Ecology, Environmental Studies, and Studies of Sustainability.  Creative Arts includes art, crafts, music, drama, and story-telling to name a few.

John and Cynthia said it is necessary to teach kids fundamental courses, but it is also vital to teach kids the practice behind everyday sustainability.   For example, students are taught how to harvest their own food to open awareness and appreciation of the effort used to produce food.  The students are also taught mind-body exercises, like yoga, to help teach discipline, self-awareness, and the concept fit body / fit mind.

The school emphasizes and practices sustainability, but a computer lab and fully functional library is available.  Courses are based off an internationally recognized curriculum allowing kids to transition into any number of colleges or universities.  According to the Green School homepage, the school “provide(s) a curriculum that combines holistic, hands-on experiential learning with academic rigour.”   

John and Cynthia feel the school has been successful, but they feel there is still a long road ahead.  They said the classes are too small with little or no choice on subject content.  The couple says success will be reached when a waiting list is needed, but more so, when everyone involved in the school is happy and complaining for the right reasons.

Northern Cheyenne Tribe Helps Save Black-Footed Ferrets

January 17, 2011

By: Nick Engelfried 

One of the most endangered mammal species in North America, the black-footed ferret, is slowly making a comeback on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.  Over the last few weeks a group of black-footed ferrets newly introduced from captivity have been getting adjusted to life on the reservation, which is one of just eighteen places where this species now exists in the wild.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Northern Cheyenne tribal government, and conservation groups like Defenders of Wildlife are monitoring the ferret population in hopes it will continue to grow and eventually become self-supporting.

Tens of thousands of black-footed ferrets once lived in the prairies of the Great Plains, where they coexisted with species like prairie dogs and vast herds of American bison.  Specially adapted to feed on prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets depend on these burrowing rodents for survival.  During the twentieth century, destruction of their prairie habitat, poisoning of prairie dogs, and the spread of non-native diseases decimated black-footed ferret populations until the species was extinct in the wild.  By 1986 there were only eighteen black-footed ferrets in the world, all of them in captivity.  Fortunately a successful captive breeding program was launched, which eventually allowed researchers and conservationists to begin re-introducing the ferrets into the wild.

Since the early 1980s black-footed ferrets have received protections under the Endangered Species Act, giving the US Fish and Wildlife Service an imperative to help restore the species.  After years of conservation, ferret populations now exist in eighteen places scattered across the Great Plains on public, private, and tribal land.  Today the number of black-footed ferrets is far higher than the eighteen individuals originally saved in 1986.  Still there are fewer than a thousand members of the species in the wild, and continued conservation efforts are needed for its recovery.

Black-footed ferrets were first introduced to the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2008, and the support of the tribal government has allowed a small population to become established.  “The Northern Cheyenne Tribe is helping bring black-footed ferrets back from the brink,” said Lacy Gray from Defenders of Wildlife, after a successful reintroduction effort last month.   Conservation efforts include protection of the prairie dogs the predatory ferrets rely on for food.  A total of 10,000 acres of tribal land has been set aside as protected habitat for the ferrets and their rodent food source.

While prairie dogs and black footed ferrets on protected land are safe from hunting and poisoning, other threats to their survival persist.  Perhaps most alarming is sylvatic plague, a disease accidentally introduced to North America which affects both ferrets and prairie dogs.  The plague spreads from one animal to another via flea bites, so prairie dog towns are treated with dustings of flea poison when researchers find a local outbreak of the disease.

In other parts of the country, the survival of black-footed ferrets continues to depend on the health of prairie dog populations.  Several prairie dog species are themselves endangered or threatened, their recovery impeded by the fact that prairie dog burrows are often seen as a nuisance by landowners.  Climate change is an additional threat to prairie dog populations and the ferrets that depend on them.  A warmer, dryer climate in the Great Plains may lead to more frequent droughts and prairie fires, making it more difficult for prairie dogs to survive.

While the future of the black-footed ferret is still far from certain, the Northern Cheyenne Reservation population for now has a safe habitat to live in thanks to policies of the tribal government and the work of conservation groups.  As ferrets recently released onto tribal land grow used to life in the wild, they are embarking on the next stage of a long journey or a species once on the verge of extinction. 

Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke

EPA Vetoes Mountaintop Removal Mine Permit

January 15, 2011, In a move cheered by environmentalists, on Friday the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vetoed a permit for the largest proposed mountaintop removal coal mine in the country.  This marked the first time the EPA has made use of its authority under the Clean Water Act to overturn permits granted to mountaintop removal mines by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  The Corps of Engineers had originally granted a permit for the Spruce Mine in Logan County, West Virginia.

Environmental groups immediately praised the EPA for acting to protect communities in West Virginia from environmental and health effects of coal mining.  Mountaintop removal, which is practiced exclusively in the Appalachian Mountains, is an especially destructive form of mining that involves removing mountaintops with explosives to expose underground coal deposits.  Rubble from mountaintop removal sites is often dumped into nearby valleys and streams, contaminating the water with heavy metals and other toxins.  The Clean Water Act gives the EPA authority to deny mountaintop removal projects that threaten the drinking water supplies of nearby communities.

“We applaud the EPA for following the law and the science and acting to protect the nation’s wildlife and the citizens of Appalachia from the devastation of mountaintop removal,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Mountaintop-removal coal mining must end, and today the agency took a historic step in the right direction.”

Mountaintop removal mining has become more common in West Virginia and other Appalachian states as easily accessible coal reserves have run out.  Though the practice makes it possible to cost-effectively retrieve coal buried deep inside of mountains, it comes with heavy environmental costs and employs fewer people than other types of coal mining.  Over the past several years environmental groups have urged Congress and the EPA to ban the practice of mountaintop removal and help affected states develop clean energy resources.

When the Obama administration took office in 2009, many activists hoped the EPA would end mountaintop removal immediately.  Though that did not happen, the agency has been gradually taking steps to curtail the practice.  When the EPA opened a public comment period on the Spruce Mine, 30,000 people submitted comments urging the project be vetoed.  If allowed to move forward, the Spruce Mine would have destroyed 2,300 acres of forest and buried close to seven miles of valley streams. 

According to Rory McIlmoil, author of a report on mountaintop removal commissioned by the Rainforest Action Network, “The impacts to the environment and surrounding communities that would result from the proposed mine were studied by EPA and independent researchers in great detail, and all of the studies concluded that the proposed operation would result in unacceptable adverse impacts.”

 Environmental groups are urging the EPA to continue to invoke its Clean Water Act authority and veto permits for other mountaintop removal mines.  “Forty years of surface mining have kept the region locked in poverty and devastated the health of people and the environment,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Curry, referring to the impacts on Appalachia.  “The Obama administration must ban mountaintop removal and fund the creation of a green economy in this beautiful region.”

Other groups, worried that a new administration might overturn the Obama EPA’s efforts to slow mountaintop removal, have also urged Congress to pass a new law making the practice permanently illegal.  The group I Love Mountains.org is pushing bills in both houses of Congress that would do this—the Clean Water Protection Act in the House of Representatives, and Appalachia Restoration Act in the Senate.  “We need Congress to follow the leadership of the EPA by making these protections permanent,” said an email from I Love Mountains.org, soon after the Spruce Mine veto was announced.

Photo credit: Silvia Alba

Zero-Carbon Emission Motorcycles

By: Brett Leverett, January 13, 2011

When you think of a motorcycle, you probably imagine a heart-stopping growl growing louder and louder until chrome straight pipes roar past you at 70 miles per hour.  Don’t let your ears fool you when you experience a new style of motorcycles being perfected in our own backyard.

Electric motorcycles are hitting the streets without making any noise.  As the sale of hybrid and electric cars skyrocket, it’s amazing that this new style of motorcycle has gone seemingly unnoticed.  Providing a nearly silent ride, and with countless more capabilities than a scooter, three American companies are leading us into the future with electric street motorcycles priced for popular consumption.

All starting at under $10,000, The Zero S, Brammo Enertia and Native S were created to completely restructure the way we think about environmentally friendly transportation.  With the computing power of a laptop (yet six times the battery life) and an engine that lacks many of the complex moving parts found in an Internal Combustion Engine motorcycle, mechanical repairs are expected to be reduced.  Battery capabilities will only get better, and this serves to rapidly improve these already impressive bikes.

Your search for an eco-friendly means of local transportation is over, the real question now is, which one do you want?

Zero motorcycles began with electric dirt bikes, and now has come to produce the Zero S which is as much fun as it is green.  The founder of Zero (and former NASA engineer I might add) Neal Saiki developed a 4.0 kWh, landfill-approved lithium-ion battery for his Zero S.  The 20.8 horsepower Zero zooms past the flyweight division with a top speed of 67 mph.  Unfortunately, environmental innovation comes with a price, literally.  Costing $9,995 and only rated to 1,800 charges, you may be sacrificing more cash than you intended to.

After consumer feedback, Zero has added a bracelet which automatically shuts off their bikes when the rider dismounts.  Why you ask?  Because the engine is so quiet that countless people have forgotten that their bike was still running.  An unintended throttle twist then sent their bikes ghost riding away.

The Native S provides the longest riding capacity combined with the most reasonable price.  Starting at only $7,500, the 12.3 horsepower Native is rated at 3,000 charges.  The bike’s 60 mph top speed leaves something to be desired, but when nursed at moderate speeds this electric wonder has been known to go for 50 miles on one charge.  Oddly enough, the Native is the only one of these bikes that offers a passenger seat and foot pegs.  Although, if you intend on carrying a passenger, make sure they qualify for the featherweight class otherwise you’re in for a short ride.

And the winner of motorcycle.com’s first electric motor shootout, Brammo brings you the Enertia.  As the heaviest of the electric bikes, weighing in at 324 pounds, the Enertia has the ability to carry even the largest of riders (up to 276 pounds).  Reasonably priced at $7,995, the measly 13.4 horsepower magically gives the bike a top speed of 63 mph.  You may think that its 20-40 mile range leaves room to question, but when you can go 15,000 miles on only $85 worth of electricity, you might just change your mind.  Rated at 2,000 charges, you may only spend $340 on electricity for the lifespan of the lithium-ion battery.

All three of these vehicles give you the ability to get where you need to go fast, efficiently, and with zero carbon emitted.  With some of these bikes lasting for upwards of 100,000 miles, they can literally pay for themselves in the money you save based on current gas prices.  Electric motorcycles have already set a new standard when it comes to eco-friendly vehicles, and there is only room for improvement.

Photo Credit: Jeff McNeill

Brooklyn’s 25 Carroll Street Condos Opt for Salvaged Materials

January 13, 2011

25 Carroll Street added its name to the growing list of sustainably designed housing complexes.  Located in the Columbia Street waterfront area of Brooklyn, the building was developed by Alex Barrett of Barrett Design and Development.  The condominiums were placed on the market in October of 2010 receiving offers on all units within five days.  On November 23, 2010 a contract for the last unit was signed. 

The 5-story masonry and heavy-timber building was constructed in 1898 by Francis Romeo.  Romeo, the then president of Brooklyn’s Macaroni Company, used the building for nearly 30 years to house his pasta manufacturing business.  In the late 1920’s the building was sold and for almost forty years served as a facility for several furniture manufactures.  In 2010, 25 Carroll LLC bought the entire building for $3,250,000 from Marathon Hosiery Company.

Barrett and his design and development firm worked to achieve a sustainable condo complex by using salvaged objects.  His most innovative design was using two shipping containers as the bulkhead for the rooftop.  Barrett said he developed the idea after staring across the rooftops into a shipyard full of the containers.  The bulkhead could have been made from a wide range of products such as masonry, steel framing, or wood, but Barrett explained the installation of shipping containers was a timesaver.  What would have taken weeks of work took merely hours to complete. 

The shipping containers allowed for a common area on the roof of the building while providing coverage for a stairway, elevator shaft, and mechanical space.  Views from the rooftop terrace look out to the Manhattan skyline and New York Harbor.  Barrett thinks the steel boxes offer great opportunities for reuse.  “[W]e always have a net surplus of these giant steel boxes.  They’re wonderful little pieces of engineering, but just because of the laws of supply and demand, they’re practically worthless in this country.”

The use of shipping containers was one of many ways Barrett successfully incorporated salvaged material into the building’s esthetics.  Preserving and revealing the history and character of the building was the forefront of design.  Interiorly, existing timber beams and columns along with existing masonry was restored and exposed.  Heavy-timber beams that needed to be replaced were repurposed.  Many of the old joists, beams, and columns that were replaced received a second life as furniture elements in the new condominiums.  New products, such as polished concrete countertops and exposed steel metalwork, were selected based on the products ability to compliment the old, reused materials.

Exteriorly, the masonry was retained and restored.  New double-hung windows with “thermally broken aluminum frames and insulated glazing units with low e-coating and argon filled airspace” were installed. The lobby, featuring exposed masonry, new concrete flooring, and benches made from repurposed heavy-timber, offers a dramatic, sophisticated entryway.

The condo’s design was based off three principles:  respecting the character of the building and its history, authenticity of materials, and environmental sensitivity.  With these principles in mind “efforts were made to significantly reduce the amount of waste.” 

Within the past several years, Columbia Street has blossomed into a trendy place to live.  Renovation efforts, such as 25 Carroll Street, and location make the Columbia Street area an appealing place to live.  Award winning gardens are plentiful in the area adorning every other corner.  Brooklyn Bridge Park and Pier 6 opened in June 2010 offering playgrounds and ferry service to Governor’s Island.  The area is also a hub for daily needs.  Retails, restaurants, coffee shops, and fitness centers surround the area making walking or biking accessible options.  Revitalization of the area’s neighborhoods has increased residential and retail developments making Columbia Street a solid investment for the economy and the environment.

Australian Floods Consistent with Climate Change Predictions

January 12, 2011

By: Nick Engelfried 

Close on the heels of a year of floods, fires, and earthquakes in 2010, the first weeks of 2011 have already seen their slew of natural and weather-related disasters.  The Australian state of Queensland is experiencing one of the worst flooding events in its history, with at least ten dead and thousands affected by rising floodwaters in an area the size of France and Germany combined.  Like at least some of the extreme weather events from last year, the Queensland floods can be looked at as a preview of the kinds of weather-related disasters likely to become more and more frequent in a warming world.

Professor Will Steffen, who directs the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, has said there may be a link between unusually heavy floods and global warming.  While cautioning that no direct connection can be made between changes in the planetary climate and the severity of this winter’s floods, Steffen warned in a statement to The Australian Online that climate change is likely to make heavy flooding events more and more frequent in many parts of the world.

“We’re starting to see the impact of climate change in this region,” said Mayor Brad Carter of Rockhampton, one of the cities being affected by the floodwaters.

Just as Hurricane Katrina in the US corresponded with unusually warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, this winter’s Australian floods may be connected to abnormally warm seas off of Queensland.  More immediately, the floods are the result of what may be the most extreme La Nina weather event in history.  The exact extent to which climate change might have contributed to a particularly severe La Nina this year remains unknown.

Australia is not new to the kind of extreme weather that will become more common in a changing climate.  The country only recently began recovering from a years-long drought—one of the worst in Australian history.  The drought and accompanying forest fires cost Australians untold millions in economic damages, wreaking havoc on agriculture and putting many farming families out of business.  Unlike the flooding in Queensland, which is too recent an event for scientists to have studied in great depth, the connection between climate change and the drought that started in 2002 is well established.  The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated in 2007 that the frequency of drought in Australia will increase 20% by the year 2030.

As many other parts of the world have learned already, a warmer global climate can bring on both drought and floods.  In places like Australia climate change is likely to lead to less frequent rainfall.  But when the rains do come, they will be heavier and more damaging.  Both the floods and the long period of dry weather preceding them are consistent with many scientists’ prediction about climate change.

Because it has a dry climate to begin with, Australia may be poised to suffer more from climate change than any other industrialized country.  However like the United States, Australia has still not passed a national climate law and remains highly dependent on coal—the dirtiest fossil fuel used to produce electricity.  Perhaps even more important than Australia’s own coal-burning power stations is the fact that the country is one of the main suppliers of coal to China, where carbon emissions are growing faster than in any other part of the world.  Australia’s willingness to export coal abroad has helped enable China to become the planet’s single biggest carbon polluter.

Ironically Australia’s coal exports are for the moment partly on hold, not because of any new climate policy but because the most important coal ports have been flooded.  At the Gladstone export terminal in Queensland, coal exports have dropped 75% because of the floods.  Business as usual is expected to resume once the waters recede.  But for once an activity that causes climate change has itself become the victim of the kind of weather event global warming will make all the more common.

Photo credit: “Timothy” on Flickr

Ban Urged for Bee-Killing Pesticide

January 11, 2011

By: Nick Engelfried 

A sharp decline in the populations of several bee species threatens to affect the health of important US food crops by depriving them of the pollination service bees provide.  Since 2005 bees in the US have been declining due to a once-mysterious illness known as colony collapse disorder.  Not all the news is grim however: recent scientific studies suggest banning the use of certain pesticides could help bees recover and go on pollinating crops for years to come.  In response to these findings, environmentalists have launched a campaign pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban chemicals linked to bee die-offs.

US bee keepers and researchers first began noticing large-scale honey bee die-offs in the in 2005, and the name “colony collapse disorder” was coined soon afterwards.  For years scientists were unable to pin down the cause of the die-offs, though parasites and chemical pesticides were regarded as the most likely suspects.  Meanwhile the severity of the problem has continued to grow: there is now evidence that colony collapse disorder or a similar malady is affecting not only honey bees, but at least four bumble bee species that are also important plant pollinators.  Today researchers suspect bee declines are caused by a combination of factors, including parasites and habitat loss.  But the most important contributor of all may be a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.

Based on the chemical nicotine, neonicotinoids were first applied to crop fields in the United States in the late 1990s, and since that time their use has increased steadily.  In 2003 the German-based company Bayer applied to the EPA for permission to sell a neonicotinoid called clothianidin on the US market.  Now used on corn, sugar beets, canola, wheat, and other crops, clothianidin interferes with the nervous systems of insects and is meant to kill insect pests.  However deadly compounds from the pesticide also end up in the nectar and pollen of crops, where they affect bees and other pollinators that come to the flowers to feed.

Unbeknownst to the public in 2003, EPA scientists expressed concern that clothianidin could seriously harm the honey bees that pollinate important crops.  However the EPA granted “conditional approval” for Bayer to sell the pesticide anyway, allowing its application on vast stretches of US farmland.  Since then Bayer has conducted studies it says show the pesticide has no significant effect on bee populations. 

But independent researchers, like entomologist James Frazier of Pennsylvania State University, say the studies were flawed.  According to Frazier, Bayer attempted to compare the health of bee colonies exposed to clothianidin with those not exposed to the chemical.  But Bayer’s methodology failed to ensure the bee populations were kept separate, invalidating the conclusions drawn from the study.

Finally in December of 2010, leaked emails and other documents highlighted instances where the EPA ignored the advice of its own scientists so Bayer would be allowed to sell clothianidin in the United States.  During the same time period other countries where bees have declined have been banning use of the chemical.  France, Slovenia, Italy, and Germany—the country where Bayer is based—have all outlawed the use of clothianidin.  Since banning the pesticide these countries have seen dramatic improvements in their bee populations.  Environmental organizations like the Pesticide Action Network are now calling on the EPA to ban clothianidin in the United States.  The online activism group Avaaz.org has launched a petition asking EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to end the use of the chemical.

Losing the most important pollinator bees in the US would affect not only crops grown for food, but natural ecosystems from woodlands to alpine meadows.  Particularly worrying from the standpoint of native plant and animal life is the fact that bumble bees as well as honey bees are showing signs of decline.  Populations of four bumble bee species studied by researchers have already declined by 96% leading to fears that these species could disappear completely.  Part of the importance of bumble bees is they remain active at lower temperatures than most other insect pollinators, and emerge from hibernation to pollinate the first flowers of spring before other bees are out and about.

“Bees are dying off and our entire food chain is in peril,” says Avaaz.org.  “If we urgently get the [US] government to join the ban [on clothianidin] we could save bees from extinction.”

Photo credit: Andy Hay

The Perils of Meat

By: Seth Deister

Americans eat about twice as much meat as the rest of the world, who are trying their best to catch up. Most people are aware that meat is not very healthy in quantities as large as we’re getting used to. However, there are many more dangers to this worldwide increase of meat consumption than bad health. This article will inform you of three ways America’s craving for meat goes far beyond high cholesterol.

In years gone by, farms raised animals for other purposes. Chickens, pigs and cattle provided manure for fertilizer. They plowed the field before tractors were relied upon. They also could eat grain that wasn’t sell-able to humans or graze on farmland that wasn’t rich enough to plow. They could even provide insurance against poor crops; if farmers didn’t make enough money one year, the animals could be sold. In most of the world this is still the case.

Unfortunately wealthy modern countries are now able to afford more meat than ever before. Farms have shifted from the idyllic slow-paced farms to massive corporation-owned farms that specialize in one type of food. Today, most meat is grown in ‘meat factories’ with the goal of producing the most pounds of meat with the smallest amount of time and labor. Even ignoring the glaring issue of animal rights, there are many reasons why producing meat this way is problematic, some of the biggest of which are environmental.

One of the biggest ecological problems with mass producing meat is animal waste. In many farms around the world animal waste is used for fuel to burn, or for fertilizer. This means that the soil around the farm can absorb all, or nearly all, of the animal waste. However, huge animal farms today create much more waste than can possibly be used by surrounding farms; 500 million tons in America alone. That’s three times more than the people in America! Due to relaxed government regulation this waste can often be dumped into the ground surrounding the farm. Animal waste contains nutrients that plants need, like nitrogen. The problem is that the nutrients are carried downstream in whatever water system the farm is located in. Once in a lake or ocean, algae and plankton use those delicious vitamins and multiply like crazy. The extra algae can use up oxygen that other water inhabitants need. An area of water without enough oxygen to support life is called a “dead zone” and there are many along the United State’s coasts, most notably in the Gulf of Mexico. This unexpected chain of events starts with factory farms with too much animal waste and ends with polluted waterways and dead zones in the ocean.

Another major problem with such a high demand for meat is deforestation. Many diverse and valuable forests around the world are being cut down to make land for cattle production. The most publicised is Brazil’s amazon rain forest. Up to 80% of the forest land cut down is to provide grazing pastures for cattle. The especially depressing part is that the top soil washes away in a few years because there are no trees to hold it in place. Soon larger and larger areas are needed to support a herd of cattle and the cheapest solution is to cut down more forest. The method of clearing forest most often used is burning. This releases carbon that was stored by plants into to atmosphere. 20% of global greenhouse gases are emitted from deforestation, more than all transportation combined. This statistic implies that it would be more beneficial to drastically reduce the amount of cattle grown than it would be for everyone in the world to stop driving their car.

The third way that growing excessive amounts of meat harm the environment is the amount of resources it uses. The larger a plant or animal is, the more energy it takes to raise them. In some situations this is intuitive. It makes sense that it is more efficient for humans to eat vegetables than it is to eat a wolf that ate a rabbit that ate the vegetables. 90% of the starting energy is lost every ‘level’ we go up. While statistics vary wildly on how efficient cows are at using energy to make meat, we can assume that the number can’t be more than 10%. That’s because cows are an extra layer in the food chain. Because more plants are needed to produce the same number of calories, adding extra layers mean more land and water are used too. The grain grown for animals must be watered as well as the animals themselves. Agriculture uses 80% of all fresh water used each year in the United States. The vast majority of this is used to grow food for or directly nourish animals raised for meat.

There are many more problems with eating animals instead of plants but most are localized or only affect certain parts of the world. Many of them blend into animal rights issues, of which there are countless. The three problems discussed, animal waste, deforestation, and limited resources, are worldwide and are a result of all countries’ increase in meat consumption. We might not see the full effects of these problems in the next year or even ten years, but the problems are mounting and must be addressed soon.

Cattle photo.

Hundreds of Species Await Obama Administration’s Protection

January 8, 2011

By: Nick Engelfried 

Since it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, the Endangered Species Act has become the most important legal tool for protecting rare plants and animals in the United States.  From the bald eagle to the whooping crane (pictured at left) to the gray wolf, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has helped bring hundreds of species back from the brink of extinction.  Yet the ESA can only be used to save an imperiled animal or plant if that species had gone through an official listing process giving it protected status.  Today environmental groups like the Center for Biological Diversity say hundreds of species in need of urgent help are being denied protection by delays in the listing process.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agencies that administer the Endangered Species Act, are charged with reviewing information about declining species and determining whether they in fact warrant protection under the ESA.  Theoretically, species determined to be threatened or endangered are immediately granted several important protections designed to allow their populations to recover.  Most importantly “critical habitat” needed for the species to survive is protected from development and other human disturbances.  It is also illegal to kill or harm threatened and endangered species or remove them from the wild, except for authorized conservation purposes. 

In practice however, many species that probably deserve protection are placed on a “candidate list,” where they may wait for full protection for years—depending on how fast the federal government processes new listings and on how many federal resources are allocated to species protection.  This has always been part of the process for listing new threatened and endangered species, but in recent year the number of species on the candidate list has ballooned to well over two hundred, many of which have been waiting for protection for two decades or longer. 

Part of the growth in the candidate list was caused by a backup of proposed species listings under the George W. Bush administration.  Prior to George W. Bush, every US president who took office after the ESA became law protected more new species per year than the previous administration.  In contrast the rate of listing new species was slower under the Bush administration than for any other president.  While the Clinton administration listed sixty five species per year, the Bush administration averaged less than eight.  In response the Center for Biological Diversity launched a lawsuit in 2005 arguing it was time to move protections forward for 225 species on the endangered species candidate list. 

Under the Obama administration the rate of listing species has picked up to a degree, so far averaging twenty-six new listings per year.  However at the same time the candidate list has grown to include 254 species.  According to the Center for Biological Diversity, there’s a very real threat that species on waiting on the candidate list may go extinct before ever receiving the full protections that might have saved them.  At least twenty-four species, subspecies, or genetically distinct populations have already gone extinct while waiting on the candidate list.

The Center for Biological Diversity has now launched an “Extinction Crisis” campaign focused on convincing the Obama administration to prioritize conservation and formally protect the 254 candidate plant and animal species.  “We need to get [these species] on the endangered species list immediately,” says a statement from the Center, “because that’s the only way that killing them becomes illegal and the only way to save their habitat from logging, bulldozing, and other forms of destruction.” 

An online petition to the Obama administration created as part of the campaign has so far accumulated close to 6,000 signatures.

Photo credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service

China and India Building Giant New Solar Projects

January 6, 2011

By: Nick Engelfried 

Two of the fastest-growing economies on the planet have recently made progress toward beginning work on major new solar energy projects that will provide their populations with clean, low-carbon electricity. China is poised to begin work on what may be the biggest solar photovoltaic energy project in the world, while the state government of Gujarat, India has announced plans to build a solar farm that will be the first of its kind in Asia. Both projects are promising for the growth of the global solar industry, and may be a preview of things to come for the developing world.

On Wednesday Arizona-based First Solar and the China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Company signed a memorandum of understanding to build the first phase of a solar photovoltaic power plant in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is a part of China, not to be confused with the nation of Mongolia to the north. This first phase of the solar project will have an electricity generating capacity of thirty megawatts, and will serve as a demonstration project. The fully completed solar power plant, which the companies involved hope to finish by 2019 will be able to generate 2,000 megawatts of electricity.

The idea for the Ordos solar plant was first announced in 2009, at which time First Solar said it wanted to begin work on the project by June of 2010. However after that initial progress stalled, as the Ordos project cleared regulatory hurdles and First Solar searched for financial collaborators. The news that China Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development will be partnering with First Solar to build the solar plant is an encouraging sign that the Ordos project is finally ready to move forward. The Chinese company started as the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, but more recently has begun investing in other energy sources like solar power. The Ordos plant is the biggest solar project China Guangdong has agreed to work on so far.

Meanwhile the state of Gujarat in western India has unveiled plans to build a 500 megawatt solar farm that will provide electricity and spur economic development in the local area. Gujarat has become an attractive site for solar developers since 2009, when the state government passed a series of policies designed to encourage solar development. The state is investing 109 billion rupees in the newly announced solar far, equivalent to about US $2.3 billion. Gujarat’s sunny weather is also contributes to it being a prime solar hot spot; developers of the new solar farm estimate it will receive about 330 days of sunlight per year.

Solar and other renewable energy projects will help China and India reach their goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, at a time when both countries’ carbon footprints are growing rapidly. China has pledged to cut its carbon intensity—the volume of greenhouse gases emitted per unit of energy produced—by 40-45% below 2005 levels by the year 2020. India’s goal is to cut its greenhouse gas intensity 20-25% by 2020. Achieving these goals will likely mean both these countries need to reduce their dependence on coal for generating electricity, as coal is the most carbon-heavy of all commonly used fuels.

Solar projects like the Ordos power plant in China and the Gujarat solar farm present an alternative to coal-fired power plants, and can help developing countries generate more electricity with fewer carbon emissions. Renewable energy development also offers nations with high levels of poverty a way to increase access to electricity without growing their carbon emissions even further. If the Gujarat and Ordos projects are successful, energy companies may be tempted to invest in more such ventures in the developing world.

Photo credit: Wayne National Forest