Sierra Club Rates “Coolest Schools” in the US

By: Nick Engelfried 

August 26, 2010
   
This summer the Sierra Club, one of North America’s largest and oldest environmental advocacy groups, released its fourth annual survey to determine which colleges and universities in the US are “coolest.”  Designed to draw attention to the role higher educational institutions can play in combating global warming, the survey rated schools according to ten factors that affect greenhouse gas emissions and overall sustainability.  The top twenty “cool schools” received special recognition from the Sierra Club for their efforts to promote environmentally responsibility and educate a new generation of voters, consumers, and activists. 
 
In determining just how sustainable a school is, this year’s survey looked at everything from where college cafeterias source their food from to how sustainability fits into the curriculum (or doesn’t).  Yet according to the Sierra Club, the single most important factor in determining a school’s “coolness” was the type of energy from which a campus derives its electricity.  Schools that rely on a relatively clean power grid, like University of Washington, scored high on the list.  Meanwhile schools that get most of their electricity from coal-fired power plants had a significant challenge making it into the top tier.  At the end of the day Green Mountain College took first place on the list, with an overall score of 88.6 out of 100.  Other schools that scored near the top included Evergreen State College, Dickinson College, and Stanford University.
 
During the survey process, the Sierra Club sent questionnaires to 900 higher educational institutions in the US, containing in-depth questions about those schools’ sustainability efforts.  A total of 163 schools responded to the request for information, and the data they supplied was used to determine each school’s ranking.  Partly because some schools were not reached by the survey effort, and partly because the ranking system was necessarily subjective on some level, the list shouldn’t be regarded as the final word on sustainability in the educational realm.  However it does provide a glimpse into how some of the country’s best-known colleges and universities are doing.
 
So what inspires a school to go green in the first place?  Sometimes it’s an institution-wide commitment to environmentalism and sustainability.  Sometimes its the result of the good work of a few key faculty members who want to see their workplace lead by example.  Occasionally, as in the case of schools that just happen to be located where the electricity grid is pretty green, luck plays a role in the process. 
 
But at more and more campuses across the US, one of the most important factors is student activism and student-initiated campaigns to lower a school’s carbon footprint and waste stream.  From large state schools to small private colleges, student environmental groups are organizing to make their place of education cooler.  Students at University of Washington, which ranked in fourth place on the Sierra Club list, helped implement one of the nation’s most successful “green fee” programs, ensuring a certain amount of student tuition goes toward funding sustainable projects.  Meanwhile at schools like Case Western in Ohio, students are organizing to clean up or shut down on-campus power plants.  In other parts of the country, students have organized to ban bottled water on their campuses, or improve the sustainability of campus vehicle fleets.  Many of these efforts have played an important part in shifting educational institutions toward a cooler existence.
 
If you are in college or know someone who is, check out the complete list of schools rated by the Sierra Club to see if yours made the grade.  If not, there is always next year to do better.  Making schools “cooler” is an ongoing effort, which promises to keep college and university campuses at the forefront of the transition to a cleaner, greener economy. 
 
Here are the Sierra Club’s top 20 coolest schools:
  1. Green Mountain College
  2. Dickinson College
  3. Evergreen State College
  4. University of Washington
  5. Stanford University
  6. University of California, Irvine
  7. Northland College
  8. Harvard University
  9. College of the Atlantic
  10. Hampshire College
  11. University of California, Santa Cruz
  12. Middlebury College
  13. University of Colorado, Boulder
  14. Warren Wilson College
  15. University of California San Diego
  16. University of California, Davis
  17. University of Vermont
  18. Georgia Tech
  19. University of Pennsylvania
  20. New York University 
Photo credit: Kevin Dooley
  

EPA to Finalize Ozone Pollution Rules this Fall

By: Nick Engelfried 

August 24, 2010
   
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says this fall it will finalize new rules regulating ozone, the main component of smog pollution.  After releasing draft ozone standards in January, the EPA originally planned to release the final rules this month – in August of 2010.  Now the agency says the rule making process has been delayed a few months but that it hopes to have the new ozone rules completed by late October of this year.
 
In nature, ozone in the Earth’s upper atmosphere forms a protective shield against ultraviolet radiation from the sun – the now-famous “ozone layer.”  However at ground level ozone is considered a harmful pollutant, commonly referred to as “smog.”  Ground level ozone is the result of a chemical reaction between nitrous oxides from pollution sources like cars and coal plants, and volatile organic compounds produced by a wide range of human activities.  Though the visual impacts of smog are most readily apparent, ozone also contributes to health problems like asthma, lung cancer, heart attacks, and other heart and breathing-related conditions.  Exposure to high levels of ozone pollution over time can result in serious illness or death.
 
Federal regulations on ozone pollution, which the EPA is required to implement under the Clean Air Act, have been meant to determine what’s considered an unsafe level of ozone in the lower atmosphere, and limit emissions of pollutants like nitrous oxides that cause ozone smog.  In the late years of the George W. Bush administration, the EPA proposed rules on ozone pollution which health and environmental groups argue were insufficient to protect public health.  A compilation of 1,700 studies by scientists recommended stronger limits be placed on ozone to protect the public from unsafe levels of pollution.
 
Then came January of 2010 when the EPA, under the leadership Barack Obama-appointed administrator Lisa P. Jackson, announced it would re-examine the issue of ozone pollution.  The EPA released a draft of new rules which environmental groups welcomed as a crackdown on ozone and the many health problems that go with it.  Unsurprisingly, the oil and coal industries have opposed the stronger rules and attempted to get lawmakers on their side.  In May of this year, seven US senators sent a letter to the EPA asking the agency not to strengthen the Bush-era ozone rules, citing concerns that pollution regulations would be economically harmful. 
 
Yet a new analysis by national energy experts concludes polluters like the electric industry could meet new requirements to reduce ozone and other types of pollution without great hardship.  The report is co-authored by Susan Tierney, who has worked for both the Clinton and Obama administrations on energy issues, and is generally considered an expert in the field.  According to the report, new pollution rules are likely to mean the retirement of some of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal plants, and replacement of these plants with cleaner sources of electricity generation.
  
Now both industry and health and environmental groups are waiting to see what final rules on ozone the EPA unveils this fall.  The strength of the eventual regulations will influence public health in dozens of major cities suffering from high levels of smog, and will help determine air quality all over the country.
  
Photo credit: Marcy Reiford

South Carolina Permits Dogs to Attack Bears for Sport

COLUMBIA, S.C. August 23 — An undercover investigation by the Humane Society has caught on tape the horrific scenes of a practice called bear baying currently conducted solely in the state of South Carolina. Bear baying, also known as bear baiting, is an event where a captive black bear is chained to a stake in an enclosed area, and is then set upon consecutively by packs of hunting dogs.  
Prior to the encounter, which can last up to 4 hours, the bear’s claws and some of its teeth are removed, rendering the animal defenseless. The goal of the bear baying is to have the dogs cause the bear to rear up on its hind legs. Hunters claim this practice is intended to train the dogs to hunt bear, since when a bear is on its hind legs, its belly and vital organs are exposed to the aim of a hunter’s gun. However, as seen in the undercover video, bear baying is treated more like a sport in South Carolina, where dozens of spectators including children, line up to watch the spectacle.


“It’s inexcusable to stake a defanged, declawed, defenseless bear and offer the poor creature up as a living piñata for dogs to attack,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society. “The people of South Carolina will be outraged to know that there are people still staging these spectacles in the state.”
The specific bear baying events caught on tape by the Humane Society were organized by the American Plott Association and the National Plott Hound Association, groups that according to the Humane Society, are affiliated with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club.

Engraving of a bear baying contest in the 17th century.

Bear baying in South Carolina is similar to animal blood sport competitions staged in the 16th and 17th centuries. These practices are now rarely permitted anywhere in the world, except for Pakistan (and South Carolina).
Although South Carolina permits the practice because it is claimed to be for dog “training” purposes, in other states, a mechanical or taxidermied bear is used to train hunting dogs. The only state in America that openly allows this practice to occur is South Carolina.

Oil Companies Plan to Sponsor “Citizen Rallies”

By: Nick Engelfried 

August 20, 2010
  
While members of the US Senate make the town hall rounds in their home districts this summer, they are likely to hear at least two opposing viewpoints on clean energy.  On the one hand, environmental groups and supporters of federal action to curb global warming plan to use the Senate’s summer recess to vent their frustration at senators’ inability to pass climate and clean energy legislation this year.  In contrast, other voices at the town halls are likely to insist that energy legislation which cracks down on big polluters would cost jobs in the US.  On the face of it, the situation seems like a perfect example of two opposite viewpoints each employing the democratic process to make their own arguments. 
 
But a closer look at what’s going on reveals a very different picture.  It turns out the major force behind so-called “citizen rallies” that oppose curbing carbon emissions is an oil-industry sponsored campaign to give the impression that there’s widespread opposition to climate legislation.
 
There is nothing new about oil companies and other fossil fuel industries using their influence to generate a less-than-genuine “grassroots” movement.  In fact the practice has become so common that environmentalists have a word for it: initiatives that appear citizen-driven but actually originate with corporations are referred to as fake or “astroturf” movements.  In one example from last September, a major Labor Day event in West Virginia which was billed as a jobs rally turned out to actually be the brainchild of corporations like the coal mining company Massey Energy.  The rally appears to have been part of Massey’s strategy to convince law makers that coal mining provides essential jobs in the eastern US. 
 
In a similar manner, this summer industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute plan to turn out as many oil industry sympathizers as possible to senator town hall meetings, presumably hoping the movement will appear to be locally based and supported by the grassroots.  Whether these “citizen rallies” will be able to shake off the appearance of a corporate PR campaign is another question.
 
Meanwhile environmental and climate groups argue that the real grassroots movement brewing this summer is an increasingly loud chorus of voices calling for action to reduce global warming and create green jobs through investments in renewable energy.  Citizen advocacy groups like 350.org, 1Sky, True Majority, and Public Citizen are encouraging supporters to attend town halls and ask senators why they failed to pass a climate bill.  350.org alone has already registered more than 2,500 people to “shadow” senators at upcoming town halls.  A coalition of environmental groups known as Clean Energy Works is getting creative, and will be holding CarnivOIL street theater events in 25 cities, designed to make a mockery of senators’ beholdenenss to the oil industry.
 
In the end, it appears to be an over-simplification to say two equally authentic viewpoints will be dueling to be heard at town halls across the US this summer.  Rather, one truly grassroots movement will be pushing for solution to global warming and invetsments in renewable energy.  At the same time a corporate-based campaign to prevent action on climate issues will be attempting to use senator town halls as an opportunity to push oil industry interests.
   
Photo credit: Futureatlas.com

More Groups Using Art for Climate Activism

By: Nick Engelfried 

August 19, 2010
  
On Tuesday climate activists in Portland, Oregon brought a new and artistic spin to a debate that’s been raging for over a year: how soon to retire the state’s only coal-fired power plant and biggest contributor to global warming pollution.  The action in Portland was just one example of a growing trend in the national and global climate movement.  More and more people and organizations, frustrated with world leaders’ failure to dramatically curb carbon emissions, are turning to art as a medium to express the vision of a sustainable future. 
 
In many cases students and young people have been the first to seize on paint brushes or canvas as new tools to push for action on global warming, and this was the case during Tuesday’s action.  Students and recent graduates from colleges and universities across the state of Oregon participated in organizing an event that included creation of a seven-foot-long community painting, and a sidewalk rally outside the offices of one of Oregon’s biggest polluters. 
  
At 8:00am on Tuesday, youth organizers from the Sierra Student Coalition and the Cascade Climate Network set up the canvas in Portland’s Waterfront Park, and invited passersby to join them in painting an image that depicts Oregon’s transition from reliance on the Boardman Coal Plant, to a future powered by clean electricity and renewable energy.  Park users from small children to grandparents stopped to take up a paint brush and contribute a few minutes of their creativity.
 
At noon event participants carried the completed piece of artwork to the nearby offices of Portland General Electric (PGE), the company that operates the Boardman Coal Plant.  Student activists spoke about the need to transition to clean energy as quickly as possible, and urged PGE to retire its coal plant by 2015 – the fastest and cheapest timescale recommended by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  While interested bystanders emerged from the building to take a look, the painting was presented in full view of PGE’s windows. 
 
“The creation of this painting is a metaphor for how we can solve our energy problems,” said Katherine Takaoka, a student and Linfield College who helped organize the event.  “It was made possible by bringing people together, and by working together in our communities we can make the transition to clean energy.” 
 
This event in Portland was just one of the latest instances when environmental groups and those concerned about a warming planet have taken a breather from reciting facts and statistics, and used art to make the possibility of a better future more tangible.  Over the last couple years, major figures in the environmental movement like author and activist Bill McKibben have urged climate organizers to take up art as weapon of choice – and seen this advice taken by communities all over the planet. 
  
During an international day of climate action on October 24th of last year, thousands of groups in almost every country on the globe held events to draw attention to the maximum level of carbon dioxide that’s safe for the atmosphere: 350 parts per million.  Many of these actions employed visual art to get the message across, with groups of people forming giant numbers from their bodies and performance artists designing dances with 350 steps. 
 
Tuesday’s event in Portland was unique because it is perhaps the first example of artistic techniques being employed in the effort to move Oregon away from coal dependence and close the Boardman Coal Plant by 2015.  After months of organizing around public hearings and official meetings, activists engaged in the youth branch of the campaign decided it was time to try something slightly different.  Students from Linfield College came up with the idea of a giant painting, and designed the image template used for the event. 
 
Photo credits: Mika Hernandez
 

Bottled Water Sales Decline Two Years in a Row

August 15, 2010
   
After years of rapid growth in US bottled water sales, it seems this commodity long eschewed by environmentalists may finally be losing public favor.  According to a report released this summer, US bottled water sales declined for the second year in a row during 2009, while revenue decreased for producers of the commodity.  While the economic recession no doubt had a hand in the decline, years of work from environmental and consumer groups may have helped set the stage for bottled water’s abandonment.  It seems more and more consumers are finding out what many non-profit organizations have been saying all along: that bottled water is a luxury which takes a toll on both the planet and consumer wallets.
 
The first several years of the twenty-first century saw beverage companies like Nestle, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo successfully market bottled water to millions of US consumers, raking in a profit in the process.  Yet simultaneously a national movement was growing to counter marketing by the bottled water industry.  Non-profits like Corporate Accountability International have mounted educational campaigns claiming bottled water is of no better quality than water from the tap.  Meanwhile bottling and re-selling water uses energy and resources unnecessarily, while raising serious questions about the morality of privatizing a life necessity. 
 
Every year the manufacture and transport of bottled water in the US consumes about 30 million gallons of oil, while three out of every four plastic water bottled produced end up being thrown away instead of recycled.  These statistics have prompted many environmentalists to join the campaign against bottled water.  Meanwhile other groups and individuals are concerned about the product’s effect on human health.  A report from 2009 showed bottled water to actually be less regulated than tap water, raising concerns that greater oversight of the industry is needed.  
 
At the same time awareness has been growing around the world that privatization of water supplies could have a serious impact on communities all over the planet.  Late last month the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution stating that access to water should be regarded as a human right, and that all nations should work to provide sanitary water supplies to the public.  “The General Assembly vote is a clear victory for the water justice movement,” said Kelle Louaillier of Corporate Accountability International, soon after the vote took place.  Passage of the UN resolution was spurred in part by the fact that close to 900 million people around the world lack access to safe drinking water today.
 
Even after years of public education and campaigning, the shift away from bottled water in the US did not really begin until the economic recession of 2008.  Total volume of bottled water sold in the US declined 1% that year, and dropped another 2.5% in 2009.  Economic hard times have been largely blamed for bottled water’s dip in popularity, but this assumption may miss the wider point.  Were it not for years of education, and studies showing the health and environmental impacts of bottled water, consumers might not so readily have crossed the item off their shopping lists once money became tighter.
 
The question now, for those who see privatized water as problematic, is whether the decline in bottled water sales will continue even as the economy recovers.  This may be the real test of whether the drop-off in popularity is just a temporary phenomenon brought on by recession, or a sign of a real shift in public perception of the bottled water industry.
 
Photo credit: Nick on Flickr,

Google Says Oil Companies’ Ballot Measure Would Kill Jobs

August 12, 2010
 
On Tuesday some of California’s leading high tech investors came together for a conference at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, to discuss prospects for clean energy jobs creation in the state.  Though California is a state that’s been hit hard by the economic recession, clean tech and an expanding green energy sector have been among the few hopeful areas in its economy.  Now companies with an interest in green tech, like Google, are trying to determine whether California will continue to be the best place to locate their plants and the jobs that go with them. 
 
And while California has immense potential to continue in clean energy and green jobs creation, it became clear Tuesday that a well-funded campaign orchestrated by major polluters threatens to stop California from continuing to develop clean energy.  Passage of proposition 23, a state ballot initiative up for a vote this November, would not only be a major setback for state efforts to curb global warming pollution but a blow to clean tech industries and green jobs creation.
 
If passed into law Proposition 23 would suspend California’s major climate law, AB 32, for an indefinite amount of time.  From the early days of the campaign to pass Prop 23, it has been well known that the effort’s major backers are Texas oil companies with an interest in delaying action on global warming; the oil corporations Valero Energy and Tesoro have together contributed 75% of the funds used to garner support for the initiative.  Unsurprisingly, Prop 23’s backers have attempted to frame their campaign as an effort to stop climate legislation from killing California jobs.  But it seems Prop 23 might in fact kill more jobs than it creates – or at least, Google and other clean tech investors think so. 
 
Google’s “green energy czar” Bill Weihl painted a bleak picture for California’s economy if Prop 23 passes.  Right now, Weihl said, California is an ideal place for clean energy companies and investors to locate.  But disabling the state’s global law would withdraw incentives for clean energy development, and likely cause green companies to move elsewhere.  If Prop 23 becomes law companies may choose to locate in other states or in countries like China and India, rather than in California. 
 
Vinod Khosla, of the clean tech investment company Khosla Ventures, also spoke up in opposition to Prop 23 Tuesday.  The polluter-backed ballot measure, Khosla said, would destroy California’s chances of attracting the “next ten Googles” of clean energy to locate within its boundaries.  Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, also weighed in on the discussion.  Nichols claims that California’s climate legislation threatens jobs only hold if you look exclusively at very energy-intensive sectors like heavy manufacturing.  High tech and clean tech investments, where much of California’s hopes for job growth lie, are encouraged rather than discouraged by state policies that incentivize clean energy and reduce carbon emissions. 
 
Even the major utility PG&E supports keeping California’s climate law in place, and has joined Google and others in opposing Prop 23.  PG&E says clean energy policies in California have already helped the utility create green jobs as it attempts to secure 20% of its electricity from renewable sources.  Meanwhile Weihl of Google states that 500,000 jobs have been created in California’s clean tech sector in the last several years, despite the economic downturn. 
  
All this has happened despite the fact that AB 32 is not scheduled to fully kick in until 2012.  Up to this point smaller clean energy and climate laws, along with the expectation that AB 32’s implementation will eventually create further incentives for clean tech, have been enough to convince clean energy companies to locate in California.  Disabling AB 32 before it even really sets in would make California a much less attractive market for these companies.  As other states and countries move forward with their own plans to encourage clean energy, investors may choose to locate there instead.
 
Despite the focus on what will happen if Prop 23 passes, Tuesday’s conference was not an entirely glum affair.  Indeed, many observers saw the event as effectively a kick-off rally to build support for California’s climate law and opposition to Prop 23.  Now the job for Google and others will be to make sure Californians across the state understand the true implications of the November ballot measure, and the impact it would have on green industry jobs. 
  

Giant Ice Island Breaks Off Greenland Glacier

August 10, 2010
   
Scientists report that an ice island four times as big as Manhattan has broken off one of Greenland’s Petermann Glacier, and is now floating through the waters that separate Greenland and Canada.  It’s the largest piece of ice to break away from Greenland’s two main glacier’s in almost 50 years, and comes at a time when Arctic ice cover is steadily retreating and glaciers at both the world’s poles are growing smaller. 
 
While damage to any one glacier can never be attributed with certainty to global warming, the increasing frequency of events like this certainly are suggestive that a warming climate is causing irreversible damage to polar ecosystems.
 
On Thursday, about one fourth of the Petermann Glacier’s floating ice shelf broke away and fell into the ocean.  The resultant floating island of ice is 600 feet thick, and with a surface area of around 100 square miles.  If a chunk of ice this big were melted down, it would be enough to supply the entire United States with drinking water for 120 days.  Yet Thursday was just the latest and most dramatic example of a growing trend in the arctic. 
 
Just last month another large ice chunk, this one about 2.7 square miles across, broke off of Greenland as well.  The July event pushed the edge of Greenland’s ice shelf further inland than at any known time in history.  Similarly in 2008 a ten-square-mile ice island broke away from the Petermann Glacier, and in 2001 a 34-square-mile piece broke off.  Though glacier “calving” is a natural phenomenon, it is very likely global warming will continue to increase the frequency of such events in the future.  Scientists are watching the new ice island off of Greenland to see if it will fuse to some land mass, break up into smaller pieces, or perhaps interfere with ocean shipping routes. 
 
As Arctic temperatures have warmed over the last decade, melting ice has formed pools of water on the surface of Greenland’s glaciers.  This liquid water absorbs more heat from the sun than ice does, and this contributes to further warming and even more ice melting.  Eventually liquid water seeps into cracks in the ice, and lubricates the movement of massive glaciers.  Scientists believe this has contributed to Arctic glaciers migrating toward the ocean more quickly, at last falling into the sea or forcing partially submerged ice flows to break away.  If all of Greenland’s ice melted it could cause sea levels around the world to rise by as much as 23 feet, endangering major cities like Los Angeles that are located a short distance from the coast. 
 
Meanwhile on the other side of the planet, ice in Antarctica is also breaking up or melting.  In 2002 a massive piece of the Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica collapsed into the ocean, and in 2006 climate scientists announced global warming was almost certainly one of the causes of the breakup.  Both the Arctic and Antarctica appear to be feeling the effects of a changing climate sooner than many other parts of the globe, providing a glimpse of what a warming world might look like.
 
Like elsewhere on the planet, climatic shifts at the Earth’s poles are influenced by many factors, some of which have nothing to do with human activity.  Yet the frequency of large ice breakaway events from over the last ten years is striking, and certainly consistent with the idea that global warming will result in reduced ice packs around the world.
 
Photo credits: Rita Willaert, Thomas Pix

Pet Parade: Bullfighting and Debarking

It’s been a good few months for animal rights advocates: Massachusetts banned surgeries to silence a dog or cat and a Spanish province approved a ban on bullfighting.

The silencing procedure, called debarking, severs or removes an animal’s vocal cords making it difficult or nearly impossible for a dog or cat to vocalize. Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., signed a bill April 22 banning the procedure, which activists said left scar tissue in the pet’s throat making it difficult for the animal to breathe.

Some dogs and cats that underwent “debarking” were left wheezing, coughing and choking for the rest of their lives, said Beth Birnbaum of the Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets. The law bars veterinarians from performing the surgery and carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $2,500 fine.

“This is so remarkable, the passage of this legislation,” she told the Boston Globe.

Massachusetts may also consider making it illegal for landlords to require a cat be declawed or a dog be devocalized to rent an apartment.

Opponents of debarking said it was usually performed on dogs owned by commercial breeders and the public should understand it was done for convenience.

Animal advocates say it’s more important to understand why a pet is making noise, adding behavior modification and obedience training can help keep chronically noisy pets quiet.

Is the dog barking because it is left alone, isolated or unsupervised for long periods? Is there constant noise in the environment, especially in urban areas? Does the dog have other bad social habits like constant chewing?

Some techniques to mitigate barking include confronting a dog immediately when it starts to bark. Approach the animal and say “No!” or immediately spritz it with a blast of water from a spray bottle, BarkingDogs.net suggests. Don’t reinforce bad behavior by running to play with a dog to get it to stop barking. You have to be in charge, not the pet.

Some owners use electronic bark collars that deliver a mild electric shock when the dog begins to bark. Others leave a radio or television on when they leave home so the pet left alone won’t be totally bored.

Exercise or the presence of another pet, even a singing or talking bird, can ease isolation and be a good non-aversion barking deterrent. The Monks of New Skete, in their book “How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend,” warn keeping a dog in a rectangular outdoor dog run can encourage fence running and incessant barking in some dogs. Their advice: Enrich the dogs’ environment by turning a kennel into a fun obstacle course with bridges, tunnels, curved boards, rope toys and safely hanging toys with bells. Shrubs planted around a dog run can block a dog’s view and help keep it quiet.

In the Spanish region of Catalonia, lawmakers voted to ban bullfighting, considered a part of traditional Spanish culture, starting in 2012.

Animal welfare groups had campaigned against bullfighting for more than 18 months calling the ritualized killing of bulls barbaric and outdated.

However, observers said bullfighting has been on the decline in the region for years and had been mainly a draw for tourists. They contend an end of bullfighting is akin to the gradual disappearance of the afternoon siesta as Spain modernized.

“This is a historic day for all who have worked to promote animal rights in a modern society like ours,” animal rights activist Jose Ramon Mallen of Fundacion Equanimal told the New York Times. “This is not about politics and Catalan identity but about ethics and showing that it’s simply wrong to enjoy watching an animal getting killed in public.”

Catalans have long sought greater independence from Madrid and the rest of Spain.

Odds and Ends:

While some 4H members may consider a prized bull more pet than livestock, few farmers go as far a Canadian bison rancher Henry Makinson, who lets buffalo roam inside his home in Grandview, Manitoba. The 80-year-old rancher allows his massive pets inside a one-room farmhouse and a larger home, and one bison likes to lie down and nap on the living room carpet. The Winnipeg Free Press said Makinson’s bison can perform tricks like dancing in a conga-like line at rodeos.

Best Friends Pet Care Resort opens Aug. 27 at Disney World in Florida. People traveling with their pets to the Magic Kingdom can drop them at a 50,000-square-foot resort that includes a water park for dogs, a “kitty city,” VIP suites with flat-screen televisions and two doggy day camp rooms that open onto a yard. The suites rent for $69 to $79 a night. Smaller pets like rabbits and ferrets can stay for $12 to $23 a night, but no reptiles or primates are allowed.

Chew Chew, an all-organic restaurant for pets, opened in Sydney, Australia. The popular spot has a regularly changing menu with such entrees as beef steak, carrot and shitake mushrooms, goat yogurt jelly and lamb bones and chicken wings — for dogs and cats only. Pet owners can buy a coffee or cappuccino next door for themselves.

Online voting ends Aug. 16 for the second annual “VPI Hambone Award, given to the pet responsible for the most unusual pet insurance claim of the year. The award is named after a dog that got stuck in a refrigerator and ate a Thanksgiving ham. This year’s nominees include a Labrador retriever that ate an entire bee hive — bees and all — and a cat that tumbled around inside a clothes dryer. www.VPIHamboneAward.com

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2010 Sets Records for Heat, Fires, and Floods

August 6, 2010
 
If this summer feels like an extra hot one, it isn’t just your mind playing tricks.  Data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this year concluded that combined global land and ocean temperatures for January through June of 2010 were warmer on average than any other six-month period since accurate record keeping began.  March, April, May, and June of 2010 each broke new records for high temperatures. 
 
Though multiple factors no doubt contributed to turn up the heat in 2010, global warming caused by human activities was very likely one of them.  Combine the data on global temperatures with the spate of natural disasters that seems to have accompanied the hottest half-year on record, and the implications are alarming to say the least.
  
Like yearly temperature fluctuations, no one natural disaster can be pinned down to global warming or a changing climate.  Yet 2010 certainly has seen a large number of heat and storm-related disasters, many of which have broken records of their own.  Russia has been hit by its worst heat wave in decades, which in turn has led to the worst wildfires in recent Russian history and the destruction of ten million acres of potential farmland. 
 
Meanwhile Pakistan has suffered from the worst flooding that country has experienced in lifetimes – a disaster that has affected more than four million people.  After years of record temperatures, droughts, and bush fires, Australia continues to experience major heat waves.  And meanwhile in the US, California is suffering from yet another summer of large wildfires.  
 
While it’s impossible to trace any one of these events directly back to global warming, what’s certain is that rising global temperatures will tend to create conditions that make heat waves, droughts and flooding, fires, and intense tropical storms more likely.  Even the heavy snows and cold snaps experienced by eastern US cities at the start of this year are consistent with a planet growing steadily warmer overall.  Climate scientists predict that as global warming disrupts wind currents and weather patterns, areas like the eastern US may actually end up experiencing colder winters.
 
Major news outlets, however, have been slow to connect 2010’s spate of natural disasters to the record temperatures and a warming global climate.  Bloggers and online writers have expressed frustration over what they see as a failure by the mainstream media to pick up on trend of huge significance.  “In the era of global warming,” writes Jamie Henn of the climate activist group 350.org, “it’s time to start seeing isolated floods, droughts, and fires as part of the larger violence we’re inflicting on our increasingly fragile planet.”
 
Statistically speaking, what’s more significant than this year’s record-setting temperatures is the fact that the last decade (2000-2009) was the warmest ever recorded.  That’s because global temperatures will always vary somewhat from one year to the next – but over the span of a decade, overall trends become much more apparent. 
  
Data from the past few decades clearly shows that despite geographic and year-to-year variability, the planet is growing warmer over time.  Since the late nineteenth century, worldwide temperatures have increased by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  While it doesn’t sound like much, that increase is enough to impact the lives of millions of people throughout the world.
 
Yet despite rising temperatures, public belief in global warming was shaken last year when Internet hackers released a trove of emails between climate scientists, stored at the University of East Anglia.  The hackers claimed language in some of these messages pointed to scientists attempting to fudge evidence that might have discredited global warming. 
  
After the release of the emails, several universities formed third-body panels to investigate whether researchers had engaged in scientific fraud.  They concluded climate scientists had not in fact attempted to mislead the public, and that nothing in the hacked emails actually undermines the overwhelming scientific evidence for global warming.
  
Photo credit: Matt and Kim Rudge