List of U.S. Environmental Organizations

EPA
CC Flickr photo of the EPA courtesy of mccready.

The environment is kind of a big deal — it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It should be no surprise that there are a bunch of different, diverse organizations set up to protect, advocate for and regulate the environment.

Here’s a list of environmental organizations that are based in the United States. Included are both government and non-profit groups.

Sierra Club
Founded by famed naturalist John Muir in 1892, the Sierra Club is America’s oldest and most well-known conservation society. They are leading voices in the national discourse about the environment.

National Audubon Society
The Audubon Society was incorporated in 1905 and named after renowned ornithologist James Audubon, whose name is synonymous with the wealth of birds that he described, painted and cataloged. The society advocates for habitat protection for birds, among other programs.

Riverkeeper
Based in New York, Riverkeeper is devoted to the rehabilitation and preservation of the Hudson River and the watersheds that provide New York City with its drinking water. They belong to the international Waterkeeper Alliance, an umbrella group for water conservation.

National Geographic Society
Based in Washington D.C., NGS is one of the most venerable non-profit scientific organizations in the world. Their focus is on natural science, archeology and conservation. They also publish National Geographic magazine

Sea Shepherd
Using direct action, Sea Shepherd employs a fleet of seafaring vessels to intercede against whaling and protect ocean life. Founded by former Greenpeace member Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd was the focus of Animal Planet’s television series Whale Wars.

The Nature Conservancy
Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy is a conservation group concerned with protecting vital wildlife habitats and bodies of water. Through the purchase of land and its community and corporate partnerships, the Conservancy has protected 17 million acres of land in the U.S.

Rising Tide North America
RTNA uses strategies that include non-violent direct action to combat the root causes of global climate change. This has included protesting at coal-fired power plants and highlighting the practice of “greenwashing,” a tactic used by corporate polluters where marginal environmental policies are implemented to mask environmentally-destructive practices.

Appalachian Voices
Seeking the protection of the Appalachian mountain range from mountaintop-removal coal mining and preserve their traditional culture, Appalachian voices was founded in 1997.

The Big Green Bus
The Big Green Bus was founded by Dartmouth students in New Hampshire, in 2005. The bus runs on waste vegetable oil and tours communities as a conservation demonstration project.

Ecotrust
With their motto that “the economy of man and the ecology of nature are inseparable,” Ecotrust finds novel approaches to community development and investment that works alongside traditional means of conservation. They seek to orient communities towards recognition of natural wealth.

The Rainforest Action Network
The Rainforest Action Network was founded in 1985 to protect rainforests and natural habitats being threatened by development or resource extraction. They have highlighted global financial and corporate connections to large, polluting projects and policies.

Environmental Protection Agency
Founded in 1970, by Richard Nixon, the EPA is the main regulatory and protective body for the environment in the U.S. The agency’s mandate has been both weakened and strengthened by subsequent presidential administrations and congresses.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The main U.S. scientific body regarding oceans and climate, NOAA conducts vast research and advises the government on the best practices for administering oceans and coastal areas.

Department of the Interior
The DOI administers most federal lands (including national parks and recreation areas) and oversees land sales and extraction of natural resources. They also have jurisdiction in dealing with indigenous groups that reside within the United States.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement
Formerly known as the Minerals Management Service, The BOEMRE oversees offshore extraction of natural gas and oil on the Outer Continental Shelf. The organization was reorganized and renamed following its criticism during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Did we miss anything? Leave a comment and let us know so that we can update the list and keep it comprehensive.

World Habitat Day – 10/5/2009

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Photo courtesy of oxfam international at Flickr.com

Poverty has drastic effects on the natural world. People living without access to treated water, sustainable fuel supplies, or adequate food can have a huge impact on their surroundings. Slums and destructive farming techniques can do as much damage as SUVs and chemical spills.

To highlight this issue, the UN has an annual event that focuses attention on living conditions. World Habitat Day falls on the first Monday in October. The theme of this year’s celebration is Planning our Urban Future.

PE - World Habitat Day - andreasnilsson1976
Photo courtesy of andreasnilsson1976 at Flickr.com

Why should we focus on the urban environment? People are moving into cities at a staggering rate, and the way that these cities grow is going to have a huge impact on surrounding areas. At the dawn of the twentieth century, only 14% of humanity lived in cities. Now, more than half of all people call a city their home. Some of the largest cities have more than 10,000,000 inhabitants.

People who are starving are more interested in survival than in wildlife conservation. When your stomach is empty, conserving natural resources is an abstract concern. Without working sewage systems, trash services, or reliable electricity, people are unable to minimize their impact on the natural world.

Many endangered birds have beautiful plumage or produce enchanting birdsong, but starving people are unlikely to be interested in watching or listening to Blyth’s Tragopan Pheasants or Mandarin Ducks. They’re more likely to eat them.

Poverty is tightly associated with a host of environmental problems, including sewage contamination of wetlands, deforestation, and poaching ( for food as well as profit). When drought or poor management cause crops to fail, baboons, gazelles, elephants, and other endangered animals often show up on the dinner table. Native plants and animals are often featured in local medical and spiritual practices; when these species are harvested with modern technology, they are often unable to reproduce fast enough to replace their losses.

Poverty and cultural attachment were cited as the main reasons for bushmeat exploitation. Bushmeat-eating households regard bushmeat as more tasty and medicinal than livestock meat and fish

Looking down the road, there is major concern that climate change and over exploitation of resources by developed countries are going to make the problem worse. As new land is cleared for human use, wildlife habitat disappears. As the number of people living in an area grows, so do appetites for food and timber.

While a lot of attention has been focused on how McMansions waste resources, poor urban development is a problem that affects both the affluent and the indigent. For example, growing slums are also destroying forests to supply building materials and charcoal (for cooking and staying warm in the winter). Disease and illiteracy are major problems in these shanty towns that can easily affect the wealthier neighborhoods of town.

PE - World Habitat Day - The Advocacy Project
Photo courtesy of the Advocacy Project at Flickr.com

Even though poachers earn very little money from killing endangered species, wealth is relative. Small sums of money are often a kings ransom in third world countries. People who have no other job prospects are often tempted to break the law, especially when enforcement is weak or when the animals are seen as a nuisance.

“A villager can earn as much in one night from poisoning and skinning a tiger as he could earn from farming in five years. Eventually, that skin can sell for up to US$6,000 [HK$46,800] in Lhasa.”

To address these environmental issues, it’s important to tackle the root causes of deforestation, resource depletion, and poverty. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is encouraging leaders to engage their citizens in urban planning and to avoid letting inertia determine how we deal with these problems. If you have an idea or a novel solution to fighting urban blight or dependency, now is the time to speak up and act out.

According to the United Nations, more than 100 million people in the world today are homeless. Millions more face a severe housing problem living without adequate sanitation, with irregular or no electricity supply and without adequate security.

Even if those millions of people are squatting in alleyways, hiding under tin sheets, and digging through garbage today, tomorrow they will move mountains and uproot forests in their search for food and shelter. The question of our generation is how to enlist their help in building a healthier, safer, and greener future.

PE - World Habitat Day - Enzinho83
Photo courtesy of Enzinho83 at Flickr.com

In the news: Environmentally friendly legislation and programs

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Photo courtesy of WallyG at Flickr.com

Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we’re green news junkies. We keep an eagle eye out for the latest science, social, and environmental developments and try to sum up the big picture. A lot of exciting things are going on right now, with recent legislation leading the way.

Many gardeners, ranchers, and farmers are concerned about a Food Safety Bill that’s pending in the House. There have been rumors that this legislation would redefine the word “organic”, or outlaw small scale farms, or make it impossible to grow heirloom seeds, or drive up the price of locally grown food. HR 875 has been the subject of message board arguments, blog punditry, and even chain mail. Before you call your Congressman and voice concerns, it’s important to do some fact checking about HR 875.

There’s also some interesting news about ethanol and biofuels production. The percentage of ethanol in gasoline is currently capped at 10% (E10), but Ag Secretary Vilsak is urging lawmakers to raise the amount of ethanol that’s allowed in transportation fuel. He’s calling for E12 gasoline, and we may see 15-20% ratios if the Environmental Protection Agency approves E15 or E20 gasoline. This move face opposition from equipment manufacturers who are worried that high ethanol blends may harm engines. Lawnmower and boat engines are particularly at risk.

Several states are making green news too. Michigan is offering scholarships to train unemployed and underemployed workers for green collar jobs – these Michigan Promise scholarships may help the state survive waves of layoffs in the automotive sector. The funds come from Tobacco settlements and are not at risk from the declining tax base in the state.

Illinois, California, Texas and other states are rushing to build transmission lines that will carry wind generated electricity from the countryside into the big city. A recently proposed line called the Green Power Express would run from the Dakotas into Chicago. This is one of many infrastructure projects that could pay dividends in reducing pollution and reducing dependence on foreign energy sources at the same time.

Private enterprise is also partnering with city and state governments to encourage energy saving projects. “Green Mortgage” programs allow homeowners to take advantage of the tax break on mortgage interest to finance energy saving additions and renovations to their homes. These programs will funnel money towards installing insulation and energy efficient windows, or replacing light bulbs with skylights and upgrading Energy Star appliances. In the process, they will generate manufacturing and construction jobs now while boosting energy efficiency of homes for decades to come.

Do you know of any other big green news? Feel free to share in the comments section below!

How are you spending Earth Hour on March 28th?

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Photo courtesy of Earth Hour Global at Flickr.com.

Once a year, environmentalists around the world turn out the lights for an hour. This year, Earth Hour falls on Saturday, March 28th, and many different homes, offices, and government buildings are taking part. The organizers of Earth Hour hope to raise awareness of how much energy we waste with inefficient lighting systems. For one hour a year, everyone can take part and see the beauty of the natural sky that’s lost due to light pollution.

The World Wildlife Fund and other environmental organizations are hard at work planning activities for Earth Hour 2009, ranging from star watching and recycling events to tree plantings and slumber parties. Find an Earth Hour event nearby, or if there aren’t any, you can plan one yourself with help from the Earth Hour Facebook group!

Now’s the time to raise your voice and take part. Are businesses and government offices in your town participating in Earth Hour? Check the latest Earth Hour news, and if City Hall isn’t taking part, now is a good time to ask pointed questions of your elected officials. While they’re on the line, why not ask about steps that the city is taking to retrofit energy efficient devices into public buildings and legislation that improves local air quality?

Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate how we destroy the night sky for the other 8,765 hours of the year…
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Photo courtesy of fyngyrz at Flickr.com.

10 Steps to a Healthy Ocean: Protecting our Oceans from Pollution

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Photo courtesy of Webzer at Flickr.com.

The ocean covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface, and it’s a major part of the ecosystem that we rely on. Phytoplankton are responsible for about half of the oxygen produced worldwide. More than 1 billion people rely on fish for a significant part of their diet. The ocean provides food, recreation, clean air, carbon mitigation, inexpensive transport, and many other things that we take for granted. Yet, we’ve been treating the ocean like a dump for centuries. That may have been fine when society produced trash on a very small scale and all of things we threw away were biodegradable, but technology has changed that.

There are thousands of phantom fishing nets that keep killing fish after being abandoned. Sunken ships leak millions of gallons of oil and billions of styrofoam cups end up in the water every year. Even when these events happen thousands of miles away, they have a ripple effect that’s felt worldwide.

The ocean is one continuous body of water. Each sea and bay is connected by strong currents and migrating animals. That means damage done to one part of the ocean will eventually affect all the connected bodies of water. After oil spills happen in the Arctic Ocean, traces of petroleum spread to the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans too.

The oceans are one of many areas around the world where the environment has a direct effect on human health and industry. For example, the rain forests convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and affect climate. Coral reefs nurture schools of fish and they offer passive protection to ports. The organisms that make these areas work are resilient – they’ve survived centuries of natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. Yet some of these areas are under constant stress caused by humans.

Stress factors that threaten wildlife include contamination of water supplies, climate change, human development, and invasive species. Abandoned mines are leaching hazardous chemicals into rivers and lakes. Mangrove forests are being cut down to build beach resorts. River deltas are clogging up with invasive species like zebra mussels and Wakame kelp.

In the face of all these threats, what can we do? Here are a few steps that anyone can take to help protect the health of our oceans.

1) Restore damaged ocean habitat

In areas that have been fished out or poisoned by industry, native species have often been wiped out. But, that doesn’t mean that Cod have been permanently wiped out in the Atlantic, or that scallops will never return to the Virginia fisheries. Jennifer Rich is planting sea grass in an effort to restore the scallop breeding grounds of her home state. She led a volunteer effort off the coast of Virginia to replant eel grass in environmentally damaged areas. Her effort is ongoing, and similar replanting projects could use your help. Wetlands and mangrove forests are especially valuable because they filter sediment, pesticides, and fertilizer runoff before they get to the ocean.

If you’d like to get your hands dirty in another way, plan a beach vacation off of the beaten path. Once a year, the Ocean Conservancy does a worldwide project to remove trash from the shore. Last year, volunteers cleaned up more than 30,000 miles of shoreline. In a single day, more than 7 million pieces of trash were collected for proper disposal. Check with your City Hall – many towns are happy to supply trash bins, rubber gloves, and even boats to anyone who wants to clean up local waterways.

2) Protect natural buffer systems.

Biosystems are nature’s utilities – they desalinate water, absorb carbon, liberate nutrients from the ground, and provide other services free of charge. The plants and animals that make up these systems are often treated as commodities, but killing the goose that lays golden eggs will only put food on the table for a day. Protecting biosystems can pay dividends for years to come.

Forests are an essential buffer for the oceans. Old growth trees neutralize the pH of rain and absorb harmful chemicals before they reach the ocean. Trees that grow in estuaries and along riverways are especially important, but those areas also face increased development pressure and they are easy for loggers to access. Shoreline habitat is being destroyed to build giant shrimp farms and resort hotels. Luckily, there are now sustainable forestry and aquaculture options available. Sustainable logging allows limited harvesting of resources without destroying the natural processes that we benefit from. The next time you buy lumber or land, do some research and check for certifications of sustainability.

3) Substitute organic fertilizer in the place of chemical fertilizers.

When a lawn is overfertilized, the excess fertilizer will usually wash off into the surrounding environment. Fertilizer pollution causes eutrophication in waterways – it saturates the water and promotes algal blooms in nearby lakes. A significant amount of fertilizer runoff will eventually make it out to sea, where it can cause red tides and elevated amounts of harmful bacteria. Surprisingly, residential property has higher levels of fertilizer runoff per acre than agricultural land – possibly because farmers are smarter about how they use fertilizers.

“12-50% of all surface water pollution originates with urban runoff. Additionally, whereas agricultural runoff tends to be limited to nutrients, runoff from roads and parking lots contains a wide variety of additional pollutants including oils, road salts, nutrients, and sediments, as well as hazardous and solid wastes.”

Using organic fertilizers, mulch, and compost can reduce these problems. Not only are these fertilizers slower releasing, but they also contain nutrients in forms that are more easily absorbed by plants. Chemical fertilizers have other problems too. They can form a crust on the top of soil that repels water (blocking soil absorption, increasing runoff, and promoting erosion). Some chemical fertilizers will also kill soil fungus, soil bacteria, earthworms and insects, all of which play a vital role in aerating the soil and helping anchor it to the ground.

4) Landscape with native plants

Plants have evolved to live in just about every area of the country. These native plants are adapted to local soil and weather conditions, so there’s very little need to fertilize or water them. Many beautiful native plants are available. A yard landscaped with unusual plants can really stand out, especially during a drought when all of the neighbors yards turn to dust.

Using native plants to conserve water is known as Xeriscaping. It can be a very effective way to cut your yard’s pollution footprint, and xeriscaped lawns also offer natural habitat to native animals and migrating species. Since native plants are heat and drought tolerant, they also work year round to trap dust, block wind, and prevent erosion.

5) Replace impermeable groundcover

When rain falls on bare ground, about 90% of the water is normally absorbed in the first 30 minutes. On developed land, the surface is usually covered with impervious materials such as asphalt, concrete, and cement. For every 20% of the ground that’s covered with impermeable surfaces, the amount of runoff will increase by roughly 100%. These impervious materials block water from soaking into the ground, but the water has to go somewhere. As a result, residential areas are prone to flash floods and rapid erosion which harm the water quality of nearby rivers and lakes.

You can use this information to make smart landscaping decisions. Instead of putting a sidewalk in your garden, consider using flagstones or building a gravel pathway. If your driveway needs to be resurfaced, check into using permeable cement. There are even companies that build living rooftops – these green roofs not only help insulate your house, but they also protect your roof from heat damage, hail, UV degradation, and animal damage. Permeable areas act as natural buffers to pollution because they help contain runoff.

6) Improve landscaping

Runoff is often caused by poor landscaping. Many older homes have design flaws that cause water to flow much faster than necessary. Not only are these flaws easy to fix, but reducing the speed of runoff will also protect your home from flood damage and erosion. On sharp slopes, you can grow plants with deep roots like prairie grass. Other solutions include placing bales of hay on the slopes to soak up the water or installing terraces. If your building has rain gutters, installing silt fences on the gutters will slow the speed of drainage and reduce the energy of flowing water before it reaches your foundation. If you want to make an even big difference, consider putting a rain barrel or rainwater garden under your downspouts.

When planning these projects, make sure to check local building codes. It’s also important to schedule construction projects for months with low rainfall. While the projects are underway, there will be a lot of exposed soil that can be carried away. Tarps can be used protect bare ground, and sewing quick growing plants will quickly cover up any worrisome spots.

7) Clean up after pets

Housepets are another major source of pollution – pet waste has concentrated forms of some toxic chemicals as well as harmful bacteria that can do serious damage to the ocean. Even the nutrients found in sewage can cause problems because they promote the growth of anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobic bacteria create an Anoxic zone of seawater, where all of the oxygen has been depleted and many organisms are unable to breathe.

Dog droppings and cat poo contain many of the same pathogens that human waste does, such as e coli and salmonella. While human waste is at least partially treated in sewage processing plants, dog waste is often left to decompose wherever the dogs leave it. When it rains or the sprinklers turn on, harmful bacteria in pet waste is spread over the surface of your whole lawn. Runoff will carry this bacteria down the storm drains and eventually out to sea.

One way to reduce the impact of pet waste is to bag up the poop and flush it down the toilet. Septic tanks and sewage systems use good bacteria to breakdown waste into harmless material. It doesn’t matter if the waste comes from a person or a pet – the treatment processes they use can handle almost everything. One thing that you shouldn’t put down the toilet is soiled cat litter. Cat litter is not biodegradable and can also cause damage to pipes.

If you have a cat, you might want to go a step further and change your cat litter. The most common types of pet litter is made from bentonite clay and silica. Not only is do these materials prevent decomposition, but they are also produced by strip mining (and strip mining causes water pollution in its own right):

“Clay-based cat litters are not a by-product of the manufacture of something else, but produced by strip mining. The clay, known as bentonite, is found under several layers of soil, which are removed in the mining process. The first few inches of clay are discarded, and the final clay is removed and processed into cat litter.”

There are natural alternatives to conventional cat litter. Check with your local pet store, or consider making your own cat litter with shredded paper, sawdust or wheat bran. Also, some cats prefer not to use kitty litter. Cat droppings on the ground can be scooped up just like dog poop.

If you use biodegradable pet litter or scoop up pet poo, then you may also want to try composting the pet droppings. There are tumbling composters and vermicomposters (worm composters) made especially for pet waste. It’s important to keep pet poop separate from food scraps and grass clippings. That’s because the harmful bacteria in pet waste are largely inactive and they will only multiply if there’s an available food source. A Pet Waste Composter is effective at quickly reducing pet droppings into useful fertilizer.

8 ) Take endangered species off the menu

It’s not easy being tasty. Our search for exotic flavors has pushed many different species to the edge of extinction, and fish are in serious trouble. Fishing trawlers are catching fish faster than they breed, which means that the fish available at the supermarket are getting younger and thinner. Some species, such as Swordfish and Orange Roughy are frighteningly rare in the wild. As certain species of fish disappear from the ocean, they leave a gap in the foodchain. The things that they feed on will multiply because nothing is controlling their numbers, and the fish that feed on the missing species will be stressed as well. The biodiversity of the ocean is in jeopardy, and people who rely on fish for a major portion of their diet face starvation due to overfishing.

What can you do? The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a great pocket guide to bring with you to the supermarket. This guide lists many fish that are abundant, and offers alternatives to endangered species that you can eat with a clear conscience. Greenpeace publishes a Red List of fish which should not be eaten under any circumstances. These are fish that are critically threatened by overfishing, disease, or habitat loss. There are many other fish that are in the gray area – hundreds of species are at risk but not necessarily endangered. Memorizing these lists is a bit tricky. If you have a less than photographic memory and your wallet doesn’t have room for a cheat sheet, another way you can shop for fish that are plentiful is to look for the Marine Stewardship Council eco-label.

Some species that are at risk in the wild are being raised in fish farms to supplement wild stocks. Farmed fish account for an increasing percentage of total fish caught. There’s some controversy over whether farmed fish or wild seafood are more sustainable though. The footprint and operating procedures of fish farms vary considerably between different locations. Some aquaculture operations are very earth friendly, while others turn pristine shoreline into industrial farmland and introduce devastating diseases that affect nearby wild populations. It’s important to research where your food comes from and choose responsible suppliers.

9) Reduce CO2 Emissions.

When most people think of pollutants, they picture ooze pouring out of factory pipes. Due to environmental regulations and pressure from consumers, almost all of these pipes have been cleaned up. Yet we still affect the environment by releasing chemicals with less immediate effects. Greenhouses gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are changing the way that our planet heats up and cools down. If the greenhouse effect is left unchecked, we could see drastic changes in the temperature of ocean water, reductions in ocean salinity as the polar ice caps melt, and shifts in the paths of major ocean currents (which would cause further temperature changes).

In addition to climate effects, CO2 emissions can have a huge direct impact on the health of ocean life. New research suggests that salt water is becoming more acidic as it absorbs increased amounts of carbon from the air. Changing temperatures and increases acidity are some of the many factors bleaching coral reefs. Elevated temperatures increase the effect of acidity by boosting the rate at which carbonic acid dissolves calcium. Changes in the pH balance of the ocean are also affecting the metabolic rates of various animals, making it harder for many fish to breathe. That’s bad news on top of overfishing and other forms of water pollution. Even highly adaptable species like the Humboldt squid are showing changes in their behavior.

10) Reduce Noise and Light Pollution

Loud noises and bright lights cause major disruptions in the natural world. Animals rely on their sensitive ears and sight to evade predators and find food, yet the oceans are becoming a deafening, blinding place. All creatures have natural rhythms based on the sun and moon, day and night. These rhythms control sleep, breeding, migration, and hibernation, yet the natural rhythms are being disrupted by constant mixed signals due to human activity. The homes of many nocturnal animals are lit up 24 hours a day by beach floodlights and fishing lure lights, and the ocean is filled with the noise of motors, sonar, and mining activity. All this noise and wasted light is a serious form of pollution.

Every year, we waste hundreds of millions of dollars worth of electricity on light that goes in unintended directions. Globe and acorn shaped streetlights are a prime example – they send light out in all directions, yet only 15-25% of that light reaches ground level. The efficiency of these spherical streetlights can be vastly increased by putting a simple reflector dish on the top, and replacing the light with a lower wattage bulb. Redirecting the light can save 75% on electricity costs, and it will also protect animals that are already endangered by human development.

Skyglow and light trespass are also nuisances to human beings. These effects of errant light were first noticed by astronomers and other night owls, but an increasing number of people are finding that they can’t turn off the lights at night. Light pollution has a direct effect on human health, it drags down property values, and it destroys the natural beauty of the night sky.

Some cities, states, and countries have started passing laws to protect wildlife from luminous pollution. These laws will likely become more stringent over time. Unfortunately, there are many sources of light pollution in the ocean, and very few of them are regulated.

Here are some things you can do to reduce light pollution:

  • Upgrade exterior lights to full cut-off fixtures and other dark-sky friendly products
  • Install bulbs with lower wattage lamps
  • Turn-off lights when you’re not in the area
  • Replace automatic timers with motion detectors
  • Discuss the issue with your family, friends, and neighbors
  • Use curtains on all of your windows (this can also pay dividends in insulation)
  • Campaign for regulations that protect against photopollution in your town
  • Demand strict enforcement of light control ordinances

Every year, thousands of sea turtle hatchlings and young seabirds are killed by lights on the beach. These lights cause reflections on sand that look just like moonlight on water, disorienting the young animals and causing them to wander away from the ocean. Instead of going for a swim, baby turtles and birds are hit by cars, eaten by predators, and die of exhaustion. Reducing light pollution can save many species from extinction.

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Photo courtesy of Luca5 at Flickr.com.

Sound pollution also kills many wild animals every year. The scale of the problem is unknown, and scientists are just beginning to study the effects of man-made noise on wildlife. Early results show that loud motor sounds can deafen animals who rely on their sensitive hearing to find food and evade predators. These noises can also drown out mating calls and distress signals. There is suspicion that navigation systems such as sonar are responsible for an increasing number of whale and dolphin beachings. High intensity sound waves can cause internal ruptures and induce symptoms similar to the bends.

Water conducts sound waves much better than air does, so loud noises can travel much further in the ocean than they would on land. This is worrisome, because the noise level in the ocean is increasing rapidly. Between 1948 and 1998, the average volume of sound in the ocean increased about 15 decibels. 15 decibels may not sound like much, but that’s the difference between the amount of noise in a regular office and a busy street.

So, how can we reduce noise pollution in the oceans?

  • Move shipping paths away from marine sanctuaries
  • Install noise baffles on boats and ships
  • Reduce the use of high intensity sonar
  • Protect sensitive habitat from oil and mineral exploration

So, that wraps up a ‘quick’ ten-list. But, there’s one other thing you can do to save the oceans.

Buy from environmentally responsible companies

The policies that companies follow can make a huge difference on the health of our oceans. Since the United States put pollution controls in place, we’ve seen remarkable recovery in many of the worst affected waterways:

“Oxygen levels in New York Harbor, for instance, are now 50 percent higher than they were 30 years ago. In the Southern California Bight, off Los Angeles and San Diego, inputs of many pollutants have been reduced 90 percent or more over a 25-year period, and the ecosystem there—including kelp, fish, and seabird populations—has greatly recovered. “

A lot has been accomplished, but we can still do better. Comparing modern emissions to emissions from the 1970’s, is sort of like comparing a Boeing 777 to the Wright Flier – we’ve come a long way in a short period of time, and we should expect major improvements. Unfortunately, many companies are still stuck in the seventies and see nothing wrong with dumping wastewater directly into rivers that feed into the ocean. Not all of our factories and processing plants are using best practices, but it’s easy to find companies that devote resources to improving their environmental record.

When you make purchase decisions at work or for your home, are you buying from companies that publish an independently reviewed environmental report card? If you can convince even one of the companies you do business with to adopt these guidelines, that will multiply the effects of your choices. Here’s a list of the a top polluters in the United States: these are companies that might reconsider their record if large numbers of customers demanded that they act responsibly to protect the oceans.

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Photo courtesy of HckySo at Flickr.com.

Eco news of the week


Photo courtesy of
Brooklyn Bridge Baby at Flickr.com.

Here are five big environmental stories that you might have missed this week:

1) Saudi Arabia is planning for a future without gasoline. The Kingdom is investing in education and hopes to develop new industries and exports that will supplement oil in the near term and replace it in the long term.

2) Small is big. Due to rising energy costs and environmental awareness, architects are finding a surprising demand for smaller homes.

3) Have you heard of CarbonRally.com? It’s a carbon calculator site that’s different from the hundreds of other calculators out there. Instead of focusing on environment harms, the site reinforces good behavior with instant feedback about the progress you’ve made. After all, even minimal impact can be discouraging to focus on.

4) Speaking of carbon – Al Gore and T Boone Pickens are both pushing aggressive energy plans. These gentlemen, who come from very opposite sides of the political spectrum, are stressing that carbon free electricity is more than an environmental issue. They opine that moving away from coal and oil will make a huge difference in the US trade deficit, bolster national security by increasing energy independence, and position American companies to prosper against global competition.

5) Did you know that the Prius fails Georgia’s Vehicle Emissions Test?

Is lumber a green building material?


Photo courtesy of chiefdm5 at Flickr.com.
The first choices made during a project are often critical choices – they set the tone for everything that follows. During construction projects, that goes doubly true. It’s important to have a complete vision of the finished goal before the first brick is laid.

For example, it can be time consuming and expensive to add another bathroom after concrete is poured. Using low-VOC paint doesn’t do much good if it’s the second coat of paint on a wall. And putting in a skylight is easiest before roof tiles are applied.

Many early construction choices will be hidden from sight – under the carpet or inside the walls. Simply because these choices are covered up doesn’t make them any less important. A commonly overlooked factor is the importance of framing material. This press release (from a lumber company with a clear agenda) makes the case for wood framing as a greener option than steel.

As trees grow, they convert CO2 to carbon, which remains stored in the wood long after the tree is harvested. The benefits are substantial: the wood framing in a typical suburban home stores a volume of CO2 equal to the emissions from a small car over seven years.

That makes sense to me, but it’s important to make sure that the lumber used comes from a well managed forest or other sustainable source (ie; recycled building material, underwater forests, etc). There are sustainable certifications available for virtually all wood products – check with the Forest Stewardship Council and the Rainforest Alliance for more information.


Photo courtesy of benb787 at Flickr.com.
For related information about the unseen benefits of insulation, check out our post about how Thermal Imaging technology can save energy by spotting leaks.

Whole Foods video contest

If you have a video camera, an exhibitionist streak, and a desire the change the world, Whole Foods wants you! The natural and organic food superstore is hunting for 6 members of the “Earth Generation” (anyone born between 1991 and 1995) to voice their opinions about where the future lies for sustainable consumption.

Good luck!

Environmentalism wins over CROs (Corporate Responsibility Officers)


Photo courtesy of Major-General Clanger at Flickr.com.

(Editor’s note: I didn’t even know what the hell at CRO was! And then I find out that they even have their very own trade magazine.) 

The 2008 list of the 100 Best Corporate Citizens was just published by CRO Magazine (a magazine for Corporate Responsibility Officers). The list includes a wide variety of companies, from Intel to SPX Corporation, that have recognized the importance of environmental concerns in their day-to-day operations. According to CRO Magazine, the categories measured include:

Climate Change, Employee Relations, Environment, Financial, Governance, Human Rights, Lobbying and Philanthropy. In so doing, we added, renamed, combined or dropped other categories, and gave Climate Change and other issues related to Environment the greatest weight because of their acute importance.

It’s great to see Climate Change and Environmentalism recognized for their importance!

Green fences and animal highways


 

Photo courtesy of Guided by the light at Flickr.com.

Robert Frost famously wrote about how “Good fences make good neighbors,” but the type of fence that pioneers built in the American West can be a drain on the environment. Picket fences block animal migration routes and are often painted with toxic chemicals. Building a wooden fence kills trees and fossil fuels are burned transporting lumber. These fences can also cause erosion by transferring the force of the wind into the soil, and they take constant maintenance.

Centuries old techniques offer a green alternative. Just as the Normans used hedgerows and Native Americans used Osage-Orange, botanists are exploring new ways to use living plants to regulate property lines. For example, Phung Tuu Boi is building a green fence to keep people from areas contaminated with Agent Orange. As the director of the Center for Assistance in Nature Conservation and Community Development in Hanoi, he’s developed a fence that keeps animals from foraging in contaminated sites while also restoring the soil and growing a cash crop:

Mr. Boi has developed a low-tech solution to overcome these problems: a fence made of trees covered with cactus-sharp needles to deter humans and animals alike. Mr. Boi hopes this so-called green fence will not only discourage trespassers, but also provide them with an economic incentive to leave the barrier intact. Once mature, the trees he has chosen to make up the fence, Gleditschia australis, produce a fruit that residents can sell to make soaps and medicinals. Gleditschia, a type of honey locust, is disease and insect resistant, and its thorns and soft wood should deter residents from cutting it down for firewood.


Photo courtesy of imbala at Flickr.com.

Another advantage of living fences is that they offer habitat for wildlife. These slices of greenery often act as highways for wild animals on the move and dense tree lines are just as effective at controlling domestic animals.

 

Follow up on Green Credit Cards


Photo courtesy of k9ine at Flickr.com.

A week after contacting the three companies that are offering Green Credit Cards, only one of the companies has replied to my questions:

Emily, at Brighter Planet, wrote:

Hi George – The market rate for our offsets are $12 a ton, and we measure in short tons (2000 lbs.) And as far as biodegradable plastic goes, we wish! The truth is that only giftcards can be made out of biodegradable material right now because they hold up for 3-5 swipes, not enough for a credit card. As soon as a good enough, durable plastic comes out we’ll switch! Thanks for your interest and let me know if there are other questions I can answer for you.

Thanks,
Emily

I asked these same questions to the other green card providers and I’m still waiting on a reply from Earth Rewards and Green Pay. But I’m not holding my breath – have you ever tried getting straight talk from a credit card company?


Photo courtesy of unitednatures at Flickr.com.

Stop Using Plastic Bags, Whole Foods Did! Take Your Own to the Grocery Store

If you’ve been to Whole Foods lately, the you’re sure to notice a change. Whole Foods is phasing out plastic bags, and in encouraging their customers to “Bring Your Own Bag,” they are giving out reusable bags.

We’re not sure how long this promotion will last, but we’re loving it! Finally, a major grocery store that is making moves in the right direction.

If you forget to bring your own bags, don’t worry. Whole Foods will still have their 100% recycled paper bags for you to use. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be “that girl” that uses paper bags. I have a feeling that, in the future, not bringing your own bags will be like writing a check, out-dated.

There is probably plenty of time until that day, but you should start considering getting your own reusable bags to take to the grocery store or super market now.

Green credit cards. Reward cards that help the environment?

Photo courtesy of WookieSlayer at Flickr.com.

There are credit cards that offer just about every incentive under the sun. For those who want to earn cash back, airline miles, or even strange things like hours in jetfighter training, there are cards that reward cardholders with a percentage of every dollar spent. Now, several companies have rolled out credit cards with an environmental affinity. For every purchase on these cards, a portion of the fees are invested into carbon offsets and financing projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

General Electric launched the Earth Rewards MasterCard. It offers two green options – users can donate 1% of their purchases to fighting global warming, or they can keep half a percent for themselves and donate the other half percent to saving the planet.

Bank of America is behind the Brighter Planet Visa. They use a point system where every dollar spent earns a point and 1,000 points equals a ton of carbon dioxide offsets. That makes it a bit hard to compare apples to oranges, but a ton of carbon costs anywhere from $5 to $40 with an average value around $10 per ton. So, that equals about the same reward rate as the Earth Rewards Card (1% or 1:100).

MetaBank offers the GreenPay MasterCard. It rewards cardholders with 5 lbs of CO2 reduction for every dollar spent and 10 lbs for every dollar spent on gasoline or utilities. The first thing to do in comparing these is to convert carbon pounds to carbon tons. Carbon credits are measured using metric tons and 1 metric ton is approximately 2205 lbs. So, at the lower rate, every $441 spent on the card earns 1 ton of carbon credits. Assuming $10 per ton of carbon credit, that works out to about a 2.2% reward rate or 1:45.

From the information on their websites and responses to my inquiries, it appears that all of these cards are printed on standard plastic blanks. That’s a real shame, considering that many stores now offer gift cards printed on biodegradable plastics.

In summary:
Earth Rewards MasterCard: 1:100 (1 cent earned per dollar spent)
Brighter Planet Visa: approximately 1:100 (1 cent per dollar )
GreenPay MasterCard: approximately 1:45 (2.2 cents per dollar )
Greenpay MasterCard for gas and electricity purchases: 1:22 (4.5 cents per dollar)

The cards also have critics:

Some advocates question whether the green cards will actually lead to fewer greenhouse-gas emissions. “What I am more concerned about is that it gives people an easy pass: ‘OK, I’ve got my green credit card, so I can do things that are carbon-ridiculous,'” says Leslie Lowe, director of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility on Energy and Environment, a nonprofit based in New York.

For now, your best bet may be to keep a high reward card and use the rewards to purchase carbon credits on your own. Whether you join one of these programs or not, you can always sign up for paperless statements and cut your footprint that way!

Stop E-wasting, Recycle your Computer or other Electronic Devices at Work

According to Mark Buckley, the VP of Environmental Affairs at Staples, an estimated 133,000 computers are discarded every day in the U.S. That’s nearly 49 million computers a year! And that doesn’t even include cell phones and other office related electronics.Old electronic junk, or “e-waste” is increasingly becoming a larger problem in today’s electronic age, making the need for recycling more and more important. A lot of people think that paying to recycle their stuff is not worth it, and they just throw it into the garbage to get rid of it. But a few major computer companies like HP, Dell, Sony and Apple are making it easier for people to recycle their old computers when they upgrade.According to Earth 911.org’s website,

Reusing and recycling prevents electronic items from reaching landfills, creating less waste, providing usable items to organizations that need them and recapturing valuable resources.” 

If you work for a company that seems to upgrade to new computers on a regular basis, start asking what your company is doing with those old computers. If the computers are broken beyond repair, search around for local take back programs or retailers that recycle any electronic product. Look online for the manufacturer of your old computer to see if they have a recycling or take back program. Staples, for example, will recycle electronics from any manufacturer for 10 dollars or less, nationwide. It might not be free to recycle that dusty old computer, but at least they will make sure it is recycled properly.Here at my workplace, I just upgraded to a new Apple computer. Don’t be jealous! After the purchase, Apple emailed me a Fed-Ex shipping label to print out. All I have to do is box up this old PC, stick on the shipping label and drop it off at a FedEx Kinko’s. They’ll take it back and see that it is recycled. Seems like hassle free e-cycling to me!If your computer or other electronics are still in working order, but you have newer models you are using, try selling, donating or free-cycling your electronic goods. There are lots of people who still can not afford to buy brand new computers, so selling or donating yours locally can help others in your community. Ebay and freecycle.org are two good resources for selling electronics, or giving them away.Just remember, it’s all about doing your part. Become proactive at work by asking what they are doing with old computers there. It may cost your boss a little extra to do some good, but doing good will pay off when your consumers and other companies begin to take notice.

Recycle or Re-use. Fort Worth’s Environmental Collection center

crushed paint cans

During the 1960’s there was a street theater group, known as the Diggers, in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.  They regularly held free concerts, fed the public for free in golden gate park, and perhaps the most famous of their altruistic activities; the free store. 

The free store was basically a second hand store that people would bring unwanted items to and anyone could walk in off the street and pick up anything they wanted off the shelves for free; no money ever changed hands.   The Diggers aren’t around anymore (at least not in Haight-Ashbury) but the concept of the free store has been carried to a lot of unexpected Venues.  A friend of mine who was a student at Fort Worth’s Baptist Seminary told me that they had a free store of sorts in the dorm, and free stores have gained in popularity all across Europe.

What has all this got to do with Chemicals and waste disposal?  Well, everything; especially if you live in Fort Worth, Texas.  This week I had the pleasure of visiting Fort Worth’s Environmental Collection Center.  If you live in Fort Worth or one of the participating municipalities (go to their website to see if your community is one of them) you can show up at the center with acids, aerosol cans, antifreeze, batteries (all kinds, including car batteries), brake fluid, cooking oil, craft chemicals, degreasers, drain cleaner, fertilizer, fluorescent light bulbs, compact flourescent light bulbs (CFLs), herbicides, household chemicals, motor oil, paints & stains, paint thinners, pest strips, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, photo chemicals, pool chemicals, oil filters, solvents, transmission fluid and varnish…And they will take them off your hands. 

Paint Cans

Now, many years ago I played in a band with the primary purpose in life to promote environmental issues.  We played free concerts at several drop off recycling centers like this in order to promote recycling and proper waste disposal so that people wouldn’t be dumping motor oil down storm drains;  It’s not new.  But what I found unique and how we tie this all together is that not only is this a drop off and recycling center; it’s a free store for household chemicals and paint.  I first heard about this service from Ken Otoole, the gallery director of The Second Floor Gallery in Fort Worth.  He painted the entire art gallery using paint obtained for free from the ECC.  I admit, the first thing I thought of was the old Steven Wright joke “I just bought some used paint; it came in the shape of a house”  but as he explained you simply walk in and take whatever paint other citizens have dropped off.  You get free paint and the paint winds up on your walls instead of in a landfill somewhere.  You may have to mix a few to get the color you want, but the price is right.

And we’re not talking just paint. When I was there I found carpet cleaner, motor oil, bio-degradable degreaser (that one went home with me; I drive a diesel after all), sterno, bicycle chain lube and all kinds of things that I personally have paid good money for in the past.  Nothing beats saving the environment and saving money all at the same time. 

And what happens to the stuff that nobody wants or they can’t give out?  Well, cooking oil is used to make bio-fuels, batteries are stripped and recycled, used motor oil is recycled, and pesticides are shipped to appropriate centers to be incinerated and rendered harmless.  Paint cans are crushed, allowed to dry, and then shelfcrushed some more  before being safely disposed of.  In short; everything that can be recycled is recycled, and everything that can’t is safely converted.  Much better than dumping it down a storm drain I think.

Like I said before, there are a limited number of communities that can participate in Fort Worth’s program and if your  community doesn’t have such a program you have some campaigning to do with your city government.  To find out what is available to you visit Earth911.org and punch in what you have and where you need to get rid of it and it will tell you whats available locally; and while you’re there see if they have a free store.  If not, talk to them about the free frame of reference. 

oil tanks

Green Grilling with the Sierra Club

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Although the epic outdoor grilling of the 4th of July has come and gone, it’s not too late to think about cleaning up your BBQ cooking technique. The Sierra Club has made it easy with a series of articles on green, eco-friendly grilling.

First, you should definitely check out their list of resources for a low environmental impact barbeque. They have a long list of eco-friendly products for your BBQ including charcoal, plates, etc.

Next, their article “Get Your Grill On” features some great tips, including the idea of trading your grill in for a solar oven. Gasp! For purist, this may be blasphemy, but I’ll bet a steak cooked on a solar oven is still pretty tasty.

Finally, the Sierra Club’s article “P’s and Q’s of BBQ: A guide to guilt-free grilling” by Sidney Stevens includes these surprising facts:

Nationwide, the estimated 60 million barbecues held on the Fourth of July alone consume enough energy — in the form of charcoal, lighter fluid, gas, and electricity — to power 20,000 households for a year. That one day of fun, food, and celebration, says Tristram West, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy, burns the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest and releases 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. It also produces other air pollutants — including a few that might surprise you.

Take Houston, Texas, where ‘cuing is practically a way of life. Researchers at Rice University have found that fatty acids in the meat smoke wafting up from the city’s grills (including those at restaurants) contribute a small but significant amount of lung-harming particles to Houston’s already hazy skies. “Emissions from barbecuing are certainly dwarfed by those from transportation and industrial burning of fuels,” notes West. “But this information should get people thinking about all the things they do on a regular basis.”

Making some basic changes in your grilling technique can make a big difference in things like air quality. Charcoal produces higher quantities of things like carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and soot than other grilling techniques. However, propane and other kinds of grill still consume our natural resources. If your going to use charcoal, consider “lump charcoal” which comes from real trees and is minimally processed. Lump charcoal harvested from invasive tree species and certified by the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program are best.

All, trade in that smelly starter fluid for a chimney style charcoal starter.

Have other tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment!


World-Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming (WWOOF)

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It’s summer and organic gardening and farming is going on all over the world.

If you’re interested in an intensive, hands-on organic gardening learning experience, check out World-Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming (WWOOF) at http://www.wwoof.org. You can live on an organic farm anywhere in the world, and learn organic techniques firsthand. A great way to travel and add some practical experience to your resume.


Earthtoys.com June Ezine is Up!

earthtoysjune.jpg

As always, the new edition Earthtoys.com ezine is reason for excitement. The June version features some great info about the world of alternative energy.

It also has lots of in-depth articles on earth-friendly technologies. For example, this time around there are some interesting articles on Algae.

“WHY AREN’T ALGAE GETTING THE ATTENTION THEY DESERVE?”

“MICRO-ALGAE PRODUCES OMEGA-3 BIO-LIPID OIL”

Are two articles that you can enjoy if you love that green stuff! There’s also some cost comparisons with different photovoltaics, and a guide to practical solar energy for the home if you like the sunshine.

And as always, you’ll find articles on alternative fuels and transportation.

Enjoy!


Bioneers Radio Show

The Bioneers is an innovative group of people whose theme is “Revolution from the Heart of Nature.”

The Bioneers host a national conference that invites ground-breaking people to present ideas based on the lessons of nature to create a sustainable future. They also have a radio show that often features speakers from the conference. You can turn in for the next few weeks on live streaming radio at KUNM at 8:30 am (Mountain Time) on Wednesday mornings.

I think there are only a few programs left, so check it out! This past week’s show featured a discussion on protecting old growth forests while still providing for the needs of humans. Of course, things came up like, “do we really need all those catalogs for crappy products made from paper pulp?”

I especially appreciate this program but it is generally quite optimistic, and also because it solutions and ideas, not just problems.

If you’re feeling pessimistic about environmental issues, this program can help give you a sense of hope.

If you can’t listen to the radio show, they have free audio downloads and lots of info on the Bioneers website.