Earth Day 2011

CC Flickr photo of earth courtesy of flyingsinger.

We’ve come a long way since the first Earth Day. Over 40 years ago, on April 22, 1970, one in every 10 Americans participated in the first Earth Day, demonstrating their demands for a cleaner, healthier, safer environment. Forty years ago, environmental protection didn’t exist. Companies all across the country were allowed to turn waterways and industrial sites into toxic waste dumps. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River became so fouled with oily pollutants that it caught fire. Yes, a river became a fire hazard.

Earth Day launched a groundswell of environmental awareness. Americans from all walks of life spoke up and our government listened. Before the end of 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency was established. Landmark legislation soon followed. The Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act have had a sustained, far-reaching positive effect on the quality of our environment.

Today Earth Day is truly a global event. Thanks to the Earth Day Network (, over a billion people in 192 countries will participate in a wide range of Earth Day activities.  It’s fitting for Earth Day to be the biggest civic event on our planet, because we need all the help we can get. The potential for global climate change (a term that didn’t exist back in 1970) to disrupt agricultural production, increase severe storms, raise sea levels and alter ecosystems is truly scary.

Earth Day gives all of us an opportunity to “think globally and act locally,” not just for one day but on an ongoing basis. Although the prospect of “saving the planet” may seem far-fetched, it’s what we all need to be doing in various ways. Earth Day reminds us that regardless of religion, political affiliation or economic status, we’re all hurtling through space on the same orb. We’ve all got a stake in preserving life as we know it. Here are a few ways to celebrate Earth Day 2011 –by increasing your awareness and then acting on it.

Read something by Bill McKibben. Widely recognized as one of our leading environmentalists, McKibben continues to write about a broad range of environmental issues. A new edition of his best-selling book, The End of Nature, has just been published. You can read articles and essays at his website:

Learn more about the EPA. The scope and depth of information at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website is truly impressive. Whether you want to learn more about acid rain, lead paint removal, contaminated well water or household hazardous waste, you won’t be disappointed.

Get your hands dirty. Volunteer opportunities at the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can provide rewarding hands-on exposure to our wealth of protected wilderness areas. There’s a good article about these programs at The Wilderness Society website:

Reduce energy use at home. Here in the U.S., buildings are responsible for over 40% of our total energy use. Today we have the technology and products to transform an energy-wasting building into an energy miser. But we’re not putting these resources to use nearly as much as we should. If you haven’t had your home tested and evaluated for energy performance, don’t delay any longer. Find out what upgrades (like insulation, air-sealing, a new water heater, an ENERGY STAR™ dishwasher, etc.) your home needs to reduce energy use, and make a plan to complete as many improvements as you can. The nationwide impact of home energy upgrades is huge –less dependency on fossil fuels, lower carbon emissions, improved air quality and lower utility bills. There’s a wealth of useful information about home energy performance at Dr. Energy Saver (

About Tim Snyder: A journalist specializing in sustainability, energy efficiency and home building topics, Snyder is a former executive editor of Fine Homebuilding magazine. He recently produced a green remodeling manual for the EPA and a chapter on “Smart Shelter” for The Whole Green Catalog, published by Rodale Press. Snyder’s advice and commentary can be found on numerous sites including Wisebread, Green-energy-news, MotherEarthNews and Dr.EnergySaver. He also provides training and support for Dr. Energy Saver, a nationwide network of energy auditors who also perform a comprehensive range of prioritized energy-saving improvements.

Environmental Issue News: Best Resources

If you want to stay informed about environmental issue news, then the Internet has a treasure trove of resources. Here’s a list of the most reliable and useful sites to stay up-to-date on the latest environmental current events.

Grist ( – Grist calls itself “a beacon in the smog.” The Seattle-based publication is widely regarded as one of the most reliable and readable news sources about the environment. They also don’t shy away from humor, which is welcome when reading about the many challenges we face in living within our means, ecologically. Grist has won numerous Webbies, an award given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, for excellence on the Internet.

7 Cool Green iPhone Apps

With hundreds of thousands of iPhone apps to choose from, it’s sometimes hard to find the cool stuff, if it isn’t listed in the top 50 apps list on Itunes.

Here’s a list of 7 cool, green iPhone apps that you should check out.

Find Green

This cool iPhone app is sort of like a Yelp for green businesses, and it’s free! Granted, it doesn’t have as many businesses listed as some people might like. But it has an awesome turn wheel interface that quickly find categories and businesses.

Carbon Calc

Worried about your carbon footprint? Now you can measure the impact of your car, home and flights with this free tool.

The Green Book Lite

This app is a free preview of an actual book you can buy called The Green Book, The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Step at a Time.


Find out where you can recycle or properly dispose of just about anything with EcoFinder.


It’s probably already one of the green blogs that you already visit, and now you can keep it handy on your iPhone or iPad with this app. Makes it easy to read the site on your phone.


Find safe, healthy and sustainable products with the GoodGuide app. More than 70,000 product ratings are included, and you can even scan a bar code with your phone to look it up quickly!

Greenpeace Tissue Guide

I know, it sounds like a joke, right? But as the app points out, did you know that if every family replaces just 1 roll of toilet paper per year with recycled paper instead of virgin paper, it would save 400,000 trees? The app makes it quick and easy to find out which brands of facial tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins are truly green, so you know what to buy!

The Power of Green

This app gives you more than 100 illustrated tips for saving energy, organized by category. There’s heating, cooling, water efficiency, water heating, lighting, weatherization, appliance information and much more. If you use this app, you’re certain to save on energy bills, which helps the environment too.

What did we miss? What’s your favorite iPhone app related to green living and the environment?

Leave a comment and let us know!

Presidential candidates and their environmental platforms

There are a lot of reasons to vote for a President, including issues outside the environmental platforms we are going to cover here. While I have very strong opinions on politics and on who I am going to vote for, this article will attempt to simply summarize the candidates’ stances on environmental issues, as taken directly from each candidate’s campaign web site. I’ll then comment on some those stances.

I will start off by saying that there is no one on the ballot for either party who is even close to my ideal candidate. But these are the candidates that we have to choose from this time around and they are the ones we will cover.

In alphabetical order by last name:


Hillary Clinton:

According to her website, Hillary Clinton has a comprehensive plan that includes a “cap and trade system.”

The candidate’s plan calls for increased auto standards including a mandated 55 mpg standard by 2030. To ease the burden on manufacturers, the government will make available 20 billion in “green vehicle bonds” for the retooling and research.

Clinton’s goals include a greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050. Environmental Research would be encouraged by a 50 billion dollar strategic energy fund and doubling basic energy research. Green building industry will get a boost by the modernization of 20 million low income homes.

The plan also calls for a two thirds reduction from 2030 projected levels of imported oil.

In addition, there will be a requirement that all federal buildings designed after 2008 be zero emissions buildings.

You can find more about Hillary Clinton’s energy plan here:

Lots of good ideas, but of course no real indication of how these things will be paid for. I think we can do better in a shorter time, but improvements are not going to happen overnight.


Mike Huckabee

No environmental issue on his list of issues. The closest was energy independence, and no specifics were given.

Mike Huckabee’s page on energy is here:

John McCain

About the closest thing on the website to an environmental plan is this statement. Since it’s brief, I’ll just quote it. On the list of issues environmental issues were towards the bottom of the list

“He has offered common sense approaches to limit carbon emissions by harnessing market forces that will bring advanced technologies, such as nuclear energy, to the market faster, reduce our dependence on foreign supplies of energy, and see to it that America leads in a way that ensures all nations do their rightful share.”

John McCain’s site is here

When politicians talk about using market forces to accomplish something as vital as environmental and energy reform I get rather skeptical. The fact that so little is really said on his website shows how much of a priority it is for the candidate; despite the paragraph or two about how important it is.
Barack Obama

According to the Barack Obama campaign web site, his plan requires reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. This will be accomplished by a cap and trade system. Revenues generated by auctioning the carbon allowances will be used for research into clean energy and assisting displaced workers affected by the policy. In addition, incentives will be given for reforestation of land.

Under the plan, the government will invest 150 billion over 10 years in renewable and alternative energy. Research funding will be doubled for alternative energy projects.

Money will be made available to manufacturers to aid in the conversion to green products

By 2025, 25% of electricity will be produced by green sources.

Develop clean coal technology.

Encourage development of Cellulosic Ethanol

Create incentives for farmer-owned biofuel refineries

Establish a carbon limit on fuels reducing carbon content by ten percent by 2020

Require double the current fuel economy within 18 years with funding and loans going to domestic auto makers.

Barack Obama’s site is here:

Much the same as the other democratic candidate, with the disturbing addition of “clean coal” to the mix. New solar technology is very close to or as cheap as coal plants, so why are we even wasting our time on this?

Mitt Romney

Environmental issues weren’t even on the list, but I found this under ending energy dependence:

The candidate wants to increase government spending on research to increase our supply, our efficiency, cleaner usage of fossil fuels, and bringing to market renewable and nuclear.

Mitt Romney’s site is here:

More about clean coal, and little about anything else.



Underground coal fires around the world, an environmental problem

Photo courtesy of ibeginz at

Did you know that there are hundreds (and maybe even thousands) of underground coal fires burning out of control? These fires can occur naturally, but most of them are caused by mining activity or industrial accidents near coal seams. These coal fires can cause dangerous subsidence, air pollution, and poisoning of the water table, all while consuming a valuable natural resource.

Concern and action is needed… because of the environmental impact — especially of mega-fires burning in India, China and elsewhere in Asia. One coal fire in northern China, for instance, is burning over an area more than 3,000 miles wide and almost 450 miles long.

Photo courtesy of njbruder at

Underground coal fires are extremely difficult to put out once they start burning. They burn so hot that even pouring water on them will feed the flames (at extreme temperatures, water breaks down into hydrogen and oxygen gas). Coal is inherently unstable and will self ignite – that means that old abandoned mines are time bombs waiting to go off and all the tunnels act as a ventilation system!

Photo courtesy of radialmonster at

Uncontrolled coal fires are a worldwide problem and they produce significant amounts of greenhouse gas:

Estimates vary, but some scientists believe that anywhere from 20 million to 200 million tons burn [in China] each year, producing as much carbon dioxide as about 1 percent of the total carbon dioxide from fossil fuels burned on earth… India, where large scale mining began more than a century ago, accounts for the world’s greatest concentration of them.

Underground coal fires happen in the US too – check out this video about Pennsylvania coal mining. In Centralia, PA, underground fires have been burning since the 60’s! If you can come up with a way to put these fires out, I suspect that the MacArthur Foundation will come and knock down your door!