Blog Archives

Earth Day Weekend Wrap Up

Now that Earth Day has turned 40, it apparently takes an entire weekend for all the celebrating. Anybody go to the concert on The Mall? We were planning on it but the weather was so lousy we headed to AFI Silver to see “Greenburg” instead. Sure, it’s not a terribly verdant way to wrap up such a big anniversary but this ain’t no banner year for the environment either.  Here are a few links to stories I’ve read over the birthday weekend:

The new Gallup poll released late last week provides fresh insight into just how much public concern has slipped over global warming and other environmental woes.  But no amount of denial can change the growing avalanche of scientific data pointing toward a warming world. For a comprehensive explanation, you can’t beat this piece in The Economist magazine. Sure, it gets a big bogged down and wonky in spots, but it will give you all the information you need next time you find yourself in cocktail party conversation with a skeptic.

Wine Lovers beware: Here’s a story on the new Climate Desk site explaining how global warming is wrecking havoc in vineyards.

Here’s a story on how the world’s remaining old-growth rainforests are being flushed down the toilet.

Rebecca Solnit reviews Bill McKibben’s new book “Eaarth” and mixes in a few climate change extras on

“The party’s over” according to the Washington Post, reporting on the latest International Monetary Fund’s assessment of the state of the world economy. Funny, both the IMF and McKibben are essentially calling for the same thing: a downsizing and rethinking of what’s considered “the good life.”

The Coal industry is on the ropes as even the nation’s power plants vow to “go green,” says the Wall Street Journal. Plant operators are now turning to natural gas, the paper reports. But what about the growing controversy over fracking?

Selling(out) the environmental movement Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman posts on Washington Post and New York Times stories examining corporate influence inside Big Green groups. Calling it “the 800-pound gorilla in the environmental movement,” Goetzman notes that it’s about time the mainstream press examined questionable deals the nation’s leading environmental groups have cut with corporate polluters, not to mention the very corporate style in which many of these nonprofit groups operate today.

Ever since Johann Hari’s piece, “The Wrong Kind of Green,” ran in The Nation last month, a glaring spotlight is on environmental groups that shill for their corporate donors. Sadly, these unlikely alliances have turned our corporate watchdogs into corporate lapdogs.

I was quoted in Hari’s piece and my book provided some background in that story, which made me quite happy and proud to help get this conversation started; I’m not so happy about the way the climate change denial camp has discovered my research, however. An outfit calling itself Freedom Action has been running a full page ad in the Washington Examiner detailing the astronomical salaries of some of the country’s environmental leaders. WWF-US chief Carter Roberts makes about $510,000 a year; EDF’s Fred Krupp takes home $474,000, and so on. You can find the same info. on page 21 of my book or just pick up the Examiner! The only problem with Freedom Action is it’s trying to derail any attempt at climate action but mixing things up with kooky ideas about birth control meds that end up in the nation’s water supplies.


Democracy Now Show Today on Big Greens Standing in the Way of Climate Progress

The buzz created by Johann Hari’s hard-hitting article, The Wrong Kind of Green,  in The Nation magazine is finally generating some much needed attention for the outrageous behavior of some of our leading environmental groups. This morning, Amy Goodman of Democracy now interviewed Johann and me about Big Green groups such as Conservation International, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, and The Nature Conservancy – that are endorsing the climate policies sponsored by their corporate donors and allies in Washington. There is just no getting around the fact that the proposals backed by these groups will do little to head off runaway climate change. As Hari pointed out this morning, some of these policies will actually encourage more logging in tropical rainforests, despite ample evidence that we need those trees standing to sop up climate changing greenhouse gases.

Hari was very effective exposing these false solutions but left things on an optimistic note by mentioning the creative nonviolence campaigns climate activists have unfurled in the UK. I wish there had been more time so that I could have mentioned that the real grassroots of US enviornmentalism – not the big national groups that have been coopted by Washington’s deal making mentality and corporate donations – are also experiencing an encouraging growth spirt.

In doing some research for a magazine article and possibly a new book, I’ve been talking to activists all over the country in the last few weeks.  Julia “Judy” Bonds, who has been fighting mountaintop removal coal mining in her Appalachian community for a dozen years, says “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” In the last five years, she says a movement has begun to take shape and it’s just a matter of time before it sparks change. She likened the tense standoff between coal miners and mountaintop removal foes like herself to the bloody civil rights struggle started in Selma, Alabama in 1963 that  was widely credited with helping pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Author Bill McKibbon is calling for people to take to the streets and join the civil disobedience campaign he launched. Tim DeChristopher, the guy who threw a wrench in the Dec. 2008 Bureau of Land Management auction of oil and gas leases on public lands, says we have to throw ourselves into the machine that’s threatening our existence.  McKibbon, DeChristopher, Julia “Butterfly” Hill, Mike Rosselle and many other activists have set up small radical groups that are all advocating that people – the average citizens like you and me – take to the streets to demand that President Obama and other lawmakers address global warming.

Considering how little we protest today, it’s hard to image the country will rise up and demand environmental sustainability. But they are doing it in the United Kingdom, so why not here? And if we don’t, who will? Bonds says her activism has shown her that politicians don’t lead, they merely follow the will of the people. It’s time for the people to take their fate into their own hands, she says.

The Nation Exposes Greenwashing by Big Green Groups

Check out this passionate piece in The Nation by British journalist Johann Hari. Perhaps I’m biased since I wrote an entire book on this subject and Hari quotes me in his story, but I think he argues persuasively that the large mainstream environmental groups in this country have sold out to their corporate sponsors and, when it comes to climate change, are selling us down the river (…or the seas as they rise!)

He certainly doesn’t mince words! He calls Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy “polluter-funded leeches sucking on the flesh of environmentalism, leaving it weaker and depleted.”

But it’s not all bleak and depressing. Hari concludes that:

Already, shining alternatives are starting to rise up across America. In just a year, the brilliant has formed a huge network of enthusiastic activists who are demanding our politicians heed the real scientific advice–not the parody of it offered by the impostors. They have to displace the corrupt conservationists as the voice of American environmentalism, fast.

Greenlines: Donuts Corrodes Pipes, MinuteClinics Open, Seattle Cuts Emissions + More

I wonder if this is another sign that the federal health care bill’s so-called public opinion is dead? Local CVS stores are getting MinuteClinics, the Washington Business Journal reports. The first has already opened in CVS’s Bladensburg Road store and is “staffed by nurse practitioners, who can diagnose, treat and write prescriptions for common illnesses like strep throat, infections and minor wounds.”

Krispy Kreme will pay Fairfax County $1.65 million for corroding sewer pipes with donut grease from its Lorton store. Given this news, you’ve gotta wonder what the sweets do to human pipes? Well, at least we now have the MinuteClinic for treatment!

Borderstan posts on how neighborhood residents rallied and saved trees along 17th Street NW that had slated for removal by city officials.

DC Metrocentric has proposed specs for redeveloping the Spring Road-Georgia Avenue NW area.

It’s official, the H Street shuttle has been saved, The Washington Post reports.

Richard Layman
checks in from New York City on how to make cities more cyclist-friendly.

Fresh AIRE is unveiling its sustainability toolkit for condos and apartments tonight at Arlington’s Central Library, The Green Miles has the details.

We Love DC is very happy to share that the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden ice skating rink opens tomorrow.

Seattle proves cutting emissions can be done! “The city of Seattle announced this afternoon that its greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 were 7 percent below what they were in 1990  a target the city had hoped to meet by 2012. But it’s not at all clear how or if the city will still meet the goal three years from now,” the Seattle Times reports.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says toxic chemical pollution from the nation’s industrial plants, mines and factories fell by 6 percent in 2008, declining for the second year in a row.

Coal mining company, Consol Energy Inc., lashes out at environmentalists who have sought to hold the company to compliance with federal clean water and other laws. After a judge pulled the company’s permits, the company decided to idle two mines employing about 500 workers and publicly blamed the shutdown on environmental activists, Reuters reports.

This might be entirely too much information for all but true climate politics junkies, but I happened across the official site for the UN climate talks. Here, you can download webcasts of every single official event and even some of the side shows.

Or you could just follow breaking news from climate talks on SEJ’s CopenBlog.

Today’s Greenlines – Green(washed) Cuisine + Out with Lobbyists, In with Federal Regs

Georgetown "gifts" photo by M.V. Jantzen via the DCist

The DCist today takes on George Will’s climatological gaff and announces that Giant supermarkets will be giving away free reusable shopping bags come Jan. 1, when city law starts requiring retailers to charge 5 cents for each one of those old-school un-reusable bags.

The Washington Post blows the lid off falsely advertised “green” cuisine at Founding Farmers and discusses the fudge factor, so to speak, at other eateries that claim to serve sustainable fare.

Frozen Topics posts that the popular H Street Shuttle – which carries art, food and entertainment lovers between H Street NE and the Atlas District –  is shutting down due to a lack of funding.

In Maryland, environmental groups want the federal government to crack down on state environmental regulators, accusing them of going easy on water polluters.

On the “sustainability” front, the Urban Architect at Barry Farm (Re)Mixed has a sobering post about how her condo is “underwater” thanks to the real estate bust. Compounding the bad news, she also learned the city plans to one day redevelop her neighborhood and take her home by eminent domain, which means the government would “fairly” compensate her and her neighbors for their properties. The question she’d like answered is: “who decides what is ‘fair’?”

The Green Miles, AKA Miles Grant, was up early this morning to join Obama administration officials, pols and school kids at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington for the White House Clean Energy Economy Forum. He live-blogged from the event for the Daily Kos.

Sounds like a good idea – “A sweeping new White House policy aimed at ousting special interests from federal advisory panels might sweep registered lobbyists off some U.S. EPA advisory panels,” according to this story.

Speaking of the EPA, the agency is preparing new regulations that would require 600+ coal plants to clean up and possibly eliminate waste discharges into lakes, rivers and other waterbodies. Among the substances the EPA is concerned about is the nutrient selenium that can be harmful in too great a quantity.

Their loss, our gain? While victims of the horrendous 1984 industrial accident in Bhopal, India are still struggling to recover, force a cleanup and win reparations, the incident had a positive impact half a world away: it led to better regulation of industrial hazards in the United States, according to this story.

The fight over Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining


Mountaintop removal in action. Courtesy of the new documentary,

In Appalachia – not too far a drive from the District –  mining companies are blasting off the tops of mountains to dig out the coal underneath. The companies call it mountaintop mining but it’s mountaintop removal to opponents, who have distributed Internet petitions, sitting in treetops, chaining themselves to mining equipment, and getting arrested in various other acts of civil disobedience.

The mining companies have supporters too. Their most vocal (and sometimes violent) backers are mine workers and their families. It’s not hard to see their point of view. For them, it’s a living and a lot safer than descending into an underground mine to extract the stuff the old-fashioned way, which still goes on, incidentally, in Appalachia and beyond.

In the places being blasted, the coal seams were too skimpy to justify tunneling underground and only became economically viable a few decades ago with the advent of enormous earth moving technology. While this new type of mining has revived the coal industry, it hasn’t done much for employment. It doesn’t require nearly as many miners and has done little to restore the steady decline of this storied profession.

Today, the country’s wind farm industry employs more people than coal mines, a fact that seems to suggest that critics may be right when they say coal is quickly becoming passé. There are even calls for a wind farm at Coal River Mountain, W.V., where activists are trying to stop Massey Energy’s plans to level parts of the mountain.

A reasonable question, though, is which will go first – mountaintop removal or Appalachia’s iconic mountain vistas – and its rural communities? No matter what you call it, this form of strip mining permanently changes the landscape. And, it’s already erased hundreds of mountaintops. The rubble that’s left after the blasting is trucked into valleys and dumped, burying lakes and streams, according to the EPA.

That’s just one of the downsides. There is avalanche of information about the negative aspects of mountaintop removal. Here’s a link to an USA Today editorial, here’s a blog written by a West Virginia reporter who has followed the debate for years, and here’s the Internet outpost of the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, which held a June hearing on the impacts of mountaintop removal.

CoalMovielogoThere is also a new documentary, Coal Country, telling the activist’s side of the story.

The film has just been released and comes as the blasting reaches a critical juncture at Coal River Mountain. The emails alerts started last week, navigating supporters networks that snake around the country. Petitions drives, letter and email writing campaigns are now in full tilt to try to get President Obama to call a halt to the blasting. So far, however, the Obama administration has sent mixed signals on mountaintop removal.

Morning Edition: Loads of Bike News & Sad Developments atop of Mt. Kilimanjaro

First up: local bike news today:

The New Columbia Heights blog has a post about the debate raging on the Columbia Heights listserve about bikes after a pedestrian was nearly mowed down by a cyclist, who reported shouted “get out of my way,” as opposed to breaking or getting out the pedestrian’s way. Here’s a link to the blog post and here is the listserve site.

Borderstan reports that a new bike lane on 15th St. NW is expected to open by the weekend. The site also has an interesting post on how the District’s unemployment rate varies by wards.

The Washington Business Journal has a sobering article on the growing shortage of affordable housing in the D.C.-area even though the real estate has yet to recover from its crash two years ago.

Mount Kilimanjaro has lost more than a quarter of its ice cap since 2000, the New York Times reports.

The Times also covers the continuing saga of the senate climate bill.

The New Republic says Warren Buffett‘s just announced plans to buy Burlington Northern Santa Fe signals he’s “betting big on coal.” Coal has started to look decidedly “last century” given the greenhouse gas implications and the serious doubts about whether “clean coal” technology will ever be commercially viable. TNR, however, sees Buffett’s move to buy a railroad that runs right through Western states with large coal reserves as a sign that the business guru does not expect coal’s hold to loosen anytime soon on the country’s economy and electric grid (more than half of the country’s electricity is coal-powered.)

Mother Jones is among the news outlets that has rifled through the White House visitors log and reports on the oil moguls who have been chumming around with Larry Summers and other Obama administration officials.