Environment Forum

Schwarzenegger household green plan: short showers, hydrogen Hummers

Here’s some advice for Californians who think Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s climate change policy goes too far: just be happy you’re not his kid.

Before he became a body builder, before he was the Terminator, and before he turned into the Governator, it turns out that Arnold was the youngest in a family that had no running water and relied on an outhouse. That’s what he told fourth graders who innocently asked about how he spoke to his kids.

“I have major fights with my kids,” he responded, quickly segueing into the difference between post-World War European poverty and the Golden State.

“We had kind of a system where we carried the water from 200 yards away from the well, to our house upstairs to the second floor where we lived, and then my father would wash himself first, and then my mother would wash herself, and then my brother would wash himself in the same water, and then I would wash myself, and it was all dirty, because I was the youngest. So that’s how I grew up because conservation was big in Europe. Especially since I grew up after the Second World War. There was no food, there was little electricity, there were blackouts left and right, there was nothing. After the war was worse than during the war. So we had absolutely nothing,” he said.

And while the Governor now has solar panels to heat the water in his pool and jacuzzi, a hydrogen-powered Hummer, and he recycles, it seems conservation is still BIG — and mandatory — in the Terminator household.

U.S. and Mexico to work on border conservation

When the United States and Mexico talk of cooperation over their shared border, that usually means working to stamp out drug trafficking and gun running. But this week the two neighbors put their shoulders behind a gentler effort: safeguarding a unique area of wilderness straddling the Rio Grande River.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar  and Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Minister Juan Elvira on Tuesday announced a plan to enhance conservation in the area around Big Bend, in Texas, and El Carmen in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila.

The area of adjoining parks and protected areas includes high desert, rugged mountains and plunging canyons that together form one of the borderland’s most haunting natural landscapes, far from troubled cities where drug-related killings are rife.

March of the beetles bodes ill for American forests

MEDICINE BOW NATIONAL FOREST, Wyoming – From the vantage point of an 80-foot (25 meter) tower rising above the trees, the Wyoming vista seems idyllic: snow-capped peaks in the distance give way to shimmering green spruce.

But this is a forest under siege. Among the green foliage of the healthy spruce are the orange-red needles of the sick and the dead, victims of a beetle infestation closely related to one that has already laid waste to millions of acres (hectares) of pine forest in North America.

“The gravity of the situation is very real,” said Rolf Skar, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace.

Sage, wind and grouse: The “brown” side of clean energy?

CARBON, Wyoming – They used to mine coal in the abandoned town of Carbon. Now this patch of southern Wyoming is a battleground in the debate over what many hope will be the clean energy source of the future: wind power.

At the heart of the dispute are plans to build a network of wind farms in the American West that conservationists fear could disrupt threatened habitat such as sage brush, a dwindling piece of the region’s fragile ecosystem.

This has made the greater sage grouse — which as its name suggests is totally dependent on sage brush — an unlikely poster child for some U.S. environmentalists, in much the same way that the rare spotted owl became a symbol in the 1980s of pitched battles with the logging industry.

from FaithWorld:

U.S. conservative Christians sound “cap and trade” alarms

America's social and religious conservatives are turning up the heat as they galvanize heartland opposition against the latest example of President Barack Obama-inspired "socialism" -- a climate change bill that aims to reduce fossil fuel emissions, which most scientists have linked to climate change.  


The Democratic Party-led House of Representatives passed the bill on Friday. It would require large companies, including utilities and manufacturers, to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global warming by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, from 2005 levels. It must still go through the U.S. Senate, where its ultimate fate remains uncertain despite the Democratic majority there.

Conservative Christians, a key base -- if not THE base -- for the out-of-power Republican Party, are among the biggest skeptics of human-induced global warming. In the eyes of many environmentalists, they were part of an "unholy alliance" with the energy industry that enjoyed its zenith under former president George W. Bush, who pulled America out of the Kyoto Protocol aimed at cutting emissions in the developed world. The Bush administration was widely seen as hostile to any attempt to cap emissions as well as the science behind it.

On your mark! Get set! Swim to the Caribbean!

The contestants are chunky to say the least, but to their celebrity coaches and sponsors they are things of beauty: 11 endangered leatherback sea turtles, competing to be the first to swim from their chilly feeding grounds off the Canadian Atlantic coast to their breeding grounds in the Caribbean.

The Great Turtle Race starts April 16, but the handicapping began early, with boosters for massive entrants Nightswimmer and Backspacer boasting that they were sure to win.

“Our turtle, Nightswimmer — huge, beautiful,” said Mike Mills, bass player with alternative pop/rock group R.E.M., which is sponsoring the big male racer. “Of course with (former U.S. Olympic champion swimmer) Janet Evans as coach I really don’t see how we can lose.”

PG&E takes smart meter lead in U.S.

California utility PG&E is at the head of the class when it comes to smart meters in North America, having installed 2.3 million of them. It is on track to have nearly 10 million working by 2011, according to figures gathered by the utility and a survey of smart metering programs by the Energy Retail Association, of Britain.Smart meters are in their infancy but their numbers are expanding rapidly in the United States and around the world. After PG&E, PECO in Pennsylvania has installed 2.2 million meters — all of its power and natural gas customers.  Even at 2.3 million, PG&E and North American utilities lag behind Italy and it biggest utility, Enel, which installed 30 million smart meters nationwide in four years.The digital meters allow for near real-time readings by customer and utility, allowing better informed decisions on cutting demand as well as getting a better handle on whether new power plants and lines are needed. Smart metering also offers the chance for customers to voluntarily set limits so that appliance turn off automatically if prices rise to high.It will cost PG&E customers — the cost is passed through to them — about $2.2 billion to install the 5.3 million electricity and 4.8 million natural gas meters.

Is geoengineering the climate a policy option?

The current issue of the American magazine Foreign Affairs has a thought-provoking piece that asks if the geoengineering option shouldn’t be used as a last resort in the battle against climate change. You can see the introduction to the article here (but will need to be a registered user to read all of it online).

 Climate geoengineering is a thinly explored branch of science which to date has seen little in the way of peer-reviewed research. Some of its advocates envision global systems which would launch reflective particles into the atmosphere or position sunshades to cool the earth.

Another approach is to dump iron dust into the sea to spur the growth of algae that absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the air. When algae die, they fall to the seabed and so remove carbon.

Good news on the dolphin front

Good news on the marine front is about as rare as these days as a Grand Banks’ cod.

 So it’s nice to be able to report that scientists have discovered a bigger than expected population of one of the world’s most endangered species of marine mammals — the Irrawaddy dolphin.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society announced this week that they estimated there were nearly 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins living in freshwater regions of Bangladesh’s Sundarbans mangrove forest and adjacent waters of the Bay of Bengal.

Feinstein wants her desert and solar, too

California Senator Dianne Feinstein is fuming over a federal plan to use some Mojave desert lands to develop solar power plants and wind farms.

In a letter to Dept. of the InteriorSecretary Ken Salazar, Feinstein said she planned to introduce legislation that would protect the former railroad lands, thereby preventing the federal government from leasing them to renewable energy project developers. The 600,000 acres in question were acquired by and donated to the government’s Bureau of Land Management between 1999 and 2004 for the purpose of conservation.

“I have been informed that the BLM now considers these areas open for all types of use except mining.  This is unacceptable!” Feinstein wrote in a March 3 letter made public last week.