Monday, October 29, 2007

When Will Our Leaders Start Leading On Energy?

With oil soaring past $93 per barrel today, China starting to ration diesel, and everybody from airlines (are our days of flying numbered?) to farmers (rising food prices coming soon...), and consumers feeling the pinch (more are buying hybrids and car-sharing), when are our leaders going to see the writing on the wall and start leading us to a more efficient, clean, and secure energy future?

Just curious...

As a Union of Concerned Scientists official declared in one of the articles linked to above:

"What we really need on this broad level is for Congress to act to give us the patriotic cars that are going to relieve the pain at the pump, to reduce our dependence on oil," said Jim Kliesch, a senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

How much more pain can U.S. consumers take before it's clear as day to our elected officials that they either vote to do it or their jobs are toast?

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/29/2007

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Many Solar & Wind kWh + Electric Cars Could $2.4 Trillion Buy?

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office announced that the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost $2.4 Trillion by 2017.

Pondering what historians in the coming decades could view as the greatest strategic blunder in security spending ever, I have to wonder how many kWh of solar and wind power, how much of a transition beyond fossil fuels, could this $2.4 trillion have funded?

Any answers out there?

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/25/2007

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Border Fence: An Unintelligent & Environmentally Destructive Waste of Taxpayer Dollars

When I see young promising high school students lose an opportunity to go to college because they can't get a student loan... When I see families get denied the money they need to rebuild their homes and lives following Hurricane Katrina... And then watch as the federal government spends $billions on a border fence that will do nothing other than harm wildlife populations, I have to rub my eyes in frustration about the incompetence of those entrusted with our taxpayer dollars.

As a conservation biologist, I know well about the damage that the border fence will do to the migration, gene flow, and overall health of wildlife populations, including those of such endangered species as the jaguar, ocelot, jaguarundi, and white-sided jackrabbit (which I got a great photograph of one afternoon while working on the Gray Ranch in southwest, New Mexico).

As plain ol' common sense, I know that a 10-foot-high concrete wall just isn't going to stop illegal immigration. It might boost ladder sales in border towns, and appears to be providing anti-environmental zealots with an excuse to waive environmental laws, but that's about it. Just listen to the response of local people in Texas (from the October 2 Associated Press article linked to above):

McALLEN – The first public forum of a new state border security group Monday turned into a one-sided referendum on the federal government's planned border fence, with local and state officials agreeing the structure will do little to stop illegal immigration.

But the Border Security Council told frustrated local officials that they were virtually helpless to stop the federal project to build hundreds of miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Congress has budgeted $1.2 million for the fences.

Instead, state officials said they wanted to secure the border by stopping drug and human trafficking and terror-related activities.

"The idea of fences is to keep terrorists from our country. I say that fences do not make arrests," McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez told the eight of the eleven members of the council who attended the meeting, the first of three this week in border cities.

Rodriguez said the money being spent on the new fence should instead pay for more Border Patrol agents.

I'm a supporter of smart, well-studied, and proven strategies to curtail illegal immigration, starting with boosting border patrols (and creating jobs in the process), among other options. As a note, when I conducted ecological field work on ranches along the U.S./Mexico border in the mid-1990's, I was highly impressed with the work of the Border Patrol - they certainly deserve the funding a whole lot more than a fence that doesn't stand an ice cube's chance in the Amazon of doing what it's supposed to do.

The border fence is just a nonsensical waste of cherished taxpayer dollars. I hope that environmental groups can work through their fear of the controversy surrounding the issue and organize to not just stop it, but motivate its removal.

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/23/2007

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Monday, October 22, 2007

2007 As a Tipping Point for Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Sustainability: A Few Thoughts

With the realization that not only Climate Change, but perhaps also Peak Oil are here now, 2007 sure seems to be turning into quite the tipping point for the future of society as we know it.

A friend of mine just returned from a Peak Oil conference in Houston, and declared "this is it. Peak Oil is here NOW." Indeed, just last week we heard it from legendary oil tycoon Boone Pickens: with demand (88 million barrels per day) exceeding supply (85 million barrels per day - a plateau we've been floating around since 2005), we can expect oil and gas prices to keep going higher. Whether we're there now, or just a few years away, oh boy... What's going to happen to all those unpatriotically gigantic Dodges and Ford 350+ type trucks on the road, which may soon become too expensive for most people to operate?!

The good news, of course, is that as oil and gas prices go higher, demand will at some point decline in response, and a new equilibrium price range will be established. I hope that the range is high enough to motivate (1) dramatic reductions in the use of fossil fuels to power our vehicles and (2) dramatic increases in the use of clean, highly efficient, and cheaper-to-operate technologies to power our vehicles. These developments in the oil and transportation markets are, of course, the types of things that need to happen anyway if we are to reduce our carbon emissions sufficiently to spare humanity from very destructive impacts of climate change. Hopefully they inspire China and India to move towards efficient, low-emissions personal transport options before the balance of their masses who want cars actually get them.

I find it interesting that tipping points in both climate change and Peak Oil seem to be following a parallel timeline. It's almost as if Earth's response to humanity's spewing of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is to start shutting down the planetary oil spigots, which will, in turn will help bring levels of greenhouse gas emissions back down! This kind of response of Mother Nature reminds me of how grasslands and deserts respond to being overgrazed by livestock: plants that livestock eat are replaced by weedy plants that livestock don't find very tasty, until eventually the land can no longer support grazing. The resulting decline in livestock numbers typically allows the land's soils, plants, and wildlife to begin to recover. It will sure be interesting to watch as the earth responds to the increasing strain being inflicted by humanity, and how the earth's response affects humanity's capacity to continue to inflict strain. How will Mother Nature's response affect the well-being of human societies?

My guess is that we're headed down a path towards a presidency - perhaps 2008, but more likely 2012 - where a worried and stressed public demands a New Deal type agenda that not only fights climate change and its increasing ecological, economic, health, and quality of life impacts, but takes bold steps to advance society past our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.

What kind of bold steps are needed? At a grand scale - a key item is to increase the sustainability of our cities. And who'd have thunk it, but a small Middle Eastern country is among those leading the way in demonstrating how cities can become independent of oil.

Get a load of the idea for the sustainable city of Masdar, proposed by one of the United Arab Emirates:

Masdar is being designed to run entirely on renewable energy. World renown architect Lord Foster is designing Masdar so that its 50,000 residents will live on streets modeled on traditional souks and medinas - but draped with shades of fabric that convert sunlight into electricity. There will be fields of solar concentrating mirrors in the desert and wind turbines will catch breezes from the Gulf.

Palm and mangrove plantations will create a green belt around the city to provide raw material for bio-fuels, a new industry that, say developers, may one day supplement oil and gas revenues. The tiny emirate is the fifth largest exporter of oil in the world, but it is envisaged that Masdar City will not need a drop. "We want to position ourselves as thinkers and progressives," says Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar. "Years ago in the Middle East we lived in a very sustainable environment. We are bringing that back by creating a compact city where people don't need to use a car."

Adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport, the goal is to create a city based on sustainable employment, eventually facilitating a population of 100,000. The first stage of development will set the tone for the entire project; the construction of a state-of-the-art photovoltaic power plant that will deliver the energy required to build the entire city!

The compact, high-density city will be completely free of cars and their emissions; a world model of energy conservation with zero carbon emissions and zero waste. Compared to average urban levels, fossil fuel consumption will be reduced by 75%, water demand by 300% and waste production by 400%. Cycling and walking will be the most common means of travel.

According to the city's master plan, no one will be more than 200 meters from essential facilities, including shops selling locally grown produce. A Light Railway Transport system will link the Masdar development to adjacent developments, the airport and in the future with the center of Abu Dhabi.


So we see a solid example of what is possible in the development of future cities.

But how will existing cities rise to the challenges posed by Peak Oil and climate change, from transportation to water to maintaining an affordable food supply?

We are currently seeing lots of good ideas emerging. Amazingly, even Wal-Mart is taking a leading role in driving innovation!

Stay tuned for what promises to be an interesting few months ahead as oil approaches $100 a barrel, and the impacts of rising oil prices start to reverberate throughout society. I look forward to seeing the positive developments that ensue, as the world is forced to turn with greater urgency toward more sustainable alternatives - both in our products and our everyday practices.

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/22/2007

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Will Peak Oil Boost Re-Using and Recycling?

With oil prices skyrocketing and Peak Oil possibly here now, the cost of harvesting and transporting raw materials for the construction and renovation of homes and buildings is only going to go up. The good news - for landfills and forests alike - is that this development is likely to reduce stress on both.

As the New York Times reported the other day, the practice of recycling homes - dismantling old structures to use the materials for newly planned ones - is on the rise. It both reduces waste and saves considerable amounts of money:

While the standard demolition quotes were around $25,000, (a couple in Chicago) spent $38,000 to have a contractor...unpiece it over six weeks last summer. They expect to come out even or better after selling door hardware, windows, appliances and other components at a salvage auction and reaping a tax deduction by donating the rest to a reuse store.

What I really like (compared to the highly annoying noise of demolition) is that:

“It was cleaner and quieter than demolition,” said Ms. Bronstein, an assistant professor of communication at DePaul University in Chicago. “We didn’t have dust flying everywhere.”

The result of this kind of practice not only saves money for homeowners, but also for buyers of home improvement items, which are typically much cheaper when purchased used:

...many cities now have “reuse” stores, which sell salvaged goods — from wall sockets to vintage redwood floorboards — for 50 to 75 percent off what similar products would cost if purchased new.

With oil prices rising, look for these types of practices and related businesses to take off!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ecosystem Services in Farming...and Gardening

Earlier this week, I was sitting in a cafe reading a great book about ecosystem services titled, "Nature in the Marketplace" by Geoffrey Heal. In the chapter about "Policies and Institutions", Heal discusses the decline in not only pollinators, but also predators of agricultural pests that has resulted from the vast size and monoculture nature of mega-agricultural fields.

Birds (key predators of insect pests), he notes, "generally do not fly across wide expanses, preferring to move from greenway to greenway." He continues:

And indeed, the traditional farm was edged by woods and broken up with hedgerows. There is clear evidence that such a structure gives greatly improved natural protection against pests. Even in the case of large farming operations, preserving small amounts of natural habitat in the form of woods and copses and providing hedgerows can lead to thriving populations of wildlife. Because they act as both pollinators and as predators of many common pests, this can be a cost effective approach to pest control and pollination. It may also lead to crops with higher market value, as consumers are often willing to pay more for food grown without pesticides.

Reading this made me think about something interesting that happened in my own organic garden recently - in which we plant tomatoes, various types of hot peppers, chives, corn, beans, peas, zucchini squash, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, strawberries, and a bunch of culinary herbs. To attract pollinators, we maintain strips of native California grasses and wildflowers at each end of the garden, and in an island in the middle (it also looks very nice, and is a nice backdrop for our solar fountain).

A couple of weeks ago, our landlord told me he was going to have gardeners come by the house. I emphatically told him to please make sure they don't touch the garden. We were surprised to come home the night the gardeners had come and find that all of our grasses and wildflowers had been pulled. The garden had been left completely bare except for our food and herb plants - a few of which were actually missing (they pulled 2 productive bean plants, our dill weed, and a bunch of mint and oregano). When I called and yelled at the landlord about the demolition of our garden, he told me that it had looked "messy", so he had the gardeners cut all the native grasses and wildflowers. (he's not the brightest bulb, to be sure)

Suddenly this week when I went to harvest tomatoes for a fresh batch of salsa, I noticed something interesting. There were snails eating our tomatoes. We'd had no problem with snails until the gardeners had removed all the native grasses and wildflowers. It seems that the grasses and wildflowers not only helped to attract pollinators, but also to control pests! They must have kept the snails well enough fed that they didn't need to eat our fruits and vegetables. Either that, or some type of snail predator had lived in the grasses and wildflowers.

This observation of the pest control benefits of maintaining strips of native grassland plants in our garden seemed to be a mini-example of what Heal was talking about concerning the benefits of maintaining hedge rows in large agricultural fields.

Have any of you experienced anything similar to this in your garden?

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/18/2007

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Leading the Fight Against Climate Change (and Peak Oil): Is the Next President the Most Important in U.S. History?

First, a big congratulations to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The global significance of this award provides yet another demonstration of the increasing realization of (most) world leaders that unless we take action fast and take action now, climate change is going to pose a huge challenge to life as we know it sooner than we'd like.

Thus as we approach the 2008 elections, it is becoming clear that with the threats posed by unexpectedly rapid climate change looming larger each year, the next president of the United States will be the most important in America's history. This president will need to mount a New Deal-like 'One Hundred Days of Climate Action', which both leads the world in staving off a climate catastrophe, and weans America (and the world) from our increasingly precarious dependence on oil.

Such are the conclusions of David Orr, William S. Becker, James Gustave Speth, and former Senator Gary Hart in four superb articles published in the August, 2007 issue of the journal, Conservation Biology. The articles, says Orr, were the conclusion "of a small group convened by Ray Anderson, Jonathan Lash, and Bill Becker in 2006 to discuss leadership and sustainability."

One of the outcomes of the meeting, says Orr, was "the formation of an effort to define the first steps that must be taken by the new administration in 2009 to create and implement a climate action plan adequate to the emergency ahead. We focused on the first 100 days so as to shed light on the critical importance of the first steps in a new direction."

One Hundred Days of Climate Action

Back in the first 100 days of the Roosevelt Administration -- which Orr's 100 days of climate action is modeled after -- the crisis at hand was much more tangible: the debilitating economic conditions of The Great Depression. Today's crisis of accelerating climate change is, as of yet at least, not nearly as tangible to most Americans. Of course, that could easily change quite quickly, as it did for thousands of Gulf Coast residents following Hurricane Katrina. The prospect of more frequent and intense Katrina-level climate disasters -- from hurricanes to tornadoes to floods to droughts -- hammers home the reality that, as Orr emphasizes, "it will be far cheaper to act now than at some other date, by which time effective action of any kind will be difficult or impossible." (a possibility that insurance companies are certainly worried about)

Orr recommends that the next president make 10 key choices to shift our country, and eventually the world, to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years:
1. The president must make a climate action plan the linchpin connecting other issues including policies for security, economy, environment, and justice.

2. The president elect and the transition group must identify unusually talented potential appointees who can quickly gain public confidence and command the machinery of government, and who share a commitment to act decisively to meet the challenges posed by climate change.
We cannot afford any more of the crippling cronyism and incompetence in key positions that has characterized the current administration.
3. The president must rise above the divisions of right and left, stake out common ground, and present a vision of the safer, healthier, more secure America that we can achieve by confronting climate change.

4. The president must craft a communications strategy that rapidly educates the public about the science of climate change and the risks of a delayed response, and shows a plausible way forward consonant with economic advantage and our national heritage. The goal is to create a broad and stable coalition around the national interest in climate stability that protects our long-term security and prosperity and distributes the costs and benefits fairly.

To ensure that the public is adequately informed, not mislead and deliberately confused, the president should direct the Federal Communications Commission, among other things, to reinstate the "fair and balanced" standard necessary to hold a license to broadcast over the public airwaves.
5. The president should outline a course in which we rapidly remove carbon from the U.S. energy system. This policy would (1) reduce our dependence on imported fuels; (2) minimize our vulnerability to political conflicts in unstable parts of the world, (3) reduce our balance of payments deficit and money going to fund terrorist groups; (4) lower the total costs of energy, notably those costs that are now externalized; (5) generate better technology and a better economy; (6) create good and stable jobs; (7) improve air and water quality; (8) protect public health; (9) lower health costs; and (10) reduce the influence of entrenched energy industries on U.S. politics.
The right energy policy, emphasizes Orr, "should solve many different problems including that of climate change and national security while providing other collateral benefits."
6. The president should expand the federal capacity to implement climate policy consistently across all aspects of government, from assessing new technologies (ala the Office of Technology Assessment, which was terminated in 1994) to responding to disasters (a need that was clearly demonstrated by Hurricane Katrina).

7. The president would be wise to initiate a longer-term effort to reign in the power of money in politics - which has badly corrupted the policy process and rendered it largely ineffective for solving America's most pressing problems. Although there is no shortage of ideas on how to do so, the best solution would be to remove money from the electoral process once and for all by publicly financing elections to national offices.

8. In the first 100 days, the president must take bold steps to rejoin the international community on climate, security, and economic issues. There is no prospect of stabilizing climate without a coordinated global effort. The world is waiting for U.S. leadership to help create a global partnership on climate policy.

9. Federal action is necessary, but not sufficient. The next president should create a national commission on local responses to climate change focused on the steps required to build locally and regionally resilient economies, food systems, and distributed energy networks that would enhance the capacity to withstand disruptions caused by climate change.
Orr cites the model of the Civilian Conservation Corps as a good model of how the government can organize a rapid mass-proliferation of wind farms and solar technologies, and help improve energy efficiency in low-income communities.
10. The next president must change the spirit of this country, exorcising the fears that have manifested in demons that haunt our nights and darken our days. In the light of higher purpose and clearer vision we might once again be a great, not merely powerful, nation.
The Most Important President and Us

William S. Becker, in the article following Orr's, agrees that "I think we can say without exaggeration that the American people are about to elect the most important president in our history." He emphasizes, however, that the responsibility to solve the climate crisis lies not only with the president, but also with the American people, who, he says, must end their reluctance to be lead. Becker elegantly states that:

"As a people, we need to be smarter, tougher, more entrepreneurial, and eager to regain our edge as a culture of invention and industry. We must show that our opposite thumbs still have capabilities beyond operating the remote control and that we still deserve to be called the most intelligent species."

"We will have to wake up from the dull denial that masks the cruel ironies of our mindset. We stick yellow magnetic "support our troops" ribbons on the back of our urban assault vehicles while we fill their insatiable tanks with gasoline, enriching nations that support the terrorists our troops are presumably in the Middle East to fight."

He concludes that:
"The challenge Orr describes so well for the next president is really the challenge that faces us all. We must be willing to accept the feedback coming from the ecosystem; to raise the standards of politics, government, and leadership; and to give our candidates and leaders permission to be bold."
Indeed, the fight versus climate change requires big, bold steps from the next president, Congress, local governments, businesses, and the American people alike. The good news, which I emphasize time and again on this blog, is that working to implement climate change solutions will provide all Americans with a much-needed positive vision and a beacon of hope to aspire to as a nation: growing a new, more stable renewable energy-powered economy, improving our public health and national security, and protecting the health of the earth's wondrous ecosystems and biodiversity. Perhaps most important to our quality of life, it will help us to prepare for and sidestep the potentially calamitous consequences of another looming threat -- Peak Oil.

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/12/2007

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Best Greenwash-Spoofing Cartoon Ever?

I posted this cartoon with yesterday's news, but it's just too good to not post a bigger version...

Of course, the problem - and environmental impact - of greenwashing is very serious. If the company's claim of "environmentally friendly" is merely meant to boost sales, the only thing green about the product is the profits the false marketing is bringing to the company.

What's the solution? To make sure that the production or use of the green products you buy is truly sustainable, make sure they are certified by a reputable eco-label.

I'll be keeping a sharp eye on the validity of established and new eco-labels, from organic to sustainably harvested.

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/11/2007

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Do Green Cleaners Really Work?

The Sacramento Bee has a neat article today addressing the question: do those 'eco-friendly' household cleaners really work?

The results sound about right to me. We use certified green (non-toxic, biodegradable, low phosphorus) cleaners throughout the house, and love them! Whatever extra little bit of effort it might take to clean the counter, floor, or bath tub, etc. is absolutely offset by the peace of mind we get by knowing that we're using substances that pose less if any of a threat to our health, and (especially) to that of Qanuk the collie! Plus, we're supporting the proliferation of non-toxic cleaning substances whose production and use helps reduce toxic pollution.

What are your favorite eco-friendly cleaners?

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/10/2007

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/9/2007

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Conserving Forests Saves Lives & Property From Flooding

A new study has provided solid and intriguing data to support the idea that conserving forests helps reduce the frequency and severity of flooding.
Here are two outstanding summaries of the study, from the good folks at (1) and (2) The Natural Patriot.

An excerpt from the latter:

Deforestation has accelerated tremendously in recent decades, with many costs in terms of lost biodiversity, loss of soil fertility, and so on. Forests are also widely believed to protect lowlands against flooding, but this idea has been controversial. The authors of the new study compiled data from 1990 through 2000 from 56 developing countries, and used various sophisticated statistical techniques to show that (1) the frequency of floods is lower in areas with greater natural forest cover, and (2) floods are more frequent in areas that have experienced greater losses of natural forest area. Importantly, these results remained strong even after controlling statistically for effects of rainfall, slope, and area of degraded landscape. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the study compared a wide range of forest types across a global area, with all kinds of other factors that might potentially obscure these trends, the best models nevertheless accounted for more than 65% of the variation in flood frequency, and roughly 14% was explained by forest cover variables alone. And here’s the kicker:

“During the decade investigated, nearly 100 000 people were killed and 320 million people were displaced by floods, with total reported economic damages exceeding US$1151 billion . . . Based on an arbitrary decrease in natural forest area of 10%, the model-averaged prediction of flood frequency increased between 4% and 28% among the countries modeled. Using the same hypothetical decline in natural forest area resulted in a 4–8% increase in total flood duration. These correlations suggest that global-scale patterns in mean forest trends across countries are meaningful with respect to flood dynamics.”

The bottom line, therefore, is that rampant forest loss is likely to exacerbate the frequency of flood-related disasters, potentially impacting millions of poor people throughout the world, and causing trillions of dollars (yes, that’s a “t”) in damage in developing economies in the coming decades. This synthesis of global data emphasizes that protection of existing forests and active reforestation of appropriate degraded land may reduce flood-related catastrophes.

So now, conservationists devising programs to pay landowners to maintain the service of flood-protection provided by intact forests have fresh data to justify these investments. Key remaining questions include (1) who pays (2) how much (3) to whom, and (4) for how long?

While the answers are likely to vary from one location to the next, I look forward to following developments in this exciting and crucial quest to make conservation profitable.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Where Has All the Oil Gone? Is Solar/Electric, Not Biofuels the Answer?

Does the price of oil and gasoline seem almost nonsensical to you?

In response to those who point to Peak Oil as the cause of increasingly volatile and rapidly rising oil prices, have you heard the counter-argument that "shenanigans" in the oil markets are as much to blame?

Well, the Wall Street Journal has a very interesting article on the subject...

My guess is that the answer is a complex combination of the above (and other) factors. But it's a fresh reminder of why I continue to push for the day that I can buy a solar-charged plug-in hybrid or plain electric vehicle. We've just got to move beyond reliance on oil for our energy and transportation needs - before a very unpleasant crisis forces the matter.

According to this UC Berkeley professor's presentation, biofuels just won't be the answer. Fascinating stuff!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Eco-Labeled Coffee - To Reduce Environmental Impact, Make Sure It's 'Shade Grown'

While buying "Organic" and "Fair Trade"-labeled coffee helps reduce pesticide pollution and support the economic well being and health of farmers, only "Shade Grown"-labeled coffee actually helps protect biodiversity.

Such were the findings of a study conducted by researchers from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, titled "Field Testing Ecological and Economic Benefits of Coffee Certification Programs", published in the August, 2007 issue of the scientific journal, Conservation Biology.

As the authors note:

"We found no differences in vegetation characteristics, ant or bird species richness, or fraction of forest fauna in farms based on (Fair Trade and Organic) certification"

"...vegetation variables for shade certification significantly correlated with bird and ant diversity."

Thus, they conclude that:

"Working toward triple certification (organic, fair trade, and shade-grown) at the farm level may enhance biodiversity protection, increase benefits to farmers, and lead to more successful conservation stragtegies in coffee-growing regions."

I am a huge fan (and shameless addict) of good coffee, always buy organic, and buy triple-certified whenever possible. It's great to see studies like this, which are badly needed to help test and verify the ecological validity of environmental claims made by the increasing (and somewhat overwhelming) array of eco-labels.

This study's findings regarding the positive effects of shade-grown coffee on biodiversity are similar to those that have been observed by previous studies - and thus reflect a growing body of science that documents the benefits of buying "shade grown". The biodiversity benefits of Organic and Fair Trade coffee (which do have well-documented social, health, and soil/water quality benefits), have proven less consistent.

The take home message here: if you want to make sure that your coffee not only (1) won't contain nasty toxic pesticide residues and won't pollute local soils and waterways (organic) and the (2) farmer receives a fair price (Fair Trade), but also (3) has minimal impacts on the biological diversity of tropical rainforests, make sure it is labeled as "Shade Grown".

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/3/2007

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Oregon Photographer Documents Impacts of Climate Change

Check out this breathtaking audio slide show of climate change impacts from around the world, by Oregon photojournalist Gary Braasch. His new book Earth Under Fire comes out today.

It’s a hard cover, coffee table book that’s filled with his pictures from around the world documenting the physical changes that have accompanied global warming.

I've seen the shots of glaciers disappearing, and thought about what this portends for the hundreds of millions of people around the world whose drinking and agricultural water comes from mountain glaciers. But the shot of people in Bangladesh - which lies so close to sea level - really made it joltingly clear how serious a humanitarian crisis rising sea levels are going to cause unless we get on the ball reducing humanity's carbon emissions.

As they say, a picture tells...

Sustainability News Headlines - 10/2/2007

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Monday, October 01, 2007

Economic Mechanisms, Incentives for Preventing Deforestation Need to be Included In Next Climate Pact

ENN has a good short piece about the crucial need for deforestation - which accounts for some 20-25% of the world's carbon emissions - to be included in the next climate pact...

Kyoto provides incentives for re-planting former forests, but not for preserving the environmental service of carbon uptake provided by existing ones.

The really good news about addressing this need - it will not only help people avoid the nasty economic, health, security, and other impacts of climate change. It will help conserve the plant and animal treasures (many of which remain undiscovered by human kind) that make their homes in these forests.

Time is running short for our tropical forests, with potentially catastrophic impacts to our global climate, as well as to human welfare. Let's hope that efforts to help forest nations provide their citizens with ways to support themselves through conservation, instead of just through extractive activities, are successful!

Sustainability News Headlines 10/1/2007

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