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The Environment is What You Eat: Misleading Ecolabels like Natural, Free Range and Cruelty Free

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Entering a grocery store for a socially and environmentally minded person can be quite a stressful and trying experience. Should you buy that organic, free-range, cage-free, grass-fed, non-GMO, natural, fair-trade beef? How do you know if those chickens really are free to roam in bucolic pastures? How often are the organic farms audited? How do you know if the apple from New Zealand produced less fossil fuels compared to the local one? When the seemingly more ethical products cost up to twice as much as conventional ones, we end up staring at the shelves in a daze with recycle symbols and cheery looking Peruvian coffee growers circling our heads.

The Most Sustainable Future Community in the US

Treasure IslandTreasure Island is a 400 acre island built from fill dredged from the bay for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. It is connected to land by the Bay Bridge on both sides leading from San Francisco to Oakland. Loosing money due to the depression and WWII, it was converted into a naval base in 1940. In 1996 it was decommissioned and opened to public control. Today San Francisco’s Department of the Environment is transforming it into the most sustainable community in the US by 2020.

The streets are going to be reoriented at an angle to maximize solar and minimize wind. It will include 6,000 units of high-density housing, without any single detached residences. Thirty percent of the housing will be affordable.

City is not the Problem, City is the Solution

Curitiba Rapid Transit Bus TubesLast night at the Nob Hill Masonic Center Auditorium in San Francisco, the Ecocity World Summit hosted San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, now Governor of Paraná Jaime Lerner.

Mayor Newsom started off proudly declaring San Francisco has the highest recycling rate in the country at 70 percent, with a goal of zero waste. The city accepts all types of plastics and even provides a bin to compost all food, including meat! One of the few items not accepted are plastic bags, but last year San Francisco banned plastic bags from all major grocery stores.

The city has one of the most aggressive green building programs in the US. This is important because construction and operation of buildings are responsible for 40 percent of total energy use, 65 percent of total electricity use, 40 percent of air pollution and 38 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The building below is the California Academy of Sciences which is planned to be LEED Platinum,

Ecocity World Summit

http://www.earthunderfire.com/pages/spreads.html
This Earth Day Week, San Francisco is hosting the 7th Annual Ecocity World Summit. This conference brings together an “international community of courageous individuals who are addressing problems of the world’s environment with thoughtful long-range solutions that are truly sustainable, ecologically healthy and socially just.”

I am attending the conference and I will post interesting information throughout the week about the sessions I attend. Last night (April 21st), Gary Braasch, photographer and author of Earth Under Fire, How Global Warming is Changing the World, presented “his past and present record of climate change around the world with emphasis on

Fighting Climate Change in the Dark

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You have heard the threats: if we don’t do something about climate change we will experience something akin to apocalyptic collapse. Climate change will increase the number of diseases, catastrophic storms, wildfires, droughts and floods. With climate change becoming more popular in recent months, companies are starting to take actions to ensure our children do not inherit a ruined earth. However, it is questionable whether some companies care more about their image and profits versus sincere desire to help the environment.

I have noticed more and more commercials by companies that cause huge environmental harm touting small ecological improvements. There are the plastic water bottle companies expounding how kind they are to the environment because they have reduced the amount of plastic in their bottles. The problem is, buying a plastic water bottle, using it once and throwing it away is not helping the earth.

Also, there are the car companies bragging how their environmentally friendly cars are going to save the world. Have you seen the commercial where the little boy asks the father, “Why did you buy a hybrid daddy?”

Las Vegas Ripping Up Lawns to Save Water, But is it Enough?

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In an effort to reduce water usage, in 1999 Las Vegas began to offer $1.50 per square foot of lawn removed from residential and commercial properties. The Water Smart Landscapes program estimates that every square foot of grass replaced with water-smart trees, shrubs and flowers saves an average of 55 gallons of water per year, also saving money on monthly water bills. In the first eight years of the measure, about six square miles of grass have been eliminated, saving 18 billion gallons of water.

Despite these efforts, if Las Vegas does not further cut water usage, there is a 10 percent chance that Lake Mead will run dry in six years, and a 50 percent probability it will be completely gone by 2021, absent other changes. These figures are based on a recent study by two researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

More Cities and Stores Banning Plastic Bags

bagbird.jpgOn March 27th 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the US to ban plastic bags in major supermarkets and pharmacies. Only biodegradable plastic and recyclable paper are allowed. Whole Foods recently announced that by April of this year it would end the use of plastic bags in all of its 270 stores in the US, Canada and the UK.

New York and New Jersey require retailers that use plastic bags to offer a recycling program, the city of Oakland, California, is considering a ban, and China announced a countrywide free plastic bag prohibition in January. Ireland took the lead in Europe, taxing plastic bags in 2002. Customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. The Irish government says the tax cut the use of disposable bags by 90 percent! The tax also raised millions of dollars in revenue.

You Are Eating GMOs, Should You Care?

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Any time you eat non-organic food, there is a 70 percent chance you are ingesting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Modern genetic modification is different from historical alterations–such as plant breeding–because today, genes are transferred from one species to another. For instance, when you eat GM food, there is a good chance it has been injected with genes from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt)—hence Bt Corn.

Are these GM foods a path to end world hunger and ensure a robust harvest in the face of possible harsh future climates? Or, is it a way for corporations to gain global control over agriculture for profit, releasing organisms that have unknown effects on the environment and human health?

According to the USDA, in 1996, less than 5 percent of soy products were genetically modified. Within 12 years, that amount increased to 90 percent. These have been in our foods for over a decade and as far as we can tell, nothing has really gone wrong. Is that why most Americans are not hearing about GMOs?

It’s the Economy, Stupid! Not Entirely

90% of the world’s goods are carried by sea and world trade is increasing all the time. Photograph: Macduff Everton/Corbis

“We must restore confidence to the economy, to consumers and to the markets,” declared The House Democratic Leadership on Friday.

Their solution? Tax rebates and relief, echoing George Bush and probably every other economic analyst. The Federal Reserve has been cutting interest rates for the past six months to achieve the same goal; to entice people to Buy! Buy! Buy!

Not only will this take money away from important public services, but increasing consumption has dire negative impacts. The process of extracting resources, manufacturing products, consuming them, and disposing of them is the very culprit of environmental degradation. And guess what? This consumption will ultimately take us down as well.

In an article entitled 10 Ways Recession Can Help the Environment the author writes:

How Green are Green Cars, Really?

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With all the hype over hybrid, biodiesel, electric and hydrogen cars, we need to ask how much better are these new breeds for the environment. Will these revolutionary cars really bring on a sustainable revolution in transportation, or will we need to turn to transportation in darker shades of green?

Biofuel was hopeful at first, until the price of competing grains increased as farmers devoted more of their land to grow corn for biofuel, leaving less land to grow other crops. Now, according to the Telegraph UK, animal habitats are being destroyed as land around the world is being converted to grow biofuel crops.

You have probably heard of the CNW Marketing study that the H3 Hummer has less of an impact on the environment than the Prius. This has since been rebuked by MIT, Union of Concerned Scientists and Rocky Mountain’s Argonne National Lab. Those studies were based on lifecycle analysis. The lifecycle of a vehicle includes all the steps required to provide the fuel, to manufacture the vehicle, to operate and maintain the vehicle, and to discard and recycle the vehicle.