Help Leonardo DiCaprio and protect Antarctic marine habitat

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Leonardo DiCaprio is pushing for the creation of a marine sanctuary in the Antarctic Ocean and needs your signature. Take a minute and help out.

Please take a moment to click over and sign a petition on Avaaz.org asking that a portion of the Antarctic Ocean be turned into what would be the world’s largest marine sanctuary. Antarctica is governed by the Convention for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (also known as CCAMLR), a unique organization made up of 50 nations that have agreed on a 14-article treaty laying out how things are run on the world’s only continent without permanent human population.
 
The petition on Avaaz.org asks that CCAMLR designate a large swath of the Antarctic Ocean as a protected marine sanctuary. These waters are the feeding, breeding, and living grounds of innumerable species of fish, whales, penguins, and other marine animals and they need to be protected.
 
There are more than a million signatures right now with a goal of 1,250,000. Please take the time and help get one signature closer.
 
Thanks!
 
And thanks to MNN editor-at-large Karl Burkart for tipping me off on this one.
 
You can find Leonardo DiCaprio on Twitter and read more about the battle for the world’s oceans here on MNN.
 

Top 10 Most Important Items To Recycle

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Top 10 Most Important Items To Recycle

Get to know the Top 10!

Recycling is one of the most important things we can do to preserve our planet. On a daily basis, more than 100 million Americans participate in recycling used and old materials in their household and offices.

Are you one of them? Or are you trying to sort which items you can recycle and which ones belong in the compost or the garbage?

To help you out, the National Recycling Coalition has put together a list the top ten most important items to recycle.

#1: Aluminum. This is because aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable and can also be recycled over and over again. Even better, turning recycled cans into new cans takes 95 percent less energy than making brand-new ones. So how about starting with all those soda and juice cans?

#2: PET Plastic Bottles. Americans will buy about 25 billion single-serving bottles of water this year, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Worse yet, nearly 80 percent of those bottles will end up in a landfill. Let’s put a stop to that. Making plastic out of recycled resources uses about two-thirds less energy than making new plastic. And because plastic bottles, more than any other type of plastic, are the most commonly used type, they are usually the easiest to recycle.

#3: Newspaper. This is a pretty obvious one, right? It seems like a no-brainer to set up a recycling bin next to your garbage can for newspaper and any other scrap paper. So why should we recycle paper? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper makes up about one-third of the all the municipal waste stream in the U.S. That’s a whole lot of paper, and since we know that recycling all that paper conserves resources, saves energy, and doesn’t clog up the landfills, there’s no reason not to do it.

Once you have those in place, let’s move on to the rest of our list.

#4: Corrugated Cardboard. Old corrugated cardboard (OCC) represents a significant percentage of the commercial solid waste stream. In 1996, the U.S. generated 29 million tons of OCC, or 13.8% of our municipal waste stream. Approximately 90% of that comes from the commercial or non-residential sector, the places where we work. So next time UPS delivers a big box to your office, be sure to break it down and recycle it. (After you’ve emptied it, of course.)

#5: Steel cans. Just like aluminum, steel products can be recycled over again without compromising the quality of the steel. We’re talking about steel cans, but maybe you have some steel auto parts or appliances ready for recycling too? More than 80 million tons of steel are recycled each year in North America, and recycling steel saves the equivalent energy to power 18 million households a year. You can learn more about steel recycling by visiting the Steel Recycling Institute website.

#6: HDPE plastic bottles (HDPE stands for high-density polyethylene, a common and more dense plastic, which is used for detergents, bleach, shampoo, milk jugs.) HDPE plastics are identified by the logo on the bottom of the container. (Three arrows in the shape of a triangle.) Check the number inside that logo: numbers 1 and 2 are recyclable almost everywhere, but 3 through 7 are only recyclable in limited areas. And don’t forget to rinse and clean all of your HDPE containers in the sink. Any remaining dirt or food particles can contaminate the recycling process.

#7: Glass containers. Recycled glass saves 50 percent energy versus virgin glass, and recycling just one glass container saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for four hours. Recycled glass generates 20 percent less air pollution and 50 percent less water pollution, and one ton of glass made from 50 percent recycled materials saves 250 pounds of mining waste. Wow!

#8: Magazines and #9: Mixed paper. There are so many reasons to recycle all kinds of paper that it makes no sense not to. First, recycled paper saves 60 percent of energy versus virgin paper, and also generates 95 percent less air pollution. Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water. Sadly, though, every year Americans throw away enough paper to make a 12-foot wall from New York to California. Let’s work on changing that!

#10: Computers. Computers can be recycled in a couple of ways, depending on the state of the machine. Giving old, working computers to friends and family members or donating them to nonprofit organizations not only keeps the computer entirely out of the waste stream, but it presents computer access to someone who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Non-working computers can be sent to recycling centers where they are dismantled and valuable components are recovered.

Of course, there’s also reducing and reusing, and if you choose those, you will have even less to recycle!



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Apparently Shell’s Arctic drilling ships aren’t nearly clean enough to meet EPA standards for air pollution, so rather than using cleaner ships Shell has asked the EPA to bend the rules.

Greenpeace breaks down the request in Shell’s revised permit application: One ship, the

5 Ways You Can Save Tropical Rainforests

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5 Ways You Can Save Tropical Rainforests

The Earth’s rainforests continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Each day, an astounding 80,000 acres of rainforest are lost forever, despite international disapproval and concern. Groups like the Rainforest Action Network, the Rainforest Alliance, the Borneo Project and international programs like UN-REDD work to save global rainforests through incentive-based initiatives, education and conservation programs. Still, it’s an uphill battle that requires a long-term complex social, environmental and economic approach to win.

One of the main reasons rainforests continue to be destroyed comes down to basic economics: they’re worth more (monetarily) cut down than standing, at least by today’s standards. Rainforests are also predominantly located in some of the poorest regions on Earth, leaving local populations vulnerable to corruption and foreign business advancement. Palm oil production, for example, which consists of cutting down virgin rainforest in order to plant a mono-crop of oil palm trees, trees that can only grow in tropical climates, is just one example of rainforest development. Use lipstick or eat ice cream?  Chances are palm oil is listed as one of the ingredients.

Rainforests are also home to 50% of the world’s species, which are directly impacted by deforestation. In addition, the forests act as a major carbon sink and hold countless natural, historical and medicinal wonders. They’re also home to some of the world’s last remaining indigenous peoples who are linked to past civilizations including the Mayans, Incas and Aztecs. These cultures have learned to live with the land and therefore uniquely understand the intricacies of the rainforest and its animal and plant inhabitants.

Scientists and activists remain concerned about the best approach to save the rapidly disappearing rainforests of the world, yet there appears to be agreement of what has and has not worked in the past and it’s clear that rainforests will survive only if local people and governments can be shown a tangible economic benefit to their intact existence. While many living abroad can see the environmental and emotional benefit of a rainforest, those living locally and deep in poverty with an immediate need for money are more likely to sell out.

So what do you do?  Ecotourism is one possibility as are bio-prospecting fees and carbon credits. Nevertheless, economic demand for palm oil is strong and financial incentives simply aren’t enough given rampant corruption.  Cultural barriers also play a significant role, creating rifts between developed nation priorities and developing nation priorities. In light of all the challenges, however, five basic steps we can each take every day to save rainforests have been broken down into the acronym TREES, which stands for:

  • Teach others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rainforests.
  • Restore damaged ecosystems by planting trees on land where forests have been cut down.
  • Encourage people to live in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.
  • Establish parks to protect rainforests and wildlife.
  • Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment.

For many, Teach, Encourage and Support will likely make the most practical sense, although if you’re able to donate to a worthy and credible conservation organization, plant a tree, or do even more, then great!  Saving the rainforests of the world has never been more important, particularly as climate change increases in severity, making global carbon sinks of critical value. Ironic, eh?

We Need a No More Oil Spills Act, Not a No More Solyndras Act

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So, Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL) wants Congress to pass a No More Solyndras Act, ostensibly to protect taxpayers from government cleantech loans going bad—even though, as Climate Progress points out, Solyndra aside, the government’s loan program for cutting edge technology has been a success, with 32 projects going in 20 states, creating 22,000 jobs, using $2.5 billion to mobilize over $20 billion in private investment.

I have several counter proposals for Rep. Stearns, bills that would better protect taxpayers’ money, health, livelihoods, children, as well as the long-term vitality of the nation and planet.

This list could go on an on, so I’ll just confine myself to energy bill proposals:

  1. No More Oil Spills Act
  2. No More Fracking Act
  3. No More Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Act
  4. No More Tar Sands Mining Act
  5. No New Oil Drilling Act
  6. No New Coal Power Plants Act (and its companion bill, the Coal Power Plant Decommissioning/Transition Act)
  7. No New Nuclear Power Plants Act (and its companion bill, the Nuclear Power Plant Decommissioning Act)

    And some phrased in the positive:

  8. The Solar Power For All Act
  9. The Energy Efficiency Improvement Assistance Act
  10. The Electric Vehicle Charging Station Expansion Act
  11. The Transportation Choice Act (aka the American Expand Public Transit Act)

Let’s leave the details for another time, but any one of the following would get more to the heart of the matter than Stearns’ myopic, misplaced focus on the failure of one government loan.

So, TreeHugger readers, lets give Stearns so more suggestions. Leave them in the comments below.

If you want to contact Rep. Stearns, here’s his info:

U.S. House Of Representatives

2306 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Phone (202) 225-5744

Fax (202) 225-3973

And his press contact’s email: paul.flusche@mail.house.gov

Accidental Vote Legalizes Fracking in North Carolina

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Accidental Vote Legalizes Fracking in North Carolina

Imagine being a politician who cares about the environment and the safety of your constituents. Imagine having the honor to cast the deciding vote on a controversial issue. Now imagine discovering that you accidentally voted the wrong way, thus implementing the very policy you were trying to prevent.

That’s precisely what happened to North Carolina Representative Becky Carney last week, reports News & Observer. As the House voted on the issue of fracking, Carney made the relatively simple error of pressing the “AYE” button rather than the “NO” button she intended to select. Everyone makes mistakes, but not all mistakes have such drastic consequences on a statewide level.

The decision to permit fracking in the state of North Carolina has been an ongoing saga. After state legislatures approved the controversial practice, Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the bill. Republicans then bargained with Democrats to obtain the necessary votes to override the veto and allow natural gas drilling in the state.

Carney was not one of those votes. Or, well, she didn’t intend to be. Having voted against the initial bill three weeks prior, Carney held firm to her position on the matter, but her finger decided otherwise. Carney chalks up the error to being tired, as the vote took place after 11 pm.

She certainly woke up quickly, however. Immediately recognizing her mistake, Carney begged the House Speaker, Thom Tillis, to allow her to change her vote. Instead, Tillis ignored her plea and proceeded with the voting to make the result official. Tillis later explained, “There’s a green button and a red button, they should know which one to push.”

North Carolina regulations permit state legislatures to alter accidental votes in most cases – except when it would change the outcome. In other words, if the vote is actually of consequence, that is when it is ironclad.

There is precedence for this situation. In 2011, fellow Democrat, Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, cast an errant vote in favor of term limits in North Carolina. Framer-Butterfield’s was the deciding vote in the matter, although there was no significant consequence as the State Senate declined to vote on the issue, thus effectively killing the bill.

“I feel rotten,” said Carney after fracking became legal in her state. Perhaps the only people who should feel more rotten are those who voted for the measure on purpose. A host of evidence suggests that fracking harms drinking water supplies and could be responsible for an increase in earthquakes. We’ll have to see just how many incorrect votes are cast when the ground starts trembling more frequently.

Will Putting a Price Tag on Natural Resources Make Business Care About the Environment?

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Will Putting a Price Tag on Natural Resources Make Business Care About the Environment?

NEW DELHI (AP) — What is a sip of clean water worth? Is there economic value in the shade of a tree? And how much would you pay for a breath of fresh air?

Putting a price on a natural bounty long taken for granted as free may sound impossible, even ridiculous. But after three decades on the fringes of serious policymaking, the idea is gaining traction, from the vividly clear waters of the Maldives to the sober, suited reaches of the World Bank.

As traditional measures of economic progress like GDP are criticized for ignoring downsides including pollution or diminishment of resources such as fresh water or fossil fuels, there has been an increased urgency to arguments for a more balanced and accurate reckoning of costs. That is particularly so as fast-developing nations such as India and China jostle with rich nations for access to those resources and insist on their own right to pollute on a path toward growth.

Proponents of so-called “green accounting” — gathered in Rio de Janeiro this week for the Rio Earth Summit — hope that putting dollar values on resources will slam the brakes on unfettered development. A mentality of growth at any cost is already blamed for disasters like the chronic floods that hit deforested Haiti or the raging sand storms that have swept regions of China, worsening desertification.

Environmental economists argue that redefining nature in stark monetary terms would offer better information for making economic and development decisions. That, they say, would make governments and corporations less likely to jeopardize future stocks of natural assets or environmental systems that mostly unseen make the planet habitable, from forests filtering water to the frogs keeping swarming insects in check.

If the value of an asset like a machine is reduced as it wears out, proponents say, the same accounting principle should apply to a dwindling natural resource.

“Environmental arguments come from the heart. But in today’s world based on economics it’s hard for arguments of the heart to win,” said Pavan Sukhdev, a former banker now leading an ongoing project that was proposed by the Group of Eight industrialized nations to study monetary values for the environment.

That study, started in 2007, has estimated the world economy suffers roughly $2.5 trillion to $4 trillion in losses every year due to environmental degradation. That’s up to 7 percent of global GDP.

“We need to understand what we’re losing in order to save it,” Sukhdev said. “You cannot manage what you do not measure.”

Using the same accounting principles, some countries are already changing policy.

The Maldives recently banned fishing gray reef sharks after working out that each was worth $3,300 a year in tourism revenue, versus $32 paid per catch. Ugandans spared a Kampala wetland from agricultural development after calculating it would cost $2 million a year to run a sewage treatment facility — the same job the swamp does for free.

But environmental accounting still faces many detractors and obstacles. Among them is resistance from governments who might lack the resources and expertise to publish a “greened” set of national accounts alongside those measuring economic growth. Particularly in the developing world, many still struggle to produce even traditional statistics that are timely and credible.

And even practitioners are riven by debates on how to put a price on a vast range of natural resources and systems that encapsulate everything from pollination by bees to the erosion prevented by mangroves in an estuary. The single largest difficulty is that markets, which are the easiest way to value goods and services, don’t exist for ecosystems.

“Since many things don’t formally have a market price, how do you value them? Almost all the debate and discussion really hinges around valuation issues, and that is where it can get flakey,” said India’s former chief statistician Pronab Sen.

At one extreme, said Sen, are people who say natural resources should get a zero value since we don’t know how to value them. Others argue that the values for such resources should be infinite, meaning they can’t be touched since no one has an infinite amount of money.

Opposition is also expected from parts of the corporate world, since green accounting could make doing business or buying products more expensive.

A forest once valued by what its trees fetch on the timber exchange might instead be valued according to the carbon dioxide it absorbs, the animals it supports, the water it filters and the firewood it provides. Or it could be revalued with future generations in mind. That might lead to higher felling fees, pricey replanting requirements or more expensive wood. Some might rethink the economic benefit of cutting it down. Science would become a more important factor in economic decision-making.

Some businesses, however, are embracing the idea to appeal to consumers demanding more accountability. Supermarkets like Britain’s Tesco now offer carbon footprints on packaging alongside calorie counts.

At a national level, green accounting is already being embraced by some governments, even if still in piecemeal fashion.

India in April announced plans for green national accounts by 2015 though it’s unclear if the country’s chaotic bureaucracy can reach that target. Australia will soon begin taxing carbon dioxide emissions, which Costa Rica has been doing for a decade to fund forest preservation.

Late last century, a team of U.S., Dutch and Argentine researchers put a $33 trillion value a year on natural resources such as water, wood and fossil fuels and “services” such as a forest’s absorption of carbon dioxide. The estimate is more than double the value of the U.S. economy, the world’s largest. While admitting difficulties and uncertainties in their methods and calculations, the team’s report said the $33 trillion figure was conservative.

Carbon credits, perhaps the best known example of giving a value to an environmental good, also illustrate the difficulties. Experts thought the pricing of carbon credits might have been straightforward, since emissions are easily measured and every CO2 unit is the same. But the carbon market wobbled wildly for years over estimates ranging from $5 to $500 per unit.

Other resources open worlds of debate. Water — frozen, liquid or gas, it’s found just about everywhere from vast oceans or tropical mist to mountain glaciers and underground aquifers. It’s used for drinking, bathing, growing plants, processing sewage, powering hydroelectric plants, driving weather systems and more. So not all water is created equal.

But should one lake be worth more than another? Does it matter if people depend on it, or if it supports schools of tasty fish? Should it even matter what it’s used for now? Or is it more important to consider if it can be replenished?

Some argue such questions make it clear that subjecting the natural world to free market ideology is immoral and counterproductive.

“The result would be the further privatization of essential elements of our planet to which we all share rights and have responsibilities,” writes Hannah Griffiths from the World Development Movement, a UK-based anti-poverty campaigning organization, in a recent essay for the Guardian.

Still some experts in the field say the world is on track to having comprehensive green accounts within 10 to 15 years.

A crucial advance has been the United Nations’ quiet adoption in April of a framework of agreed concepts and definitions for green accounting that can be applied in any country. It took two decades to develop but stops short of valuing complex ecosystems.

“The accounting is not pie in the sky anymore,” said economist Peter Bartelmus, who led the original U.N. effort.

The World Bank, meanwhile, is backing projects in Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Madagascar and the Philippines that are looking for ways for national accounts to include the value of natural resources.

“Doing something is better than doing nothing. We shouldn’t even aim for perfection, either,” said Sen, the former statistician.

“It is much more important to come up with a methodology that people find intuitively acceptable rather than looking for hard commercial truths. If at a gut level people find it fair, then I think we can run with the idea.”



Stop Hunting Bill That Threatens Polar Bears

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Stop a hunting proposal from passing the Senate in order to protect polar bears and other wildlife from hunting and toxic ammunition exposure.

A radical hunting proposal that opens hunting on federal grounds and caters to polar bear poachers has passed through the House of Representatives and will now be voted on by the Senate. The proposal, dubbed “The Sportsman’s Heritage Act of 2012,” is a serious threat to the dwindling polar bear population.  It is also a threat to all the wildlife that lives on federal property.

According to the Humane Society, the bill would cater to wealthy trophy hunters seeking to import polar bear trophies from Canada despite current laws that make such an act illegal.

The bill also mandates that federal agencies open nearly all federal public lands to hunting with no regard for the impact that hunting will have on habitat and wildlife. And the bill strips away the power and ability that the Environmental Protection Agency has to protect people, animals, and habitat from lead poisoning through toxic ammunition exposure.

Hunting on public lands such as National Parks is dangerous for people as well as animals.

By signing the petition below you can urge your senator to oppose “The Sportsman’s Heritage Act of 2012” bill that would undo the necessary protection of polar bears, mandate hunting on public land and strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its right to protect the environment from a devastating poison.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN PETITION

Trees: Why You Should Care

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Trees: Why You Should Care

The maple, pine or oak tree that you regularly take for granted deserves another look.  Trees are the Earth’s lungs and air purifiers.  They supply housing for countless creatures, provide shade, increase real estate value and are correlated with significant health and emotional benefits.  And, as we humans continue to spew out more and more CO2 into the atmosphere, a tree’s job has never been more important.

Trees absorb CO2 and give off O2, a process that’s been taking place for millions of years. Sequestration rates range, on a per tree basis, an “estimated average of approximately one ton of carbon dioxide over [a tree’s] lifetime.” Logically then, one would think we should be planting trees at an astronomical rate to act as carbon sinks in an effort to mitigate climate change.  So why are we still clear-cutting in the Amazon and destroying forestland for palm oil production?  Perhaps it’s because, even though we generally recognize the value of trees, they’re still worth more cut down than standing. Wouldn’t we leave them alone if the opposite were true?

UN-REDD, a global United Nations program, addresses deforestation and establishes a financial value for forests left intact.  This effort is critical as “deforestation and forest degradation … account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.”  Countries like Bolivia, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Indonesia are participating in UN-REDD but there are still many obstacles to overcome, related mainly to corruption and cultural differences. Interestingly, UN-REDD is popular within the international forestry community, but is not well known in the United States, except in California.

Challenges facing trees aren’t limited to human-based activity, however.  In Colorado, the Mountain Pine Beetle has devastated regional forests leaving vast amounts of mountain ranges barren while exacerbating the risk of forest fire. A 2011 aerial survey showed “that 4.6 million acres in Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota have been affected since the first signs of the [beetle] outbreak in 1996.” That number is up from 4.3 million acres in 2010 and there is concern the western mountain landscape will look drastically different in just a few more years.

Unfortunately, tree plight and disease is predicted to increase given climate change and shifting ecosystems.  The Mountain Pine Beetle, for example, historically died off each year during winter months, yet milder winters provide the beetle ample time to not only survive, but reproduce at double the rate.  The forest simply cannot withstand the duration of attack.

In addition to deforestation and natural predators, trees are also in high material demand.  Trees compose everything from paper to floorboards and we’ve come to rely on tree products for so many of our everyday purchases. Old growth, in particular, is prized for being some of the strongest and most desirable wood in the world.  In fact, the famous California Redwood was all but extinct until conservation efforts stepped in to save the tree.

It’s only recently that the benefits of trees beyond the basic market value structure have begun to be quantified. Trees have long provided poetic beauty and inspiration, but research demonstrates that trees do so much more.  One interesting study showed that decomposing trees leach acids into the ocean, helping to fertilize plankton, a food chain building block.  Trees also filter water and are “capable of cleaning up the most toxic wastes, including explosives, solvents and organic wastes.”  Trees and plants in the Amazon are shown to hold medicinal value as well.

The benefits of trees are vast and it’s no wonder more and more groups are pushing for increased urban forests, tree education and national park preservation.  Ecotourism is another approach to stopping massive scale deforestation, but it’s still an uphill battle. The further away we get from trees, the further away we get from a core part of ourselves; maybe it’s time to take a closer look at what we’re missing.