Blue Marble - September 2009

International Investors Unite to Address Climate Change

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 5:56 PM EDT

Some of the world's biggest financial players gathered in New York on Wednesday to urge bold global action on climate change. The gathering was the largest of its kind in the history of the climate debate. The International Investor Forum on Climate Change brought together 181 investors who manage a whopping $13 trillion in assets. To put that in context, the Gross World Product is around $69 trillion.

A statement released by the group urged global leaders to craft a "strong" climate change agreement in Copenhagen, including a global target for emissions reductions of 50 to 85 percent by 2050. "Global emissions of greenhouse gases must be cut significantly in order to avoid dangerous climate change with catastrophic economic and social consequences," the statement said. "Beyond the potential macroeconomic impacts, investors are concerned about the ways in which climate change and climate policy will affect their investments in individual companies and assets."

The meeting was, in effect, a powerful rebuke to the politicized U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has tried to portray domestic climate legislation as anti-business but is led by an executive with ties to the coal industry. The investment groups signing yesterday's statement included Blackrock, HSBC Global Asset Management, and the ING Group--clearly members of the business mainstream. The group also pointed out that tackling climate change will create new investment opportunities in "low-carbon infrastructure or energy efficiency" and "climate friendly products and services."

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Why is the Food Industry Calling Junk Food 'Healthy'?

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 5:51 PM EDT

This story first appeared at Alternet.

Smart is the new cool thing. There's a smart car, cities now tout smart growth, and you can buy a smart refrigerator. Now comes another breakthrough: Even your breakfast cereal has gotten smart.

At least that's what we consumers are being told by a group of major food corporations that are hoping to cash-in on the growing public concern about nutrition. Your concern is their concern, they say, so these eager-to-serve marketers have launched a snappy food labeling campaign to guide your nutritional choices. They've designated hundreds of their food products as being not just tasty, zesty and zowie—but also good for you.

You'll know which ones to reach for on the supermarket shelf because they'll be labeled with a snappy green checkmark on the front of their packages, along with the phrase, "Smart Choices."

MIT's Trash Tracking Project

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 4:18 PM EDT

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are attaching tracking devices to pieces of garbage in Seattle and charting their journey through the global disposal and recycling system. I'll admit to being a bit jealous. Earlier this year, I too followed my trash, starting in my apartment in San Francisco (which recycles more than any other major city), and continuing through the city dump and beyond. I'd wanted to employ tracking devices but after consulting with everyone from a friend at Wired to device manufacturers in Taiwan, couldn't find anything sufficiently small and affordable. Indeed, the Times reports that MIT's plan to use battery-powered tags based on cell phone technology will cost more than $300,000:

Through the project, overseen by M.I.T.’s Senseable City Laboratory, 3,000 common pieces of garbage, mostly from Seattle, are to be tracked through the waste disposal system over the next three months. The researchers will display the routes in real time online and in exhibitions opening at the Architectural League of New York on Thursday and the Seattle Public Library on Saturday.

Interestingly, the $300,000 is coming from Waste Management, the nation's largest landfill company. When I followed my own trash to Waste Management's Altamont Landfill, the project had seemed novel the company's spokesperson. Most of my story focused on the recycling efforts of Waste Management's competitor, Recology, which handles garbage pickup and recycling in San Francisco (but dumps at Altamont). Could the MIT project be a way for Waste Management to co-opt the idea for its own PR purposes? Probably so. But it's also just plain cool, and I'm glad they're doing it.

Nation's Largest Solar Plant Credits "Big Government"

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 3:39 PM EDT

The announcement that an Arizona utility would build a solar power plant nearly twice as large as the current US record-holder barely made a blip on the national media radar yesterday. That's nuts. It's not quite as nutty as the word swirling around Washington that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is waffling on taking up a climate bill this year.

But, still, nutty. And ironic.

I talked with Joe Salkowski, a spokesman for Tucson Electric Power (TEP), the utility planning the 25-MW array outside of Tucson, Arizona. He says that state and federal policies like the ones contained in the House climate bill "make this project possible."

How?

First, a state requirement that by 2025 utilities generate 15% of their electricity from renewable sources like wind and solar power.

On the federal level, he points to a couple of programs. Investment tax credits for renewable plants were vital to the decision, and so were low interest loans made through the Department of Energy.

So, Senator Reid: quit listening to those whiners about Big Government taking over America, and start paying attention to what's actually happening on the American ground, thanks to the support of Bold Government.

For more, see here.

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Osha Gray Davidson is a contributing blogger at Mother Jones and publisher of The Phoenix Sun, an online news service reporting on solar energy. He tweets @thephoenixsun.

 

Will Congress Protect Natural Resources on Public Lands?

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 11:47 AM EDT

This morning, at the second of two hearings in the House's Natural Resources Committee,  POGO director Danielle Brian applauded Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s elimination of the Royalty In Kind program that governs the extraction of resources like oil from government land  (you can read my post on the first hearing and the many problems with RIK here). But Brian said Salazar's move still “does not adequately drive a stake through the heart of the program.” RIK came about as a way of collecting royalties without placing the burden of auditing companies on the Interior department. However, as Brian pointed out, “What has happened is that we never know if we are making money and don’t know if royalties are enough. We must audit to determine this, which defeats the purpose of collecting royalties in kind.” Last week Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill to create a new agency in the Interior Department to oversee oil and gas leasing of federal lands. 

Not everyone is happy with that idea. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) grumbled that eliminating RIK would lead to more litigation and decrease royalties. “I hate to see that we keep making it harder to get at our resources. Keep in mind the poor single moms who have been hitting me up when gas prices get high.”

But the problem isn't just one of money. There's also the environmental cost that occurs when resources are extracted from public lands without proper oversight. Stephen Smith, mayor of Pinedale, Wyoming, testified about the environmental degradation his community has seen since the extraction of the town’s 35-trillion feet of natural gas. The House Natural Resources committee is currently considering legislation that could provide greater oversight over companies drilling or mining for natural resources from federal and Indian lands. With or without the CLEAR Act, will the west’s wilderness withstand the extraction of its vast, untapped, publicly owned natural gas reserves?

 

 

Salazar Revamps Royalty In Kind

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 9:29 AM EDT

On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the end of the Interior Department’s oil and gas royalty collection program. Salazar made his announcement at part one of a two-part testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee. Last week Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), the chairman of that committee, introduced legislation that would overhaul the existing federal royalty system and create an Interior agency to regulate oil and gas leasing.

Currently, rather than paying in cash for resources extracted from government lands, companies pay federal royalties in comparably valued oil and gas, which the government then sells on the open market. This system, known as Royalty in Kind, is administered by the Minerals Management Service (MMS). Last year, a report compiled by the Interior Department's inspector general found that MMS collections fell far short of their estimated potential revenue and discovered corruption within the agency.

Back in September 2008, Mother Jones’ Josh Harkinson wrote:

So far the grand prize for depravity goes to former RIK manager Gregory Smith, who pitched the oil companies he regulated to do business with his outside consulting firm, slept with two subordinates, and bought cocaine from another RIK employee while on the job (DOJ, where are you?). Of course, last time I checked, there was also an ongoing GAO investigation, four False Claims Act cases pending against MMS in Oklahoma City, and a DOJ investigation of a Virginia-based MMS employee who allegedly traveled to Atlanta to have sex with someone he'd met in a teen online chat room who he thought was a 13-year-old girl.

Salazar’s announcement to overhaul the collection program is no great surprise given MMS’ sex, drug, and bribe-related scandal last year. At the present moment, US drilling regulations consist of a gap-filled web of EPA, BLM, and MMS legislation. The second part of Rahall’s hearing on his proposal is happening now.

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Eco-News Roundup: Thursday September 17

| Thu Sep. 17, 2009 6:28 AM EDT

News on health, the environment, and climate you may have missed.

Killing Healthcare: You don't need Republicans when Kent Conrad is around.

Lady Justice: Halliburton rape victim will get a day in court, not arbitration.

Bio-fails: The interest in wonder-weed jatropha as biofuel waning, research needed. [Nature]

Private Option: Rep. Tom Price says the public option would cheat private companies.

Peanut Gallery: Energy lobbyists are chuckling as senators try to weaken cap-and-trade.

Pushing Back: Sen. Reid says healthcare bill should come first, climate bill may be pushed to 2010.

Going Broke: Operation Rescue is in fiscal trouble, may shut down. [Feministing]

Price of H2O: What would you do if your water bill went from $13 to $185?

Bored of Baucus: Kevin Drum is getting sick of Baucus posts, but blogs about it briefly.

 

More Teen Births in Religious States

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 8:14 PM EDT

Whis is this not a surprise? The states with the strongest conservative religious beliefs also tend to have the highest rates of teen pregnancies and births. This according to a new paper forthcoming in Reproductive Health.

I posted a blog on a similar story a while back about religious teens having more abortions.

Live Science reports that this little piece of paradox is likely due to the fact that communities with high religiosity frown upon contraception as well as sex education. The combination is as good as a euphemism for pregnancy.

The top 10 states for conservative religious beliefs:

  1. Mississippi
  2. Alabama
  3. South Carolina
  4. Tennessee
  5. Louisiana
  6. Utah
  7. Arkansas
  8. North Carolina
  9. Kentucky
  10. Oklahoma

The top 10 states for teen births:

  1. Mississippi
  2. New Mexico
  3. Texas
  4. Arkansas
  5. Arizona
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Nevada
  8. Tennessee
  9. Kentucky
  10. Georgia

Researcher Joseph Strayhorn of Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh speculates: "We conjecture that religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself."

'Cause nobody can do that. Ask Bristol Palin.

 

Pinky the Cat Goes to Hawaii

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 7:34 PM EDT

I've been a fan of the Pinky Show since there's been a Pinky Show. The latest episode is one of my favorites at doing what Pinky does best: cute, subtle, and subversive. It's all about Pinky the cat's visit to Kaho'olawe, a tiny Hawaiian island once bombed to smithereens, now being lovingly restored to life.

Help Fiji Water Help You

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 5:23 PM EDT

Writer Anna Lenzer has brought it to my attention that the subject of her recent Mother Jones expose, Fiji Water, is looking for social media help. And that's not surprising, considering the thousands of anti-Fiji Water tweets and Facebook comments piled up after the Mother Jones article was published. As Lenzer revealed in the story, Fiji Water is produced in a country ruled by a military junta and despite its green image, its signature bottles uses twice as much plastic as competitors'.

To combat the negative publicity, Fiji Water first tried issuing a statement against the article. Then we posted a rebuttal. The co-owner of the company made libelous comments about the article on Twitter, and Fiji Water's go-to press rep, Rob Six, posted comments on blogs and newspaper sites. Presumably not seeing much payoff, Fiji Water went with a softer tactic: contests with prizes and feel-good stories about the company's charitable works.

The company has another Twitter strategy, though: bribery. According to multiple users, @FijiWater contacts those who have tweeted positively about the company and offered them free water. Or, if they're less lucky, a coupon code or a beach towel. In its desperate bid (or so it seems) to get followers, @FijiWater writes back to just about anybody who tweets nicely about it. Judging by the job listing, even with the swag, it's still not working as well as they'd like.