Australian Town Bans Bottled Water

Residents of Bundanoon, New South Wales, Australia have voted to ban the sale of bottled water in their rural town—probably the first in the world to do so. Only two voters opposed the ban. Why?

Bundanoon's battle against the bottle has been brewing for years, ever since a Sydney-based beverage company announced plans to build a water extraction plant in the town. Residents were furious over the prospect of an outsider taking their water, trucking it up to Sydney for processing and then selling it back to them. The town is still fighting the company's proposal in court.

In other words, bottling water wastes an incredible amount of resources—natural and capital. (Producing the bottles for the American market requires 17 million barrels of oil; three liter of water are needed to produce a liter of bottled water.) So officials in Bundanoon will install more drinking fountains and encourage residents to use them to fill reusable water bottles for free.

I hope something like this catches on elsewhere. It's certainly possible. When San Francisco announced it would ban businesses from giving out plastic bags for free, some store owners griped it would hurt their bottom lines because paper bags are more expensive than plastic. But walk in to any Trader Joe's or Walgreens and you'll see a majority customers bringing their own bags or reusing them from previous trips.

That's the power of a collective mindset, albeit one driven in part by a law. Of course, there are other benefits to reusable bags, the least of which is not having to dedicate a cupboard to a heap of plastic stamped with CVS's logo.

But there are more potent incentives to banning bottled water. For one, the environmental benefit is greater (Americans recycle less than seven percent of their plastic, compared to 55 percent of the paper they use.) To me, though, the most potent incentive is purely economic: Part of the reason we pay taxes is so that we have clean drinking water. Whenever I buy a bottle of water, I feel like I'm doing something incredibly irrational, spending money on something for which there exists a free and arguably better substitute—tap water.

Eco-news Roundup: Thursday July 9

Blue Marblish stories from our other blogs you might have missed.

Healthcare Pitfalls: A public plan might mean cuts for those with severe health problems.

411 on G8: World leaders at G8 summit fail to agree on climate change goals.

Placebo Effect: There are lots of treatments for cancer, but not a lot of data on results.

Justice, Iranian Style: Torture and interrogations are now common, say sources.

You Can't Catch Black: Inner-city kids booted out of pool because white guests were scared.

Numerical Oddity: Today the clock will strike 12:34:56... on 7/8/9.

Old Forests Cool the World

The practice of reducing forest fuels to lessen the chances of catastrophic fire undercuts a more vital service performed by old woodlands: the sequestration of carbon to offset global warming.

According to a new study in Ecological Applications, even if forestry biofuels were used in an optimal manner to produce electricity or make cellulosic ethanol there would still be a net loss of carbon sequestration in the forests of the Pacific Northwest for at least 100 years—and probably much longer.

Here's what the study found: In a Coast Range forest, if you remove solid woody biofuels to reduce fire risks and then use them for fuel, you need 169 years before you reach a break-even point in carbon sequestration. If you use the same woody materials for the inefficient production of cellulosic ethanol, you need 339 years to break even.

Prior to this study, it was widely believed that using biofuels to produce energy would offset the carbon emissions from this process. But these data negate that hypothesis.

Instead, the authors conclude, we should forego fuel reduction treatments to enable forest ecosystems to provide maximal amelioration of atmospheric CO2 over the next 100 years.

The hypothetical benefits of fuel reduction went up in flames when the fossil fuel costs of transportation, fuel for thinning, and other energy expenditures, was factored in. With those calculations, forestry biofuels recovered only 60 to 65 percent of the energy they cost. Producing cellulosic ethanol recovered as little as 35 percent.

The bottom line: Transforming old existing forests into anything other than old existing forests produces a net loss in carbon sequestration.

Interesting note: Another study recently concluded that the forests of Oregon and northern California, if managed exclusively for carbon sequestration, could double or even triple the amount of sequestration in many areas.

Not considered in this study: How global warming might affect the increase of catastrophic fire. However, the authors write that fire severity in many forests may be more a function of severe weather rather than fuel accumulation. Therefore fuel reduction efforts may be of only limited effectiveness, even in a hotter future.

So what'll it be—more fuel or a more stable world?
 

G-8 Summit: The Battle of East vs. West

As the world's most powerful leaders convene in L'Aquila, Italy for the largest G-8 summit ever, one wonders, will anything actually be accomplished?

The Associated Press reported that many of the leaders arrived to the summit in electric cars. (We presume that for security purposes, Obama arrived in a traditional American-made hyper-bulletproof gas guzzler.)

This begs the question, will America take the lead in initiating global change?

As Kevin Drum reported earlier:

The basic problem isn't the 80% reduction by 2050, which is supported by both Obama and congressional Democrats.  The problem is the 2020 goal.  Right now, the Waxman-Markey climate bill requires a 17% cut by 2020, but that's from a baseline of 2005.  Depending on how you crunch the numbers, that works out to a cut of only 0-4% from 1990 levels.
The Europeans, conversely, want to see a 20% cut from 1990 levels by 2020.  Obama, presumably, sees no chance at all of getting Congress to agree to that, and the Europeans aren't willing to compromise their more stringent goals.  So for now, no agreement.  And Copenhagen is only five months away.

A Banner Weak for the Climate Bill

The day before the Senate began hearings on HR 2454, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired up the troops with this call to arms: "As a legislator, everything is negotiable."

Indeed. And we saw how that process worked in the House. The Obama administration's tough beginnings melted like a snowman in December under the heat of industry lobbying. Oil. Coal. Agriculture. They all demanded concessions. They all got them.

Many progressives are holding their noses and supporting the "kludge of a bill" for a variety of reasons, all thoroughly debated throughout the blogosphere at this point. The only real news on this front is the action taken today by Greenpeace -- scaling Mt. Rushmore and unfurling a banner that exhorts President Obama to hang tough in this fight.

It was a beautiful sight.

But it will take more than that to get the job done. A blogger at 1Sky rightly points out that "grassroots pressure will be essential" in keeping the climate bill intact, let alone in making it stronger.

Yesterday's hearing before the Senate's Environment committee, was typical Kabuki Theatre. Committee Chair Barbara Boxer warned viewers to prepare for the GOP Hymn #137, "No, We Can't."

Republican Senators spoke early and often about the need to add billions for new nuclear power plants -- not that global warming is real, mind you, but, well, just because...

There are several committee hearings left (including more before Boxer's committee) and time for a grassroots movement to grow under the banner demanding a stronger bill. But that will take more concerted action than supporters have shown so far.

 

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

T. Boone Pickens Scraps Plan for Massive Wind Farm

T. Boone Pickens' $10 billion plan to build the world's largest wind farm on the Texas panhandle has been scrapped. The high-profile project had benefited from the "Pickens Plan" media blitz in the lead-up to the 2008 elections, when the oil tycoon spent millions on TV ads promoting natural gas and wind power.

Though Pickens was lauded in the media at the time as an environmental hero, I was among a few reporters who questioned his motivation for building the wind project. His early plans would have used a right-of-way for the windmills' power lines to bring water from the Ogallala aquifer to cities downstate, draining a vast region of a fragile reserve. Pickens ultimately failed to find a buyer for the water, then faced a drop in energy prices due to the recession. In December, his Mesa Power LP put the wind project on hold before announcing last week that it would abandon it in favor of several smaller projects.

In making the announcement, Pickens cryptically cited problems associated with building his own power lines. It's odd that he can't tap those already being built to the Panhandle by the Texas Public Utility Commission. The Dallas Morning News reported that the lines "won't follow a path that Mesa had suggested" but didn't elaborate. Did Pickens' power lines fail because they needed the accompanying water pipeline to be profitable? A spokeswoman for Pickens didn't return a call.

 

Solar Blimp to Debut on English Channel

Here's another bright, green idea to save the world.

Within the next few weeks, a solar powered blimp sponsored by the French Projet Sol'r will fly across the English Channel. The timing is a clear homage to Louis Bleriot, the first person to fly across the channel in an airplane on July 25, 1909. When Bleriot embarked on his flight in his rinky dinky airplane, few could have imagined the advances in flight technology that would soon take us to the moon, or send hundreds of civilians across the world within hours.

This month's blimp flight, a century later, will mark an exciting era of exploration into the practical uses of alternative energy. For now, the significance of this project is mostly symbolic. But with transportation companies looking for new ways to cut costs, and the government threatening to crack down on emissions, the flight could indicate whether cutting out traditional fuel and deflating carbon emissions will become part of the equation.

Eco-News Roundup: Wednesday July 8

Here are stories from our other blogs you might have missed yesterday on healthcare, energy, and the environment. And don't forget to check out our new drug package! Lots of good tidbits in there, including my own painstaking map.

Feeling Bullish: Obama may go a little Raging Bull on oil speculators.

Changing the Guard: Mexico elections show people may think Calderon's drug war is failing.

Photo of the Day: Pretty topography as a soldier surveys Afghanistan.

 

 

 

Vegetarian Diet Prevents Disease

Just in time to refute last week's atrociously reported story...The American Dietetic Association released a position paper stating that vegetarian diets are healthful and nutritious for adults, infants, children and adolescents, and can help prevent and treat chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

The American Dietetic Association is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.

"It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes."

The good news is that vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, with higher levels of fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals.

Consequently, people eating well-balanced vegetarian diets tend toward lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels, and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Beyond that, vegetarians tend toward lower body mass indices and lower overall cancer rates.

Expanded sections in this updated position paper include: cancer protection factors in vegetarian diets, and the roles of fruits, vegetables, soy products, protein, calcium, vitamins D and K and potassium in bone health.

In other words, a vegetarian diet is better for you than a meat diet. It's also better for every other living thing on Earth. So why hasn't this study cracked the headlines?
 

Cute Endangered Animal: Slow Loris

This week's cute endangered animal is the aptly-named Slow Loris. The Slow Loris is a sympathetic little guy. He's got anime-huge eyes, and moves so slowly that he's an easy target for poachers in his native Southeast Asia. The nocturnal Slow Loris's only natural defenses are 1) holding onto a branch really tight; 2) a semi-toxic bite; 3) emitting an unpleasant smell; and 4) curling up into a protective ball-like shape. Pretty sad. One cool thing about the bite is that the Loris will nibble on his inner elbow to get toxins, then mixes the toxins in his mouth so that when he bites, it will sting more. Unfortunately, the toxin isn't fatal or debilitating for humans, though it will cause some pain, swelling, and redness.

The Slow Loris is a case of an animal being too cute for its own good. Besides having a babyish set of huge eyes, the Loris is furry, small, quiet, and apparently enjoys being tickled. The animal is prized as a pet, and shipments (often to Japan) of hundreds of Lorises have been intercepted. The fact that the Loris's instinct, upon stress, is to curl up into a ball makes it easy to transport, though often poachers will remove the Loris's teeth as a precaution. When not sold as pets, Lorises are hunted for use in traditional Asian medicines and like many other arboreal species, are threatened with habitat loss due to agriculture and logging. 

Currently, the Loris's endangered status varies by country but the 2007 CITES conference banned all international transport. The CITES conference also called for more research, as population data is often old or unreliable. To see one researcher's pics of his adorable subjects (don't worry, it's very humane research), click here.

 

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