Archive for March, 2008

Buy Green by Buying Less

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

My inbox is inundated with enthusiastic calls for buying green:  handbags made from recycled materials, jeans from organic cotton, chocolate with earth-friendly ingredients.  The list is long. I applaud the green consumer movement.  But wait a minute.  If we buy just as much stuff as ever, even if it’s a little greener, have we accomplished much? 


When it comes to consumption, what we really need, I think, is to look not just at what we buy, but also at how much we buy.  Since virtually all of our purchases produce greenhouse gases through the energy used in manufacturing, packaging, and transportation, it makes sense that we can reduce our carbon footprint by buying less. 


So instead of buying that purse made from recycled materials, I can most likely make do with the handbag I already own.  Do I really need another pair of jeans?  Probably not.  And my body, as well as the planet, will benefit if I make chocolate only an occasional purchase. Instead of buying things just because we want them, doesn’t the environmental crisis of global warming require us to discipline ourselves to limit our buying mainly to those things we actually need?   Besides, buying less has another benefit that we can see immediately—more money in our pockets!


Hundreds of U.S. Mayors Commit to Reducing Carbon Emissions

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

     More than 800 mayors of U.S. cities are not waiting for the federal government to get serious about global warming.  Instead, they are taking matters into their own hands.  These mayors have signed an agreement pledging to cut their cities’ carbon emissions to 7% below 1990 levels by 2012.   

     This goal, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to global warming, was established at a 1997 conference in Kyoto, Japan, and embraced by the governments of more than 130 countries.  But despite urgings from many quarters, the U.S. government has refused to sign on. 

     Seattle’s mayor Greg Nickels, a widely acknowledged environmental leader, was the first U.S. mayor to decide not to wait for leadership at the federal level.  In 2005, he committed his city to meeting the international target.  Since then, 805 more mayors have joined Nickels in signing the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) Climate Protection Agreement.  In signing the Agreement, these mayors have also committed to urge their state government and the federal government to do more to stop global warming.  

      These mayors are serious.  To help them fulfill the commitment they made, they have created and staffed the USCM Climate Protection Center.  The Center provides the mayors with guidance and assistance to lead their cities’ efforts.  The Center has issued a Best Practices manual, and the mayors meet annually to share their successes and their ideas for making further progress toward their goal.

     Following are just a few of the changes some of the mayors have brought about in their cities:

**Syracuse adopted an ordinance requiring all municipal building projects to meet green-building standards.

**Chattanooga has reduced downtown car use by establishing a free, electric bus system that serves the downtown and riverfront areas.

**Albuquerque’s city government now gets 15% of its energy from wind power.

**Sacramento’s City Hall is among the greenest 5% of large office buildings in the nation.  

**In Seattle, more than 50 area businesses have joined the Seattle Climate Partnership.  The Partnership provides businesses with technical help in reducing their carbon footprint.

     Nickels observes that there is a friendly rivalry among the mayors to outdo one another.  But such rivalry is a good way, he says, to spur all the mayors to work harder to reduce pollution, conserve energy, and create ‘green collar’ jobs in their communities. 

     Cities large and small, in every state, are part of the effort.  All told, the 806 cities whose mayors have signed on total more than 78 million Americans

     What you can do:  Find out if your city’s mayor has signed the Climate Protection Agreement by taking a look at the list of 806 mayors who have signed on:

     If your mayor is on the list, give him or her a call to say thanks.  Ask what has been done in your city thus far to meet the CO2 emission reduction goal, and what plans exist for continued action.  You may even want to volunteer to help out. 

     If your mayor is not on the list, give him or her a call and ask why not.  You can exert a little peer pressure by telling your mayor (or your mayor’s representative) which other cities in your state have signed on.  That information can be found by clicking on  and clicking on your state.  You’ll see a list of cities in your state whose mayors have signed the Agreement.  Urge your mayor to sign on and to get help from the USCM Climate Protection Center.  You may even want to volunteer to help your city meet the emissions reduction goal.

A New Geologic Age–Started by Us

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

At first, the thesis of this article, published in the January 28, 2008, issue of World Science, shocked me.  But as I thought about it, it makes sense that the growing impact we humans are having on our planet has altered the planet so much that we have pushed the planet into a whole new geologic epoch.  Scientists call it, aptly, the ‘Anthropocene.’

Jan. 25, 2008
World Science staff

A rad­i­cal pro­pos­al is gain­ing ground among ge­ol­o­gists: We have en­tered a new ge­o­log­ic time pe­ri­od on Earth, thanks to ma­nkind’s own ac­ti­vi­ties.We’ve so dras­tic­ally changed the land­scape through pol­lu­tion and in oth­er ways, it’s time to ac­knowl­edge the new “ep­och” is here, a group of ge­ol­o­gists writes Jan. 25 in GSA To­day, a jour­nal of the Geo­lo­gi­cal So­ciety of Am­er­ica.

An at­las pub­lished by the Unit­ed Na­tions in 2005 showed through sat­el­lite im­ages how var­i­ous parts of the world have phys­i­cal­ly changed in the past two to three dec­ades alone. These im­ages show the mouth of Chi­na’s Yel­low Riv­er in 1979 (a­bove) and 2000 (be­low). A new pen­in­su­la in the low­er im­age arises from sed­i­ment de­posits from the riv­er part­ly re­sult­ing from farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ty, U.N. ex­perts say. (Cour­te­sy U.N. En­vi­ron­ment Pro­gramme) 

The new era would be called the An­thro­po­cene, from the Greek an­thro­pos (man) and ceno (new). “The dom­i­nance of huma­ns has so phys­ic­ally changed Earth that there is in­creas­ingly less jus­tifica­t­ion for link­ing pre- and post-in­dus­tri­al­ized Earth with­in the same ep­och,” the re­search­ers said in an an­nounce­ment of their pro­pos­al.The tra­di­tion­al name for our cur­rent ep­och—soon to be­come the form­er one, if they have their way—is the Hol­o­cene. The Hol­o­cene has spanned the last 10,000 years and fol­lowed the Pleis­to­cene, com­monly called the Ice Age.The re­search­ers at the Un­ivers­ity of Leices­ter, U.K. and the Ge­o­log­i­cal So­ci­e­ty of Lon­don said human im­pact on Earth is show­ing in ma­ny ways: changed ero­sion pat­terns; ma­jor dis­tur­bances to the car­bon cy­cle; glob­al warm­ing; whole­sale changes to plant and an­i­mal life; and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­t­ion.Al­though ge­ol­o­gy is mainly the study of Earth’s rocks, soil and phys­ical struc­ture—rather than an­i­mals and life forms as such—all these fac­tors can ul­ti­mately in­flu­ence that struc­ture, re­search­ers say. Man’s al­tera­t­ions to Earth are “strati­graphic­ally sig­nif­i­cant,” the group said in the an­nounce­ment.

The idea for rec­og­niz­ing a new ge­o­log­ic era is­n’t new, though: No­bel Prize-winning chem­ist Paul Crut­zen sug­gested it in 2002. The U.K. re­search­ers’ work rep­re­sented an at­tempt to further assess his pro­po­sal.

The group said their find­ings pre­s­ent the schol­arly ground­work for con­sid­era­t­ion by the In­terna­t­ional Com­mis­sion on Stra­tig­ra­phy for for­mal adop­tion of the An­thro­po­cene as the new­est ad­di­tion to the ge­o­log­ical timescale.

Be­fore the Hol­o­cene and pre­ced­ing Pleis­to­cene, the ma­jor era pre­ced­ing that is called the Ter­tiary Pe­ri­od, from about 26 to 66 mil­lion years ago. That was when mam­mals largely took over the Earth from the by then-defeated di­no­saurs. All these ages are con­sid­ered part of a larg­er one, called the Ce­no­zo­ic era. Be­fore that was the Mes­o­zo­ic, the age of di­no­saurs; and still ear­li­er, the Pa­le­o­zo­ic, which saw the ev­o­lu­tion­ary ex­plo­sion of the first an­i­mals. Eve­ry­thing be­fore that is the “Pre­cam­bri­an.”* * *Send

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