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Wangari Maathai: A Seed of Hope that Grew

Special feature by Rosie MacLeod ‘The environment is the water we drink, the air we breathe. We cannot live without it.’ – Wangari Maathai. [1]   When questioned about the documentation of history and knowledge, Margaret Atwood famously described the past as ‘largely made of paper’[2] and the librarians and archivists as its ‘guardians’.[3] However, if you went to rural Kenya, you would see that the past, present and future is composed of and dependent on trees. Its guardian, responsible for planting 51 million of these, is Wangari Maathai (1940-2011). She described her tree planting revolution as ‘planting…a legacy for our children as our ancestors left us.’[4] How would you react if you could see the beautiful countryside in which you …

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EarthTalk: Reprocessing Nuclear Waste in the U.S.

Reprocessing nuclear waste -- practiced in France and several other countries but not in the U.S. where it was invented

EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine Dear EarthTalk: Why don’t we reprocess and re-use our nuclear waste like France does? Would it be possible for us to start doing so?  – Albert Jukowsky, Silver Spring, MD Reprocessing nuclear waste to extract more energy from it, while expensive and controversial, is indeed to this day still practiced in France, the UK, Russia, India and Japan—but not in the United States, where it was invented. The process involves breaking down spent nuclear fuel chemically and recovering fissionable material for use in new fuels. Proponents tout the benefit of reducing the amount of nuclear waste, resulting in less highly radioactive material that …

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Hybrids must make sound, right?

One of the best features of hybrids, besides the economic and environmental benefits, is that they don’t make much sound.  It’s nice to not hear the growl of an engine.  However, President Obama made his opinion known by signing the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 which will eventually require hybrid vehicles to make a sound so that children, the visually impaired and all pedestrians will have the ability to hear hybrids as they approach at slow speeds. It is a very obscure and flexible law, merely directing the Secretary of Transportation to “study and establish a motor vehicle safety standard that provides for a means of alerting blind and other pedestrians of motor vehicle operation.”  As I read it, …

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EPA Upgrades Window Stickers

The EPA’s miles-per-gallon estimates are a joke.  That’s common knowledge.  However they are trying to change the game in a good way by improving and simplifying the readability of their window stickers.  Soon you may find your potential new ride with an easy-to-read letter grade system that rates the car’s environmental efficiency. In addition to the letter grade system we’re all familiar with, the stickers will likely have a miles per gallon number still, and a typical cost to fill the tank number.  The latter will be helpful psychologically as people consider a new vehicle.  “28 mpg highway” is one number we see often.  But when that translates to “$85 cost to fill the tank” hits the wallet a little …

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BPA Baby Bottle Ban

Next year, baby bottles in the EU will be required to be BPA free.  BPA is the chemical that buzzed around the eco-blogosphere last year as it was discovered to be a harmful off-gas of common plastic products.  Although an organic compound, Bisphenol A’s (abbreviated as BPA) negative affect on fetuses, young children and babies is rivaled only by it’s ubiquity. In 2008, many manufacturers and retailers began pulling products that contained BPA from shelves.  Here comes the sad news.  The EU law passed just a week after the same law failed to pass in the United States Senate.  Why?  There’s a short, two word answer: industry influence. At least we can say one thing about the U.S. Government: their …

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White House Goes Solar

Shortly after turning down a request to restore the Carter-era solar panels on the roof of the White House, President Obama announced new units will be installed soon.  The project is out for bid by local companies.  The scope of the project has not been announced so we’re not sure how many Kilowatts will be generated. If you’ve ever walked by the White House, you’ve noticed the activity on the roof so it can safely be assumed there won’t be a great deal of clutter added to the roof. And with all the offices and unknown security-related electronics beneath that roof, I doubt any solar application can cover the consumption of that building.  However, every little bit counts.  In a …

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Oil Fields Employ America While Destroying the World

I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times describing how North Dakota has an incredibly unusual problem.  They have more jobs than housing.  How could that be? North Dakota has a lot of one thing: oil fields.  And those oil fields needs lots of people and they pay them a lot.  This is probably due to the high risk of the job and the very high profits of the industry. So what’s the problem?  There isn’t any housing! People walk around the town with a pocket full of money and nowhere to live.  From motels to trailer parks to campgrounds to apartments.  Everything is full and/or has a wait list. Why is this being discussed on an environmental …

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“Green” Land And The Politics of Language

On one major platform, societies are judged by their knowledge, which is clarified and communicated by language, using words which are the framework of this language. With this as a guideline, one might conclude that if a particular word had many, often disparate meanings, then societal knowledge would suffer, creating confusion and potential chaos. Chaos? Isn’t that a bit exaggerated? Perhaps , but certainly relative to one’s personal experience with chaos itself, or perhaps academic study into chaos theories of combustion powerful enough to create solar systems. Ah, but the word. That particular word. Green, that’s it. Green.

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2009 in review: how far have we come?

Everyone seems to be writing “Year in Review” posts right now.  We considered that too, but since everyone else is doing it, why would we? We settled on a different idea.  We looked back on 2008 year in reviews to compare between then and now.  We asked: How far have we come? Are we where we hoped to be? Is our slope of innovation steep enough?  There are so many more questions to ask but these were enough to get started. T. Boone Pickens was getting some press.  His plan is still out there: to use our domestic wind resources to power the country.  Although this hasn’t happened yet, it is catching on as a realistic idea.  But coming from …

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Copenhagen Shmopenhagen

World leaders have gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark to address the issue of climate change.  There are tons of bloggers and conventional media outlets discussing this very topic recently.  There is even a huge advertising campaign called “Hopenhagen” aimed at convincing the attendees to stand up and commit to real, lasting change.  We say, “Copenhagen, Shmopenhagen”.  Politicians have never been the source of change.  If people want to address the climate crisis in an effective way, they will have to do it themselves.  Innovators, business leaders, inventors… these people have the skills to change how the world works.  Visit Hopenhagen.org

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