Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Gray Wolf: To Hunt or Not To Hunt ?

In March of 2009, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided to uphold the decision made by the Bush administration to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list in several states in the Northern Rockies. Salazar commented that the U.S. had successfully recovered the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act, and that population sizes were now large enough to justify removing the species from federal protection and allow the states to assume management. Almost immediately after the decision was made, Montana and Idaho both announced that there would be a hunting season for the gray wolf.

The decision to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list initially made by the Bush administration and upheld by Salazar was derived from abundant complaints from farmers and ranchers that the growing wolf populations were destroying their business by eating their livestock and cattle. The charismatic wolf, once considered one of the biggest priorities for species protection in the U.S., was now becoming considered a pest to many ranchers in the Northern Rockies.

Montana and Idaho opened a sport hunting season for the gray wolf last summer. Since that time, 230 of the estimated 1,350 wolves in the two states have been killed. Over a dozen environmental groups have proceeded to sue over the issue. While it is an undeniable fact that wolf population numbers increased significantly since it became protected by the Endangered Species Act, environmentalists argue that hunting will prevent the connectivity of the ranges of the wolves spread throughout the Rocky Mountain region, and the ability for the wolf populations to connect will be crucial for the long term success of the species in the region.

This is another example of why the Environmental Species Act is a highly contentious piece of legislation. As we have seen with the case of the Florida panther, sage grouse, and many other species, providing a species with federal protection can have a detrimental impact on private land owners. The federal protection of a species can eliminate a private land owner's ability to achieve full financial benefit from his or her land or assets. With the conflict involving the conservation of a a beloved animal such as the gray wolf versus the livelihood of farmers and ranchers, a polarized public opinion is almost certain to persist.

Some quotes from The Onion on the issue:

Potential problems associated with hydrogen fuel emissions

There are potential hydrological problems to be addressed if hydrogen fuel vehicles are to become a significant form of transportation. In the best possible scenario, hydrogen fuel would be produced from the electrolysis of seawater by wind energy. This scenario places no stress on the freshwater supply, so it could be assumed that the electrolysis of seawater is the most likely candidate as a source of hydrogen fuel. The scarier issue might be the change in hydrology due to increased water vapor in the air. Precipitation is more likely to occur when saturated air is lifted. Directly east of both Los Angeles and the Bay Area are significant mountain ranges. The probability of precipitation will increase in these mountain ranges. What does this mean? The Sierras could cast a precipitation shadow over the western US, which could have significant effect on the hydrology of these states. Given that Colorado River basin is already tapped for its water resources, significant loss of snow pack due to increased precipitation in the Sierras could exacerbate these problems. Hypothetically, say that California institutes policy that encourages the use of fuel cell vehicles and targets complete transition to hydrogen-based transportation fuels by 2030. There are approximately 20 million registered automobiles in California, with the vast majority being located in the Bay Area and Los Angeles County. Given the potential problems with large scale, concentrated emission of water vapor, California’s best option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent new ecological problems is to promote transition to fully electric and ethanol hybrid vehicles.

Biodiesel Bill

A recent job bill going through Congress may mean good things for producers of biofuel in the United States. The bill is for the reintroduction of a tax credit for $1 per gallon of biodiesel produced. The break is aimed at making biodiesel competitive with gasoline prices. Earlier this month the EPA gave soy based biodiesel a pass saying they passed the 50 percent emissions requirement. Many farmers are happy about the new bill saying it will boost their business but many other citizens are not excited about the bill. The Earth Policy Institute states that last year alone grain used to produce biodiesel was enough to feed 330 million people. My question is then whether or not we should be spending this much money on something that may not be the best thing for our country? Is economic stimulus for a remote population enough to justify using an energy source that we don't necessarily need right now?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pollution = Profit?

An unpublished study for the United Nations is reporting that an estimated one-third of profits of the worlds largest companies would be commandeered for environmental damage done in the process of running their businesses. For now, companies in this category are not currently held financially accountable for their emissions, but have ultimately contributed to the contamination of rivers, air, soil, and so on. The data has been compiled through a London-based consultancy called Trucost. They believe that the estimated damages near the likes of $2.2 trillion during their study in 2008 and could be considerably higher. The UN-backed Principles for Responsibility Investment initiative is looking into the practices of 3,000 of the largest companies world-wide in terms of their emission levels, output, efficiency, and waste levels.
Much of the concern is over who gets the blame for the damages as this is a very hard number to quantify. Presently, Trucost is evaluating costs of power, clothing, and aluminum industries as these are believed to be the biggest contributers to the emissions of GHG's (Green House Gases), VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds), and water misuse. Though the figures presented do not include social impacts of energy use (appliances or waste). This is a collective action problem on a global scale and policy makers worldwide must find an appropriate tax/retribution that will justifiably hold the largest polluters financially accountable for their actions. Growing concern for environmental damage is reaching critical levels and the argument to abolish government subsidies in order to combat harmful practices in agriculture, energy use, and transportation are getting attention from the public. As stated before these damages are hard to quantify, but it is never to late to take action in fighting global climate change and resource destruction. The entire study will be published by Trucost this summer.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweet Taxes

By: Justin Tafoya

Gov. Bill Ritter is proposing a bill that will eliminate the sales-tax exemption for candy and soft drinks in Colorado. House Bill 1191 is estimated to raise $17.9 million and is one of seven bills before the Senate that will generate a total of $131.8 million that will help make up for the $1 billion dollar deficit that Colorado is facing in 2010-11. Gov. Ritter is hoping to “retire” the tax exemptions by March so the money can be applied to this years budget, which ends in June. The proposed bill will place a three cent tax on all soft drinks and candy, but it’s the definition of candy that has law makers skeptical. The bill states that candy that contains flour would not be subject to the tax, “So a dipped pretzel or a dipped Oreo is not candy, but a dipped strawberry is?" Those against the bill, local candy owners and beverage distributors, argue that the proposed Bill will hurt business and eliminate Colorado jobs. Those in support of the Bill certainly have Colorado’s health in mind, but the revenue the Bill would raise is the bigger issue. Taxing candy or soda pop is nothing new. More than half of the states in the country have adopted some form of taxing candy and soda. Despite the complaints of beverage distributors, Coca Cola has seen sales increase in those states taxing soft drinks. Although this will help reduce the deficit, the health effects, in my opinion, will not change. Perhaps we are on the verge of changing the way Coloradoans eat and drink but if Health is the issue that law makers seek, taxing Charlie’s Wonka Bar is not enough.

Works Cited:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature

The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature is an article by William Cronon that I had to read for my Environmental Ethics class last semester. The article doesn't have much to say in the way of environmental policy, but I thought it was somewhat relevant to Judith's presentation last week in class. Cronon starts the article with what wilderness has become to many Americans:
"For many Americans wilderness stands as the last remaining place where civilization, that all too human disease, has not fully infected the earth. It is an island in the polluted sea of urban-industrial modernity, the one place we can turn for escape from our own too-muchness. Seen in this way, wilderness presents itself as the best antidote to our human selves, a refuge we must somehow recover if we hope to save the planet. As Henry David Thoreau once famously declared, “In Wildness is the preservation of the World.'"

I think this block quote hits the nail on the head when thinking about wilderness because so many Americans, including myself, view wilderness as this pristine, peaceful, haven from the fast paced reality of everyday life. With this conception of wilderness policies that follow are ones that protect wilderness, preserving its value to humans and animals, and are ones that don't allow the intrusion of industrial factors. Cronon, however, believes that our conception of wilderness is a reflection of our cultures and that we pretend that wilderness is real when it's actually a social construction. Maintaining this conception of wilderness is troublesome according to Cronon because it hides past injustices such as our displacement of Native Americans when we designated their home lands as "wilderness." Native Americans had been making their living off the land for centuries before Europeans arrived and our conception of wilderness drove these natives away for our own enjoyment of the land as pristine and peaceful. Cronon also argues that wilderness has become a "play ground for the rich" because many wilderness areas can be difficult to get to for those with limited incomes and then once in wilderness equipment also becomes an expensive endeavor therefore we are alienating poor people from experiencing nature.
To combat our misconceptions of wilderness, Cronon believes we must look to sustainable ways of using wilderness without the exclusion of native peoples, poor or rich peoples, and look to ways in which we do not harm nature for our own growth. I think Cronon makes some interesting points in his article. I only highlighted a few that I thought were the strongest and ones that could be useful when thinking about public policy. Using Cronon's arguments about wilderness I feel it is important to make sure policies do not make wilderness exclusatory and must also think sustainably about our uses of wilderness. If anyone is interested in reading the full article I have posted a link to it at the bottom of my entry:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Parsley Instead of Ivy in the Urban Jungle


With the environmental Renaissance in its infancy, many companies whose once-profitable goods have been delegated to the dustbin of technology are turning their sights to the environmental sector. One of those companies is Barthelmes Manufacturing Company, which specializes in sheet-metal fabrication. They are innovating and expanding into making edible walls: metal panels filled with soil that hang vertically from the side of a building and provide a means to grow fruits and vegetables. Growing vegetation on buildings is not a new idea; people have been doing it since the Middle Ages. But with the growing interest in the environmental health of our planet, there has been an increase in demand for developing systems that can grow vegetation on buildings in cities. That is were edible walls come in. The metal panels, filled with soil and seeds, would shade buildings, grow fruits and vegetables, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions by providing local produce, thereby reducing the need for trucking it in to the cities. The hope is that grocery stores and schools will use this product to develop their own gardens in areas where there isn’t a lot of space. A product and concept like this could transform the urban landscape, covering buildings with vegetation and food and creating a cooling mechanism that would decrease the use of energy. The sky is the limit with environmental ideas and mechanisms that will reduce our impact on the world.

Works Cited:
New York Times, Business of Green: The Rooftop Garden Climbs Down a Wall

Population and the Environment

We cannot just save the remaining wildlife we have and expect that we will thrive as a species. There is a carrying capacity for all species on earth. We have met ours. About 50% of our world’s population would not be alive today if it were not for synthetic fertilizers. We have figured out a way to use technology to our advantage and bypass the earth’s natural ability to support human life.
In order to address our environmental issues, we must address overpopulation. Tactfully.
We need to educate people (in general, as well as) about family planning and resource conservation, drawing the link between the two and making sure that most of the world population understands this concept. The world’s population is increasing at a rate of 80 million people a year. Some estimates say we could hit over 10 billion people by 2050 if world population is allowed to continue to grow. Low and middle-income nations are expected to be responsible for 98% of future population growth. Over population the following effects:
1. Urban Sprawl
o Natural corridors for animals are being eliminated, cutting animals off from their habitats (not to mention we’re also building over their habitats)
2. Poaching
o The next mass extinction could be human caused.
3. Degradation of land
o Loss of buffer lands (from disasters like flooding)
o Desertification
o Deforestation
o Loss of over 80% of our old growth forests
o 1/5 of global carbon emissions come from deforestation (mainly tropical)
o Over 60% of biodiversity exists in forests.
4. Over fishing
o 20% of our protein comes from fish in the oceans
o It is predicted that we will lose 90% of our oceans edible species by 2048 if unsustainable fishing practices continue
5. Water scarcity
o I predict the next world war will be over water
o We need to change our irrigation technology
6. Global warming
o Weather extremes (increased hurricane intensity and heat wave frequency)
o Drought and wildfires
7. Over crowding
o Need more landfills
o Traffic
o Pollution
o Increased housing prices
o Decreasing wild habitat

Stan Cox's Sick Planet, Corporate Food and Medicine

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is Immigration Bad for the Environment?

The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that the US population will reach 400 million by 2040. As the US increases in size, people begin to question whether we should take drastic measures as Japan has, reaching below-replacement birth levels and restricted immigration. The Pew Research Center reported that 82% of US population growth can be attributed to immigration.

Many are advocating stabilization of our population, which according to the rate of immigrants achieving permanent resident status, would mean drastically restricting our immigration policy. Will we reach our carrying capacity due to the major influx of immigrants? David Durham of Population-Environment Balance, an organization bent on slowing illegal immigration, says if we care about the environment at all, we should insist on reducing immigration, for there are “ecological realities such as limited potable water, topsoil and infrastructure”.

But this is not just an issue of environmental capacity. These policies surround an ethical battle of sorts- these immigrants have an origin, a home, and in a majority of cases have been forced to make the decision to leave.

The US did not open their borders during the Holocaust, and subsequently will have some blood on her hands for the rest of time. Can we repeat this mistake again?

Reference: West, L. (2010). Will the U.S. Be Forced to Close Its Borders to Protect the Environment?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

don’t ask, don’t tell


The New York Times posted an article recently not necessarily related to environmental policy, but nevertheless related to a controversial US Policy—the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. For those unfamiliar, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a military policy, ratified by congress, regarding US soldiers sexual orientation. Essentially, openly gay or lesbian citizens are not allowed to serve in the military and those that hide or deny their sexual orientation may serve as long as it doesn’t become a “distraction”. This New York Times article discusses Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairmen of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff’s open discussion and argument to congress suggesting congress recall or rethink their current stance on the issue. In his words, “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.” I cannot help but feel he has a very valid point in this argument, especially given the current condition of oversea struggles. However, Adm. Mullen’s words are not met without criticism. Senator John McCain has spoken out against Mullen saying he is “deeply disappointed,” and that Adm. Mullen’s words were “clearly biased.” Undoubtedly this will be a controversial debate. What are the your thoughts on the subject? What are the pros and cons?

Initial steps against climate change

As a primary test of the informally adopted, non-binding Copenhagen Agreement, the countries responsible for the bulk of the climate-changing pollution submitted their goals to reduce the harmful emissions. This agreement was put together at the United Nation-sponsored summit against climate change. Its main goal is to limit the global warming to 3.6-degree increase from the pre-industrial era. The Unites States, twenty-seven of the EU nations, China, India, Japan, and Brazil supported the agreement by sending in their strategies to better the environment. These countries are currently responsible for 78% of the greenhouse emissions. Two of the major nations—Russia and Mexico—have not submitted their proposals by the Jan. 31st deadline.
The submission of the proposals is an important indication the wealthiest nations of the world are determined to fight for a better environment. This is the first time countries have put on paper their plans for a more sustainable development. The proposed reductions, however, still do not meet the central goal of the Copenhagen agreement. Another problem faced by the United Nations is lack of financial aid for the developing countries to adapt to environmentally friendly paths of industrialization. It will be interesting to see the nations implementing their proposed strategies.

Broder, J. “Countries submit emission reductions”. The New York Times, Feb . 1, 2010

Perverse Incentives


Perverse Incentives

Following the class discussion on Friday, I found an article in the NY Times Saturday morning that seems to illustrate the ease with which a philanthropic health initiative can cause perverse incentives. Bill Gates is donating over $10 billion to a vaccination program for children throughout the world over the next 10 years. Included in his funding projections is a currently being developed malaria vaccine which will save the lives of approximately 1,000,000 children in Africa. My concern is that without the growth and development of the corresponding political, social and agricultural infrastructure, this increased population will further degrade the agricultural land causing more malnutrition, starvation, deaths and other socio-economic problems. An increased population, without an accompanying economic development policy, can cause more governmental instability problems furthering that condition on the African continent. Individual philanthropic endeavors are important contributions to world poverty problems, but without a concerted and well thought out program, the goals may be undermined by unperceived consequences. A public health initiative needs to also consider, and build into its plan, the increased health and population growth which will be the result with increased educational opportunities, economic initiatives and the environmental (in all forms from energy consumption to land sustainability) consequences.