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The State of Your Water Supply

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Sometimes it seems our government isn’t doing a whole lot for us little guys. Like now, for instance. Billions are being doled out to Suits whose companies’ problems probably stem from CEOs being overpaid in the first place.

Crazy fiscal policies aside, there are many things the government does right (as I’ve pointed out in the past) but often don’t get as much recognition. A shame since many of these things can be really helpful – take the U.S. Geological Survey’s reports on drinking-water contaminants.

As the USGS puts it, “In 2002, the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program implemented Source Water-Quality Assessments (SWQAs) to characterize the quality of selected rivers and aquifers used as a source of supply to community water systems in the United States.”

As part of this program, the USGS will release a series of reports, starting Dec. 5, to document about 280 substances in the drinking water supply for nine U.S. water systems, including the Washington, D.C., area; western Massachusetts; east-central North Carolina; west-central Georgia; south-central Indiana; northeastern Texas; north-central Colorado; west-central Nevada; and northwestern Oregon.

If you’re like me, you almost never think about your water supply and it’s quite a wake-up call just to read the list of things in there: disinfection by-products; fumigant-related compounds; fungicides; gasoline hydrocarbons, oxygenates and oxygenate degradates; herbicides and herbicide degradates; insecticides and insecticide degradates; manufacturing additives; organic synthesis compounds; pavement- and combustion-derived compounds; personal-care and domestic-use products; plant- or animal-derived biochemicals; refrigerants and propellants; solvents.

So next time you’re tempted to complain about D.C.’s bureaucracy, dip into the NAWQA findings and see how good government can really be.

Just don’t hold your breath waiting for something to actually be done about those findings.

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Companies Caught Doing Damage

Friday, November 21, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Big business is about making money. Corporations’ obsession with raking in as much cash as possible can be great – after all, it’s what drives the economy – but it can be awful too.

Most of us have at least some insight into the “awful” side, like, for example, when there is an oil spill or when an exec gets busted for fraud. But mostly we tend to accept things as they are, tend to let big biz dictate how, what, when we consume.

But if we’re trying to get a good grasp on how we, as a nation, are going to help stop global warming we should understand we need to change some deeply ingrained habits. And we should understand big biz depends on us sticking to these habits. So to really help change things, we need to truly understand big biz, even (prob. especially) that awful side. One of the best places to start to understand? The Project On Government Oversight.

POGO, “an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more accountable federal government,” compiles the Federal Contractor Misconduct Database. So if we want to find out what sort of improprieties these guys have been up to, all we have to do is check out POGO’s easily-searchable list. Hmmm, what key word should we search under? Oh, for the heck of it, let’s try “environment.”

Exxon Mobil’s there, to the tune of fines totaling almost $40 million. And ChevronTexaco is there, blowing Exxon out of the oily water, with fines of almost $297 million (the bulk of which stems from a 2003 settlement for penalties at its refineries). And Royal Dutch Shell, and Valero, and BP. Yes, I’m filtering out certain companies to highlight a trend. But there is indeed a trend.

But, it’s not all bad. POGO points out that that “39 of the top 100 government contractors do not show a pattern of misconduct,” proving you don’t have to cheat to go big-time.

The point is that there are easily accessible, hand-dandy tools out there to help us understand why we should (or, if you’re so inclined, why we shouldn’t) change.

The beauty of it? Just the very act of using these tools means we’re breaking those old habits, starting with the biggie – we’re thinking for ourselves.

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The Small-Scale Global Summit

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Calif. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the heaviest-hitting environmentally conscious politicians anywhere. His state has taken unprecedented steps against global warming during his tenure, from a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system to demanding utilities produce more power from renewable sources. And he’s at it again, this time hosting the Governors’ Global Climate Summit.

It certainly sounds impressive, especially when he calls it a “historic Summit” with a capital ‘S’ like that. But then you read in the Los Angeles Times about the cynics calling it nothing more than a grandiose gabfest and about how, of 49 U.S. governors, 31 Mexican governors and 10 Canadian premiers invited, only 6 are attending, and you wonder if it’s just a hollow green rep-building exercise.

But then, Obama comes along to give it the legitimacy it needs. In a videotaped message (above), Obama explicitly thanks those governors involved and pledges to reduce U.S. greenhouse emissions by at least 80% by 2050.

So today’s wrap press conference, with attendees pledging actions to “advance a global agreement in Copenhagen in 2009” (Copenhagen will host the U.N. talks on the next big global climate change agreement) is bound to get bigger coverage than it would’ve pre-Obama appearance.

See – he’s already making an impact.

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America Recycles Day

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Each of us has our own point of view on what needs to be done about the environment. Some say we should do nothing, that mankind’s “progress” (and the accompanying collateral damage) is as part of the natural world as a salmon’s upriver swim. Some say nearly everything humans do is an affront to nature. Somewhere in between those extreme points is where most of us live – we want to minimize environmental damage, but we don’t want to have to sacrifice too much, financially or convenience-wise. And it’s this majority that most green organizations are trying to reach. Green groups know they need to show the mainstream, “look, you can help and you don’t have to try too hard!”

Thus was born America Recycles Day. What is an easier, more proven way to help save the Earth than to recycle? Nothing. (Yes, CFLers, I see you there waving your little intestinine bulbs. But today’s not your day).

So The National Recycling Coalition came along and for the past 30 years has been telling us just how easy it is. And it appears what they’re doing is working. So they create one day in particular as a kind of focus point to really drive it home, and that day is Nov. 15. Saturday, in many cities across the U.S. Captivate viewers, you don’t even have to click on the link – I’ll do the work for you. Simply read on.

Atlanta – Feel good not just karmically but physically by partaking in the 2nd Annual Mayor's Race 2 Recycle, or take advantage of the E-Waste Recycling Day at Grady High.

Boston – Many metro-Boston communities are holding activities, while BU hosts the city proper’s only listed event.

Chicago – The closest event I could find is a half-hour up the road in Schaumburg, where Prairie Center for the Arts is hosting the 7th Annual Environmental Fair.

D.C. – As if Rocco the Recycling Retriever isn’t enough, there will also be exhibits on composting and waste-reduction techniques, plus shredding/recycling events.

Los Angeles – There’s a bunch of events going on around the region. Check out the L.A. Clippers Recycling Fair or drive down to the Home Depot in Carson for Nokia's E-Waste collection event

New York – Most boroughs are taking part in the Green Screens Electronic Recycling events.

Philadelphia – The City of Brotherly Love wants to become the City of Zero Waste, and they’ll explain how they plan to get there during the RecycleNow Philadelphia Forum at The Academy of Natural Sciences.

Phoenix – Couldn’t find anything in Phoenix but if you’re up for a nice (albeit noisy) drive, pack up your cans and head on down to Tucson. Keep an eye out for uniformed Marines, who’ll take your cans and turn them in to benefit Toys For Tots. Or skip the middle man and just give them some toys (even better -- build a toy out of the cans!).

San Francisco – Leave it to the San Fran area to put together the funnest-sounding event: MacNear’s Beach in San Rafael is the spot to be for live music, a reptile event, environmental presentations and a beach cleanup.

If you partake, let us know by posting a comment below

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James Hansen’s ‘Target CO2’

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 by Kyle Scribner

Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has published again. As I said previously, I like to hear what he has to say so I’m going to post about it whenever he presents something.

His latest paper, “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?,” is 15 pages of pure common sense (at least the parts of the pages I could comprehend are, anyway).

Since Hansen is so vociferous about global warming, he’s a popular target of opponents (the squeaky wheel gets the vitriol). But attacking him is indefensible. He has an obligation to inform us about what he’s seeing, because his data shows him some VERY BAD things are likely to happen. And how is some anonymous lab worker going to get heard unless he’s loud? Go ahead, name me one government scientist. You can’t. No one can! No one (by no one I mean the vast majority of us who have no stake in academia) generally cares what Dr. so-and-so has to say. So when he has something that needs to be heard, he has to be … well, vociferous.

The “bad things” in Hansen’s (and his colleagues’) report? The end of the world as we know it. Yes, it sounds like a Hollywood tagline and thus laughably foolish to some. But the only foolish thing is to ignore what science is telling us. If you want to dispute Hansen’s techniques or his readings of the science, fine. There are some salient counterarguments. But don’t dismiss it simply because it’s difficult to hear. I think a lot of the refuting of Hansen’s findings is due to the fact that we simply don’t want to believe humanity could be responsible for its own downfall, or, in a solipsistic, quintessentially American sense, that ANYTHING could be our downfall.

Here’s how Hansen sums it up, from the “Target Atmospheric CO2” abstract:

“Decreasing CO2 was the main cause of a cooling trend that began 50 million years ago, the planet being nearly ice-free until CO2 fell to 450 ± 100 ppm; barring prompt policy changes, that critical level will be passed, in the opposite direction, within decades. If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm, but likely less than that.”

We are headed toward an atmospheric condition not seen in millions of years. That is a scary scenario. So scary we may want to put it out of our minds, to dismiss it as alarmist, the findings of a politically motivated quack.

But look at who’s behind these findings. Does it make sense that they’re part of an underhanded plot – these are Ph.D.’s who have dedicated their lives to finding out some truth about our world – to fool us all into becoming concerned about the environment? To me, what’s a lot more plausible is that we simply don’t want to think about it, to face up to the implications. Because it means we’re responsible for all this, and it means we need to make major changes. And we just don’t have time for that. (I have two kids, a house and yard that constantly need attention, bills to pay. I’m saddled with daily changes of the diaper and battery variety; I don’t have room for ‘major changes.’)

Anyway, if you do want to make the time, Dr. Hansen makes it a bit easier by automatically sending you info if you sign up at his Columbia University Web page.

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Kyle Scribner is a born-again nature freak who also happens to be an editor at Captivate Network.

You know that exhilarated feeling you got as a kid when you would go down to the pond to catch frogs? It never really goes away; it’s just dormant. So I'm here to slap a mix of facts and borderline balanced opinion on you, to poke a stick at the nature freak slumbering in us all and maybe get him to once again come out and play.

And we might even learn a few things about the environment as we go.


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About Green Among Gray

How do you commune with nature or become part of the solution to the environmental crisis when you're trapped in a cement-and-glass, gas-guzzling, power-sucking, emissions-spewing metropolis 8 hours (or more) a day? How do you go 'green' in a world of gray?

Actually, there are plenty of ways, and Green Among Gray aims to show high-rise inhabitants how they can help ease the load on the environment and on their minds by exploring natural oases, conservation tips, and other ways to stay green while working in the concrete-built world of the big city.

Look for short updates on the latest environmental news along with periodic longer features on specific places and events that allow big-city workers to get close to nature.