Flotsam & Jetsam
Bush Steals Solar Funds, Peace Prize Nominations, Bushcast: Overcast and Toxic, Those E. Coli Blues, Solar Power from a Paint Can, & Geocache as Geocache Can
May 15, 2002
Bush Steals Solar Funds
US - George W. Bush has found a unique way to signal his true energy priorities. According to a Reuters report, Bush grabbed $135,615 that was to have been spent on the Department of Energy's solar, renewables, and energy conservation programs and used it to print 10,000 copies of the White House energy plan - a plan that promoted the use of oil, gas, coal and nuclear energy. The renewables budget was also tapped to pay for the travel expenses of White House Energy Task Force Staff Director Andrew Lundquist who flew to Alaska to drum up support for drilling oil wells in the heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Peace Prize Nominations
US - Partnership Africa Canada and the US-based Global Witness have been nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize. The two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were placed in nomination by US Senator Patrick Leahy and US Representatives Tony P. Hall and Frank R. Wolf who drew attention to the groups' joint campaign "to sever the funding link between diamonds and war." The sale of Africa's so-called "conflict diamonds" to buyers in Europe and North America, has provided much of the funding for Africa's devastating internal wars. "There is a long way between a nomination and winning," note the directors of Global Witness, "but in our wildest dreams we never expected even this." More important that winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Global Witness says, is the fact that the nomination has brought "international recognition of the importance of dealing with the conflict diamond issue." [www.globalwitness.org, Partnership Africa].
Don't Fault Them for Seeking a Place to Park
US - If you think the Population Bomb never went off, you haven't tried finding a place to park in San Francisco. Some residents in the city's middleclass districts have taken to paving over the grass on their front yards, turning flower gardens and pocket-lawns into off-street parking lots. With parking tickets costing $100 a pop, the city's richest residents have begun imposing "space-lifts" on the venerable Victorian mansions of Pacific Heights, Noe Valley, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill and Nob Hill. The rich but parking-challenged are spending upwards of $200,000 to scoop out the ground from beneath their dwellings or to jack their homes into the air to cram garages in the space beneath. The addition of parking space is becoming an "essential" part of the housing package, adding as much as $150,000 to the selling price of a home and justifying rent hikes of 20 to 30 percent. There is only one problem. As the residents of Los Angeles learned during the San Fernando Valley earthquake of 19??, ground-floor garages were responsible for many of that shaker's most devastation building collapses. San Francisco's garage-building binge could become the architectural proof of the old adage, "Pride goeth before a fall." This could all be money ill spent for, when the long-awaited "Big One" hits, the entire city could become one big parking lot. And nobody will be driving their cars.
Those E. Coli Blues
US - Lads and ladies in Levis love the cool blue of those classic canvas culottes but most would be shocked to discover that most of the 16,000 tons of dye used each year to render blue jeans blue no longer comes from the indigo plant. The dye now comes from coal and oil. Because the manufacture of synthetic chemical indigo produces a number of toxic by-products, the scientists at Genencor International in Palo Alto, California hope environmentalists will endorse its new product, "biological indigo." GI is promoting its creation as "an environmentally friendly substitute for chemical synthesis." GI has twisted the DNA of E. coli, a bacteria that produces tryptophan. Tryptophan, in turn, can be transformed into a blue dye that is "indistinguishable" from the fossil-fuel-derived competitor. Unfortunately, GI's reliance on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) puts it out of the running for any green-product Oscars. Biochemist Philip John of Britain's University of Reading may have a better idea. John wants to reintroduce fields of dyer's knotweed and woad -- the original indigo-producing plants -- as a new cash crop in Europe.
Tibet or Not Tibet
India - The Dalai Lama has called for Mongolia to put an end to the practice of trophy hunting. Noting that taking life was "against Buddhist principles," the Dalai Lama appealed to Mongolia's leaders to follow Tibet's example and ban the "hunting of animals in any form." Mongolia has promoted a form of "anti-eco-tourism" by declaring open season on the hunting of a number of rare and endangered animals including the argali, Earth's largest wild sheep. The fact that 95 percent of Mongolia's 2.5 million residents are followers of Tibetan Buddhism is expected to put a great deal of moral pressure on Mongolia. [The Fund for Animals, www.fund.org]
I Speak for the Floors for the Floors Have no Voice
US -- Not everybody loves the Lorax. The Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association has targeted the fuzzy little hero of Dr. Seuss' cautionary tale. The WFMA has printed millions of copies of a free "Truax lesson plan" staring a green-bodied, lumber-loving creature called the Guardbark. These lesson plans are to be handed out in schoolrooms across the US. In a memo directed to teachers, the WFMA explains the genesis of it's glossy fable: "Written specifically to counter the book The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss, our industry believes "Truax" more closely represents today's forest management than the scenario described by Dr. Seuss. We hope you will find "Truax" a worthwhile tool to help change false perceptions." [www.nofma.org/truax.htm]
Fording the Hudson
US -- On Earth Day, actor Harrison Ford joined environmental activist and attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. along the banks of New York's Hudson River. Ford was honored by Kennedy's environmental watchdog organization, Riverkeeper, for his years of work on its behalf. Ford announced that he was upping the ante in his campaign to safeguard the Hudson by becoming Riverkeeper's first "airborne watchdog." Ford, who is a pilot as well as an actor, will be patrolling the Hudson in his private helicopter looking for people who are polluting the waterway. In 2001, Ford was in the news when he used his helicopter to swoop down and save a lost Boy Scout stranded on a mountain. The young man reportedly was flabbergasted to discover he'd been rescued by "Indiana Jones." Imagine the surprise on the faces of any Hudson polluters who cross paths with "Hudson Ford."
Bushcast: Overcast and Toxic
Alerts: George W. Bush is set to let 17,000 of the countries worst industrial polluters off the Clean Air Act hook. Take a deep breath and get active. Contact the Save Our Environment Action Center [www.saveourenvironment.org]. To get a forecast of potential air, ground and water pollution in your neck of the woods, log on to www.savethecleanairact.org and go to the site labeled "powerplantlookup." For a run-down on how Bush & Co. are running down the environment, the "The Bush Record," a comprehensive review compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council [www.nrdc.org/bushrecord].
Hold the Fries but Gimme a Veggie Burger
US - People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals are telling people to patronize Burger King (BK). Has PETA flipped? Not at all. PETA's long-running campaign to convince the fast-food giant to introduce a non-meat burger has finally born fruit - or more precisely, vegetables. The veggie burger (a meld of vegetables, grains and spices on a sesame seed bun topped with reduced fat mayonnaise) is now available at all 8,500 BKs in the US. (The meatless burger has been available in foreign BK outlets for some time.) Unlike BKs Whopper, which boasts 39 grams of fat and 680 calories, the new burger has only 10 grams of fat and 330 calories. PETA's Kristie Phelps had nothing but praise for BK's move. "Launching a mean, lean and green veggie burger puts Burger King ahead of its fast-food competition," Phelps declared. Never dined at a Burger King? Just this once, swallow your pride and vote with your mouth.
Solar Power from a Paint Can
US - A team of chemists at the University of California at Berkeley [www.cchem.berkeley.edu] has produced an inexpensive plastic coating that generates electricity from sunlight. The plastic coating, which includes incredibly small nanorods sandwiched between electrodes, can be painted onto walls, roofs, even clothing. With UC Berkeley's "solar paint," bulky and costly solar panels could become yesterday's technology. Solar panels could be painted on thin sheets of flexible plastic. Electric-powered cars coated with solar plastic would generate their own power whether they were being driven or just parked in a driveway. "This opens up all sorts of new applications, like putting solar cells on clothing to power LEDs (light-emitting diodes), radios or small computer processors." Researcher Janke Dittmer told Reuters. The Sunny
Side of the Sheet
Australia - Cloth may become the newest solar-power system thanks to the invention of "intelligent polymers," new chemically derived fibers that could revolutionize the textile industry. In addition to carrying electric current, the new plastic threads could be used to weave "smart bedsheets" that could sense changes in body temperature and monitor the breathing and heartbeats of snoozing humans. Gordon Wallace, director of the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute near Sydney, foresees the day when his polymer shirts and jackets will be generating electricity simply by being worn on a sunny day. With a conversion efficiency of less than 2 percent, a solar-power pullover could easily supply the needs of small phones, radios, music players or computers. Bottom line? Fewer batteries will be needed but a new generation of electronic gee-gaws will be produced. The first beneficiaries of solar-powered wearables will most likely be the soldiers fighting the cyber-based wars of the 21st century.
Geocache as Geocache Can
US - "Geochaching" is a catchy new word for a very old pastime - "hide and seek." The twist is that today's seekers are heading to the hills with Global Positioning Service devices clutched in their hands hoping to be the first to locate prizes hidden in wilderness areas. It's no longer necessary to follow your instincts. Today's explorers simply punch a few buttons and follow their GPS coordinates. Unfortunately for the outside, there is a considerable downside to this newest "eco-rage." As California environmental curmudgeon Mike Vandeman points out [http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande], any sport that "sends thousands of people running and digging through wildlands" will degrade the wilds and pose yet "another threat to wildlife." You may think you're playing an innocent game of "hide-and-seek," but when you do this in a wilderness area, it's really more a case of "search-and-destroy."
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