What's Up With the Rainforest: More Hope, Less Blame

Celebrations of Earth Day has garnered some more of the world's attention to the environmental crisis threatening the health of the global community and our planet, but we must not forget that working towards a sustainable future is a responsibility that will require dedication all 365 days of the year. And while some corporations have jumped on the eco-bandwagon in an attempt to attract the green consumer, we would like to call attention to the unsung heroes. The individuals, communities, and national leaders who have continually shown a dedication to environmental activism, not driven by profit or personal gain, but by the mission of ensuring we have something to celebrate in the decades to come. We, along with our partnerRainforest Alliance, encourage you to join them, because even though there may be little acclaim for the individual in doing the right thing for the planet, your efforts will lead to rewards that extend far beyond your time.

Our first story reviews a documentaryClimate of Change, which takes a "refreshingly positive look at the future of our planet," revealing the impact actions from committed individuals and small groups from around the group are having on the health of our planet. And in doing so, provides the ingredients we need to take the next step for a better tomorrow -- "passionate young people, quiet heroes and, most importantly, hope."

Education is essential for equipping the younger generation with the knowledge of how to prevent a history of destruction from repeating itself, but also provides the perfect opportunity to instill activism and concern for the broader community from the very beginning. As seen in South Carolina, where a "Save the Rainforest Club" at Ebinport Elementary School doesn't just teach students about the rainforest, it encourages them to take action -- raising thousands of dollars at events such as "Earth Day Birthday" where club members sold recyclable bags they made themselves, auction off pictures they made in the club and sell bookmarks.

Another young individual trying to do his part is 12-year-old Koa Halpern, who is challenging us all to give up fast food as a way to decrease the stress on the environment the fast food industry has created. Wise beyond his years, this passionate young man started the organization Fast Food Free, along with the Web site fastfoodfree.org, in order to encourage and educate individuals to make this pledge for a healthier lifestyle and planet.

Next, an interview with Bianca Jagger, who after spending the last 30 years as a human rights, social justice and environmental protection advocate has proved time and again her dedication to the planet. Jagger's discussion of her latest mission in Niyamgiri not only gives a candid insight into a region where "multinational mining giant Vedanta's operations are threatening the tribals with extinction" but will prompt you to ask yourself, "Are we willing to endanger individuals survival, in order to enable corporations to exploit our natural resources?"

In the Republic of Korea, we see individuals being recognized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with a Champion of the Earth award for their leadership in the fight to preserve biodiversity and combat climate change. President Bharrat Jagdeo was one of these recipients, being acknowledged specifically for his ability to recognize the scope of green economy benefits, in terms of not only battling climate change but also "in terms of development; employment; improved water supplies and the conservation of biodiversity."

While its obvious that there are many individuals taking action towards fixing the devastating actions of our past, we end with a look at what we need to accomplish in the next 40 years in order make the future a change for the better. Let's not waste the can do energy Earth Day has rejuvenated. Our planet needs more than just 24 hours of R&R so we urge you to stay informed on the latest issues and visit us on Facebook to connect with fellow activists. 

Weekly Mulch: What's Missing from the New Clean Energy Agenda?

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Nuclear power, biofuels, clean coal: These are the Obama administration’s answers to climate change. The 2011 budget, released this week, promised new loans for the construction of nuclear power plants, and on Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), White House, and other departments detailed steps to encourage ethanol and clean coal production.

These initiatives may garner support from conservatives, but their ascendancy comes at a price. Support for renewable fuel sources, like wind and solar, has dwindled. President Barack Obama did encourage Senate Democrats to pass a climate change bill, but some moderates are bucking the cap-and-trade provisions that could tamp down carbon emissions. Those moderates are pushing for legislation that leaves carbon caps out entirely.

It hasn’t been a good week for climate advocates. On top of the Obama administration’s overtures to crusty, old energy industries, Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has had to fend off pressure to resign. The IPCC published a report with a badly sourced fact about the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are melting, and when scientists pointed out the error, Pachauri would not cop to the mistake. (If you missed the beginning of this to-do, Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard covered the controversy back in January.)

Given this country’s weak efforts to tamp down carbon emissions, though, perhaps the IPCC’s prediction that those glaciers likely will disappeared by 2035 will turn out to be accurate.

New nuclear plants—but at what cost?

Obama’s budget, as Sheppard reports at Mother Jones, is upping funding for nuclear plant development, even though previous nuclear projects have run wildly over budget. The president has always supported increased nuclear production. As an Illinois Senator, Obama had Exelon Corporation, the country’s largest nuclear operator, in his constituency. The company continued to support him as a presidential candidate. The proposed funding runs in the neighborhood of $54.5 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear projects. That’s good news for an industry that’s in need of cash. As Sheppard explains, without governmental backing, these plants would have little chance of being built.

Even as public opinion toward nuclear power has warmed, projected construction costs for new plants have soared, with a single reactor now estimated to cost as much as $12 billion,” she writes. “In fact, the outlook for nuclear plants looks so dire that even Wall Street banks have balked at financing them unless the government underwrites the deal.”

The Obama administration is also backing research into nuclear waste disposal, a prerequisite for nuclear expansion. No matter how “green” nuclear energy production might be, so far there’s no safe, sustainable way to deal with its by-products. Finding a long-term solution for nuclear waste disposal will not come cheaply.

Biofuels move us backwards

The administration’s support for biofuels was bigger slap in the face to environmentalists, though. Just a few years ago, ethanol made from corn or switchgrass ranked high on the list of renewable fuels that could spring America from its Middle East oil addiction. In practice, however, biofuels have proven more environmentally destructive and less efficient than advocates had hoped. With farmers in the Midwest knee-deep in corn marked for ethanol production, though, backing away from biofuels is politically dicey.

The consequences are more than political, however. At Grist, Tom Philpott argues that support for biofuels will ultimately drive global carbon emission up, rather than down.

“As ethanol factories continue sucking in more and more corn, plantation owners in places like Brazil and Argentina will put more grassland and even rainforest under the plow to make up for the shortfall, resulting in huge carbon emissions,” Philpott writes. “That dire effect of our ethanol program, known as indirect land-use change, likely nullifies any scant climate benefits from ethanol.”

It’s not just corn and switchgrass that pose a problem, either. As Gina Marie Cheeseman reports at Care2, algae farms, another potential source of biofuel, face their own challenges. Algae demands high energy input and could release more carbon dioxide emissions that it would save, according to a new report from the University of Virginia.

There’s more research to be done before writing algae energy production off, however. In January, the Department of Energy said it would sink $44 million into work on algae pools. Industry players like ExxonMobile are also underwriting research on the subject, Cheeseman writes.

No room for innovation

Moving towards energy sources like nuclear power and ethanol does take the country a step closer to responsible energy production. But right now, the Obama administration is not leaving room for new or ambitious ideas that could do more. Wind and solar, which would form the best foundation for a sustainable energy future, have few advocates in Congress. They also seem to have no role in the near-term energy plan.

Ethanol was the Midwest’s first green industry, for instance, but there are other possibilities for juicing up the region’s clean energy production. In The Nation, Lisa Margonelli lays out the case for “gray power,” which is recycled energy produced by the old, dirty smokestacks that ring cities like Cleveland.

In this vision, twentieth century industry can produce twenty-first century energy. Waste energy, Margonelli argues,  “can be profitably “recycled” onto the grid to create power as clean as that from solar and wind but far cheaper.”

“In fact, energy now lost as steam and gases by the region’s manufacturing plants, as well as municipal and agricultural waste, could create as much energy as sixty-nine nuclear power plants, according to figures commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency,” she says. “This power could strengthen the region’s electrical grid and preserve jobs by making local manufacturing plants more economically stable, while making the region a leader in greener technology.”

A project like Margonelli imagines, however, would require significant commitment and vision from the federal government, both of which are lacking right now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Are your Skittles destroying the rainforest? Part 1

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Today, I've decided to start a series on palm oil and palm ingredients - and alternatives to them.  I'm in the process of building a website on the same subject ( http://www.nomorepalm.com ), but that will take a bit of time, and time is not something worth wasting in this context.

A specific type of vegetable oil may not sound like a particularly interesting subject, but palm oil is no ordinary vegetable oil.  It is one of the more destructive forces on our planet today.  Or maybe I should say that the machine of people and corporations in place to grow and distribute palm oil is one of the more destructive forces on our planet.  Either way, consuming this ingredient - which is in an unbelievable amount of foods and cosmetics and other things - is something which makes one responsible for encouraging the ds

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10 Questions for Alvaro Uribe

The Center for American Progress is hosting Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Wednesday, May 2 at 1 pm for a discussion on a wide variety of topics. Press and audience members will have a rare opportunity to pose questions to the secretive Uribe (President Bush's top ally in the region), who is in the United States to repay a visit by President Bush and make his case for a free trade agreement. Before the event, starting at 11:45, labor union officials and Colombia monitors will hold a die-in to protest Uribe's ties to rightist paramilitaries (more info below).

Here are 10 questions that those inside for the conversation need to ask President Uribe:

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Center for American Progress to Host Colombian President Under Murder Cloud

On May 2, the Center for American Progress (CAP) Americas' Project will host Colombian president Alvaro Uribe at a Washington forum entitled "Colombia & the United States at a Crossroads." Uribe, who is President Bush's closest ally in the region, is under a cloud after several of his top officials resigned when evidence emerged that they had close ties to right wing paramilitary groups responsible for thousands of murders and assassinations during Colombia's decades-long civil war. Uribe has also been accused of hosting right wing death squad planning meetings on his ranch in the 1980's. In reaction to the scandal, Uribe has lashed out at opponents and even admitted that he's put opposition Colombian politicians who met with Democrats in Washington under government surveillance. Finally, Colombia remains the number one source of cocaine - and the fifth largest recipient of U.S. overseas aid - despite its poor performance countering narco-trafficking. Indeed, the Bush administration just admitted that its much-vaunted "Plan Colombia" has done nothing to stanch the supply of high quality blow to America.

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Diaries

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