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[1THING] Blog: Archive for May, 2015

[ Nevada’s Dry Lake sets good model for solar energy on public lands ]

The Department of Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) set a precedent for smart solar energy in a recent decision to approve three large-scale solar projects in the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone of southern Nevada.



[ Costa Rica: A Model for Sustainability ]

Costa Rica: A Model for Sustainability


By Erica Flock

The mountains north of Costa Rica’s capital city San Jose are covered in small coffee farms. To the untrained eye, they’re quite picturesque but Michelle Deugd of the Rainforest Alliance urges the group I’m touring with to look closer. These farms are missing an important, sustainable feature: trees.

Not only does coffee grow best under shade trees, this simple practice helps preserve biodiversity. The Rainforest Alliance works in Costa Rica and many other countries to help farmers adopt green practices like this and today we’re visiting one such farm: Doka Estate Coffee.

Unlike most of the farms around it, Doka is preserving its trees, phasing out the use of most pesticides, and incorporating many other sustainable practices. Quality coffee like this earns a better price in the market, and workers are spared the damaging health effects of pesticides. During the tour where we learn about the sorting and drying of coffee beans, we hear a variety of birds calling from nearby trees. Managed right, a coffee farm makes great habitat for wildlife.

Like many tropical countries, Costa Rica lost a significant portion of its forests to agriculture in the 20th century. The US was responsible for most of this damage: they provided massive “aid” loans to cattle farmers in Costa Rica starting in the 1960s in order to feed Americans’ growing appetite for meat.

It’s not easy to come back from losing 80 percent of your forests, but Costa Rica is making a valiant effort through its payment for ecosystem services (PES) program. Using revenue from a gas tax, the government is paying small landowners to help reforest the country, with special attention to water resources and areas of high poverty. Their goal is to have 60 percent of the country covered in forests, a significant feat for any country.



Coffee beans drying in the sun at Doka Estate


This ambition is paying off for Costa Rica’s tourism sector: it now surpasses agriculture as the country’s biggest industry. People all over the world are drawn to Costa Rica’s renowned national parks and plentiful ecolodges.

In the midst of this tourism boom, the Rainforest Alliance is giving hotels and lodges the tools they need to run sustainably too. They train hotel employees and tour operators, provide marketing support to certified businesses, and strengthen international ecotourism standards. Their work complements the policies the Costa Rican government has passed to ensure that large and small businesses alike respect the country’s people and environment.

Nestled inside a cloud forest is an ecolodge that’s earned the country’s top green ranking: Villa Blanca. The lodge employs on-site composting and gray water treatment. Neighboring farms provide food for the dining hall and employees volunteer in the community. Visitors to the lodge not only soak up the transcendent beauty of the cloud forest, but also learn about green practices they could adopt when they go home.

Not all hotels in Costa Rica are doing it right. Some major hotel chains that offer all-inclusive coastal vacations don’t require visitors to engage with or give back to the communities they’re among. It’s a troubling, unchecked trajectory according to the documentary film The Goose With the Golden Eggs.

But with the help of groups like the Rainforest Alliance, that could change. “If there’s a country that can pull off [sustainability], it’s Costa Rica,” says Sergio Musmanni, ‎Senior Advisor of the Low Carbon Development Program at German Development Cooperation Agency in Costa Rica. Already, Costa Rica gets most of its energy from renewable sources and has banned hunting and mining. As the world moves toward a cleaner future, we would do well to look here for sustainable inspiration. 


Learn more:

Our work in Sustainable Tourism, Rainforest Alliance

Our work in Sustainable Agriculture, Rainforest Alliance

Happy 25th Birthday to Earth University, Earth University


[ Next Step in Human Evolution? ]

In a sense, climate change is an opportunity for all of us, according to a prominent climatologist and public science educator.

Geosciences professor Richard Alley of Penn State University, who hosted the PBS miniseries “Earth: The Operators’ Manual,” said climate change is a serious threat to everyone, but we also now have a chance to change the entire way humans make and use energy. In the past, Alley said, we’ve burned through a series of energy sources – wood, whale oil and now fossil fuels.

“We’re the first generation that knows how to get off the treadmill,” he said, “how to build an economical, sustainable energy system without changing the climate and without running out of trees or whales.”

One way to help make sure the transition happens, Alley said, is to implement the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Some coal and oil executives say climate change is a hoax, but Alley said that among scientists there’s no question that it’s real, serious and caused by humans. However, he said, small-scale, decentralized energy production is starting to do for the electricity grid what the Internet did for telecommunications.

“You can make power on your house with your solar cells, make power with wind, you can have some batteries,” he said. “You can be a buyer, you can be a seller. A lot of sources, a lot of diversity – and that is robust against fluctuation.”

Alley said this transition can be seen as a profound step in human history. He compared it to when people stopped being hunters and gatherers and shifted to agriculture.

“When our ancestors switched to farming food, they learned to make the earth give a whole lot more food,” he said. “We can make a while lot more energy that really can do a lot of good for a lot of people in a lot of places.”

Engineers looking to make the grid more stable and flexible are considering some creative ideas including using electric cars and water heaters as a kind of giant distributed battery. Alley said these could provide a way to get energy when demand temporarily outstrips supply.

Alley will speak on “Climate Solutions: How to Reduce Energy Consumption and Help Pollinators and Wildlife,” at an event to be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Patton Township Municipal Building, 100 Patton Plaza, State College.

Source:  Dan Heyman, Keystone State News Connection


[ Interior’s plans for imperiled Greater Sage-Grouse complement state and county efforts to balance development and conservation in Idaho ]

Michael Reinemer

More than 50 million acres of Bureau of Land Management Land could include more conservation measures to help sage-grouse, based on plans announced by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  The plan released for Idaho is meant to pair the protection of sage-grouse habi



[ Interior unveils plans that could help protect imperiled sage-grouse bird ]

A new multi-state plan for the greater sage-grouse could include conservation measures to protect more than 50 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land that provides critical habitat for the species. Secretary Sally Jewell announced the plan on May 28 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.



[ How Charging Stations Boost Small Businesses ]

Small businesses are installing electric-vehicle charging stations as a way to attract customers. From B&B’s to breweries, drug stores to diners, restaurants to resorts, business owners are hearing from new and longtime patrons alike that they’re charged up about this special perk. “Many of the people that come to plug in and eat tell me they didn’t know of our restaurant before finding it on their EV charging map,” says New Jersey diner owner Tom Moloughney.

The Carlisle House Bed & Breakfast in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, added an electric vehicle (EV) charging station for its guests to use during their stay. Owner Alan Duxbury said he’s conscious of his environmental footprint and wants to do what he can to reduce it. He hears from customers that the charging station makes the B&B more competitive with big chain hotels nearby that aren’t providing this special perk.

Learn more from the Sierra Club.


[ Interior’s plans for imperiled Greater Sage-Grouse complement state and county efforts to balance development and conservation across the West ]

Anastasia Greene

The future of more than 50 million acres of Bureau of Land Management Land could include more conservation measures based on plans announced by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today.  When adopted and implemented, the federal plans for managing the conservation of Greater Sage-Grouse could


[ Gear up for National Trails Day 2015 on June 6 ]

The nation’s largest celebration of trails is on Saturday June 6. National Trails Day is a chance to celebrate trails by hiking, biking, running or riding on a trail near you.



[ 27 Pennsylvania Counties Remain in Drought Watch ]

Despite the recent precipitation events, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is maintaining a drought watch for 27 counties across Pennsylvania because parts of the state have below-average groundwater and in some areas surface water levels.

“We are still recovering from a very dry fall and below-normal precipitation this winter,” Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley said. “These factors have contributed to low groundwater and surface water levels mostly in the northeast and central portions of the state.”

The 27 counties under the drought watch are Berks, Bradford, Cambria, Carbon, Clinton, Columbia, Indiana, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Luzerne, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Monroe, Montour, Northumberland, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Wayne, Westmoreland, and Wyoming.

The lack of groundwater recharge can cause well-fed water supplies, both private and public, to go dry. All Pennsylvanians are advised to heed this drought watch by conserving their water use and consumption.

To reduce water use, residents can:
• Run water only when absolutely necessary by avoiding running water while brushing teeth or turning on the shower many minutes before use
• Check for household leaks; a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water a day
• Run dishwashers and washing machines only with full loads
• Use a broom, not a hose, to clean driveways, steps, and sidewalks
• Wash the car with water from a bucket; if a hose is used, control the flow with an automatic shut off nozzle
• Set sprinklers to water the lawn or garden only, do not water the street or sidewalk
• Use soaker hoses and trickle irrigation systems to reduce the amount of water used by 20 to 50 percent
• Mulch around shrubs and garden plants to reduce evaporation from the soil and inhibit weeds.
• Plant native plants that require less care and water than ornamental varieties
• Cover swimming pools to prevent evaporation
• Adjust the lawn mower to a higher setting to provide natural ground shade and to promote water retention by the soil

DEP has notified all water suppliers in the affected areas of the need to monitor their supplies, particularly those that rely upon groundwater, and update their drought contingency plans as necessary.

A drought watch declaration is the first and least-severe level of the state’s three drought classifications. It calls for a voluntary five percent reduction in non-essential water use.

These recommendations and additional drought information are available by clicking here or visiting DEP’s website, www.dep.state.pa.us, keyword: drought.


[ Free Mobile Game Helps Kids Fight Climate Change ]

The iPad screen shows a polar bear pacing on a shrinking iceberg, but the kids aren’t watching another depressing documentary. They’re playing the free mobile game recently released by the nonprofit Cool the Earth. And the bear isn’t just any endangered species but Koda, a loveable furball that kids can feed, bathe, and even accessorize with eclectic gear like a Mohawk hairdo or coconut bra.

What’s the tie-in to looming climate catastrophe? In order to take proper care of Koda and advance to new levels in the game, players need to earn coins, which they can do by extinguishing carbon clouds or fishing trash out of the ocean. But they also need to complete real-world missions, like shutting off the faucet when brushing their teeth, saving leftover food, and turning off lights when they leave a room. To this end the app includes a built-in delay mechanism to prevent players from rapidly clicking through the list of actions. And past level 10, parents have to jump into the game too, verifying that their children have completed various tasks.

“This weaving in and out of the app world and the real world is innovative,” says Cool the Earth founder Carleen Cullen.  “It took Apple a while to go for it because they’d never seen anything like it.”

For the past eight years, Cool the Earth has reached kids mainly through their elementary schools. It offers a free kit that includes instructions for a school assembly on climate change, complete with polar bear costumes, plus action coupon books that kids can take home and fill out. The nonprofit estimates they’ve reached over 200,000 kids who have completed over 300,000 carbon-reducing actions. With the new app, which officially launches today, any kid can participate anytime, anywhere. “We worked hard to make sure the actions are low or no cost, something all families in the U.S. can do, and even internationally,” Cullen says. “Three of our first few downloads were in countries in the Middle East.”

But isn’t access to the technology itself a limiting factor? Apparently not.  “Two years ago, 52 percent of kids in the U.S. under the age of eight had access to tablets and smartphones in their homes,” Cullen says. “Now 75 percent do. The numbers only get higher as kids get older.”

Cullen acknowledges that the small steps promoted by the game don’t amount to much on an individual basis. But if adapted on a large scale, they add up to significant carbon reductions.

And inevitably, when you reach kids, you reach their parents. “Your friend can’t come into your house and tell you to take a shorter shower. But your kid can.”

Source:  Sierra Club