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[1THING] Blog: Archive for June, 2015

[ Feds force Shell to scale back plans, but Arctic Ocean risks remain ]

Tim Woody

In a move to protect marine mammals, the Obama administration today told Royal Dutch Shell that it would not be allowed to simultaneously drill two exploratory wells less than 15 miles apart in the Arctic Ocean. The announcement forces Shell to scale back its drilling plans for this summer.

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[ Why Urban Parks Matter ]

Why Urban Parks Matter

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David Berkowitz/Flickr

 

Guest post by Catherine Nagel, executive director of EarthShare member organization City Parks Alliance

Urban parks are dynamic institutions that play a vital role in the social, economic and physical well-being of America's cities and their residents. Since the mid-19th century, with the introduction of large-scale parks in cities across America including New York, Boston, Louisville, Chicago, Minneapolis, Washington, DC and San Francisco, America’s city parks have provided a respite from the stress of urban life for millions of people. They have also advanced democratic life, bringing people together across social, economic and racial divides.

City parks suffered from disinvestment following World War II, when people moved away from urban areas. Many parks became places to avoid. But an urban renaissance in the past few decades has refocused attention on parks and their potential to help address critical contemporary urban needs–from health, housing, education and environmental justice, to local economic development and crime mitigation. Parks are now recognized as a powerful tool to improve urban life. Here are some major benefits that urban parks provide:

Public Health – Research shows that routine physical activity contributes to well-being and longevity, helping to prevent multiple chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression and cancer. But most Americans – adults and children – don’t meet the recommended daily guidelines. Parks are an ideal place for movement, providing the room needed for running, walking, sports and other active pursuits.

Environmental Value – A network of parks and open spaces that include protected natural lands, ecological reserves, wetlands, and other green areas is critical to providing healthy habitats for humans, wildlife and plants in dense urban areas. Every tree helps improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and pollutants. And a park’s green infrastructure—not only trees, but garden vegetation and grassy areas—helps clean our water by capturing and filtering stormwater runoff.  

Economic Value – Cities and metropolitan regions are economic engines critical to a nation’s ability to compete globally. Knowledge workers, workers in creative industries, families and young people are increasingly choosing urban areas that offer amenities that contribute to an excellent quality of life. A well-designed, programmed and maintained system of city parks is an essential component of any city’s strategy for attracting and retaining a strong workforce and spurring local investment.  

Community Value – Neighborhood parks can draw in and connect individuals of all ages and backgrounds who share a vision for the betterment of their surroundings and take pride in where they live. But most of today's youth spend more time indoors than out and in many communities children simply do not have access to parks that are clean and safe. Parks are vital community assets where young people can grow and learn – through recreation and interaction with nature – and where people of all ages can get involved in civic life.

While city parks and green spaces offer these and many other benefits, public funding for their creation and long-term stewardship continues to decline. For 15 years, City Parks Alliance has worked to promote an expanded role for urban parks by engaging, educating and nurturing a growing network of urban leadersfrom neighborhood groups to government agencies, championing high quality urban parks throughout the nation – and making the case for greater park investment from both the public and private sectors to achieve multiple benefits for our cities. Our vision is that everyone in urban America will have access to parks and green spaces that are clean, safe and vibrant.

 

Resources:

Green City, Clean Waters

A Floating Farmer's Market

Youth Employment in Parks

  

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[ The Electric Utility Revolution ]

The Electric Utility Revolution

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DOE Solar Decathlon/Flickr

 

In 1995, only 2% of the global population had a mobile phone. Today 96% do. In just 20 years, the telecommunications industry has completely changed because of new technology. Apoorv Ghargava, an analyst at Opower, says a similar shift is happening to electricity utility companies. And it’s good news for customers and renewable energy.

For over a century, big companies have controlled our power supply. They’ve built large coal, gas, and nuclear plants and charged customers a regulated rate to generate and deliver that electricity.

But today, more and more homeowners and communities are generating their own electricity, through rooftop solar installations, for example. That simple reality, combined with the US economy’s increased efficiency, is forcing utilities to change the way they do business.

Just because homeowners have abandoned their landlines in favor of cell phones doesn’t meant the phone companies disappeared, says Ghargava. AT&T didn’t disappear with the rotary phone. They adapted.

Electricity companies need to adapt too. Some already are. 

Consider New York State. Leaders there saw what happened during Hurricane Sandy. They know that their infrastructure is vulnerable to more frequent big storms. They also know that their residents want renewable energy and don’t want to spend public funds on costly dirty energy projects.

So Governor Cuomo launched the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) project in 2014 to fast-track clean energy, save customers money, and increase reliability. One way to do this is to roll out more community-owned microgrids and electricity storage.

You’d think that New York’s utility companies would reject these changes, but Con Edison sees REV as an opportunity, not a threat. 

“This is truly one of the most dynamic times our industry has seen,” says Sergej Mahnovski, Director at Consolidated Edison’s Utility of the Future. “By advancing change, utilities will need to invest in the infrastructure and systems that will become the backbone of future markets. But more importantly, utilities will invest in people, industry knowledge, brainpower and application skills.”

In other words, utilities should rethink the kinds of services their providing customers in the clean energy era. From modernizing the grid and powering the new electric vehicle fleet, to developing software tools that help people manage energy better, new business models can support community efforts.

Hawaii is also aggressively adopting clean energy. This year, the state became the first in the country to mandate a 100% renewable energy supply by 2045. This ambitious goal has given Hawaii’s residents a chance to rethink the power system.

While shareholders in the state’s major utility, Hawaiian Electric, are considering a merger with NextEra Energy (a Florida company that owns 14% of installed utility-scale solar in the US), other residents are calling for a co-op model that would put more control in the hands of residents.

“Hawaii is at a crossroads. We have disruptive technologies that are changing how customers expect to get energy,” says Rob Harris, spokesperson with KULOLO (Keep Utilities Locally Owned, Locally Operated). “In [NextEra’s] model, they generate all the power and sell all the power. One would have to presume that is the model they want to bring to Hawaii. That is why we think the public option should be on the table.”

Similar conversations are taking place around the country, wherever rooftop solar is cutting into a utility’s traditional business model. Most states have net metering policies that allow solar PV owners to sell their extra energy back to the grid. As the cost of solar drops and more people switch to solar, threatened utilities are responding by attacking net metering with more fees.

Instead of fighting net metering, utilities should work with customers to develop new pricing models that acknowledge the growing prominence of small producers, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. It would be a win for everyone involved.

“Let’s shift the conversation away from net metering, and start debating the electricity rate structures of the future.” 

Environmental Defense Fund Attorney John Finnigan agrees. What’s needed, he says, are “Performance Based Rates” that compensate utilities not based on their costs (which is the current model), but on how well they deliver sustainable, affordable energy to consumers.

“Performance Based Rates” might sound like a pretty boring idea in the exciting world of clean energy, but it’s just the approach we need to get our electricity utilities into the 21st century.

 

Resources:

REV-ing it Up in New York, Natural Resources Defense Council

Transforming Electric Utilities, Rocky Mountain Institute

Smart Grid and Clean Energy Go Hand in Hand, EarthShare

 

 

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[ Rep. Grijalva Applauded for Reintroduction of Military-Conservation Bill for Sonoran Desert ]

Michael Reinemer

The Wilderness Society and the Arizona Wilderness Coalition commend Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Dist.

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[ Court Ruling May Delay “Life Saving” Pollution Controls ]

A Supreme Court decision may have cast doubt on controls for mercury and other airborne toxins from power plants – but it didn’t throw them out.

The high court decision could delay a permanent implementation of new air pollution rules, which the EPA says will save thousands of lives.

In a five-to-four decision, the court said the EPA should have considered the cost to industry earlier in the process of writing pollution limits.

Jim Pew, an attorney with Earthjustice, says whether or not the regulators documented it, the public will gain benefits of $3 to $9 for every $1 the protections cost. He says industry “propaganda” and legal arguments obscure that.

“Nobody is really disputing that this rule is going to save between 4,000 and 11,000 lives every year,” he says. “To me, it really doesn’t make sense that EPA would be unpopular for doing something that helps so many people.”

The power and coal industries have argued the health-related savings are far less than the cost of compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

The air pollution rules have the greatest impact on coal-fired power plants. Some conservation groups say most coal plants have already adapted or taken new pollution limits into account, so it’s unlikely the Supreme Court ruling will have a significant impact. Pew says the case is about the technicalities of the EPA’s rule-making process, not the rules themselves, although the energy industry is painting the decision as a victory.

“What EPA is facing here is a very well-funded, very deliberate propaganda campaign by companies that don’t want to pay to clean up their pollution,” he says. “Even if they succeed in nothing but delaying, they save a lot of money.”

The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court for review. The rules went into effect in 2012, and will remain in effect pending action by the lower court.

-Dan Heyman, Keystone State News Connection

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[ Can You “Unshop” for 30 Days? ]

Have you heard of “unshopping”?  It’s a lifestyle choice that many people are making.  “Unshopping” is the act of letting go of things you don’t really need anymore; the opposite of hoarding.  It includes acquiring the things you need from someone else, without going to a store or spending any money and shifts consumerism away from waste, and toward a more sustainable, less expensive lifestyle.

Yerdle is challenging people to “unshop” for 30 days.  They’re calling it the Unshopping Challenge.  They’re asking people to commit to buying nothing new for 30 days to unclutter their life, save money, and create a lot less waste.

Here are the details:

The Challenge

  • For 30 days, buy nothing new (except things you can’t reuse like food and gas).
  • Go through your stuff, and post pictures of items you’re ready to give away.
  • If you do need something, get it reused instead.
The Goods
  • Join a growing movement of Unshoppers using Yerdle to simplify and save.
  • Experience the freedom of letting go of things you no longer need.
  • Feel the joy of getting great stuff from great people … for free.

The Gravy

  • Get free shipping on one item on Yerdle.
  • Get exclusive Yerdle Reuse Dollar bonuses.
  • Earn a badge on your Yerdle profile.
  • Join the unshopping community on Facebook.

Can I still buy food?

You can still buy consumable items like food, underwear and deodorant. The idea is to stop making impulse purchases, buying things you might only use once or twice, or buying “because it was on sale”.

How will I get what I need?

Your friends and neighbors can help you. Yerdle can help too. Yerdle is a store where you post a pic of your unused stuff and get the things you need. When you post your unused items on Yerdle, you can earn Yerdle Reuse Dollars that you can use to get the stuff you need.

Want to see if you can go 30 days without buying anything new?  Sign up to take the Unshopping Challenge here.

 

 

 

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[ General Mills to Drop Artificial Ingredients in Cereal ]

General Mills is dropping artificial colors and flavors from its cereals, the latest company to respond to a growing desire for food made with ingredients people see as natural.

The company said that Trix and Reese’s Puffs will be among the first cereals to undergo the changes. As a result, the reformulated Trix cereal later this year will be made with four colors instead of six, said Kate Gallager, cereal developer for General Mills.

While the company was able to come up with alternatives for red, orange, yellow and purple Trix pieces, Gallager said it was too difficult to find natural alternatives for blue and green that achieved the right taste and color.

“We haven’t been able to get that same vibrant color,” she said.

The Minneapolis company says cereals like Lucky Charms that have marshmallows may take longer to reformulate. It says 90 percent of its cereals will have no artificial ingredients by the end of 2016.

A range of food companies including Subway, Pizza Hut, Panera, Hershey and Nestle have said in recent months that they’re removing artificial ingredients from some or all products. Companies say the changes are a response to a demand for food made with ingredients people can recognize.

General Mills, which also makes Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, says more than 60 percent of its cereals are already made without artificial colors and flavors.

Source:  ABC News

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[ Congressional hearing should spur action to improve renewable energy permitting on public lands ]

While the subject of the hearing zeroed in on whether the Bureau of Land Management is doing enough to ensure bonds to pay for restoring project sites from renewable energy companies are up to date, it underscored the significant progress that has been made—and the key opportunities that r

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[ How Hot Sauce Can Help Save the World ]

If you like hot sauce, the Sierra Club has some eco-friendly recommendations including Homesweet Homegrown right down the road in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.

“I wanted to bring transparency back to the food system,” says Robyn Jasko. Which is why she started HOMESWEET HOMEGROWN in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Visitors can handpick peppers on her two acres of organic fields, reclaimed from growing genetically modified corn. Scotch bonnet, ghost, and lemon drop chilies all turn into tasty sauces that bring the heat. Jasko’s best-selling Punch Drunk variety is inspired by mole, incorporating raw cacao and beer from nearby Victory Brewing Company. Try it in chili and on pasta. $6 for a 5-ounce bottle

Read about the rest and check out the slideshow from the Sierra Club!
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[ Report: Rising sea levels will do costly damage to national parks & other sites ]

The report, released by the Interior Department on June 23, assessed 40 national parks, monuments and other coastal sites and found that $40 billion in infrastructure and other resources was at risk due

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