Tucked into the business sections of newspapers today is this story: The feds are investigating claims that Toyoto Prius engines may unexpectedly stall out at highway speeds. The development may be but a hiccup interruption for Toyota, as the automaker continues to press its green advantage on American consumers while American automakers stand pat (or worse) on fuel efficiency. After all, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received only 33 complaints about stalled engines -- a small number given the something like 75,000 Priuses on the road for the model years 2004 and 2005. On the other hand, if there is any credence to the claims, one can envision the concerns spiralling into a whirl of negative publicity for Toyota -- something that opponents of California's clean-car standards (e.g., GM) would certainly take quick advantage of. Here's hoping that there's no opening for a "Hybrid Veterans for Truth" campaign to get off the ground.
The new USDA food pyramid has arrived. In a very ownership-society type of way, the pyramid has been transformed into ... MyPyramid. The website is super-slow thus far -- I haven't been able to really dig around yet -- but the arrival of this new-fangled pyramid has made me wonder if some genius, marketing-savvy environmentalist might be able to fashion a clear graphical illustration of environmental do's and don'ts for individuals. Relatively insignificant no-nos (say, acquiring yet one more nasty plastic bag) would be weighted appropriately against much more significant evildoings (say, purchasing a clothes dryer or embarking on yet one more cross-continental flight). I'm not talking about exercises like the Ecological Footprint, which I find utterly demoralizing and disempowering. (Yes, if everyone lived like me, humanity would need 9 gazillion planets to make do, rather than our single orb.) I'm looking instead for a clear representation of what can be done about the problems facing us and how I (we do live in a me, me, me world) can take part. Of course, continuing in the me-me vein, the American public may latch onto MyPyramid because it ostensibly provides guidance for individual improvement (lose those pounds), while the benefits that came from following the wise advice of the as-of-yet undiscovered green graphic would accrue more to society. But, hey, I'm just trying to riff on something topical! In closing, let me repeat this exceptionally moving (contain yourself) "Tip of the Week" from the USDA site:MyPyramid: Do it for you. Make one small change each day for a healthier you.OK, maybe these folks (on loan, by the way, for a steep price from the food-industry world) aren't such smarties after all.
Not sure if anyone else noted this story in The New York Times early this week: "Fearing Future, China Starts to Give Girls Their Due." The piece says the powers that be in China just might be considering a shift from the controversial one-child policy (enacted in the 1970s to help control population growth) to a two-child policy. Why? Well, for one, there's a grave shortage of girls in the country, due to selective abortion (or worse):In early January, the government announced that the nationwide ratio had reached 119 boys for every 100 girls. Studies show that the average rate for the rest of the world is about 105 boys for every 100 girls. Demographers predict that in a few decades China could have up to 40 million bachelors unable to find mates. These figures may bring to mind some sort of hideous plot for a reality show. (Oh, wait, isn't that a tautologous statement? Someone throw me a bone.) But the dismal issues of selective abortion and female infanticide aside, the story also hints at a topic being discussed in other parts of the world, too, one that ought to concern environmentalists but hasn't received much attention thus far in the United States: Does there come a point at which declines in fertility rates advance too far? The Times piece alludes to a "looming baby bust" in China. Who will provide for the country's "rapidly aging population"? How scary that the world's most populous country might be considering -- never mind enacting -- policies to encourage people to have more kids. While such a possibility may be a ways off in China, the discussion has been more fully joined in parts of Europe. I just returned from a trip with three French citizens, progressives all, who voiced deep concern that their country's population was leveling off. They talked with passion about the need for France and Europe as a whole to find a way to fuel population growth, whether through immigration or E.U. expansion or whathaveyou. Rather than celebrating success at approaching zero population growth or, better yet, a decreasing population -- with all the imaginable pluses for resource consumption, CO2 emissions, and other forms of pollution -- they focused on the need for population growth. I have greatly simplified the Times piece here (and also somewhat my friends' perspective) to call attention, however inarticulately, to this underreported debate. Seems to me that environmentalists should be working furiously to show that a country with a declining population can still be competitive economically and provide a high level of social services (Scandinavian or French style). It's beyond me at the moment to make this argument -- I confess I'm new to the topic, too -- but I wonder whether anyone out there can do so. Anyone? Anyone?
Caught me offguard that in his ambivalent Election Day nonendorsement (New York Times policy) endorsement of George Bush for reelection, conservative columnist David Brooks cites the president's environmental record as a primary reason to be frustrated with the current administration:[Bush] came to power with good ideas on how to move the G.O.P. beyond the Gingrich stall. But time and again, he abandoned his reformist strategy to give spoils to the G.O.P. donor base. To take one small example: on environmental policy, he showed interest in moving to a flexible, market-based system that would have cleaned the environment better than the current system. But too often rules were written to please key industries. Voters who could have been turned on by new, effective approaches were instead appalled at unseemly self-dealing.
Factcheck.org, the website the vice president tried to make famous, has this to say about the two presidential candidates' energy plans: "Kerry and Bush Mislead Voters With Promises of Energy Independence." The website, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, writes:Kerry focuses on conservation efforts, but most agree his plan is little more than an outline. Bush supports expanded drilling in Alaska to increase domestic oil supply, but the US has only about 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. At current rates of consumption that would only last 4.5 years.Factcheck.org seems to hang its hat on a Rocky Mountain Institute study that found that the U.S. could end its reliance on foreign oil by 2040 -- "but that would require a ten-year investment of $180 billion, and such steps as taxing gas-guzzling vehicles and providing government subsidies for low-income buyers of fuel-efficient autos. Neither candidate is proposing anything close to that." In many ways, the conclusions of Factcheck.org match those reached by New Yorker author John Cassidy in his recent piece "Pump Dreams; Is Energy Independence An Impossible Goal?"
In a Rolling Stone interview with magazine founder and media bigwig Jann Wenner, John Kerry says that global warming would be his No. 1 environmental priority. Asked whether he agrees with Al Gore that the time of the internal-combustion engine is ending, Kerry, ever the audacious fella, says, "I wouldn't make that kind of a bold pronouncement." Much as Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) does in Grist's interview with her, Kerry endeavors to sell his environmental plan as a jobs plan.I want American workers working; I want American cars made in America; I want American cars to be able to be sold anywhere in the world. I want to lead the world in these technologies. So I want these companies part of the solution -- not the problem. I think we can get there -- I really believe that.Kerry disputes that environmental issues have disappeared from the presidential campaign and says he talks about the environment and energy independence in every stump speech. In all, Wenner asks the candidate eight or nine questions on the environment. Kerry hasn't been quoted as much on the environment since, well, Grist's exclusive environment-only interview with him ...
Fans of The Snow Leopard, Killing Mister Watson, At Play in the Fields of the Lord -- or for that matter, anyone who cherishes good writing and clear thinking -- might want to check out Orion Online's three-part video interview with wise man Peter Matthiessen. The interview series is entitled "Our Political Environment: Environmental Policy, Corporate Ethics, and Global Warming."
In a lukewarm endorsement of John Kerry today, The Washington Post makes a fleeting, single-sentence reference to the environment and the candidates' environmental records:Where Mr. Bush ignored the dangers of climate change and favored industry at the expense of clean air and water, Mr. Kerry is a longtime and thoughtful champion of environmental protection.
For those who despair about the environment, who wonder, say, whether the world will ever take sufficient action to counter climate change, I give you ... the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Down 3-0 against their arch-nemeses, the New York Yankees, the Sox rallied tonight to win the seven-game series, becoming the first team in the history of Major League Baseball to overcome such a deficit. To a lifelong Red Sox fan -- someone conditioned from birth to always dream but never achieve -- someone, um, like myself, coated in the scar tissue of the devastating losses of the past -- a victory like tonight's can't help but give one rose-colored glasses. (At least for a night.) Who says we can't tackle climate change? Maybe the solar revolution is upon us. This is the dawning of the age of Green-arius. I'm only partially joking. As Tyler Kepner wrote in his piece posted on the New York Times website immediately after the Sox win:It was actually happening. The nerd was kissing the homecoming queen. Paper was beating scissors; scissors were beating rock. Charlie Brown was kicking the football. The Red Sox were beating the Yankees for the American League pennant.