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Susie Cagle's Posts


Americans less optimistic about Obama’s environmental impact

Americans aren't feeling the hope and change anymore when it comes to President Obama's ability to make environmental progress. A new Gallup poll asked 1,009 people with a range of political views what they thought about the potential for the Obama administration to improve several aspects of American life, including the environment. Fifty-seven percent answered "yes," compared to 70 percent in 2008. The 13 percent drop in eco-optimism was second only to the 21 percent drop in those who believe Obama can heal political divisions in the country.

Read more: Politics


Dole sued over dirty banana plantation

One California banana-eating man is taking Dole to court, alleging that the food giant misled consumers about the environmental practices at a banana plantation run by one of its contractors in Guatemala.


Bloomberg reports:

“Dole markets and sells its bananas as though they were farmed in an ecologically friendly and otherwise sustainable manner,” Clayton Laderer, a California resident, said in a complaint filed Nov. 13 in federal court in Los Angeles.

“In fact, some of Dole’s bananas, including bananas grown in impoverished areas of Guatemala, are produced in a way that destroys natural ecosystems, contaminates the drinking water of affected communities, and poisons local residents.”


Walmart wants to be sustainable? It should start with its labor force

Walmart is buying more local produce and hawking healthier foods. It's got wind farms in Texas and fuel cells in California. The retail behemoth is becoming more "socially and environmentally sustainable," goddamnit. Yeah, right.

Fred Watkins

At a recent event in Beijing, the company announced that by 2017, 70 percent of the products it sells in the U.S. will come from suppliers that use its "Sustainability Index." (But the company hasn't come close to living up to past promises about its Sustainability Index, so take that with a grain of salt.) The index is being developed by the Sustainability Consortium, a university-hosted group that Walmart launched in 2009. Now Walmart is granting the consortium $2 million to help it expand into China. From Sustainable Business:

The [consortium] engages industries, universities and other experts to form a global network that improves sustainability in consumer goods and helps suppliers adopt those practices. Walmart will use the results to refine its Sustainability Index for use in China.

"The $2 million grant from the Walmart Foundation will support the Consortium and position us to help bring the best science and research to support the development of the green supply chain here in China and globally," says Kara Hurst, CEO of The Sustainability Consortium. ...

"We will drive progress faster and scale our work to make factories more socially and environmentally sustainable, reduce energy and water usage, and eliminate harmful emissions into rivers and the air. We will also have deeper insight into how we can make manufacturing more sustainable for people and communities in China," says Mike Duke, President and CEO, Walmart Stores.

Mike Duke then put down his comically large greenwashing paintbrush and skipped into the sunset.


Expect more farm-fresh food in school cafeterias, thanks to $4.5 million from USDA

Yesterday, the Department of Agriculture announced $4.5 million in grants to connect local agricultural producers with more than 3,200 school cafeterias across the country, many of them in rural areas. The "Farm to School" program was originally established by the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Plan For Opportunity
A school garden takes root in Mississippi.

“When schools buy food from nearby producers, their purchasing power helps create local jobs and economic benefits, particularly in rural agricultural communities,” Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan said in a statement. “Evidence also suggests that when kids understand more about where food comes from and how it is produced, they are more likely to make healthy eating choices.”

Read more: Food, Living


California leads the way in green energy, but not green living

At first glance, California seems like the greenest state in the union. Last week, the state's voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 39, which will close a business tax loophole and send billions to clean energy programs. This week, the state is holding the first auction under its landmark cap-and-trade program. Reuters reports that California is "poised to double down on its investments" in the clean energy sector

"We put our money where our mouths are," said Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, the agency charged with implementing the state's cap-and-trade system.

"We back up what we do in regulation by shifting subsidies from things that pollute and are inefficient to things that are more efficient and make our state more resilient," she said ...

California has long been a bellwether for efforts by states and local governments eager to address climate change. In 2006, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. That law survived a challenge at the polls two years ago, when Californians overwhelmingly defeated an oil industry-backed measure to roll it back.

Hearings will begin in January on how exactly to spend the cash generated by Prop 39, some of which is specifically set aside for "new private sector jobs improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential buildings" and job training "on energy efficiency and clean energy projects."

California: Where solar sprawls as much as the suburbs.

So yes, California is pretty great! But as any Golden State resident could tell you, this is a complicated place full of contradictions. A defeated GMO labeling billPoisoned water. And so, so many cars.

While Californians may be progressive in some respects, we’re still clinging to the suburban dream. A recent report by Arthur C. Nelson for the Urban Land Institute argues that Californians are gravitating toward smaller lots and multi-family living, but demographer Wendell Cox disagrees. He finds that the California dream hasn't changed much over the last 60 years.


U.S. building is going green for profit, not for the climate

As the construction industry dusts off its tools post-recession, green building is on the rise. But the reasoning behind the boom looks less pure than you might think.

A new survey finds that 90 percent of developers and property owners are committed to environmentally sustainable construction, with 56 percent "very" or "extremely" committed -- but how they conceive of that commitment has changed a lot over time.


Efficiency and cost savings seem to be the biggest motivators. While the majority of respondents said they value sustainable building when it comes to air quality and tenant happiness, only 37 percent said it was extremely or very important to minimize their carbon footprints. Only 48 percent of those committed to sustainable construction said they're interested in LEED certification, down from 61 percent in 2008.

The U.S. Green Building Council touts LEED certification as the standard in top-performing energy-efficient buildings, though we know that the rating system is full of loopholes that allow massive, energy-guzzling buildings to be certified eco-friendly.

The motivations for going green might be less than noble, but does that matter if we like the results? Cost savings are the impetus behind the awesome greening of the Empire State Building and other New York projects that are creating new green jobs for previously unemployed workers. Some of those workers are picking up new skills at a South Bronx center for environmental job training, which will continue operations this year despite its federal grant running out. From The New York Times:

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Netherlands may face lawsuit over climate change inaction

It’s surprising news from a country we perceive as a bastion of Euro sustainable living: An activist group, Urgenda, is threatening to take the Dutch government to court over human-rights violations perpetrated, it says, by insufficient measures to fight climate change.

From The Guardian:

The Dutch campaigners believe [human-rights] laws could be used in other countries to force the hand of governments. Marjan Minnesma, of Urgenda, and one of the leaders of the action, said: "We definitely want to give a strong example to other countries. We believe we can take this to the courts and we would like organisations in other countries to look at what we are doing and consider it for themselves."

Their campaign is supported by the Nasa climate scientist Prof James Hansen. "In the climate and energy debate we need more pressure and involvement from the public, willing to defend our rights and those of our children and grandchildren using all the means of our laws to achieve justice," he said.

But what about the country’s attention to infrastructure to protect cities from sea-level rises and new extreme weather? What about Amsterdam's new $150 million investment in bicycling infrastructure? What about all those bikes!! From here, the Netherlands looks about as green as any national government might be. Over there, though, it's another story. Activists say the country's environmental focus has weakened over the past decade ...

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


CDC warns about rampant, dangerous use of antibiotics on livestock

Our love of meat is killing us in more ways than one. But get pumped, everyone: The Centers for Disease Control has dubbed this "Get Smart About Antibiotics Week"! And while we may be late to the party, we're excitedly tucking our pants into our boots and heading down to the farm. The factory farm, that is, where (amongst the other usual horrors) rampant antibiotic usage in livestock is threatening the efficacy of the drugs on humans.

Animal Equality
Antibiotics bottles on a pig farm.

In its statement about the week [PDF], the CDC specifically pledges:

To work with regulatory, veterinary and industry partners to promote the judicious use of antibiotics in food animals


To reinforce the judicious use of antibiotics in agriculture by: limiting the use of medically important human antibiotics in food animals; supporting the use of such antibiotics in animals only for those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health; and having veterinary oversight for such antibiotics used in animals

This is nice and reasonable of the CDC, but with 80 percent of the country's antibiotics going to the animals we eat, and then into the environment, it'll take a hell of a lot more than a pledge from an agency with no regulatory authority and a week of awareness to shift course from where we're currently headed: a new dark age of medicine, where minor infections could be fatal.


U.S. poised for energy independence by 2035 — and climate poised for collapse

The U.S. will be energy independent by 2035! And it'll only cost us a few measly degrees Fahrenheit.

The new World Energy Outlook report from the International Energy Agency is chock-full of forecasts like that one about global energy markets [PDF]. More big news: The U.S. is poised to become the world's largest oil producer by 2020, overtaking Saudi Arabia and Russia, and to start exporting more oil than we import by 2030.


California’s most productive farmland is poisoning local residents

When we talk about public water that's unsafe to drink, we don't usually think we're talking about California. But in some of the state's poor inland communities, many families can't even turn on the tap anymore.

No, Tulare, you really don't.

Today, The New York Times has a report on tainted water in California's Central Valley, where area groundwater is laid waste by the region's agriculture industry, contaminated with arsenic, bacteria, and worse.

It is the grim result of more than half a century in which chemical fertilizers, animal wastes, pesticides and other substances have infiltrated aquifers, seeping into the groundwater and eventually into the tap. An estimated 20 percent of small public water systems in Tulare County are unable to meet safe nitrate levels, according to a United Nations representative ...

Read more: Food, Living