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Toxin-laden e-waste dumped in West Africa

European Union laws prohibiting the export of hazardous materials aren't keeping shipments of electronic waste out of West Africa, according to a new Greenpeace report. Traders obtain e-waste in the E.U. and ship it off "under the false label of 'second-hand goods,'" says the report, adding, "Sending old electronic equipment to developing countries is often hailed as 'bridging the digital divide.' But all too often this simply means dumping useless equipment on the poor." Soil samples taken near two e-waste scrapyards in Ghana showed dangerous levels of phthalates, chlorinated dioxins, lead, and other toxic metals; the report notes that much …

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Uncertainty, the precautionary principle, and GMOs

Even if we had perfect information on the environmental impacts of industrial chemicals and processes, determining the appropriate levels of regulation would be extremely difficult. In our modern economy, all of us are willing to accept some level of risk, some health and environmental impacts, in order to elevate our material standard of living. In essence, there is no "zero impact" equilibrium, unless we envisage some type of pre-industrial age (and even then it is debatable). Determining the appropriate level of regulation is made exponentially more difficult in a world of tremendous uncertainty about the impacts of even the most …

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Dell Inc. claims carbon neutrality

Dell Computer's worldwide business operations are now carbon neutral, the company announced Wednesday. True carbon neutrality is, of course, a chimera for a giant IT company; notes business analyst Clive Longbottom, "You have to question whether they have taken all their workers' commuting into consideration and the materials in making a computer, going all the way back to zinc mining." Perhaps not, but Dell now sources one-fifth of its power from renewable sources, buys renewable-energy credits for the rest, and is paying for forest preservation in Madagascar in order to offset 475,000 tons of emissions. Dell, which aims to be …

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Using the power of business for people and planet

There are two critiques of Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken's book on the enormous scope of the worldwide grassroots movements for change, that I'm interested in, one being the notion that the fact that there are millions of grassroots groups at work all over the world providing basic services, fighting for justice, and improving the lot of the planet is not necessarily something to celebrate. Rather, it signifies the failure of modern society to pursue the common good. Fair enough, but that's our reality at the moment. The other critique I've heard is that Hawken celebrates the contributions of the nonprofit …

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Employers scramble to make commutes less costly

Recognizing the very real possibility of losing quality employees to jobs with shorter, cheaper commutes, employers across the country are scrambling to help their workers save on gas. Many companies have started to strongly encourage telecommuting, even paying for at-home workers' laptops, Blackberrys, and/or wireless connections. Microsoft has leased extra office space miles from its Washington State headquarters, closer to where many employees live. Other businesses are trying out four-day work weeks, organizing vanpools, or doling out gas cards, bus passes, raises, and even bicycles. "We had 14 calls last week and nine of those named high gas prices as …

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The shape of the oil crisis

This is the first in a series on how we can build an energy future based on our best science and no longer critically dependent upon exhaustible and polluting fossil fuels. Lines formed at gas stations during the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Too often, discussions of our future energy system simply reflect the current array of political forces in Washington or the novelty-hungry attention of the media and not the long-term viability of technologies and proposed solutions. As the price of oil is the most pressing issue from a short-term perspective, I am starting this series of policy briefs with …

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Big Auto backs off support for tighter fuel-economy standards

New fuel-economy rules coming down the pike are likely to displease pretty much everyone, if a public hearing held Monday is any indication. In the current proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, auto manufacturers must achieve a fleet-wide average fuel economy of at least 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015 -- a jump from 25 mpg today, and a step toward Congress' target of at least 35 mpg by 2020. But Big Auto, shaken by the shaky economy, has backed off its previous support for the standards. Ford's CEO laments a lack of "adequate resources or lead time"; …

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The beginnings of a continentalized global economy

Your faithful blogger was surprised to find himself representing part of the environmental blogosphere in a New York Times article on Sunday, "Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization." It's very much worth reading, and prior to writing the article the reporter, Larry Rohter, talked with me about my first installment in this series, "Globalization death watch, Part I." In his article, after noting the recent collapse of global trade talks, Rohter writes: Some critics of globalization are encouraged by those developments, which they see as a welcome check on the process. On environmentalist blogs, some are even gleefully promoting a …

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Whole Foods tries to shake its elitist reputation

Whole Foods Market, with its gleaming displays of organic produce, antibiotic-free meat, and vegan baked goods, has long branded itself as a high-quality grocery retailer -- thus earning the nickname Whole Paycheck and a reputation for elitism. But with the economy sagging -- bringing with it, according to some analysts, consumer interest in organic food -- Whole Foods is aiming to tout itself as affordable. The store is promoting discounts, adding lower-priced generic brands, focusing its advertising to the budget-conscious, and taking customers on value-focused store tours where they're whisked past the $39.99 triple-cream goat cheese to the $1.50 tofu. …

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New pedal from Nissan pushes back against excessive acceleration

Want to be an eco-driver but can't seem to keep the pedal off the metal? Meet Nissan Motor Co.'s ECO pedal, which pushes back against excess foot pressure to encourage fuel-efficient driving. The ECO accelerator will be installed in some Nissan cars starting next year and be accompanied by a real-time dashboard display of fuel consumption. Nissan says the gadget could increase fuel efficiency 5 to 10 percent, and the device can easily be switched off by those who don't like Big Brother watching their lead foot. But the initial response from car enthusiasts is skepticism. "This may be one …