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January 23 2014

20:21

What is Wrong with Star Powered Environmental Advocacy

Environmental advocacy and star power

What harm can there be from celebrities who provide material support, raise environmental awareness and encourage ecological action? We live in a culture of celebrity worship, we are bombarded with their images in advertising, film, television and online. Whether we are consumers of pop culture or not, there is no denying that celebrities hold a lot of sway with the general public.  The fact is that television, movie and music personalities have vastly larger audiences than the most popular climate scientists.

Hanging on every word. Despite their best intentions, does star-powered environmental advocacy run the risk of succumbing to the fickle and shallow tendencies in our society?Many of these stars do more than pay lip service to green lifestyles, they show their concern for the environment by driving hybrid cars, living in green homes or changing their dietary habits. A few have even become stalwart activists.

Leonardo DiCaprio is an environmental advocate who serves on the boards of several environmental organizations. He co-wrote, produced and narrated the documentary film the 11th Hour, in which he called global warming “the number-one environmental challenge”. He has been known to drive electric vehicles including a Toyota Prius, Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma. He has also installed solar panels on his house. He has his own foundation that is dedicated to protecting the Earth’s wild places.  He is a passionate supporter of tigers and he actively works on protecting their habitats particularly in Nepal. In November 2010, DiCaprio donated $1,000,000 to the Wildlife Conservation Society at Russia’s tiger summit. In 2011, DiCaprio joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s campaign to free a tiger who was languishing at a Truck Stop in Louisiana.  He has also advocated for a number of other environmental causes including access to clean water, renewable energy and forest preservation.

Matt Damon is a celebrity best known to environmentalists for his water advocacy. Recently in Davos, the movie star was honored by the World Economic Forum for his work as co-founder of Water.org, a nonprofit organization whose motto is “safe water and the dignity of a toilet for all.” During his acceptance speech he said that Water.org is extending “water credit” to poor families so they can afford to install a toilet or connect their homes to a waterline that for them is “literally a lifeline.”  Water.org has already helped more than 5 million people, and he noted that McKinsey consultants have estimated his organization could reach 100 million by 2020.

Daryl Hannah is serious about her green activism and involvement. In February 2013, Hannah was arrested in front of the white house for protesting against the Keystone XL. Hannah has been an environmental advocate for years. She has participated in many  environmental protests, including two tree sit-ins. In 2012, she spoke out against the fallacy of ‘ethical oil’, ‘clean coal’ and ‘natural gas.’ She is also the founder of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance (SBA), and sits on several environmental advocacy boards such as the Environmental Media Association (EMA), Sylvia Earle Alliance, Mission Blue and the Action Sports Environmental Coalition. Her website dhlovelife.com provides solutions for living a green lifestyle.

Ed Begley jr. is a longtime environmental advocate who lives in a solar-powered home and drives an electric car. Begley and his family are currently documenting the construction of a LEED Platinum-certified home for Begley Street, a television and Web series.

Cameron Diaz is another celebrity well known for her green activism. Her sustainability advocacy even attracted the attention of unlikely publications like Vogue magazine. Diaz also worked with Al Gore to raise awareness about climate change and she is allegedly one of the first celebs to buy an electric vehicle.

Hayden Panettiere has been involved in the fight to protect whales and other marine life since she was 15 years old. She filmed the slaughter of dolphins and the footage appeared in the acclaimed documentary The Cove. She is a spokesperson for the Whaleman Foundation, which works to protect whales and dolphins from the impact of climate change and fishing, and has also appeared before the U.S. Congress.

Edward Norton is very vocal about environmental concerns and he has served as the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity.

Natalie Portman has a long history of ecological advocacy. She is a vegetarian who has designed a line of vegan shoes. She also participated in a documentary film about gorillas.

Sting is a longtime supporter of the Amazon’s rainforests and he has established a charity called the Rainforest Foundation, which is dedicated to the protection of the rainforests and their inhabitants.

Brad Pitt has helped with rebuilding New Orleans by contributing green building materials after the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Don Cheadle has taken action against the genocide in Darfur, and he has also worked with the United Nation on climate change concerns.

Alicia Silverstone owns a home made of sustainable materials, she’s vegan and she has written a book about sustainability.

Pamela Anderson has advocated for animal rights and forest preservation. She has worked with the Inga Foundation which fights the “slash-and-burn” process of clearing land. She has also supported efforts to ban oil tankers off of Canada’s west coast.

Mark Ruffalo is a vocal opponent of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and he co-founded waterdefense.org to educate the public about fracking concerns.

Ted Danson is involved in ocean activism and he even started his own charity.

American actor Robert Redford and Canadian rocker Neil Young have been vocal opponents of Alberta’s tar sands. Redford appears in a video released by the National Resources Defense Council saying the tarsands are “destroying our great northern forests at a terrifying rate” and “killing our planet.” Neil Young put together a concert tour to help the indigenous people who are suffering from the effects of the tar sands in Alberta. He also speaks out against the Canadian government’s unconscionable support for oil interests.

There are a host of other stars who have come out in support of environmental causes including:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Christie Brinkley
  • George Clooney
  • Jessica Alba
  • Jon Bon Jovi
  • Julia Louis Dreyfus
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Sir Paul McCartney
  • Tony Hawk

These are just a few of the many famous people who advocate for the environment. So how could there be anything wrong with stars who support environmental issues?

Even though our culture appears to venerate stardom, celebrities are treated like disposable commodities which are worshiped one day and forgotten the next. The hollow and transient nature of celebrity worship is at odds with the attitude required to foster global action. While the popularity of celebrities is superficial and fleeting, the environmental challenges we face demand that we very seriously take the long view.

We require the type of perspective that enables us to appreciate and act on behalf of that which is most important. Our veneration of people who are famous is a colossal bastardization of a balanced understanding of the fundamentally prescient elements that constitute a healthy planet.

Some celebrities clearly work hard on behalf of noble causes, while others may be involved for more selfish reasons. Celebrity is all about popularity, they engage a phalanx of press agents to advise them on what kind of public statements are the most politically correct for the demographic they are playing to. Few know what they really think. Regardless of what they may actually believe, people who are household names have been co opted by the public and as such, they are deprived of their identity apart from their characterizations in the popular media. They become two dimensional cutouts.

By contrast, our appreciation of climate change and other environmental issues requires that we go beyond glossy exteriors so that we can collectively get our heads around the scope of the challenges that confront us.

While some stars may know what they are talking about, others appear to have a passing interest that may be more about generating good press than genuine concern. That is not to deny that those in the public eye can sometimes help the average person to come to a better understanding of complex issues.

The point is that star worship is a reflection of our own shallowness. We do not really know these people, although we may come to know a two dimensional character they play, or what their publicists feel would be good for their careers.

It is a sad reflection on our society, but our preoccupation with celebrity is born from the same place as the impulse to exploit and dispose of our world. Our values and our priorities are out of balance and the veneration of stardom is a comes from the same mass confusion that created the ecological crisis we now face. Our interest in the lives of the rich and famous is part of the same mindlessness as the environmental nightmare we are perpetrating against ourselves and future generations.

A 2010 national survey by Rasmussen indicated that 84 percent of Adults admit that Americans pay too much attention to celebrity news and not enough attention to news that has real impact on their lives.

Our preoccupation with the habits of celebrities detracts from our appreciation of the issues that are most pressing. We do not have the luxury of willful negligence, nor can we afford to succumb to paralysis if we do pay heed to the most pressing concerns of our times. The fact is that when we feel overwhelmed or hopeless we commonly indulge in escapism which is at the heart of what celebrity worship is all about.

We need to get real and take a serious look at what is happening to the world we live in. How are we to come to terms with the work that needs to be done if we refuse to take a hard look at the facts?

Stars may be well meaning supporters of noble causes, but the way that the general public co opts their identity, artificially elevates them (and ultimately drops them), make them less than ideal representatives for environmental activism.

The cult of celebrity feeds into all that is wrong with our world. It is not that celebrities are inherently untrustworthy, the problem is that star culture exacerbates the valueless and fickle myopia of the public eye.

——————–
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Gordon Vasquez, courtesy flickr

 

The post What is Wrong with Star Powered Environmental Advocacy appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

June 13 2013

18:32

Making Green Sexy and Spiritual

A deeper connection to love and spirituality is needed to effectively communicate sustainabiltiySustainability needs a new language that is more accessible and more compelling to the average person. Business, government, and other organizations are making strides advancing sustainability but we need wider involvement and faster growth. Although we are seeing increasing levels of environmental activism, we need to expand the message to reach a larger circle of people.

We must do more than preach solely to the converted.  The number of committed environmentalists is insufficient to induce the required changes.  At present, environmental communications are geared toward an elite group not the general population and for those that do get the message, it often fails to resonate. For those on the outside, the language of sustainability is a confusing jumble of fear-inducing figures that ultimately prove to be both polarizing and paralyzing.

We need government legislation and regulation, but if we are to bring about lasting results, we must augur change by speaking to the hearts and minds of average people. Fact based approaches have not worked and fear based approaches may make matters worse by breeding avoidance and apathy.

Making green advocacy more compelling to larger numbers of people demands new strategies that are based on more than fear, facts and figures. While the logic of sustainability is overwhelming, reason alone has proven insufficient to  change consciousness on a global scale.

Finding ways of communicating the value of sustainability to the masses is one of the most prescient issues of our time. To disseminate the message on a truly global scale, we need to tap into the positive emotional and spiritual elements of the human psyche.

The use of such positive emotional and spiritual communication is far more likely to induce people to act.

What we can learn from branding and marketing

We can learn a lot from branding and marketing experts. Whether or not we agree with the products and services they promote, we cannot disagree with the fact that many big brands have succeeded in changing both attitudes and behaviors. We need to harness this power and put it to work for the planet.

We must do a better job of communicating and marketing sustainability. We need to benefit from an understanding of the effective marketing and communications strategies employed by the big brands. As explained in a May 15 Marketing Magazine article:

“It is officially time to pass on, or at the least share with marketing, the baton of sustainability. It is also time to re-brand that baton. Reducing complex science to simple science in attempts to mobilise mainstream behaviour change has failed to deliver…”

We need to communicate in a language that is accessible to all.  To successfully communicate sustainability to the average person we need to employ language that resonates. As any marketer will tell you, consumers are more interested in what is sexy then what is reasonable.

“[A] sustainable society can be one where people enjoy high well-being and a rich culture, where we can all reach our potential and have an incredible time along the way. We need new and compelling consumer aspirations – ones that can be achieved within environmental limits, of course…The opportunity to frame a future that is sexy (and yes, of course, sustainable) is right here.”

We need to show that sustainability can be fun in addition to saving lives and radically enhancing our quality of life. To do this, we must understand that people are much more likely to respond to communications that speak to universal aspects of the human experience. namely love and desire.

Love and the desire to act

Cultivating love in ourselves and in others may seem like a tall order, but we are all born into the world hardwired with a capacity to love. We already have proof that love works to augur change. Love for the planet and each other is mobilizing environmental activists in unprecedented numbers all around the world. Eco-communities are popping up everywhere as more and more people are looking for ways to express their positive regard and make a difference. These passionate environmentally minded people are motivated by love, they care deeply about the planet and are prepared to act to lessen their impacts on the earth. Love for the earth makes us good stewards and tireless activists. Love endlessly motivates us to take the message out into our communities and into our workplaces.

Love is the most powerful motivation and it can help us to overcome both apathy and materialism. It is easy to feel helpless in the face of the threats posed by climate change. However the best way to combat paralysis is to care. Caring is neither difficult nor complex and it is within all of our grasps. If we really want to forge a better world, even more than the tactics we employ, we need to cultivate the love to make the effort.

Love is an antidote to rampant materialism. Although material concerns rule the day, love ties us into a value system that runs far deeper than money. Being part of a cause greater than ourselves offers a purpose and a sense of meaning to life that material pursuits do not. Acting with an awareness of the planet connects us to our world in a deeply fulfilling fashion.

Although the benefits both personally and collectively far outweigh the sacrifice, making a more sustainable world may entail a decrement in money, power, or position. These types of sacrifices are far more readily made out of love.

Love is a primary motivator that causes people to think beyond themselves and consider the needs of future generations. Without the impetus of love it will be difficult to move beyond self interest.

Accountability through spirituality

Spirituality is a powerful tool to help people be more accountable and this will increase environmental engagement. While organized religion is dying, belief in a higher power remains strong with more than 9 in 10 Americans calling themselves believers. What is even more interesting is the fact that belief is strongest amongst those who are most likely to deny climate change (conservatives and Republicans). The inference here is that spirituality may offer an inroad through the impermeable dogmatism of climate deniers.

It is important to understand that we are talking about spirituality and not religion. Religion promulgates certain fixed beliefs while spirituality in the context of this discussion is about soul-searching and the pursuit of truth. Spirituality commonly transcends the practice of religion. The distinction is important because we need to get beyond the polarization we have witnessed with environmental evangelists on one side and climate deniers on the other.

As explained by Mark C. Coleman, author of “The Sustainability Generation: The Politics of Change and Why Accountability is Essential NOW!,” one of the keys to getting people environmentally involved is fostering a greater spirit of accountability.

“Being accountable by being present and in the right frame of mind for sound decision-making is essential for (1) recognizing our behavior; (2) understanding the impact of our behavior on economy, environment, and society; and, (3) being able to take action through personal accountability to modify behavior to effect change.”

Spirituality is is an ego transcending journey that cultivates a sense of purpose beyond ourselves.

“Being able to think beyond ourselves requires patience, humility, a strong capacity for listening and learning, and an ability to separate ego from our true ‘self’,” Coleman explains. “Understanding that spirituality goes beyond the practice of religion, and that we all are part of a generation living within a context of time and fate which is requiring more accountability from each of us, is a perspective toward how people can begin to embrace sustainability from personal point of view.”

People are suffering from widespread disillusionment. Add to this the anxiety inducing reality of climate change and people are more likely to avoid rather than engage.  People are detached from themselves, from each other and from nature.

“The underlying power of humanity is that we are resilient and can adapt to change. But in the act of being resilient we rely on spirituality, being caring, and finding connections among one another and the world that foster sense of self, resourcefulness, and community.”

According to Coleman the answers to spirituality and sustainability are within us.

“The sustainability of our generation, and the earth, are intrinsically tied to our capacity to delve individually and collectively into spirituality. Individuals have the power within themselves to be the stewards of their behaviors, to set the standard for accountability within society, and represent a generation of enlightened individuals that can not only be resilient, but be a force for creating a better world. The generation living here and now is the Sustainability Generation. This generation will be measured not on its ability to wage war, land on the moon, or build financial wealth…From here on out the Sustainability Generation will seek out harmonizing its relationships with nature, among one another, and with God.”

The convergence of sustainability and spirituality can foster accountability and increase the will to act. Spirituality can also enable us to avoid falling victim to hopelessness and selfishness.

Deep Ecology

A direct offshoot of sustainability, deep ecology includes a spiritual element, and as such, may be a better vehicle to communicate the value of green. Deep Ecology brings together cutting-edge science, philosophy, action and spirituality. It is arguably the most holistic school of environmental thought as it is largely concerned with ecosystems and as such, it is a study of interrelationships.

This environmental philosophy is characterized by its advocacy of the inherent worth of all living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs. It further advocates that societies need to be restructured in accordance with such ideas. It holds that human destruction of the natural world poses a threat to all organisms in the natural order.

Deep ecology’s core principle is the belief that the living environment as a whole should be respected and regarded as having the right to live and flourish.

Deep ecology is providing a foundation for the environmental, ecology and green movements and has fostered a new system of environmental ethics.

A new approach to communicating sustainability must engage people on a spiritual and psycho-emotional level. Ecological awareness must be communicated as a heart-felt mind-set that people embrace and practice everyday.

If the sustainability revolution is to expand and achieve critical mass, it must embedded into our core values.
——————
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: AlicePopkorn, courtesy flickr

 

The post Making Green Sexy and Spiritual appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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April 13 2012

14:54

TD Bank Group Launches TD Forests Conservation Initiative, Highlighting ‘Deep Roots’ in Environmental Sustainability


With severe drought conditions threatening US forests and agriculture for a second-year running, Canada’s TD Bank Group today announced TD Forests, a forest conservation program that in addition to unifying the bank’s longstanding forest conservation community programs “under one canopy,” also includes “a major conservation and education program to protect critical forest habitat across North America,” according to a company press release.

More than 90% of North Americans consider forests as natural areas in need of protection, TD noted in announcing the TD Forests initiative. “The approach we’re taking with TD Forests is very much part of our goal of embedding an environmental perspective into our business,” says Karen Clarke-Whistler, TD Bank Group’s chief environment officer. “TD Forests is built on the twin pillars of reduce and grow – reduce paper use and grow the area of protected forest habitat.”

Mutually supportive, the banking and financial services group’s forestry program dovetails with its commitment to reduce its paper usage by at least 20% by 2015. Through TD Forests, TD expects “to protect forested areas equivalent to the paper it uses.”

Conserving North American Forests

TD Forests is similarly part-and-parcel of the bank’s broader commitment to carbon-neutral and environmentally sustainable operations. TD in 2010 became the first carbon-neutral bank based in North America, according to the company.

Realizing this environmental sustainability milestone has entailed renovating its facilities. Such efforts have included opening “net zero energy retail outlets and introducing innovative green product options.” Similarly, TD intends to leverage the TD Forests program, addressing “customer demand for more paperless product offerings” that “will reduce business expenses and will benefit the environment.”

To realize the goals of TD Forests, the bank group’s partnered with then Nature Conservancy of Canada and its conservation partners to expand the protected forest habitat across TD’s North American operations in Canada and the eastern US at a rate equivalent to the paper it uses. That amounts to “roughly two football fields of forest each and every day,” the company explains.

Forging an Environmental Ethic in Response to Customer Demand

More than 70% of people identified air quality as the greatest benefit provided by forests and nearly 90% indicated concern about air quality and the loss of natural areas and wildlife habitat due to deforestation, TD noted.

“Forests are an iconic symbol of our North American story and essential to the health of our planet. The lungs of the earth, they play a vital role in cleaning the air and moderating temperatures, and they’re critical habitats for plants and wildlife,” commented John Lounds, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“Even a forest the size of a football field has a tremendous impact on the air we breathe and on moderating our climate. It can provide a day’s oxygen for more than 1,000 people and also absorb the carbon dioxide. That’s why forest conservation is so important.”

The TD Forests program will focus on three areas during its first five years:

  1. Business commitment – to radically reduce paper usage in products, services and business operations
  2. Community commitments – to greening urban environments, forest protection, biodiversity and education
  3. Volunteerism – dedicated to employee initiatives such as TD Tree Days, the bank’s flagship volunteer initiative

TD Forests is the latest major environmental initiative in the bank group’s more than 20 years and counting of fostering environmental conservation. Highlighting its ‘deep roots’ in environmental conservation, TD’s achieved the following:

  • Since 1990, TD Friends of the Environment Foundation (TD FEF) has supported more than 20,000 local environmental projects. Almost 80 per cent of the $3.6 million that TD FEF provided to organizations in 2011 went to fund educational, conservation, and biodiversity initiatives
  • TD Tree Days was introduced in 2010. During the first two years of the program TD volunteers planted more than 46,000 trees across Canada. In 2011, the program was expanded to the U.S. This year more than 40,000 trees will be planted in North America through the program
  • Since 2010, TD has provided nearly $1 million in matching grants to municipalities, Aboriginal communities and business improvement associations through TD Green Streets, a national program that supports innovative practices in urban forestry

“Our business commitment is to create value, provide great service to our customers and engage our employees. Our commitment to the environment is an integral part of that,” explained Mike Pedersen, group head of Wealth Management, Insurance and Corporate Shared Services, and the bank’s senior executive champion for the environment.

“Through initiatives like this one, we will enhance customer choice, while building on our employee and community commitments and benefiting the environment.”

March 04 2011

19:15

Activist Tim DeChristopher Convicted on Two Felony Counts


Tim DeChristopher is found guilty on two counts of felony The Weekly Mulch
By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
(reposted with permission)

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted yesterday of two felony counts. DeChristopher was on trial for bidding on more than 22,000 acres of public land that he could not pay for: his two crimes are making false representations to the government and interfering with the land auction.

DeChristopher made the $1.79 million bid in order to “do something to try to resist the climate crisis,” he told Tina Gerhardt, in an interview published by AlterNet. But, as Kate Sheppard explains at Mother Jones, the judge threw out “the defense that his actions were necessary to prevent environmental damage on this land and, more broadly, the exacerbataion of climate change.”

“They’re hoping to make an example out of me.”

DeChristoper now faces the possibility of a $75,000 fine and 10 years in prison. In an interview with YES! Magazine‘s Brooke Jarvis, before the trial started, DeChristopher said he had faced the possibility that he would be found guilty.

“There is still the possibility of acquittal, but I think the most likely scenario is probably that I will be convicted,” he told Jarvis. “The prosecution has been very clear that they’re hoping to make an example out of me, to convince other people not to fight the status quo.”

Wild lands

What is the status quo? Bureau of Land Management land, like the parcel DeChristopher bid on, is owned by the government, which often leases out the rights to develop the natural resources, like gas and oil, to private companies.

Up until 2003, the Department of the Interior had the option of setting aside some of its lands for preservation, pending final Congressional approval. But during the Bush administration, the DOI gave up that option and only considered uses like recreation or development for its holdings.

Back in December, the current Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, reversed that policy, again putting on the table the option of using public lands for conservation purposes. But as I write at TAPPED, Republicans are throwing a hissy fit about the change.

Truth or consequence?

The Republicans’ argument goes something like: Using public lands for conservation will deprive Americans of jobs and hurt the bottom lines of states with large tracts of public lands. What they don’t discuss is the potential damage that drilling for, say, natural gas could cause. The Mulch has been writing about the dangers of hydrofracking for awhile now, but over the past week The New York Times began weighing in on the issue with a long series on the dangers of hydrofracking.

The Times‘ series brings even more evidence of hydrofracking’s dangers to light—in particular, about the radioactive waste materials being dumped into rivers where water quality is rarely monitored. As Christopher Mims reports at Grist, the series has already prompted calls for new testing from people like John Hanger, the former head of Pennsylvania’s environmental protection department, which has not been among the staunchest opponents of new drilling protects. According to Mims, Hanger has written that:

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should order today all public water systems in Pennsylvania to test immediately for radium or radioactive pollutants and report as soon as good testing allows the results to the public. Only testing of the drinking water for these pollutants can resolve the issue raised by the NYT.

Or, as Mims puts it, “No one has any idea if the radioactive material in the wastewater from fracking is appearing downstream, in drinking water supplies, in quantities in excess of EPA recommendations.”

Tar and feather ‘em

Fracking is not the only environmentally destructive practice that the energy industry is increasingly relying on. Earth Island Journal has two pieces looking into the tar sands industry in Canada. Jason Mark’s piece is a great introduction to the history of the tar sands and takes a sharp look into the impact development has had on the community and the environment.

And Ron Johnson details the U.S.’s connection to the destruction: The federal government is considering approving a pipeline that would allow the oil from the tar sands to travel to Texas refineries. Johnson writes:

Green groups warn that the pipelines will keep North America and emerging economies hooked on oil from the Alberta tar sands for years to come. By greasing the crude’s path to market, the projects will encourage further reckless expansion of the tar sands. That would delay the transition to a renewable energy economy, while further degrading Canada’s boreal forests and spewing even more CO2 into the atmosphere.

A new regime

The decision to approve the pipeline lies with the executive branch. But all of Washington isn’t a particularly friendly place to green groups and their causes these days.

For example, as Care2′s Beth Buczynski reports, the newly empowered House Republicans have done away with one of the smallest green programs the Democrats put into place, an initiative to compost waste from House cafeterias. They’ve justified the cut by saying it was “too expensive,” but as Buczynski writes, “Spending must be dramatically reduced, yes, but also strategically. It’s interesting (and disheartening) to see which programs the new GOP House has targeted first.”

It’s a small thing, but it shows how committed Republicans are to the status quo: They’re not even willing to mulch their leftover salad.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Image credit: 350.org, courtesy Flickr

15:26

Do Motives Matter? The DeChristopher Verdict

In the federal trial of Tim DeChristopher, who was convicted on two felony charges for trying to derail an auction oil and gas leases in southern Utah, discussion of motive was stripped away.

January 07 2011

23:53

It’s Time for Environmentalists to Fight Back in Washington


Congress Chamber: Is leadership present?The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium
by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

For the environmental community, this coming year offers a chance to regroup, rethink and regrow. Two years ago, it seemed possible that politicians would make progress on climate change issues—that a Democratic Congress would pass a cap-and-trade bill, that a Democratic president would lead the international community toward agreement on emissions standards. And so for two years environmentalists cultivated plans that ultimately came to naught.

What comes next? What comes now? It’s clear that looking to Washington for environmental leadership is futile. But looking elsewhere might lead to more fertile ground.

Our new leaders

On Wednesday, the 112th Congress began, and Republicans took over the House. They are not going to tackle environmental legislation. This past election launched a host of climate deniers into office, and even members of Congress inclined to more reasonable environmental views, like Rep. Fred Upton, now chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, have tacked towards the right. Whereas once Upton recognized the need for action on climate change and reducing carbon emissions, recently he has been pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending carbon regulations and questioning whether carbon emissions are a problem at all.

“It’s worth remembering that Upton was once considered among the most moderate members of the GOP on the issue,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. “No longer.”

Good riddance

The climate bill is really, truly, dead, and it’s not coming back. But as Dave Roberts and Thomas Pitilli illustrate in Grist’s graphic account of the bill’s demise recalls, by the time it reached the Senate, the bill was already riddled with compromises.

And so perhaps it’s not such bad news that there’s space now to rethink how progressives should approach environmental and energy issues.

“It’s refreshing to shake the Etch-a-Sketch. You get to draw a new picture. The energy debate needs a new picture,” policy analyst Jason Grumet said last month, as Grist reports.

Already, in The Washington Monthly, Jeffrey Leonard, the CEO of the Global Environmental Fund, is pitching an idea that played no part in the discussions of the past two years. He writes:

If President Obama wants to set us on a path to a sustainable energy future—and a green one, too—he should propose a very simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy subsidies. Yes, eliminate them all—for oil, coal, gas, nuclear, ethanol, even for wind and solar. … Because wind, solar, and other green energy sources get only the tiniest sliver of the overall subsidy pie, they’ll have a competitive advantage in the long term if all subsidies, including the huge ones for fossil fuels, are eliminated.

No impact? No sweat

Federal policies aren’t the only part of the picture that can be re-drawn. Even as Congress failed to act on climate change, an ever-increasing number of Americans decided to make changes to decrease their impact on the environment.

Colin Beavan committed more dramatically than most: his No Impact Man project required that he switch to a zero-waste life style. This year, he partnered with Yes! Magazine for No Impact Week, which asks participants to engage in an 8-day “carbon cleanse,” in which they try out low-impact living. Yes! is publishing the chronicles of participants’ ups and downs with the experiment: Deb Seymour found it empowering to give up her right to shop; Grace Porter missed her bus stop and had to walk two miles to school; Aran Seaman found a local site where he could compost food scraps.

The long view

Perhaps, for some of the participants, No Impact Week will continue on after eight days. After Seaman participated last year, he gave up his car in favor of biking and public transportation.

On the surface, giving up a convenience like that can seem like a sacrifice. But it needn’t be. Janisse Ray writes in Orion Magazine about her decision to give up plane travel for environmental reasons. Instead, she now travels long distances by train, and that comes with its own pleasures:

Through the long night the train rocks down the rails, stopping in Charleston, Rocky Mount, Richmond, and other marvelous southern places. People get on and off. Across the aisle a woman is traveling with two children I learn are her son, aged twelve, and her granddaughter, ten months. In South Carolina we pick up a woman come from burying her father. He had wanted to go home, she says. She drinks periodically from a small bottle of wine buried in the pocket of her black overcoat. The train is not crowded, and I have two seats to myself.

Our true leaders

Ultimately, though, sweeping environmental changes will require leadership and societal changes. American politicians may have abdicated that responsibility for now, but others are still fighting. In In These Times, Robert Hirschfield writes of Subhas Dutta, who’s building a green movement in India.

“The environmental issue is the issue of today. The political parties, all of them, have let us down,” Dutta says. “We want to be part of the decision-making process on the state and national levels. The struggle for the environment has to be fought politically.”

One person who understood that was Judy Bonds, the anti-mountaintop removal mining activist, who died this week of cancer. Grist, Change.org, and Mother Jones all have remembrances; at Change.org, Phil Aroneanu shared “a beautiful elegy to Judy from her friend and colleague Vernon Haltom:”

I can’t count the number of times someone told me they got involved because they heard Judy speak, either at their university, at a rally, or in a documentary. Years ago she envisioned a “thousand hillbilly march” in Washington, DC. In 2010, that dream became a reality as thousands marched on the White House for Appalachia Rising….While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

——————–

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

December 31 2010

15:27

How to Avoid Fracking and Oil Spills in the New Year


Environmentalists are looking for better news on 2011

The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium
by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

2010 was a disappointing year for environmentalists.

This was the year Congress was supposed to pass climate change legislation, but each and every time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed on the verge of pushing the bill forward, the effort fell short. In April, off the coast of Louisiana, the Deepwater Horizon explosion led to one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history, and in the aftermath, neither President Barack Obama nor Congress has pushed for the sort of strong regulations that would rein in the oil industry and the risk it poses to coastal ecosystems.

Meanwhile, a newly invigorated natural gas industry has been plowing forward with a controversial drilling technique called hydrofracking. Although the Environmental Protection Agency has committed to studying the environmental impacts of the practice, it’s unclear at this point how much leeway the industry will be given to use techniques that have contaminated water and air across the country. Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben had trouble convincing the president to take the small symbolic act of reinstalling a solar panel on the White House roof. And in November, the country elected a group of lawmakers who are skeptical that climate change even exists.

Hope springs eternal

But the news was not all bad, as Change.org’s Jess Leber reports. In California, green-minded voters defeated a proposition that would have rolled back the state’s ambitious climate law. Coal-fired power plants are closing in states like Oregon and Colorado, and mountaintop removal coal mining is losing its funding. And cities like New York, Washington D.C., Denver and Minneapolis made it easier for their inhabitants to use bikes as a primary mode of transportation.

“All over the world, activists are fighting in their states, towns and cities to do right by the environment,” Leber writes. “They are also moving to pressure the corporate world. So while, given the results of Election Day in the U.S., progress in Congress will be an uphill battle, I’m confident there will be even more victories to report this time next year.”

A year can be a long time. Consider, for instance, Steph Larsen’s reflections on her farm’s first year. “I feel like I’ve lived a decade in the last 12 months,” Larsen writes in Grist. Last year, her pasture did not exist, and the farm buildings on her land had sat unused for years. But in the past 12 months, she’s grown cherries and tomatoes and squash, kept chickens and hunted for their eggs, and raised livestock that later became her dinner.

Larsen’s goals for her farm are modest: “to grow food for her household and community.” It can be hard sometimes to see how individual choices like hers can make a difference while global leaders cannot agree on how to reduce carbon emissions and industry continues to exploit and pollute the environment. But as Winslow Myers, the author of Living Beyond War, writes at Truthout, “the cause-and-effect relationship between what I do personally in my daily life and those planet-wide challenges has become infinitely clearer” over the past 50 years:

“Now we can see how the two are connected – between my diet and the effect of industrial agriculture on the land, between my energy consumption and global climate change, between the chemicals in my laundry detergent and the health of the oceans – and between my political commitments and the world-destroying weapons built with my tax dollars….the reality is that I am so deeply connected to the whole entity that I am responsible for it, answerable to it.”

Local leaders step into the breach

It’s true that individual decisions to turn down the heat, or eat local food, or bike instead of drive cannot turn back global warming. But in aggregate, they do make an impact. And although nationally and internationally, politicians are finding it difficult to create strong policies on climate change, that would reduce emissions, not all lawmakers are avoiding the issues. Franke James’ visual essay on climate change at Yes! Magazine puts it like this: “Don’t be fooled by the global leaders loafing. Local leaders and cities are making plans to adapt to climate change (because it’s affecting them NOW!) ”

And ultimately, these sorts of decisions on local and individual levels do send a signal to leaders that their constituents care about keeping the planet healthy, care about preserving our environmental resources. To that end, check out these ideas for individual action from the staff and readers of Mother Jones.

And next year? Leaders like Bill McKibben are working to create a global movement around climate change, a people-driven movement that will convince legislators and negotiators that it is incumbent upon them to act. Look for them to start making lots of noise in 2011.

——————

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Image credit:mstami, courtesy Flickr

November 17 2010

00:09

October 20 2010

17:52

New Media and the Environmental Movement’s Grassroots Globalization


Global grassroots environmental activism finds a powerful ally in new mediaNew media is helping environmental activists to combat the powerful propaganda and immense resources of the old energy economy. Although environmental groups cannot outspend or outmaneuver entrenched economic interests, the adoption of new media levels the playing field and democratizes the debate.

New media encompasses the amalgamation of traditional media with the interactive power of computers, communications technology, computer-enabled consumer devices and most importantly, the Web. The interactive relationships inherent in new media democratize content and invite participation in what some are calling open source activism.

A key success factor of the environmental movement is the fact that although it is decentralized, activists rally around common themes. Some have called this broadcast organizing, using big email lists or large networks to share one message that is disseminated in a variety of different ways.

Over the last couple of years, the environmental movement has increasingly relied on new media. Despite the economic hardships brought about by the recession, we saw the meteoric rise of truly global environmental events last year, and this year eclipsed the extraordinary success of last year’s events.

In October, the power of grassroots environmental activism was on display. The Global Work Party and Blog Action Day harnessed the power of collective action by giving people a sense of co-creativity. These two events captured the attention of millions of people around the world and exemplified the scope of involvement.

On Sunday, October 10th, 2010, 350.org facilitated the largest environmental activism event in history. The 10/10/10 event, also known as the Global Work Party, demonstrated the growing popularity of global environmental activism with over 7000 events in 188 countries.

On Friday, October 15th, 2010, change.org’s Blog Action Day encouraged bloggers to raise awareness around the theme of Water. The White House and the UK Foreign Office joined thousands of people who blogged about the earth’s most precious resource.

The scope of these events is unprecedented. The annual Earth Hour campaign mobilized almost one billion people to turn off their lights for one hour and cast their vote for action on climate change.

The WWF has staged an event called What a Difference a Day Makes. Like the other campaigns cited above, the WWF event relied heavily on Twitter and other social media tools to disseminate its environmental message.

Each season, there are dozens of environmental events that bring people together to raise awareness and share solutions.

The new environmental movement unifies national leaders and local connections to create powerful alliances. Local organizers from across the nation are coming together and sharing tactics and strategies. Thanks to new media, these alliances are expanding as grassroots organizations coalesce.

The environmental movement is not just about mobilizing citizens, it is about influencing governments to get involved in the war against climate change. Although these efforts have yet to produce necessary climate legislation in the US, they are not going unnoticed. Bill McKibben and the 350.org team succeed in their bid to have the President install solar panels on the roof of the White House.

Environmental organizations are developing a wide variety of resources to communicate with mass audiences including information kits and videos.

Environmental groups are focusing the power of new media to out irresponsible and non-sustainable business practices. Greenpeace’s online organizers drew attention to Trader Joe’s and successfully forced the company to adopt more sustainable practices. More recently, Greenpeace succeeded in pressuring Nestle to announce a zero deforestation policy.

Greenpeace’s graphic video in the Nestle campaign was viewed 350,000 times the first day it was posted. Although Nestle made YouTube remove the ad, Greenpeace simply changed their tactics. They jammed the company’s phone lines with complaints and plastered its Facebook page with negative comments. This is evidence of the unstoppable efficacy of new media to promote environmental change. Losing one channel could not stop the tidal wave of pressure that eventually forced the company to capitulate.

Although pressuring irresponsible enterprises is effective, new media is also behind an initiative known as a carrotmob, this approach actively rewards companies for their environmental efforts. For decades environmentalists have organized boycotts and now carrots are being added to an arsenal that previously included mostly sticks. Where boycotts punish businesses, the carrotmob collectively rewards environmentally responsible businesses through patronage.

New media is helping environmental advocacy move towards the critical mass required to bring about meaningful change.

_______________________________________________
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, sustainable investor and writer. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. He is also the author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, green investing, enviro-politics and eco-economics.



October 13 2010

19:30

October 08 2010

19:55

Carbon-Cutting 'Party' Set for Sunday

More than 7,000 events in 188 countries are to call attention to a goal of reducing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

June 22 2010

14:02

A Tuna Escape Raises Hackles

Environmental activists from the Sea Shepherd group took their defense of the bluefin tuna to a new level, using scuba divers to cut the nets on an undersea cage and releasing hundreds of the fish off the North African coast.

April 27 2010

09:50

What’s Up With the Rainforest: More Hope, Less Blame

Celebrations of Earth Day has garnered some more of the world’s attention to the environmental crisis threatening the health of the global community and our planet, but we must not forget that working towards a sustainable future is a responsibility that will require dedication all 365 days of the year. And while some corporations have [...]
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