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Archive for the ‘policy’ Category

Geoengineering — trying to change the Earth’s climate on a global scale by doing things like seeding the upper atmosphere with reflective particles — is getting attention from serious scientists.

But not so fast, says James Lovelock, originator of the hugely influential ‘Gaia Hypothesis.‘  In an article in today’s Guardian, Lovelock says:

our ignorance of the Earth system is great; we know little more than an early 19th-century physician knew about the body. Geoengineering is like trying to cure pneumonia by immersing the patient in a bath of icy water; the fever would be cured but not the disease.

Better to leave the Earth to cleanse itself, says Lovelock, since our cure may be worse even than the ailment it currently suffers, both for the Earth and for us.

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Lots to share all of a sudden:

Need a little perspective on ‘the new frugality‘?

Everyone has high hopes for Obama’s ‘green team.’

Also from the NY Times, a spotlight on a cult eco-novel that predicted the ‘locavore‘ movement — as well as the succession of the Pacific states from the Union!

Sign a petition to persuade President-elect Obama that we need a sustainable agricultural policy.

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We must restructure our economy from a foundation built on consumption to regeneration and maintenance,” say Rebekah and Stephen Hren in the Huffington Post this week.

It’s a plea for ‘ecological economics’ — and one we EarthQuakers pretty much share.

Any hope it will come with the Obama administration?  Not a huge amount, but we might move a hair in that direction and that momentum — such as it is — may actually be something to build on.  EarthCare, Sustainabilty, Stewardship, Ecological Economics: we’re at least now putting names to visions that don’t so much want to do away with conventional global corporate capitalism as radically refine it.

If we can just get economists to add environmental impacts when they calculate costs, for example (and it’s insane that governmental economists, at least, don’t do that when they consider policy alternatives), we’d be a long way towards an economics of regeneration.  There would be new corporate winners and losers for sure, but the capitalist system wouldn’t need to end while the planet and its people would sure reap the benefit.

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A few weeks ago we noted that high prices for industrially-produced food might be a good thing if you wanted people to buy more organics. Even the New York Times came to the same conclusion.

But not so fast, says Tom Philpott over at Grist.org.

Philpott worries that, as supermarket prices for conventional goods rise, people on low incomes will turn to fast food outlets before they turn to organics.

The reality, he says, is that fast food operators “can likely absorb higher input prices and still churn out crap.”

So what should we do? Says Philpott:

The answer, it seems to me, is not just to hope that expensive industrial food drives people toward equally expensive sustainable food. It’s to make sustainable food more broadly accessible and affordable.

As an example of the kind of action he’d like to see, Philpott points to recent legislation in Washington state that encourages schools and food-banks to use locally produced food, even if cheaper food can be imported from elsewhere.

One response to Philpott’s article comes from an agronomist, ‘Pollencruncher.’ He argues that with organics you are buying a better product, so price parity should be less of an issue — and yet thanks to public perception price parity has always been seen as necessary for organic food to be widely adopted.

But now, “We in the Organic community have met the desired goal of Parity prices for the first time in decades,” Pollencruncher observes. Couple that with the better nutrition you get from organics and you have a rationale for not being so pessimistic about what people on lower incomes will do.

Perhaps what people also need, in concert with the kind of policy action Philpott advocates, is better education in health and diet, so they can be better-informed when they weigh the financial costs of any food choice against the likely benefits and risks to their health of eating that food.

That would require, of course, disseminating messages that run counter to the best interests of very large and very influential agribusinesses. But when there’s no voice to counter advertising relentlessly selling cheap but nutritionally-empty food, too many of our collective decisions are likely to run counter to our collective best interests.

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It may be hard to believe, but some 35,000 homeowners’ associations in California alone ban clotheslines.

That’s a lot of places where the wonderfully drying California sun could be doing for free what otherwise takes a lot of energy and, these days, adds plenty to homeowners’ gas or electric bills.

As Mindy Spatt of the Utility Reform Network pointed out in an op-ed column last week, a clothes line

requires no government subsidy, no tax rebate and no expensive installation. On a hot day, it can practically match an electric or gas dryer load for load. And it costs next to nothing.

She contrasts the savings in energy we’d achieve simply by air-drying our clothes with the money the State of California is spending on finding high-tech, and too often high-cost, solutions to our energy ills.  Says Spatt:

it isn’t necessary to drive bills for essentials like heat and light through the roof to fight climate change. We can lower our bills and conserve energy at the same time with low-tech, low-cost solutions. Electric and gas dryers account for about 10 percent of residential electricity usage statewide.

So let’s press those homeowners associations to stop banning clotheslines, Spatt argues.  If, like us, you agree with her, you can find  more information at Project Laundry List.

From the news items posted at the site, that snobbery about laundry is a nationwide phenomenon.  Spatt’s op-ed suggests one good trick to get around that: Don’t call it a ‘clothes line,’ call it a ‘solar dryer.’

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What, exactly, is the world coming to? How worried, precisely, should we be about the state of our climate, our energy system, our food supplies, our water, the air we breath? What really is — or might soon — be the problem with any of these?

It’s hard to keep track and easy to feel overwhelmed.

A good place to start feeling a little less swamped and a little more informed this Earth Day might be this useful round up from the folks at AlterNet: “Eight Reasons Our Changing World Will Turn You Into an Environmentalist, Like It or Not.” To quote the editors:

Alternet picked eight topics — water, global warming, food, health, energy, pollution, consumption and corporations — that pose real dangers to the future of human life and selected a series of recent essays that illustrate these problems, along with links to organizations and further resources that address these issues.

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We almost decided not to mention this story, since it really amounts to nothing. But in case you missed it, yesterday US President George Bush called for a halt in the growth of US greenhouse gases by 2025. And he said US power plant emissions should peak in the next 10 to 15 years.

And he pretty much left it at that. To quote the SF Chronicle’s Zachary Coile:

But the president proposed no new regulations or legislation to ensure that his new targets are met, and his proposal falls far short of the cuts in greenhouse gases that scientists say are needed to avoid the worst effects of rising temperatures and sea levels.

Call it cynical; call it trying to add to a little burnish to the President’s many reputational tarnishes, or call it, as many Democrats have done, an attempt to undermine an upcoming Senate bill with real regulatory teeth (which calls for emissions to be reduced by 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and by 66 percent by 2050) — but it’s certainly not going to be any kind of a force for change. Which is almost certainly the President’s intention.

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