Now that both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions have been completed and we are headed into a heated 90 day battle between the big choice of two candidates, it’s time to start comparing them. Unfortunately, when it comes to the environment, neither are looking so hot (unlike our planet….but that’s another story).  Sure, one is  lesser of the two evils when it comes to energy policy, but it would be nice if we had a few more people to choose from (once again…that’s another story).  And since there are no third-party candidates who are likely to take any votes from these two, let’s just look at them!

Let’s start with the newcomer, Mitt Romney. AP and Romney share an interesting history, as he was once the governor of our founding state: Massachusetts.  Now you might wonder how such a progressive state would vote in a conservative, well he ran on a different platform back then (yet again…that’s another story). If we were talking about Romney from 6 years ago, this would be a different story. In fact, some of his environmental moves have inspired some of Obama’s.

However, let’s talk Romney running today. He does have some interesting ties to Big Oil and has accepted campaign donations from them. In return, he has stated that he will expand drilling for both gas and oil in the United States. He also plans on extending the Big Oil tax cuts and subsidies, yet at the same time, opposes any tax incentives to alternative energy production within the US. And on that note, he is also against raising standards for energy efficiency in general. He seems to oppose any environmental technology advances, even making the statements: “You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it,” and “[fuel efficiency standards are] disadvantageous for domestic manufacturers.” Even further frustrating is his stance on public lands. He has supported the Paul Ryan budget that calls for the selling of 3.3 million acres of public lands to private industry. And don’t even get me started on Global Warming, although once stating that humans were speeding up the production of carbon emissions, he now mocks that idea.

If this future seems a little bleak, we do have a little better news coming from the blue camp. During the 2008 election, Obama spoke a LOT about the environment, clean energy, and green jobs. However, his track record as President hasn’t actually put these ideas into motion. He has mentioned in State of the Union addresses and taken a pledge  that the Federal government should cut oil subsidies and use them to invest in alternative energy.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened in the last four years. Perhaps it something for the future four years? He has also mentioned  investing Federal funds in alternative energies, however, he lists “clean” coal and nuclear as sources of renewable energy. In a bit of good news, he has put into place some energy efficiency standards that will bring commercial facilities to be more efficient by 2025, initiated new rules on emissions from coal power plants that will save lives, and set a goal of 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025.

We are pleased with some of these initiatives, but disappointed in his track record. He does support green jobs and promised 5 million, however, we haven’t really seen that plan come to fruition. He’s also increased offshore drilling and done little in the way of ending fracking. He also has spoken for fighting Global Warming in the past, but has failed to mention it in this campaign or done little to work on this issue over the past four years. However, it should be noted the State Department under his administration is working on international pollution regulations. That being said, he has a pretty inconsistent record on environmental policy. 

So there you have it, a quick rundown of both main candidates views on the environment. It’s looking like we have a choice of a C or F student. So take your pick! Personally, we will have to go with the lesser of two evils on the environmental front. Here’s to hoping over the next few months the campaign focuses on these environmental issue a little more!

The popsicles are melting and the temperature gage continues to rise. The kids have taken to the streets to cool off under the stream of the fire hydrant and even the dogs are hiding under the shade of the trees. It’s a bonafide heat wave! If this sounds familiar, it’s because the US has been under a nationwide heat wave for the past few weeks. Yes, it is the middle of July, but is there something more sinister at work? With temperatures rising steadily, a lack of winter, and crazy, unpredictable weather, it’s hard not to pose the question. In fact, last week the entire country suffered temperatures well into the 100’s.

In a new study from the American Meterological Society they answer that very question. It states that heat waves are directly related to global warming and  they are on the rise!  The study points out that several heat waves have been connected to human-made global warming. These heat waves include last year’s brutal heat in Texas which was considered 20 times more likely to occur due to global warming and November’s warmer than normal temperature in England was 62 times more likely.   This study marks a new feature in climate science, where it has usually taken years to compile weather studies, this one was able to be analyzed and published within several months. This is groundbreaking science that is sure to help shed some light on the issues we are to face.

If you thought that was bad news, it only gets worse. In another study published by Stanford last year stated that the US is “likely to undergo extreme summer temperature shifts within 60 years.  Yup, expect more droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, tornados, fires, floods and any other weather extreme that will terrify and complicate our modern lives. But not all disasters have been directly connected to global warming including recent floods in Thailand. Monsoons are common in Thailand and researches have related these particular floods to rapid development, meaning more people in more vulnerable areas.

And as the temperature continues to rise, we lose more and more of our polar ice. In 2011, the Artic warmed as a whole and was at it’s second lowest level since we humans started keeping track. In case you haven’t heard, this is causing the sea levels to rise at a steady pace.  Higher sea levels means less land for humans and animals alike and with our population reaching 7 billion, major social issues are headed our way.

Basically all this news is bleak and a bit scary. Is there anything we can do? It’s unlikely we will be able to slow the affects already set in motion. However, we need to get serious about changing our ways. What we have done to the Earth over the last Century needs to stop now. We need to figure out more sustainable energy and stop using gasoline like it’s water running from a tap. We also need to start planning for the future. Rather than deny the Earth is warming, we, as a society, must plan for the future. Acting now, could save countless lives and resources. You and I need to start pressuring our leaders to pay attention to these issues and we need to change our everyday actions. The heat is on, as the say, so let’s cool it down.

Ok, ok. So we know, it is the State of the Union, not the environment. But as environmentalists ourselves, we couldn’t help but respond to Obama’s State of the Union speech. Obama mentioned the environment several different times throughout his speech. Since his campaign, Obama has pushed that he will increase federal funding for green energy. However, 2010 saw the Clean Energy Bill crash and burn and with a Republican controlled House the outlook was not so great. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, as there were a few encouraging items the President covered in his speech.

To keep with Obama’s theme, one of the “biggest things” we were excited about was his new plan to push America into energy efficiency. Not only did he set a new goal of 80% clean energy by 2035, but he directly mentioned moving funds from subsidizing oil companies and investing them in what he called clean energy. Now, we, of course, totally back such a move, seeing as how investing in energy efficiency and new green technology is smart in this age. What we did not like was that the President lumped natural gas, nuclear power, and even “clean” coal in with real green energy such as solar and wind. We were very disappointed by this since investing in those types of energy is no better than investing in oil. Not to mention there is no such thing as “clean” coal.

Another piece of the speech we appreciated was his historical reference to the Space Race and Sputnik. Being history nerds and all, we are always game for historical parallels that can shed light on contemporary issues.  The President mentioned that the US is falling behind China and several other nations in solar and wind technology. He referred to this as “our Sputnik moment,” meaning we should use this early failure to push us into developing our own renewable energy. These are all positive and encouraging ideas for the future of our country. Within his speech he also mentioned increasing the number of electric cars on the road and developing high speed rail systems.

All of these goals are exciting and we are happy he mentioned them. However, as many have pointed out, he failed to mention Climate Change as something we should address, albeit he did imply the problem by suggesting we invest in green technologies. Still, many environmentalists expected him to at least mention the issue, especially as the weather in 2010 was all over the place and it turned out to be the hottest year on record.

We are guessing his failure to mention this issue had to do with his attempt at “reaching across the aisle,” as they say. It is no secret that many in the Republican party question Climate Change and have been fighting any legislation on it. Since this is such a controversial topic, he might have chose to exclude it. Still, this is no excuse. In the State of the Union speech, he is speaking to the people as well as his political partners and foes.

Overall, we applaud the President for his efforts to bring this nation up to speed in green industry, renewable energy, and alternative transportation. Even with his incorrect “renewable” references and his failure to mention impending Climate Change, we still find this a positive speech, environmentally speaking.  Now, let’s see it get into action! Don’t forget to write your local congress representatives and let them know you want to meet these goals and more!

It is election season and as election day fast approaches, candidates are bringing out the big guns!  This is the time when the mud really gets slinging and the outrageous attack ads get double play. For myself, this is the worst time in politics and a time to shut out the chatter and focus on the issues that matter most.  With a majority Democrat Congress and a Democrat President, you would think that energy and environmental policy would take the front seat. However, this summer, environmentalists and people concerned with our current energy policy were saddened to see that no climate bills would be passed this year. Furthermore, it felt as if this might be the last chance for any sort of new environmental policy for a while, as it is projected Republicans will gain seats in Congress this November.

Even though the environment seems like a non-partisan issue, seeing as how it affects us all regardless of party lines, Republicans are notorious for lacking in real environmental change.  Making matters worse, a recent Wonk Report shows that all GOP senate candidates are not supporting environmental policy and the fact that they ALL question climate change science. Even candidates such as John McCain, who fought for climate policy during the Bush years, now fights against it.  The political climate seems to have turned it’s head to the environment. Polls are whatever you take them to be, but  a recent poll conducted in 23 states shows the majority of Americans support clean energy policy and would vote for a candidate who supports this. Yet the entire Republican party is against real climate . How can that be?

In a year where we had a six month oil spill and a few coal mines collapses, it is surprising there is less focus on sustainable energy policy. These events should be a giant distress call, however, they have been pushed to the back burner while candidates discuss talking points needed to win elections. In a normal election year, something as cataclysmic as a six month oil spill would be on every politicians tongue.  But it seems this year is proving different. The importance of our environment has taken a huge hit. If polls are suggesting right, the Republicans who question environmental destruction and who think focusing on offshore drilling will be the answer to our problem, will be flooding the House and the Senate; thus killing environmental policy. We don’t always take party sides, but we are fearful of any politician who is not willing to act on providing this country with adequate sustainable energy policy.

So, if this “takeover” occurs we are surely looking at a regression in policy when it comes to the environment. Which is incredibly unfortunate, given the issues our country and planet face in the near future. At some point, the oil will run out and if we don’t have a backup plan quickly we will continue to fall behind the rest of the world. While other countries are improving solar and wind technology and trying to decrease pollution, we are looking for ways to continue to squeeze the Earth of the last few oil reserves. This is just delaying the inevitable and when the oil finally does dry up, we will have to look to foreign powers to bail us out.

What can we do? When you are choosing a candidate next week, make sure you know their stance on the environment and do not vote for someone who does not support environmental policy.  After the election, continue to pressure your local representatives and senators to act on the environment and encourage them to support sustainable policy. And if we cannot get our government to act on these major issues, consider volunteering or donating to non profits who will take action on our environment. We have the power to change the future of our environment, so make informed decisions and get active!

-Gina Williams

Every 4 years, the world stops and watches in awe as one city in the world hosts the Olympic Games. The top athletes convene in one city to prove to the world their abilities and the world engages in friendly war, for once.  In 2008 the Summer Olympics were hosted by China, who made several efforts to be sure their display would be considered “green.” This February the Winter Olympics are being hosted in Vancouver, Canada.

It seems like a no brainer that Vancouver, who often makes the list of Greenest Cities (in fact 90% of the city is run on renewable energy), would have no issues making sure this year’s Winter Olympics is nothing short of Green. And sure enough, they started off with a bang! Making big steps to prove to the world they are Greening the Winter Olympics with LEED certified buildings and expanding the public transportation system, to name a few. In fact Vancouver is trying their hardest to be recognized as the “Greenest Olympics Games Ever.”

Obviously, these are terrific achievements and set a great example to the rest of the world. However, there are some serious things to consider. Because of an unseasonably warm winter this year (Gasp! Could Climate Change be to blame?!), British Colombia has seen less snow and required the committee to truck in loads of snow.  We don’t need to explain twice how this impacts the environment, with all the carbon emissions it has created. Although, the committee has reported it will be purchasing offsets for these emissions, they only plan on offsetting less than half. This begs to question, do the Vancouver Olympics really deserve Gold for their Green?

David Suzuki has put together a “Green Scorecard” for the Winter Olympics. And although they may score high for their LEED certified buildings and a Green Olympic Village, the imitation snow has left many wondering if they deserve such high regards. This scorecard gives them a Bronze medal, even though the UN and the Vancouver Olympics themselves are rewarding a Gold medal. However, even winter athletes are demanding that more attention be paid to the climate. With Climate Change directly affecting their sports, they want the Olympic committees and the host cities to commit to higher standards in the future.

So what could be done to be sure Olympic Games are as environmentally aware as they should be? Grist writer,  Jonathan Hiskes, makes an excellent suggestion.  In order to really and truly change the impact of the Olympic Games, why not make it stationary? And we kind of have to agree. Centralizing the Olympics close to where most athletes are based would cut down on building and travel costs, which are the biggest environmental offenders. Even though worldwide cities would lose tourist cash and a chance to show off to the world, the environmental impact would be enormous. If the Olympics are setting examples, as they claim, this would be one hefty example to make. Lollapalooza did it and survived, so why can’t the Olympics?

Regardless of whether or not you are an ardent fan of President Obama or among his harshest critics, you would be hard pressed to deny this man’s undeniable gifts as an orator. Last night’s State of the Union Address saw Obama doing what he does best, making an eloquent speech that not only outlined numerous policies but included a  firm scolding of both  the Democrats and Republicans seated before him. The President even squeezed in a few well-placed zingers to punctuate certain points and to take the wind out of the sails of certain naysayers,  stating, “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.” as he addressed Environmental issues during his State of the Union Address.

Even with a peppering of comic relief, Obama’s discussing of his future approach towards clean energy left many environmentalist without a smile on their face. The State of the Environmental Union was a mixed bag at best. Here are the highlights, lowlights and “What?“ lights of the President’s speech, from an environmental perspective.

The Good:

“We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities–and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient–which supports clean energy jobs.” 

“…it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year,. And this year I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.” 

President Obama smartly outlined  the importance of green energy through the lens of economic recovery. Touting Green Energy as an industry that could create jobs, and therefore an industry that should be encouraged,  Obama touches on how these changes could be implemented through tactics such as rebates to encourage energy efficiency among American Citizens. Obama’s praise of congress for passing the Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009 and gentle encouragement of both parties in the Senate to follow suit, highlights actual action that is being taken towards this environmentally responsible behavior. While the bill, which focuses on a cap and trade system wherein limits are set for greenhouse emissions, is supported by many environmentalists, it also has its fair share of critics, ranging from those who claim that the bill is not radical enough to those who believe that it is too radical. 

 I believe that at the very least, this shows that this administration is being proactive when it comes to addressing environmental issues, but what has myself and others worried is the amount of concessions that seem to be filtering into these policies under the guise of promoting bipartisan politics. Which brings us to…

The Not So Good:

“But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives” 

So far so good, I can get behind incentives and jobs and green energy, continue, Mr. President.

“And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means  making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”

(Record screeching)… “Say what!?”, me.

(Enthusiastic applause)- Congress.

What happened to harnessing the awesome power of the wind? Nuclear power  has never been so directly addressed by President Obama as a viable option for renewable energy as it was last night.  There is much debate over the nuclear power’s qualifications as a renewable energy source, with critics pointing out that from the harnessing of uranium to the construction of nuclear power sites, that this form of energy is hardly carbon neutral. This mention coupled with the shout out to offshore drilling seem to paint a picture of a President willing to make concessions in order to encourage bipartisan participation on the creation of a economically beneficial green economy. 

Whether or not these concessions will result in an end that justifies the means remains to be seen. President Obama, in one short statement ,seems to have leaned even further towards the middle. These compromises may backfire-alienating eco-minded individuals wondering if the environment is really the best area to make compromises on and could also lead  republicans to believe that  they can make Obama bend to their insistences as fast as they can utter, “Tea Party!”

Despite the bitter sweetness of President Obama’s State of the Green Union, one can only hope that he knows what he is doing and that his gamble will pay off. Hopefully, the Green economy the President foresees will become a reality throughout the remainder of his term as Commander-in-Chief.. As he said, “The nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. American must be that nation.”  The economy and the environment are both suffering and perhaps the president is correct, their futures are intertwined and the only way either can flourish is with the help of the other. As sad as it may be, if Green energy is not profitable it will not be embraced by the majority of American citizens or its politicians. 

-Meghan Hurley

Climate change is fun!  No, wait.  Human-induced change of our global climate that threatens all life on earth is shocking and alarming.  But, that doesn’t mean one can’t have fun raising awareness of the looming threat of global warming on a day in which people all over the world come together in like fashion to demonstrate how important this crisis is to them.  The day is this Saturday, October 24th, the International Day of Climate Action.  350.org is the day’s motivating force, the brainchild of Bill McKibben, renowned activist and author of the first book on global warming, “The End of Nature.”

350 Pyramids Action--Provided by 350.org

350 Pyramids Action--Provided by 350.org

The concept of 350.org is simple: 350 parts per million CO2 in our atmosphere is the limit at which global temperatures can remain balanced and non-destructive; anything beyond and we begin to see far-reaching effects, such as polar melting and erratic weather patterns.  And you guessed it: our current CO2 level as measured for 2009 is 387 parts per million, well into the danger zone.  350.org seeks to help reverse this destructive rise by calling critical attention to it through the use of mass demonstration around the world, this Saturday.

350 in the Maldives--Provided by 350.org

350 in the Maldives--Provided by 350.org

“There will be big rallies in big cities, and incredible creative actions across the globe: mountain climbers on our highest peaks with banners, underwater demonstrations in island nations threatened by sea level rise, churches and mosques and synagogues and ashrams engaged in symbolic action, star athletes organizing mass bike rides—and hundreds upon hundreds of community events to raise awareness of the need for urgent action.”  And the coolest thing is all of these events, largest to smallest, will incorporate “350” as an image, sometimes on signs and banners, sometimes spelled out over large areas with (live) human bodies.  These images will then be collected and presented to world leaders as an eye-opening expression of concern before they descend on Copenhagen in December to compose a new treaty on reducing emissions.

The beauty of this combined effort is that it’s “open source,” meaning you or anyone you know can spontaneously organize an event of any size or join one already planned.  International Day of Climate Action is a unique way to get out and help make change happen beyond the normal scope of one’s daily life.  Take advantage tomorrow and bring the idea of 350 to those who need to recognize it most!


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