Green Divas myEARTH360 Report: Environmental News Update 3.6.14

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Green Divas myEARTH360 image for week of 3.3.14What’s the word on the environment this week?

FIRST, listen to this week’s Green Divas myEARTH360 podcast . . .

Then, get all the deets below . . . 

I’m more than a little spun up with the looming March 7th public comment deadline for the Keystone XL Pipeline… a 1700+ mile conduit for dirty tarsands.

I even got into a twitter clash with a Forbes writer who supports the pipeline. Check it out!

Warning! You are entering a rare Green Diva Lynn rant zone!

I don’t usually get into these types of conversations and I’ve never been called one of “you people” (whoever you people are). However, I thought I could possibly tap into his humanity. I believe all people—at their very core—care about the well-being of others. But he glossed over what all of this means to the indigenous people and what more oil spills might mean to those in the pipeline’s path. His argument was that the tarsands are going to happen anyway—the U.S. should be the ones to receive the oil for refining where emissions would be better regulated. But what about the people who live near the refineries (related story below)? Why can’t we devote as much energy and resources to renewables instead of what could be an game over for our climate?

I’m sure you will notice my heightened anxiety in the podcast (over and above my usual angst about actually being on a podcast—I had forewarned Green Diva Meg before starting this gig that “I’m a writer, not a talker!”).

But I digress.

There’s never a shortage of other environmental news. Don’t let me stop you! Read on!

This week in WTF? News.

tarsands keystone xl pipeline protest

Keystone XL ProtestAn Exercise In Hypocrisy And Ignorance

The protesters came from far and wide to the nation’s capital. They traversed the land via trains, plains and automobiles, the vast majority of which were powered by – gasp! – gasoline, jet fuel and other petroleum products. It seems that, like Al Gore, Bill McKibben and other heroes of the anti-fossil fuel movement who have no qualm traveling the globe in petroleum-powered private jets and limousines, the protesters’ desire for human beings to freeze in the dark does not apply to themselves. Go figure.

Read the full rant story here.

Life in Michigan’s dirtiest ZIP code

Entering southwestern Detroit’s Boynton neighborhood feels a little like traveling into an idyllic, 1950s version of America.

“Every porch has chairs on it, and in the summer, everyone will be sitting out there, talking to their neighbors. It’s the kind of place where a boy would marry the girl across the street and then raise their own children here,” Boynton resident Emma Lockridge said.

But drive a few blocks deeper into the subdivision and that image starts to disintegrate.

Smoke stacks rise ominously behind the homes, and a strong odor permeates the area and irritates the throat. Residents say emissions from a tar sands refinery run by the Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum Corp. blow straight toward them most of the time.

Lifelong Boynton resident Denise Taylor has a clear view of the refinery’s flares from her bathroom window.

“We have watched them build a city over there. It used to be just a spot,” she said, referring to Marathon’s recent expansions, which the company says are necessary to cope with the increasing volume of tar sands oil from Canada’s Alberta province.

Residents’ property values have tanked as industry has expanded around Boynton, with many of the homes estimated by Realtors at $16,000 or less. That makes it difficult for people to leave even if they feel their health and safety are threatened. Read the full story…

The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plasticsbaby drinking from sippy cup

Bisphenol A (BPA) exploded into the headlines in 2008, when stories about “toxic baby bottles” and “poison” packaging became ubiquitous. Good Morning America issued a “consumer alert.” The New York Times urged Congress to ban BPA in baby products. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned in the Huffington Post that “millions of infants are exposed to dangerous chemicals hiding in plain view.” Concerned parents purged their pantries of plastic containers, and retailers such as Walmart and Babies R Us started pulling bottles and sippy cups from shelves. Bills banning BPA in infant care items began to crop up in states around the country.

Today many plastic products, from sippy cups and blenders to Tupperware containers, are marketed as BPA-free. But Bittner’s findings—some of which have been confirmed by other scientists—suggest that many of these alternatives share the qualities that make BPA so potentially harmful.

Those startling results set off a bitter fight with the $375-billion-a-year plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for plastics makers and has sought to refute the science linking BPA to health problems, has teamed up with Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical—the maker of Tritan, a widely used plastic marketed as being free of estrogenic activity—in a campaign to discredit Bittner and his research. Read the full story…

Ann Arbor Group Finds Toxic Chemicals In Mardi Gras Beads | CBS Detroit

Dangerous levels of lead, other toxic metals and toxic flame retardants were found in most Mardi Gras beads tested by Ann Arbor’s Ecology Center.

“We were shocked at the level of halogenated flame retardants in these products,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s principal researcher on the project. “There’s no requirement to include them in there.”

Some of the chemicals found in testing the beads are cancer-causing agents, while others are neurotoxins. Where they came from was a mystery until Ecology Center researchers looked at them under an electron microscope at Hope College in Holland.

“When we split the beads apart and looked at them under a microscope, you can actually see chunks of recycled printed circuit board and electronic waste in these,” Gearhart said.

“We found over two-thirds of the beads had over 100 parts per million of lead in them,” Gearhart said. “We use that as a benchmark because it’s the regulatory limit for products intended for children. So this would make them not legal for use by children.” Read the full story…

Editor’s note: Keep this in mind for upcoming holidays!

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Inside Fukushima: A Rare, Unsettling Tour. {PBS Video}

PBS science correspondent Miles O’Brien visited the nuclear plant, where three reactors melted down following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“Three years after the meltdown, the road to Fukushima … remains a post-apocalyptic landscape of abandoned towns, frozen in time.”
Read more and watch the PBS video…

Fukushima Radioactive Contamination May Reach West Coast Within Weeks, But Don’t Worry (Yet)

Radioactive contamination from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster may reach the U.S. West Coast within weeks, according to a report released Monday. But researchers said the low contamination levels would likely cause no environmental or human harm. Read the full story…

Green group accuses GOP of ‘environmental racism’

House Republicans are being accused of “environmental racism” by an environmental group that argues GOP efforts to reform decades-old chemical laws would disproportionately harm minority groups.

At issue is draft legislation backed by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) that would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to focus on chemicals that pose the greatest risk to the public in enforcing environmental protections.

Shimkus argues his bill would free up resources to focus on the most dangerous chemical threats, but the liberal Environmental Justice Health Alliance says it would end up hurting minority groups by moving resources away from policing the threats in their neighborhoods. That, it turn, would increase the risk that they could develop cancer, asthma, childhood leukemia, infertility and birth defects, among other health problems.

In a press release, the group said the bill would promote what it called “environmental racism.” Read the full story…

Underwater gold rush spurs fears of ocean calamityocean water

The number of companies seeking to mine beneath international waters has tripled in the last three or four years.

This is the last frontier: the ocean floor, 4,000 meters beneath the waters of the central Pacific, where mining companies are now exploring for the rich deposits of ores needed to keep industry humming and smartphones switched on.

The prospect — a high seas version of the Klondike gold rush — has alarmed scientists. The oceans, which make up 45 percent of the world’s surface, are already degraded by overfishing, industrial waste, plastic debris and climate change, which is altering their chemistry. Now comes a new extractive industry — and scientists say governments are not prepared.

“It’s like a land grab,” said Sylvia Earle, an oceanographer and explorer-in-residence for National Geographic. Read the full story…

Cool News!

Hundreds arrested in Keystone pipeline protests outside White House

Marching under the name XL Dissent, at least 500 students from across the United States demonstrated and carried out acts of civil disobedience outside of the White House.

After repeated warnings, police arrested demonstrators for “blocking passage” of sidewalks, Sgt. Lelani Woods of the U.S. Park Police told Al Jazeera. “We advised protesters of the outcome of the warnings, which would be an arrest. They decided to remain on the sidewalk, so the arrest process began,” Woods said.

Some protesters fastened themselves to the White House fence with zip ties, or handcuff-like plastic strips, while others staged a sit-in and “mock oil spill” on the sidewalk outside the White House, said Keith Wrightson, a witness at the scene.

About 200 more protesters stood across the street holding signs, Wrightson told Al Jazeera by phone. “Individuals were arrested in groups of five roughly every 10 minutes,” he said.The controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which must be approved by President Barack Obama before completion, is viewed by many environmentalists as a litmus test of Obama’s commitment to green issues and, indirectly, to fighting climate change. Read the full story…

Wal-Mart asks suppliers to stop using harmful chemicalswal-mart

In one of the boldest moves toward eliminating toxins from products consumers use everyday, Wal-Mart Stores on Thursday notified its suppliers they will have to reformulate soaps, makeup and household cleaners as the world’s largest retailer begins to shed harmful chemicals from store shelves.

Wal-Mart’s new policy, announced in September but outlined in detail for the first time Thursday, signals the start of a pivot in the personal care products industry as the retailer demands higher standards of safety — oversight that the federal government doesn’t have.

Health and environmental advocates expect possibly tens of thousands of products will be reformulated to remove harmful ingredients and meet Wal-Mart’s new standards. And with Wal-Mart as their biggest customer, most manufacturers will choose to make their products safer rather than get kicked out of the big-box stores, advocates say.

“When big retailers like Wal-Mart choose to offer safer products, that is a really fast way to effect change,” said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute and a chemistry expert at UC Berkeley. “This will help shift the marketplace is the right direction and potentially have a huge impact on our health.” Read the full story…

Tim Cook tells climate change skeptics to ditch Apple shares

Apple chief executive Tim Cook has bluntly told climate change sceptic investors to ditch their stocks if they do not support his pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions, in the latest signal that the company will continue to invest in sustainable energy.

According to witnesses at Apple’s annual meeting on Friday, Cook became visibly angry when questioned by a radical right-wing think tank about the profitability of investing in renewable energy.

Under Cook’s leadership Apple has stepped up its commitment to curbing its environmental impact, pledging to supply 100% of its power from renewable sources and crack down on the use of minerals mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that can fund war and human rights abuses.

At the meeting last week, shareholders voted down a resolution by the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) – an avid campaigner against action to tackle climate change – that would force Apple to disclose more information about the costs of its investment in tackling climate change.

“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI,” Cook said, adding that the same sentiment applied to environmental and health and safety issues. Read the full story…

Los Angeles Passes Fracking Moratorium

Los Angeles is the largest city in the U.S. to place a moratorium on fracking.

City council unanimously voted Friday afternoon to send a moratorium motion to the city attorney’s office to be written as a zoning ordinance. It will then return to council for a final vote.

A tweet from city councilman Mike Bonin moments after the vote expressed the gravity of the action:

Mike Bonin fracking tweet

Friday’s motion places a moratorium on fracking and other “well stimulation” practices at drilling sites until the city verifies that fracking does not compromise residents’ personal safety or the drinkability of their water. That could come in the form of state or federal regulators providing protections or declaring fracking to be safe. Who knows when, if ever, that will take place. Read the full story…

Senators Call For Study On Keystone Health Effects After Doctor Cites Cancer Near Tar Sands

Two Democratic Senators are calling for a comprehensive study on how public health would be affected by the extraction and processing of tar sands — the type of fuel that would be transported through the Keystone XL pipeline — citing increased cancer rates in patients who live downstream of the fuel reservoirs.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told reporters at news conference on Wednesday that they will send a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking for the study. The conference was brought on by what Boxer called “dramatic” new information from Alberta, Canada — where the tar sands are extracted — and where a rare type of cancer has increased by 30 percent since the extraction of the tar sands began.  Read the full story… 

Citizen scientists: Now you can link the UK winter deluge to climate change

“You can’t link climate change to specific weather events.” That is the accepted wisdom that has been trotted out repeatedly as the wettest winter in at least 250 years battered England and Wales. But the accepted wisdom is wrong: it is perfectly possible to make that link and, as of today, you can play a part in doing so.

A new citizen science project launched by climate researchers at the University of Oxford will determine in the next month or so whether global warming made this winter’s extreme deluge more likely to occur, or not. You can sign up here.

The weather@home project allows you to donate your spare computer time in return for helping turn speculation over the role of climate change in extreme weather into statistical fact. That debate has been reignited by the devastating winter weather and the flooding and storm damage it wrought (more on that debate here). Read the full story…

Random Stuff.

condom sexTurns out, a condom a day can keep climate change at bay.

A solution to easing the effects of global climate change may be one that is not often discussed—voluntary family planning.

At a recent talk on “Condoms and Climate” given at the Commonwealth Club of California, leading author Alan Weisman and University of California, Berkeley Dr. Malcom Potts advocated for family planning as a means of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, reports Population Growth.

Weisman noted every 4.5 days a million people are added to the planet, saying “there is no question humans have become more numerous than nature intended.”

In Potts’ opinion, family planning is the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon and that voluntary family planning services are in demand.

There are 222 million women around the world who want to plan their families, but have an unmet need for modern contraception, he said. Making it available to women and men is estimated to cost $8 billion a year—about a billion dollars more than what Americans spent on Halloween in 2013.

Read the full story right here on Green Divas…

And just one more thing about pipelines (no pun intended, ha ha)…

Pipelines: Energy Highways? Or Conduits of Environmental & Public Health Threats?

While North Americans await President Obama’s decision about the contentious Keystone XL pipeline, the question of pipeline safety is significant to environmentalists and protestors alike.

As supporters and detractors continue to clash over Keystone, the project has cleared another hurdle in its long road to what seems a likely approval by Obama.

Supporters of the Keystone XL project maintain that new technologies and improvements in pipeline construction will make Keystone the safest pipeline ever built. Opponents make the argument that ongoing investment in the fossil fuel infrastructure is postponing (for decades) the progression to a third industrial post-carbon revolution focused on clean energy. Read the full story..

Non-Sequitur: An Interesting Factoid

The energy consumed annually by the 19.5 million people in New York State is equivalent to that of nearly 800 million Africans. (Source: New York Times)

Take Action!

This is the last official public comment period for Keystone XL—one of the very last steps before President Obama makes his decision on the pipeline, and the final opportunity to give your input (in an official way).

The State Department is accepting comments on the Final Environmental Impact Statement, and the last time State was accepting comments, we submitted over 1 million as a movement. Click here to take action NOW.

Bonus: Stop KXL Protest Video


Tarsands image via shutterstock.
Ocean image via shutterstock.
Baby image via shutterstock.
Wal-Mart image via shutterstock.
Couple image via shutterstock.

About the author / 

Green Diva Lynn

Lynn Hasselberger is the former Managing Editor of The Green Divas blog and was a producer of the Green Divas Radio Show. She's also a mom, writer and award-winning cat-herder who lives in Chicagoland. Sunrises, running, yoga, chocolate and comedy are just a few of her fave things.

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