Environment Archives

April 19, 2011

Oil spill victims

Victims of the BP oil spill in Mathews, LA

This is my favorite photo related to the BP oil spill. It was taken at a meeting about compensation claims. I love these guys. All the anger, desperation, and weary determination that people in the Gulf Coast have been experiencing for the last year is all over their faces.

The photo is part of an article about the anger people in the region have for Ken Feinberg and the shoddy treatment they're getting in the compensation claims process. By many accounts, the process has been inconsistent, opaque, slow, and generally ineffective in helping people affected by the spill. Feinberg's law firm has been running the victims' fund since July, and in that time have given out less than 20% of the total fund. And they recently got a raise from BP. It seems like whatever hatred people had for BP when it all started a year ago has now been transferred to Feinberg.

In response to complaints that the claims system doesn't work, the article says that Feinberg admitted "there may be inconsistencies. But I think those inconsistencies are relatively rare."

I'd like to see him stand in front of these guys from Mathews, Louisiana and say that to their faces.

There's a really good series of short articles about different people affected by the oil spill in the Times, including a restaurant owner, a shrimper, and a Vietnamese shipyard worker.

November 30, 2010

Mark Ruffalo, our fracking hero

Mark Ruffalo, anti-fracker

Big thanks to Mark Ruffalo, swarthily irresistible actor and political agitator, for New York State's last-minute decision to ban the gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracture drilling, or fracking. He's a resident of Sullivan County, a rural area in the Catskills, and been fighting loudly against gas companies fracking up our state.

Last night at 1:00 AM, the state Assembly voted to ban fracking at least until May; the law had already passed in the Senate over the summer.

To celebrate our environmental victory and the handsomely rumpled political activism of Mark Ruffalo, let's have a brief, Ruffalicious photo retrospective. He's playing a cop in each of these, which might explain where his sense of justice comes from, or it could just mean that he looks great with guns and facial hair: Shutter Island, Zodiac, and In the Cut.

Mark Ruffalo in Shutter Island

Mark Ruffalo in Zodiac

Mark Ruffalo in In the Cut

Here's a video of Ruffalo with Pete Seeger at a protest in Albany this past summer. Seeger sings a new song about God and fracking.

Also, Ruffalo has been added to Pennsylvania's terror alert watch list for his anti-fracking activities. Probably because he causes a sex riot every time he shows up at rallies.

There's a great HBO documentary about why fracking is bad called "Gasland", and another one about fracking in the Rockies called "Split Estate".

August 9, 2010

3rd grade = puberty

3rd grade class, 1984

[photo: Mrs. Ford's 3rd grade class, 1984]

A new study was just released in Pediatrics magazine that measures when American girls are hitting puberty to see if it's happening at an a younger age than it used to. It's definitely happening earlier, but what I found alarming is that for the purpose of this study, "earlier" means "at an age when I was still wearing jammies with feet."

The study included girls ages 6 to 8 in New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati, and checked them to see if they had breasts yet. We're talking 1st to 3rd grade, here. The target demographic for My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake.

And Giant Gazongas Barbie, apparently. Because it turns out lots of these 7 and 8 year olds have breasts--like 18% of white girls, 31% of Latina girls, and 43% of black girls!

For a late bloomer like me, this is completely insane. I associate that first bra purchase more closely with learning to drive than with learning to add. It's entirely possible that, if I were a teenager today, I would be babysitting a 7 year-old whose boobs were bigger than mine. I can't even imagine how girls who are still figuring out how to avoid wetting the bed are dealing with suddenly having pubic hair.

The causes aren't completely clear, but everyone suspects it's mostly due to obesity and chemicals in food and the environment like xenoestrogens and bovine growth hormone that mess with your endocrine system and do crazy things like make 7 year-old girls develop breasts. It was mostly the overweight girls in the study who were reaching puberty at such early ages, and the scientists say they're going to measure all the girls' hormone levels and see what chemicals they'd been exposed to.

Even though this new research suggests lucrative new product lines for busty elementary schoolers, I'd rather not see displays of Dora the Explorer training bras at Target.

January 11, 2010

Farmers use the wrong agricultural metaphor

40 Acres and a Mule t-shirt

Industrial farmers have been getting more scrutiny lately, now that anyone concerned about animal welfare, pollution, climate change, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or their own health has started looking at factory farms as the cause of a lot of big problems. Some states are considering new laws regulating things like the size of cages animals are kept in and other agricultural operations in order to protect animals and the people who eat them.

Which, of course, farmers don't like one bit. At this year's meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the president, Bob Stallman, said in a speech yesterday denouncing their perceived opponents, "A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule."

Um, oops. I think what Bob Stallman was trying to say is that we're no longer living in an age of small farms, and large-scale corporate factories that produce massive volumes of food must resist efforts to treat their industry as if it's made up of independent, pastoral family farmers with their livestock eating clover out in the pasture (even though that's exactly the image food producers use in their marketing.)

But "40 acres and a mule" is a reference with a very specific meaning that isn't really about agriculture. For a brief period after the Civil War, under Special Field Order No. 15 from General Sherman, former slave families were to be given 40 acres and a mule, in order to start their own farms. According to the Wikipedia entry, about 10,000 former slaves were settled on 400,000 acres of land in GA and SC, but after Lincoln's assassination, the policy was revoked, and the land was given back to the former white landowners.

"40 acres and a mule" has become shorthand for the need for reparations for slavery in an effort to reconcile the incalculable advantages that the beneficiaries of a few centuries of slavery had and continue to have. During his anti-agricultural legislation speech, the American Farm Bureau president accidentally (I hope) equated proposed farming regulations with making reparations for slavery, which he later referred to as an "elitist power grab." Need to get your metaphors straight, there. Unless he's trying to make some ill-founded connection between beleaguered factory farmers and slaves, which I really hope is not the case.

Wikipedia has a list of pop culture references to 40 acres and a mule, the best known being Spike Lee's film production company. My favorite on the list is some lines from Nelly's "Nellyville": "40 acres and a mule, fuck that, Nellyville, 40 acres and a pool."

The Yippies' website outlines their own 40 acres and a mule demand as follows: "Since it is illegal to grow pot in the United States the YOUTH INTERNATIONAL PARTY demands 40 acres of prime pot growing land in Northern Mexico for every former Prisoner of Weed (POW) and a mule to bring it back into the States."

I really hope Spike Lee never sees that.

August 21, 2009

"Let's get one of Bambi holding the gun"

waitress with a rifle

  • Some cops in Midland, TX got in trouble for taking this week's best picture, above. Someone called the cops after seeing this young waitress holding a big rifle and hanging out in the parking lot outside a restaurant. When they arrived, it turned out the guys she was hanging out with were other cops, who had been in the restaurant when they invited the waitress out for a little photo shoot. Her name tag, The Smoking Gun points out, reads "Bambi". I love that she still has on her apron with straws and pens in it.
  • New study: "the typical adult video game player is overweight, introverted and may be a little bit depressed."
  • Tuesday night's wild storm knocked down 500 trees in Manhattan.
  • A lot of the big movie star vehicles this year haven't done so well, and studios are trying to compensate, in part by paying stars less. Land of the Lost, Pelham 1 2 3, Duplicity, Funny People all had big stars and did worse than expected. The movies that did well are Harry Potter, Transformers, and Up, none of which were really popular because of their stars.

    And don't forget about that relatively small budget South African movie with zero stars where half the dialogue is subtitled. District 9 was mostly pretty good (except for some terrible dialogue toward the end,) but what I especially like about it is that studios will notice, again, that when a movie is well made (and well marketed) it doesn't need a huge budget, a famous director, big actors, or a dumb plot that's spoon-fed to the audience to make money. I love when people turn out for good, atypical movies and make them hits.

November 6, 2007

America's decline: our public works are ugly, lethal

NYC manhole cover

Above is a picture of your basic, ugly NYC manhole cover.

Now check out this array of beautifully-designed manhole covers from Japan that Wired linked to today:

Japan manhole covers

Each Japanese prefecture makes its own unique manhole covers, many of which are brightly colored and feature cute dancing crabs, frogs, and aliens.

Meanwhile in our own country, the most interesting things our manhole covers do are burn or electrocute people.

And in the larger world of American public works, if the city that you live in hasn't had a major road explode, a bridge collapse, a retaining wall crush rush-hour traffic, or run out of water, you should consider yourself lucky.

August 29, 2007

A whole new way to destroy the world

Humane Society environmental ad

Last year, the UN came out with a report on climate change that said that the livestock industry generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation all over the world. It sounds pretty unbelievable, but it's true: methane is 21 times worse, climate-wise, than carbon dioxide, so all those cow farts are screwing up the environment a lot worse than SUVs are.

Thing is, a lot of environmental groups and figures like Al Gore aren't saying anything about the livestock industry, at least not the same way they're talking about cars and coal-burning power plants and fluorescent lightbulbs. But today, the NY Times speaks up about it: an article about meat as a cause of global warming is right there in the Business section. The big environmental groups aren't targeting meat in their campaigns, but, not surprisingly, animal rights groups are.

PETA has this ad directed at Al Gore, who didn't include anything about the meat industry in An Inconvenient Truth:

Al Gore PETA ad

It's funny in that blunt, mean PETA way, and it's good to let people know that not eating a lot of meat will help the environment. But when groups like PETA or The Humane Society (who made the car key/fork ad above) talk about the environment only in terms of saving animals, it probably won't convince people to change their behavior. PETA is good at stopping KFC from chopping the beaks off chickens and sometimes getting attractive people to pose naked, but we need more mainstream environmental groups to start talking about the meat thing.

And why shouldn't they? The head of the Sierra Club says "we do not find lecturing people about personal consumption choices to be effective." But they have no problem telling people to take public transportation more often and to buy different air conditioners and those damn ugly fluorescent bulbs.

Is reducing meat consumption just too radical for environmentalists to mention? Even ELECTRIC COMPANIES are telling consumers to buy appliances that use less electricity to help reduce global warming.

It reminds me of the dust-up over top selling diet book Skinny Bitch that women are buying like crazy, then becoming outraged by one of the central messages of the book: a good way to lose weight is to be a vegan. In another Times article, we learn about readers such as Laura McGlinchey, 41-year-old computer network manager:

She bought the book on Amazon because she was attracted by the packaging and "irreverent tone."

So she was surprised to encounter chapters on meat and poultry farming practices. "It seemed to be pushing more of a PETA agenda," she said, referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal-rights advocacy group. Ms. McGlinchey said she was so fed up that she didn’t even finish the book.

Aww, poor little offended baby. As Skinny Bitch author Rory Freedman said, "They’re mad that they spent $14 on a book that was not what they thought, but they’re not mad that chickens are having beaks chopped off their faces? How is that possible? I can’t even wrap my mind around that."

It seems like the best way to get people to actually change their behavior is to create a product that they can buy to feel like they're helping to save the environment. Toyota and Honda have done a great job letting drivers know how their hybrid cars are good things to buy if you want to reduce emissions, and Panasonic will happily tell you all about their energy-saving flat screen TVs.

The corporations that would benefit from more consumers adopting vegetarian diets need to get on the ball with marketing some celebrity-endorsed tofu. Forget those Sierra Club wimps--Vitasoy and Morningstar, you guys get on the phone with Pamela Anderson and Forest Whitaker and make some good ads, OK?

July 16, 2007

The ugliest cruise in New York

Newtown Creek cruise

Tourists have the Circle Line and harbor cruises. New Yorkers have tours of Newtown Creek.

Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment hosted their annual Newtown Creek tour, which for $50 takes passengers up our city's most polluted waterway, which separates Brooklyn and Queens. I love the Times photo of cruisers snapping photos of the scenery [full article].

It's not pretty, but it's a part of the city that can't be seen any other way, and it's valuable to be reminded of how blighted much of our natural environment is. Highlights of the cruise include oil storage facilities, abandoned chemical plants and barges, scrap metal fields, and abandoned cars.

metal heap, Newtown creek cruise

One of the least ugly sites you'd see is actually the Greenpoint Sewage Treatment Plant, as photographed by The Gowanus Lounge last year.

Greenpoint sewage treatment plant

In the 1950's, the Greenpoint Oil Spill leaked 17 million gallons of oil and gasoline (50% larger than Exxon Valdez!) into the creek and surrounding land; passengers on the creek tour detected "an oily smell" coming from the water.

Still, many New Yorkers are interested in seeing unfamiliar parts of the city. "It’s interesting to see in person. It’s a place that is even new to New Yorkers," said the tour coordinator. And optimistic passenger Allan Bentz-Letts said, "It looks ugly with all the scrap metal around, but think about what it could be with parks, cafes and a river walk."

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