Finally Starting to Care

Power Lines

EC File Photo

We have been in an energy crisis for a long time now. It is about time that we put in place some new plans about what to do.

News From Indian Country reported that solar power is starting to make its move on the traditional oil and gas companies that are in this area. Ever since petroleum was found in this area the oil and gas companies have been pillaging the land that we love so dearly. It is nice to see that people are finally going to wake up and change to a clean and efficient form of energy.

We cannot just switch to one method of energy, and as we start switching to more sustainable forms of energy we need to learn as much about these new forms as possible. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that, “Utah will be getting $16.6 million in grants for energy conservation and research into geothermal energy and carbon capture.” A portion of that money is going to go to Utah State University for energy research. That is a great way to spend this money, if we do not know what we are going to change to then it definitely will not happen.

The Vail Daily reported that the people of Pitkin and Eagle counties voted for a program designed to help out with investing in renewable energy and renewable energy projects. It is nice to see these communities come together and care enough to spend this money, totaling about $7 million, on such good causes.

If we do not start the ball rolling on these energy issues we will be too late to do anything about them. These three articles show that people are starting to care. Without your vote we will not be able to get the projects in place, so when you have a chance get out there and show your support for a greener tomorrow.

– Royce Johnson

Poisoning Wildlife

photo by Liz Grogan

photo by Liz Grogan

Bad news for prairie and mountain predators: according to an article in the High Country News, the Environmental Protection Agency has approved the use of Kaput-D and Rozol, brutal rodenticides that target prairie dogs. The poisons work a bit like the Ebola virus, causing massive hemorrhaging through every pore in the rodent’s body. Upon ingestion of the poison, it may take several days or weeks for the prairie dog to die. In the meantime, the rodent gets weak and more susceptible to predators. If the predators consume a poisoned prairie dog, they could become poisoned themselves. The Center for Biological Diversity has made their stance on the poison clear: the EPA should withdraw prairie dog poisons, not approve more. Poisoning prairie dogs can have devastating effects on a wide range of animals, including: whooping cranes, American burying beetles, foxes, golden eagles, bald eagles, hawks, mountain plovers, burrowing owls, coyotes, bears, wolves, and black footed ferrets, just to name a few.

Pollution is also poisoning Rocky Mountain wildlife. An article in the Salt Lake Tribune claims that excess nitrogen due to fertilizers and vehicle exhaust is causing algae populations in Rocky Mountain lakes to boom. An excess of algae results in high-nitrogen but low-phosphorus “junk food” for fish and microorganism. The low nutrient diet threatens endangered fish species, like the cutthroat trout. Scientists are studying the impact for the rest of the mountain ecosystem in order to determine how best to solve the problem.

It’s not all doom and gloom for wildlife in the Four Corners. The Arizona Daily Sun has good news for endangered Mexican wolves. In order to increase public support for the Mexican wolf reintroduction program in Arizona, federal wildlife officials and the National Fish and Wildlife Federation have agreed to start a trust fund for ranchers in the Southwest. The fund, estimated to be a few million dollars, will both compensate ranchers for livestock losses and contribute to improved security. A Mexican wolf reintroduction program was started in 1998, with 50 wild wolves now roaming Arizona and New Mexico. Wildlife officials are hoping the trust fund will satisfy ranchers and keep them from illegally killing the wolves.

Liz Grogan

The Missing Lynx

Drawing by Liz Grogan

Lynx and Bobcat - by Liz Grogan

The San Juan Mountain range has lost yet another endangered lynx. Early in October, a four year old male lynx was killed with a bow and arrow near Silverton. He is just one of many lynx that are unable to survive in their Rocky Mountain home.

The last native lynx died in the Colorado Rockies around 1973, but in the past decade officials have released over 200 cats from Canada in a precarious reintroduction program. The lynx have been struggling to survive due to climate problems, habitat destruction, and, occasionally, illegal hunting.

While lynx are federally protected, their close cousins the bobcats are not.  Lynx and bobcats look very similar, especially from a distance, but there are a few key characteristics that distinguish them. Lynx are larger, with longer, solid grey fur. Bobcats are more colorful; their coats are a reddish-grey color, and have more prominent spots. Lynx have shorter tails than the bobcat’s, and are not striped.  Unfortunately, the most distinguishing features of the lynx, the black ear tufts, are difficult to see unless you’re right up next to them.

Lynx are also facing difficulties due to climate change. Warmer temperatures at higher altitudes, paired with decreased precipitation, means snow cover is shallower. The lynx prey almost entirely on snowshoe hares, and are perfectly adapted to hunt the animals through deep snow drifts. However, as snow depth decreases, the hares are unable to hide from competing predators. As a result, opportunistic predators such as coyotes easily snatch up the prey, leaving lynx to starve. Survival rates for lynx are alarmingly low. In Canada, where lynx are relatively numerous, up to 80 percent do not live longer than 3 years. It may not be a problem for the natural lynx in Canada, but it’s a huge problem for those in our San Juan Mountains.

Lynx already struggle to survive; the least we can do is ensure we do not directly contribute to their deaths. Just by learning the differences between lynx and bobcats, and not shooting when in doubt, hunters can play their part in protecting the beautiful Rocky Mountain lynx.

– Liz Grogan

Costumed Mass of Bikers in Durango

The beginning of the bike ride at Buckley Park. Photo by Oliver Luneau

The beginning of the bike ride at Buckley Park. Photo by Oliver Luneau

Critical mass (CM) biking is a worldwide event occurring on the last Friday of every month in over 300 cities around the world including Durango. The Friday before Halloween, October 30, a large group of costumed bikers left Buckley Park with their mind set on stopping traffic and having fun. Critical Mass biking began in San Francisco 1992 to bring attention to the unfriendliness of cities towards bikers but it now has no single clearly defined goal.

The only universal trait of every Critical Mass ride is the group of bikers riding through town. There are no assigned leaders and no strict organization which is part of what allows the monthly event to remain unhindered by the authorities. The rides around the world vary by size greatly. Durango has one of the smallest rides because of the amount of people living here, although it would be great to change that. It’s important to realize that CM is about riding, having fun, and asserting bikers right to the road, and not about making trouble or law breaking. The ride starts at Main and Twelfth Street, Buckley Park, every last Friday of the month, assuming the weather allows it.

There is no set route for the ride and often times the leader is the person in the front. Participation is extremely important because without a “Critical Mass” that can stop motorized vehicles there is no ride.

Photo by Ashlee Robinson

Photo by Ashlee Robinson

Durango loves to celebrate Halloween and nothing gets people in the spirit like a crazy bike ride through town. Winter has started there will be no more Critical Mass rides this year. There were around thirty five participants in the Halloween ride and I hope to see large numbers of bikers there in the future. To learn more about the history of Critical Mass biking visit the Wikipedia page.

Photo by Ashlee Robinson

Photo by Ashlee Robinson

– Oliver Luneau

Eat Your Dog?

photo by Liz Grogan

photo by Liz Grogan

Earlier this year, two sustainability advocates in New Zealand released a shocking new book: Time to Eat the Dog: the Real Guide to Sustainable Living. The authors, Robert and Brenda Vale, don’t actually condone eating our canine friends; the book merely assesses the huge impact they have on the environment. A medium sized dog, for example, has an ecological footprint of 0.84 hectares, more than twice that of an SUV (although the book does ignore the fact that most dog foods are made from the leftovers of ordinary meat and grain processing, which would otherwise go to waste). The authors propose that in order to be sustainable we should focus our resources on “useful pets” such as chickens, and ditch our relatively useless dogs and cats.

While it is undeniable that pets can have a negative impact, many people like me find it impossible to imagine living in a world without them. Over the years, we have bred dogs and cats to rely almost entirely on humans, and we now have an obligation to care for them. Pets are also beneficial for humans, providing services such as guarding houses and livestock, aid for the disabled, and, most importantly, companionship.

Eating our pets seems like a radical idea to me. Fortunately, it is easy to make your pets environmentally friendly. Here are just a few of the ways to reduce the ecological footprint of man’s best friend:

1) Choose your pet’s diet carefully. Most cheap dog foods contain waste meats and grains, and are extremely unhealthy for the animal. Instead of buying processed food, you can feed your pets a “raw diet,” just like their cousins dine on every day. Your dog will require a lot less food, because he won’t be eating fillers. If you buy local meats, you will be supporting the economy as well as the environment. Just don’t forget that dogs also need plant material – vegetables, fruits and calcium – in order to stay healthy. Consult your veterinarian to ensure your pets get the nutrition they need.

2) A raw diet is not for every dog. Animals with compromised immune systems, for example, cannot handle the bacteria in raw meat. If you are concerned about health, or unwilling to feed Fido raw meat, look for a local or green pet food business. For more information on buying environmentally friendly pet food, visit The Green Guide. In Durango, Zuke’s offers a wide variety of healthy and all-natural treats for dogs and cats.

3) Toys, beds, blankets, shampoos, and everything else your dog needs to be happy are also available in environmentally friendly forms. Some online lists of green toys are GreatGreenPet.com and OliveGreenDog.com. Better yet, find a local store that makes and sells dog toys, or make your own.

4) Adopt pets from animal shelters, and always spay or neuter them. There are millions of animals in shelters around the country, and although puppies may be adorable, breeding your animals just contributes to the pet overpopulation problem.

5) Pets can be devastating for local wildlife. Teach dogs not to attack small animals, and keep them on a leash whenever they’re away from the yard. Clean up after your dog on walks, and dispose of the waste in biodegradable bags. Finally, bells attached to your pet’s collar work as excellent intruder warnings for small animals.

Dogs may have a negative impact on the environment, but that’s no reason to go out and destroy them. Even a dog, at 0.83 hectares, has a smaller global footprint than a human – the average estimate for the United States is 9.7 hectares per person!

– Liz Grogan

Honeybees and Ice Cream

EC File Photo

EC File Photo

What does eating ice cream and a recent crisis involving a lack of honey bees have in common? A lot!

Many businesses may overlook their reliance on wildlife and nature to support production, marketing, and creation of consumer products.   It’s a little known fact that up to 80% of food in the US relies on pollination at some point in its life cycle, and that honey bees are directly responsible for the pollination of up to 30% of food crops.  Foods that are reliant upon honeybees range from alfalfa (used as feed for beef), oranges, grapes, almonds, blueberries, watermelon, squash, cherries, cucumbers, pears, peanuts, strawberries, ginger, hazelnuts, raspberries, mangoes, coconuts, peppermint,  and of course honey, just to name a few.  This free source of labor allows for cheaper prices and greater availability of all-natural food sources.

Over the past 3 years, nearly one-third of America’s once-thriving honey bee colonies have suddenly collapsed.  The phenomenon, named Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), is only just beginning to be understood by scientists, but its effects on businesses and consumers have been felt strongly.  It’s estimated that honey bees contribute $15 billion worth of value to U.S. farmers, and in their absence, these costs have been absorbed by consumers and producers resulting in lower production and higher prices of foods reliant on honey bee pollination.

One company that has taken a pro-active stance to this crisis is Häagen-Dazs, the gourmet and all natural ice cream producers from New York.  Häagen-Dazs has recognized their strong dependence on the free work of honey bees to provide large harvests of many of their main ingredients and spearheaded a campaign to educate and promote awareness on the issue.  They even launched a new flavor in honor of the honeybees, “Vanilla Honey Bee.”

In a worst case scenario, the honeybee population diminishes to the point to where businesses like Häagen-Dazs must resort to artificial pollination- a very expensive procedure- and the variety and abundance of naturally growing fruit and nut trees is significantly reduced.  Häagen-Dazs’s Brand Director, Katty Pien , said in February 2008 interview with CNN that she hopes scientists get a breakthough in the CCD mystery soon, or the company may be forced to reduce the varieties of flavors, or increase the retail prices of their ice cream products.  With the $20 million per year of funding from the US Department of Agriculture, and a growing recognition of honeybees’ hard work on behalf of businesses like Häagen-Dazs as well as from consumers, causes of CCD, hopefully, will be identified, and the honeybee population restored.  And the little known heroes of the business world will continue to bring us benefits.

-Elizabeth Stone

To learn more about this topic and to learn how you can help check out these links,

http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1843823,00.html

http://www.helpthehoneybees.com/#buzz

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1918282,00.html

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1552024-2,00.html

http://money.cnn.com/2008/02/17/news/companies/bees_icecream/index.htm?postversion=2008021712

http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/blogs/bees/almonds-55021301

Compost King: San Francisco

EC file photo

EC file photo

According to Mother Nature Network, the city of San Francisco has taken a novel approach to a long known fact of human beings: we generate waste.  On October 21st the city of San Francisco made composting mandatory for all citizens.  Although fines won’t be enforced until early 2010, the new law is an effort to push the city closer to its goal of producing zero-waste by 2020.  Cities are the biggest offenders in generating waste.  In San Francisco the solution to this problem has turned out to be quite dramatic.  The city will no longer sweep the issue aside, but, instead, will send most of their compostable waste to a facility in Vacaville, CA, where gardeners, farmers, and vintners can buy the end product for their crops.  San Francisco has made it easy for citizens to comply with the new ordinance by distributing three different bins to each household: blue for recycling, green for compost, and black for trash.

This new composting push is a simple idea that fosters sustainable behavior. San Francisco already boasts a 72 percent recycling rate.  SolveClimate.com reported on a recent study showed that 36 percent of the city’s landfill garbage is food waste, while 31 percent is paper. Food waste is a major concern that needs to be dealt with. Rather than simply informing the public and hoping they make the right decision, the city took a direct approach because the deadline for their zero-waste commitment is fast approaching. Residents can no longer feign ignorance about the problems waste creates.

The new ordinance is anticipated to dramatically increase recycling within a city that already boasts the highest recycling rate in the nation. Some estimates figure that as much as 90 percent of all waste generated within city limits will avoid the landfill.  Hopefully citizens who have not composted, or recycled in the past, will do so now. Thus, we find the idealized concept of a zero-waste community becoming a reality. It’s a new chapter of sustainability in the United States and hopefully one that will catch on in other metropolitan areas.

– Caryna Pourier

Copenhagen Protocol

Oxfam Blogs Climate Cartoon

Oxfam Blogs Climate Cartoon

The Climate Summit happened October 27th in Copenhagen, Denmark.  The Summit is a precursor to the creation of the Copenhagen Protocol.  The Kyoto Protocol was enacted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in order to combat global warming.  The Kyoto Protocol has many critics due to some major shortcomings.  The United States and China were, originally, uninvolved which set back the effectiveness of the protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol set desired percentages for green house gas (GHG) reduction for all participating countries to meet.  Many of the projected changes in GHG created by the Kyoto Protocol are not on track for the end date.  The Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, and the Copenhagen Protocol will begin.  The Climate Summit in Copenhagen is designed to create solutions to the problems of the Kyoto Protocol so that the Copenhagen Protocol will be more effective.

Nearly 8000 people representing 170 countries are expected to attend the conference in Copenhagen.  The conference will be powered completely by local windmills.  Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s Minister of Climate and Energy, is the host of the conference.

The politicians will base their decisions on information provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is based in Geneva, Switzerland.  The IPCC is known for its supply of information to countries around the world.  The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their efforts to educate the world about man-made climate change.  To learn more about the IPCC check out their website at www.ipcc.ch.

The conference will provide important planning for the Copenhagen Protocol and will lead to both climate awareness and future positive change.  This climate summit is the beginning of serious environmental change that will come when the world agrees to participate in the Copenhagen Protocol.

– Oliver Luneau