Home-grown Solar Energy
AstroPower is the only solar electric company in the US that has not yet been taken over by a giant oil company. AstroPower’s systems run everything from golf carts in New Mexico, gas stations in Britain and villages in Nepal, to the towering skyscraper that houses the Freiburg Train Station in Germany, the Los Angeles Convention Center and the 100 kW rooftop system atop the Powerlight Co. in Berkeley, California. Shea Homes, Inc., one of the country’s largest homebuilders, is including AstroPower’s SunChoice(tm) panels on 100 new houses being constructed in San Diego. While the “dot.com economy” was crashing in 2000, AstroPower saw its net earnings increase nearly 53 percent. The company has invested $500,000 of those profits in a private equity fund to help solar electric power companies in developing countries. Putting the recycling ethic to work, AstroPower harvests the silicon for its panels from discarded computer equipment. [Solar Park, Newark, Delaware, US 19716-2000, www.astropower.com]
A World Environmental Court
The idea began in 1968, at the World Court in Rome. It received a boost in 1986 with the creation of the International Court for the Environment Foundation, chaired by Italian Supreme Court Judge Amedeo Postiglione. On January 22, 2001, the Biopolitics International Organization issued a formal resolution calling for the creation of an International Court for the Environment. The resolution has been endorsed by Equipe Cousteau and other groups [BIO, 10 Tim. Vassou, Athens 11521, Greece; ICEF Secretariat, Corte Suprema di Cassazione, Piazza Cavour, 1, 00193 Rome, Italy, www.xcom.it/icef]
Save the Airwaves
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chair Michael Powell wants to increase the number of radio, TV and newspapers a corporation can own in a single town. Meanwhile there are plans afoot to “privatize” the public airways by allowing current holders of broadcast licenses to "sublease” broadcast windows to paying customers. Senator Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC) is proposing legislation to halt this march toward monopoly and theft of public resources. As Democratic leader of the Senate Commerce Committee, Hollings has introduced a bill to limit the number of broadcast outlets a company can own. Current laws allow a single corporation to control 35 percent of the national TV audience. Without this cap, says Alan Frank, CEO of the Washington Post-Newsweek Stations, Inc., “we would be left with four corporations dictating what everyone sees throughout the country.”
Humor for Hard Times
The Funny Times [2176 Lee Road, Cleveland Hts, Ohio 44118, (888) FUNNYTIMES, www.funnytimes.com] has produced a plantable protest – seeds for growing your very own “Global Warming BUSH.” Planting instructions call for “clearcutting all available public lands” in order to produce “a bumper crop of profits for billionaires.” (The packet actually contains harmless Kochia trichophylla seeds.) The Funny Times has kindly offered to share these packets with the Journal’s readers. These seed packs are available for a $3 donation to the “Green Pages Fund,” which sponsors tree-planting around the world.
Pull the Plug on ‘Star Wars’
“The time has come to ban the further weaponization of space,” thundered Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). “We must work toward the elimination of all nuclear weapons.” Kucinich has a plan to do just that. While George W. Bush seems heck-bent on violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile accord, Kucinich has introduced the Space Preservation Act of 2001 which would ban all research, testing, manufacturing and deployment of space-based weapons. Kucinich’s campaign is supported by Canada’s foreign Minister John Manley who has called Bush’s space-war plans “dangerous” and maintains that “Canada is unalterably opposed to the weaponization of space.”
Bring Back the OTA!
George W. Bush wanted to permit high arsenic levels in US drinking water because of a lack of “good science” on the dangers. Here’s a remedy: Bring back the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. From 1972 until 1995, the OTA provided Congress with thorough and objective evaluations of the potential impacts of complex scientific and technical issues. The National Council for Science and the Environment [1725 K St., NW, Suite 212, Washington DC 20006, (202) 530-5810, www.ncseonline.org] has called for resurrecting the OTA as the best way of “improving the scientific basis for environmental decisionmaking.” Representative Rush Holt’s (D-NJ) HR 2148 (which has acquired 50 co-sponsors), would revive the OTA with an annual budget of $20 million. [For more information: www.wws.princeton.edu/~ota/.]
Good Ol’ Conservation
The figures are enough to give Dick Cheney a stroke. Instead of rolling blackouts, Californians spent the summer rolling in an excess of electrical power – in large part due to Cheney’s anathema, conservation. Even during the sweltering days of August, one-third of northern Californians cut their power by 20 percent or more. The EPA estimates that if every US home and office followed California’s example and switched to long-lasting, low-energy bulbs, it would save 70 billion kWh and prevent the release of 100 billion pounds of CO2 (equal to removing 10 million cars from US roads).
Follow the Money
Decisions made in Washington can affect water quality, auto pollution, wetlands survival, energy choices and have health impacts that affect the lives of billions of people. It helps to understand how these laws are made – and paid for. Opensecrets.org is the online guide to “money in American elections.” Find out who pays the piper and who calls the tunes. See where your congressmember’s campaign money comes from and watch how they vote on the issues. Learn who received ambassadorships in the Bush White House and why. Review the personal fortunes of members of the Bush cabinet. Opensecrets will keep you posted on the battle for campaign finance reform, bankruptcy reforms, electricity deregulation, gun control, prescription drugs and more. [www.opensecrets.org]
Fight Sprawl: Rebuild Communities
The National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices has spent a lot of time studying what does – and doesn’t – make for a livable, sustainable community. The result is an action plan for New Community Design (NCD) that could undo the urban design mistakes of the past 50 years. “Combining two core elements of Smart Growth, density and quality design can go a long way toward creating the types of communities Americans want to call home,” says NGA Chair and Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening.
Despite their alluring names (“Sunset Village,” “Golden Acres”) most suburban subdivisions fail to offer walkable streets, a sense of community, open spaces, preserved agricultural land and independence from automobiles. Creating sustainable communities will require dismantling obsolete zoning laws, building codes and development impact fees. Although the NCD movement threatens many vested interests, it is proving to be an alternative that offers new investment and economic opportunities.
The latest NCD is now under construction near Louisville, Kentucky. The 130-acre Park DuValle will incorporate 1,100 units of public housing within a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-income neighborhood of 1,200 homes, duplexes and small apartment buildings. The complete NCD report is available from the National Governors Association [Hall of States, 444 N. Capitol St., Washington, DC 20001-1512, (202) 624-5300, http://www.nga.org].
The Zero-Emission Shuttle
If you’re gonna drive, you may as well drive as clean as possible and Professor Shimizu Hiroshi and a crew from Keio University have created a eco-carpoolers dream – a limo-van that runs on lithium batteries and eight wheels. Each wheel has its own motor to decrease transmission loss. Look Japan reports that the KAZ (Keio Advanced Zero-emission vehicle) “has 1.7 times the efficiency of conventional gasoline-powered cars, emits no toxic waste and runs quietly.”
Seattle City Light, one of 2,000 city-owned electric utilities in the US, has vowed to provide its customers with 100MW of 100 percent renewable power. Municipally-owned utilities generally offer better service and lower prices that private stockholder-owned utilities. The power crunch in California has unleashed municipalization campaigns across the western states. For more information, contact the American Local Power Project [www.local.org], the Renewable Energy Policy Project [www.rrpp.org] and the Green Power Network [www.eren.doe.gov/greenpower].
Relearn our History
We have been miseducated with a drumbeat of false parables and selective propaganda. American schools have failed to pass on the stories of the US labor movement. How many of us are familiar with the Knights of Labor? The “Labor Amendment” to the US Constitution (the 13th)? Everyone has heard of the Taft-Hartly law but few are familiar with Norris-LaGuardia (labor’s “Magna Carta”), the worker-protection law that Taft-Hartly demolished.
The Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD) has taken a step to remedy this conscious erasure of working-class struggle and victories by producing a bracing 37-page booklet called Building Unions: Past, Present and Future that revives an amazing hidden history.
The Knights of Labor was a labor union that believed society should be run by consumer and worker cooperatives, not by banks and for-profit corporations. It insisted on equal pay for equal work and its 1 million members were racially integrated – in 1886! The Knights had assembly halls across the country, 120 in Maine alone. The Knights had a name for people who grew wealthy through investments and stock options. They were disdained as the “non-producing class.”
POCLAD also offers a rabble-rousing declaration in the form of a 500-word poster. Fifteen of those words are: “Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched, we cannot know ourselves.” The booklet is available for $2 and the poster for $11 (prices include postage) from POCLAD [Box 246, S. Yarmouth, MA 02664, www.poclad.org].
Saving Family Farms
The mission of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives’ Land Assistance Fund [2769 Church St., East Point, GA 30344, (404) 769-0991, (205) 652-9676] is a noble one: “Land retention and development, especially for African Americans, but essentially for all family farmers.”
For more than 34 years the FSC has helped poor farmers by building rural housing and training centers and by establishing credit unions, enterprise communities, cooperative development centers and marketing opportunities. The FSC claims major credit for the passage of the Minority Farmers Right Act of 1990 and is one of 12 participants in the Mandingo Legacy Forestry Project – a five-year experiment in rural sustainable forestry.
The FSC, working with the Indian Land Working Group, the Intertribal Agricultural Council, the Center for Land Grant Studies, New Farms, the University of Wisconsin and New Mexico State University, is creating a Center for Minority Land and Community Security at Tuskegee University.
Fuel Cells Down Under
H-Power Pacific has produced a line of commercially available fuel cells ranging in size from a 13-watt educational kit to a 4.5-kilowatt cogeneration unit that can power the average energy-hogging American home. The smaller proton-exchange membrane fuel cells run on pure hydrogen while the larger house-sized power packs run on propane or natural gas. Portable fuel cell power units are available in 35-, 50-, 250- and 500-watt units. [http://www.hpowerpacific.com]
Don’t Flush: Squat!
Back in the late 70s, Sym Van der Ryn (who served as State Architect under Governor Jerry Brown) sat down and penned what may be the definitive guide to modern toilets – and the folly of their design. As BBC Wildlife notes, this 124-page “history of easing thyself” became a cult classic replete with “more pictures of loos, lavs, toilets, garderones, closet stools and soakaways than seems reasonable to expect.” The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water, which has been out of print for nearly 25 years, has now been unearthed and rolled out in a new paperback edition. The gist of Van der Ryn’s critique, as summarized by BBC Wildlife, is that the whole concept of sitting in a bathroom and using drinking water to flush excrement is “an enormous waste of resources and a pretty dangerous and inefficient one at that.”
Keep your eyes open for a new label – one that declares the product to be “climate-friendly” or “carbon-neutral.” Companies subscribing to this labeling protocol have agreed to eliminate their carbon emissions by using only non-polluting green energy or purchasing carbon-offsets (investments in solar energy or tree planting). British residents can already purchase carbon-neutral (CN) cars and vacations. In the US, Earthbound Farm offers CN organic foods, Stoneyfield Farm sells CN yogurt, Shaklee sells CN healthcare products, Interface leases CN carpeting and Triplee.com boasts CN airline tickets. In the works: CN fuel-cars, flights, conferences and travel clubs. Contact the Climate Neutral Network [www.climateneutral.com] and Britain’s Carbon Storage Trust/Climate Care [www.co2.org].
Keep An Eye on Congress
Do you want to know if anyone in Washington has proposed legislation to save the lesser big-eyed pond-swallow? Turn on the computer and fire up the Thomas register. Named after Thomas Jefferson and hosted by the Library of Congress, http://thomas.locgov will let you search for legislation by bill number or buzzword. Once you’ve found your bill, Thomas can check on its progress, tell you who is on the committee that will hear it and how every member of the committee has voted. Thomas also posts the daily Congressional Record, provides summaries of all congressional activities and links to other Library of Congress websites.
Natural Clothing is Best
One of the country’s most dynamic clothing companies has gone green in a big way. George Zimmer’s Men’s Warehouse chain – which got its start catering to the needs of traveling businessfolk – has joined forces with Laury Ostrow, the creator of Chi Pants, to offer “a new genre in clothing that offers an alternative to all other currently available men’s clothing.” Using organic cotton and long-lasting hemp fibers and styled for comfort, the Chi Wear line of pants, shirts, shorts and pullovers initially will be sold over the Web. The Men’s Warehouse hopes to have Chi Wear in its 500 US stores by spring. Chi Wear clothing is manufactured in plants in the southeastern US, providing work to areas “hard hit by the global economy.”
“It makes me ill that cotton is the number-one sprayed crop per acre in the world, Zimmer explains. “We are in the business of clothing. Chi Wear and Men’s Warehouse have the power to do something about it.” [Chi Wear, 71 Mariner Green Dive., Corte Madera, CA 94925, (415) 927-1116, www.chi-wear.com]
A New Apollo Project
George Bush has spurned the Kyoto Protocol, falsely claiming that saving the world from a growing climate disaster would cost the US economy money and jobs. Britain, meanwhile, is on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions 21.5 percent from 1990 levels by 2010 and the Netherlands is aiming for an 80 percent reduction by 2050. In order to avoid a climatic apocalypse, the prestigious International Panel on Climate Change has warned, that the entire world must match the Dutch example.
In their book Stormy Weather authors Guy Dauncy and Patrick Mazza argue that the world needs to “become excited about moving into an age of ecological restoration powered by sunlight and hydrogen.” This effort could be modeled after NASA’s Apollo Project, which sent men to the moon. The goal of this New Apollo Project would aim to make clean energy “cheaper than fossil fuels by 2005 and to generate 80 percent of the world’s energy by 2025.”
Toxic Solvents Displaced by Water
Many pharmaceuticals, plastics and consumer goods are made from petrochemicals in manufacturing processes that use toxic solvents such as benzene, hydrocarbons and dioxane. Tulane Chemistry Professor Shao-June Li has discovered a method to use water in place of these toxic solvents. The process is cheaper and it doesn’t produce toxic vapors. Professor Li was recently honored with the EPA’s Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award. [Tulane University, 6823 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118, (504) 865-5000]
Biodiesel Buys On-line
Want to fuel your Honda Prius with biodiesel but don’t know where to turn? Try the Alternative Energy Auction [www.gogobid.com], which offers biodiesel bids from producers around the world. This free, Canadian-based site also offers biodiesel information and discussion groups. GoGoBid Founder Paul Dickson explains, “I want to inspire others to use alternative fuels that benefit our environment. Perhaps alternative fuel would increase in popularity if it were more widely available.”
Clean Air Plants
Modern homes are filled with chemical vapors from paint, carpets, furniture, dyes, adhesives, cosmetics, chemical detergents, cleansers and plastic packaging. Turns out there is a simple defense against these unwelcome aromas – house plants. Bill Wolverton became interested in using plants to cleanse the air when he worked at NASA trying to devise ways to keep the air fresh in space ships. Wolverton’s research – finally published as a book, How to Grow Fresh Air (Penguin Books) – identifies house plants that can be used to combat molds, mildew, bacteria and chemicals. Bamboo palms remove benzene and trichloroethlene, Boston Ferns eliminate formaldehyde and chrysantemums help to flush ammonia from the air.
Compute your Emissions
Running a large refrigerator for a year creates as much pollution as taking a car trip from Las Vegas to Chicago. Travelling just one mile in an airplane produces 1.08 pounds of greenhouse gases per passenger. These are some of the disclosures available on the AirHead website. AirHead [http://www.airhead.org] invites visitors to plug in personal lifestyle information to calculate the CO2 impact. The AirHead site lists the pollution impacts of more than 70,000 products.