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Net Gain: Fighting Ocean Pollution

Three American entrepreneurs fight ocean plastic pollution by upcycling discarded fishing nets into skateboards

Ben Kneppers paused as he strolled around a music festival in Santiago, Chile. In front of him was a booth where local kids could repair damaged skateboards, making them ride-able again rather than throwing them away. Kneppers, an environmental consultant originally from Massachusetts, was impressed by the project. And as an avid boarder himself, he admired the kids gliding and kick-turning along a stretch of pavement with their refurbished boards.

Then he got an idea.

He and two friends had been talking for months about finding a way to address the issue of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans by starting a business making products out of that trash. “I thought, ‘Wow, maybe skateboards could be our product,’” he says. “It would be a great tool for educating the younger generation on this issue.”

photo of discarded plasticphoto by Kevin AhearnDiscarded fishing nets on the Chilean coastline

Fast-forward 18 months, Kneppers and his business partners, Dave Stover and Kevin Ahearn, have started a skateboard company they named Bureo, which means "the waves" in Mapudungun, the language of the Mapuche, the native people of Chile. They recently shipped their first batch of skateboards, the Bureo Minnow Cruiser, to select shops in California, Chicago, and New York.

What makes the Minnow different from dozens of other skateboards is the fact that it’s built from trash. The board’s 25-inch skatedeck is made out of recycled plastic fishing nets. What makes Bureo different from most companies is that it’s just as focused on its recycling mission as it is on selling its product. Kneppers, Stover, and Ahearn – who grew up near beaches in the United States – formed the company with a mission to do something positive to address the growing problem of ocean plastic pollution. 

“As surfers who have spent our lives around the ocean, we have a deep connection with the ocean,” Stover said. “We needed a product that would support our idea for a sustainable collection and recycling program and make a skateboard fit our mission to address this problem in a positive way.”

The group decided to focus on recycling fishing nets because 10 percent of the ocean’s plastic waste comes from fishing gear and because the nets can harm marine life: dolphins, sea turtles, and seals can get tangled in them and often die.  Chilean fishers typically …more

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Plastic Bag Industry Campaigning to Overturn California’s Plastic Bag Ban

Big Plastic, which stands to lose big profits, wants to get a referendum on the November 2016 ballot

Governor Jerry Brown made history in September when he signed SB 270, making California the first state in the nation to ban plastic shopping bags. Unsurprisingly, the plastic bag industry isn’t going quietly into the night. Instead, it is trying to get a referendum on the November 2016 ballot that would overturn the ban. The American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), a group of American plastic bag manufacturers, is leading the referendum charge, working to collect the required 504,000-plus signatures by December 29 of this year.

Plastic Bag Ban RallyPhoto by Heal the BayA man covered in plastic bags at a 2012 plastic bag ban rally in Los Angeles.

If the APBA fails to gather the necessary signatures, SB 270 implementation will begin in July 2015 with a ban on plastic bags in large grocery stores. Customers will also be charged 10 cents for a paper bag. And beginning in January 2016, plastic bags will be banned in convenience stores and pharmacies as well. The bill exempts low-income Californians using California’s food assistance program from the paper bag charge. Trying to ease the transition for bag manufacturers, the law also provides $2 million in loans to California-based bag manufacturers making the change to reusable bags.

If Big Plastic succeeds in placing a referendum on the ballot, implementation of SB 270 will automatically be delayed until 2017.

Californian’s Against Waste, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction, estimates that the plastic bag lobby has already spent $1 million on the referendum effort, primarily on paid signature collectors, and may end up spending as much as $3 to 5 million. The group has also received reports that paid signature collectors are misleading voters about the referendum. Job postings on Craigslist support this charge. One posting in Sonoma County, for example, offers $1.50 per signature, and reads: “I have a state referendum for voting on the plastic bag ban. It is basically to reverse the ban, but the way you pitch is to vote on it whether you want it or not.”

The APBA has also gone so far as to argue that plastic bags are the best environmental option, referring to plastic bags on its website as the “environmentally-friendly choice.”

"Senator Padilla’s bill was never legislation about the environment. It was a back room deal between the grocers and …more

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US and China Strike Deal on Carbon Cuts in Push for Global Climate Change Pact

Barack Obama aims for reduction of a quarter or more by 2025, while Xi Jinping sets goal for emissions to fall after 2030

The United States and China have unveiled a secretly negotiated deal to reduce their greenhouse gas output, with China agreeing to cap emissions for the first time and the US committing to deep reductions by 2025.

The pledges in an agreement struck between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jingping, provide an important boost to international efforts to reach a global deal on reducing emissions beyond 2020 at a United Nations meeting in Paris next year.

Obama at US embassey in ChinaPhoto by Official White House Photo by Pete SouzaPresident Barack Obama shakes hands with staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, Nov. 10, 2014. The pledges by China and the US provide an important boost to international efforts to reach a global deal on reducing emissions beyond 2020 at a United Nations meeting in Paris next year.

China, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, has agreed to cap its output by 2030 or earlier if possible. Previously China had only ever pledged to reduce the rapid rate of growth in its emissions. Now it has also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-emission sources to 20 percent by 2030.

The United States has pledged to cut its emissions to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The European Union has already endorsed a binding 40 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction target by 2030.

chart showing emmissions

Speaking at a joint press conference at the Great Hall of the People, Obama said: “As the world’s largest economies and greatest emitters of greenhouse gases we have special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change. I am proud we can announce a historic agreement. I commend President Xi, his team and the Chinese government for their making to slow, peak and then reverse China’s carbon emissions.”

He said the US emissions reductions goal was “ambitious but achievable” and would double the pace at which it is reducing carbon emissions.

“This is a major milestone in US-China relations and shows what is possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge.”

He added that they hoped “to encourage all major economies to be ambitious and all developed and developing countries to work across divides” so that an agreement …more

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PR Firm to Advise New York Oil & Gas Group to “Win Ugly”

Leaked transcript shows energy companies will be told to make the fight against fracking opponents personal

A PR firm well known for its hardball tactics in defense of Big Tobacco will deliver the keynote address at tonight’s Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York’s (IOGA-NY) annual conference in Buffalo. The same talk titled, “Big Green Radicals: Exposing Environmental Groups,” was presented at the Western Energy Alliance annual meeting in Colorado this summer. Richard Berman, president of the consulting firm Berman and Company, told the audience of oil and gas executives that they were engaged in “an endless war,” and warned that, “You can either win ugly or lose pretty.”

Anti-fracking protest in Albany, NY Photo by eranderson428/FlickrAn anti-fracking rally in front of the New York State Assembly in Albany in 2013. Berman and Company’s strategy fails to recognize that long before celebrities were touring gas fields, local landowners, farmers, and activists had already started asking questions about the merits of fracking.

(The title of tonight’s talk is, “Big Green Radicals: Winning Public Opinion, Undermining the Activist’s Credibility & Changing the Debate”). A transcript from the Western Energy Alliance event was leaked to the New York Times and Bloomberg News in October.

Anti-fracking groups in Buffalo plan to protest outside of the Hyatt Regency where the IOGA conference is being held. According to a press release from ReEnergize Buffalo, one of the organizers of the protest, “The oil and gas industry doesn’t have science behind them so companies resort to lies and innuendo invented by high-priced PR firms.” IOGA New York Director Brad Gill told the Albany Times Union that Berman and Company was booked long before the recent stories in The NYT and Bloomberg. “They have a lot of heavy-hitter clients, but we are not one of them,” he told the paper.

The presentation before the Western Energy Alliance outlines a new ad campaign launched by Berman that seeks to undermine the anti-fracking movement by exposing the so-called double standards and hypocrisy of celebrities who have taken up the cause. For example a billboard in Pennsylvania features an image of Yoko Ono and asks the question, “Would you take energy advice from the woman who broke up The Beatles?” Another billboard targets Robert Redford and says, “Demands green living. Flies on private jets.”

Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, saw some of the ads when she was in western …more

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Smoke ‘Em Out: Time to Kick Big oil from the Global Climate Talks

The climate movement could learn some lessons from the fight against Big Tobacco

At 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, September 21, the 400,000 people gathered for the People’s Climate March in New York City took a moment of silence for those whose lives have already been lost because of climate change. The silence swept up Central Park West from Columbus Circle to 85th Street. A quiet fell among the Indigenous activists and solar power advocates, the high school students and octogenarians, all packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Ten seconds, 20 seconds, nearly a minute passed. Then, in the distance, a sound, quiet at first, but growing second-by-second until it surrounded us: shouts, hollers, and whoops sounding the alarm about our overheating planet. People around me cheered and hugged, tears streaming down faces. It was heartbreaking; it was exhilarating. We were not alone. We were legion.

People's Climate March in NYCPhoto by South Bend VoiceThe People's Climate March in New York City in September was the largest expression of popular concern about the climate crisis the world has ever seen. But a march alone doesn’t make history.

Organizers called the New York City march the largest climate demonstration ever. Add to that the 2,646 satellite demonstrations from Berlin to Burundi, and the day’s actions were certainly the largest expression of popular concern about the crisis the world has ever seen.

Of course, a march alone doesn’t make history. To do that will require directly confronting the powerful fossil fuel interests that are central culprits in the crisis. Such a confrontation will, among other things, mean kicking the carbon polluters out of the climate negotiating rooms. A huge task, for sure. But we can take courage, and learn lessons, from the brave public-health activists who took on Big Tobacco.

For much of the twentieth century, Big Tobacco had done what Big Oil and King Coal are doing now: stalling regulation of a product that was killing millions a year. By the 1980s, the outcry against Big Tobacco had resulted in movement at the global level as The World Health Assembly began to develop the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Civil society organizations such as Corporate Accountability International (for which I am an adviser) understood that in order to ensure the treaty had teeth, Big Tobacco couldn’t be involved in its framing. But there were divided camps. Some felt it would be impossible to kick Big Tobacco out of the …more

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New Oil & Gas Industry Intel Network Circumvents FOIA law

Now the public has no way of finding out what kind of information is being circulated among network members or with the federal government

What if the private sector banded together to create its own intelligence sharing networks exempt from FOIA law and public accountability?

In the last decade a number of different industries ranging from financial services and health care to nuclear energy and defense have created what are known as Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs). They allow member companies to share information anonymously without fear that it will be subject to FOIA requests or anti-trust violations. Now the oil and gas industry is getting in on the act.

view thorugh a spyholePhoto by Vince PooleyInformation Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs)created by private industries allow member companies to share information anonymously without fear that it will be subject to FOIA requests or anti-trust violations.

In late June, the oil and gas industry announced the creation of an ISAC. According to the group’s website the ONG-ISAC, “is being created to provide shared intelligence on cyber incidents, threats, vulnerabilities, and associated responses present throughout our industry.” The website explains that the analysis center is built around four core principles, among them, “anonymous submissions” and “protection from FOIA disclosure and anti-trust violations.” This is apparently a hallmark of private sector intelligence-sharing networks, even though they continue to share information with government agencies. An ISAC primer published by Booz Allen Hamilton states, “ISACs operate in a manner to protect members from anti-trust violations and Freedom of Information Act queries.”

David Frazier, the chairman of the newly formed ONG-ISAC and director of information technology for Halliburton, told a cybersecurity website that the group, “Will provide industry participants a secure way to share information and stay connected with law enforcement agencies.” So far, according to the Houston Chronicle, at least 25 oil and gas companies have signed on, with membership rates ranging from $2,000 to $50,000 a year.

The first ISAC was established in 1999 to help facilitate the sharing of information between the financial services sector and the federal government. (The Financial Services ISAC now has some 4,500 members and has obtained more than 250 Secret level clearances for key financial services sector personnel, according to congressional testimony in March). After 9/11 the mandate was greatly expanded to encourage “the development of information sharing and analysis mechanisms” between the public and private sectors. But the private sector was reluctant …more

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High up in the Himalayas, Villagers Live Under the Shadow of An Unpredictable Lake

As glacial lakes around the world grow bigger and deeper, high altitude communities are increasingly at risk from catastrophic flooding

Chorabjor stared at me with gimlet eyes. Why had I come?, he asked through a translator. To learn about Lake Shako Cho, I replied. He signaled me to move closer. I sat down at his side on a low bench covered by a yak hair carpet. A woman brought over a tub of biscuits and placed them in front of us. Chorabjor (who, by local custom, goes by only one name) was until recently the headman, or Pipon, the most powerful man, of Lachen, a village of about 1,000 people, in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, near the Tibetan border. He’s “above the law,” my guide had told me. “The police can’t arrest anyone without his permission.” Such a man, I thought, would surely know about threats to the safety of this region.

Sikkim's Thangu Village, surrounded by the HimalayasAll photos by Dan GrossmanThangu, a small village of about 100 homes in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, is perched precariously below Lake Shako Cho, a glacial lake which is at high risk of breaching.

Lake Shako Cho, upstream from Lachen, is growing, said Chorabjor. The natural gravel embankment holding the contents inside could burst at any time, releasing a tidal wave of water. Thangu, a village of about 100 homes immediately below the lake, would be obliterated. The ensuing flood could also demolish houses here, 11 miles farther downstream, especially those near to the unstable bluffs of the lake-fed river that runs just east of town.

I’d heard of Shako Cho from Christian Huggel, a Swiss geographer who has studied the recession of glaciers in the Himalayas, the Andes and elsewhere. Huggel had published a study showing that this particular lake was at high risk of causing a “GLOF,” or glacial lake outburst flood – a type of flood that occurs when a natural dam holding in a glacial lake fails. Climate change has drastically increased the likelihood of GLOFs, which pose a major risk to mountain communities living near or downhill from glacial lakes.

We are already well aware that global warming is decimating mountain glaciers almost everywhere on Earth. In Peru, glaciers of the Cordillera Blanca have shrunk by 20-30 percent since 1970. Today they’re wasting away by 3 percent per year. In Switzerland, the Alps melted by 12 percent between 1999 and 2008. They lost 3 …more

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