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by E - The Environmental Magazine

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: In recent years the hotel industry began to green up operations, but has it yet gone beyond leaving out little cards to encourage you to re-use your towels and linens?

-- Mason Singer, St. Louis, MO

Some hotels and hotel chains take sustainability more seriously than others, but the industry as a whole has certainly become greener in recent years. Those little cards may seem like token environmentalism, but they can actually result in significant water, waste and cost reductions. The website Economically Sound reports that a 150-room hotel can conserve 72,000 gallons of water and 480 gallons of laundry soap every year by placing the cards in its guest rooms. The Marriott chain reported saving as much as 17 percent in hot water and sewer costs at its hotels thanks to implementation of its Linen Reuse Program.

While many hotels and chains print up their own cards, thousands more purchase them from the Green Hotels Association, a non-profit launched two decades ago to bring together hotels around the
and elsewhere that share a commitment to the environment and sustainable use of natural resources. The organization’s Catalog of Environmental Products for the Lodging Industry contains a wide range of environmentally friendly energy- and water-saving products. For example, 500 laminated copies of the group’s best selling card (asking guests to consider not having sheets changed every day) costs hoteliers just $200. Another example is the toilet tank fill diverter, which saves about 3/4 of a gallon of water per flush while remaining invisible to guests. The little gadgets cost hotels around $1 and as such pay for themselves in no time thanks to reduced water bills. The catalog also features dispensers that eliminate the waste of stocking every bathroom with soap bars and little bottles of hair and skin care products.

Another group promoting a greener hospitality industry is the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which works to improve the quality of tourism around the world. Under its Environment Initiative, WTTC aims to solidify a global vision on how the tourism industry can foster sustainable development. It has been especially pro-active around the mitigation of carbon emissions and last year, along with the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) and 12 major hotel chains including Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Starwood, launched the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative, which aims to help hotels reduce, measure and communicate their carbon footprints. This is particularly relevant, says WTTC, for hotels’ corporate clients who want to quantify the carbon footprints of their hotel stays, meetings and events.

Another positive trend is the Four Seasons’ 10 Million Trees Initiative. The hotel chain is celebrating its 50th anniversary by planting 10 million trees across the 34 countries in which it operates with the hope that the effort will help combat deforestation and global warming and attract more customers concerned about the state of the planet.

Beyond what the major chains are doing, eco lodges run by or in partnership with native people or tribes have popped up all over the tropics and beyond; examples include Guludo Beach Lodge in Mozambique, Africa and Posada Amazonas in the Peruvian Amazon. Staying at such a place is a good way to ensure that locals can benefit from tourism and not be tempted to pillage their region’s natural resource base.

CONTACTS: Economically Sound, www.economicallysound.com; Green Hotels Association, www.greenhotels.com; WTTC, www.wttc.org;
ITP, www.tourismpartnership.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: The world added its seven-billionth person in 2011, but the news came and went quickly while Charlie Sheen news kept on and on. But isn’t population growth the “elephant in the room” that needs serious attention? Can you outline the major impacts of unchecked population growth and what if anything is being done to try to arrest it? -- Aaron Rodriguez,
Tucson, AZ

Unchecked human population growth could be a recipe for doom for the planet and its inhabitants. And it has reached staggering levels in recent years—the number of people on the planet has doubled from 3.5 billion to seven billion in just a half century. While we’ve made great strides in educating people around the world about family planning and birth control, the global fertility rate still hovers around 2.5 children per woman. At that rate, population will grow to 11 billion by 2050 and nearly 27 billion by 2100.

While such a scenario is unlikely given that fertility rates tend to decline as countries develop and modernize, the prospect of a planet with tens of billions of people on it is scary indeed. The first widely published pundit on the potential impacts of too much human population growth was Englishman Thomas Malthus, whose 1798 “An Essay on the Principle of Human Population” warned that violence, genocide, nasty weather, disease epidemics and pestilence would be precursors to widespread famine in a world with too many humans. “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race,” he wrote.

History views Malthus as an extremist and many would argue that, despite population having swelled some seven times since his day, we have so far managed to avert a planet-wide “Malthusian catastrophe” whereby population has simply outpaced our ability to feed ourselves. Nonetheless, a 2007 UNICEF report indicated that 10.9 million children under five-years-old die each year around the world, with malnutrition and other hunger-related diseases responsible for 60 percent of the tragedy. And a 2009 World Health Organization and UNICEF study found that some 24,000 children in developing countries were dying each day from preventable causes like diarrhea resulting from lack of access to clean water for drinking and sanitation.

The most obvious issue with seven billion of us here is our profligate consumption of dwindling natural resources and the waste and pollution generated in the process. A recent joint study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Worldwatch Institute found that humans now use 20 percent more renewable resources than can be replaced each year. And while many would say that climate change has eclipsed overpopulation as the major issue of the day, others counter that atmospheric temperatures wouldn’t be growing nearly as much if there weren’t so darn many of us burning so many fossil fuels.

Human population numbers are predicted to trend downward around the world within a few generations. This so-called “demographic transition” is already underway in the U.S. and other developed countries where fertility rates have dropped due to lower infant mortality, increased urbanization and wider access to contraceptives. Given that fertility rates drop as countries develop, and that lesser developed countries have begun to leapfrog ahead in their urbanization and adoption of technology, the United Nations Population Fund predicts that population may peak in the late 21st century and then begin to shrink.

CONTACTS: United Nations Population Fund, www.unfpa.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Given that the presidential election is just around the corner, what can you tell me about each candidate’s environmental track record and positions? -- Jane Miller,
Chicago, IL

Just because the environment is getting short shrift this election season due to our nation’s lingering economic woes doesn’t mean that candidates Obama and Romney can ignore the issue.

Environmentalists have cheered several of President Obama’s moves during his first term, including: passage of the Recovery Act and its funding for environmental and habitat restoration and water quality improvements; passage of the first comprehensive National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, the Coasts and the Great Lakes; and the signing of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009, which expanded land protections and water conservation across two million acres of federal wilderness.

Obama also formed the Partnership for Sustainable Communities to bring together federal agencies to help communities nationwide improve access to affordable housing and increase low cost transportation options while protecting the environment. He also established new rules to reduce the negative impacts of mountain-top removal coal mining, set historic standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks, made substantial investments in clean energy, proposed the first-ever carbon pollution limits for new fossil-fuel-fired power plants, and reduced carbon emissions within the federal government.

On the downside, green leaders dismay Obama’s lack of follow-through on a 2008 campaign promise to label genetically modified foods so that consumers know what they are getting when they buy corn, sugar or breakfast cereal. Also, a 2011 Obama decision to deregulate the planting of genetically modified alfalfa and sugar beets incensed organic farmers and environmental leaders. Greens also worry about Obama’s enthusiasm for an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that includes the practice of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to access natural gas in shale beds under wide swaths of the northeast and western U.S.

If re-elected, Obama would no doubt work to expand U.S. leadership on setting emissions limits in unison with other nations, and has pledged to continue to reduce our dependence on oil so as to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Conservationists are also hopeful that Obama will set aside threatened lands for protection from development as both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did soon before leaving the White House.

While Mitt Romney doesn’t have much of an environmental track record from his days as Massachusetts’ governor, he did get kudos for being open minded to both regulatory and market-based policy ideas. He also supported a 2003 northeastern states agreement to reduce carbon emissions from power plants via a regional cap-and-trade emissions reduction plan. But in 2005 Romney abruptly pulled Massachusetts out of the plan, telling reporters that it didn’t protect businesses and consumers from increased energy costs.

Romney is now pitching an energy plan that that embraces all the options, including fossil fuels, nuclear energy and renewables. But he recently told ScienceDebate.org that he opposes any kind of carbon tax or cap-and-trade system “that would handicap the American economy and drive manufacturing jobs away,” adding that economic growth and technological innovation, “not economy-suppressing regulation,” are key to protecting the environment in the long run.

CONTACTS: Mitt Romney: Energy, www.mittromney.com/issues/energy; Barack Obama: Environment, www.barackobama.com/environment; ScienceDebate.org, www.sciencedebate.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine ( www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: The federal government recently designated the Connecticut River watershed as the nation’s first “National Blueway.” What is a National Blueway and does such a designation come with any funding for conservation or other purposes? -- Jackie Minor, via e-mail

In May 2012 the Obama administration did indeed designate the Connecticut River and its 7.2 million-acre watershed as the first segment of a new National Blueways System, created to help conserve natural amenities and wildlife habitat and to preserve or enhance healthy recreational opportunities within significant river systems across the country.

The National Blueways program is part of the larger America’s Great Outdoors Initiative created by the White House to establish a community-driven conservation and recreation agenda for the 21st century. Large blueways such as the Connecticut River watershed are extremely important not only as nurseries for biodiversity and filtration systems for fresh water supplies, but also as outdoor recreational outlets for millions of all-too-cooped-up Americans.

Connecticut River watershed is a fitting first addition to the National Blueways program given its ecological, cultural and recreational importance to millions of Americans along its 410-mile run from the peaks of Vermont along the Canadian border through New Hampshire and Massachusetts to Connecticut, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean
. Some 2.4 million people across almost 400 communities live within the Connecticut River’s watershed. The non-profit Trust for Public Land estimates that 1.4 million of those residents enjoy the watershed’s natural beauty and wildlife and contribute upwards of $1 billion dollars to local economies accordingly each year.

“The Connecticut River Watershed is a model for how communities can integrate their land and water stewardship efforts with an emphasis on ‘source-to-sea’ watershed conservation,” said Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar upon announcing the new designation.

According to the U.S. Department of Interior, the National Blueway designation “differs from existing federal designations for rivers (e.g., Wild and Scenic), which generally cover only a segment of a river and a narrow band of the riparian corridor.” In contrast, a National Blueway includes the entire river from “source to sea” as well as the river’s watershed.

A National Blueway designation doesn’t establish any new protections for the watersheds in question, but it does open the door to some federal support for existing and/or new local and regional conservation, recreation and restoration projects. In the case of the Connecticut River, the new designation will help by improving coordination between local/regional planning entities and federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The designation should also mean more funding for trail building and forest restoration projects.

It’s unclear yet when other U.S. watersheds will be designated under the Blueways program, but there are certainly dozens if not hundreds across the country that could benefit from inclusion.

CONTACT: America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, www.americasgreatoutdoors.gov.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine ( www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Besides the presidential election, what other electoral races are environmentalists keeping an eye on this coming November? -- Matt Sloan, Sacramento, CA

The non-profit League of Conservation Voters (LCV) helps Americans sort out the good guys from the bad when it comes to the environmental track records of candidates in important high-level races across the country. Besides endorsing specific candidates, the group also keeps a running “dirty dozen” list of the politicians with the worst environmental records. Meanwhile, the group’s LCV Action Fund is a related political action fund that can channel funding to the candidates it supports.

One of the races that LCV is following is
New Mexico
’s Senate race between Democrat Martin Heinrich and Republican Heather Wilson. Both are hoping to leave the House for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Jeff Bingaman, who is retiring after four terms—but that’s where the similarity ends.

Heinrich has a perfect 100 percent lifetime score on LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard, a yardstick used to rate Congress members on environmental and clean energy issues. He participates in the forward-thinking Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition and is a staunch defender of the federal government’s ability to protect public health and hold polluters accountable under the Clean Air Act. Heinrich also supported the single largest investment in clean energy in history—an economic recovery package that pledged $80 billion toward energy efficiency, renewable energy and public transit.

Meanwhile, as one of LCV’s “Dirty Dozen,” Heather Wilson has just a 15 percent LCV lifetime score as a member of the House. She is one of the House’s top 20 recipients of funding from oil and gas interests, and has voted consistently to protect tax incentives and loopholes for oil and gas companies.

A coalition of green groups including the LCV Action Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund has spent $1.5 million in ads accusing
Wilson of voting against New Mexico families and in favor of polluters—an amount equal to what GOP-affiliated groups spent on pro-Wilson ads.

Another close one in a neighboring Southwestern state, Arizona, pits Democrat Richard Carmona (LCV’s choice) against Republican Jeff Flake. “Throughout his career, Dr. Carmona has stood up for public health safeguards and would champion clean energy technologies that create jobs in Arizona and across the country,” reports LCV, which has endorsed him. His opponent, 12-year incumbent Congressman and former uranium mining lobbyist Flake, has a nine percent lifetime score on LCV’s scorecard.

Back east in
, LCV has endorsed Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who vows to eliminate tax subsidies for Big Oil and uphold the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Her opponent, incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown, has a lifetime LCV score of 22 percent, and repeatedly votes to give billions in taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil, gut the Clean Air Act, and pull funding from renewable energy.

Overall, LCV is endorsing candidates in 12 Senate races and 29 House races around the country. For a complete list check the “endorsements” page of the lcv.org website. The group has also endorsed one gubernatorial candidate, Washington Democrat Jay Inslee, and one presidential candidate, Barack Obama.


EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to:
earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What's the big deal about lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle? If an animal is going to die anyway, it's not going to get lead poisoning, right? -- Bill Joyce,
Euclid, OH

The issue of lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle isn’t so much about lead contaminating the spoils of hunters and fishermen but about lead accumulating in our ecosystems and poisoning other animals that ingest it. “Lead is an extremely toxic element that we’ve sensibly removed from water pipes, gasoline, paint and other sources dangerous to people,” reports the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity (
CBD). “Yet toxic lead is still entering the food chain through widespread use of lead hunting ammunition and fishing tackle, poisoning wildlife and even threatening human health.”

The group reports that at least 75 wild bird species in the
United States—including bald eagles, golden eagles, ravens and endangered California
condors—are routinely poisoned by spent lead ammunition. Meanwhile, every year thousands of cranes, ducks, swans, loons, geese and other waterfowl ingest spent lead shot or lead fishing sinkers lost in lakes and rivers “often with deadly consequences.”

“Animals that scavenge on carcasses shot and contaminated with lead bullet fragments, or wading birds that ingest spent lead-shot pellets or lost fishing weights mistaking them for food or grit, can die a painful death from lead poisoning, while others suffer for years from its debilitating effects,” reports CBD. Across the
U.S. some 3,000 tons of lead are shot into the environment by hunters every year. Another 80,000 tons are released at shooting ranges, and 4,000 tons in fishing lures and sinkers are lost in ponds and streams. CBD estimates that as many as 20 million birds and mammals in the U.S.
die every year as a result.

Of course, lead ammunition also poses health risks to people, especially those consuming hunted meat. “Lead bullets explode and fragment into minute particles in shot game and can spread throughout meat that humans eat,” says CBD. “Studies using radiographs show that numerous, imperceptible, dust-sized particles of lead can infect meat up to a foot and a half away from the bullet wound, causing a greater health risk to humans who consume lead-shot game than previously thought.”

CBD launched its Get the Lead Out campaign in March 2012 to raise awareness about the issue and help build support for a federally mandated transition to non-toxic bullets, shot and fishing gear. The coalition includes groups from 38 different states representing conservationists, birders, hunters, scientists, veterinarians, Native Americans and public employees. In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied the coalition’s request to take toxic lead out of hunting ammunition. In response, CBD and six other groups filed suit against EPA in June for refusing to address the problem.

Opponents of CBD (such as the National Rifle Association/NRA) are on the offensive, supporting the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 (HR 4089), a bill that aims to open up more federal land to hunting, limit the President’s ability to invoke the Antiquities Act to designate new protected lands, and prevent the EPA from regulating ammunition containing lead, among other provisions. The bill recently passed a floor vote in the House of Representatives, but political analysts doubt it will make it through the Senate.

CONTACTS: CBD’s “Get the Lead Out,”
www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/get_the_lead_out/; Sportsmen’s Heritage Act of 2012 on Govtrack, www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr4089.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I have heard that fracking is becoming a major environmental issue in the
U.S. Which parts of the country are already hosting fracking operations? Are there efforts underway to stop the practice in specific states or across the country? ­-- Jim Ross, Toronto, ON

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a process whereby drillers blast millions of gallons of water, sand and hazardous chemicals at high-pressure into sub-surface rock formations to create fractures that facilitate the flow of recoverable oil or gas. The technique has proven so effective at reaching previously hard-to-access reserves that it has helped spur a boom in natural gas production around the country.

This influx of domestic natural gas means lower home heating costs and thousands of new jobs in the industry. But opponents point to dozens of fracking-related accidents in recent years and worry that the technique is polluting groundwater and air and poisoning communities—all to get at more fossil fuels when we’d all be better off moving more quickly toward developing clean, renewable energy sources.

While fracking goes on all across the country, the Marcellus Shale, a layer of sedimentary bedding under the Allegheny plateau that spans nine northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, has become America’s primary fracking grounds. Thanks to fracking and other new extraction techniques, the gas industry is now able to access the natural gas in the Shale and beginning in 2006 commenced big extraction operations in parts of western New York State, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and elsewhere. Geologists estimate there may be as much as 489 trillion cubic feet of natural gas—400 times what New York State uses in a year—throughout the Shale. The race is now on to extract as much as possible as quickly as possible.

But it’s this very gold rush mentality that has led to many so-called “fraccidents” in and around the Shale. The group Earthjustice tracks and publicizes such incidents online via its “Fracking Gone Wrong” campaign. They list dozens of examples of tainted drinking water, polluted air and industrial disasters caused or exacerbated by fracking at or near extraction sites since operations began six years ago.

“Wherever Marcellus development has occurred in Pennsylvania, reports of poisoned water, sick kids and dead animals have followed,” reports Marcellus Protest, an alliance of western Pennsylvania organizations seeking to halt fracking operations. The group coordinates anti-fracking efforts, organizes demonstrations and produces educational materials, including the website MarcellusShale.org, a clearinghouse on fracking and related activism. Its advocacy work helped convince the Pittsburgh city council to ban fracking there back in 2010 and is now working to extend the ban to other areas in the region and beyond.

The controversy has not escaped
Hollywood. The 2010 HBO film, Gasland, followed Josh Fox around the U.S. on a quest to find out what impact fracking was having on communities after he was asked to lease his own land for hydraulic fracturing. And a forthcoming Gus Van Sant film, Promised Land, starring Matt Damon focuses on a small farming town that sells its agricultural land to frackers and pays a heavy price in losing a lifestyle and a livelihood while jeopardizing public health. Activists hope these films will go a long way to convince Americans and their elected officials to say no to more fracking.

TACTS: Earthjustice, www.earthjustice.org; Marcellus Protest, www.marcellusshale.org; Gasland, www.gaslandthemovie.com; Promised Land trailer, www.imdb.com/title/tt2091473.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: How eco-friendly are professional sports leagues and their teams? Which stand out especially for their green efforts? -- Al Simpson, Medina, OH

Professional sports, like many other pursuits, are getting greener every day. While pro leagues and teams have traditionally been the last to go green, it has all changed in recent years. Maybe it’s the fact that wasting less saves money. Or that going green generates good public relations. Or that it’s just the right thing to do. Whether it’s any or all-of-the-above, professional sports certainly have never been greener.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a leading environmental non-profit, has worked with several sports teams and leagues to green their operations, and has bundled a collection of case studies into a recently released report, “Game Changer: How the Sports Industry is Saving the Environment.” One example is how baseball’s San Francisco Giants have so far saved 171,000 kilowatt hours of energy at its stadium, AT+T Park, through a series of lighting retrofits. Another is the building of a 3-megawatt photovoltaic solar array at NASCAR’s Pocono Raceway, which offsets 3,100 metric tons of CO2 each year and provides enough power to operate the raceway and 1,000 nearby homes. Still another is basketball’s Minnesota Timberwolves’ construction of a 2.5 acre green roof that prevents annually a million gallons of storm water from spilling into the
Mississippi River from atop their Minneapolis

NRDC hopes its report can help educate sports professionals, their suppliers and the millions of fans that patronize the teams and their venues about the business case for greening, from achieving cost savings and enhancing brands to developing new sponsorship opportunities and strengthening community ties.

To further these goals, NRDC, along with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., launched the Green Sports Alliance in 2010, bringing together venue operators, team executives and scientists to exchange information and develop solutions to their environmental challenges. The findings gathered are made available to
Alliance members so that they can better understand how sporting events can be performed in an environmentally sensitive manner. Alliance
members represent more than 100 teams and venues from 13 different leagues.

For teams that want to go green but don’t know where to start, NRDC created a Greening Advisor program, featuring sustainability tips and green inspiration. Teams from each of North America’s major sports leagues can find treasure troves of information at the intersection of saving money and the planet.

NRDC calls the greening of pro sports “a cultural shift of historic proportions” and delights in the fact that “
North America’s professional leagues, teams and venues have collectively saved millions of dollars by shifting to more efficient, healthy and ecologically intelligent operations.”

“At the same time, the sports greening movement has brought important environmental messages to millions of fans worldwide,” says NRDC. “Sport is a great unifier, transcending political, cultural, religious and socioeconomic barriers. It also wields a uniquely powerful influence [and] in so doing, promotes a non-political public commitment to environmental protection.”

CONTACTS: “Game Changer” Report,
www.nrdc.org/greenbusiness/guides/sports/game-changer.asp; Green Sports Alliance, www.greensportsalliance.org; NRDC Greening Advisor, www.greensports.org.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I heard that the Arctic summer sea ice is at its lowest level since we began recording it. What are the implications of all this melting? -- Jo Shoemaker,
Bowie, MD

It is true that on September 16, 2012 the world reached a new low: The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) reported that the extent of sea ice across the Arctic was at its lowest since satellite record-keeping began in 1979. On that date the sea ice reached its summer minimum, 1.32 million square miles, half of what the average size of summer ice was between 1979 and 2000, and almost 20 percent lower than the previous record minimum of 1.61 million square miles set on Sept. 18, 2007. NSIDC added that, despite especially warm conditions in 2007 being much more favorable for sea ice loss than this year, the thinning of sea ice due to climate change has made the ice more vulnerable to breakup and melting.

Meanwhile, researchers with the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe reported in August that beyond the loss of sea-ice extent, the thickness and volume of the ice has also been declining significantly faster than expected. They found just 1,679 cubic miles this past summer as compared to 3,118 cubic miles in the summer of 2004. They anticipate that the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer for a day or more by the end of the decade.

The implications of such melting are potentially immense. For starters, wildlife like polar bears, seals and walruses depend on sea ice for their survival; their habitat is literally being pulled out from under them. Polar bears were added to the federal Endangered Species List in 2008 for this very reason in what environmentalists herald as a great victory in that the federal government officially recognized the existence of global warming and would therefore be able to take more decisive action to rein in carbon pollution—of course, that part of the dream has yet to be realized.

Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that melting sea ice and accelerating Arctic warming spur changes in the jet stream that increase the frequency of weather extremes like droughts, floods, heat waves and cold spells in the mid-latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere. The fact that 2012 has been a scorcher all around—July was the hottest month on record, with two-thirds of the U.S. in drought, wildfires running rampant and half the counties in the country designated as federal disaster areas—only makes the connection between carbon pollution and the greenhouse effect all the more apparent.

Environmentalists argue that we already have the technology and the legal tools to achieve rapid greenhouse pollution reductions “Full use of all of the Clean Air Act’s successful pollution-reduction programs is our best route to quick reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” says Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “The Obama administration, however, has been too slow and timid in using this bedrock law to cut pollution.”

“The polar meltdown shows we’re teetering on the brink of climate-change catastrophe,” adds Wolf. “Arctic sea ice plays a critical role in regulating the planet’s climate. We can’t wait any longer to cut carbon pollution.”

CONTACTS: Center for Biological Diversity,
www.biologicaldiversity.org; National Snow and Ice Data Center, www.nsidc.org; European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2, www.esa.int/esaLP/LPcryosat.html.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

E - The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What’s the latest on the proposal to turn parts of the
Northern Forest in Maine into a big national park? -- Peter Griswold, Jaffrey, NH

The idea of turning a large chunk of forest in central
Maine into a national park dates back at least 150 years when Henry David Thoreau himself called for making the region “a national preserve” in essays about his travels through the area via foot and canoe in the 1850s. To this day most of the areas in central Maine that Thoreau visited are still primarily undeveloped save for intermittent timber extraction.

But recent changes in land ownership there are worrying ecologists. The non-profit RE
STORE: The North Woods has been carrying the torch for creating a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve for 20 years and reports that, between 1994 and 2005, the share of forest land in Maine’s 9.3 million acre Unorganized Territory owned by timber companies dropped from 59.2 to 15.5 percent while that owned by investors grew from 3.2 to 32.6 percent. RESTORE is concerned that this dramatic change positions the region for a real estate gold rush. A huge development already planned for the shores of Moosehead Lake
in the region is just one example of the kinds of changes afoot that could decimate the region’s wilderness qualities.

RESTORE’s proposal, first aired in 1994, calls for setting aside 3.2-million acres surrounding
Baxter State Park (home of Maine’s tallest peak, Mt. Katahdin, and the northern tip of the Appalachian Trail) as a national park. Bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite
combined, the proposed park would safeguard thousands of miles of rivers and streams while providing unfragmented habitat for wildlife.

According to RESTORE, there are no significant chunks of undeveloped wilderness anywhere in the
Northeastern United States and that such a large park “is needed to protect wildlife habitat on a landscape scale to allow for adaptation in the face of unprecedented climate change.” Also, the proposed park would ensure permanent access for outdoor recreation and support a diversified and sustainable economy. Although RESTORE’s campaign has the backing of a majority of Maine
residents, it has failed to gain enough traction to make it before Congress. Some blame local opposition, allied as the Maine Woods Coalition, for convincing the state’s Congressional delegation not to push for the proposal.

A new proposal from Burt’s bees founder Roxanne Quimby later rekindled the issue: In May 2011 she offered to donate up to 70,000 acres she owns adjacent to
Baxter State Park
for a new national park, along with a $40 million endowment for park operations. And to appease those opposed to RESTORE’s proposal, she offered a similar amount of land for multiple-use, including hunting. Quimby’s proposal includes only lands she owns, and would create a much smaller park than what RESTORE envisioned.

A few months after Quimby made her offer known U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis held a public listening session in
Millinocket, Maine. But then in February 2012, Maine’s Congressional delegation convinced Secretary Salazar to table the new proposal for the time being. So for now, the fate of millions of trees—the veritable lungs of the Northeastern U.S.
—and hundreds of wildlife species may just hang in the balance.

Maine Woods National Park: A Vision of What Could Be, www.mainewoods.org; Maine Woods Coalition, www.mainewoodscoalition.org.

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