By Doug Struck
Boston will become cool and green by planting 100,000 trees before 2020, Mayor Thomas M. Menino promised in April 2007. He said it “will make people feel better about where they live.”
So, halfway to the deadline, how’s it going?
That’s unclear. The city’s official Climate Plan Action Update 2011 said a comparatively meager “4,000 new trees, public and private” have been planted since 2007, and acknowledged “progress toward the 2020 goal has slowed.”
Calls for an update to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department were referred to the Boston Natural Areas Network, the non-profit now running the “Grow Boston Greener” program.
Jeremy Dick, who is in charge of the program, said the city’s figure sounded low. He said he thought “20 to 25,000” trees have been planted, a five-fold multiple of the city’s figures, but still off the goal by half. He could not explain the discrepancies, and said an accurate tally was made in spring 2012. But he declined repeated requests for that accounting, saying, “I’m not sure a story on the problems would be positive.”
Whatever the total, Tabatha White is toiling away, trying to plug the holes in the cityscape. She is a forester and tree planting coordinator for the parks department. Whenever anyone calls the city with a request, or she sees a vacant spot, she checks out the surrounding overhead wires, measures for handicap access on the sidewalk, picks from about 20 native species, and calls in the backhoe.
Last fall she planted about 700 trees, she said; this spring she hopes to hit 900.
It’s a struggle to make an urban environment green, she said. Many spots are not suitable. The city’s bustling development fells others. And about five percent of her plantings die from natural causes—“if you can call living in a sidewalk natural,” she says.
“I don’t like seeing the dead ones,” White said. “I live here in the city. My eyes are always open for open pits, whether I drive or ride or run, or go out for the evening. I feel really good when I can go back there and see that I’ve planted a tree.”
The mayor’s goal was among an array of programs to respond to climate change. Increasing the urban “canopy” would absorb carbon dioxide, help control storm water runoff, cool buildings and sidewalks, and look better, Menino said.
One of the threats to the tree plantings, though, is the city’s leaky gas pipes. Nathan Phillips, a professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University, led a study in 2011 that documented 3,300 natural gas leaks from the aging infrastructure.
Natural gas is mostly methane, and starves tree roots of needed oxygen. “It’s a contributing factor” in tree mortality, Phillips said. “It’s detrimental to their health.”
Phillips says such the city is just beginning to come to grips with the gas leaks. But “overall, in terms of Boston going ‘green,’ what the mayor has done is tremendous,” Phillips said. “Having said that, there’s always room for improvement.”
By Doug Struck
Hurricane Katrina had finally spent its fury and died, when I stepped cautiously through the broken doorway of a brick building in New Orleans called the Lafon Nursing Home of the Holy Family. Inside was the smell of death and echoes of a desperate struggle. Mattresses had been used to float patients in floodwaters; wheelchairs were crushed into corners; the chapel had been used to lay out the bodies.
As a fellow reporter and I pieced together the tragic last hours at Lafon in 2005, we learned of frantic calls when the power failed, of heroic struggles by the staff to hoist patients from the first floor as flood waters tugged at their waists, and then of five days without food, medicine, or relief from the killing heat. Aides trapped with their patients fanned the elderly, swabbed them with soiled cloths, and tried to make them comfortable as they died. In all, 22 elderly patients perished when the Lafon Nursing Home was suddenly crippled.
Such scenes, repeated during Katrina at medical facilities ranging from small nursing homes to New Orleans’ sprawling Memorial Medical Center, have haunted hospital planners. Planners like Hubert Murray, an architect who helped design Boston’s new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
“We need to learn from these previous disasters, and that is what we are doing,” said Murray, now manager of sustainable initiatives for Partners HealthCare, Spaulding’s owner.
In designing Spaulding, the planners dictated that the vital electrical and mechanical system components be placed on the roof, rather than on ground level where they would be vulnerable to floods. They placed the main electrical cables in concrete cases, running to a ninth-floor circuit room. They planned for a four-day supply of fuel for generators and co-generators on the roof. They put windows that can be opened in all of the patient rooms, in case the air conditioner fails.
The design changes were incorporated in a facility with sweeping views of the harbor and bold innovations for patients, as Kay Lazar recently detailed.
But there were pushbacks on some of Murray’s suggestions.
“The mechanical engineers were grumbling because operable windows makes life difficult to balance the HVAC, the electricians were bellyaching because that wasn’t where they usually place the electrical systems, and NSTAR wanted the electrical switching on the ground where they could get at it,” Murray recalled.
“We held out. We said, ‘No. Look, this is a real risk,’” he said. “We read the accounts of what had happed in Hurricane Katrina.”
The biggest risk, perhaps, was putting the new hospital at the old Charlestown Navy Yard. The hospital is built on landfill over old mudflats, and climate change is bringing a swelling sea and the likelihood of more severe storms.
In 2008, the architects took the early concepts for the hospital and compared them with reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the leading authority on global warming. Those reports indicated a global sea level rise anywhere from 30 inches to 60 inches by 2100. Other studies predict an even faster sea rise in Boston, where tides, winds and geography are bringing New England coastal increases much higher than the global rate.
The architects raised the building design by as much as they could-- by one foot-- to put it 3 1/2 feet above the level of a flood so severe it is predicted only once every 100 years, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They strengthened sea walls, steepled the garage driveway to block water, and contoured the grounds for drainage.
“That’s pretty good, but not perfect,” Murray said.
As a final safeguard, the hospital has no patient rooms on the first floor. The worst case scenario for sea level rise by the century’s end, combined with a tremendous storm, could put 30 inches of water on the first floor, Murray admits. That will be messy, but will not touch patient care and the hospital can keep working.
“We greatly reduced the risks,” he said. “But we didn’t reduce them to nothing.”
Architect David Burson, senior project manager for Partners HealthCare, said the calculations were made with the goal of keeping Spaulding in the city, rather than at a remote suburban site. The accommodations to climate change were made to protect that bet.
“Hubert Murray really pushed us to take it to the next level. Katrina was still fresh in everyone’s mind,” Burson said. “We think we have pretty healthy margins now.”
By Doug Struck
The scenes of Hurricane Sandy rampaging through New York City last October stunned city planners on the East Coast, posing a question of whether to withdraw from the waterfront.
“It was, oh my god, it can happen here, too,” mused Brian Swett, Boston’s environmental director.
Not Boston. The rapidly rising sea levels and prospects for more violent storms have not diminished the city’s appetite for developing its waterfront.
“No one is saying ‘retreat,’” said Vivian Li, president of the Boston Harbor Association. Her association completed a report in February that illustrated in sobering detail the double-whammy of higher seas and fierce storms.
Had Sandy hit Boston five hours earlier, at high tide, six percent of Boston would have flooded. In 2050, with the sea level expected to be as much as 2.5 feet higher from climate change, a Sandy-like storm at high tide would flood 30 percent of the city, the report showed.
Rather than shy from building on the waterfront, however, developers are calculating how they can adapt to floodwaters, Li said in an interview in her office.
“Even after Sandy, even after our report, there hasn’t been an impact on property value. The cranes cannot move faster here,” Li said. “They are going to develop areas that are clearly vulnerable, and they are going to adapt.”
“We have ten million square feet of real estate development right here in the innovation district,” said Swett, an in interview at City Hall. Buildings can be constructed several feet higher, ground floors can be designed to expect flooding, crucial systems like electricity and air conditioning can be put on roofs instead of basements, ground-level windows can be shuttered and upper windows opened, he said.
“Our waterfront is relatively less developed” than some other cities, Swett said. Until the Big Dig replaced I-93 in 2005, the elevated highway had isolated the waterfront and discouraged development. Now, he said, developers have a chance to do it right.
“I think we have the opportunity in Boston to be the most climate-resilient city in the country,” Swett said. “We know better what to do than cities that developed ten of 15 years ago.”
The property owners “are not in denial,” Li added. “They are not saying there is no risk. They are saying we can adapt.”
One of those developers, Joseph Fallon, explained on a recent WCVB “Chronicle” program how he will adapt to climate change while building a massive hotel-condo-marina project at Fan Pier on Boston’s Seaport.
“We’ll raise the grade 12 to 18 inches, and then we will raise the lobby floor. So we are starting to add feet. Everything we do we start above what the normal elevation would have been 100 years ago when they were building down here.”
“I think we are on the right track,” Swett said. “I will never be able to check the box and say we are prepared for climate change. It’s an ever-changing perspective. All we can do is say we are more prepared than last year.”
By Doug Struck Globe Correspondent
CONCORD -- Henry David Thoreau took walks. He called it “sauntering” around Walden Pond, where he wrote about living in the wilderness between regular strolls into nearby Concord to deliver his dirty laundry to his mother and collect her apple pies.
Time passed, and some of his sauntering trails were covered by a town garbage dump. A large muddy lot at the base of the now-closed dump is occupied by rotting compost piles, mounds of gravel, recycling dumpsters, and logs cleared from the last winter storm. A field of solar panels will bloom there this summer.
Now a proposal to locate a school bus depot there has pitted school officials against a conservation group that wants to preserve the memory of Thoreau's trails. The group, the Walden Woods Project -- started by Eagles rock star Don Henley, a Texan inspired by Thoreau as a teenager -- has made Concord a tempting offer. We’ll pay you $2.8 million, the group says, if the town foregoes stationing its 36 yellow school buses on the land.
“We want to conserve this because of its history, because of the potential for development, because of its key location in conserved land, because of its potential for wildlife and trail connectivity,” said Kathi Anderson, executive director of the Walden Woods Project.
“It’s a landfill. It’s a closed landfill,” averred Maureen Spada, chair of Concord’s elected school committee. “It’s a very appropriate place to park buses.”
The group’s lucrative offer, and the opposing plan to pave over two of the 34 acres and put a three-bay maintenance shop and a hut for the bus drivers on the property, will clash at the annual Town Meeting in late April. Voters will be asked to approve one proposal or the other by a two-thirds vote, and the choice has stoked a sometimes acrimonious dispute in the town of 17,000.
“There are some pretty strong opinions on this,” acknowledged Christopher Whelan, the town manager.
Concord does not take Thoreau and his cherished pond lightly: The name “Thoreau” or “Walden” is on two main streets, a school, and 15 businesses listed in the town phone book, including a liquor store, a nursing home, a mortgage company, and a country club.
The dispute over the planned bus depot is entwined -- as these things often are in small towns -- with other arguments, current and past. When the school board tried to outsource the bus service last year, residents rallied around their familiar drivers and said ‘no.’ The board ruffled more feathers by pushing blueprints for a new high school without a bus depot included on the site, and then by naming the old landfill site as the best spot for the depot.
“We were shocked” when the school committee zeroed in on the former landfill, Anderson said. Sure, it is not so pretty and is “degraded,” she acknowledged. Town residents began dumping garbage there in the mid-1950s. It was closed in 1994 when Concord embraced curbside pickup and started trucking its garbage to Fitchburg.
The garbage mound was sealed in clay, contoured to give it some curves, and planted with wild grass. But it still is a place of last resort for unwanted stuff: the town stores salt and concrete blocks there, the Boy Scouts bring in 500 used Christmas trees each year for mulching, and gardeners haul bags of leaves and shorn grass to add to the richly-odored compost piles.
Thoreau’s steps are buried under tons of old garbage.
“Its obviously not a pristine site,” conceded Whelan, the town manager.
But the Walden Woods Project sees it as a missing piece of the conservation ring surrounding Walden Pond, and has tried to get a restriction on the land for decades.
Anderson suggests the school committee is playing poker: forcing the town voters to choose between putting the depot on the landfill site or outsourcing bus service and their drivers. Spada responds that a committee, which she headed, made an “exhaustive” search of other sites for the school buses, and found none that was not expensive, restricted by zoning, or too near residents who would be bothered by the early-morning chorus of diesel engines.
“This was the best site,” she said. “There is no zoning, no wetlands, no vernal pools” and no close neighbors.
Spada and other supporters say parking the buses at a landfill would hardly sully the Walden experience. The bus pad would be separated by trees from a parking lot for Walden Pond, and the throngs who visit the pond to swim and hike in the summer must walk down into a glacial kettle, out of sight of the old landfill.
She argues that the conservation restriction would bind the property from future uses, such as expanding the composting or erecting wind turbines.
That is the point, Anderson responds.
“If it is not protected, it could become a mini-mall, an office park, a shopping area,” she said. “One hundred years from now, 200 years, what’s going to happen if we don’t protect this landfill?”
Devotees might search Thoreau’s writing for guidance on the question. Anderson shrugs at that effort: “I’ve learned over the last 23 years to not make the assumption that I knew what Henry David Thoreau would think,” she said. He fit well in Concord: “He was a contrarian.”
Majestic American elm trees in New England that have survived decades of a ravaging disease are being called upon to help create a genetic armor to help future generations resist the disease’s devastation.
Scientists from The Nature Conservancy are climbing high into trees in a handful of locations this spring to clip small branches in hopes of developing new Dutch elm-disease resistant strains of the stately tree.
“We’ll make the most resistant American elm varieties among them available to the public, as well as planting them in our own floodplain forest restoration projects on the Connecticut River,” said Conservancy ecologist Christian Marks. “One day, maybe, these incredible giants once again will lend their beauty to our parks and streets and their strength to our floodplains.”
American elms, among New England’s largest trees, once dominated the forest canopy, creating an ecological niche that provided shade and absorbed floodwaters, according to The Nature Conservancy.
But the Dutch elm fungus that entered the country in the 1930s changed all that, cutting a swath of destruction that has resulted in the death of some 100 million of the graceful, arching trees.
The disease kills by choking the tree. The fungus clogs the tree's vascular system, which delivers waters to leaves and branches. Eventually the tree withers and dies.
In coming days, aided by Chesterfield arborist Jim McSweeney, Marks will visit several Western Massachusetts sites to take sample branches. Others are also being taken from sites in Connecticut and Eastern New York.
“The disease has had a profound impact on trees that were treasured by so many people in city parks and streets,” Marks said. “It also had a dramatic impact on floodplain forests along New England’s rivers.”
The elm still is the second most abundant tree species in the floodplain forests of the Connecticut River watershed; however, today’s elms are typically much smaller than those that preceded the disease, and the unique niche the larger trees created has largely been lost. Restoring it would benefit these crucial floodplains, according to Marks.
Scientists are crossing samples from the most promising trees among these large elms with American elm selections developed by the U.S. Forest Service that are already proven to be highly tolerant to Dutch elm disease. The offspring from these controlled crosses will be planted at floodplain forest restoration sites. Once the elms reach sufficient size, the trees will be tested for disease resistance.
This is the third year of this elm restoration project. So far, cuttings from nine elms in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont have been collected, and 20 crosses have been completed. This March, cuttings will be collected from at least 16 more elms, according to the Conservancy.
One of the hardest things about protecting endangered whales is finding them – as I recently found out when reporting a story on North Atlantic right whales.
But now, the New England Aquarium is using GIS to track the leviathans to better understand the possible impacts of humans and the maritime industry on right whales from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements. The technology also helps track animals wearing satellite tags and helps monitor various marine species and habitats as humans encroach on their ocean surroundings.
Brooke Wikgren, an assistant scientist and GIS specialist at the Aquarium will discuss this emerging research at a free public lecture at the Aquarium’s Harborside Learning Lab on March 28 at 7 p.m.
From an Aquarium press release: “With an increasing human population, GIS can be effective in researching how vulnerable marine animals live and thrive in the ocean.
Fishing, food, shipping, industry, and energy sources are all expanding, but consequently, there are competing demands on wildlife. Wikgren will discuss how GIS can determine how these different uses interact and overlap so better planning and solutions can minimize problems for marine animals. She also looks at ocean use conflicts as well as mapping marine species and habitats. She monitors satellite tagging of marine animals that have often been rehabilitated at the Aquarium after injuries or strandings, and she has assisted with geospatial research of the Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area in the Central Pacific Ocean.”
To register, please go to www.neaq.org.
The Massachusetts League of Environmental Voters, a non-partisan, non-profit advocacy group, has a new chairman and four new directors on its governing board.
Board member Chuck Anastas, of Westborough, was elected Chairman of the Board. Chuck replaces Tom McShane, a principal at Dewey Square Group, who will remain a board member. Chuck is co-founder and Managing Partner of Durand & Anastas Environmental Strategies, Inc., and oversees the company’s permitting and regulatory business. Chuck served from 1999 – 2003 as Chief of Staff at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, where he was responsible for oversight of the Secretary's initiatives and managing senior staff activities, including operating and capital budgets, municipal harbor planning, and the land protection program.
New board members are Erik Balsbaugh, a Senior Associate with Dewey Square Group’s Boston office, Jennifer L. Ryan, a board member of the Massachusetts Non-Profit Network and the Arlington Land Trust, and former Legislative Director for Mass Audubon, Mark Jester, President of the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen, and Doug Pizzi, principal of Pizzi
Communications Company and former Press Secretary at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.
U.S. Rep. and Senate candidate Ed Markey Wednesday introduced a new version of bill to combat seafood fraud by tracking fish from a boat to a diner’s plate.
Markey amended earlier legislation he filed in July to reflect input from federal agencies, fishermen, consumer and conservation groups. The new bill will require information already collected by fishermen, such as species name, catch location and harvest method, to be made available to consumers and requires imported fish to have equivalent documentation. It also expands the ability of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to refuse entry of unsafe or fraudulent seafood shipments.
The bill comes after several years of high-profile reports, including in the Globe, of rampant seafood substitution of species on restaurant plates.
For more information go here
Some people still question if narwhals – the world’s most northernmost whale with its seven-foot long spiral tusk - still exist. They do – although the mysterious creatures are facing an uncertain future as their icy world melts because of climate change.
Natural History writer Todd McLeish goes deep into the narwhal – from its mythology to biology in Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World. McLeish will be speaking on March 2 at the Harvard Museum of Natural History at 2 p.m. and on March 8 at Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge at 3 p.m. We caught up with him recently to learn more about the “sea unicorn.
Green Blog: What made you choose to write about Narwhals?
Todd McLeish: loved frogs and turtles as a kid, and I remember thumbing through the encyclopedia when I was about 9 and seeing a picture of a narwhal. It’s been something I’ve been curious about ever since. After writing a couple of books about rare New England wildlife, I was looking for an animal far from our area that I could write about, and I was reminded of my interest in the narwhal. It has so many interesting angles to pursue — the purpose of the tusk, its connection to the unicorn myth, climate change, subsistence hunting, and more — it was the perfect subject.
GB: You describe an amazing scene of Narwhals when you were visiting Baffin Island. Tell us about it.
TM: We were camped on a beach high above the Arctic Circle, and while it was midnight, the sun was still shining. We awoke to heavy breathing outside our tent, and it was a group of narwhals that were just 30 yards from shore with their tusks pointing skyward, as if they were jousting. We stood for an hour watching this amazing display of social behaviors while we were wearing nothing but our long underwear in 35 degree temperatures, not wanting to take the time to put on warm clothes because we didn’t want to miss anything. I’ll never forget that moment.
GB: What do Narwhals sound like underwater/above water?
TM: Above the water you mostly hear their breathing as they surface, which sounds somewhat like most other whales you might see on a whale watch here in New England, though one biologist described the sound of a distant pod of narwhals approaching as a herd of farting elephants. But underwater, listening through hydrophones, they make all sorts of bizarre barnyard noises — mooing, creaky doors, sheep-like sounds, clicking. Some of it is probably for communication, some of it is from their echolocation.
GB: How is there population doing?
TM: By most accounts, their population is doing rather well at the moment. The best guess is that there are about 80,000 narwhals living around the islands in the eastern Canadian Arctic and along the coast of Greenland.
GB: Is climate change already affecting Narwhal’s and if so how?
TM: It is difficult to tell whether climate change is affecting them yet, but biologists claim narwhals and polar bears are the Arctic species most vulnerable to climate change. Narwhals aren’t very flexible in terms of their habitat requirements or the food they eat, so they’ll have a hard time adapting to changing environmental conditions. Plus, as Arctic ice retreats, it will open up even greater vulnerabilities — their chief predator, killer whales, will have greater access to narwhal habitat, commercial fishing will expand in direct competition for the narwhal’s preferred foods, oil and gas exploration will bring with it threats of oil spills and noises that will disturb them, and diseases and parasites that they aren’t used to could move northward from the south. While narwhals seem to be doing well now, their future is precarious.
GB: What was the most difficult part of researching or writing the book?
TM: No doubt, the hardest part for me was spending time in an Inuit hunting camp in northern Greenland where I learned about the importance narwhals play in Inuit culture. I’m a wildlife lover who wants to protect threatened species, so watching narwhals be hunted and then carved up for food was emotionally difficult for me to watch. But the Inuit have few other options for food, and the whales provide so many important nutrients that there is no heart disease in the region. So as challenging as it was for me to watch, I learned to understand and accept the practice as necessary in some Arctic communities.
GB: What is the narwhal’s link to the unicorn myth?
TM: For centuries, early Arctic explorers would acquire narwhal tusks from the Inuit and sell them in Europe as unicorn horns, which were supposed to have healing properties. The story goes that if you drank from a cup made from a unicorn horn, you wouldn’t get sick, so all the royal families acquired tusks and the Catholic Church even ground them up into powder to put in the sacramental wine to heal their parishioners. When it was finally revealed that the tusks came from a whale, it reinforced the belief in unicorns because people claimed that if a sea unicorn existed then a terrestrial unicorn must also exist.
This press release just in from the state:
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center CEO Alicia Barton and Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia today announced the launch of a new $475,000 incentive program to help residents install high-efficiency wood pellet boilers in their homes or small businesses.
Residents who participate in the program – which is a partnership between MassCEC and DOER – can receive rebates of up to $15,000 for installing high-efficiency wood pellet boilers.
Base rebates will begin at $7,000, with a cap of $15,000 per applicant available if other program requirements are met. The anticipated average rebate will be between $10,000 and $12,000. New wood pellet boilers typically cost more than $20,000 fully installed.
“These new boilers will help families save money, while decreasing dependence on expensive, unhealthy fossil fuels,” said Barton. “Programs like this are another example of our investments in a clean energy future for Massachusetts residents.”
Wood pellets produce the same amount of heat for half the price of home heating oil, when savings are calculated per British thermal unit (Btu), the traditional measure of heat energy.
“We are pleased to offer yet another innovative, accessible program that will reduce energy consumption and save homeowners money each year,” said Sylvia. “This program furthers the investment the Patrick-Murray Administration is making to support renewable heating technologies, an important part of our economic and environmental goals.”
Residents may print an application, and access more information on the program, by visiting www.masscec.com/smallscalepellet.
For a quarter century, 2020 Action, based in Amherst has carried out a big mission: Helping change US environmental and peace-related policies. The group reaches about 3,000 people with a monthly postcard that helps them craft a personalized, effective message to politicians and policy leaders. Membership is $20 a year. In celebration of their 25th year, we recently caught up with Lois Barber, founder and executive director.
Green Blog: You recently revived 2020 Action? Why?
Lois Barber: We revived 2020 Action because more than ever our democracy needs well-informed citizens to regularly communicate with policymakers about important issues. Citizen participation is at the heart of a healthy democracy and it is the best counter balance to the undue influence of big money and corporations on our government.
Here is how it works: Members of 2020 Action receive a simple 2020 postcard each month (by snail mail or email) focused on one critically important U.S. peace or environment issue. Each card has background information on the issue, and recommends one action to take-to send a personal message to a policymaker who is facing a decision on that issue. All the policymaker's contact information is provided. Our members do not send the monthly postcards to their policymakers, but use the information on the cards to compose and send their own personal message, by letter, email, phone, or website, to the decision maker. Membership costs $20 a year. Each postcard features a photograph that celebrates the beauty and wonder of the natural world. The photo is blank on the back so it can be detached from the rest of the card and reused as a postcard. Members receive reports on the effects of their actions.
GB: What do you consider 2020 Action's most successful campaigns in its quarter-century history?
LB: Since 1986, 2020 has sent over 1 million action postcards to its members and followers across the US on a variety of peace and environment issues. We feel we can take some credit for the following changes in our nation's policies: the reduction of nuclear weapons in the world, the US Senate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Treaty, new EPA fuel efficiency standards, cuts in power plant mercury emissions, and reductions in carbon dioxide and fine particulate matter that contribute to soot in the atmosphere.
GB: What is 2020 Action focusing on now?
LB: In general, our center of interest is U.S. military and environment policies. Within that framework we address a variety of issues but keep our focus on what we consider the two greatest threats to our nation’s well being: climate change and nuclear catastrophes. Our 2020 Action February postcard addresses the soon-to-be-released Implementation Plan for our nation's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). This is President Obama's opportunity to reduce the number of our nation's nuclear weapons down to 1,000 or less from our current 1,800 deployed weapons; take our nuclear weapons off 'high alert' status; and establish a 'no-first-use' policy regarding our nuclear arsenal. He can do all this without any action needed by Congress. Our March postcard suggests five specific actions to ask the President to take to turn his strong words about combatting climate change into meaningful action.
GB: What are the challenges facing 2020?
LB: The corrupting influence of big money and corporations on our democracy. The best defense against this is to strengthen citizen participation in our democracy. Our challenge is to find Americans who are willing to spend up to 20 minutes each month to turn their concern, care, and outrage into meaningful action. For many people, activism for peace and the environment has been reduced to clicking on online petitions--well meaning, but minimally effective actions. Every policymaker says that personal messages from constituents mean the most. Our nation needs better-informed, engaged citizens.
GB: Where do you see 2020 Action in another 25 years?
LB: Millions of citizens will use the trusted information they receive from 2020 via social media, TV, radio and print to send effective, personal messages to their elected representatives about peace and environment issues. Millions of young citizens will be part of 'Youth 2020' where they will learn how to be effective agents of change and use the power they have as citizens in our democracy. 2020 community groups will work together on local environment and peace projects in their communities across the country.
For more information go here.
As climate change takes root in New England, butterflies are taking wing earlier, new research led by a Boston University researcher shows.
By looking at ten short-lived butterfly species known as elfins and hairstreaks, the researchers found that the start of the butterfly flight period advances on average by two days for each degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature. The group, which included Massachusetts Butterfly Club, Hamilton and Boston colleges, examined over 5,000 records of butterflies in flight using museum collections and citizen science data from 1893 to 2009 to figure out how flight times are affected by temperature, rainfall, geographic location and year.
“Butterflies are very responsive to temperature in a way comparable to flowering times, leafing out times, and bee flight times,” says Richard Primack, professor of biology and study co-author.
Two environmental groups are planning to sue the state Department of Environmental Protection for failing to renew an expired air pollution permit in a timely fashion for a Springfield coal burning plant that they say is likely violating air quality standards.
The Springfield-based Arise for Social Justice and the Partnership for Policy Integrity, an environmental research organization, say the Solutia manufacturing plant, which burns coal to generate heat and power for its factory that makes auto and other layered glass, has been emitting air pollution in levels known to harm human health.
The groups commissioned an independent air pollution modeling of the facility and said the results show Solutia’s coal emissions are likely causing a violation of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality standard for sulfur dioxide and possibly of nitrogen dioxide, which can contribute to poor air quality in the summer months.
“Our modeling shows that coal emissions from the Solutia facility create hot spots of (sulfur dioxide) pollution up to 50 percent greater than .... health standards allow,” said Mary Booth director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity.
A spokesman for the state DEP said it had not yet received notice it was being sued. When it does receive it, “We will review it and are certainly willing to discuss this information with the interested groups. This facility has submitted its permit renewal application in a timely manner, as required,’’ said the spokesman, Ed Coletta, in a statement. “In the meantime, it continues to operate under the existing permit.”
The state agency has been hard hit with budget cuts.
A spokeswoman for Eastman Chemical Company, which owns Solutia, said the company does not believe Solutia is exceeding air quality standards because state real-time data show that Massachusetts is meeting federal air quality standards. She said the company did not have a chance to review the environmental groups' data before they learned of the intent to sue.
“Solutia believes that close examination of the models and underlying assumptions used will clearly demonstrate that the results presented by PFPI/Arise are overly conservative and unrealistic,’’ Eastman said in a statement. “We would like to have our renewed permit in-hand, but appreciate the fact that Mass DEP is resource limited and they are working as quickly as they can to get us our permit. In the meantime, we continue to operate in accordance with our existing permit.”
The environmental groups said they contacted Eastman before filling the notice and got no response.
“We are looking forward to DEP re-opening the permit for this antiquated facility, and are optimistic that any new permit will effectively eliminate their use of coal,’’ said PFPI attorney Kelly Bitov.
When Gordon Burns glanced out of his window onto Revere Beach Sunday morning, he saw what looked like thousands of black shimmering rocks on the beach stretching for miles in either direction.
But he and his partner Dung Doan soon realized they weren't rocks, but surf clams - tens of thousands of dead ones left behind in Nemo's fierce wake. Doan then walked 3.5 miles of the beach taking pictures - and the clams were littered across that entire expanse.
"It was devastating for me to see it, there didn't seem to be an inch of the beach that wasn't covered with them,'' said Burns on Monday. "And for some reason or another the seagulls would not eat them. We've never seen anything like it."
Revere beachcombers probably haven't - but beaches in the region have experienced similar deposits of marine life from storms, state officials say.
Paul Diodati, Director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, said the surf clams (often used in clam chowder or in fried clam strips) were thrown onto the beach by waves that disturbed the shellfish as they buried in shallow sandy areas.
He said it was a shame to see, but the surf clam population will quickly recover.
Anyone else finding lots of sea life on the beach from the storm?
Pilgrim Station nuclear plant automatically shut down in the thick of the storm Friday night after losing power, according to a statement by Entergy, the plant's owner.
Authorities said there is no danger and backup diesel generators are powering safety systems.
"The plant is in a safe, secure condition and will remain on backup power supply until off-site power is restored," the statement said.
An unusual event is the lowest of four classifications of emergencies by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
By Beth Daley
Massachusetts and eight other Northeast states are nearly halving the amount of carbon dioxide power plants are allowed to emit –- a dramatic reduction that is expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to the state while combating global warming.
The revision of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative agreement comes four years after the nine-state program first put in place a cap aimed at curbing emissions of the key heat-trapping gas in order to slow manmade climate change.
“This agreement means lower greenhouse gas emissions for the region and increased growth and opportunity in our clean energy economy, a major driver of job creation here,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said in a statement. State environmental officials pushed hard for the sharp cut.
“It is also a strong statement that this region, which comprises nearly 20 percent of the national economy, is serious about being stewards of our environment and addressing climate change,” Patrick said.
The new agreement -- the most aggressive emission limits being considered by the states –- comes shortly after Superstorm Sandy and the re-election of President Obama pushed climate change back into the limelight and onto the political agenda. The US Environmental Protection Agency has already issued greenhouse gas emission regulations for new power plants and is expected to release rules for existing ones soon. The Northeast states participating in the regional initiative are expected to try and use RGGI to help meet any new federal rules.
The current regional cap is at 165 million tons of carbon dioxide – but power plants in the nine states emitted only about 91 tons last year, largely because of the region’s growing dependence on natural gas, which releases fewer greenhouse gases when burned to generate electricity.
While those lowered emissions helped global warming, it undercut a key goal of the initiative: Have power plants invest in cleaner technologies rather than buy expensive emission allowances. With emissions so low, plants had no reason to make changes.
The new cap will start at 91 tons in 2014 and be lowered 2.5 percent per year until 2020. The reductions are likely to be even greater because the formula is designed to permit an even lower cap early on to force power plants to quickly use up inexpensive allowances they already possess.
Massachusetts and eight other states will announce significant cuts Thursday in allowable carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, according to a press advisory released by Massachusetts officials.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative announcement comes four years after the nine-state program put in place a cap aimed at reducing emissions of the heat-trapping gas from power plants in order to slow manmade climate change.
By last August, emissions were down -- about 36 percent below the current cap.
But the steep reductions, driven primarily by the region’s growing dependence on natural gas, had the perverse effect of undermining the pact because there were fewer financial incentives for polluting power companies to invest in cleaner technologies.
The nine states have been discussing changes for two years as part of a program review, with a broad outside coalition of more than 300 Northeast businesses, academics, and environmental and health groups arguing for a significant lowering of the cap.
RGGI is the first mandatory market-based carbon dioxide reduction program in the United States.
No other information was available Wednesday afternoon, although the Massachusetts press advisory said the new cuts would “generate millions of dollars in additional revenue for Massachusetts.”
Jennifer Feller and Sam Palmer met in 1995 working at Patagonia on Newbury Street, and now their lives have come full circle- running a business together that repurposes old Patagonia fleeces into hip, protective Kindle and iPad cases. Their company, ReFleece, came out of their shared environmental ethos and Sam’s tinkering in their Arlington basement.
A product designer who had worked at Patagonia helping to develop their first surfboard, Sam was working at a startup solar company that laid him off. Looking to start his own company and product line, he used some old fleeces he had lying around from his Patagonia days to create a bowl. “Bowls are cool, but we wanted something with a little more utility,” Jennifer told me. They started brainstorming more useful products and came up with their first line of electronics cases. “When you look at fleece, you think of the outdoors- indestructible, put it in a backpack, protective, lightweight, and water-protective. They weigh nothing; these are the same qualities you’d want to protect an electronic,” explained Jennifer.
Jennifer and Sam considered sustainability at every level of the manufacturing process. The lining for the cases is made out of discarded Patagonia jackets that are cleaned, cut, and pressed. The outer shell is made from a 100% post-consumer and post-industrial scrap fleece, which is made out of recycled plastic bottles. The cases are made to be recycled- thus they have no glue to interfere with the recycling process. They do not add any dyes, which means that no excess dyes end up in our water systems or as waste. The cases are designed and prototyped in Somerville and Arlington, and the cases are manufactured in the U.S. Finally, the packaging is recyclable or compostable, and they ship the packages without plastic bags when possible (fleece is waterproof- so why waste the bags?).
They have a new line of products coming out- so stay tuned to find out what’s next for ReFleece.
You can check out ReFleece here: http://www.refleece.com/
Learn more about Patagonia’s Common Threads recycling program.
Lori Alper, a Boston-area based blogger and founder of Groovy Green Livin had a significant role in a recent California court agreement by Procter & Gamble to substantially reduce the levels of a chemical linked to cancer found in their Tide laundry detergent. Alper started a petition at Change.org that helped publicize the issue. An Oakland-based non-profit ultimately sued the company for making Tide with too high levels of 1,4-dioxane (which the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry classifies as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.") without disclosing it to consumers in violation of California law. Procter & Gamble did not respond to a request for comment.
We caught up with Alper recently to fill us in more:
Green Blog: What prompted you to start the petition at change.org?
Lori Alper: A report released by Women’s Voices for Earth, Dirty Secrets: What’s Hiding in Your Cleaning Products? found high levels of a cancer-causing chemical in Tide Free & Gentle® laundry detergent. This chemical isn’t listed on the product label or on the product website, so consumers have no way of knowing it’s in there. This was especially concerning, because Tide Free & Gentle® is marketed to moms as a healthier choice for their children’s laundry. Infants and children are more vulnerable to chemical exposures, because their immune, neurological, and hormone systems are still developing. I felt compelled to do something about this so I created a petition on Change.org asking Procter & Gamble (makers of Tide) to strip this harmful cancer-causing chemical out of Tide Free & Gentle®.
What happened after the petition went up?
LA: The petition went viral. Almost 80,000 people from all over the world stepped up to the plate and signed demanding that Procter & Gamble change the formulation of their Tide laundry detergent. We knew Procter & Gamble could make this change because they had done it before. Back in 2010 the company reformulated its Herbal Essences® shampoo for the very same reason. We continued to turn up the volume, letting Procter & Gamble know that we wouldn’t stop until they made a change. After almost a year of continued consumer pressure Procter & Gamble realized they could no longer ignore our concerns and they finally agreed to reformulate their detergents to reduce the levels of this toxic chemical.
GB: It seems like phrases like “free and clear” promises safety. What advice can you give to parents trying to pick safe products for their children?
LA: Unfortunately regulations surrounding toxic chemicals in cleaning products are pretty old and ineffective. As it stands right now, cleaning product companies aren’t required to tell us what chemicals are in their products. Until the Safe Chemicals Act passes product labels don’t have to reflect toxic chemicals and there’s very little information on whether or not a product is safe once it hits the market.
For personal care products I would suggest using The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database to research the safety of most personal care products already in your home or to help you find safer products in the store.
The best option is to make your own cleaning products. Until we know what’s in the products we buy off the shelf, we can mix our own with safe ingredients like vinegar and baking soda.
If you are concerned about a cleaning product that you currently use (and like), contact the company directly and ask about their ingredients. Ask the manufacturer to disclose all of their fragrance ingredients and any contaminants.
GB: When and why did you start Groovy Green Livin?
LA: After practicing law for many years, I realized that I had outgrown the fast-paced and stressful lifestyle. I began to see firsthand how living an organic, non-toxic lifestyle can directly affect your health and well being. My commitment towards a greener lifestyle was strengthened once I started a family. I began to educate myself about chemicals and other toxins that were going into and on our bodies. When my youngest went off to kindergarten I decided to trade in my suits and follow my passion- to educate myself and others on how to live as naturally and toxin-free as possible. And so Groovy Green Livin was born.
GB: What are the biggest challenges you experience in living a green life?
LA: My biggest challenge at the moment is remembering to bring my reusable bags to the store. I finally have a system in place. I leave my reusable bags in plain view on the passenger side of the car. You would think this would be a simple fix, but I’m still only remembering them 80% of the time! I’m just reminded that no one is perfectly green.
GB: Give us a green tip you’ve recently discovered.
LA: Fill your living space with house plants! House plants are such a simple way to improve indoor air quality. Many common houseplants act as an air filter, removing toxins from the air we breathe. They are known to absorb toxins including gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber and more. I have a brown thumb so I try to add plants that are simple to grow such as a peace lily.
On Wednesday, New England fishermen suffered devastating cuts in how much cod they can catch. Now, a prominent environmental group is calling for the complete closure of the region’s cod fishery to avoid what it says could be the commercial collapse of the stock.
The Conservation Law Foundation says the New England Fishery Management Council irresponsibly voted for the least aggressive cuts it could under the law.
"The science is clear. The models are showing cod stocks at the lowest levels in history and declining,’’ said Peter Shelley, senior counsel with CLF. With the vote, “the New England Fisheries Management Council continued a long and irresponsible track record of putting short-term economic interests over the long-term health of New England’s cod fishery.”
The council voted Wednesday to reduce the catch limit of Gulf of Maine cod by 77 percent from last year and the US share of Georges Bank cod, whose stock is shared with Canada, by 55 percent. The cuts will begin May 1.
Fishermen have fought the cuts, saying that fish populations are not as bad as scientists say and that they were lied to by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees fishery regulation. That’s because the federal agency made major errors on a federal analysis of cod off New England that dramatically overestimated the number of cod. The agency only recently discovered the errors and the cuts approved Wednesday reflected the new science.
I’ve called a few fishermen to get their take on CLF’s position. But it’s a pretty good guess they will not have anything supportive to say about the advocacy group's stance.
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Helping Boston live a greener, more environmentally friendly life.