If passed, legislation will mean an end to killer whale shows at SeaWorld, San Diego
A new bill has just been introduced in California that would phase out orcas captivity in the state. Assembly Bill 2140 (pdf), introduced by Assemblymember Richard Bloom last week, seeks a ban on keeping killer whales in captivity for human entertainment and retire all captive orcas to sea pens.
Photo by Jesse Means
While the proposed legislation, dubbed the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, doesn’t specifically name SeaWorld, the marine park’s San Diego facility is the only one in the state that currently has 10 captive orcas that are used in performances. The company has, unsurprisingly, reacted harshly to the proposal.
The draft bill is quite comprehensive and would:
- Prohibit holding or use of a wild-caught or captive-bred orca for performances or entertainment purposes. ("Performances and entertainment purposes" are defined as any exhibition associated with music or other sound effects, choreographed display, or training for such display, or unprotected contact between humans and orcas. This applies to trainers, too, except for veterinary care.)
- Prohibit import or capture in state waters of any orcas for entertainment purposes.
- Prohibit breeding or impregnating captive orcas.
- Prohibit import and collection of any sperm, gametes or embryos for artificial insemination.
These provisions would not apply to any orca held for rehabilitation or stranding, or for research purposes. However, any orcas held for rehabilitation or research would have to be released eventually or kept in a sea pen. Similarly, orcas held for entertainment purposes would be retired to a sea pen and released if possible. Until an appropriate sea pen is available for retirement, orcas could be held for exhibition only in existing tanks.
“There is no justification for the continued captive display of orcas for entertainment purposes. These beautiful creatures are much too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete tanks for their entire lives,” Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica, said in a statement.
Bloom was accompanied by Blackfish director Gabriella Cowperthwaite and two former orca trainers at a press conference announcing the bill at the Santa Monica pier on Friday. The lawmaker said the harrowing …more
Condoleezza Rice sells Keystone XL as a Solution to the Crisis in Ukraine
This is not the first time Condoleezza Rice has used a political crisis to advance the interests of the petroleum industry. In an op-ed in The Washington Post last week, the former Secretary of State connected the political fate of Ukraine to the pending approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Photo courtesy World Economic Forum
Given her work in the Bush Administration to advance US military presence into oil-rich areas and her prior work for Chevron to advance their interests in Kazakhstan (Chevron even named an oil supertanker after her) she might not be the most unbiased source on the subject. You can read the entire WaPo piece here, but this is the excerpt that is noteworthy:
“Soon, North America’s bounty of oil and gas will swamp Moscow’s capacity. Authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline and championing natural gas exports would signal that we intend to do precisely that. And Europe should finally diversify its energy supply and develop pipelines that do not run through Russia.”
The first problem with Rice’s argument is that the current conflict in Ukraine has much more to do with natural gas. In contrast, the Keystone XL pipeline is intended to transport crude oil from the tar sands of Canada, a source that is especially carbon-intensive. Even once operational, the pipeline will only provide less than one percent of total world oil use – hardly a “bounty.” Rice overstates the effect the pipeline will have on global market prices while minimizing the many environmental risks and the higher carbon intensity of extraction from tar sands. And, even if the pipeline were operational by the targeted date of 2016, the United States is currently barred from exporting crude oil. How will approval of a crude oil pipeline in the United States alter the petro-politics of natural gas in Ukraine?
Rice also claims that we need to champion our natural gas exports to send a “signal” that the US’ oil and gas bounty is more than Russia’s. This signal has long been sent. Obama’s Department of Energy has already approved six of 21 applications to build port facilities to export liquefied natural …more
Exposure to blue-rich LED lights can disrupt natural circadian rhythms in humans and wildlife
This post has been updated to include information about San Francisco's choice of yellow-rich LEDs.
Streetlights don’t make a lot of headlines. They are a constant in our cityscapes, rarely drawing the attention of passing pedestrians and motorists.
Photo by flickr user meltedplastic
That is, until recently. During the past few years, cities from Baltimore, to San Antonio, to Los Angeles have begun replacing traditional streetlights (typically high pressure sodium bulbs) with newer light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs). Last year, Oakland, CA joined the ranks of the LED converts with its Streetlight Conversion Project, switching out 30,000 of the city’s 38,000 regular bulbs for LED substitutes. Later this year two other California Bay Area cities, Berkeley and San Francisco, will follow in Oakland’s footsteps with LED conversion projects of their own, converting 8,000 and 18,500 streetlights respectively.
The hype around LEDs stems from two primary benefits. First, LEDs are brighter than traditional lights, and many cities feel that the increased brightness improves public safety. Second, LEDs are more energy efficient than earlier generation bulbs, bringing both financial and environmental benefits to converting cities.
Public safety was a big motivator behind the Oakland conversion project, and it may seem intuitive that brighter lights improve safety. However, some studies suggest that though brighter streets make people feel safer, they have no impact on actual crime levels.
In terms of the environment, LEDs definitely bring some benefits, the biggest of which is energy savings. The Oakland Streetlight Conversion Project will save the city nearly $20,000 per year in energy costs, and will reduce city greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 40 percent (or 80,000 pounds) per year. “The overall goal of this whole project was to have better light in our city streets,” says Kristine Shaff, a public information officer with the City of Oakland. “And the energy savings are tremendous.”
Similarly, Berkeley and San Francisco estimate that new LED streetlights will consume 50 percent less energy than existing streetlights.
LEDs are available in a variety of color temperatures, typically ranging from “warm” yellow-rich lights, to “cooler” blue-white lights. LEDs in the blue-white range are generally 10 to 15 percent more energy efficient than warmer LEDS, leading many …more
Film Review: Growing Cities
Urban Farming has certainly hit it big. It has a Macarthur Genius (Will Allen), a proponent in the white house (Michelle Obama), and, now, a suite of films promoting its virtues. As an urban farmer, and one who’s been interviewed for some of these films (full disclosure, including the subject of this review), I should be excited. And I am! Like so many others, I got into urban farming because I saw in it a political act to confront many social, ecological, and economic crises at once. Starting with local communities where people are — the city — we could challenge the dominant industrial food system and construct a viable alternative.
Photo courtesy MMW Horticulture Group
To see these hopes and values that got me into urban farming being spread across the country is promising. Growing Cities, one of the most recent documentaries to focus on the resurgence of urban farming in the United States, does a great job of exhibiting, explaining, and extolling this promise.
The film starts with a quote from Abraham Lincoln that — were you to not know who said it — you might attribute to a revolutionary. The quote claims that no community with the skills of growing food can be subjected to oppression. This is the underlying belief that motivated me, like so many others, to pursue urban farming as a political act. Yet, outside the appeal of this idea, the question remains: was Lincoln actually right?
Growing Cities presents clearly the motivations of urban farmers, the environmental and social stakes involved in changing the dominant food system, and the ways in which urban farming might truly form a solution. In making their film for a wide American audience, director Dan Sussman and company chose to focus on the positives of urban farming, occasionally glossing over some of the deeper challenges, complexities, and contradictions of the movement. This is understandable: as any documentary filmmaker knows, something must be left on the cutting room floor, and an hour and half is never much time to cover the full complexity of any real human issue.
For someone new to …more
California continues to lead the market and installed more than half of all new US solar last year
What would Alexandre Edmond Becquerel be thinking now?
In 1839, at the age of just 19, Becquerel built the world’s first photovoltaic panel, later inspiring the imaginations of millions of people worldwide, including legendary scientist Albert Einstein. Still, it took another 115 years before Bell Labs invented the first modern silicon solar cell.
Photo by J N Stuart
By comparison, it’s no stretch to say that the solar timeline has rocketed forward at warp speed in recent years.
Continuing its explosive growth, the U.S. solar industry had another record-shattering year in 2013. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013, photovoltaic (PV) installations expanded rapidly last year, increasing 41 percent over 2012 to reach 4,751 megawatts (MW) of new capacity. In addition, 410 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) came online in 2013. Consumers nationwide benefitted from this growth as the cost to install solar fell throughout the year, ending 15 percent below the record low set at the end of 2012.
When the final 2013 numbers were added up, there were 440,000 operating solar electric systems across the U.S., totaling more than 12,000 MW of PV and 918 MW of CSP.
What does this mean to you? Well today, solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America, generating enough clean, reliable and affordable electricity to power more than 2.2 million homes—and we’re just beginning to scratch the surface of our industry’s enormous potential. Last year alone, solar created tens of thousands of new American jobs and pumped tens of billions of dollars into the U.S. economy. In fact, more solar has been installed in the U.S. in the last 18 months than in the 30 previous years combined. That’s a remarkable record of achievement.
California continues to lead the U.S. market and installed more than half of all new U.S. solar in 2013. In fact, the Golden State installed more solar last year than the entire United States did in 2011. North Carolina, Massachusetts and Georgia also had major growth years in 2013, installing 663 megawatts (MW)—more than doubling their combined total from the year …more
Trans-Pacific Partnership could boost the natural gas boom
When it comes to fracking for natural gas, corporations and communities have diametrically opposed interests. For corporations, the operative (and seemingly only) question at hand is: Will this be profitable?
For the people living in potential frack-zones, there are often a few more questions, for example: How much are you going to pay me for this? Will I be able to safely breathe the air while I sit on my front porch? Is my tap water going to catch on fire?
photo by danielfoster437, on Flickr
If people from a community (or a state, or a country) decide they’re not much interested in exploding pipelines and poisoned water wells, they have some tools at their disposal to stop hydraulic fracturing in their backyards. They can try to pass local ordinances banning or regulating the practice.
They can lobbying their elected representatives. If nothing else works, they can engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. In locales throughout the United States, the companies pushing gas extraction are running up against well-organized opposition.
While popular opposition doesn’t always stop fracking, at least citizens have options.
But if the Trans-Pacific Partnership – a massive “free trade” agreement currently under negotiation – goes into effect, it won’t much matter what the people think. Corporations will have even more power to call the shots.
The TPP is a huge deal, but the negotiations haven’t gotten much attention as they deserve. So here’s a primer: The TPP is a free trade agreement, first proposed in 2006, which has grown to encompass 12 Pacific Rim countries – Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. The TPP covers far more ground than most ‘trade’ agreements, containing 29 chapters dealing with topics from the environment and labor to pharmaceuticals.
And yet only a handful of negotiators have seen what’s going into the text. Most members of the US Senate haven’t seen the text. Ditto for members of legislative bodies in other countries. With the exception of three chapters disclosed by Wikileaks, the public hasn’t seen the text, either. Yet more than 500 corporate advisors have seen the text, according to Public Citizen.
Here’s what we do know: The agreement contains …more
Host cities have always sourced most of their Olympic gold, silver, and bronze from polluting mines
Photo courtesy US Army
The Sochi Games couldn’t have gone much better for Vladimir Putin. He has successfully used the prestige of the Olympics to bolster his reputation in Russia—all while blanketing concerns like gay rights, free speech and corruption under a layer of wet Sochi snow. (Though his intervention in Ukraine may dwarf all). For the reputation of the Olympics, however, the Sochi Games leave a mixed legacy. The world is now wondering whether the Olympics, a showcase for values like excellence and fair play, are as morally agnostic as they seem.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) can’t take back its decision to award the Winter Games to Putin. But if it’s smart, it will look for ways to restore to the Olympics some of the ethical shine that got lost in Sochi. Luckily, an option is available to the IOC that would be administratively simple and symbolically powerful: requiring that Olympic medals be made from recycled sources.
All the recent Olympic host cities, including Sochi, have awarded medals that are impressively original and the product of considerable hard work and thought. But for all the effort that goes into them, Olympic medals have never reflected the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility. And they’ve never fully embodied the principle of respect for the environment that is enshrined in the Olympic Charter. That is because host cities have always sourced most or all of their Olympic gold, silver, and bronze from polluting, industrial mines.
This is regrettable, because the toll taken by mining for gold and other metals is unmistakably heavy. Industrial mining destroys landscapes and creates stunning amounts of waste—at least 12 tons for the six grams of gold in every gold medal. Companies mining for metals dump about 180 million metric tons of toxic waste directly into rivers, lakes, and oceans every year—more than all the municipal waste dumped in U.S. landfills annually. Mining companies have also forcibly evicted communities, disrupted livelihoods and violated worker rights.
Most artisanal gold mining—the kind done by informal, small-scale producers—is no more responsible. Besides being riddled with troubling labor practices, like child labor, artisanal gold mining is fueling a deadly civil war …more