Grist: August 2007

By Staff

Environmental news and commentary.
We Always Thought It Was Industrial Strength
McDonald's to power U.K. delivery fleet with its own grease

Proving once again that everything's cooler in Europe, McDonald's has announced that it will run all its U.K. delivery vehicles on biodiesel – from its own greasy grills! The chain will convert the 155-lorry fleet to a mix of 85% fry grease and 15% rapeseed oil by next year, and says the switch will cut its U.K. carbon emissions 75%. Mickey D's has already made a similar move in Austria, and is apparently drumming up other plans around packaging and recycling. All this comes on the heels of the late June news that the fast-food giant will buy milk from organic dairies, and a summer push to sell healthier meals to kids. The biodiesel initiative "is a great example of how businesses can work together to help the environment," said Matthew Howe, senior vice president, in what has to be the most nondescript sound bite ever. We prefer Chief Supply Chain Officer Francesca DeBiase, who said European operations serve as an "early warning system" for the U.S. Dum dum DUM.
The Telegraph, Harry Wallop, 02 Jul 2007

That's a Mighty Full Circular File
Faced with rampant pollution, China reports increase in citizen protests

The sorry state of air and water quality in China has led to rising public protests, says a top environment agent there – and citizens and officials alike are urging the country to crack down on polluters. In the first five months of 2007, the State Environmental Protection Administration received 1,814 citizen petitions demanding a cleaner environment, an 8% increase over the same time period last year. The central government talks tough on pollution, but local leaders are said to cater to industry; SEPA officials now say flagrant polluters will be denied bank loans. "Environmental protection offices and enforcement staff must stand up when the time demands," says SEPA's Zhou Shengxian.
Reuters, Chris Buckley, 05 Jul 2007

Who Needs Aspirin?
Study finds organic tomatoes contain more heart-healthy antioxidants

Could organic fruits and veggies be better for you? A study of samples collected over 10 years found that organic tomatoes contained far higher levels of flavonoids – antioxidants that reduce high blood pressure and have also been linked with reduced rates of some cancers and dementia – than conventional varieties. Researchers from the UC-Davis say the boost may be related to nitrogen levels in soil, which are affected by the use of fertilizer. They hasten to point out that there are plenty of variables in this still-growing field. But a rep from Britain's organic certification body, the Soil Association, didn't carrot all about that concern: "These findings … confirm recent European research, which showed that organic tomatoes, peaches, and processed apples all have higher nutritional quality than non-organic." Just don't tell the kids.
BBC News, 05 Jul 2007

Hope There's a High Ceiling for the Kangaroos
Australia to build 1,740-mile corridor for wildlife affected by climate change

State and federal leaders in Australia have agreed to create a 1,740-mile wildlife corridor spanning the east coast of the continent – in part to allow plants and animals to flee the effects of global warming. "The effects of climate change will likely be less severe in systems that have some resilience and that we haven't gone in and buggered up," says David Lindenmayer, a conservation biology professor at Australian National University. "A lot of that forest and vegetation spine is already there. But there are still blockages." The project will link national parks, state forests, and government land, as well as private property conserved by landowners.
Reuters, Rob Taylor, 09 Jul 2007

Stewards Jolly
Mega-corporations sign U.N.-sponsored climate compact

More than 150 companies, including Ikea, Unilever, and Coca-Cola, have signed a U.N.-sponsored climate declaration that commits them to setting and reporting on emissions-reduction goals, while asking governments to enact a post-Kyoto, market-based plan. OK, it's a voluntary pact with a touchy-feely name – "Caring for Climate: The Business Leadership Platform" – but its very existence speaks volumes about changes in the business world. "Climate change is shaping global markets and global consumer attitudes," says U.N. Environment Program head Achim Steiner. "There will be winners and losers. Companies who… evolve, innovate, and respond to these challenges are likely to be the pioneers and industry leaders of the 21st century." At the head of the wagon train: Coke head Neville Isdell, who took the stage with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon at last month's Global Compact summit to push corporate responsibility. "In the 21st century," Isdell says, "you're going to have to be seen as a steward of the planet."
Forbes, AFX News, 06 Jul 2007

And the Peanuts Are Free-Range
With fans and fanfare, Boeing unveils new fuel-efficient aircraft

Boeing has unveiled a new fuel-efficient airplane. The 787 Dreamliner – nicknamed the "greenliner" – boasts a body that's half carbon-fiber composite; because the material is lighter than the traditional aluminum, the aircraft will use 20% less fuel than similarly sized planes, says the company. According to Jeff Hawk, who oversees environmental efforts for the model, the 787 consumes about one gallon of fuel per seat per 100 miles of travel – "less than a typical sedan, and a half to a third the fuel consumption of an SUV." Let's see, multiply that by 250 passengers traveling the 787's range of 9,400 miles, and… oh, never mind. Boeing has already received nearly 700 orders for the plane from global airlines eager to green their image.
The Seattle Times, Dominic Gates, 09 Jul 2007

Stick It Where the Sun Do Shine
Groovy new battery could change the way energy is stored

A type of battery created by Ford Motor Co. in the 1960s for use in electric cars could help utilities around the world. Sodium-sulfur batteries provide efficient energy storage, and could reduce the need for new transmission lines, substations, and power plants. The new generation of room-sized, $2.5 million batteries has been in limited use in Japan since the 1990s, and is getting a test run in the U.S.: American Electric Power installed one in West Virginia, and a group of utilities on Long Island, N.Y., will try one this summer. "If you've got these batteries distributed in the neighborhood, you have, in a sense, lots of little power plants," says Stow Walker of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Because the batteries can be a source of backup power, they reduce the chances of blackouts, proponents say, and could make an irregular source like wind energy more practical. "We'd like to see storage ubiquitous," says Imre Gyuk of the U.S. Department of Energy. "Stick it any place you can stick it."
USA Today, Paul Davidson, 04 Jul 2007

Florida, the Greenest State?
Crist Almighty! Florida governor enacts big energy and emission plans

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist hosted a two-day climate summit in Miami last month, and wrapped up the event by signing three sweeping eco-executive orders. His plans include:

•    adopting California's strict vehicle-emissions law, making Florida the first Southeast state to go that route;

•    calling for a 40% reduction in statewide greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025;

•    requiring state agencies to prioritize fuel efficiency when buying or renting vehicles and to hold events in facilities certified as green by the state Department of Environmental Protection;

•    asking state utilities to produce 20% of their power from renewables; and

•    creating a Florida Governor's Action Team on Energy and Climate Change.

Whew! "When you look at the southeast of our country, there hasn't been a whole lot of action," Crist says. "Maybe we can be the point of the spear as it relates to making a difference, striving to lead by example."
Palm Beach Post, Kristi E. Swartz, 11 Jul 2007

Think They'll A-Peel?
Latin American banana farmers sue U.S. companies over pesticides

A pesticide designed to eradicate worms from Latin American banana trees may have had a detrimental effect on workers' … oh, how to put it … bananas. At least 5,000 agricultural laborers from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama have filed five lawsuits in the U.S., claiming that exposure to the pesticide DBCP in the 1970s left them sterile. The lawsuit was filed by farmers in 2004 against multinational companies Dole, Dow, and Amvac. The trial, held in Los Angeles, will air claims that the companies knew that long-term exposure could cause problems but not issuing any warnings or protection. While not denying the toxicity of DBCP, a Dow spokesperson responded that frequent turnover among banana workers made prolonged exposure to the chemical unlikely. Guess those 5,000 cases of sterility were just a coincidence.
BusinessWeek, Associated Press, Noaki Schwartz, 08 Jul 2007

Sounds Perfecto to Us
Organic farming can yield more food than conventional ag, says analysis

In developed countries, organic farming can yield nearly as much food as pesticide-heavy agriculture, and in developing countries can produce up to three times as much chow, says a new analysis of 293 published studies on organic yields. "My hope is that we can finally put a nail in the coffin of the idea that you can't produce enough food through organic agriculture," says researcher Ivette Perfecto. Let us get this straight: Organic farming is efficient. Organic food doesn't have poisons on it. Organic fruits and veggies could be more nutritious than conventional ones. So… why doesn't our system favor organic methods? Says Perfecto, whose work was published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems: "Corporate interest in agriculture and… a lot of influence by the chemical companies and pesticide companies as well as fertilizer companies all have been playing an important role in convincing the public that you need to have these inputs to produce food." Oh, right. We forgot.
Planet Ark, Reuters, 11 Jul 2007

Second to Naan
A worried India takes steps toward national climate plan

India – home to more than a billion people and a fast-expanding economy – is taking its first steps toward a climate-change plan. Last month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a preview of a "Green India" strategy that calls for planting trees on 15 million acres of denuded land. He emphasized the importance of planning for energy efficiency and sustainable development and of helping the country's citizens cope with the effects of global warming, including melting Himalayan glaciers. A draft of the government's climate policy should be completed in October, ahead of a U.N. climate meeting to be held in Bali in December – and that's none too soon for many Indians, who were found in a recent international poll to be more concerned about climate change than the citizens of any other nation, and more optimistic about finding solutions.

The Hindu, 14 Jul 2007Too, Too Sullied Flesh
Meat production spews more greenhouse gases than a three-hour joyride

The next time you chomp a hamburger, think of this: the process of getting that beef to your bun may have spewed more greenhouse-gas emissions than leaving all your house lights blazing while taking a three-hour joyride in your car. Researchers looked at beef production in Japan and its impact on climate, water, and energy, and came up with sobering statistics. Wanna hear more? Not including transportation of meat from farm to store, production of 2.2 pounds of beef (OK, yes, that's a big burger) also spews the same amount of CO2 as an average European car driven 155 miles, and uses enough energy to keep a 100-watt light bulb bright for nearly 20 days. Methane-heavy cow burps and farts comprise most of the greenhouse-gas emissions; two-thirds of the energy used by the industry goes to producing and transporting feed. What could be done? Improve waste management, the study authors say, or shorten the interval between calving. Or, if we may suggest something totally crazy: Stop eating so much meat. (The question remains: Why do cows burp and fart so much?)
New Scientist, Daniele Fanelli, 18 Jul 2007

This article was originally published on July 30, 2007.