Monday, March 30, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

This past Saturday, lights went off around the world as millions of buildings--landmarks, homes, businesses--in an orchestrated effort to demonstrate concern over climate change.

According to CNN, more than 2,800 cities and towns in 83 countries and 24 time zones dimmed their lights at 8:30pm local time for the third annual Earth Hour. On the U.S. east coast, lights went out at the Capitol dome, Empire State Building, Central Park and George Washington Bridge. Other landmarks include the Pyramids, the Sydney Opera House, the Acropolis, the Eiffel Tower, the dome of St Peter's in the Vatican, Table Mountain in South Africa and the Empire State Building.

Earth Hour kicked off in Oceania; some 23 hours and 45 minutes after the first light switched was turned off on Chatham Island, residents of Honolulu, Hawaii casted their votes against climate change by turning their lights off.

Sydney, Australia, where Earth Hour started just two years ago, was expected to record the highest participation rates on the planet among its population of over 4 million.

Each light that is turned off signifies a vote for action on climate change. Organizers hope that the event will send a message to world leaders meeting in Copenhagen this December.

For more information on Earth Hour, click here. To watch a video clip, click here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

New Hampshire follows Vermont

I blogged on Wednesday that it appeared that the state of Vermont seemed poised to pass legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. Yesterday, the state House in New Hampshire voted to make it the third state to allow gay couples to marry.

The bill passed 186-179 and will continue unto the Senate. Much like the State of Vermont (whose Governor Jim Douglas says he will veto the gay-marriage bill if it reaches his desk), the future of the legislation in New Hampshire is unknown. New Hampshire’s Democratic Governor John Lynch says he opposes gay marriage, but also hasn’t said that he would specifically veto it. Two years ago, the state legislation approved and Lynch signed a civil union law for gay couples, which provides all the legal rights of marriage, but does not call it “marriage”.

This week’s vote is the fruition of a long history of efforts in the state of New Hampshire. The first attempt to pass the bill fell one vote short, but opponents weren’t able to kill it. Eventually, the House reconsidered and passed the measure Thursday.

We’ll keep an eye on the state of Vermont and New Hampshire and keep you up do date in their latest efforts. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

House Passes Wilderness Protection Bill

On Wednesday Congress approved the largest expansion of the wilderness system in 15 years. The highest level of federal protection will affect 2 million acres in nine states and will launch one of the most ambitious river restoration efforts in the West.

The bill passed the House 285 to 140 and is set to be signed by President Obama. This first major conservation measure would protect almost as much land as was set aside during the past administration.

The legislation combines about 160 bills, including: 1) measures to strengthen the protection of Oregon's Mt. Hood; 2) $61 million toward cleanup of polluted groundwater in the San Gabriel Valley; 3) the creation of the Magic Mounain Wilderness in California; 4) the protection of 428,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra; 5) 147,000 acres in Riverside County (including parts of Josha Tree National Park); 6) about 85,000 acres in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks; and, 7) $88 million to help fund a project to return year-round flows and a prized salmon run to the San Joaquin River for the first time since the 1940s.

According to the Los Angeles Times:

Environmentalists went to court two decades ago to get back some of the San Joaquin's water and won a court settlement in 2006. The legislation authorizes the federal government to carry out the settlement and spend $88 million on restoration efforts.

"It's going to initiate one of the largest river restoration projects in the nation. It's a great day," said Monty Schmitt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been involved in the river fight since its inception.

To read the full article in the Los Angeles Times, click here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vermont Poised for Same-Sex Marriage

It appears that Vermont may be poised to pass legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. This is particularly interesting news because if the state does in fact legalize gay marriage, it would make it the first state to do so without being prompted by the courts.

Vermont, which legalized civil unions nine years ago, would join Massachusetts and Connecticut as the only other states that allow same-sex marriage. Other states, such as New Hampshire and New Jersey allow civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

Vermont’s House Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing for this afternoon to consider a bill that the Vermont Senate passed Monday by a vote of 26-4. The House is expected to pass the bill. Republican Governor Jim Douglas has said he opposes the bill, but it’s unclear whether both chambers of the state legislation would vote to override a potential gubernatorial veto.

It’s clear that nationwide the issue of same-sex marriage remains highly divisive. It took an especially public profile during the last election when California voters very narrowly approved a proposition that amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Previously, California had been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples since a May 2008 ruling by the state Supreme Court legalized the unions. California's high court heard arguments three weeks ago in a case tackling the constitutionality of the controversial ballot proposition. It has not yet issued a decision.

In case you need a quick reminder - the 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage Act effectively bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions by defining marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and a spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." It’s clearly time that’s changed.

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s going on in Vermont or finding out what you can do, visit the Freedom to Marry Collaborative. They are doing great work on the ground work in that state and can keep you up-to-date with the latest developments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

City-dwellers emit less CO2

According to a report published by the International Institute for Environment and Development, urban residents generate substantially lower greenhouse gas emissions than their suburban counterparts. Despite the myth that cities contribute the most to climate change, their per capita emissions are actually a fraction of the national average.

The report shows that greenhouse gas emissions for New Yorkers are less than a third of those of the national average for the U.S. And those of Barcelona residents are half the average of Spain.

A large reason for the smaller emissions per capita is that cities are often denser, with smaller dwelling sizes and a higher reliance on public transportation.

The report analyzed the emissions emitted directly by a city and did not include those generated by the production of goods consumed by its residents.

According to David Dodman of the International Institute for Environment and Development: "Many cities have surprisingly low per capita emissions but what is clear is that most emissions come from the world’s wealthier nations."

“The real climate-change culprits are not the cities themselves but the high consumption lifestyles of people living across these wealthy countries."

The aim of the report is to get policymakers to stop blaming cities for climate change and to see well-planned and effectively governed cities as tools to combine high living standards with lower emissions.

Friday, March 20, 2009

World Water Day

This Sunday, March 22nd, is World Water Day, a celebration of water that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. This year's theme is transboundary waters: sharing water and sharing opportunities.

So why the need for a day to celebrate water? According to the Case Foundation's blog, over 1 billion people around the world do not have access to clean, safe water. That is 1 in 6 of us. Every 15 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease, such as malaria. Furthermore, half of the world's schools do not have access to water and 40 billion hours of productivity are lost in Africa alone.

As water resources are facing increasing demands from a growing population, World Water Day reminds us how dependent we are on the resource and how there are so many people who need help accessing it.

For information on events around the globe for World Water Day 2009, click here. And to watch an interesting video on the importance of water, click here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

New Mexico Repeals the Death Penalty

There’s some good news out of New Mexico. Yesterday, Governor Bill Richardson signed legislation that repealed the state’s death penalty. New Mexico joins 14 other states that do not impose capital punishment. It is the second state (New Jersey was the first in 2007) to ban executions in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.

Richardson said he made the decision after going to the state penitentiary, where he saw the death chamber and visited the maximum security unit where those sentenced to life without parole could be housed. Richardson said he didn't have confidence in the criminal justice system as the final arbiter of life and death. He said, "If you're going to put somebody to death, the ... criminal justice system has to be perfect, and it isn't," he said.

Perhaps other states will follow New Mexico’s lead. It is a bold new step forward to repair a system that is fundamentally flawed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Certified Water?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) combats illegal or sustainable logging by certifying wood products and the Fair Trade system allows consumers to buy products that support and sustain local communities.

Additionally, the
Rainforest Alliance certifies goods that are produced using farm and forestry methods that are good for people and the planet. The next item up for certification: water.

As water stress and droughts are increasing in highly-populated countries, water is turning into a valued commodity. Water is therefore a resource that has to be carefully managed.

The Alliance for Water Stewardship will lead the development of standards to improve the way water is managed around the world. Six environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Fund, will join the project that also includes corporations and social groups.

By the middle of the year the alliance hopes to complete a set of core standards that would be applicable around the world while also having local critieria.

To read the press release, click here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Less Money, Less Trash

An interesting article in the Washington Post ties a recession with the amount of garbage: hard times equals less waste. According to the article, landfill managers knew something was amiss in the economy when trash levels started to steadily drop last year. Some landfills have reported declines as high as 30 percent.

In fact, trash volume has dropped so much in the Loudoun county landfill in Virginia that instead of running out of space in 2012 as had been projected, the landfill will gain a year and a half of use. And in Prince William County, the amount of discarded refrigerators, washers, dryers and other appliances has fallen by 20 percent since the recession started.

Ben Boxer, spokesman for Fairfax County's solid waste management program said that the economy is forcing people to preserve, reuse and repair their stuff. Since the fall, has seen as many as 70,000 people a week register to swap stuff. The same goes with clothes; at Goodwill's nine Washington area thrift stores, sales went up 52 percent in January while donations have fallen.

While the recession hopefully ends quickly, the new trend toward wasting less hopefully won't!

Monday, March 16, 2009

South Dakota and DNA Testing

An important step was made last week in moving forward to ensure that prisoners throughout the nation have access to post-conviction DNA testing. Last week, Governor Mike Rounds signed a bill making South Dakota the 45th state to enact a law explicitly granting inmates access to DNA testing that can prove innocence. The Innocence Project collaborated with allies in South Dakota to advise elected officials of the need for this statute and urge passage of the legislation.

Despite the widespread acceptance of DNA testing as a powerful and reliable form of forensic evidence that can conclusively reveal guilt or innocence, many prisoners do not have the legal means to secure testing on evidence in their case. The Innocence Project is working to establish the right to post-conviction DNA testing in the five remaining states without access laws: Alabama, Alaska, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.

Even in many of the states that grant access to DNA testing, the laws are limited in scope and substance. Some states have passed statutes that include barriers to testing that are insurmountable for most prisoners.

The domestic criminal system reform movement is lucky to have those working hard over at The Innocence Project. Their work with people from across the criminal justice system leads me confident that we are taking steps closer to meaningful reform.

Interested in learning more? Check out the blog of The Innocence Project here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Carcinogens in Children's Bath Products

The Campaign of Safe Cosmetics, a coalition of environmental and health groups that includes the Breast Cancer Fund and the Environmental Working Group, released a report yesterday that concludes that many children's bath products contain carcinogens.

The campaign tested 28 products and found that 23 of them contained formaldehyde, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers a probable carcinogen that may cause cancer and skin allergies. The chemical is released as preservatives break down over time in a container.

Japan and Sweden have banned formaldehyde from personal care products. Meanwhile, products with formaldehyde levels over 500 parts per million require warning labels in Europe. The U.S. government does not limit formaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, or most other hazardous substances in personal care products.

The campaign found that 32 of 48 products contained 1,4-dioxane, which the EPA also considers a probable human carcinogen. The chemical is a byproduct of processing techniques used to make petroleum-based ingredients gentler to the skin. Nearly two-thirds of the products tested contained both fermaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane.

While a single product may not be cause for concern, babies are oftentimes exposed to several products whenever they take a bath. Small exposures add up and may contribute to complications later in life.

Products tested include: Johnson's Baby Shampoo, American Girl Hopes and Dreams Shimmer Body Lotion, L'Oreal Kids Extra Gentle 2-in-1 Fast Dry Shampoo--Burst of Cool Melon, Huggies Soft Skin--Shea Butter, and Pampers Kandoo Foaming Handsoap--Magic Melon.

To read the full report, click here and to read coverage of the report in USA Today, click here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Leadership at Green for All

We blogged on Monday about Van Jones’ new position as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Among his duties, helping to shape and implement job-generating climate policy; working to ensure equal protection and equal opportunity in the administration’s climate and energy proposals; and publicly advocating the administration's environmental and energy agenda.

So what exactly does this mean for the new leadership at Green For All? Well, enter Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, a woman who has successfully expanded health-care access across California. She has also helped to raise the minimum wage for low-income families in the South Bay – twice.

“Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is one of the nation's most brilliant, inspirational and creative problem solvers for working families,” said Van Jones. “She has a proven track record of success. Under her leadership, Green For All will deliver on the promise of a green economy that is strong enough to lift people out of poverty."
Phaedra’s many victories have won her extensive praise. San Jose Magazine named Ellis-Lamkins one of the 100 most powerful people in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley Business Journal called her one of "40 to watch under 40.” Ellis-Lamkins is presently the head of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA. She will join Green For All this month as its Chief Executive Officer.

“I am thrilled and humbled to be joining Green For All, an organization whose exceptional reputation is exceeded only by the good work that it has accomplished,” Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins said.

Jones describes Phaedra as “the right leader to move Green For All forward.” We couldn’t agree more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Greener Wine

You may remember I blogged about wine companies becoming greener by putting them in boxes. This time, a recent article in The New York Times discussed how wine companies can go green by using lighter bottles.

One of the easiest ways a wine company can reduce its glass use is by knocking off some weight at the bottle's base. The heavy and expensive cavities at the bottom are meant to collect sediment for aging, so they are not necessary for everyday wines. For example, Chardonnay should be consumed within six months compared to a Champagne bottle that might sit in storage for years.

Fetzer Vineyards is a company that is trying to reduce transportation costs and improve its environmental impact by using less glass in its bottles. The new bottles are on average 14 percent lighter; with 23 million bottles a year shipped, that adds up to 2,200 tons of glass saved. This translates to less resources used, less money spent on materials and less fuel needed for transport.

The new bottles have the same shapes and colors as traditional ones, but most have a flat bottom. The traditional indentation at the bottom of the bottle is being kept for some of Fetzer's premium wines. Click here to see more information on Fetzer's recent developments.

In addition to making bottles lighter, some wineries are going green by changing their production methods. Frog's Leap boasts not only organic wine, but also uses 100% solar energy, dry farming techniques, geothermal heating and cooling, and built its Hospitality Center and Administrative Office according to LEED standards.

It's great to know that your wine not only tastes good but is also working to reduce its footprint.

And of course, all bottles should use recycled glass. According to article in The Times, the Glass Packaging Institute aims to have their customers use 50 percent recycled glass by 2013.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Van Jones: White House Bound

Good news! Although we heard lots of rumbling recently (and yesterday in particular) about activist Van Jones being picked by to be a special adviser for green jobs in the Obama administration, we didn’t get official confirmation until the Associated Press reported it in this story last night.

Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a release Monday that Jones will start work next week to help direct the administration's efforts to create jobs and help the environment. Sutley said Jones will work on "vulnerable communities."

We’ve blogged before about the passion, leadership and energy of Van Jones, who founded Green for All, a national organization that promises environmentally friendly jobs to help lift people out of poverty. Jones also wrote the New York Times best-seller "The Green Collar Economy."

Needless to say, this is very exciting news! We can’t wait to follow Jones in his new position.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is Your TV Environmentally Friendly?

All stations are converting to digital signal by mid-June, thereby making TVS that receive analog signals obsolete. This means that more people will be buying digital converter sets and those who want to upgrade their TVS will be looking to purchase LCD, plasma or rear-projection televisions. So which one to buy?'s Umbra Fisk has the answer. First of all, when replacing your TV, don't forget to recycle your old one! If you're buying a digital converter box, look for ones that are Energy Star certified.

According to Umbra, Energy Star requirements for televisions have gotten more strict and are up to 30 percent more efficient than non-qualified models. To find certified TVs, click here.

Umbra said that when per-inch consumption is measured, the order of efficiency from least to most goes like this: plasma, LCD and rear-projection. Screen size is an important factor when looking at power consumption (so a smaller plasma is comparable to a larger LCD).

In fact, plasma screens are so inefficient that a 42-inch plasma running yearly costs similar to an efficient 25-cubic-foot refrigerator. The EU might even set energy standards for TVS that would effectively ban larger plasma screens altogether. Also, some plasma screens contain lead.

LCDs aren't perfect either, however, as Umbra points out that LCDs contain mercury and their production uses NF3, a potent greenhouse gas.

It's sad to think that there is no television that is 100% environmentally friendly. The best we can do is to think about budget, longetivity and a small energy footprint. Once you find one, remember to use a power strip so you can unplug it when you're not using it. I know that seems like a lot of work, but phantom power is a huge problem. And don't forget to recycle it (which hopefully won't be for a long time!).

To see more tips from Umbra, click here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Progressive Women’s Voices Program

The Progressive Women’s Voices program has become a cornerstone of The Women’s Media Center. In its first year of the program, they intensively media trained 33 women who have gone on to earn over 1000 media hits year to date. Its inaugural class was a stellar group, with experts in foreign policy, reproductive rights, environmental issues, racial justice, voting rights, the history of feminism, immigrant communities, outsider cultures, national security, and many more areas of expertise.

For its next class, Progressive Women’s Voices is seeking self-motivated women whose expertise is the Environment and are committed to serving as strong progressive voices in the media.

Criteria for selection to the program include:

- Demonstrated background and expertise in a particular issue area that is covered in the media
Ability (with additional training and support) to articulate progressive messages in your issue area
- Identification as a progressive feminist
- Ability to inspire and motivate others through communications
- Time and ability to commit to a rigorous training program and ongoing media visibility
- Commitment to participating in program for a year and to pitching and supporting your own media presence with our help and resources
- Evidence of interest in the media and willingness to engage in new media experiences

Its application process is designed to be transparent and rigorous. They are seeking participants who represent diverse backgrounds, areas of expertise, and levels of experience. So hurry up, spread the word, and make sure to apply by the March 10th deadline!

To see some of the great women picked for the first 2009 class, click here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Successes from The Opportunity Agenda

The Foundation learned yesterday about two exciting developments courtesy of The Opportunity Agenda. Their efforts to translate the values and ideas of opportunity and human rights into public policy are clearly paying off.

The first is that the Obama Administration has included language proposed by The Opportunity Agenda that requires all federal agencies to adhere to the full range of equal opportunity laws in their implementation of the economic stimulus package. Specifically, thanks to the efforts of its frequent partner the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Administration used its language in the Office of Management and Budget’sInitial Implementing Guidance” for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

So what does this mean exactly? Well it means that agencies must ensure that federally-funded projects have neither an intentional nor an unintended discriminatory impact based on race, gender, disability, language ability and other grounds. And it cuts across diverse sectors, from employment, to housing, to education, to transportation, to lending, and beyond. The OMB guidance is a crucial step in The Opportunity Agenda’s State of Opportunity Initiative, which seeks to ensure that economic recovery efforts expand opportunity for all communities. If you want to read OMB’s full memorandum it is available here.

The Opportunity Agenda reports that its next step will be to push for implementation of this mandate at the federal, state and local level, in collaboration with their partners around the country.

The second exciting development is that the organization’s opinion research was recently used in the Montana Legislature’s recent hearings on the human right to health in that state. You can find a recording of the hearing here. Pioneering Montana lawmakers and advocates, along with its partner the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, have been at the forefront of the effort to establish health care as a domestic human right consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As part of its US Human Rights Initiative, The Opportunity Agenda is providing opinion research, communications tools, advocate training, and policy ideas to advance this goal.

Congratulations to all the hard work being done by everyone over at The Opportunity Agenda!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Power Shift 2009

This past weekend I attended Power Shift 2009, a climate change convention that brought over 12,000 young adults from all over the country. Put together by Energy Action Coalition, a group led by and for young people to create a clean and equitable energy future, Power Shift 2009 is a biennial conference that took place during the first 100 days of the new administration.

As soon as I arrived in downtown DC I knew exactly how to find the convention center--follow the swarm of young people.

The weekend engaged and educated everyone by offering an overwhelming number of panels, workshops, training sessions, affinity group sessions, and fairs on post-college opportunities. Keynote speakers included Van Jones of Green for All, Gillian Caldwell of 1Sky, Congressman Edward Markey, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, and Adam Gardner of Reverb and the band Guster, among many others. The band The Roots played on Saturday night, energizing the crowd before a long day of lobby training.

The weekend culminated in a rally at Capitol Hill on Monday, despite the snowy weather. Hundreds of groups met with their elected officials and staff throughout DC to make the youth climate movement known and to demand effective climate policy.

The best part of the weekend was seeing the convention center filled to the brim with excited, passionate people who were there to learn how to lead their nation toward more powerful action against climate change. I've never seen so many environmentalists--both young and old--in one place before. It was such a unique and exciting experience.

Congratulations to Energy Action Coalition for pulling off an incredible event!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Top 50 Human Rights Blogs by E-Justice

Overbrook would like to add its congratulations to several of the Foundation's grantees who made it to the list of the Top 50 Human Rights Blogs.

In the Civil Liberties category, blogs were commended for following stories about civil liberties infringements, including large cases and campaigns promoted by agencies. Foundation grantees named in this category were the ACLU (check out its blog which posts about legislation, issues and campaigns that protect, influence and threaten civil liberties and freedom), the Committee to Protect Journalists (its blog is all about the freedom of speech, from the U.S. to Zimbabwe to West Africa), and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (its blog is dedicated to turning around the racism, poverty and injustices of American urban communities).

In the International Outreach category, the blog of Amnesty International USA was recognized for its reports on global and regional conflicts, torture, progressive legislation and a lot more.

Physicians for Human Rights also made the list, its blog is written by medical students that blog about upcoming conferences and conventions and human rights issues.

Lastly, not suprisingly at all, WITNESS made the list for The Hub, a social blogging site that allows anyone to spotlight human rights issues and violations and spread awareness. I blogged last summer about why The Hub is so unique - to read it, click here.

Congratulations to all our blogging grantees! Be sure to check out their blogs soon and add them to your RSS feeds.