Thursday, May 28, 2009

Northeast Coast Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise

Two studies out today warn against imminent effects of climate change, both from a scientific and human rights perspective.

Scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) will publish a study tomorrow in Geophysical Research Letters detailing a new climate model that includes the melting Greenland Ice Sheet as a contributor to sea level rise. The study predicts sea level along the northeast coast of the U.S. and Canada could rise up to 20 inches above predicted global averages by the end of this century. The 2007 IPCC report predicted a 7-23 inch global average rise in sea level, but the current research indicates this prediction may have been too conservative. The contribution of fresh water from the Greenland ice sheet could disrupt the ocean conveyor that shuttles dense, cold water north, and warming north Atlantic waters will rise. If this happens at the rate NCAR predicts, northeast coastal cities will have to adapt.

A second report out today looks at climate change adaption from a human rights standpoint. McGill University geographer James D. Ford is calling on the international community to create an adaptation fund for people vulnerable to climate change, specifically Inuit communities in the Arctic circumpolar region. Since Inuit are among the first to experience serious effect of climate change, Ford says helping them adapt will set an international precedent. Read Ford's paper here.

Rising sea level and melting ice create dangerous hunting conditions for subsistence farmers, limiting mobility between communities and rendering traditional hunting methods dangerous, and sometimes fatal. Ford suggests donations of GPS systems and satellite phones to help hunters predict weather and ice cover, as well as the creation of new trail networks that avoid the more dangerous spots. Arctic temperatures are rising at twice the global average, and Arctic sea ice extent was at its second lowest ever last September. See the National Snow and Ice Data Center for a map of yearly sea ice retreat.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

California and Proposition 8

Although there have been several victories for supporters of gay marriage over the past several months, the gay rights movement was dealt a serious blow yesterday morning when the California Supreme Court State ruled on Proposition 8. The 6-1 decision upheld the gay-marriage ban that was narrowly approved by voters last November. Sadly, the state Supreme Court upheld the controversial decision, even as many other states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York have moved to legalize such unions. The Supreme Court’s decision effectively makes legal same-sex marriage moving forward impossible in the state of California. The court did however effectively grandfather in the roughly 18,000 gay marriages that took place between June and November, stating that those marriage would remain legal.

Although this highly politicized and publicized decision is a serious setback for those working for marriage equality, my guess is that this is just the first of many decisions that will spur even more hard work and dedication for those working in the gay-marriage movement. Let’s hope it’s only a matter of time before California reverses this decision, and joins other states in supporting gay marriage.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Focus on Sustainable Agriculture

Summer traditionally brings thoughts of road trips and "get-away" vacations, but this Memorial Day people seemed to welcome the season with a new focus. If recent news is any indicator, the growing craze this summer favors getting back to the land over getting out of town.

The New York Times ran two articles over the weekend that touched on this shift. Kim Severson's piece on organic farm internships discusses what she calls a "new wave of liberal arts students" flocking to farms instead of cubicles during their college breaks. The new interns, many of whom have never before set foot on a farm, learn about the ills of the global food market in college classrooms and yearn to put their new agricultural ideals to practice.

Tom Philpott's recent post on Grist calls industrial corn and soy "massive contributors to climate change." Greenhouse gas-emitting nitrogen fertilizers, deforestation and soil depletion are just a few of the consequences of large-scale agriculture. As the virtues of localizing food production become more mainstream, interested students across the country are approaching small farms for learning opportunities. A quick google search for "farm internships" yields over 600,000 hits. (Of course discerning students must refine that search, but the sheer number proves sustainable agriculture is a hot topic!) One trusted source is WWOOF, or World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. WWOOF provides international listings of farms accepting interns.

Another story in the New York Times this weekend, a Sunday magazine piece by Matthew B. Crawford, extols the virtues of working with one's hands. According to Crawford, many of society's ills are exacerbated by a sit-down corporate culture. Although Grist's Tom Philpott estimates less than 3 percent of food consumed in the United States comes from a local food source, the recent upsurge in young people's interest could help raise that meager percentage, as well as improve the mainstream view of sustainable agriculture.

Last week Dr. Rajendra Pachauri (see my post on May 21st) said eating less meat is one easy way people can help mitigate climate change. With the head of the IPCC on board, the new generation of sustainable farmers can look forward to long-awaited attention from the media and policy makers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Andrew Revkin interviews Rajendra Pachauri

On Tuesday evening, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times moderated a talk with Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, current chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. (Al Gore shared the prize with Pachauri, who won on behalf of the IPCC.) The conversation took place in a small meeting room at Columbia University's School of Journalism, before a small but rapt audience of journalists, scientists and students.

Before Dr. Pachauri's arrival, Revkin navigated his Dot Earth blog for the audience, likening a journalist's environment beat to "drinking from a fire hose that's always gushing." Revkin's analogy aptly conjures images of runaway resource use and the problem of global climate change, which at times can seem insurmountable. But Dr. Pachauri's arrival put Tuesday's audience at ease. Although he acknowledged vast political hurdles ahead, Pachauri seemed optimistic overall in the future of climate change policy.

Pachauri explained a little about the IPCC contributors, who are carefully selected from a group of about 2,000 scientists recommended by their respective governments. Each step along the way to writing an assessment report is reviewed by the entire group, and the abridged summary for policymakers must be approved word for word by an even larger group, ensuring about 400 pairs of eyes review and give comments before its release.

The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007 was the first to label climate change "unequivocal" , most likely caused by human action, and no longer up for debate. Exact causes and predictive climate models remain uncertain -- the nature of science yet unfortunate fodder for naysayers' arguments. Pachauri said as a scientist and chair of the IPCC, it is his job to listen to all opinions and make sure the Panel produces as incisive a report as possible. Maintaining the IPCC's role as a scientific rather than political body is of utmost importance.

The next step in Pachauri's mind, as the IPCC prepares for its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in 2014, is to examine the ethics of helping developing countries move forward on a path of sustainable development. After rejecting the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the United States is being watched by the international community as it sets new environmental policies. A prevailing message from Pachauri and Revkin's conversation was the importance of leading by example in the developed world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Save the Date for Breakthrough

Summer is just around the corner and we know this time of year gets busy, but Breakthrough has a bunch exciting upcoming events that are worth saving the date for!

The first will take place on June 1st at Therapy Lounge. The show, which features comedian Vidur Kapur and host Brad Loekle, will begin at 7pm (but you can show up as early as 6pm for Happy Hour!) Advanced tickets are $20, and you'll receive 1 free drink, free food, and raffles. All of the proceeds support Breakthrough's work to build a human rights culture, and 100% of the ticket prices are fully tax deductible.

Breakthrough is also proud to announce that it is now partners with the Media that Matters Film Festival. Its short ad, Knock, Knock. Who's There? a part of the organization’s Bell Bajao campaign on domestic violence, was one of 12 films out of 450 submissions selected for this year's festival. Join Breakthrough on June 3rd from 7-9pm for the official screening of Knock, Knock. Who's There? on the "Premiere" night of the festival. The event will take place at the SVA Visual Arts Theater, 333 W 23rd Street (between 8th & 9th Ave). To purchase tickets click here. If you arrive early, feel free to stop by Breakthrough’s table from 6:00-6:45 PM at the "Impact Salon." As an official partner for the Media that Matters Film Festival, they will be tabling and showcasing their multi-media campaigns on immigration and women's rights.

Lastly, Breakthrough has partnered with Human Rights Watch to present the New York premiere of two moving films Mrs. Goundo's Daughter and Sanctuary. Mrs. Goundo's Daughter tells the story of a West African mother's fight for asylum in the U.S. to protect her two-year-old daughter from female genital cutting. The film will be preceded by a short animation, Sanctuary, which is the true story of one woman, Marjorie, who tries to seek asylum in the U.K. The film illustrates the journey she goes through as she confronts the effects of her torture and struggles for asylum. The screenings will take place at the Walter Reade Theater at the Film Society of Lincoln Center at 165 W. 65th Street, NYC and will happen Sunday, June 21, 7:00 PM, Monday, June 22, 4:00 PM and Tuesday, June 23, 9:00 PM. You can buy tickets here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Exciting Day to Begin!

I join the Overbrook blog with great excitement, especially considering the growing prominence of environmental issues in the news and our daily lives. Today's news is especially good, combining business, policy and climate change science to inch the United States toward a more sustainable future.

President Obama is expected to announce a plan laying out the most aggressive federal fuel economy standards yet, along with limits on vehicle emissions for the first time ever. According to an article in today's New York Times, Safe Climate Campaign director Daniel Becker called the new legislation the "single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions."

So what exactly is this big step? Following the plan, cars and light trucks will be almost 40 percent cleaner by 2016, with average fuel efficiency rising from 23 to 30 mpg for light trucks, and 27.5 to 35.5 mpg for passenger vehicles. According to the Wall Street Journal, a senior administration official likened those emissions reductions to the removal of 177 million cars from American roads, or the shuttering of 194 coal-fired power plants.

But even though the proposed improvements in gas mileage are vast, couldn't we still do better? Technology does exist to power even more efficient vehicles. One step in the right direction is Chrysler's partnership with Fiat, hailed by thedailygreen as the maker of a 50 mpg vehicle that spews the least carbon emissions in all of Europe.

After years of resistance, American car makers are complying with the new rules, which will take effect in 2012. A federal standard makes life a little easier for the auto industry since it can now concentrate on creating one fleet of fuel efficient vehicles, as opposed to making specific cars to serve only a few states. Additional production costs will average about $1,300 for each new car, but the consumers who foot the bill should save enough in gasoline to make that up within three years.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Welcome Samantha!

Although the Foundation is sad to lose Christine Terada to law school, we're also pleased to announce that Samantha Harvey has joined our staff as the new Program Assistant for the Environment Program. Samantha graduated in 2008 with an M.A. from the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication, where she focused on environmental writing as a research and program assistant in the Center for Environmental Journalism. Prior to graduate school she coordinated an internship program for under-served New York City public high school students at the American Museum of Natural History. Samantha has worked as a freelance writer for Plenty magazine, a fact-checker for Natural History magazine, and a writer of inquiries and artists’ statements for photographers Lynn and Robert Bianchi. Samantha is also a professional modern dancer, and currently works with Zvi Gotheiner/ZviDance, with whom she has taught and performed on four continents. The Foundation is looking forward to having her blog on all things environment! Look for her first post tomorrow!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Farewell Overbrook

I am sadly writing my last blog post today, as I'm leaving the Overbrook Foundation and heading off to law school. I joined Overbrook shortly after graduating from college and am grateful for the opportunity to learn about philanthropy, non-profits and the environment.

I count myself very lucky to have had the privilege of meeting and working with the most incredible, inspiring people. I was able to work in a field I am passionate about and will take many memorable experiences with me as I continue to focus on environmental issues.

Please join me in welcoming Samantha Harvey as Overbrook's new Environment Program Assistant. She will take over my blog posts from here!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chicago Poised to Ban BPA in Baby Products

Chicago might become the first nation to ban baby bottles and cups containing the potentially harmful chemical bisphenol A (BPA). You might remember we blogged about BPA last year.

Laboratory tests have linked BPA to breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes and neurological disorders.

Unfortunately, the FDA ruled last summer that BPA is safe, ignoring advice from its scientific advisory board. That's why it's even more crucial that cities and states take matters into their own hands.

According to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times, earlier this week a Chicago City Council committee advanced a proposal to ban BPA in any empty bottle or cup specifically designed to be filled with food or liquid to be used primarily by a child under the age of 3. Stores would be required to post signs alerting consumers that products are BPA-free.

Canada and the state of Minnesota have banned BPA containers. Wal-Mart, Toys-R-Us and CVS have pledge to stop selling products packaged in BPA containers.

In a unanimous vote, the City Council moves Chicago toward a ban that would be effective in 2010. Hopefully Chicago will set an example as the first city to enforce stricter BPA regulations.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DNA Evidence Clears Virginia Man

The Innocence Project announced yesterday that DNA testing proved that Thomas Haynesworth did not commit a 1984 rape for which he was convicted in Richmond. The DNA testing that proved his innocence was a part of a wide-ranging review of old cases in the state of Virginia that had been ordered by former Governor Mark Warner. For a full copy of the press release from the Innocence Project, click here. The DNA testing that proves Haynesworth’s innocence also implicates the actual perpetrator, a serial rapist who was convicted of several similar crimes in the area.

This exoneration again proves that The Innocence Project continues as the most effective national effort for exonerating wrongly convicted individuals facing the death penalty, shining light on the underlying problems that lead to these wrongful convictions and advocating for domestic criminal system reform. Each exoneration brings with it an opportunity to advance necessary policy reforms.

Nationwide, 238 people have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing. Eleven of those cases were in Virginia. Eyewitness misidentification was a factor in 75% of all wrongful convictions overturned with DNA testing, and the true perpetrators have been identified in more than 40% of DNA exoneration cases.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Story of Stuff Is a Classroom Hit

An article in The New York Times describes the impact of Annie Leonard's video The Story of Stuff. Annie put the 20-minute video on the internet in December 2007. The drawings that convey the cycle of human consumption are easy to understand and child-friendly.

So far, six million people have viewed the film at its site and millions more have seen it on YouTube. In fact, a quick search on YouTube produced versions in English, Spanish, Portuguese.

The video has gotten a huge response from the classroom, where it is used to teach students about environmental issues in an engaging way. More than 7,000 schools, churches and others have ordered a DVD version, and Annie has received letters from hundreds of teachers who have assigned their students to view it. Facing the Future, a curriculum developer for schools in all 50 states, is currently drafting lessons plans based on The Story of Stuff.

The article in The New York Times tells the story of a teacher from Portola Valley, California, who says that the video is short and easy enough to fit into a class segment. The teacher's students made a response video and posted it on YouTube, asking Annie to give them ideas on how to improve the human consumption cycle. In turn, high school students in Mendocino, California posted an answer with suggested activities.

Congratulations Annie on spreading the word and getting the next generation to question their consumption habits!
To read the original article, click here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Gay Marriage in Maine and D.C.

A quick update on Tuesday's blog. On Wednesday, Maine's House of Representatives did in fact approve the state's same-sex marriage bill. Although it was a little unclear whether or not he would, Democratic Gov. John Baldacci did sign the bill into signed into law. Maine becomes the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage!

Unfortunately, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Thursday that opponents filed a challenge under the state's "people's veto" provision. Opponents would need to get at least 10 percent of people who voted in the last governor's election to force a referendum in November. The signature-collecting deadline would probably fall in mid-September.

On a more positive note, this week the Washington D.C. Council voted 12-1 to recognize other states’ gay marriages. Council Member David A. Catania said that if Congress does not intervene, he plans to introduce a separate bill later this year that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in D.C. If it goes before voters, it could be interesting to see how D.C. residents vote. The Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted last month, that I blogged about on Wednesday found that 49 percent of voters nationwide support the legalization of same-sex marriage. But among African Americans, 51 percent opposed legalizing same-sex marriage and 42 percent supported it. According to the census, 55 percent of residents in the District of Columbia are African American.

We’ll be following closely what happens in both Washington D.C. and Maine.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Prince Charles Works to Save the Rainforest

An article in The New York Times features Prince Charles' efforts to save the rainforest through a web campaign. The video features such celebrities as Daniel Craig, Robin Williams, the Dalai Lama and Harrison Ford.

By bringing awareness to the issue, the prince aims to build pressure for the meeting in Copenhagen this December. During the meeting negotiators will hopefully draft a new global climate treaty that takes forests into account.

To save the world's rainfoests, the prince said that trees need to be given value so they would be worth more alive than dead. Under a plan he endorsed in March, rich nations would compensate rainforest nations for agreeing to not cut down their trees. The payment would replace the income otherwise received from logging, agriculture and other land uses and would cover the costs to switch to alternative economic activities.

Halving deforestation under this plan would cost between $10 billion and $15 billion per year, though it's nearly impossible to monetize the benefits!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Maine and Gay Marriage?

We can’t stop blogging about gay marriage! On the heels of recent victories in Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and possibly even New York, we have even more good news out of the state of Maine.

A bill that would allow same-sex marriage in Maine passed its first test at the end of last week, when the state Senate approved the measure. Eleven out of the 14 Judiciary Committee members voted to pass the bill, while two voted against it, and one member proposed sending it to voters in a November referendum.

The next step for the bill happens today, when the House of Representatives will take it up. Based on last week’s vote, both gay-marriage supporters and opponents predict it will pass in the House and eventually be sent to Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. It remains unclear, however, whether the Governor would sign it. If in fact it is signed into law, Maine would be the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage.

At the end of April, according to a Washington Post/ABC News Poll, supporters of gay marriage outnumber opponents: 49% are in favor versus 47% opposed. Additionally, 53% believe gay marriages held legally in another state should be recognized as legal in their states. With all the recent victories out of New England and the Midwest, is it possible that the tide is turning after the 2004 Presidential election in which many states supported constitutional amendments barring an entire group of people from equal rights? We certainly hope so.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Van Jones in TIME 100

Van Jones is honored in TIME magazine's list of the world's most influential people in 2009. The list of 100 includes leaders and revolutionaries, builders and titans, artists and entertainers, heroes and icons, and scientists and thinkers.

Van, founder of Green For All, is honored for his work in ushering the green jobs movement. Fusing economic opportunity and social justice with environmentalism, Van has gone from local grassroots organizer to special adviser on green jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality in less than two years.

Van stands among Senator Edward Kennedy, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Congratulations to Van and his work to promote green jobs!

To read the article written by Academy Award-nominated actor Leonardo DiCaprio, click here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Grand Central Gets A Little Greener

Earlier this week, wiremen unscrewed the last remaining incandescent bulbs in iconic Grand Central and replaced them with compact flourescent bulbs.

The effort started in the mid-1980s, when tube-shaped flourescents were installed on the train platforms. As technology and aesthetics improved so that flourescents emitted light indistinguishable from incandescent bulbs and could be dimmed, the flourescent bulbs were added throughout the station. Now, the entire station is lit by a green lighting system, saving the city a significant amount of energy and money.

Replacing the roughly 4,000 bulbs that light the public areas of the terminal 24 hours a day will save an estimated $200,000 a year. That doesn't even include the lights on the platforms, train yards of office space.

To read the article in The New York Times, click here.