Friday, July 31, 2009

Fourth Mexican Journalist Killed in 2009

Mexico continues to be a dangerous place for journalists. Reporters Without Borders announced earlier this week the murder of journalist Juan Daniel Martínez Gil, whose half-buried body was found on July 28th near the port city of Acapulco. The Acapulco-based radio presenter had been badly beaten, a cloth was stuffed in his mouth and his head was wrapped in masking tape.

According to the autopsy report, Martínez, who was only 48 years old and was the host of the Radiorama FM radio programmes "W Guerrero" and "Guerrero Vivo", died as a result of asphyxia on the night of July 27th. "We offer our condolences to Martínez's family and colleagues and we urge the local and federal authorities to assign enough personnel to the case so that they can quickly identify those responsible for the murder and their motives, which are still unknown," Reporters Without Borders said.

His colleagues and friends are shocked and saddened by his death. Radiorama colleague Arturo Pérez Calzada said. "As far we know, he had not received any threats. We do not cover stories involving drug trafficking. This is a strange case." Local investigators have not yet developed any hypotheses.

Sadly, Martínez is the second Radiorama journalist to be murdered in the past two and a half years. Amado Ramírez Dillanes was gunned down as he left the radio station on April 6th, 2007. With four journalists murdered since the start of this year, crimes of violence against the media are continuing to mount in Mexico. Martínez's death brings the total number of journalists murdered in Mexico since 2000 to 50.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Voter Action Releases New Report on Voting Rights

Last Thursday Voter Action issued a joint report, with Advancement Project and NAACP National Voter Fund, on voting rights concerns emerging from the 2008 election. The report relies on nearly 70,000 problem calls received by the CNN and MYVOTE1 voter hotlines and recommends that Congress adopt immediate measures to help protect voters in the 2010 election. They formally released the report last Thursday morning before a hearing of the House Administration Committee. The report, entitled “Uncovering Flaws in Election Administration,” focuses on voter hotline calls from six states: Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

They have created a new section of our website where you can download the report and listen to some 900 plus audio recordings of hotline calls we have highlighted from these six states:

You can also listen, via that section, to a 2 ½ minute audio montage which they have produced of selected calls. The Foundation, along with Voter Action, hopes this report will help to lift up the voices of voters as we continue to press for reforms to protect our democracy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Getting to the Bottom of Recycling

In response to my post on Monday, Recycling Outreach Coordinator Christina Salvi from the Council on the Environment of New York City sent some informative, in-depth information about plastics recycling. See the links below recommended by Christina:

For some information on plastic recycling in NYC:
For a little more detail on NYC vs. other cities, you can read this analysis on NYC vs. Seattle:

If you would like to know more about the issues related to plastics recycling there is a lot of info out there like and

Thank you Christina!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Electronics Recycling in NYC? Not So Fast...-

New York City is just days away from implementing a law requiring electronics recycling, calling on manufacturers to take back and recycle used electronics as well as mandating a pick-up program for any electronics over 15 pounds. Consumers could also get a hefty $100 fee for throwing electronics in the trash.

In a city whose recycling record could stand some pointers from its west coast counterparts (Portland; Seattle; San Francisco), the proposed electronics recycling law is one many environmentalists and electronics users welcome as long overdue. But the Consumer Electronics Association and the Information Technology Industry Council are trying to block the new legislation with a lawsuit, arguing the law's stipulations are too stringent. Among other complaints, they believe it would unfairly require companies to take responsibility for products they did not manufacture or sell.

But with New Yorkers buying upwards of 90,000 tons of electronics each year, it is difficult to understand the case of electronics manufacturers who make money without responsibility for their customers' environmental health.

Last week I attended a free volunteer training on recycling at the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC). About 15 people hailing from all five boroughs gathered around a table in a dingy office on Chambers Street, drinking natural sodas and debating which items are recyclable and which are destined for the trash. The group of 15, all of whom were diligent recyclers, could only come to agreement on the most obvious of items like the newspapers and Poland Spring bottles. Surely New York City can start doing a better job of simplifying its recycling rules, as well as expanding its service to include more items. Several cities on the west coast collect compost at the curb, as well as number 5 plastics and number ones and twos that are not shaped like bottles and jugs. We know it's possible, so why can't New York do it too?

In light of this eye-opening recycling meeting, news that industry groups wish to block legislation requiring electronics recycling seems horribly backward. Many manufacturers in New York City provide voluntary take back programs, but none so far is mandated. The onus is largely on the eco-minded consumer to schlep her heavy items on a train or car for recycling. For those New Yorkers with limited time (most of us) and minimal eco-consciousness (many of us), a law and a fine will compel them to participate, and hopefully catch the recycling "bug" in the process. It feels good to be good to the planet!

Meanwhile, non-profit and volunteer organizations have been organizing electronics recycling events around the city. But when I dropped off bags of cords and old cell phones at an event in Central Park last spring, I noticed all the piles of electronics were bound together with double and triple layers of plastic wrap. So after we get a handle on the recycling, the next step will be cutting back on that extra plastic.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Farmer and the HMO Should be Friends

Health Care Without Harm, an Overbrook grantee, has long advocated for hospitals to curb their waste and use of toxic chemicals. Their work is paying off: just yesterday the San Jose Mercury News reported a welcomed shift in the mainstream health care industry's environmental focus. Kaiser Permanente, an HMO responding to Health Care Without Harm's campaign, is starting a new program to incorporate local and organic foods in their cafeterias. Vegetable gardens are springing up behind ERs.

"The food system promotes high pesticides and overuse of antibiotics, which all health care organizations are saying we have to stop because it's promoting antibiotic resistance," said Jamie Harvie, food coordinator for Health Care Without Harm. Harvie was quoted by the San Jose Mercury News, reflecting the urgency of the health care system's shift to local and organic foods. Many of today's most costly health problems are food-related, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Kaiser now has 30 farmers' markets at its hospitals in northern California, and its medical centers in the region get weekly deliveries of organic produce. In the last year alone, participating hospitals and medical centers bought 74 tons of produce from local farmers, cutting down on the thousands of food miles logged by produce previously shipped in from out of state. A new campaign challenges participants to reduce meat purchases by 20 percent, and then use the extra savings to buy local, hormone-free meats.

Although converting to the new food system seems like a no-brainer, hospitals can't make the switch overnight. Many have long-standing contracts with large vendors. But the wheels have been set in motion, and The San Mateo County Food System Alliance recently held a "speed dating" event in which farmers had five minutes to talk with hospital staff about which foods they could grow and sell. Growing a large diversity of crops for local medical centers in their own communities would not only reduce farmers' carbon-heavy shipments, it would also allow them to wean off monocultures that require more chemical inputs.

Hospital partnerships with local farmers seem like a win-win-win; a symbiotic relationship that keeps local farmers afloat, ultimately saves hospitals money, and treats patients preventatively with chemical-free foods. Here's hoping the rest of the country can follow California's example!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What's your Puddle Print?

Just as it's becoming fashionable to know (and willfully shrink) your carbon footprint, environmentalists and scientists are starting to talk about a new kind of footprint -- one that depletes water rather than spews greenhouse gas.

A new joint report by the Food Ethics Council and Sustain, an organization working to improve nutrition in the developing world, calls on food and drink manufacturers to add a new "water footprint" label to their products. In their report, FEC and Sustain found that most consumers have little to no awareness of the amount of "virtual" water used to produce products they eat and drink every day.

For example, it takes 37 gallons of water to produce the one cup of coffee you grab on your way to work. If five or six people in a subway car bring a cup of coffee for their commute, that's over 200 gallons of water in just one car of one train! Extrapolating the amount of virtual water to the rest of the coffee-drinking world is a little overwhelming, to say the least. Cattle, which require constant food supplies of grain or grass while being raised, turn up as hamburger with a shocking virtual water print. One pound of beef translates to over 2,000 gallons of water. Coffee and beef are just two examples; the report looks at all sorts of popular products. Look at for the virtual water print of your favorite foods and drinks.

Although water is a renewable resource, the earth's burgeoning population demands more of it each year, while longer and more widespread droughts are becoming the norm due to climate change. Experts at a water-technologies conference in Milwaukee yesterday predicted entrepreneurs of the near future will trade shares of virtual water. An international water technologies conference (WATEC) will take place in Tel Aviv this fall, bringing together scientists and policy-makers in the self-proclaimed "Silicon Valley of water technology" and cementing water's center-stage position in the world market.

Water scarcity in the United States has so far had little effect on citizens' day to day lives. Maybe we're asked to take shorter showers or turn off our lawn sprinklers, but overall we have not yet tangibly felt the value of water. All this is about to change, according to scientists, engineers, business people and politicians all over the world. In coming years water will not only be a drink, but a valuable commodity for sale, use and purchase.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Georgetown Law's Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program

Here are a few important announcements from the Georgetown Law's Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program (WLPPFP):

For all those Washingtonians out there (or anyone else who happens to be in DC this week), they have extended an invitation to the presentation on women's human rights in Africa by its senior Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa (LAWA) Fellows, this Thursday, July 23 at 3:30 p.m. at Georgetown Law. For further information, including instructions on how to RSVP and for directions, click here.

Secondly, there’s an invitation for applications for fellowships with the Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program for women's rights lawyers in the U.S., and with the LAWA Fellowship Program for women's rights lawyers in Africa. The Women's Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program offers Fellowships for public interest lawyers from across the United States who are committed to advancing women's rights throughout their careers. Throughout the Fellowship year, participants gain invaluable experience by working on women's issues in Washington, D.C. with a public interest organization or governmental agency and by participating in educational and professional development opportunities provided by WLPPFP. The deadline for applications for the 2010-2011 Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program is Monday, November 2, 2009. Applicants must be graduates of law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, and must show a demonstrated commitment to advancing women's rights throughout their careers.

Lastly don’t forget to check out the organization’s hot-off-the-press newsletter, with updates on the accomplishments of its fellows and alumnae.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Think Twice About Summer Strawberries

Environmentalists are fighting for the lesser of three evils this week, according to Santa Cruz News and Chemical & Engineering News.

Methyl Bromide, a toxic and ozone-depleting pesticide commonly used on strawberries, is being phased out globally only to be replaced by something many environmentalists consider even worse: methyl iodide, a carcinogenic soil fumigant known to cause thyroid disease and miscarriage. Methyl iodide has not yet been officially accepted as methyl bromide's successor, but the pesticide industry is putting pressure on Governor Schwarzenegger to push its approval through in time for the August cycle of field fumigation, before scientists have the chance to fully analyze it.

A chemist working with the Pesticide Action Network said methyl iodide is so toxic scientists use extra precautions like special hoods and gloves when they work with even small amounts. Field workers would not have the luxury of protection, and they would be in contact with 100 times the amount deemed acceptable by state law. Another major concern is for people who live downwind from treated fields, as well as the possibility methyl iodide could leach into groundwater.

At the same time, Dow AgroSciences is requesting a field test of sulfuryl flouride to replace methyl bromide in California, Florida, Georgia and Texas. Sulfuryl flouride has traditionally been used as a fumigant in buildings, and is a greenhouse gas potentially worse for the atmosphere than CO2. Activists are protesting its use in fields, asking the EPA to turn down Dow's request.

The only way consumers can protect themselves while the pesticide battle ensues is to read labels and stay away from conventional fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Strange as it may seem, all of us environmentally-conscious strawberry-eaters may welcome methyl bromide back with open arms, if only to avoid a more toxic option.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

US Cities' Responses to Climate Change Heading in the Right Direction

A new report summarizes the results of the 2008 Local Government Operations Protocol (LGOP), jointly conducted by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The study is a collaboration between ICLEI, The Climate Registry, The California Climate Action Registry and the California Air Resources Board, and will serve as an official standard for local governments trying to get a handle on their carbon footprints.

LGOP launched in 2008 as a means for cities to use common tools for emissions measurements and analysis. This new report is the first assessment of LGOP's utility. So far municipal governments in 18 participating cities across the United States have agreed to monitor, disclose and decrease their city's greenhouse gas emissions. Most are focusing first on government buildings and operations, with the idea that the government can set a positive example for the public as a means of inspiring people to follow their city's lead in daily life.

The report also found that each of the 18 city participants recognizes climate change as an increasing risk, looking not only at mitigation but also at ways of adapting to changes that may be inevitable.

But city leaders are far from despairing! Fourteen of the 18 see the impending challenges of climate change as a business opportunity that will not only clean cities and create jobs, but strengthen communities as well. All of the 18 participating cities that used LGOP to monitor their emissions also took measures to reduce their footprints.

Participating cities' emissions reductions do not yet come close to the levels we need to seriously alter the course of climate change. But environmental and municipal leaders are regarding the LGOP as a monumental step in the right direction, simply because it has inspired its first group of city leaders to work together under a common rubric; a network that is only expected to strengthen and grow.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Progressive Women's Voices Announces its Third Class

There are some really amazing progressive women out there! Yesterday The Women’s Media Center (WMC) is announced its third class of its Progressive Women’s Voices program for 2009. Now in its second year, Progressive Women’s Voices is an intense media training and outreach program that involves in-person intensive training, weekly interview practice, and ongoing WMC strategy and support.

Participants for this third class for 2009 include experts in North & South Korea, education theory, medicine, bioethics, health impacts of climate change, progressive journalism, international women's rights, leadership for women of color and more. These ten women come from manifold backgrounds, reflecting a diversity generally absent from mainstream media coverage. They will join 54 participants from 2008 & 2009, forming a roster of media-trained progressive women adding their voices to the national conversation in areas of economics, politics, health care, immigration, women's rights, workplace policy, and other important issues. If you want to read the bios of the ten new women of our Progressive Women's Voices program, go here.

In its first year, PWV was resounding success, with participants diversifying the media landscape by adding their intellectual, progressive, female perspectives.

In 2008
, PWV women were featured in high-profile outlets like CNN, MSNBC, PBS, The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, as well as hundreds of other significant media outlets in print, online, radio, and broadcast.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

DC Votes to Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

Good news from my home district! In another important step towards marriage equality, yesterday, the Washington D.C. council voted overwhelmingly to approve a bill that would recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. It was passed by a vote of 12-1.

Before it goes into effect, the bill must be signed by DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. This a step is considered a formality however, since Fenty has previously said that he supports the measure. Next the committees in the House and Senate that oversee the DC will have 30 session days to review the law.

Yesterday's victory in Washington came on the same day that the Maine House of Representatives voted to legalize same-sex marriage. If formally approved by the state Senate and approved by Gov. John Baldacci, Maine would become the fifth state to legalize gay marriage.

I'll keep an eye on DC to see what happens next.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Third Journalist Killed in Honduras

Reporters Without Borders recently learned that journalist Gabriel Fino Noriega, a local correspondent of the national radio station Radio América, was gunned down on July 3rd in San Juan Pueblo, in the Caribbean coast province of Atlántida. Both Radio América and the local police said they did not think his murder was in any way linked to the crisis caused by the June 28th coup d'état in Honduras.

Reporters Without Borders said, "We offer our condolences to Fino's family and colleagues, and we urge the police to assign enough resources to the murder investigation so that those responsible and their motive can be identified. A journalist's murder should not be allowed to go unpunished in a region of the country where there is a great deal of drug trafficking."

Fino, who was 42 at the time of his burder was shot by an unidentified gunman as he was leaving Radio Estelar, a local station where he presented a daily news program. He died while being taken to hospital. According to his colleagues, he had not received any threats.

Fino is the third journalist to be killed this year in Honduras. Rafael Munguía, the correspondent of the privately-owned national radio station Radio Cadena Voces, was killed on March 31st in the northwestern city of San Pedro Sula and Osman López of La Tribuna was killed in Tegucigalpa on April 18th.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Live on a Farm Without Ever Leaving the City!

What if you could eat farm-fresh fruits and vegetables without wondering where they came from and worrying about their carbon footprint? The average American meal endures a journey of 1500 miles from farm to plate, leaving a trail of greenhouse gas from the fossil-fueled trains, trucks, planes and high-energy refrigeration chambers that keep it fast and fresh. But consumers are getting wise to inefficiencies, and demand for local produce and the 100-mile diet is becoming more and more vocal.

Yesterday's National Geographic News reported a collaboration between scientists and architects working on solutions to the problem of food production for a burgeoning global population living with shrinking agricultural space. One viable solution is farming up rather than out with vertical farms, large production farms within residential skyscrapers that could provide efficient solutions directly in the hearts of cities. These buildings will not only provide agricultural space, but they will also eliminate the carbon footprint suffered from food miles. Even better, the controlled systems of indoor farms will greatly reduce the risk of losing crops to natural disasters, pests and disease.

But cities will have to look at the entire life cycle of food produced in urban skyscrapers before jumping for joy.Critics say urban indoor agriculture is no better than shipping food from far away since nutrient-rich hydroponic farming is highly energy intensive. Fossil fuels will most likely play some part in keeping the urban farms functioning, while perfectly free and clean sunlight will go unused outside the building.

Proponents say architects are fine-tuning designs of the buildings to maximize the amount of sun reaching crops, as well as the amount of energy that can be harnessed to power the system. One progressive model is the Pyramid Farm, which would break down sewage, convert it to water and carbon and re-power the building.

In the meantime, while we wait for vertical and pyramid farms to take root in our neighborhoods, eating in-season local foods and cutting down on land and water-intensive meats are good steps toward a more sustainable future.