BAD NEWS, FOLKS: On the filth test, our city gets an A-plus. Or at least our air does. According to the American Lung Association’s 2010 “State of the Air” report, Birmingham ranks No. 7 on a list of the 10 dirtiest cities in America. We rank No. 5 for short-term particle pollution, right behind the smog cloud that is Los Angeles, and No.7 for year-round particle pollution. In fact, Birmingham was one of only three non- California cities among the 10 dirtiest cities, along with Phoenix, Ariz., and Pittsburgh, Pa. Ready for the good news? There have been improvements in air quality across the board, even in Birmingham. In fact, Birmingham has improved the short-term quality of its air in the past year and actually equaled its best annual air quality this year. Unfortunately, it seems our best just isn’t good enough. For all those out there who want to help their local asthmatics, the American Lung Association offers a few tips to help individuals reduce their impact: Drive less, don’t burn wood or trash and use less electricity. For more information, or to get involved with helping to clean up our city, go to www.4cleanair.org or www.lungusa.org. AM
MY TOMATO TALKED TO ME: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been a big eco-issue over the last few years. The United States government, unlike most European nations, does not require that food products containing GMOs be labeled. Powerful lobbying groups have taken the issue off the table in the past to protect their products, likely because people would be leery of biting into something if it declared, in big, bold letters, that it was grown or made using a creature that found its beginnings in a laboratory. The Iowa-based Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), an organic advocacy group organization, recently held a fundraiser that earned about $30,000 for their anti-GMO PR offensive. The money came from the readers and publisher of a publication called Natural News, according to an IRT news release. According to IRT executive director Jeffrey Smith, “Our target is to convince about 5 percent of U.S. shoppers to avoid GM brands, which should be enough purchasing clout to force major companies to eliminate GM ingredients altogether.” For more information, visit www.responsibletechnology.org or www.naturalnews.com. AM
PLUG IN THE CAR, HONEY: With climate change proven to all but the most belligerent and stubborn amongst us, many people have started looking more carefully at the way their day-to-day lifestyles affect the world around us. Some people are looking to change the way they drive, since cars are among the largest individual contributors to climate change in America. Funny, how those belligerents I mentioned earlier seem to be the ones still driving around in Hummers. Fuel efficiency and alternative transportation have become buzz phrases in the green movement during the past decade, but changing the way cars operate still presents the greatest hope of maintaining our infrastructure and lifestyles without burning down the world to do so. To support a dialogue on just that sort of change, the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) created the National Alternative Fuels Vehicle Day Odyssey. An AFV is any car that runs on a fuel other than gasoline. That includes electric cars, hydrogen cars and even those gnarly-looking vans that run on used vegetable oil. On October 15, the fifth Biennial National AFV Day Odyssey brought together organizations, vehicle manufacturers and businesses to demonstrate new developments in alternative transportation to a wider audience.
According to Al Ebron, executive director of the NAFTC and national coordinator of National AFV Day Odyssey, the event has grown over the last few years. “In 2002 we had roughly 17,000 attendees at 50 events around the country,” he says in a NAFTC news release, “Odyssey has grown exponentially so that this year we had over 103 sites and reached out to well over 200,000 direct attendees and somewhere between 50 and 75 million people through media coverage.” For more information, visit www.naftc.wvu.edu. AM
DON’T LICK THAT PVC DUCKY! A group of health, environmental, consumer and labor groups unveiled the 2010 “Toxic Toys R Us Report” to the National Commission of Inquiry into Toxic Toys November 18.According to the report, Toys R Us continues to stock and sell many toys and infant items either made from or packaged in PVC, a toxic plastic, despite a 2008 pledge to curb such practices. The report also found that Toys R Us sells toys containing multiple toxic additives. In fact, the only improvement the company appears to have made in the last few years turns out to be a false flag. The company’s supplier removed one toxic compound, lead, and simply replaced it with another, organotins. The report was commissioned by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice and the Teamsters Office of Consumer Affairs in what the groups call an attempt to hold Toys R Us to its past promises. The report also contains recommendations to Toys R Us executives, along with a call for congressional action on comprehensive toxic chemical reform. With the holiday shopping season just around the corner, the report was released in the hopes that it would make a some parents think carefully before buying certain items for their kids from Toys R Us this December. AM
ALLEGATIONS OF GREENWASHING: A report released last week by the environmental advocacy group ForestEthics accuses the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) of being no more than an example of industry-sponsored greenwashing to help market wood and paper products. According to the report, called “SFI: Certified Greenwash,” the ostensibly independent non-profit eco-labeler SFI primarily serves the interests of the timber, paper and forest products industries.
According to a ForestEthics news release, mostly of SFI’s funding comes from the paper and timber industries; SFI’s most commonly used label, the Fiber Sourcing label, requires no chain-of-custody tracking of a product’s content or origins; and out of 543 audits of SFI-certified companies since 2004, not one acknowledges any major problem on such issues as soil erosion, clear-cutting or water quality. Visit www.forestethics.org for more information. According to the SFI web site, their label “is a sign you are buying wood and paper products from a responsible source, backed by a rigorous, third-party certification audit.” The SFI calls itself “a fully independent, charitable organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management.” To learn more, visit www.sfiprogram.org. JC
IS IT HOT ON THIS PLANET TO YOU? Eight cities and counties have announced a new effort to protect their communities from climate change impacts by participating in Climate Resilient Communities (CRC), the nation’s first comprehensive climate adaptation program for local governments. CRC was developed by the Washington, D.C.based group ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA, according to an ICLEI news release. Several cities, including Boston, Mass., and counties, including Miami-Dade County, Fla., will receive access to online tools, technical support and other resources from ICLEI to accelerate their efforts to prepare for climate impacts that already affect their regions. Following the hottest decade on record, global average temperatures are projected to rise an estimated 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, bringing a variety of problems to communities, according to the release. For example, Miami-Dade County is already contending with more frequent severe storms, more frequent floods from rising sea levels, and saltwater intrusion into their drinking water. CRC provides local governments with such tools as the Adaptation and Database Planning Tool (ADAPT), which walks users through the process of assessing community vulnerabilities, setting resiliency goals and developing strategies that work with other local planning efforts. These strategies may include strengthening infrastructure, diversifying water supplies and planting more vegetation. To learn more CRC and how communities can respond to climate impacts, or to view U.S. climate impacts by region, visit www.icleiusa.org/adaptation. JC