GIVE ‘EM SUBPOENA POWER: Adam Snyder, executive director of environmental lobby Conservation Alabama, spoke to the state legislature last week regarding the link between environmental policy and state ethics reform. He commended Governor Bob Riley and the new leadership in the House and Senate for tackling ethics reform in the current special session. He suggested that ethics reforms should extend to all state officials, including the heads of such agencies as the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). According to Snyder, “The health of our citizens and our environment are at stake, and we need to make sure environmental laws are enforced fully and are not encumbered with undue financial influence from those who are being regulated.” Within the current system, he says, special interests are able to influence public officials through monetary gifts, within limits. Snyder suggested lowering those limits to no more than $25 per day and $100 annually. He also recommended that the Ethics Commission be given subpoena power in order to carry out its review functions to the full extent of the law. Finally, Snyder urges the legislature to enforce environmental law by fully funding appropriate agencies, including ADEM. According to Snyder, “If this legislature does not fully fund these agencies, then the cause of ethics reform and environmental protection will be lost.” To see the full text of Snyder’s remarks, visit www.conservationalabama.org. AM
GREEN SPACER CHIPS IN: Stephen Miller of Birmingham reminds us that December 6 was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, established by President Eisenhower, is—as Miller puts it—“one of America’s most beloved natural treasures.” The subtext of Miller’s letter is that the refuge should be kept safe from those who seek to drill for oil there. We’ll let Miller speak for himself: ‘Big mammals, such as the iconic polar bear, and millions of the world’s birds come here each year, seeking refuge from a world of encroaching hazards to receive their most sacred needs: sustenance and safe harbor for bearing their young. The Arctic Refuge remains wild, so the cycle of life continues. As Americans, we have a moral and civic duty to ensure that this cycle is not broken. This anniversary presents an historic opportunity to finally protect this last, vast American wilderness. I urge our representatives in Washington, D.C., to close the book on a debate settled by the American people long ago: America’s Arctic is more valuable for what lives upon the land than what lies under it.” JC
DUDE! THE OCEANS ARE TOTALLY GROSS: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is, in many people’s minds, a symbol of mankind’s impact on the biosphere. If we’re capable of creating a mass of garbage in the ocean bigger than Texas, our impact on the Earth must reach a truly massive scale. But, as it turns out, the problem is far bigger than that. The 5 Gyres Institute recently finished sailing from Rio de Janeiro to Cape Town on an expedition to search for plastic pollution in the South Atlantic. Along the way they collected 67 samples of ocean water to test for plastic, and every sample contained small fragments of plastic. In the Southern Atlantic gyre, a crossroads of ocean currents where waste usually ends up, the researchers found hundreds of large floating objects, including fishing buoys, nets and construction hard hats. Unfortunately, not all of the plastic ends up in the gyres. According to Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of 5 Gyres, “The garbage patches we discover are highly diffuse, perhaps a little more than a handful of plastic particles scattered over a football field. There are 315 million-square kilometers of ocean surface in the world, so there are billions of these football fields. Do the math, the product is staggering.” The reality is that there are only a few big patches to clean up and they represent only a small portion of the total waste. According to Eriksen, “Practical solutions begin on land with improved recovery systems and better product stewardship where producers factor in the true environmental cost of their products.” For more information, visit www.5gyres.com. AM
HOT AIR, IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE: World leaders concluded two weeks of negotiations regarding climate change in Cancun, Mexico, on Saturday, December 11, and the countries formalized greenhouse gas reduction targets they pledged last year at a U.N. conference in Copenhagen, according to a news release from the National Wildlife Federation. Of course, as in Copenhagen, there was no legally binding climate pact. “Progress was made on a number of issues, but it’s clear the [U.S.] Senate’s failure to pass clean energy legislation tied the hands of negotiators to come to a full global deal,” according to NWF global warming dude Joe Mendelson. JC
“YOU WANNA PLAY GOLF OR JUST DRINK?” Noted pleasure-pit resort Hilton Head Island recently became the first community in South Carolina to join Audubon International’s Sustainable Communities Program, according to an Audubon news release. The SCP, the release says, “is a framework to merge the protection and enhancement of a community’s environmental and social characteristics with economic opportunities.” According to the release, The Town of Hilton Head strives to maintain healthy beaches and creeks, invest in green space and protect mature tree canopies in order to enhance quality of life and economic vitality. Learn more at www.auduboninternational.org. JC
CODEN STATE OF MIND: I had some fun once in Coden, Ala., a little community south of Mobile. It was July 4, 1995. I visited some now-divorced friends who had a house there. We filled a cooler with ice-cold cans of Bud and drove to Dauphin Island with a really cute girl who was an art teacher and had an old station wagon. It was a beautiful day, especially since the beaches were pleasant, not crowded, even on a holiday. A few years later, the lovely Alabama-born singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne wrote “Where I’m From,” which mentions Coden—“Jubilation risin’ on the bayou/celebration in the wind/Father Pat gives benediction/cross the Coden bridge again.” So Coden somehow claimed a little sliver of my personal mythology. That’s why I was moved by the following item. The town was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, so community leaders formed the South Bay Communities Alliance (SBCA) to help families who lacked power, water, food and clothing. The SBCA created a new Coastal Response Center (CRC) in 2006, which can be used as a hurricane shelter. The CRC has also become a community center, hosting events and church services. Coden was still struggling to recover from Katrina when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill hit last spring. The spill devastated Coden’s fishing industry and put many area residents out of work. As a result, SBCA leaders—many of whom live below the poverty line since the spill—often pay the Response Center’s operating expenses themselves. Now a large donation may save the Center thousands of dollars in energy costs. Elon Musk of the Musk Foundation and a firm called SolarCity have donated a solar power system. The panels will be attached to a battery back-up that will allow the CRC to produce its own power in an emergency. SolarCity installs solar power systems. Read more at www.solarcity.com. Musk, according to Wikipedia, is an entrepreneur who cofounded PayPal and is chairman of Solar City.