Thursday, December 22, 2005

Double-Mouthed Fish to be Single-Mouthed Snack.

Clarence Olberding, 57, wasn't just telling a fisherman's fib when he called over another angler to look at the two-mouthed trout. It weighed in at about a pound.

The second mouth didn't appear to be functional, Olberding said. He has plans for the fish, which don't included mounting.

"I'm going to smoke it up and eat it," he said.
The above quote was from an AP report -- unfortunately, the original link is no longer available. However, since the initial post of this report, new information has come to light-- the trout's deformity was likely due to injury, not genetics . . . read more here.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Porcupine Caribou herd is safe . . . for now.

Common sense-- and perhaps true "conservatives"-- won out in Congress today (following section excerpted from Yahoo! News report):
Conservation-minded lawmakers cheered a US House of Representatives decision to scrap a plan allowing oil drilling in Alaska's environmentally-sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Negotiators wrangling over a House budget bill late Wednesday removed a provision allowing drilling in ANWR and on the Outer Continental Shelf, out of fear that its inclusion -- which faced strong opposition by some moderate representatives -- would endanger the entire budget bill.

Republican Representative Charles Bass (news, bio, voting record) gained the support of 25 lawmakers from his party and convinced the Republican leadership to give up on the provision.
It's a bipartisan effort that surely would make Eisenhower proud. Yes, a Republican adminstration is responsible for establishing ANWR (then the Arctic National Wildlife Range) in 1960. It was subsequently expanded and "Range" changed to "Refuge" by the Carter administration in 1980. Now a conservative Republican administration brimming with free-market liberals wants to open up the refuge to big oil profiteers.

It's enough to make the cranium seize.

Don't burn that bra-- nuke it!

Fresh from Japan and just in time for winter, it's another way to keep global warming close to your chest.
For the woman who wants to stay both warm and environmentally conscious this winter -- and isn't bothered by extra bulk under her shirt -- a lingerie maker unveiled a thick bra that can be heated in a microwave.

Triumph International modeled the bra in Japan which has launched a "Warm Biz" campaign urging people to bundle up to save on heating.

The bra pads are filled with an eco-friendly, reusable gel that can be heated up in a microwave or with hot water. For good measure, a pendant of a hot pepper dangles from the front.
Read more here. Yes, there are pictures.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Not surprised.

From today's AP wire:
The Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Louisiana lack an overall plan for restoring coastal wetlands, a National Academy of Sciences panel said Wednesday.

"Federal, state and local officials, with the public's involvement, need to take a broader look," said Robert Dean, a University of Florida engineering professor in Gainesville who chaired a panel on the restoration efforts.

Dean said those efforts must examine "where land in coastal Louisiana should and can be restored and ... how some of the sediment-rich water of the Mississippi River should flow to achieve that."

Read more

Thursday, October 27, 2005

As I said before . . .

Really not holding my breath now that this internal Wal-Mart memo has been leaked. Wal-Mart, champions of externalizing costs: we bring you low prices for cheap goods on the backs of a global workforce desperate to keep its collective head above water. I realize that arguments from analogy are generally quite weak, but to publicly announce that your company is focusing efforts on treating workers better while simultaneously launching an internal campaign against those same workers . . . well, folks, it's business as usual in Arkansas.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which built its reputation — and a virulent opposition — on rock-bottom prices, has talked a lot lately about becoming a kinder, more responsible company.

But the retailing giant is finding that convincing the world that it is "committed to change," and to keeping costs low, is a tough balancing act.

On Monday, Chief Executive H. Lee Scott Jr. pledged to bring health insurance within reach of his 1.3 million U.S. employees. On Wednesday, a leaked company memo revealed "bold steps" to reign in Wal-Mart's employee benefit costs.

Among the recommendations: using more part-time workers, cutting life-insurance payouts, pushing spouses off health plans through higher premiums and trying to dissuade unhealthy people from seeking jobs by, among other things, requiring cashiers to gather carts in Wal-Mart's vast parking lots.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wal-Mart Trades Yellow Smiley for Green One?

While deflecting the responsibility for paying its employees a living wage to Congress (where WM will probably spend lots of cash lobbying against it), Wal-Mart has announced its intent to be a "good steward for the environment." This sounds a lot like Bush's phrasing during the Presidential debates last fall. It also smacks of conservative Christian Bible talk (see example). Stewards manage the property of others-- whose property is the environment, exactly? God's? (ugh) Future generations? (more plausible) It's also a word that tends to be used in conjunction with inorganic, inanimate objects that can't care for themselves, and it is language that privileges the role of the caretaker.


Here's an excerpt from today's AP report:
Tom Rubel, who heads consultant Retail Forward in Columbus, Ohio, said Scott was leading a genuine effort to adopt new standards.

"I do think that this is a departure. This is sort of vintage Wal-Mart. They have listened, and learned, and now they have set a course and they've established some aggressive goals and now they're going to go after it very aggressively," Rubel said.

Scott said the environmental plan was part of goals set after a year of talks with Wal-Mart's employees, customers and critics that he said showed many of the issues where the company was on the defensive could be opportunities instead.

Scott said those meetings did not include any labor unions or groups such as Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart, formed in the past year to coordinate campaigns against the retailer by labor, environmental, women's rights and community groups.

"We met with people who quite honestly have asked us not say who they are. We did not meet with those people who simply wish we did not exist as a company," Scott said when asked about the two campaign organizations. Wal-Mart Watch and Wake Up Wal-Mart say they want to reform the company, not shut it down.

Wal-Mart's targets for raising fuel and energy efficiency and reducing packaging waste are bold but the credibility will depend on whether the company reports its progress to the public, one environmental expert said.

"Wal-Mart is one of the world's largest companies in the world so they have a huge influence in the marketplace. There is a huge opportunity for them to influence the marketplace," said Elizabeth Cook, vice president of World Resources Institute in Washington D.C.

"Wal-Mart will win its skeptics over once it shows that it can deliver on these commitments," she added.

I'm going to be a good steward of oxygen and not hold my breath.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I Don't Send Me Flowers Anymore.

Geez, what happened to my blog? Guess it's about time to do a little soapboxing.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The conversation.

No, not the FFC film starring Gene Hackman. The Katrina Conversation.

Yesterday I wondered what would happen to the Katrina Conversation. Here's where it's going today:

  • Sidney Blumenthal points a finger at the Bush Administration in the German press (Spiegel online) and at for cutting funding to New Orleans flood control funding and encouraging development of wetlands. According to Blumenthal, in 2001, FEMA warned that a hurricane striking New Orleans was one of the three most likely disasters facing the US (one of the other top three was a major terrorist attack on NYC, and this was early 2001). Wonder what the other was? Looks like FEMA's two for three.

  • David Brooks wonders about the "human storm" following the hurricane in an editorial at the NY Times. He points out some disturbing similarities between the great Mississippi flood of New Orleans in 1927 and the aftermath of Katrina-- namely, the racial and class disparity regarding who has been left behind:
    take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.

  • The general editorial at the NY Times seems to call for sacrifice on the part of all Americans -- something that perhaps sounds odd to our pampered ears. After 9/11, we were encouraged to go forth and spend money to stimulate the economy, rather than tighten our belts and sacrifice for our fellow humans (as Americans were advised to do when America joined the fray in WWII). Victory garden? No. Victory trip to the mall! The same editorial then asks some very pointed and hard questions for keeping the Conversation going, questions that must be asked, that should have been asked prior to this disaster, and that demand answers in the coming weeks and months, namely:
    While our attention must now be on the Gulf Coast's most immediate needs, the nation will soon ask why New Orleans's levees remained so inadequate. Publications from the local newspaper to National Geographic have fulminated about the bad state of flood protection in this beloved city, which is below sea level. Why were developers permitted to destroy wetlands and barrier islands that could have held back the hurricane's surge? Why was Congress, before it wandered off to vacation, engaged in slashing the budget for correcting some of the gaping holes in the area's flood protection?

  • The Rev. Isaac Clark, speaking amidst the chaos from the New Orleans Convention Center, wonders where the aid is: "We are out here like pure animals. We don't have help." R Neal at Facing South wonders the same thing, and gives contact information for Congresspeople. Neal (SKB) references a MSNBC correspondent reporting from NOLA:
    The reporter said that she had been there four days. She said she has heard about all the provisions that the federal government had rushed to the scene, but says that she and her crew have not seen any of it. Nothing. People are dying there. They are begging for help.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The wisdom of dialogue.

I'm taking an environmental sociology course this semester, and it seems that it will be quite interesting. I'm set to learn a lot from the instructor and the subject matter as well as from my classmates, who so far seem to be an incredibly well-informed, well-traveled, and reasonable bunch of folks.

Today's class was something of a free-for-all, and discussion was wide-ranging, but there was one thing in particular that I found quite thought-provoking. One of my classmates mentioned that environmental problems (in America) aren't as dramatically apparent today as they once were-- we don't have a burning river like Cuyahoga in 1969 to point to as a horrifying empirical demonstration of the direct harm that we can do when we make poor choices regarding business practices, etc.-- and that perhaps this lack of drama leads to disinterest in environmental responsibility. But it strikes me that right now, at this very moment, we have the equivalent of a burning river (or several burning rivers, or worse) down South in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Despite the statements already issued by right wing religious nutjobs regarding the "ultimate message" behind the hurricane (it was an Act of a vengeful God intended to call our attention to the sinfulness of our ways), it would seem that this particular hurricane is NOT an isolated event, but rather is part of a long-term pattern of change with regard to our climate. In other words, the frequency and increased severity of hurricanes over the past decade may be not only correlative with a warming planet, but there may be a causal relation as well. If this is so, then we are, in a very broad sense, partially responsible for the extent of the destruction and the suffering currently being felt in the Deep South. We have (in a sense) brought this disaster upon ourselves and our neighbors through decades (centuries, even) of poor choices with regard to our environment. And inevitably, and alarmingly, there is more to come.

It is, of course, disturbing (to say the least) that this particular conversation is starting so late in the game and only AFTER the major disaster and devastation has already occurred. Why do we loathe preventive medicine so? But don't worry, the conversation will hardly get started before it's forgotten.

There will be enough naysayers to table this line of thought quite quickly-- we've experienced Category 5 hurricanes before, this isn't unprecedented, remember Camille, etc. Eyes will be effectively drawn away from the observed trends in climate change across time, and we'll focus on this as an isolated event, even though it's not. And then we'll focus on the triumph of the human spirit in the face of disaster. The responsibility for climate change conversation is too abstract to hold our interest for long-- if we can't find a scapegoat for our troubles, or if we have to diffuse responsibility across peoples and generations, or if the only solution is to radically examine and quite possibly alter our current lifestyles, forget about it.

OK then, what about the levee system? Before Katrina struck, I remember reading something about the irony of the levee and drainage system of New Orleans-- sure, it protects the city from regular flooding of rivers, including the Mississippi, but it also interferes with the natural process of sedimentation that feeds the system of bayous and swamps that help coastal and floodplain areas recover from severe flooding. Without the levees, there is flooding; with the levees, there is less frequent flooding, but the land is less able to recover from severe flooding, as is the case currently. Further, after someone figured out how to drain the swampy areas of NOLA into the canals and levees, the city expanded into lower areas that are even more vulnerable to and unable to recover quickly from severe flooding. It's no surprise that the areas of the city that are experiencing less flooding (French Quarter, etc) are the older areas of New Orleans, built before the modern levee/canal/drainage technologies were implemented. So here again, we have an opportunity to reevaluate choices we have made with regard to environmental and urban planning-- and a less abstract case of cause and effect to reference.

But of course, as my classmates pointed out to me when I was waxing on about how I am interested to see how the conversation r.e. NOLA, MS, and AL plays out (and whether such disaster will call our attention to environmental problems and better solutions), OF COURSE they will simply come up with better, stronger levee/canal/drainage technology. More levees! We'll rebuild it! We will make it better, stronger!

And so this futile struggle of humans versus nature will continue unabated and unexamined, because there is something that we value deeply about rebuilding in the face of disaster, rather than taking our lumps and moving on elsewhere -- say, to higher ground. To do other than rebuild would be to let the terrorists, um, mother nature win. To do other than rebuild would mean that we were wrong, or weak, or inferior. We would be giving up our privileged place as God's chosen people, or as the highest forms of life, etc. We would be admitting that we are a part of, not apart from, nature and its processes. We must rebuild, and in so doing, ensure our complete annihilation at some point in the future. Absurdity, futility.

We absolutely refuse to accept that there might be some places we simply aren't meant to live. I'm reminded of the ancient wisdom that encouraged people to not build their houses on the sand, and I wonder what happened to that wisdom? Has technology replaced common sense? If we can build it, should we? Must we?

I continue to wonder what will happen to these potential conversations-- the conversations about the choices we make and our responsibility for their outcomes (and NO, I am most certainly not referring to divine punishment for providing women with a full range of gynecological care). The incident at Cuyhoga started a conversation that led to a focus on cleaning up the nation's rivers, and ultimately to the Clean Water Act. What will the Katrina conversation(s) lead to? More of the same?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The price is definitely NOT right.

Just another example of the intersection of class (and inevitably race & gender) issues with environmental issues:

A recent study by researchers at the University of California-Davis reported that U.S. shoppers who consistently choose healthy foods spend nearly 20 percent more on groceries. The study also said the higher price of these healthier choices can consume 35 to 40 percent of a low-income family's grocery budget. That's bad news for public health. It's also bad news for the organic-food market, since organics usually carry the highest price tag of all the healthy stuff out there.

The above quote comes from today's Grist article, "Cost in Translation," about the high costs of eating organic food. What's alarming to me is that organic is merely a subset of "healthy foods"-- and the study reports that shoppers who choose healthy foods (not just organic) spend a great deal more on groceries than other folks.

What does this mean for people with tight incomes and demanding schedules? As a grad student, I find myself picking up fast food much more frequently than I did as a corporate "professional." It's cheaper and, well, faster -- and I don't have to spend time wedged into my 3x3 "kitchen" for time consuming prep and clean-up (ever tried to make a "well-balanced meal" in a coat closet?). As a result, I feel less healthy and I've put on a few pounds more than I would like.

What does this mean? People who can't (or can barely) afford insurance or healthcare are also those who are unable to afford some of the best "preventive medicine" available -- healthy food. Or they're unable to find it because their local groceries don't stock it, or stock spoiled or spoiling produce and other perishable goods. It's a vicious cycle that keeps people poor, fat, and sick.

You can read a brief of the UC Davis study in pdf format here:

Here's an excerpt:
An alarming increase in such chronic diseases as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and some types of cancer has occurred over the past decade (Kant 2004). Improving diet quality by eating more whole grains and fruit and vegetables, and by eating less fat and refined sugar could help lower the incidence or severity of these diseases.

Avoiding and managing chronic disease, not surprisingly, is (and has been for quite some time) a class issue. It used to be that people couldn't afford food-- now they can't afford the right foods.

Can't afford the foods that help you avoid chronic disease? Can't afford to spend leisure time exercising (translation: don't have leisure time because you're working two jobs to pay your rent)? Can't afford healthcare, medicine and treatment for the chronic disease you developed because you were too cash- and time-strapped to avoid it? Too freaking bad. It's probably your fault anyway. Maybe you're a sinner, or stupid, or lazy.

It seems that people assume that overweight and obese people deserve to be unhealthy because they have made poor choices regarding their health. I've even heard people remark that overweight, poor people must not be that poor, as they clearly have been able to afford the food that has made them overweight. What, are poor people supposed to starve themselves to be authentic? In times past (and still in some cultures), obesity was a mark of prosperity -- gout was the rich man's disease. Not so these days, when a stick-thin figure is a sign of wealth and the ability to afford a personal trainer and dietician. It's McDonald's that has the dollar value menu, not Spago or the new raw food restaurants cropping up in urban areas across the nation. Even more alarming is the fact that I could spend $1 for a double cheeseburger, or $1 for one (1) non-organic red bell pepper at the grocery. That just doesn't make sense.

Of course, if you add up the hidden costs of consuming that $1 double cheeseburger (healthcare, environmental damage, labor costs, etcetera), it costs much more than the bell pepper-- but that's not what I'm thinking about two weeks into the month when most of my paycheck has been parceled out to my creditors and I still have to feed myself (and if I'm lucky, my children and my pets and my spouse). It's about that time that one's tolerance for well-meaning theory goes out the window, and one wishes that the hippies would shove their "joys of organic gardening" and saving the environment and the animals crap up their collective ass. Now there's a dilemma for you ethicists. So solve it, already.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Ecological Literacy at UT

Associate Professor Mark DeKay and Lecturer Ted Shelton of the University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design have been chosen by The American Institute of Architects as one of three grant-winning teams for ecological literacy in architecture education. Read More

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

In the raw.

Scooping the poop in the Tuesday raw sewage roundup:

  • Two employees at the Mt. Pleasant (Middle Tennessee) wastewater plant have been indicted for falsifying records regarding wastewater testing. They had been following "incorrect procedure" regarding reporting the amount of fecal coliform in the water, and were not in compliance with environmental standards. This isn't the first time they've been cited in Mt. Pleasant for not complying with environmental regulations regarding their wastewater. According to the article, the guys are still (as of Friday) on the job.    link (reg req'd)

  • In other news, TVA would like for boaters to stop dumping untreated, unfiltered (i.e. raw) sewage directly into lakes. The initiative is the Clean Marina program, and it also encourages boaters to engage in recycling, erosion control, and prevention of oil spills. It also provides "environmentally friendly education" for boaters. Here's a quote from the Knoxville News Sentinel's article on the program:
    His children, he said , stopped contracting ear infections when the dumping stopped - a health hazard believed to be caused by swimming in lakes where raw sewage is dumped.

    "It's just the concept of dumping that raw sewage in that fresh water and swimming there - it's much more appealing to know that practice isn't acceptable any more," Cory said.
    No shit.

    The initiative was launched in 2000. Less poop in lakes-- how new milennium!    link (reg req'd)

    Good for TVA on this one, but bear in mind that they have been a major contributor -- on a much larger scale than the poop-dumping boating community -- to the Tennessee River's ranking as one of the most polluted rivers in the nation. Keep working on it, folks.

It's only going to get hotter.

It's damn hot outside -- heat index is hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, humidity is near 60% (actually kind of low for East TN). And no doubt someone somewhere has attributed the current heatwave to climate change. It's unseasonably hot, so isn't that evidence of global warming? Not necessarily. Nor would a cold day in July signal that global warming is a myth. Claims like these make a category mistake -- they confuse "climate" and "weather."

Weather is highly variable, subject to daily changes that are notoriously difficult to predict. Climate, on the other hand, refers to long-term weather patterns and averages over time. When scientists talk about climate change and global warming, they are talking about average global temperatures rising over time -- this doesn't mean they necessarily rise in all locations equally. In fact, temperatures may rise dramatically in some areas while falling in others.

There's some speculation that a rise in average global temperature would cause ice melts in the North Atlantic that would cool the temperature of the ocean and disturb the "normal" circulation of the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is largely responsible for the temperate climate currently enjoyed by Ireland, Britain, and Europe. If the GS ceases to function as it currently does, these nations could suddenly find themselves much, much colder. While this claim is somewhat controversial, it does show how global warming could, in theory, lead to serious drops in temperature for certain parts of the world. So, when thinking of climate change or global warming, think big -- in terms of averages over time, not specific daily temperatures, heatwaves, or cold snaps.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a great section on climate change at their website.

The UCS is also featuring an article on some hardline hold-outs on the global warming issue (guess who?)-- despite the fact that scientific consensus continues to grow behind the theory that current global warming trends are directly related to human activity. This despite the fact that:
In June 2005, the national scientific academies of 11 nations issued a joint statement that reads, “The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action” to reduce global warming emissions. And at the G8 Summit in July 2005, President Bush himself acknowledged that he accepts the overwhelming evidence that human activity contributes significantly to global warming.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Environmental Roundup

  • Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has information on how to give Sen. Lamar Alexander comments r.e. his reluctance to embrace the windmill: link

  • Learn about the National Energy Bill at SACE: link

  • There's a Global Warming / Climate Change Bill in the works in North Carolina: link
    An Act to establish the Legislative commission on global climate change and to direct the commission to study issues related to global warming and the emerging carbon economy, to determine whether it is appropriate and desirable for the state to establish a global warming pollutant reduction goal and, if the commission determines that the establishment of a goal is appropriate and desirable, to develop a recommended goal.
    It's already passed the NC Senate. Will it pass the House? Contact info for state representatives can be found at the SACE website: link

  • There's a dragonfly program at Ijams on Saturday the 23rd (members only): link

  • East TN Clean Fuels Coalition reports that the City of Knoxville has obtained new Toyota Priuses for use by building inspectors: link
    While you're at the site, you can also read press releases on the following:
    • Tennessee counties are opening biodiesel fuel stations
    • KUB "making the switch" to biodiesel
    • KAT's clean fuel vehicles
    Knoxville ETCFC meets on the second Thursday of each month. Locations can be found on the website.

  • The Southern Environmental Law Center warns that Southerners are at the greatest risk from the EPA's failure to curb mercury pollution: link

  • Tennessee Environmental Council reports on mine reclamation in the Caney Fork watershed: link

  • The Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition announces a conference this Fall in Black Mountain, NC, on the subject of forest restoration in the eastern US: link

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bye, Bubba.

The venerable South Knox Bubba blog, forums, and Rocky Top Brigade hosting have been pulled suddenly and without advance warning by the man himself, SKB, for reasons still unknown. This was the hub of a virtual community unlike others, considering its local focus as well as the level of interaction among members in both virtual and "meat" space.

While it does little to no good to speculate about reasons for the demise of the SKB commune, there's a lot of confusion among bloggers and blabbers who wish SKB the best, hope that the reasons for pulling the plug were primarily internal rather than external, and wonder what will become of the little communities SKB nurtured.

Be safe and be well, SKB! Folks are already regrouping; hopefully the Rocky Top Brigade will find a stable home soon. Until then, I'm linking to the cached RTB page in my blogroll.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Blowin' In the Rain

Add this to my rapidly growing list of leaf-blower related frustrations:

There is a guy, outside my apartment, right now, in the rain, wielding a freaking gas-powered leaf blower (I guess the electric kind don't work well in the rain). He's blowing soggy grass clippings against the curb. It's not enough that they're already caught up in the little river of rainwater that's heading downhill toward the storm drain.

Did someone in DC declare a War Against Entropy? WTF? "We will strike at the evil grass clippings where they live, before they can attach themselves to our shoes and be brought across our thresholds to chip away at the order of our freedom-loving homes."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

SoKno Riverfront Development

The next target for development in Knoxville is the South Knoxville riverfront. Mind you, this is not pristine land by any stretch of the imagination -- Holston Gases is there, and has been for quite some time, Marathon Ashland houses asphalt storage tanks on the riverfront, there's an abandoned glove factory, as well as some residential areas (most of which are populated by persons of modest income), Baptist Hospital, a small park or two, and an amazing blanket of kudzu holding erosion at bay. On the other side, of course, are Neyland Drive and UT, the small Maplehurst community, the Greenway, a few restaurants, and the inpouring of tasty effluent from biohazardous First, Second, and Third Creeks. There is little to no high-income housing on this urban portion of the river, but there soon will be -- high-class condos are already going up on the South side in the Scottish Pike community, and there are proposals for more to come, as well as a hotel and restaurant complex.

Personally, I've thought for a while that wealthy Knoxville folks sailing down the river on their yachts and boats for Vol Gamedays must be quite ticked off by the fact that there are working-class people quietly living on the river across from downtown Knoxville. Of course, this is now considered an "opportunity for development," and where there's opportunity, there will soon be fewer working-class folks and more persons of means with the prime river views. The working-class folks can spend time near the waterfront working, but not living. Modest means = inland living. But I digress.

I'm interested in hearing more about the environmental impact of increased Knoxville riverfront development and river traffic. The river is already quite harried as it makes its pass through downtown. It has to be, when all the streams that dump into it post signs warning folks that the water's too filthy for safe human contact. According to a recent Metro Pulse article, I'll learn more this Friday, when
proposals to work on specific plans for land use, environmental analysis, economic development, design, and engineering will be open and read aloud in the City County Building.
South Knox Bubba posted on the SoKno development yesterday. He points out that a set of plans was drawn up back in 2002. It's always of interest when our city "planners" attempt to reinvent the wheel -- apparently there weren't enough condos (read: high-income housing on the river) in the first plan.

Big, Red, Angry Tomatoes

In my last post, I briefly mentioned the Greening Earth Society. Brief recap: GES sez more CO2 = more green plants = good, bountiful harvest that's better for humanity! In a nutshell (pun intended), keep the greenhouse gases pumping, it's good for the earth. Not incidentally, the GES was founded by the Western Fuels Association, and it lobbies for the (fossil fuel) power industry. I don't think that mentioning that connection constitutes an ad hominem (namely, poisoning the well) as it's highly relevant to the choices they make with regard to their research, etc. So there.

Yesterday's Grist magazine featured an article on the effects of global warming on the nutritional content of our food. Is the GES right? Are fossil fuels good for continued survival and health of hairless monkeys?

Grist concedes that there is something to the science -- CO2 fertilization does yield growth in plants. However, as they say, "there's a catch." High levels of CO2 may yield faster-growing plants, but they also yield less nutritious plants, much to the detriment of the critters who feed on said greenery (including the aforementioned hairless monkey, i.e. us).

Monocultures decrease nutritional value of plants as well, as the nutrients in the soil are depleted and not replenished via crop rotations. Increased use of chemical fertilizers and engineered high-yield crops also decreases the nutritional value of plants. The World Bank has termed the resulting nutritional deficiencies (most frequently felt in "developing" nations) "hidden hunger." Wealthy nations like those in the G8 can compensate for these nutritional shortcomings by supplementing crops, animals, and people with missing nutrients. Less wealthy nations may not be able to keep up. There's more in the article. It's quite interesting.

It also mentions that higher levels of CO2 increase production of non-nutritious elements in plants -- compounds that serve as the plants' natural defenses. Tomatoes might be bigger, but they'll also be meaner. Who needs nuclear radiation when you have CO2?

Also, it seems that it will be increasingly difficult to be a healthy vegetarian in a world with higher levels of CO2. Even if you grow your own organic produce, there's no way to keep your plants from interacting with a CO2-laden environment. Granted, organic produce will still be healthier than non-organic, bioengineered, factory-farmed produce, but nevertheless, the "veg block" should be pissed. And so should we all if yet another way of life becomes closed to us.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Aesthetics of Rhetoric

Despite a recent "Sense of the Senate Resolution" acknowledging a causal link between human activity (increased greenhouse gases) and global warming (i.e. "climate change"), and despite finally publicly acknowledging the reality of said warming, the US still refuses to formally agree to pass legislation or enforce regulations requiring businesses and citizens to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of course.

At G-8 this past week, Bush himself was heard to say,
"Listen, I recognize that the surface of the Earth is warmer and that an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem."
Whoa! What's that? The Bush Administration is finally, after years of trumping out global warming skeptics like MIT Professor Richard Lindzen, acknowledging a causal relationship (not just a correlation!) between human activity and climate change? But they're still not going to take formal regulatory or legislative steps to address it? Not surprising. The Sense of the Senate Resolution acknowledging the causal link and the need for mandatory caps on emissions came shortly after the Senate voted down the McCain/Lieberman co-sponsored Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act. It's a big step from acknowledgement to action, particularly when there's so much at stake politically and economically -- and socially.

Strangely, it's much easier to "justify" a war -- to fix intelligence and "facts" around a policy that benefits . . . who, again? With war, the status quo remains remarkably untouched and unaffected. When it comes to global warming, however, we must rethink an entire economic system, and begin to radically restructure the ways in which we do business. This takes massive amounts of creativity, effort, and possibly even sacrifice (gasp!). War isn't nearly as frightening as this -- in fact, in this case, it seems to be classic avoidance behavior. Do you enjoy irony? How's this -- we're fighting to make the world "free" for a way of life (read: a way of doing business) that is destroying the world. Remember when Bush encouraged us all to fight the terrorists by going shopping, rather than by taking steps to reduce energy consumption and dependence on "foreign oil"? Remember back in 2002 when members of Congress held aloft pictures of shiny new SUVs and waxed eloquent about the American "right to drive" whatever we want to drive, and went on to defeat a proposal to increase fuel economy standards for cars, light trucks, minivans, and SUVs? Let the market decide! The Invisible Hand will guide us to greener pastures (here I'm reminded of such pseudoscience as that funded by fossil fuel interests and the Greening Earth Society, the folks who claim that increased levels of greenhouse gases are good because CO2 makes the plants grow up to be big and green and strong).

In a Nova/Frontline investigative report on global warming (2000), a "regular citizen" had the following to say about the matter of our heating planet, "It's a question we need to answer, but do we need to pay for it?"


Meanwhile, as a sidenote, Wikipedia has a very thorough entry on Global Warming, with lots of chartsengrafs.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Get Up on the Down Stroke

Today is an ozone action day in Knoxville. The air quality forecast anticipates levels of ozone and particulant matter that will be unhealthy for sensitive groups (those with chronic heart and lung diseases in particular).

University of Tennessee seems to be blissfully unaware of this, as evidenced by the number of lawnmowers and weed-whackers currently in operation around campus. I can hear the whine of a weed-eater from the computer lab where I'm currently accessing the Internet.

I would like to see state government play a more proactive role in setting the standard for dealing with ozone action days. Rather than simply recommending that people conserve energy and not use two-stroke engine machines (like weed-eaters and lawnmowers) that increase unhealthy levels of pollutants, they should follow that advice. On ozone action days, state and local governmental entities should participate in public efforts to conserve energy AND refrain from engaging in polluting activities (like lawnwork)-- particularly when those entities are located in nonattainment zones.

I know I'm going to see a leafblower before this day is finished. Gr.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Scrubbing behind TVA's ears

Today's edition of the blog of the well-traveled South Knox Bubba features a very well-phrased post regarding TVA & the new scrubbers at Bull Run. The technology in question will reduce sulfur dioxide emissions from the Bull Run plant by 90%. However, this represents (according to Bubba-math) a 7.5% reduction in overall SO2 emissions from TVA plants. This figure matches TVA's proposed 7.5% rate increase. Hm.

While you're at Bubba's blog, you should check out the pictures from his recent jaunt across our wide nation.
Hint: you have to scroll "backward" through the photo archive to view the pictures in proper chronological order. Use the left arrow, Ethel!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Separation of Business and State

Lately, the separation of Church and State has come under fire from a number of sources both within ("faith-based initiatives") and without (Dobson, anyone?) the current Administration. It seems that having 200+ years of no official state-sanctioned government has created a climate in which people are failing to see the harm of combining government and theology. Combine that with the religious right and their seemingly effective cries of victimization and persecution (everyone loves the underdog). "Children aren't free to pray in school!" "The liberal Democrats hate your God!" ad nauseam. This has incredibly serious implications for Democracy, which I shouldn't need to point out.

There's another Sacred Wall that should exist, for many of the same reasons -- preservation of meaningful Democracy and affirmation of deeply held normative values (equality, autonomy, freedom, etc.), to name but two. This is the wall between business and the State. Given the most prevalent model of doing business within a capitalist economy (thanks Milt!), the State is one of the only constraints that business recognizes. Law and regulation are often recognized as the only external checks on running business -- and business, ever mindful of the bottom line, realizes this and continually pushes for less regulation. This is typically justified by an appeal to an ethic that seems like Utilitarianism-- business will lead with its Invisible Hand toward a better life for us all, and the fewer restraints, the quicker we'll reach our goals. A rising tide raises all boats; that sort of thing.

So business lobbies government, at great expense and frequently with great success, to relax regulations and pass business-friendly laws. Now government and business are so incestuous that we begin to think that good businesspersons necessarily make good public servants, even though the goals of a businessperson and the goals of a public servant are frequently (and for good reason) sharply at odds. The interests of the public are not always in lock-step with the interests of business, particularly with regard to long-term goals. Why does this even merit a mention?

Citizens are NOT always consumers, and (unfortunately) vice versa. We claim membership in a democracy, a free society, where we MUST (by definition) be able to vote and make reasoned and informed choices regarding our leadership. Given the current state of newsmedia ownership by corporate giants, making an informed choice becomes more difficult. The newsmedia, the Fourth Estate, should be treated as if it were a part of government (in the sense that it enables the people to provide the ultimate check on government via the provision of information, not in the sense that government should use it as a mouthpiece), and NOT as a business. News should NOT be a business. We must be able to vote with more than the dollar. As citizens of a democracy, we are required to perform certain civic duties (like voting) in order to sustain our favored way of life. Otherwise, we're just a nation of Wal-Mart shoppers and we're fooling ourselves with all of this democracy-talk. We're not making the world safe for democracy, we're making the world safe for people to make money.

Currently, the Administration and Congress (both sides) is loaded with businesspeople -- people who are more concerned with free enterprise and profit than with what constitutes genuine action in the public interest. Money talks, and bullshit walks -- or so the saying goes -- and there's a lot of fecal perambulation going on in DC.

I've argued before and I'll keep arguing until I'm blue in the face that we need to get our priorities straight -- do we truly want Democracy? Do we truly believe in the normative values that undergird our society? If so, business MUST be kept out of politics. In fact, businesses that are based in a democratic society have a duty to uphold those democratic principles first, and not to actively work to erode them. If profit and democracy come into conflict, democracy must win. Business has a duty to stay out of politics, and to accept the constraints that the people choose to place upon it. None of this telling us what's for our own good; that if we just wait long enough, we'll experience the economic benefits of a society based upon capitalism and free enterprise. There's more to life than stuff. There's the act of living itself -- an experience that can't be packaged, commodified, bought, or sold, no matter how hard you try. The whole concept of "selling an experience" confounds me. You can no more sell an experience than you can milk a lizard.

And then there's this Philip Cooney guy. Whose interests was he serving when he altered scientific reports to obscure the impact of data regarding global warming (ie "climate change")? Your interests? As a consumer? As a citizen? As a human? As a "free" and "autonomous" individual?

Robert F. Kennedy for The Huffington Post:
Throughout the Bush administration business lobbyists from polluting industries are now running the agencies charged with protecting Americans from pollution -- not out of a commitment to public service but rather to subvert the very laws they are supposed to enforce, to enrich the president’s corporate paymasters.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Urban Environmental Accords

Mayors from around the world on Sunday signed an international treaty calling for increased use of public transportation and drastic cuts to the amount of trash sent to landfills.

These are, of course, nonbinding; let's hope there's some sincere intention on the part of the signatories and not just political posturing.

On the local front, Knoxville's Greenway initiative suggests that there's evidence of "intent to green" here in East Tennessee. They're getting ready to expand the Third Creek greenway by Neyland further into South Knoxville (as the James White greenway), where it will eventually cross the river via James White bridge and continue along to connect with Ijams Nature Center. Metro Pulse has a feature on our expanding greenways in this week's edition.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Of Worthless Rockpiles and Gated Communities

Development or conservation? TVA, Nickajack, John Thornton, and the story of one of the most interesting business proposals of the year.

[Link is to article at, minimal registration required]

"Snails Don't Feed Nobody"

Yet another situation guaranteed to add more fuel to the ecology vs economy debate in rural middle Tennessee:

Development of a proposed limestone mine has been put on hold while the fate of a threatened species hangs in the balance. The painted snake coiled forest snail has been on the threatened species list since 1978, and has not been found elsewhere in the world. Of course, folks are painting this situation as another instance of much needed jobs for humans versus some stupid insignificant critter. Can't eat it, can't sell it, can't get a job from it, so what good is it? In other words, if the instrumental value of some part of nature isn't patently obvious, it must be good for nothing and thereby in the way of progress.

To further complicate matters, there's more than a snail at stake here. The proposed mine would be of the open-pit variety, and would likely have larger impact on the environment than interfering with the survival of one species (aesthetically and otherwise). Further, there are ruins from a previous mining operation in the area, which have been listed with the Tennessee Preservation Trust as among the ten most threatened architectural sites in the state (more evidence that when mining operations are finished, communities are abandoned and workers forgotten). In addition, the man responsible for the quote in the title is mentioned in an AP article (link below) as being disabled with cancer. His father and grandfather worked in the Gager mine (now in ruins); one wonders what the long-term health effects of mining in the area might be.

Also, I'd be curious how the snail fits into the larger ecosystem -- whether other species rely on it as a food source, etc. Species don't exist in a vacuum. They act upon and interact with larger systems of life. They can serve as "canaries," signaling impending doom for other species in the area, as in the case of frogs. The fact is that snails do feed somebody, or somebodies, even though the impact of that feeding may not be as immediately obvious as the impact of thirty jobs (that will last until the limestone is extracted, or that will be given to people outside the community, etc).

What happens to the limestone once it's extracted? One proposal on the table is to sell it to coal-fired power plants.

You can find an AP wire report regarding this situation here.

World Environment Day

June 5, 1972, marked the opening of the Stockholm Conference of the Human Environment. Every year since, June 5 has been recognized as World Environment Day.

CNN and BBCNews both feature stories on the changes in the environment since that first World Environment Day 33 years ago. Now we have the benefit (or the added perspective) of having had satellites with cameras up in our orbit for three decades; and so we can view pictures of the dramatic changes humans have made upon the landscape in that short time.

You can view side-by-side photos on the CNN website, posted with this article on the new "One Planet Many People" atlas:

This year's World Environment Day is focusing on cities (no surprise, given the dramatic changes in urban sprawl evidenced in the atlas photography) and the possibility of sustainable development, or "green cities." Almost half the world's population resides in urban areas. A third of those live in slums and "squatter settlements." The UN estimates that 60% of people will live in urban areas by 2030. Not surprisingly, more urban areas and increased population concentrations in those areas signal increases in pollution and environmental destruction for the natural resources necessary to keep the expansion occurring. You can read the BBC's feature on this at

While at the BBC site, be sure to investigate their sidebars, particularly the Changed Earth links. Here, you can find side-by-side pictures chronicling the disappearance of glaciers in the past century -- photographic evidence of a warming planet. Very dramatic stuff.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Pedestrian Crossing

I can't take credit for this one --

OK. Say we take some big ball bearings, grease 'em up, and put the crossbar of that giant 110-foot cross (see below post) on permanent rotation. Presto! The Christians get their symbol (well, at certain points in the rotation anyway), AND we environmentalists get a viable, renewable energy source. How ecumenical. Now if only we can keep Don Christ-hote and his sidekick Sancho Peter from driving down from Ohio to tilt at it on their way to play Hillbilly Golf.

Thanks, Jake!

Who sucked out the feeling?

According to a post today on the SK Bubba Blab, the Knoxville News Sentinel ran an article today by Greg Johnson in which Mr. Johnson laments the possible woes associated with the generation of wind energy:
". . .windmills sucking more energy from our already sluggish air could very well cause East Tennessee's poor-quality air to stall in the EPA nonattainment zone until the next millenium."

And our own Sen. Lamar Alexander recently introduced legislation to restrict tax credits for new windmills with this logic:
"It keeps these 100-yard-tall, monstrous structures away from Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, Roan Mountain, the Tennessee River Gorge, the foothills of the Smokies and other highly scenic areas," Alexander said.

"As for jobs," he continued, "every Tennessee job is important, but I fear that hundreds of these giant windmills across Tennessee's ridges could destroy our tourism industry, which could cost us tens of thousands of jobs."
I hope I'm not alone in my thought that there is definitely some sucking going on here, and the windmills are not at fault. Alexander is also opposed to off-shore windmills, although in favor of off-shore oil drilling. He's also in favor of oil drilling and other fossil fuel exploration / extraction in national parks. Perhaps in his estimation, a big white windmill is far more aesthetically harmful than a strip mine? Talk about fuzzy logic.

And don't get me started on the massive 110-foot zero-energy-producing Christian symbol that has been approved for Pigeon Forge (the dreck-hole that greets visitors to the Smokies and generates so much revenue with its putt-putt courses, race tracks, chain restaurants, and outlet malls that it has apparently been grandfathered in as a "highly scenic area").

Get more info on opposing Alexander's incoherent legislation from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Mead's Quarry officially open at Ijams

The blogging has been on hiatus for a few days. It's been so nice to be away from the computer-umbilical!

South Knox Bubba has a nice feature on the newly christened Mead's Quarry trails at Ijams Nature Center. You can also read about it at the Ijams website. I skulked around there a bit prior to the official opening, and it's a great example of environmental reclamation. I hope they haven't done away with some of the more creepy, Southern gothic elements -- the old abandoned quarry building, for instance -- although the silhouettes of submerged debris and the stillness of the surrounding rock and forest can surely evoke a few chillbumps on a humid summer afternoon. I'll have to get out there soon with camera in hand . . . more to come.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Kudzu used to prevent liver erosion

From this morning's AP wire:
BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- The hardy, invasive kudzu vine, introduced to this country decades ago to control soil erosion, could have what it takes to curb binge drinking, new research suggests.

Kudzu, an ever-expanding plant considered a pest in much of the South, appears to contain a compound that can be effective in reducing alcohol intake among humans.
In fact, taking kudzu while drinking appears to speed up the effects of alcohol. In other words, it has the potential to make you a cheap(er) drunk.

Cash-strapped, beer-loving graduate students across the South, rejoice! That vine that just ate your car can now make happy hour even happier . . . and your liver and head will thank you in the morning.

British Invasion

Spent yesterday hunched over on a wooded hillside pulling up English Ivy with a few other philosophy grad students and the owner of the property, a new faculty member. The land is beautiful, situated on a ridge in South Knox near the river, and absolutely covered with this invasive species. As we yanked, pulled, and rolled ivy from the bases of trees and rocks, an amazing topography began to emerge. We left Virginia Creeper and Vinca (although it's an invader as well). I saw several different kinds of millipedes, earthworms, spiders (including a little white spider that may have been a goldenrod spider), and a fat black beetle -- no snakes, though. Too much noisy hairless monkey action for them.

Happy Cows

Katherine sent me an article on the Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, South Carolina. I'll bet you had no idea that happier cows produce healthier milk & cheese! "Wait," you're probably saying -- "You mean that if we treat people, creatures, even things well, they'll treat us well in return?"

When I read about the success of small farms like Tom Trantham's, I wonder whether the use of "modern farming methods" like confined feeding, chemical pesticides & fertilizers, growth hormones, etc., isn't just a means for driving small farmers out of business and replacing them with consolidated, "corporate" farms. In other words, it gets my conspiracy wheels a-churnin'. I imagine some fat-cat Boss Tweed type sucking on a cigar in a boardroom smack in the middle of some urban area, far from the filth and chaos of nature, hatching some plan that will consolidate the power & profit of the farm in the hands of his be-monocled and top-hatted friends (and Wall Street, of course). If you can control the means, you can control the profit -- and the only way to control the means is to wrest it from the hands that supply the means by changing the means, removing the hands, following the assembly-line model.

Here's an excerpt from the article that Katherine sent:
The confined feeding arrangement worked until the glut of milk, fueled by the move to large-scale production, suppressed the price farmers were being paid. The generally accepted remedy was to buy more cows in order to have more milk to sell. "Get big or get out" was the warning throughout the industry, and farmers heeded it by selling out to consolidating dairies. All over the country small dairy farms closed their barn doors for good. In 1940 more than 4.6 million small farms had dairy cows; the average herd size was five milkers. By 1987 only 202,068 dairy farms remained, and the herd size averaged 54. Trantham's was one of those.

"Get big or get out." Obviously, it's possible to make the cost of operating a farm too expensive for the small farmer by re-imagining the means of farm production and re-defining the way in which farming is practiced. Changing the practice eventually changes the attitude toward the land and toward the farm, resulting in a complete reconception of the practice of farming itself. Expensive methods & equipment, themselves the result of corporate production practices, are now "necessities" for farmers, both large and small. Is this the Wal-Martizing of the family farm-- or is this just the model from which Sam Walton learned so well?

Trantham on farming: "'That was traditional farming,' he says. 'I was one of the top users of chemicals. I thought that's what farm­ing was, using chemicals.'"

Is this how most "modern" farmers conceive of the practice of farming? Are agricultural scientists merely trained in the use and application of chemicals (hence the "scientist")? What happened to the old agrarians like my grandparents and their parents before them, who worked with the land without the mediation of chemical sprays and hormones? (Wendell Berry knows)

Now we're living with the powerful myth of the family farm -- something for "fiscal conservatives" to trot out whenever they need to drum up middle-American support for repealing an estate or capital gains tax. "We must repeal the death tax! Ah! The Family Farm! The Family Farm! What will become of the Family Farm?!?" In 1934, there were 6.8 million family farms in America. By 1975, there were 2.5 million. In 2003, 1.9 million. (sources here and here) The practices of "fiscal conservatives" and the tendency toward consolidation, centralization, and corporatization (in the name of profit) have done more than any "death tax" to kill the family farm. When fiscal conservatives speak of the "family farm," they are really referring to the agricultural industry, the chemical industry, massive corporations, and powerful lobbies. The family farm is a front, a beard, a linguistic shortcut to votes. Why are these poseurs allowed to continue to pretend to be its champions?

Fortunately, there's been a recent revival of interest in locally-grown, organic produce that comes from real family farms. And the Happy Cow Creamery generates so much buzz in SC and surrounding areas that, according to Tom Trantham, "You can't even get into the store on Saturday. You have to wait on people to come out."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Knoxville eCycle event this Saturday!!!

eCycle as in recycled computers, that is.

This Saturday, May 14, you can drop off old computers, parts, peripherals, TVs and a few other electronic items for recycling at two Knoxville locations:
  • Farragut High School (11237 Kingston Pike)
  • Comcast Communications (5720 Asheville Highway)
Locations will be accepting "donations" from 9am - 3pm. There's a small fee for some items that require more careful processing & disposal. All proceeds will benefit local charities, including The Optimist Club of West Knoxville, Habitat for Humanity, Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley and Goodwill Industries.

For more information, visit the "Plug-In to Your Community" website at

Here's a fun fact from the Plug-In site:
Dumping 500 million computers into landfills amounts to the introduction of more than 1.2 billion pounds of lead, 2 million pounds of cadmium and 400,000 pounds of mercury into the waste streams and water supply.

Alt Ways & Means

Went to IC King park last night to ride the bike trail. Got a bit muddy.

East Tennessee Mountain Bike Rides

Rode in to campus today on the little mean purple & green machine. Got a bit sweaty.

City of Knoxville -- Greenways

Propel thyself!

Friday, May 06, 2005


My dear friend Susan forwarded me an invitation to visit the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) Action Fund blog. The blog features "guest bloggers"-- currently, environmental litigator Mitchell Bernard is the man behind the posts. Good stuff! Here's an excerpt from his latest post on "Biostitutes":
A scientist friend of mine taught me a new word: biostitute. A biostitute is a cross between a biologist and a prostitute. Biostitutes are all over the place, and they're dangerous to the environment and human health.
Check it out at I'm adding it to the holy blogroll.

they're doing it again.

More potential bad news from DC that will no doubt have impact on the Southern Appalachian region, particularly with regard to coal mining and other sorts of "energy exploration" -- the energy bill passed by the House last month contained a few new provisions tacked on by California Rep. Richard Pombo (R) that would allow energy companies to get around NEPA (1969 National Environmental Policy Act) requirements "in a number of situations." Why? Gotta speed things up, gotta lessen dependence on foreign oil, ya know?

Keep an eye on this one as it goes to the Senate, where it will hopefully die yet again (this is the fifth time that GOP leadership has tried to get Congressional approval for this bloated p.o.s.). However, persistence certainly paid off in the case of the repeal of the Roadless Rule . . .

Grist Magazine has the full article up on their website.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

More on the fate of the "Roadless Rule"

Heritage Forests Campaign has more information on Bush's "No Tree Left Behind" Act at

Tennessee has, um, i mean HAD, 85,000 acress of roadless land in its national forests. This, of course, is only a fraction of Alaska's 14,779,000, Idaho's 9,322,000, Montana's 6,397,000 . . . you get the picture.

Nevertheless, this promises to have a big impact on the Southern Appalachians, according to the Heritage Forests Campaign:
The national forests of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennesee and Virginia are already criss-crossed by more than 12,000 miles of roads and contain 728,487 acres of roadless areas. If the Roadless Area Conservation Rule is reversed by the Bush administration, 553,000 acres or 76 percent of those areas would be placed into management designations that allow road building and/or logging currently not allowed by the rule.


from yahoo news:

"New Rule Opens National Forest to Roads"

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, in one of its biggest decisions on environmental issues, moved Thursday to open up nearly a third of all remote national forest lands to road building, logging and other commercial ventures.

The 58.5 million acres involved, mainly in Alaska and in western states, had been put off limits to development by former President Clinton, eight days before he left office in January 2001.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Glow-in-the-dark pearl necklace?

If you enjoy sucking down the salty goodness of oysters, you may want to make sure they weren't harvested in St. Louis Bay, Mississippi-- unless you're the sort of individual who also enjoys sucking down toxic cocktails composed of dioxin, arsenic, and chromium.

Personally, I prefer beer and oysters that weren't harvested downstream from a DuPont plant. But maybe you're a Taco Bell kind of guy. I don't know.

. . . and I thought green was the new pink.

Here's an article from The Week Magazine on "Why green has gone out of fashion." Reference is made to last year's proclamation by Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus that environmentalism is dead. This announcement raised more than a few eyebrows, particularly among those who work tirelessly to ensure that environmentalism remains a force to be reckoned with, particularly in policymaking decisions. Further, environmentalism has logged some major successes in the past century-- the Clean Air Act and various other environmental policies and laws have emerged from the movement's success at creating increased awareness of problems and potential solutions. What do you mean, "environmentalism is dead"?!?

If Schellenberger & Nordhaus wanted to get the attention of the green movement, they certainly did. The ensuing conversation wouldn't have been quite as passionate had they merely suggested that environmentalism was dying, or a little bit under the weather. One sure way to shake things up within a movement is to claim that its central purpose is irrelevant, no longer vital, unsuccesful, failed, DOA. Just ask Nietzsche.

There's nothing wrong with a little reflexivity (i.e., a look in the mirror) in the face of the onslaught of climate change. Governments and the media are still trotting out "experts" who claim that climate change isn't happening, or at least not for the reasons environmentalists claim. Economic interests and environmental interests are seen as being sharply at odds, and in the global economy, economic interests will win out every time. The public doesn't seem to be too alarmed-- particularly given the gradual nature of the changes (at this time, anyway). It's too easy to portray environmentalists as being out of touch with reality, as encouraging asceticism and advocating Ludditism, as being raging ideologues incapable of critical thought. Why? Why is the environmental movement still treated as a "special interest" on the fringe of world politics? Why is still so easy to marginalize the voices of environmentalists? Schellenberger & Nordhaus propose that the blame does not rest entirely outside of the movement, but that some responsibility for the remaining gap between environmentalism and mainstream thought lies within the movement itself. There's a very thorough report on this at Grist.

Now, activism can get slowed down by too much belly-button gazing and self-examination, it's true. We need to make progress; there's far too much at stake. But to ensure that progress, and the right sort of progress, is being made, the environmental movement must be willing to seriously engage with criticisms such as these and not just write them off as hostile to its goals.

Environmentalism is dead. Long live environmentalism.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Business as usual

See what South Knox Bubba has to say this morning on the subject of "Polluters and Politics" and the current situation in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Back to work.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Bush and the Greening of Coal.

It's finals week and the blogging is sparse. Must write papers. Must proctor exams. Must grade exams.

In the meantime, here's an article on the reintroduction of the CLEAR ACT (by Sen. Orrin Hatch). Actually, it's a blog post from Green Car Congress. I'll have to remember to add it to the holy blogroll later. Note to self, and all that rot.

Is this the third time this bill has been introduced? Seems that being backed by a conservative Republican mainstay like Hatch would help give the bill some weight with the current Repub majority in Congress & the White House, but no dice thus far. Perhaps reintroducing it now, immediately following Bush's call for reduced dependence on foreign energy sources, isn't an accident.

Of course, in that same speech, Bush remarked that
To achieve greater energy security, we have got to harness -- harness the power of clean coal. We should also open up new areas to environmentally responsible exploration for oil and natural gas, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The power of clean coal?!? Environmentally responsible exploration for oil and natural gas?!?

It's the alternative fuels, stupid.

Friday, April 29, 2005

More bad air days.

How did Knox County fare in the American Lung Association's 2005 State of the Air Report? Straight Fs. Aren't we on "academic probation" as it is?

We made the Top 25 Most Ozone Polluted Cities list as well-- #15 (Knoxville-Sevierville-LaFollette). And Sevier County is ranked 25th among counties with the worst ozone air pollution.

Exxon, Louisiana, and Willie Fontenot

file under "another victory for homeland security":

Environmental advocate Willie Fontenot was forced to resign after taking environmental studies graduate students on a tour of the neighborhood surrounding an Exxon-Mobil refinery in Baton Rouge. Seems that the students were taking pictures of the refinery and aroused the ire of the on-site rent-a-cops, who threatened to report them to the DHS. Perhaps they hold that superstition about photography stealing the soul? (Of course, this presupposes the existence of a soul that can be stolen)

Read the full story at Grist Magazine.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Knoxville's Urban Environment

File under Knoxvilliana:

Even as I type, FOX is airing the famed "Bart goes on a roadtrip to Knoxville" episode of the Simpsons, wherein Nelson knocks over the Sunsphere (um, wigsphere) with a rock, thereby unseating 16,000 boxes of unsold wigs and simultaneously placing Knoxville and its golden urban orb squarely on the pop culture map.

Oh, and speaking of mapping, Knoxville also gains notoriety in this episode as being located right next to the Oak Ridge nuclear facility, birthplace of the atomic bomb.


if you step outside the first amendment expression area, the Terrorists win.

Straight from the "First Amendment Ghetto" to your computer, a report from the Canary Coalition on the protest of Bush's Earth Day visit to Cades Cove. By now you know that Bush was a no-show. At least the Park Service succeeded in quelling the violent urges of the eco-terrorists and their big inflatable power plant. Another victory for Homeland Security, peace, justice, democracy, and the American Way.


Cheers to Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Canary Coalition, and all the other folks who refused to let a little rain and a lot of marginalizing stand in their way.

Finally, some good news!

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, thought for 60 years to be extinct, has recently been sighted ("rediscovered") in the bottomland forests of Arkansas. After a year of gathering evidence to confirm initial sightings, an official confirmation of the re-emergence of the species was published today in Science Magazine.

The IBW is a classic example of the negative impact that human devastation of natural habitat and ecosystems can have on species. Its initial disappearance is directly attributable to clearcutting of the Southern forests in which it thrived. Fortunately, the IBW was somehow able to regroup and renew its lineage, despite our best efforts to send the species to that great, crowded birdcage in the sky.

A bunch of carpetbaggers from New York (Ithaca, to be precise) are largely responsible for the expeditions that led to the sightings, and they have an excellent and informative website devoted to re-welcoming the IBW. The Nature Conservancy, along with Cornell Lab of Ornithology and several local and national groups have formed the Big Woods Conservation Partnership to conserve forest habitat and rivers in the Big Woods area of Arkansas. The combined efforts of the Nature Conservancy and the Arkansas Natural Heritage commission to protect forest habitat in this region since 1982 surely played a pivotal role in the re-emergence of the woodpeckers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I teach business ethics to undergraduates.

Stop laughing. I'm trying to maintain some sort of idealism here. Seriously, quit it.

Anyway, each semester, we discuss the case of "Texaco and the Ecuadorean Amazon." We do this in the context of the question, "Does business have an obligation to be socially responsible?" The classic position on this question, as articulated by Milton Friedman (or as my students like to call him in their papers and exams, "Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman"), is a resounding "NO." On this view, business is responsible only to its shareholders (stockholders), and this entails maximizing their wealth. Nothing more, nothing less. Well, there's the legal and moral custom restriction thing (I love to point out that since business is intimately involved in the policymaking process, this makes the "restriction" somewhat of a joke, and democracy for that matter, but that's a topic for another day). It's a circumscribed and mercenary sort of utilitarian perspective, this wealth maximization. Oh, and when in Rome, follow Rome's laws as well (as you're maximizing wealth for the shareholders), even if Rome's laws are corrupt, or weak, or nonexistent.

Texaco followed the law in Ecuador, such as it was. But they also created a helluva mess.

Fortunately, a less circumscribed approach is being developed in business ethics-- the stakeholder approach. This approach requires business managers to consider a wider pool of interested parties when making decisions. A narrow view might define that pool as persons / entities upon whom a business depends for its continued success: employees, community members, consumers, managers, suppliers, and, yes, shareholders. A broader view might include all parties affected by the operations of the business. The narrow view isn't typically extended to the environment, but it would require consideration of persons living in surrounding communities as they are affected by what insiders refer to as "externalities" (costs of production not incurred by the business, but rather by other parties). Pollution is the classic example of an externality-- a business creates it, dumps it, and forgets about it, while persons living downstream must bear the cost of contending with its effects. Clear?

Texaco left a lot of "externalities" in Ecuador. Should they be accountable for this action? Intuitively, the answer is yes, particularly when you consider the extent of the resulting environmental and biological devastation. Then, as if swallowing a bitter pill, many of my students will turn around and defend Texaco, claiming "reality" as a defense ("this is just how it's done," "they have to protect the interests of their shareholders," "they were following the law," etc.). Empathy gets shut down very quickly, and it's a disturbing thing to behold. It seems that the further away the problem is, the easier it is to rationalize-- and Ecuador's a long way from Knoxville, TN.

So, real people are suffering and dying as a direct result of the actions of a US-based company operating in their country. The question, "Should Texaco take responsibility for its actions?" seems almost laughable after you read an article like this one in the Independent (UK). It makes me sick, and it makes it really difficult to talk about in a detached, academic manner.

[Oh yeah, and we can trust the oil companies to operate responsibly in ANWR. Now I'm laughing.]

Oh, blow me.

Hatred of leaf blowers is going to be a theme of this site, I can feel it. Walking back from class I had to pass through the event horizon of one of those damnable machines. It's not enough to have to contend with the noise pollution emanating from the crunky trunk of the slammed Olds with the stop-n-gos ("look how we sailin', 26 inches . . ."). Really, that just makes me nostalgic for the old Bubb Rubb / Lil Sis video. And even though some of the modifications likely make it somewhat more polluting, I don't feel like I'm sucking on the tailpipe when I walk by, unlike the leaf blower, which I may as well be mainlining. Turn that thing off, line up some pollen and street dust (see below), and just let me snort it straight on up into my sinuses. Seriously. I'm not getting enough over here. While you're at it, crank up that two-stroke internal combustion engine a bit more. I'm not getting enough particulate matter today-- you know, the buses are running on clean fuel now. Damn hippies.

Californians seem to hate leaf blowers:
Leaf blower motors are inordinately large emitters of CO, NOx, HC, and PM according to a study conducted for the ARB. Two-stroke engine fuel is a gasoline-oil mixture, thus especially toxic. Particles from combustion are virtually all smaller than PM2.5. According to the Lung Association, a leaf blower causes as much smog as 17 cars.
One leaf blower = 17 cars. One leaf blower = 17 cars. One leaf blower = 17 cars. I'm waiting for that to sink in. And that's from the emissions of the two stroke combustion engine alone. The things also kick up inordinate amounts of pollen, organic matter, and street dust (this one was blowing along Cumberland Avenue, and if you know Knoxville, you know what kind of crap is in that street). Yes, street dust.
Street dust includes lead, organic carbon, and elemental carbon according to a study conducted for the ARB. The Lung Association states "the lead levels are of concern due to [their] great acute toxicity... Elemental carbon...usually contains several adsorbed carcinogens." Another study found arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, and mercury in street dust as well. [from the same article cited above]
Yeah! Where can I get more of THAT?

No really, I do understand that it's of paramount importance that UT's sidewalks be free of organic matter, street dust, and debris. Someone might slip and fall on one of those spiky sweetgum balls and sue the university. Or someone might be offended by the encroachment of the organic into the inorganic. Boundaries! We must respect boundaries!

You're fighting a losing battle guys. Turn off the leaf blowers already. There are better alternatives: brooms, rakes, entropy... I'd even settle for some sort of vacuum thing with a proper filter attachment / dust collection bag. Even if it were as noisy as a blower, it would be a small step toward environmental leadership.

[by the way, the link to the danger mouse mp3 above comes from the wired / creative commons cd project, which you should definitely check out, if you haven't already. good stuff: westerberg, beastie boys, le tigre, matmos, chuck d, the aforementioned DM, etc]

Environmental Semester

This spring at University of Tennessee has been a semester with a theme: the Environmental Semester. The semester was a success, with the university hosting an array of exciting (and high profile) speakers and staging a variety of events, many of which were well-attended and discussion/thought provoking. Here's a short list of environmentally-themed happenings around campus this semester:
  • Agnes Denes lecture & exhibition
  • Michael Klare & David Hill on oil
  • Southeast Student Renewable Energy Conference
  • Solar & Wind Power Exhibit
  • Clean Air Conference (featuring Howard Baker & Al Gore)
  • Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. lecture
  • E. O. Wilson lecture
  • Holmes Rolston III lecture
  • Lisa Newton lecture on sustainable business
  • Documentary series in the library
  • Jonathan Weiner lecture
  • Future of Natural Resource Management seminar series
  • Paul Winter Consort performance
  • Various weekly seminars on environmental issues
Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) has been doing its part to lessen the impact of mobile pollution sources, providing bus service around campus and to various locations along the periphery to encourage more use of mass transit and less reliance on personal automobiles. KAT's buses use clean fuels (propane, electric hybrid, or biodiesel). Incidentally, KAT offers free bus service on red & orange air quality alert days-- on the last orange alert day (4/19/05) , 1,000 additional passengers took advantage of the offer.

Despite this emphasis, UT remains "dirty," mainly due to its primary heat source-- a coal-burning steam plant on campus. While the plant is compliant with current standards, it remains one of the largest stationary sources of nitrogen and volatile organic compound emissions in Knox County, according to Steve McDaniel. An increase in cost of natural gas has caused the plant to rely more heavily on coal as an energy source in recent years. How much coal? More than 26,000 tons per year.

Personally, I'd also like to see the university phase out use of internal combustion engine (gasoline) powered leaf blowers around campus.

If UT truly wants to be an environmental leader among its peer institutions, it has some major catching up to do: UNC Chapel Hill, University of South Carolina, and University of Florida are all ahead of UT in environmental stewardship. Surely the Environmental Semester has been more than a "theme," more than lip service or a nod to fashionable political trend. Ah, if only the local flora and fauna were orange and football-shaped . . . But seriously, this semester's theme clearly made a big impact on campus and the Knoxville area. Here's hoping UT policy continues to reflect the values it promoted so well this Spring.

You can read more about this end-of-semester appraisal of UT's environmental track record at the Daily Beacon Online.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Southeast Green Energy Summit . . .

. . . is being held May 2-4 in Orlando, Florida. You can read about the agenda and view a list of participants in the Southeast Green Power Network at the conference website.

More detailed information regarding the conference can be found at the Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's website.

SE Regional Biofuels Workshop

This workshop (sponsored by the Southeast Alternative Fuels Task Force) will take place in Gatlinburg, TN, June 6-7, 2005, and . . .
. . . is the 2nd in a series of workshops that the SEAFTF is putting together to advance alternative fuels use across the southeast, primarily the four states of Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
The first regional biofuels workshop was held in 2002 in Asheville, NC. Currently, the SEAFTF is focusing on biodiesel and ethanol and ways to make alternative fuels like these and others accessible along interstate routes.

For more information on the task force, including a list of participants, visit their website at

Environmental Heresies

From MIT's website comes this sure-to-be-controversial article by Stewart Brand, in which he claims that:
Over the next ten years, I predict, the mainstream of the environmental movement will reverse its opinion and activism in four major areas: population growth, urbani­zation, genetically engineered organisms, and nuclear power.

Brand was the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog and has his own entry in Wikipedia.

Green Power in TN State Parks

In an announcement last Friday (Earth Day), Governor Bredesen announced
that Tennessee State Parks will purchase green power for every park where green power is available, making Tennessee one of the first state parks systems in the nation to utilize green power.
Read more about this announcement on the TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) website.

If the state parks are doing it, why not you? You can sign up to purchase blocks of "green" power (from renewable sources) with your local utilities provider. Learn about TVA's green power switch intiative from their website.

Bullsh!t (Literally) in NE Tennessee

Roan Creek in Johnson County, TN, has recently been declared among the top 5 most endangered US rivers due to a proposed factory farm in the Mountain City area. Waste from the cattle on the farm (estimated to be around 12 million gallons annually) would be stored in holding lagoons along a Roan Creek tributary. That's a lot of bullpuckey, Ethel. The lagoons and their location present a host of potential problems not only for the health of the river and ecosystem, but for the health and well-being of citizens of Johnson County.

From an article on the controversial proposal at

Mountain City and small towns throughout Appalachia need federal and state assistance to acquire the state-of-the-art sewage treatment plants that will protect the rivers that are the heart of their communities. Unfortunately, President Bush asked Congress to cut clean water aid to the state of Tennessee by almost $5.35 million in 2006. Congress should reject those proposed cuts and increase funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund to $3.2 billion in 2006, of which $46.4 million would go to Tennessee.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Mountain Views

The park service has two digital cameras mounted in GSMNP-- one at Look Rock, the other at Purchase Knob. You can check out the view and check temperature and ozone levels. It snowed on Purchase Knob last night!

EPA's Haze Rule

"With President Bush set to spend Earth Day in Cades Cove on Friday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is putting the finishing touches on a rule to eliminate haze in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other public lands over the next six decades.The EPA has less than two months to complete the agency's haze rule, which will require states to reduce haze-causing pollutants at industrial sites near 156 national parks and wilderness areas."

Read the full story at MSNBC. (Original article appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel, but their website requires a login)

Read more on the EPA's attempt to promulgate rules to increase visibility in national parks at Environmental News Network. These rules are intended to comply with goals set forth in the Clean Air Act. The EPA agreed to establish these rules by April 15, 2005; however, the deadline has been extended to June 15.

Environmental Defense Fund has been pressuring EPA to promulgate these rules.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Eat 'Em

Would it be possible to eat our way out of a species invasion? Kudzu, for instance. The Asian vine has taken over to such an extent that it's hard to think about a Southern landscape without imagining telephone poles, old barns, hillsides, trees, slow-moving cows covered in the thick, rich, green drapery of kudzu.

Here's a list of kudzu-related sites, including some with recipes. I've never eaten the stuff, but I'd be willing to try.

I wonder if any other invasive species have become this incorporated into the culture and tradition of the regions they infest? Oh yeah . . . Kentucky bluegrass.