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.