Global Warming: More Action, Less Hot Air

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Lawmakers are finally taking a serious look at the effects of global warming.
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Barrel burning releases dangerous toxins into the environment.

Congress, states address global warming.

The Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is
helping draw attention to the problem of global warming,
and efforts already are under way to address the issue in
Congress and in many states despite the Bush
administration’s inaction.

Although the United States is responsible for about 24
percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, it
is one of only four industrialized nations that did not
sign the treaty. The others are Australia, Croatia and
Monaco.

The Kyoto Protocol went into effect on Feb. 16, marking a
major step in the worldwide effort to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions, such as carbon dioxide and methane, which
experts agree are contributing to global climate change.
With the treaty in effect, 35 industrialized countries are
now committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by
2012.

A week before the Kyoto Protocol went into effect, Sen.
John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.,
reintroduced the Climate Stewardship Act, a plan to limit
greenhouse gas emissions from industry, electricity
generation and automobiles, by creating an emissions
trading program.

“The evidence is clear that the problem is here, and
that’s why we have to do something about it,”
Lieberman said when introducing the bill. “Doing
nothing is no longer an option.” Lieberman and McCain
will hold public meetings across the country to raise
awareness about the problem of climate change, according to
Lieberman’s office.

Also in February, the Environmental Protection Agency
launched the Clean Energy-Environment State Partnership
Program, which helps states “to improve air quality,
decrease energy use, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and
enhance economic development.” The program kicked off
in 11 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia,
Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio,
Pennsylvania and Texas.

However, many states already have taken action, with
California setting some of the toughest new standards.
“The two biggest sources of greenhouse gases
nationally are smokestacks and tailpipes,” says Jason
Mark, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’
Clean Vehicles Program. “California has the
nation’s leading policies on both and the most
aggressive renewable energy policy.”

California’s most ambitious policy to reduce
greenhouse gases may be the state’s new auto
emissions standards, which were released last fall. These
standards will place new limits on greenhouse emissions
that will take effect for model year 2009 cars and trucks,
if the standards can survive a legal challenge from
automobile manufacturers. (For more information on this
case, go to www.ucsusa.org and search for “automakers
v. the people.”)

California’s new emissions standards, however,
already are making an impact nationally. According to Susan
Brown, a senior policy analyst with the California Energy
Commission, nine other states have expressed an interest in
adopting the standards. Connecticut, Massachusetts and New
York have publicly committed, and Oregon, Washington and
others are exploring the possibility. “While
individual states cannot combat global warming alone, by
acting together, states can demonstrate global leadership
on climate change and significantly reduce greenhouse gas
emissions,” Brown says.

Many other states have come up with programs to combat
climate change, from a no-till program in Georgia to reduce
farmers’ fuel use, to a Wyoming plan for an emissions
trading system. In addition, state governors have signed
two regional plans: The West Coast Governors’ Global
Warming Initiative launched by the governors of California,
Oregon and Washington in 2003, and the 2001 Climate Change
Action Plan developed for the Northeastern United States
and eastern Canada. A list of state and national policies
is available here.

Whether or not your state has a plan to address global
climate change, you can make your voice heard on this issue
by contacting your legislators. Find more information about
the Climate Stewardship Act, click here.

“Strong support for these legislative bills is the
best way to move the ball forward,” Mark says.
“Politicians need to hear from voters.”

Burning of coal, oil and natural gas, and the
destruction of forests around the world have increased
carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere by 30 percent since
the late 1800’s.

The concentration of carbon dioxide is now higher
than it has been in at least the last 400,000 years.

Seventeen of the 18 warmest years in the 20th
century occurred since 1980.

Temperatures in recent decades have been higher than
at any time in at least the past 1,000 years.

Global sea levels rose 4 to 8 inches during the 20th
century because ocean water expands as it warms and because
melting glaciers are adding water to the oceans.

Summer 2005’s Best Green Festivals

Summer is vacation time, and what better way to spend it
than by getting together to learn more about sustainable
living, renewable energy and eco-consciousness; see
performances by great musicians, dancers and speakers; and
have some fun? There are more green festivals popping up
across North America every year, and below are some of
Mother’s favorite events.

To find other events in your area or to post a festival or
workshop, go to www.MotherEarthNews.com/calendar.

Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair June 17-19
Custer, Wis. www.the-mrea.org

The Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair features
hundreds of workshops, exhibits and displays on renewable
energy systems and earth-friendly products. This
year’s keynote speakers are Mother Earth News
contributing editor Dan Chiras, David Bornstein and Diane
Bady. The Fair has food, fun and activities for the whole
family.

Barrel Burning Under Fire

“Burn, barrel, burn” — it’s a tune
some environmentalists refuse to sing. Instead,
they’re rallying government officials to prohibit
burning household waste in backyard barrels. Despite
scientific evidence that shows such burning can produce
toxic dioxins, many rural communities across the United
States continue to permit private waste incineration.

Federal law does not regulate barrel, or backyard burning,
as it is sometimes called. Across the United States,
uncontrolled barrel burning produces the “largest
quantified source of dioxin emissions,” according to
the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These dioxin
emissions can lead to an increased risk of cancer, heart
disease and reproductive and respiratory problems.

“You don’t have to be occupationally exposed or
live near a toxic waste dump. It’s in your
food,” says Chris Neurath, www.burnbarrel.org manager
and activist in DeKalb, N.Y. “Dioxins from burn
barrels end up making their way to all Americans, even if
they live in the middle of New York City.”

Dioxins are a group of highly toxic chemicals formed when
chlorinated materials are exposed to heat. They are
classified as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic
pollutants (PBTs). PBTs are long-lasting substances that
can build up in the food chain to levels that are harmful
to human and ecosystem health.

Even when materials containing high levels of chlorine,
such as PVC plastics, are removed from household trash,
burning the waste still creates dioxins because nearly all
household waste contains trace amounts of chlorine, the EPA
says.

The dioxins created through backyard burning settle on
plants. These plants in turn are eaten by meat and dairy
animals, which store the dioxins in their fatty tissue.
People are exposed to dioxins primarily by eating meat,
fish or dairy products. According to the EPA, these harmful
chemicals are difficult to avoid.

Some state legislatures already have heeded the EPA’s
warnings about backyard burning. California and New Mexico,
for example, banned the practice last year. In upstate New
York, residents continue to wrangle over issues such as
rights of the individual, money-saving advantages of
backyard burning, community health and environmental
concerns — as they decide whether to prohibit
backyard burning.

To create awareness, www.burnbarrel.org sponsored the second annual Tour de Burn Barrel,
a four-day bike tour covering more than 200 miles of
burn-barrel country in New York. The organizers pledged to
return until the state legislature bans barrel burning.

Despite such campaigns, not everyone has joined the effort
to eliminate backyard burning. But even households that
continue backyard burning can do certain things to reduce
the direct harms of this practice, such as recycling and
buying products in bulk — habits that decrease the
amount of trash to burn.

Still, legislation is the key to resolving this problem
that affects everyone, Neurath says.

“Education without clear regulatory action will not
be convincing to many people,” he says. “People
are likely to say ‘open burning can’t be that
bad if it’s legal and I see lots of others doing
it.’ So, solving the problem of barrel burning will
likely involve carrots, sticks and education.”

Grants for Rural Businesses

The U.S.epartment of Agriculture is offering $11.4 million
in grants for renewable energy systems and energy
efficiency improvements by agricultural producers and rural
small businesses. The grants cover technologies such as
geothermal, solar and wind energy, as well as
energy-efficiency improvements. Renewable energy grant
applications must be for a minimum of $2,500 and a maximum
of $500,000. Energy-efficiency grant applications may range
from $2,500 to $250,000. Deadline for applications is June
27. Visit www.rurdev.usda.
gov/rd/nofas/2005/reeigp032805.html for more information.

Solar Investments Soar

2004 may be remembered as the “watershed year”
for solar energy, and 2005 may be an even better year,
according to a report by the Progressive Investor. In 2004,
shares of the world’s 24 publicly traded solar
companies jumped by nearly 185 percent. Experts say the
solar photovoltaics (PV) market will grow from $7 billion
to $30 billion by 2010. Solar PV, with its annual growth
rate exceeding 30 percent, is about to become “one of
the world’s fast-growth, profitable”
industries, according to the newsletter. Among the
companies mentioned are Japan’s Sharp,
Germany’s SolarWorld and U.S.-based Evergreen Solar.

Sustainable Summer BBQ

Many summer activities such as family reunions and outdoor
parties revolve around the backyard grill. You can green up
these get-togethers by using organic, free-range and
locally raised meat whenever possible. Iowa-based Wholesome
Harvest is a coalition of 41 small, organic farmers that
offers organic chicken and beef hot dogs, hamburger patties
and chicken breasts. The company’s products are
available in 15 states at both supermarkets and natural
food stores. Click here for more
information.

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