September 2009


As I’ve reported before in this blog, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as a rule, allows companies to keep new information about chemicals they use in their products a secret from the public. This includes compounds and additives that have been shown to cause cancer, respiratory problems and immune reactions. This boils down to a conspiracy of sorts, whereby the EPA and the companies they protect lie to the American people.

In a recent investigation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper examined more than 2,000 filings in the EPA’s registry of dangerous chemicals for the past three years. In more than half the cases, the EPA was shown to have agreed to keep the chemical name a secret. In hundreds of other cases, it allowed the company filing the report to keep its name and address confidential.

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Now, here’s the thing. I’ve always wondered if the solutions to all these problems might be simple. After all, that’s the way it works in my own life; I spend endless hours and energy running through mazes and jumping through hoops only to discover that the solution was down a straight and simple path. Perhaps this is what we are doing to ourselves in the matter of planetary warming. Perhaps there is a lot of money in making it complicated. And be it not me who would deny people work and income. Yet, I can’t help but think about something I heard.

The sad part about our abilities to move ahead on this problem is the global economic crisis, which has taken precedence. The cost of proposed green initiatives is becoming a huge factor as world governments consider drafting environmental policies. This shift in priorities was evident in the last round of U.N. climate talks in Poland. After a full two weeks of negotiation, it looked as if participants were no closer to consensus on the terms of the treaty that will replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol. The current treaty, created in 1992, requires most developed nations to reduce their carbon emissions. But, currently, overall cost is one of the main reasons for this persistent stalemate on emissions caps.

But there was one interesting solution presented. The IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) issued a report that notes that if governments worked to exploit the natural capacity of forests to absorb carbon dioxide and deliberately aimed to increase the carbon sink that forests create, as much as 40 to 50% of human carbon emissions could be offset. I think this is fantastic and should be done like now. Please refer to my previous post on carbon sinks. Still, to my mind, the even more astounding fact is that this extraordinary possibility has been largely ignored.

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A company called “LiveFuels” has announced the start of pilot operations at the company’s test facility in Brownsville, TX. The facility consists of 45 acres of open saltwater ponds and will be used for research on optimizing algal productivity and increasing the rates of conversion of biomass into renewable oils. LiveFuels grows a robust mix of native algae species in low-cost, open-water systems. This is in stark contrast to may other companies who grow singular cultures of algae and often genetically modified strains. As a natural, environmentally friendly business, LiveFuels harvests the algae by using “algae grazers,” which includes such natural harvesters as filter-feeding fish and a variety of other aquatic herbivores. This in place of expensive and energy-intensive mechanical equipment. As a result, these species can easily be processed into renewable oils and many other valuable co-products.

To date, LiveFuels has filed ten U.S. patents for its proprietary approach to growing and harvesting algal biomass. At the Brownsville facility, the company will conduct research on optimizing the productivity of natural aquatic ecosystems through biological and environmental conditions. The results will be used for an expansion to full-scale commercial operations along the coast of Louisiana. And all of this is being done in this revolutionary, environmentally friendly fashion. Kudos. to LiveFuels.

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As of today, now playing in a theatre near you, is a film with a fascinating new look at the oil industry and it’s dark side. CRUDE, the film, tells a shocking story that Chevron, the 5th largest company on this planet, does not want the world to know. Like, The Cove, another documentary about the uglier side of industry, this one is a bombshell that should awaken everyone who sees it to the environmental tragedies that are ongoing here on Earth and the battle to save our planet.

Three years in the making by acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Paradise Lost, and Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), CRUDE chronicles the epic legal battle to hold Chevron accountable for its systematic contamination of the Ecuadorian Amazon. If you are not aware of the disaster, it was an environmental tragedy experts call the “Amazon Chernobyl,” and believe is the worst case of oil-related contamination on Earth. I have had my own firsthand experience with the self absorbed and mostly indifferent oil industry in my own life; we had a property that was contaminated by big oil and basically lost our fight. I know how hard it is to battle these powerful people.

But here’s the story on this current battle. While drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon from 1964 to 1990, Texaco, which is now called Chevron, deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater, spilled roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil, and left hazardous waste in hundreds of open pits dug out of the forest floor. The company selfishly resorted to substandard practices that were obsolete in order to increase its profit margin by a mere $3 per barrel of crude. Of course, the local people and ecosystems paid the price instead, and at a much higher price than $3.00. In fact, many have paid with their lives and their livelihoods. But, good for them, they have been fighting back and this is where the film comes in.

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