Friday, April 11, 2008

Oceans at Risk – and So Are We

Overfishing and Ocean Health

The oceans have sustained life through the ages. Most people and businesses take it for granted, but fishing practices, pollution and other human impacts have devastated underwater habitats, reduced animal populations, and wiped out species. Ocean ecosystems have been thrown out of balance around the world.

On April 10, a panel of ocean/environmental experts discussed concrete steps that must be taken to save oceans and ultimately sustain life on Earth. On the panel: Philippe Cousteau, president/CEO of Earth Echo; Sylvia Earle, National Geographic explorer-in-residence; Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group; Barton Seaver, executive chef of Hook in Washington, D.C.; Lee Crockett, director of Pew Environment Group’s Federal Fisheries Program Reform, and participating by phone from Hawaii, William Aila, member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve Council.

While awareness of overfishing is growing, action is lagging. Some things you can do:

* If you eat fish, become aware of species in peril – and change your choices. As with everything, these rules hold true: profits drive business, consumer demand generates profits. Businesses rarely change their ways for moral reasons or place ethics over economics. So change depends on consumers aligning their demands with their values. Ask if a purchase supports exploitation. Vote with your dollars.

* Overfishing means that populations are depleted before the animals can reproduce. Examples include Atlantic Cod; once so common in New England, the stock has collapsed. due to overfishing, catch declined 89% between 1980 and 2006. Bluefin tuna: between 1963 and 2006, landings of this highly migratory species in U.S. ocean territory fell 99%.

* Bycatch results in untold and unnecessary destruction of life. Victims include sea turtles and monk seals who get trapped in irresponsibly cast fishing nets and lines.

* Pressure government to improve and enforce laws. It’s up to citizens to voice support for restoring fish populations and protecting ocean ecosystems.

* Be aware that some of the eight regional fishery management councils have worked to gut existing environmental review procedures and block public participation in fisheries management. Don’t think this helps the individual fisherman – in fact, it hurts them and their communities. Greed is not good.

* Shark fin soup: horrendous cruelty to sharks and ecosystems. As marine biology experts said at a recent meeting, sharks need a public relations campaign. These predators are vital to the balance of ocean life – and their threat to humans is vastly overstated. Why shark fin soup should be eternally banned: to obtain the fins, the fishermen catch the creatures, haul them onto the boats, slice the animals’ vital fins off while they visibly suffer, then throw the sharks back into the sea. The sharks can no longer swim, so you can imagine the horrific ending to their lives. All this just to add an odd texture to a ridiculously priced “delicacy.” Clue: “delicacy” means “you’ve been duped.”

* Don’t expect other countries to adopt environmentally responsible practices before the U.S. does. Lax rules and compliance measures become excuses for others to behave badly.

* Retool regulations. In January 2007, President Bush signed legislation reauthorizing and amending the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which governs fishery management in federal ocean waters. The law requires managers to establish annual catch limits based on real science, and to end overfishing in U.S. ocean Waters by 2011. The National Marine Fisheries Service is now writing regulations to implement these new requirements.

It’s critical that strong, clear rules are written and enforced, and that the goal is not business interests, but restoring health and balance to ocean ecosystems before it’s too late.

* Fishery managers must be held accountable.

* Remember the dolphin-safe tuna campaign? That successful effort started with people, not government policies. Push up from the grassroots. Speak up, and vote with your dollars.

* Kids and adults need to learn about the origins of the food that’s largely taken for granted.

More info:

Free fact sheets on overfishing and the National Environmental Policy Act

Conserve Our Ocean Legacy

Marine Fish Conservation Network

EarthEcho International

The Ocean Conservancy

A petition to voice support for healthy oceans

Friday, April 4, 2008

OPRAH Exposes Puppy Mills and Shelter Dog Realities

OPRAH show on puppy mills, animal shelter realities and abandoned dog issues. Aired Friday, April 4, 2008. Watch it –Oprah has done what mainstream pandering media outlets have long failed to do (yep, I'm saying this issue is more important than Britney and American Idol).

Also, here are a couple of good, concise articles related to the exposé. The first includes video clips and photos of some of the dogs. The second features a photo of the billboard that inspired Oprah to produce the puppy mill program.

Do Good and Do Well

Recommended Reading:

Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow (Wiley; March 2008) Authors Jim Hightower and Susan DeMarco uncover unsung heroes in business, politics, health care, farming, religion, and other areas who are taking charge, living their values, doing good, and doing well. These self-reliant folks are doing what the world’s power brokers, naysayers, pessimists and garden-variety conformists claim can't be done: changing lives and making a difference. Read it and maybe you’ll be inspired to tap into your maverick potential and chart a more rewarding path for your life.

It Came from the Technosphere

Some of the interesting ideas and stuff we found at FOSE, the huge government technology expo in DC last week:

Web 2.0 Tools for Better Living: Tech wiz writer/pundit David Pogue screened his riotous and wry home productions, including his own song parodies (on the set list: “You’re being sued by the RIAA” to the tune of Y.M.C.A.).

Among Pogue’s Web 2.0 favorites: A way to save cell phone minutes – instead of listening to voice mail, get Spinvox or Simulscribe to convert messages to text. Free TV onine – timeshifting, and with fewer and shorter commercials. Trip Advisor, through which travelers share notes that you need to hear but won’t from travel agents. Micro loan sites for those looking to earn higher interest on idle cash and those in need of a loan to escape debt or build a business here or in third world countries. GoLoco carpooling database for getting/giving rides to work or the mall ... Who Is Sick? spreads the word about the spread of illnesses...drilling down to neighborhood level, it’s great for parents of young kids.

Digital Age vs. Digit: Observed Pogue: “Gadgets are getting smaller and smaller, while our fingers stay the same size.”

Tech Trash Tech: Media packaging generates lots of waste. Companies such as Univenture lessen the landfill burden with smart eco-friendly packaging for software and other media. Components include PLA renewable film made fom plants and biodegradable/compostable poly. They now offer eco-friendly, archival-safe presentation and storage media for large-format documents.

The Boom: UmeVoice’s noise-canceling headset for cell phones. Bring on the maddening crowds.

Green Ideas: Consumer and industrial electronics emit heat; wouldn’t it be great to tap it? Until organizations learn to harness it, they would benefit their operations with smarter, more efficient selection, siting and operation of equipment. Consider how much heat a large bank of equipment releases in a facility. The heat can reduce the efficiency of the equipment, thwart its operation, accelerate breakdown, repair costs and replacements, increase power consumption and energy bills, and so on. This equipment-generated heat is a huge negative when, as is usually the case, it is waste. But it could be recaptured and turned into an asset, with an investment in ... more technology. Chosen correctly, the effect would be a net positive. Other ways to improve efficiency: better selection and siting of the equipment. As with most things, one size does not fit all.

E-Waste: How to Dispose Old Computers, Phones and other retired tech stuff

The march of obsolescence and consumers’ voracious appetite for acquiring new things generates so much waste that we humans may be buried alive before climate change catches up with us.

RIP: Rest in peace ... and pieces ... ol’ electronics

The issue figured big at several tech-focused conferences this April. At FOSE, the government-centric tech show, panelists discussed the growing need for detailed procedures, and not just vague “green” commitments, for disposing and recycling tech equipment and supplies. This represents a growth market for vendors.

Secure disposal of computers and other tech devices containing work, personal and other sensitive data is becoming a big business. e-End is one of the “Electronics End of Life” companies that pairs environmentally responsible recycling with “total sanitation” of your electronic equipment. Benefits include pick up and an “unbroken chain-of-custody from your facility to ours”). This one’s in Frederick, MD. Check out

Insiders at the Consumer Electronics Association’s Washington Forum also discussed electronics recycling. There’s an emerging market worldwide for dismantling and recycling/reusing the components of decommissioned electronics. But in addition to economic questions are moral ones.

For example, while it’s good to support dismantling and reuse businesses in developing nations, what about those in which the employees are exposed to toxic materials and not protected from injury? Or businesses with practices that while harvesting the high-value raw materials still discard low-value stuff in an un-green manner – even allowing toxins and other pollutants to contaminate the environment?

What’s needed: proper recycling infrastructure and practices. And to protect people and the environment: monitoring – self, industry/peer and the nonlibertarian fallback of government oversight.

Some states have enacted requirements for manufacturers to bear some responsibility for managing used materials. A trend: some recyclers do initial dismantling in the U.S. and then sending partially dismantled parts abroad.

Got old stuff to trash? Here are sources to help you get it recycled/reused instead of filling landfills:

Environmentally and socially responsible recycling for mobile phones, pagers and PDAs

Share the Technology
Locates organizations that process equipment for reuse instead of recycling

Computers for Schools
Locates schools seeking tech goods

Cristina Foundation
Supports training of the disabled, homeless and underserved youths through donated technology

Consumer Electronics Association
Guide to electronics reuse and recycling and locating to electronics recyclers by zip code:
Simple, safe, environmentally responsible way to recycle; provides free shipping and ensures personal data is cleared.

Community-based online give/take message boards

Thursday, April 3, 2008

High Def Jam: Will Your TV Leave You in the Dark?

The end of analog TV – over-the-air signals received by antenna – was a key topic of the Consumer Electronics Association ( Washington Forum on April 2-3.


After February 17, 2009, all full-power TV stations will broadcast only in digital. So if you don’t have cable or satellite or HDTV, you’ll have to do something. Otherwise, your analog TVs that rely on antennas to pick up channels and that do not have digital tuners will go dark.

What to do:

If you don’t want to buy a new TV or subscribe to cable or satellite, shop for a TV converter box.

How to save money:

The Fed government has launched an appx $1.5 billion (ouch said the taxpayer) initiative provide households with up to two $40 coupons to put towards a TV converter box or two. Depending on features, the boxes will cost between $40 and $70.

How to get your coupons:

The coupons are free, but the supply is limited. Applications are now being accepted up to March 31, 2009.

Important: the coupons expire within 90 days of receipt and cannot be reissued, so time your purchase accordingly.

Ways to get your coupons:

* Call 1.888.388.2009

* Go online

* Or send a letter to: TV Converter Box Coupon Program, PO Box 2000, Portland OR 97208


Electronics contain substances that are definitely bad for the environment, which (for those who don’t care much about animals or planet Earth) includes people. Toxic stuff leeches into the ground. So: recycle.

At the conference, panelists discussed the issue. Just-released study results indicate that households receiving broadcast signals only over-the-air expect to remove fewer than 15 million TV sets from their homes through 2010. About 95% are expected to be donated, recycled or sold (hmmm....wonder who’s buying?). Some 48% of the affected folks expect to buy a digital converter box and keep using their old faithfuls.

According to the survey, consumers report recycling nearly 30% more TVs in 2007 than in 2005. That trend also extends to other CE categories. While only 3% more devices were removed from homes in 2007, 27% more devices were recycled. The number of home electronica winding up in the trash reportedly decreased by 7% between 2005 and 2007.

How to give those old sets away:

Some folks use them as extra monitors, some for parts, some to pick up independent channels that we’re told pulse somewhere out in the airwaves. Some great websites for giving away all manner of stuff follow. They have local web communities; click and you’ll find one close to you:

CEA offers a helpful website about reuse and recycling of electronics and also lists electronics recyclers by easy-share zip code:

Convert Your Mom

In some areas, it’s a good bet that senior citizens knew about the analog-to-digital transition way ahead of the iPod and home theater generations. But to make sure golden agers get the news, the Consumer Electronics Association has recruited Florence Henderson – Carol Brady, the mod matriarch, on “The Brady Bunch” – for its Convert Your Mom public awareness campaign.

We think The Golden Girls would have been a cool choice. Or even just Maude.

More info:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Go on a Conservation Expedition: SEE Turtles

One trend that makes us feel a little better about the future is conservation tourism. Most of us don’t realize the impact of recreational activities on Earth and its animals, but conservation tourism encourages travel activities that help instead of harm.

At the Adventures in Travel Expo last week, we discovered a fantastic new travel choice for people who love the great outdoors – and the creatures we share it with.

SEE Turtles has been developed by the Ocean Conservancy to raise awareness about the threats imperiling sea turtles while enabling tourists to behold these incredible beings.

Nesting turtles are supersensitive, so disturbances discourage them from laying their eggs. Please take these easy tips to help protect them:

* Keep beaches clean of litter – sadly, turtles can confuse plastic for food and choke.

* When in their nesting sites, do keep quiet and wear dark clothes...and don’t use camera flashes, light fires, make loud noises or drive on the beach.

* Don’t feed the turtles and other wildlife; risks include making them sick and losing their natural caution that helps them stay alive.

* When boating, slow down in turtle territory and near sensitive habitat like coral reefs and sears beds.

* If you eat seafood, eat only humanely caught. Turtles are among sea animals that become bycatch and drown in nets due to fishing practices of those who care only for speed and profit.

* Keep a respectful distance from turtles. The best way to observe them is part of an eco-tour such as SEE Turtles.

Threats to sea turtles include entanglement in fishing gear, loss of nesting and feeding sites, poaching and pollution.

Interesting turtle facts:

* Sizes vary from Kemp’s ridley, weighting about 80 pounds to the leatherback, who can tip the scales at more than 1,000 pounds.

* Loggerhead turtles often nest in Japan and migrate to Baja California Sur to forage for food. Leatherbacks are found as far south as Chile and as far north as Alaska.

SEE Turtle and other eco-tourism options can be enjoyed in Costa Rica, where green turtles nest on its Caribbean coast. In the 1950’s, Tortuguero National Park on Costa Rica’s North Caribbean coast, became the world’s first sea turtle nesting beach conservation project. Baja California Sur is another critical habitat region for sea turtles.

One SEE Turtle package-deal expedition involves tracking and tagging Baja’s endangered black sea turtles. Tour guides include Cesareo “Charo” Castro. Born, raised and still dwelling in Lopez Mateos on Baja California’s Pacific coast, he hails from a fishing family and a culture that once valued eating sea turtles. Charo has made it his miss to protect sea turtles and help people learn about these fascinating animals.

See for info on sea turtles and turtle-focused tours offered with partners including EarthWatch Institute.

Photos courtesy of Neil Osborne