When the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital kicked off 20 years ago, it was attended by 1,200 people. Now in its 20th anniversary, the festival draws crowds of over 30,000 at venues around the city. This year's festival which wrapped up last weekend was the biggest yet: 180 films; environmental leaders and big name filmmakers like Ken Burns; packed movie houses around the city. We saw only a small fraction of the movies, but even these few generated lots of exciting discussion. Here’s a run-down of what we saw:
Revenge of the Electric Car
Synopsis: Large automakers (GM, Nissan) and small upstarts (Tesla, Greg Abbott) alike roll out their electric vehicle offerings in the face of dwindling oil supplies and a fluctuating economy. The film focuses on the leadership of these companies, their unique, sometimes over-the-top personalities and their reasons for betting their chips on electric vehicles.
Take Home Message: It was neat to see former GM CEO Bob Lutz, long known for producing gas-guzzlers, embrace the Chevy Volt as his company’s crown jewel. Panelist after the film explained that Revenge captures a specific moment in time and that battery and alternative fuel technology is moving at an even faster pace than the movie portrays. Ultimately, though, the design of our cities will be more central to the future of mobility than the design of our cars.
Synopsis: A proposed wind farm off Cape Cod, Massachusetts (Cape Wind) sets off a firestorm of local and national political debate, legal wrangling, media coverage and strange bedfellows for and against the project. A case study of American politics in action, the film gives each side of the debate equal coverage, revealing the difficulty of reaching consensus on environmental and energy issues.
Take Home Message: It’s important to have good communication with local people when planning energy projects. Other coastal states around the U.S. are considering their own projects – will they be as contentious as Cape Wind was? Meanwhile, Europe churns out energy from its own 53 offshore wind farms.
Synopsis: Most of us take the word “progress” for granted, particularly technological and economic progress. This film, produced by Martin Scorsese, proposes that conventional notions of progress are actually putting us on a collision course with environmental disaster. Based on Ronald Wright’s best-selling book, A Short History of Progress, the film is grand in scope and visually stunning.
Take Home Message: The technological solutions that we create to address environmental problems often cause new problems. In the end, the most important changes should come not from technological innovation, but changes to our cultural values. Start by asking yourself what the most important things in your life are (loved ones, strong communities, health, purpose) and build solutions from there.
Synopsis: Shortly following Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, director Lucy Walker travels to the ravaged Tohoku region to interview survivors about their relationship to the country’s steadfast symbol: the cherry blossom.
Take Home Message: Nature’s persistent character provides solace for those suffering under even the most horrible circumstances. To hear survivors talk about their personal reflections on cherry blossoms while in the midst of tragedy captures the sorrow and remarkable tenacity of the human spirit.
Waking the Green Tiger: The Rise of the Green Movement in China
Synopsis: A film crew and domestic journalists visit rural villages in China to help local people find their voice in the fight against dam projects. The film also looks at the history of environmentalism in China from its dark days under Mao’s Zedong’s Cultural Revolution to today's glimmers of democratic protest.
Take Home Message: Stories about environmental issues in China tend to focus on global competition for energy resources (where China’s growth is often used as a scapegoat for inaction elsewhere), factory conditions or pollution. Waking the Green Tiger interviews some of the strongest voices in China’s domestic environmental movement, providing a different and hopeful perspective on the country’s challenges. Also shows how closely cultural survival is linked to environmental concerns in places like China’s wild and beautiful west.
A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet
Synopsis: Providing much-needed historical and global context to today’s environmental challenges, A Fierce Green Fire charts the origins of the modern environmental movement along with its major players, its setbacks, victories and future challenges.
Take Home Message: Whether it was the Sierra Club working to prevent dams in the Grand Canyon or homeowners fighting for their family’s health during the Love Canal crisis, environmental activists have always had to work against great forces to get their voices heard. Still, contemporary issues like global warming and the rapid loss of biodiversity present an even greater imperative to work together for the future of the planet. Inspiring.
EarthShare members working on the issue: Everyone!
So you volunteer and make responsible purchasing decisions and give to environmental charities through the EarthShare @ Work program, but is it possible your retirement fund and other investments are undermining those efforts? How can you ensure that your financial investments aren’t hurting the planet? Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) and Impact Investing offer ways to finance businesses that are doing good while securing your financial future.
Here are some tips for getting into green investing:
Examine your holdings. Have you ever taken a careful look through the holdings in your mutual funds? Surprised to find some industries in there you find distasteful? The first step in green investing is understanding how your money is being used and asking if your personal financial gains are worth the cost to the environment or society.
Ask your financial advisor if they offer socially responsible mutual funds. Most of the common financial companies now offer such options. In addition to environmental concerns, they may also screen for human rights, product safety and more. Make sure you understand the methods used to screen the companies in these funds.
Consider green investment companies. Besides the major financial companies that offer SRI options, there are many well-established companies that specialize exclusively in SRI funds. These include Calvert, Pax World, Winslow Green, and Domini among others. Check out socialfunds.com to learn more.
Do some research. Read the fine print tofind out about fees you might have to pay. Decide whether you’d like to invest in small or large companies, domestic or international, or some mix. SRI funds have slightly underperformed their less scrutinizing counterparts historically, so plug your fund’s code into a website like Morningstar to get a sense of potential returns.
Invest in the community. Investing doesn’t have to be a dry, distant process. Many sites like Kickstarter, Kiva and Acumen Fund allow you to interact with the people benefited by your investment and stay engaged with the results. Whether you want to help someone set up an urban farm in North Carolina or run a small textile business in India, small-scale investing is rewarding beyond a financial statement.
Go beyond mutual funds. Have a friend who’s trying to start up a clean tech company? If you’re savvy enough, you might consider buying individual stocks in companies you care about. Find a green financial advisor or read books on the topic for advice on this trickier, but potentially more rewarding, domain.
Get active. As a stockholder, you have more sway with a company than the average person, so use your position to advocate for sustainable change. Known as “shareholder activism” stockholders can attend annual meetings, participate in proxy votes, communicate with management and more to suggest changes to company policies. Shareholders at ExxonMobil, for example, petitioned the company to take stronger steps to address climate change.
Socially responsible investment is a means to interact with your money beyond mere numbers. With SRI, you can harness the power of your investments for the betterment of society and the planet.
[The content here is provided for your personal information only, is not intended for trading purposes, and cannot substitute for professional financial advice. Always seek advice of a competent financial advisor with any questions you may have regarding a financial matter.]
A recent study purports that, based on four decades of youth surveys, Millennials are less inclined than Generation X or Baby Boomers to protect our environment.
I frankly have a hard time buying that.
When comparing generations, it must be noted that 40 years ago, Earth Day was brand new and the idea of being an “environmentalist” was considered rather radical. Since then, views and practices have changed significantly. We no longer take for granted resources like clean air and water, and most Americans practice at least some degree of conservation. It’s part of a modern lifestyle and young people often don’t feel the need to report these actions – they just take them.
Ironically, as this new study broke, SCA was hosting a record number of college students in nationwide “alternative spring break” programs at national parks across America. The leadership example set by these and other outstanding young stewards provides an important counterbalance to the Millennial study.
At Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California, 30 college students spent their spring break reforesting a burned-out hillside and pulling invasive plants “as big as Saint Bernards” according to one participant. “During one particularly miserable dig,” recalled Jonathan Shafer, an Auburn University grad student, “two of us took turns hewing our way through what felt like solid rock. After half an hour’s work, we managed to dig a hole 18 inches deep, just big enough to settle a new Joshua Tree. As a group, we repeated this task 105 times over several acres of the burn site.
“None of us really wants to go back to school,” Jonathan continued. “But we return home with a new respect for natural spaces, our impact on them, and the importance of maintaining them for future generations.”
Taylor Holan is a first-year student at John Carroll University in Ohio, who joined an SCA crew in the Everglades to remove noxious Brazilian pepper plants from the park’s infamous Hole-in-the Donut. In our wired world, Taylor believes conservation service prevents nature from “getting lost among all those gigabytes floating around.”
“I’m here,” she notes, “to learn as much as I can in the Everglades – about ecosystems, threatened species, restoration plans, and more – and share that knowledge with anyone willing to listen. When someone has a passion for something, it’s contagious, and I plan on infecting everyone around me.”
In an op-ed column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, SCA’s Timarko Mitchell, a student at UA Pine Bluff, wrote eloquently about why he applied to NPS Academy, a workforce diversity program jointly sponsored by SCA and the National Park Service designed to prepare underrepresented students for park careers. “Our national parks, monuments, battlefields and historic sites are permanent gifts to our country, touchstones of a common legacy. In many ways, they represent the soul of America. I look forward to helping other people—young and old, of all colors and cultures—celebrate our diverse national heritage.”
Timarko closed his column by noting the newest national park is the memorial in Washington, D.C. to Dr. Martin Luther King, and then quoted King as saying “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” Timarko’s message is hardly that of a disengaged Millennial.
As national service surges in popularity thanks to waves of young adults who seek only to only give back, conservation is consistently among their top priorities. When federal officials conducted their recent America’s Great Outdoors listening tour, they asked young people what they most wanted from government. The answer: more service and career opportunities in national parks, forests and other public lands. And as summer approaches, SCA is looking at yet another all-time high in applications.
I’m sure there is much to be learned from those 40 years of surveys but over the past 55 years, more than 65,000 young men and women have protected nature through SCA and many more have served with other corps.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012 | By EarthShare | No Comments
Green Quiz Challenge – Film Industry Footprint
Lots of movie stars get press for their commitment to environmental causes, whether it’s Leonardo DiCaprio for his work with tiger conservation, Mark Ruffalo for his fight against gas fracking or Cameron Diaz’s involvement with environmental books, concerts and film. But making movies carries a heavy carbon footprint with its demanding electricity needs. LA’s film industry, in fact, is the second-largest polluter in the city, next to the oil industry!
For April's Green Quiz Challenge, we’re testing your knowledge of green films.
Some producers are stepping up to change Hollywood’s dirty image. Which big studio film was the first to be produced carbon neutral?
A. The Matrix, 1999 B. Erin Brockovich, 2000 C. Syriana, 2006 D. Slumdog Millionaire, 2009
The correct answer is C. Syriana. Congratulations to our green quiz winners: Julie E. Gabrielli, Randy Baranczyk, and Lisa Siniscalchi!
Syriana, a political thriller about the global oil industry was a natural candidate for carbon offsetting. The plot follows a cast of characters including a CIA agent, energy analyst, refinery workers, and the prince of a Gulf country as they clamor for the world’s dwindling oil supplies. Warner Bros. Pictures and Participant Productions offset 100% of the film’s production emissions (travel, hotel use, generators, shipping, and more) by helping to fund the construction of a methane generator and wind farm on native land in the Midwest through NativeEnergy. The production company chose to offset the film’s emissions because “Participant exists to use films as a means for social change and this is one more way we can lead by example and help to bring awareness to the industry that offsetting carbon dioxide emissions is a viable option.”
Volunteers are also invited to the post-cleanup Earth Day Celebration at Kingman Island for free food and entertainment! Come share the satisfaction that comes with taking care of our communities and natural resources!
I did. read the genius idea below. Hoping we can do this more often with plastic.
The iPhone case you can just throw away
(Image: Jaymi Heimbuch) Sticking With What You Got can be tricky when you are trying to keep up with the latest fads.
However, if you are going to buy something new, how good does a product that disappears back into dirt once you’re finished with it sound?
Well, if you want to buy a new case for your iPhone (4 or 4s) then you can buy a BioCase and do just that. The cases are made from a new type of bio resin that is the world’s first certified compostable elastomer. It is made from organic materials meaning it has a light carbon footprint in production and can decompose back into organic material.
It decomposes pretty quickly too. If you toss it in your compost heap, after 12 months only dirt will remain. (Image: Jaymi Heimbuch) Green Dot are the company behind this plastic and it seems like a pretty great solution to the throw away culture that has evolved.
With billions of mobiles are out there, it’s good to know that you can protect your phone with something that will break down once the newest craze comes along.
However, following fashion isn’t all its cracked up to be, so Stick With What You Got and Buy Nothing. The planet will thank you for it, we promise!
Me too. My schedule is weird. I’m aware that my situation is not special, and the rest of the world is working split shifts, double shifts, and running out the door in a frantic race to chase the dollar or….. whatever we’re desperately trying to jam into our schedule.But from this worldly, self-imposed, time-mismanaged schedule… I’ve learned the earth-friendly art of 3 minute showers. Yes, I can get clean in 3 minutes. And unless you just crawled out of a pile of raw sewage, I think you can too.
Do I wanna linger in the warm, sleep-inducing steam fog of a long delicious shower? Yep. But so does everybody else. And I can’t stand being lumped in with the masses. Not just because they like horrible pop bands like Nickelback, but we can be different while saving the earth tons of water. And think of all the time you’ll get back. ( we still have that hour we just lost for Daylight Saving Time to regain;) )
Friday, March 16, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Back in November, we brought you word that the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh was taking on the deep green challenge set by the Pacific Northwest’s arm of the U.S. Green Building Council and the International Living Building Institute. Now we’ve got specs in our hot little hands for the new Center for Sustainable Landscapes, set to open this spring, and man-oh-man, is there any green building strategy in the known universe this building doesn’t showcase?
Sure, it’s got all those green build pre-reqs: a high-performance building envelope, low-e windows, and an impressive amount of insulation, as well as natural daylighting and smart-control building/occupant sensors. Low-flow faucets and fixtures, check; solar power, check; solar thermal (hot water system), check. You’ll also find recycled/sustainably sourced materials throughout, a green roof, native/drought resistant landscaping, and a rainwater harvesting system.
But this is pretty much where comparisons between the Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) and the majority of green build projects we cover begins to break down. Because this building goes further—much further.
The local architects at The Design Alliance started their planning by focusing heavily on passive solar design (coupled with the thermal properties of the building’s walls and floors) to do much of the work in heating and cooling the building, as per the Passive House philosophy, which holds that—if a building were efficient enough—it could effectively be heated with a candle. In this case, the building will be heated via a ground-source pump tied into a virtual gopher-empire of goethermal pipes and wells, but only after two other, less energy-intensive systems have reached their max capacities.
Those two other systems are a rooftop energy recovery unit (which recognizes when the air outside the building is cooler or warmer than temps within, and exchanges air between the two when conditions are advantageous) coupled with a desiccant wheel that utilizes energy that would otherwise be exhausted from the building to pre-treat temperature and moisture in incoming outside air with minimal energy use and without the use of mechanical refrigeration. All of which is part of what the building’s design team terms an “Outside-In, Passive-First” strategy.
The geothermal heating and cooling system is expected to capture about 70 percent of its heating and cooling energy from the ground’s consistent 57°F temperature, while its heat pump refrigeration cycle (which stores water heated by the sun during the summer months for use in heating the building during the winter, via radiant heat, and vice versa in the summer) takes care of the rest.
Other uber-green features of the CSL include vertical-axis wind turbines, demand-controlled ventilation, and an integrated wetlands/living machine wastewater treatment system. When complete, the building will generate all of its own energy and treat all of its own wastewater on site.
“Designed and built by people from Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania as an innovation for the world, the CSL will serve as a model for how reconnecting with nature can inspire an abundant and harmonious future,” says Phipps Executive Director Richard V. Piacentini, in a statement. “This addition will give visitors the opportunity to explore, find inspiration and immerse themselves in the beauty of green.”
– Susan Freitas
This post originally appeared at EarthTechling and was republished with permission.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | By Great Energy Challenge | No Comments
Ireland has always been known for its lush green landscape. But turning its energy a matching shade has been a longer road.
The country long relied heavily on peat, its only domestically produced source of “fossil” fuel. Peat is a partially decayed plant matter that grows in bogs on that familiar countryside, and it takes generations to grow. It is milled and compressed at high temperatures before being formed into briquettes to be burned. Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change no longer officially classifies peat as a fossil fuel, it notes that its greenhouse gas emissions have been shown in life cycle studies to be similar to those of coal, oil and natural gas. And when nations report their emissions, combustion of peat is included in the totals with fossil fuels.
Peat is found around the world, but Ireland and Finland are among the world’s largest industrial producers of peat, which is the first stage in the formation of coal.
There are many problems inherent in using peat for fuel. Many rare organisms have been found to live in the unique ecosystem of the peat wetlands, and they are destroyed when the peat is harvested. Also, peat has been found to release methane gas and carbon into the atmosphere even before it is burned. The unoxidized carbon that hides in the bogs is used for smokeless combustion.
But Ireland has been trying to scale back the use of its once dominant fuel source, and plans to stop using peat between 2025 and 2030. Instead, it’s focusing on sources of renewable energy, including wind, hydropower and biomass. Bord na Mona, a state-owned company that manages peat production and peat-fired plants, has been focusing on generating wind power.
Peat use dropped by 43 percent from 1990 to 2010, and by about 3 percent in 2010 alone, according to the report. Peat’s share in primary energy fell from about 15 percent to 5 percent in those 20 years.
Oil is the dominant energy source for Ireland, with a 50 percent share, followed by natural gas, with a 32 percent share. Other sources included coal, with an 8 percent share, and renewables (including hydro, wind and biomass), accounted for 4.6 percent total.
Though its share is still relatively low, since 1990, renewable energy has grown by 305 percent.
While a lot of the effort in Ireland centers on changing its energy sources, one effort that’s had a concrete payoff so far has been an aggressive drive for energy efficiency, particularly in homes.
A huge number of new homes were built during the rapid economic expansion of the Celtic Tiger years. As a result, energy demand grew by 29 percent in the Irish residential sector between 1990 and 2007.
In a program to address those costs, more than 100,000 homes across Ireland were upgraded with a combination of improved insulation, high efficiency boilers and heating controls, in a program that ran between 2008 and 2010, SEAI said. The result? Each home is expected to save an average of $590 (450 euro) per year, and total benefits to the country as a whole range from $139 million to $678 million (106 million to 518 million euros).
The drive to continue energy efficiency upgrades throughout Ireland faces difficulties, however. Although the SEAI aimed to continue funding efficiency upgrades as part of its Better Energy Homes program launched last year, the amount of grants were slashed, prompting criticism from the building improvement industry. The cuts, however, were part of a broad set of austerity moves forced upon Ireland as a condition of the EU-International Monetary Fund loan package that kept the nation afloat after the cost of its bank bailout overwhelmed state finances.
It remains to be seen how much today’s financial woes will affect Ireland’s hopes for greener, more efficient use of energy in the future.