Sunday, December 31, 2006

In Virginia, It's Still "Thank You for Smoking"

DC's smoking ban is set to take effect Tuesday, to much hand-wringing from DC bar & restaurant owners. The Washington Post follows the pattern of most media coverage of the ban, mentioning bar & restaurant owners' fears of lost business in the sixth paragraph, but waiting until four paragraphs later to mention that New York City and California (among dozens of other communities) have had smoking bans for years now, and from what I hear, people do still go out there.

Another fear -- that smokers will head en masse to Virginia. Luckily for DC, Virginia already discourages people from coming across the Potomac with its 2am last call (which translates to as early as 1:15am at many bars).

A much more likely scenario is that the smoking ban will be a benefit to DC businesses. DC already has the aforementioned 3am last call and the all-important Cool Factor. Now Virginia nonsmokers have another big incentive to head into DC. Montgomery, Prince George's, and Howard Counties in Maryland also have smoking bans.

For Virginia, it's one more area in which we're lagging behind. Virginia not only lacks a statewide smoking ban, it doesn't allow cities or counties to ban smoking on their own. (Because of the Dillon rule, localities only have the powers specifically granted to them by the state [thanks to Vivian for the correction]). You'd think a Democratic governor like Tim Kaine would support a smoking ban, but in fact he opposes it.

If you think Virginia should ban smoking in bars and restaurants (or at least allow communities to make their own choice), email Governor Tim Kaine, your state delegate, and your state senator now.

UPDATE: DCist agrees on the impact of the smoking ban, as do a vast majority of commenters.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Global Warming Makes Finland So Hot, a Quick Swim is the Only Relief

OK, so that's not quite an accurate caption for today's photo, but there is a flood (no pun intended) of global warming news this week, plus a little comic relief from the Clown Prince of Politics ...

* If you're re-landscaping your yard, you might want to re-consider what kind of foliage you're planting. Scientists say 15 years of global warming has made the DC's climate less like Massaschusetts' and more like Texas'. In: the Arizona cypress. Out: spruce trees.

* A massive Canadian ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields is now an iceberg, floating in the Arctic Sea. The money quote: "This is a piece of Canadian geography that no longer exists."

* Swimming is unusually good in the Baltic Sea this year ... since it's not frozen.

* And for a little comedy, check out Robert "I Never Outed Valerie Plame, Unless This is Under Oath, in Which Case I Did" Novak's column on how those dastardly environmentalists are allegedly infiltrating the Bush administration. My favorite part is when he refers to "environmentalists' well-financed propaganda operation." Can even Bob Novak be that delusional to think in the battle of greens vs. industry, it's the tree huggers who are the well-financed ones?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

China Going from Red to Green?

Catching up on some interesting stories that came out while I was in Massachusetts for Christmas ...

* Now even the Bush administration is admitting climate change is already here, finally recognizing the
threat to polar bears.

* China has issued its
first report on the impact of global warming in the world's most populous country. The results are ominous but not unexpected -- higher temperatures along with more rain AND more droughts (the extra rain will evaporate faster in the heat). Meanwhile, some American companies are recognizing China as a huge, untapped market for green products and services.

* Cool story from Forbes about a
guy who figured out how to make big bucks by convincing people to recycle.

* Over at Bacon's Rebellion, Jim points out one reason why Arlington has fewer traffic problems than Fairfax -- it has 38 times as many people working to convince commuters to ditch their cars.

* And as the nation remembers Gerald Ford, I couldn't help remembering this classic 1996 Saturday Night Live skit, with Dana Carvey portraying Tom Brokaw recording some potential breaking news bulletins before leaving on vacation.

UPDATE: Chinese officials suspected of
faking smog data to make clean air targets.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Would You Like Your Air Leaded or Unleaded?

If it's a choice between the health of 300 million Americans or improving the bottom line of battery makers, lead smelters, refiners, the Bush administration will side with industry every time. So here's the choice for you -- would you like your air leaded or unleaded?

Other environmental news & notes ...

* Some great tips from Arlington County on going green over the holidays.

* California is getting ready to spend more than $3.4 billion over the next 10 years to subsidize the installation of 1 million solar roofs, or about 3,000 megawatts of electricity capacity, enough at peak output to match six modern natural-gas-fired power plants. It's the biggest solar energy effort in U.S. history.

* Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) flatly says the era of silent but deadly environmental rollbacks is over.

* Think we humans know everything there is to know about everything on this planet? Here are 52 reasons why not.

* Questions about whether a science association is looking out for students or its oil industry funders.

Railing Against the Rails

Angry, bitter, venomous, it-could-only-happen here, this-is-why-everyone-else-laughs-at-us, what-horrible-mismanagement reaction to proposed public transportation increases.

In DC? No.

And Boston. Oh, and it's a ridiculous joke there, too.

Am I saying DC's Metro is perfect? No.

Am I saying commuting sucks, no matter where you live, where you're going or how you're getting there? Pretty much.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Metro's Fare Increase & Incentive Package: A Good Start

Judging by the hysterical reaction on DCist, you'd think Metro was proposing to extract a pound of flesh at each faregate. But I'm going to make the radical argument that the transit agency's plan to increase some fares and create new rider incentives seems not just reasonable, but overdue.

Metro faces two major problems, one financial, and one social. While the causes are beyond the reach of 15 cent fare hikes and such, this package seeks to address the effects of both.

There is only one major transit system in the country that lacks a dedicated government revenue stream. There is only one major transit system in the country that serves three states/districts in very similar proportions. Metro.

This year, Congress, DC, Maryland, and Virginia came closer than ever to agreeing on a dedicated funding source, but
Virginia Republicans killed the deal. Lacking that funding source, fare hikes are Metro's quickest way to balance its budget is to raise fares. It's not necessarily the easiest, as the public backlash shows, but that Metro is willing to take that heat shows how tight its budget is.

More radical are the financial incentives for commuters to avoid riding during peak hours (5-9:30am or 3-7pm). I do agree with critics who say commuters are at the mercy of their bosses, and that the fare incentives target the thousands of ants marching and not The Man who decides when they work. But the suggested fare incentives are a nudge, not a shove, and hopefully employers and the federal government will take notice.

The overcrowding issues on both Metro and our region's roads are frequently and wrongly labeled as capacity problems. They're not. Metro is half-empty for 18 hours a day, as are all but the most congested local roads like I66 or the Beltway.

The traffic is a result of a social problem -- every employer asking all of their workers to come in at the same time, then telling all of their workers to leave at the same time. As a result, we make extremely inefficient use of our transportation systems.

Aside from high-tech companies, both private employers and government agencies have resisted telecommuting, and individual commuters are left to arrange their own lives around a reverse commute or fight their bosses to let them work a 7-3pm or 11-7pm shift. I pitched something similar to my boss once and was quickly shot down with, "I need you here when I'm here." Nice to know I'm wanted, but what am I, her favorite teddy bear?

It's sad that it's fallen to Metro to try to address decades of short-sighted choices, shirked responsibilies, and failed leadership. But as DC's growth continues, commuters are going to have to let go of the idea that one lane of highway or one rail car should be exclusively theirs to zip straight to work at their chosen time.

And before you accuse me of being a Metro apologist, don't forget Festivus came early this year when I aired my grievances against the system back in July.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Just in Time for Christmas: Green Dimes & Red-Hot Car Sharing

I've discovered that this blog has become a clearing house for my friends' environmental news. They send me the articles and I post them here. It's a pretty sweet deal ... they spread the word on cool environmental tidbits, and I don't have to come up with a topic for that week's blog! If you have any articles you'd like me to feature, please post them in the comments section.

* General Motors has put together a futuristic green concept car called the "Hummer O2." Never mind that it looks nothing like an actual Hummer ... or that the current H2 gets around 10 miles to the gallon of gas ... GM thinks this proves they care about being environmentally friendly. Right.

* It takes the equivalent of 100 million trees to create the paper to print a year's worth of America's junk mail, but a new organization is pledging to cut down drastically on your junk mail for about $3 a month. It's called Green Dimes, and I don't know if it works, but it's worth checking out!

* According to the Washington Post, car sharing is catching on fast:
[November 29th], one of the two major car-sharing companies that operate in the Washington region, Zipcar, announced a $25 million investment that will allow it to possibly double the 350 vehicles it already puts on area streets.

In June, Zipcar's rival, District-based Flexcar, announced a major investment by a company started by AOL co-founder Steve Case. That could set up the Washington area -- one of only two major markets where the two companies compete -- as a testing ground to see just how far car sharing can go in reducing congestion, pollution and parking woes.

"Some of the highest adoption neighborhoods in the country are in D.C.," said Scott Griffith, chief executive of Zipcar, based in Cambridge, Mass. He said that in the Dupont Circle and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, where parking can be difficult to find, more than 10 percent of residents older than 21 use the service.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Good News on Green Buildings

The DC Council has given final approval to landmark new law requiring private developers to adhere to the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council:

Environmentally friendly buildings can include simple design elements such as abundant natural light -- which can save energy by minimizing the need for artificial light. They can feature windows that open to allow in fresh air, unlike those in most office buildings. Low-emitting carpet and paint can be used to improve indoor air quality.

Green buildings are likely to be equipped with low-flow water fixtures and even, perhaps, no-flush urinals, which use a chemical trap instead of water, Moore said.

Builders can also earn points by recycling materials. Carpet, for instance, is typically replaced in a building every seven years and lasts 20,000 years in a landfill, Moore said. But it can be recycled by shaving the nylon off the top and reusing the backing, she said.

Mayor Williams is expected to sign the bill. You can learn more by visiting the U.S. Green Building Council.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Let's Play "If You Ran VRE"

OK, so you're running Virginia Railway Express. Service is so unreliable, ridership is falling. Passengers would rather sit in gridlocked traffic than ride your rail system. So what do you do?

According to today's Washington Post, if you're the VRE board, you jack up fares for the fifth time in five years, stop compensating people for late trains, make the cars dirtier, and slash the marketing budget.

There! That oughta lure 'em back!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Green Party = Pinko Commies

One of my favorite recent editions of Get Fuzzy (arguably the best comic strip around now that Aaron McGruder has said he won't resume the print version of The Boondocks).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

I'm Just Glad the Ringleader was Caught & Charged

From over at Backfence ...

Two rare Royal Paulownia Trees chopped down in Potomac Overlook Park

The two Royal Paulownia trees, also known as Princess trees or Empress trees, are rare. A single tree’s lumber can bring up to $30,000.

Arlington County Police say that a Northern Virginia Park Authority official discovered the men cutting down the trees.
Police arrested three men including Woodrow Fincham, Jr. of Boston, VA. Fincham has been charged with felony destruction of property. The other two men had been hired for the day by Fincham and were not charged.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Climate Change Goes to the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court takes up a major global warming case today, as the Bush administration makes a bizarre argument. Despite its reliance on the unitary executive theory, that Congress and the Supreme Court cannot restrict the unlimited power of the presidency, from torturing terror suspects to ignoring the intent of law through signing statements, the White House is arguing it is powerless to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

I'll leave some of the heavy lifting to links from Mother Jones ...

* Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell takes an in-depth look at the legal and policy issues at stake.

* According to the Washington Post, even energy executives have stopped fighting the scientific consensus on climate change.

* Clara Jeffrey says the Bush administration's position on climate change is much like its position on Iraq -- spin and denial over substance and reality.

* The San Francisco Chronicle strangely offers up the climate change argument for dummies, treating it like readers may not have heard of global warming before.

Generally speaking, I wouldn't expect to hear the Supreme Court's decision on the case for several months -- maybe not until this session adjourns, which I think is in June.

Side note -- the Supreme Court's inscription is probably my favorite on any building in DC, "Equal justice under law." Here's a closer picture. I feel like it's not coincidental that it faces some other key buildings in DC, as though it's a reminder just in case the knuckleheads across the street or the decider down the block get any bright ideas about screwing stuff up.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Green Buildings, A Slam from John McCain, and An Eco-Thug

* Extraordinary news from DC, where city officials are moving towards requiring green building practices. The city has already done some neat things, like putting in recycled rubber sidewalks. I know Virginia communities are restricted by the state's status as a commonwealth, with local governments only granted the specific powers given to them by the state. But again, I have to ask, if DC can do it, why can't Arlington?

* More election analysis: An eco-thug's demise.

* As I covered back in July, even though not many green candidates were directly elected this year, the shift to Democratic control of Congress could mean big things for environmentalists.

* 30 months after it was due, environmentalists sue the Bush administration for failing to produce a required report analyzing global warming's impact on America. Great quote by Sen. John McCain to an administration official: "You know, you are really one of the more astonishing witnesses that I have [faced] -- in the 19 years I've been a member of this [Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation] Committee."

* How did the Bush administration end hunger in the blink of an eye? It stopped calling it hunger.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Election Results: Bye-Bye, Bipartisanship

After yet another bitter, divisive election, it would be nice to think that the two major political parties in this country would have an interest in coming together to tackle some of the major problems facing this country -- the national debt, the entitlement crisis, the decrepit health care system.

But the incoming House Speaker has already put loyalty ahead of ideals. And White House allies are saying in no uncertain terms that they have no interest in bipartisanship. "When we want to go up and they want to go down, we want to go right and they want to go left, there's no compromise," said anti-tax activist, White House adviser, and good buddy to Jack Abramoff Grover Norquist.

Harold Meyerson explained it brilliantly in a recent Washington Post column. There's no middle ground anymore. Candidates have to run hard right or hard left to win in the primaries and raise enough money to run in the general elections.

My solution? Proportional representation. If the Democrats get 50% of the vote, the Republicans get 40%, and the Green Party gets 10%, the Congressional seats are divideded up proportionately. Candidates run towards the middle trying to get the most votes, yet the people with fringe views (like, say, environmentalists) are also represented. But it will never happen because it makes too much sense. And because of the dreaded inertia against change.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Don't Forget to Vote!

Don't forget to vote on Tuesday! As I've mentioned, control of the House & Senate have major environmental implications.

There are two critical votes right here in Virginia, the Senate race pitting George Allen vs. Jim Webb, and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Nationwide, it looks like control of the Senate will be decided by the races in Missouri, Montana, Rhode Island, and Tennesee. If you have friends in any of those key states, please email them and make sure they get out and vote!

Friday, November 3, 2006

Why Voting in Arlington Matters

I've always been amazed at how many people my age live in Arlington, work in Arlington, pay taxes in Arlington, spend their money in Arlington ... but when it comes to voting, say they're still registered to vote back home, because they're "from Ohio" (or whereever).

Even worse, usually when I ask them if they're voting in Arlington on Tuesday, they say, "Crap, I forgot to get my absentee ballot!"

They don't know who's running back home, or what the big issues are, but somehow they think they're still supposed to vote not where they live, but where they grew up. Do you still sleep in the bed you grew up sleeping in? Still go to the pizza place you hung out at with your high school friends? No. So why do you think you're supposed to vote there?

The Arlington County Board regularly makes decisions that directly affect you, from big decisions like property taxes (and even if you don't pay those directly, they're reflected in your rent) to relatively minor decisions like whether Dr. Dremo's will remain in its current location.

And it's not like people are voting in overwhelming numbers anyway. In the last presidential election, only 58.3 percent of citizens of voting age cast ballots. In 2002—the last mid-term election—only 48 percent voted. The percentages for people under 40 are even lower.

So register to vote in Arlington now! You can print out the form online. You won't be able to vote Tuesday, but you'll be all set for next November.

Oh, and why can't you register and vote on the same day? Good question.

Other notes ...

* Check out this interview with the producer of An Inconvenient Truth.

* ACE's website updated with three November events and a December cleanup.

* Capitals Iceplex to open soon in Ballston.

* Hope to see you at the next Community Role Models event, the AFAC Food Drive on Saturday November 11th!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Trouble with Daylight Savings Time

OK, so here at The Green Miles, we talk about lots of environmental issues, some of them big and pressing (like, say, global warming), and some of them minor but interesting (like, say, organic beer). This is probably in the latter category.

Most of us think of
Daylight Savings Time as an inconvenience that screws up our brunch plans twice a year. However, there are some serious arguments against changing the clocks twice a year. One is that it screws up the internal clocks of an entire nation, making it hard for people to wake up for days or even weeks after. An extension of that is that studies have shown that the shift increases traffic accidents for that adjustment period.

But those causes can be taken up by other blogs. What we're worried about is the environmental case -- that the switch back to Standard Time
results in higher energy consumption. If we held to Daylight Savings Time year-round, it would result in a small but perceptible reduction in energy usage -- probably about 1 percent.

On a household level, that's not much. But on a national level -- especially in a nation that relies on fossil fuel for power -- that's an equivalent savings of hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil.

So why hasn't something been done about it already? The biggest obstacle seems to be inertia. In an era when Congress can ignore pressing national problems like a budget deficit
approaching $10,000,000,000,000, getting lawmakers off their butts to do something about Daylight Savings Time is unlikely.

However, as the lovely and talented Svetlana points out, proponents of change have managed to extend Daylight Savings Time starting next year.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Upcoming Rally for Smoke Free Virginia

New details on a Smoke Free Virginia rally in Arlington coming up soon! Please forward the information to any friends you think might be interested.

New information on the Smoke Free Virginia Now Tour sponsored by the American Cancer Society and other members of the Virginians for a Healthy Future!

The Smoke Free Virginia Now Rally/Awareness Event in Northern Virginia will take place on Tuesday, November 14 from 4:00-5:00pm at Virginia Hospital Center (formerly Arlington Hospital) at 1701 N. George Mason Drive, Arlington. State Senator Brandon Bell will be the featured speaker.

The organizers are looking for as many people as possible to attend the event and show their support for Smoke Free Air in Virginia!

If you have any questions regarding the event, please contact:
Katie A. Pepe
Smoke Free Campaign Coordinator
American Cancer Society
South Atlantic Division

Thursday, October 26, 2006

E85: Covering for US Auto Industry's Disregard for Fuel Economy

The Richmond Times-Dispatch takes a look at the grand opening of one of Virginia's few public E85 fueling stations. As Public Citizen explains, E85 sounds good in theory, but has been a massive scam in practice, actually resulting in lower fuel economy in America's vehicles.

The American auto industry has hyped E85 vehicles as proof the industry cares about the environment, but as you can see on this map of E85 fueling stations, good luck finding a place to buy the stuff that's open to the public. And despite GM's bragging that millions of so-called flex fuel vehicles are on the road, studies have found few of the car's owners even know what E85 is.

Monday, October 16, 2006

I'm Sensing a Tie-in Here

These two stories were next to each other ... does Yahoo News have a sense of irony? Antarcic ice shelf collapse tied to greenhouse gases, and Americans are making longer drives to work alone.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Raw sewage, organic beer, and global warming-related porn

I know all my recent posts have been random news & notes, but I've been busy lately, so calm down. Sip your coffee, relax, and enjoy the blog. I'll get back to posting more regularly, in the words of the great Napoleon Dynamite, whenever I feel like it. So there.

* The Union of Concerned Scientists (an organization best known for nearly hiring me as a press secretary five years ago despite my complete lack of knowledge at the time of what a press secretary actually did) has just put out a comprehensive report detailing the coming impacts of climate change. And let's not call them potential impacts or anything wishy-washy like that. Climate change is real, it's already happening, and the only question left is how severe the impact will be. Yes, it's depressing, but there are uninformed people out there who still argue that all is well. You need to be ready to refute their arguments, so read the report and get your talking points together. Now go, team, go!

* Another report -- if you're traveling to the American West in the future, don't bother packing a sweater.

* A
major raw sewage spill is threatening Four Mile Run & the Potomac. Most of the water around DC inside the Beltway is already so polluted, it's a good idea to avoid contact with it, but in this case, it's a real health threat, especially for dogs. I heard about the spill through a text message from Arlington County, if you're not already signed up for Arlington Alert, you should do it now, it's really helpful!

* A follow-up to the recent
organic beer question ... Business Week's cover story this week takes a look at the paradox of organic food -- as organic food becomes more popular, the business is being pulled further and further from its original ideals. And while I was fetching that link, I found another interesting Business Week article about green buildings.

* File under "you learn something new every day": I was trying to find a picture to go with the global warming stories below, and stumbled upon a porn series called "Global Warming: The Ed House Effect". Um, how can I put this? If you're at work, I would strongly advise against clicking that link.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Catching Up

Sorry I've been a bad blogger lately, but work has been crazy with the Mark Foley scandal. Basically, the organization I work for helped take him down, and now the FBI is trying to blame us for their failure to investigate him. Long hours, but damn do I love stickin' it to the man.

A few quick things ...

* If you missed the ACE Pickup & Drinkup, you missed a great time!

* Harris Teeter now carries organic beer. However, it's an organic beer from Anheuser-Busch, and the bigger the company, the more likely it is they're doing the bare minimum to just get by the USDA's lax organic standards.

* Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment is kicking off its fall membership drive, donate now and you could win some cool prizes!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Latest Environmental News from Quincy, MA

An email from my dad ... if I'm The Green Miles, what should we call him? The Gray Grant?

Mildly interesting put-you-to-sleep story. The last couple of weeks the Norwegian maples have been dropping lots of brown leaves. Noticed this around the neighborhood, too. We were trying to figure out why, and in that day's science section there just happened to be an explanation. Turns out the Nor. maples were hit with some sort of mold last May. Which is the reason they're dropping leaves early in the season. The article said just remove all the leaves from the ground, so they won't re-infect the trees. So yesterday Donna raked our little yard and we dumped all the leaves in a trash can. This will obviously be an on-going project. They said no reason to worry about the trees unless this is the third year in a row they've been hit by mold, fungus, caterpillars or whatever. The third year of stress is when you call in a fungicide guy. And they all lived happily ever after. Good story, Miles? Miles? [aww, poor lug fell asleep already]

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ask The Green Miles

From blogger buddy Eric ...

Hey Miles,

I have an enviro question for you. ... What do I do with old batteries? I know you can recycle them, but I have no idea where or how. And is it just better to buy rechargeable batteries for everything to avoid the waste?


While batteries are not my area of expertise, I can definitely do some digging to try to find some answers.

Many batteries pose such a strong environmental hazard because they contain heavy metals. This is an especially strong concern in Arlington County, where our trash is incinerated. It's not cost-effective to recycle batteries, but they can be safely disposed to minimize environmental damage.

According to, the most environmentally-friendly way to go is to use rechargable batteries, but to then make sure you recycle THOSE batteries ...


Rechargeable batteries result in a longer life span and use fewer batteries. However rechargeable batteries still contain heavy metals such as nickel-cadmium. When disposing of rechargeable batteries, recycle if possible.
The use of rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries can reduce the number of batteries entering the waste stream, but may increase the amount of heavy metals entering the waste stream unless they are more effectively recycled. As of 1992, the percentage of cadmium in nickel-cadmium batteries was higher than the percentage of mercury in alkaline batteries, so substitution might only replace one heavy metal for another, and rechargeable batteries do use energy resources in recharging.
Rechargeable alkaline batteries are available along with rechargers.

Here are details from Arlington County on how to safely dispose of your batteries ...

Household Battery Disposal
Because Arlington's trash is incinerated at a waste-to-energy plant, residents are encouraged to keep most batteries types (except alkaline and carbon-zinc household varieties) out of the waste stream. Batteries can contain heavy metals that have to be removed from the emissions of the waste-to-energy plant. Rechargeable batteries, as well as lithium, siver-oxide, and mercury batteries should be deposited in special orange collection boxes located at most Arlington County Fire Stations or brought to the HHW drop-off site. These batteries enter the County's Household Hazardous Waste program, where they are either disposed of properly or recycled. Alkaline and carbon-zinc household batteries should be disposed of along with the regular trash.

Arlington County Fire Stations with Battery Recycling Containers:
Fire Station 1, 228-0101, 500 S. Glebe Road
Fire Station 2, 228-0102, 4805 Wilson Boulevard
Fire Station 4, 228-0104, 3121 N. 10th Street
Fire Station 5, 228-0105, 1750 S. Hayes Street
Fire Station 7, 228-0107, 3116 S. Abingdon Street
Fire Station 8, 228-0108, 4845 Lee Highway
Fire Station 9, 228-0109, 1900 S. Walter Reed Drive
Fire Station 10, 228-0110, 1559 Wilson Boulevard
Fire Stations 2, 5 and 8 have aluminum can collection trailers.

And finally, the most surprising thing I found ... we have organic food, organic wine, and even organic beer ... but are you ready for an organic battery?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Glaciers Heading North, Polar Bears (and Illegal Immigrants) Heading South

I've previously mentioned one of the more saddening aspects of global warming, polar bears drowning in the open sea due to a lack of Arctic ice.

Now there's more evidence of global warming's devastating Arctic impact. More polar bears are drowning, and the surviving ones are getting drastically thinner. And climate change is forcing a redrawing of maps:

"We know about three new islands this year that have been uncovered because the glaciers have retreated," said Rune Bergstrom, environmental adviser to the governor of Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago about 1,000 km (600 miles) from the North Pole. The largest is about 300 by 100 meters, he told Reuters.

But in one of the biggest journalistic stretches I've ever seen, apparently there's an upside to global warming:

For some, the unseasonal warmth is good news. It was 5 C (41 F) on Friday in Longyearbyen, the main village on Svalbard. "Last year the first snow fell here on September 11 and stayed all winter," said Bergstrom. "A lot of people here have boats to go out hunting in summer and go to cabins. So it's a good year for them -- the ice melted earlier and they can still use the boats," he said.
Your grandkids may never see a polar bear in the wild except on old videotapes ... but hey, we can get more use out of the boat. Great tradeoff.

And while finding that polar bear picture just now, I noticed this story about global warming's impact in Alaska:
Portage Glacier has retreated so far, it no longer can be seen from the multimillion-dollar visitors center built for it in 1986. Tourists have to cross a lake to see the glacial ice that looks sky blue on a cloudy day.
Off the topic, but a must-read ... see what happens when Republican state and federal officials crack down on illegal immigrants in one Georgia town. Here's a hint ... it doesn't revert to 1950s Pleasantville. More like 1890s ghost town.

Monday, September 11, 2006

ACE Pickup & Drinkup a Big Success!

Saturday's Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment Pickup & Drinkup was held in conjunction with Clean Virginia Waterways and the International Coastal Cleanup, and Single Volunteers of DC and Arlington County's Community Role Models program provided volunteers.

About 40 people came out for the Pickup, held at Four Mile Run in Barcroft Park. The volunteers cleanup up items as mundane as
cigarette butts, styrofoam pieces, and beverage containers, and as exotic as a bondage outfit, a steering wheel (column still attached), and a portable toilet door.

Once the stream cleanup was finished, volunteers headed to the Drinkup in Shirlington at The Energy Club, which donated free food and drinks to thank participants for their hard work on a warm late-summer day. All told, volunteers collected hundreds of pounds of trash, and donated hundreds of dollars for environmental programs right here in Arlington!

You can see photos of the event on Backfence or in the
ACE Yahoo Group. Hope to see you at the next ACE event, the Organic Beer Tasting on September 21st!

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is (Or Is It The Other Way Around?)

Tonight I stopped by the DHS building in Clarendon to pick up some things for Saturday's Pickup & Drinkup. If you're not familiar with the location, it's one of Arlington's best-kept secrets. There's an underground parking garage that's free after 5pm and on weekends, a lifesaver in an area with very little street parking.

Coincidentally, I pulled up right in front of the
Lazy Sundae truck. After Lazy Sundae closed in July, I felt like Clarendon had lost a big piece of its charm, so it was nice to see an old-fashioned ice cream truck in the neighborhood.

Ordinarily, I would strongly object to a $4 ice cream cone. And I was already drinking a Diet Pepsi, and despite it being
Laverne's favorite drink, dairy & cola do not generally mix.

But despite my recent bout with unemployment, I decided to set aside my excuses and back up my blogging by supporting a local business. So I plunked down my $4 ($3 for the cone and $1 to the "college fund" tip jar -- at least the kid in the truck was studying between orders) for a small cinnamon raisin oatmeal cookie cone. It may not have been what I was in the mood for, but damn was it good.

My environmental rationale? Buying local conserves transportation fuel.

OK, so I'm an ice cream addict. But if you're walking past 3033 Wilson, good intentions are a much better excuse to snag a cone.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

More Trouble for the Potomac River

As if the Potomac's
polluted water wasn't disgusting enough already, apparently the river is now laden with "intersex" fish ...

[The intersex fish] have been discovered in the Potomac River and its tributaries across the Capitol Region, raising questions about how contaminants are affecting millions of people who drink tap water there.

"I don't know, and I don't think anybody knows, the answer to that question right now: Is the effect in the fish transferable to humans?" said Thomas Jacobus, general
manager of the Washington Aqueduct, which filters river water for residents to drink in the District of Columbia, Arlington, Va., and Falls Church, Va.

So far, there is no evidence that tap water from the Potomac is unsafe to drink, according to Jacobus and officials at other area utilities.

Well, that's reassuring.

Saturday, September 2, 2006

Weekend odds & ends

The Gristmill takes a look at a new brand of organic cigarettes, and what it means for the environmental movement. And a reminder that even if they are organic, they'll still kill you.

And here's an interesting environmental mailbag in Newsweek.

Friday, September 1, 2006

The Tipping Point for Compact Fluorescents

Fast Company magazine has an article on how Wal-Mart wants to sell at least one compact fluorescent light bulb to each of its 100 million customers ...

Last year, conversations started in Wal-Mart around the potential of swirls to save customers money on utility bills. "Somebody asked, 'What difference would it make if we changed the bulbs in the ceiling-fan display to CFLs?'" says Kerby. A typical Wal-Mart has 10 models of ceiling fans on display, each with four bulbs. Forty bulbs per store, 3,230 stores.

"Someone went off and did the math," says Kerby. "They told me we could save $6 million in electric bills by changing the incandescents to CFLs in more than 3,000 Wal-Marts. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know I was paying $6 million to light those fixtures. I said, that can't be right, go back and do the math again." The numbers came out the same the second time: savings of $6 million a year. "That, for me, was an 'I got it' moment."

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Sen. Warner Fighting Wind Power?

I've been trying to make sense of a strange story I just learned about today. According to a recent US News & World Report article, "2006 was supposed to be a banner year for wind power. Instead, experts say, the industry is faltering while it awaits the results of the study mandated in this year's defense authorization bill by [Virginia] Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee."

Obviously no one wants to put national security at risk. But this "study" has gone beyond cautiousness to the point of blatant foot-dragging.

The Sierra Club reports Donald Rumsfeld and the Dept. of Defense have not only missed a deadline for completing a study on the issue, they've just missed a deadline for explaining why they missed the deadline for completing the study:

According to media reports, at least 15 wind farm proposals in the Midwest have been shut down so far. The list of stalled projects includes one outside Bloomington, Illinois, which would have been the nation's largest source of wind energy, generating enough electricity to power 120,000 homes in the Chicago area. Coal and natural gas will likely replace the lost wind generation, resulting in higher energy costs and increased soot, smog and global warming pollution.
No one's pretending wind power is going to replace fossil fuels as our main power source anytime soon. But at a time when Republicans are so furiously pushing "energy production" (a.k.a. drilling for oil & natural gas), I don't understand why they would block new sources of energy.

Please email Sen. Warner to ask why he's helping block important new sources of renewable energy, and forward this information to your environmentally-minded friends! Just use the little envelope thing at the bottom of this post.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More Evidence Virginia's Going from Red to Purple

A new Wall Street Journal/Zogby poll has Jim Webb and George Allen in a statistical dead heat in Virginia's US Senate race. A Survey USA poll shows the same thing.

As I've mentioned before, neither candidate takes much of a stand on environmental issues, and I don't expect that to change. Putting on my pundit hat for a minute, Allen doesn't have many options besides sticking to the I'll-cut-your-taxes-and-save-you-from-terrorists mantra that has served Republicans so well. And if Webb is smart, his Tim Russert dry-erase board will look like this:


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Are All Organic Dairy Products Created Equally?

A new study from the Cornucopia Institute tries to answer that question, rating organic dairy products from different farms & companies.

I was eager to read it, since organic dairy products often have an especially high mark-up over their non-organic counterparts. However, the study seems to be so determined to prove its organization's points that it's not helpful to the everyday shopper.

It actually only rates smaller farms and companies, saying private-label firms refused to participate in the study. Therefore only one product I frequently buy is even rated -- Stonyfield Yogurt.

The rest are given a zero score, but grouped into types of company (store-brand, large corporation, etc.) and painted with a broad brush. Harris Teeter- and Whole Foods- brand organic milk get zero scores but "two-cow" ratings, while Horizon gets a zero score but a "zero-cow" rating. Little explanation is given other than a general bias about the type of company.

All that is fine if you're trying to make a political statement, but not terribly helpful for the average consumer. I guess I'll avoid the Horizon milk/eggs from now on? Let me know if you have any tips on buying organic!

UPDATE: The Nation devotes this week's entire issue to the politics of food

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Best Way You Can Help the Environment: Change the System

At last weekend's Arlington County Fair, several people came up to the ACE booth and asked the best way they could help improve Arlington's environment.

For me, that's always a tough question to answer. People want simple solutions, like "If your office doesn't recycle, take your empty containers home and recycle them yourself." It's easy and doesn't force anyone out of their comfort zone. If you try to challenge them to take the next step, like "Go to your facility manager and ask why your office doesn't recycle," they're often reluctant.

As helpful as it is for you to change your behavior, you can do exponentially more good by changing the system. Buying a hybrid car is good, but getting your company to change its fleet to hybrids makes a lasting impact on our air quality. Installing a rain barrel is good; organizing people in your civic association to install rain barrels can save a stream. Buying organic beer & wine is good; getting your favorite restaurant to carry organic beer exposes hundreds of people to green products.

Here are more ways to help the environment at home, on the road, and in your community!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Shifting Winds of the Global Warming Debate

At this point, even the harshest critics of global warming (like Gregg Easterbrook) are giving up on their argument that the planet is just going through some sort of a natural cycle. The evidence is overwhelming that the planet is warming due to human actions.

The few remaining people clinging to their belief that nothing is wrong have simply stopped debating. Much like Kevin Bacon's character in Animal House, no matter the evidence, they insist all is well.

But many of those global warming critics are now trying to re-frame the terms of the debate, shifting tactics and digging new trenches in the political battle, and environmentalists need to change with the times or risk being caught off-guard.

Republicans who once argued the planet wasn't warming are now admitting that the planet is warming, but that either there's nothing to be done about it, or that the costs of doing something are so high, they're not worth doing. Instead, we should "adapt to inevitable changes."

Corporations are now trying to duck responsibility by painting themselves green. General Motors, famous for being a prime suspect in the murder of the electric car, continues to flog its hydrogen car prototype as proof that it's trying to go green, despite mountains of evidence that hydrogen cars are nothing more than a red herring. And they're still fighting higher fuel economy standards (they haven't been raised in 20 years).

But just because Wal-Mart is now stocking organic products doesn't mean it's suddenly a net benefit to the environment. It's a band-aid on the open wound Wal-Mart has inflicted.

No matter the distractions, environmentalists need to stay focused on what's important. We've played a role in the planet's warming, and we have a role to play in helping return it to balance. It will take major shifts in energy usage and major advances in techology to help that happen. But we have to try. We're already seeing signs of the consequences of inaction.

UPDATE: Another tactic -- don't deny the facts of global warming, just accuse your opponents of being hypocrites.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

The Green Burial Movement

This week's edition of's Main Dish tackles an uncomfortable subject -- how to carry your environmental principles over to the afterlife. It profiles Joe Sehee, the executive director of bizarrely yet accurately named Green Burial Council.

"There's a cultural barrier to green burial in mainstream culture," says Kim Sorvig, a landscape architect at the University of New Mexico who serves as an advisor to the Green Burial Council. "We have a detachment or denial about people dying. You can go your entire life and never be confronted with the actual facts of death."

It's something we all prefer not to think about, but Sehee makes a great case that properly planning out your burial can make a real contribution to the environment, both by avoiding the toxic materials usually involved, and by directing the funds to organizations concerned with conservation.

Too creepy for a Thursday morning? OK, read this instead.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Too Many Trees?

UPDATE: The Sun-Gazette published our letter ... and apparently we're not the only ones to object!


This comes from the July 31st "Political Notes" column in the Sun-Gazette newspaper ...

TREES? WE'VE GOT PLENTY OF TREES: Among those who joined us for dinner at the Lead Virginia field trip to Tysons Corner on July 21 was Gerald Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.We don't always agree with Connolly, but we like him. Along with Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton, who also attended, Connolly made some valid points about the deteriorating relationship between the state government and Northern Virginia's localities.

But another thing Connolly said struck us as interesting. He noted that, in Fairfax County, there are more trees today than there were 100 years ago or 200 years ago. Tree-huggers (our phrase, not his) don't believe this, but it's true.

Hmmm. Could the same thing be true in Arlington? We know that a whole lot of old-growth trees were cut down in the building of Arlington National Cemetery, but is it possible that there are more
trees today than in years gone by? If so, the county government's hysteria over preserving trees (although it does a rather shabby job of maintaining trees on its own property) would seem to be a bit misplaced.

Here's the letter to the editor Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment sent in response ...

It was surprising to see a friend of the environment, Fairfax County Board Chairman Gerry Connolly, take a jab at environmentalists in the Sun-Gazette's July 31st Political Notes column. "[Connolly] noted that, in Fairfax County, there are more trees today than there were 100 years ago or 200 years ago. Tree-huggers (our phrase, not his) don't believe this, but it's true."

Yes, in terms of sheer numbers, there were fewer trees in our region's agricultural economy than there are today in our high-tech age, and yes, there are probably some tree lovers who feel no tree should ever be cut down for any reason. But it's disappointing to hear Chairman Connolly using the low point of Fairfax's arboreal history as his frame of reference, and using the views of a few extremists to represent all environmentalists.

The need for trees is not about a numbers game. We need to find sustainable solutions to our region's prolonged pollution problems, and a comprehensive tree management plan is a part of the answer. The US Environmental Protection Agency has designated the Washington region (including Fairfax and Arlington Counties) as a nonattainment area for both ground-level ozone and fine particles. According to the International Society of Arboriculture, trees can help absorb that ozone and filter out those particulates. Trees also reduce water pollution by absorbing stormwater runoff, offer shade and cool urban heat islands, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Beyond the technical talk, trees are fun for climbing, picnicking, and yes, for providing the paper to print our favorite local newspapers. Let's work together to make sure they're around for generations to come!

Miles Grant
Board Chair
Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Rubber Sidewalks: A Win-Win Policy

According to the AP, the District has invested $60,000 in buying sidewalks made from recycled tire rubber.

"The rubber squares are up to three times more expensive than concrete slabs but last longer, because tree roots and freezing weather won't crack them. That, in turn, could reduce the number of slip-and-fall lawsuits filed over uneven pavement.

"The shock-absorbing surface also happens to be easier on the joints of joggers, and more forgiving when someone takes a spill.

"And the rubber sidewalks are considered more environmentally friendly: They offer a way to recycle some of the estimated 290 million tires thrown out each year in the U.S., and they do not constrict tree roots the way concrete slabs do."

Has Arlington looked into rubber sidewalks? Here's a link to

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

An Environmentalist's Secret Shame: I Don't Love Metro

As an environmentalist, I love the benefits public transportation brings to a community. Primarily, public transportation gets cars off the road, leading to reduced air pollution.

There are
other benefits, too. Riding a bus is 79 times safer than driving a car. And public transportation saves 855 million gallons of gasoline a year, reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

And beyond that, riding Metro certainly can be a more civilized experience than driving. I see a lot more of my neighbors & neighborhood than I did when I drove. I get to read the paper in the morning and a book on the way home. I probably had read two books for pleasure in the two years prior to Metroing to work. I've read four in the last three months (right now I'm working on JFK's
Profiles in Courage). I also get a lot more exercise, walking about 45 minutes a day to & from Metro stations.

But even with all those benefits ... I don't love Metro.

Oh, those environmental benefits are so tantalizing! Much like
Eminem repeatedly marrying Kim Mathers or George Steinbrenner repeatedly hiring Billy Martin, I keep coming back no matter how many times I get burned.

But trains slow to a crawl in
severe weather -- high temperatures, heavy rain, or any kind of snow. Even routine train breakdowns send shockwaves through the system, turning station platforms into mosh pits. When it comes to homeland security in DC, the elephant in the room is that if Metro ever suffered a terrorist attack against its infrastructure, the city would grind to a halt for weeks, if not months.

The Metro station workers are
surly, one even accusing my 64-year-old mom of being a turnstyle-jumper.

The longest, eight-car trains are unwieldy, lurching through tunnels and often making jarring stops in stations. It's not quite the
rollercoaster at the county fair, but it's not pleasant.

Even when I'm not commuting, I often end up wondering if I'd have been better off driving. On late nights and weekends, waits can run up to 20 minutes. After a while, you start to feel like the grailkeeper in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. You chose ... poorly. And late weekend nights are miserable. It once took me an hour and a half to get from U Street to Virginia Square, making a $20 cab ride seem like a bargain.

On balance, I suppose a little waiting here and there is a small price to pay for improving our environment. But I wish it didn't have to be a tradeoff. Can't we clean the air and get a smooth ride at the same time?

Everyone seems to agree Interim Metro General Manager Dan Tangherlini has taken steps to improve service. But unfortunately, our region's elected officials have shown little stomach for taking tough political stands to provide sustainable funding for the serious, long-term upgrades Metro needs.

If you're interested in learning more about working to improve Metro, you can visit the Metro riders' lobbying group.