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Bruce Falconer-Desperate times call for desperate measures. Nowhere is this more the case than with today’s commercial aviation business, whose slow death has been accelerated of late by the twin nightmares of soaring fuel costs and global recession. The price of oil is way down from last year, but the financial breather will inevitably be short-lived as scarcity of fossil fuels grows in years to come.

What’s a desperate airline to do? Charging for alcoholic beverages and checked bags won’t cut it. (Don’t expect these costs to vanish any time soon.) Nope, the only solution lies in experimentation with new fuel sources. Take Virgin Atlantic. Last year, Richard Branson’s airline made news by powering a Boeing-747 with fuel partially derived from oils extracted from babassu nuts and coconuts.

In a piece I wrote for Mother Jones prior to the Virgin flight, I reported on widespread speculation that Branson might also choose to test algae as a biofuel. He never did so, of course, and now Continental Airlines has beaten him to the punch. 

From the BBC:

The 90-minute flight by a Continental Boeing 737-800 went better than expected, a spokesperson said.

One of its engines was powered by a 50-50 blend of biofuel and normal aircraft fuel.

Wednesday’s test is the latest in a series of demonstration flights by the aviation industry, which hopes to be using biofuels within five years.

The flight was the first by a US carrier to use an alternative fuel source, and the first in the world to use a twin-engine commercial aircraft (rather than a four-engine plane) to test a biofuel blend.

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Virginia Naturally provides citizens with “one-stop” shopping to programs and information to learn about Virginia ’s environment. At this gateway site, you’ll find links to more than 800 organizations which provide environmental education programs and services in Virginia including volunteer and funding opportunities, teacher workshops and lesson plans, conferences, and community events to name a few. You can also find out what your ecological footprint is based on your lifestyle and what you can do to help reduce your impact on the environment. 

Adopted in 2000 as the official environmental education initiative of the Commonwealth, Virginia Naturally also recognizes schools and communities that are making extraordinary efforts to help citizens of all ages understand our world and lessen the negative impact on Virginia’s natural and historic resources.

VaNaturally is all about Partners and Networking
Public and private organizations and agencies are the heart of this initiative to link people to Virginia’s natural and historic resources. Anyone interested in education can become a partner and participate in a statewide network and join others to build knowledge and skills and an appreciation for life-long learning and personal responsibility to conservation. Partners can advertise their programs and events on this website and share their success stories. They can also receive free materials, a monthly newsletter, educational kits and participate in professional development. VaNaturally staff can help your organization find collaborators in your community.

Interested in signing up as a VaN partner? It’s quick, easy and FREE! Just email your contact information. 

Whether you need information or want to help others find it, Virginia Naturally is your gateway to information and resources about Virginia ’s environment.

* If you would like your events posted on the Virginia Naturally website, email the name, location, date, a short description and a contact for your event.

Individuals, homeowners

If you break a fluorescent light bulb (including compact fluorescent lights), you can minimize any risks by following cleanup and disposal recommendations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The following information includes tips on how to manage burned out compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) appropriately:

  • Two retailers – Home Depot and Ikea – currently take back CFLs from homeowners. Take your burned out CFL to any Home Depot orange box store returns desk and hand it to an associate who will recycle it for you. Ikea has a collection area in its stores where customers can place fluorescent light bulbs including CFLs to be recycled. 
  • You can purchase boxes online or in retail stores and mail your used CFLs to be recycled: Mail-in programs for CFLs
  • Check directly with your local waste management agency on the recycling options and disposal guidelines in your community: Local government recycling contacts  
  • If your community has a household hazardous waste drop-off center or offers household hazardous waste collection events, check to see if CFLs are accepted. Please contact your local government for more information on these events: Hazardous household waste contacts.
  • If recycling is not an option where you live, simply place the CFL bulb in a plastic bag and seal it before putting it in your trash. However, you should not dispose of CFLs or any mercury-containing device in your trash if it is destined for a waste incinerator as this increases the risk of mercury emissions to the environment. Ask your local waste management agency for specific guidance in this situation.

Businesses

Businesses are required by Virginia’s laws and regulations to recycle fluorescent lights or handle them as hazardous wastes. Additional information is available on DEQ’s waste and pollution prevention websites.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — As a candidate, Barack Obama promoted hybrid cars.

Shortly after taking the oath of office, Obama will climb into the Mother of All Hybrids — part car, part truck and, from the looks of it, part tank.

In keeping with recent tradition, the Secret Service will place a brand-new presidential limousine into service January 20 to drive the new president on the 2-mile jaunt down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade.

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Our community learned a lot about dealing with disaster and healing in the 20 years since Exxon’s oil coated beaches in beautiful Prince William Sound and stripped our lives of innocence. Perhaps we can share some hard-earned wisdom that might save you some of the wrong turns we made.

Consider first the setup. I’ll bet your spill, like ours, was an accident waiting to happen. The promised safety, spill prevention, and spill response measures weren’t there when our accident occurred. The promises had fallen victim to cost-cutting measures in the name of higher profits and cheaper oil.

Don’t think that the government authorities and the industry will see the error of their ways and hasten to set things right. It took an act of Congress (the Oil Pollution Act of 1990), citizen oversight groups composed of spill survivors, and a couple of decades of tireless work on our part to force change. We’re still waiting for every tanker to be double-hulled, a promise made (and broken) as a condition of building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline nearly 35 years ago.

Next consider the spill. Those at fault, including the state and federal governments, will take extraordinary measures to hide the extent of the harm. Your spill has already doubled in size from initial reports. And human health risks? Government officials are telling you no worries, right?

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James Hansen, one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists, and his wife, Anniek, have written an open letter to Barack and Michelle Obama on the urgency of the need to halt global warming.

The four-page letter [PDF], which Hansen has asked Mr. Obama’s science adviser, John Holdren, to forward to the president-elect, warns of the “profound disconnect between actions that policy circles are considering and what the science demands for preservation of the planet.”

Mr. Hansen, who heads NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is an adjunct professor in earth sciences at Columbia University, testified before the Senate in 1988 about the dangers of greenhouse gases and is largely responsible for first introducing the concept of global warming to the American public.

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As usual with the Bush Administration, corporate profits always supercedes public health and welfare….

First, Deborah Landvik-Fellner’s hair started falling out. Then her speech began to slur and her memory grew unreliable. Her heart started fluttering, and her hands shook. One day she walked out of the supermarket and woke up surrounded by a crowd of people. She’d collapsed in the parking lot for no apparent reason. Landvik-Fellner, then 45, went to one doctor, then another, and another. None could figure out what was wrong. Finally, in 2004, after five years of weird symptoms, her husband Mike saw a TV show about a man who was poisoning his business partner with mercury, a potent toxin that can damage the heart, nervous system, and kidneys. The business partner’s symptoms—shaky hands, staggering gait—reminded Mike of his wife’s. On a lark, he suggested that she have her blood tested. When the results came back, they were both stunned: 48 parts per billion of mercury, nearly 10 times what the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe.

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Here’s the recipe for saving sea turtles from drowning in the longline fishery. Switch out the classic J hooks for circular hooks. Add a little training and the tools to release turtles accidentally hooked.

A new report by the World Wildlife Fund and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) finds the new hooks dramatically reduce the bycatch of marine turtles without impacting fishing activity. They analyzed 4 years of data from 8 Eastern Pacific countries: Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. They found up to 89% reductions in the marine turtle bycatch per thousand hooks, and that 95% of all turtles caught in longline fishing were recovered alive. Circle hooks performed as well as J hooks in the catch rates of tuna, billfishes and sharks fishery.

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Tennessee sludge contains elevated levels of arsenic

(CNN) — The drinking water in the area of last month’s coal-sludge spill in eastern Tennessee is safe, but elevated levels of arsenic have been found in the sludge, authorities said.

A billion gallons of the sludge, made up of water and fly ash from a coal-burning Tennessee Valley Authority steam plant in Kingston, Tennessee, swamped 300 acres of mostly private property when a dike on a retention pond collapsed December 22.

All residents in the area were evacuated, and three homes were deemed uninhabitable, according to the TVA. About a dozen other homes were damaged.

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On June 11, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the Shark Conserva­tion Act of 2008. The bill attempts to curb the practice of shark finning by US-based fishing boats and limit trade with shark-finning fleets abroad.

Between 26 million and 73 million sharks are caught yearly, according to a 2006 study in Ecology Letters, a French science journal. The shark’s fins may be cut off and the carcass thrown overboard to make room for more valuable fins, which are used in dishes like shark fin soup, a delicacy throughout East Asia. Scientists say the targeting of sharks, along with sharks being incidental bycatch, have led to their dramatic decline. Some popula­tions are down by as much as 90 percent in the past 50 years. The nonprofit International Union for Conservation of Nature says that more than half of mid-ocean sharks are in danger of extinction.

On Dec. 22, a holding wall at a waste pond at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, Tenn., collapsed, dumping more than a billion gallons of slurry over more than 300 acres, in what some are calling the largest environmental disaster in US history.

But what exactly is this stuff, and what effects will it have on the environment?

The sludge was a mixture of water and fly ash, a residue that is captured in the chimneys of coal-fired power plants. Fly ash is distinguished from bottom ash, which is removed from the bottom of the furnace.

Fly ash is mostly made of fine, hollow, glassy particles of silica, the most abundant mineral in the earth’s crust, as well as aluminum oxide, iron oxide, and lime, a white crystalline solid that humans have used for thousands of years. When airborne, some of types of silica particles have been found to be potentially harmful to people’s lungs.

But more worrisome are the trace concentrations of toxic metals – including arsenic, lead, barium, and chromium – that scientists think may damage the liver and nervous system and cause cancer. The ash also contains uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements. Ounce for ounce, fly ash delivers more radiation into the environment than shielded nuclear waste.

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With enough investment, geothermal power could satisfy 10 percent of the US energy diet, energy experts say.

Could hot rocks miles below the earth’s surface be the “killer app” of the energy industry?

Google thinks so. It’s investing more than $10 million to develop new technology that would make this subterranean resource a widespread, economically viable competitor to fossil fuels.

Geothermal heat could meet 10 percent of America’s energy needs by mid-century, according to the US Department of Energy. What’s more, it would not generate the climate-warming carbon emissions associated with fossil fuels.

Once tapped, a geothermal system would stay online for centuries. Unlike wind and solar, it would be a “base load” energy source, available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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Most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. And this is when taking into account only US grown products! Those distances are substantially longer when we take into consideration produce imported from Mexico, Asia, Canada, South America, and other places.

We can only afford to do this now because of the artificially low energy prices that we currently enjoy, and by externalizing the environmental costs of such a wasteful food system. We do this also to the detriment of small farmers by subsidizing large scale, agribusiness-oriented agriculture with government handouts and artificially cheap energy.

Cheap oil will not last forever though. World oil production has already peaked, according to some estimates, and while demand for energy continues to grow, supply will soon start dwindling, sending the price of energy through the roof. We’ll be forced then to reevaluate our food systems and place more emphasis on energy efficient agricultural methods, like smaller-scale organic agriculture, and on local production wherever possible.

Cheap energy and agricultural subsidies facilitate a type of agriculture that is destroying and polluting our soils and water, weakening our communities, and concentrating wealth and power into a few hands. It is also threatening the security of our food systems, as demonstrated by the continued e-Coli, GMO-contamination, and other health scares that are often seen nowadays on the news.

These large-scale, agribusiness-oriented food systems are bound to fail on the long term, sunk by their own unsustainability. But why wait until we’re forced by circumstance to abandon our destructive patterns of consumption? We can start now by buying locally grown food whenever possible. By doing so you’ll be helping preserve the environment, and you’ll be strengthening your community by investing your food dollar close to home. Only 18 cents of every dollar, when buying at a large supermarket, go to the grower. 82 cents go to various unnecessary middlemen. Cut them out of the picture and buy your food directly from your local farmer.

 

Over 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide every year – and less than 1% are recycled. The other 99% contribute to the death of over 100,000 marine mammals every year.  Plastic bags also require petroleum and natural gas to produce – resources that are limited and non-renewable.

 

OK THEN, PAPER?! No Way! 

Paper bags actually require four times as much energy to produce. They also generate 70% more air pollution in the production process than plastic bags. They cost more to transport to stores across the country because they are more dense. To provide American consumers with enough paper bags to fill their needs for one year, it necessitated the harvesting of 14 MILLION trees. Just for paper bags!

 

MORAL of the story?- USE REUSABLE SHOPPING BAGS

Many people store their old gadgets (the average home has five unused devices) or throw them in the trash. But iPods, cellphones, and old computers contain hazardous materials that can leach into the ground and water from landfills. The right way to ditch old electronics is to recycle them. And several companies are willing to pay you for it.

On websites like Cell for Cash and Gazelle.com, you can look up the make and model of your gadget, answer a few questions about its condition to determine how the company can recycle it, ship your stuff to the company for free, and you’ll get a check in the mail. Depending on the age of your gadget, you can net anywhere from $5 to $300. Cell for Cash refurbishes the phones and sells them in developing countries, while Gazelle resells or recycles the item, stripping out your personal information first.

“Our No. 1 competitor is inertia,” says Rousseau Aurelien, Gazelle’s founder. “People don’t do anything about the products that are sitting around their house.”

There’s also cash to be made from your household trash. RecycleBank will give you coupons and gift certificates just for recycling your bottles, cans, and paper at home. Each household in a RecycleBank area receives a recycling bin with a computer chip in it. The heavier the bin, the more points a customer can redeem online at grocery stores and pharmacies. Recycle for cash programs drastically improve recycling rates—up to a 1,000 percent increase in lower-income neighborhoods, says Ron Gonen, CEO of RecycleBank.

Or, if you’d like to benefit VA schools, you can make a tax-deductible donation to “Computer Recycling of VA” located on Carlton Street near the Food Lion.  They accept not just computers, but all electronics, broken or operational. 

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