Category Archives: How to help

Watch this animated video–you’ll never buy another bottle of water!


There are several really good documentaries about the growing scarcity of water worldwide and the boondoggle that is the bottled water industry–Flow: For Love of Water and Tapped come to mind, and you can watch them online–but The Story of Bottled Water lasts only 8 minutes, so you can share it easily. Start it on your iPad or computer at work and friends and coworkers will stop by to watch. Show it to your children or students. Post it to Facebook or Tweet to reach thousands more. It’s from Annie Leonard, of The Story of Stuff Project. In clever animation of stick figures, it explains how “manufactured demand” pushes a product we don’t need and adds mountains of plastic pollution to our environment.


(You can’t even feel good about recycling the bottles, as they are merely downcycled into lower-quality plastic that ends up in developing countries’ dumps.)

It has villains too–look at this quote by an industry executive:


And it has potential heroes: all of those who decide not only never to buy or consumer bottled water but urge others to stop the waste, too. Did you know that buying a $2 bottle of water is the equivalent of paying $10,000 for a sandwich? That’s because of the cost of extracting the petroleum that goes into making the plastic and bottles as well as transporting it and shipping them.

By all means organize screenings of the other documentaries–it is really important to stop the incredible waste of resources bottled water represents and to advocate, as Leonard says in the video, for access to clean, safe tap water for the 1 billion people who do not have it. They are apparently working–despite the millions the industry spends on making us think tap water tastes bad and that bottled water (frequently tap water itself) is safer, sales are slowing. This video probably helped. It’s had over 2.5 million views on YouTube. Watch it there if you want to be counted.


“Weighing the Prospects of the Keystone XL Pipeline” on NPR

You may have heard this story on Morning Edition Monday; if so, you heard the expert say Obama will probably approve the pipeline, but many activists are trying to make sure he doesn’t. The story is very conservative, giving the viewpoint primarily of the oil companies who want to extract the tar sands oil and ship it to Texas refineries; so much for NPR’s liberal bias. It doesn’t give the many good reasons this hard-to-extract oil must stay in the ground, nor note that the oil is destined for Asia, not for the U.S. And it won’t lower gas prices at the pump, either. For all these reasons to be opposed to the pipeline, go to the story at NPR’s website and read the comments at the bottom. There are dozens, nearly all opposed to building the pipeline, and giving the reasons. Neal Jones, an early poster, summed it up this way: “It doesn’t bring jobs, it doesn’t bring oil security, it will increase gas price, and is more polluting than the traditional ‘sweet’ crude from Nigeria, the North Sea and Permian Basin.”

You can also go to two of my posts from last summer on why the tar sands oil must stay in the ground. If you’re convinced, and I hope you are, please go to the site and take the pledge to stop the pipeline.

Extreme weather events are waking Americans up to reality of climate change

Just as I suspected, the Frontline documentary “Climate of Doubt” was a little out of date. In its zeal to drive home its main claim–that a massive propaganda campaign by climate change denialists convinced the public that global warming was nothing to worry about–the program neglected the findings of a recent poll. According to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication  it seems that the severe weather events of spring and summer  2012  woke people up: for the first time a majority of Americans believe that our actions are causing the planet to warm. The report says, “more than half of Americans (54%) believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities, an increase of 8 points since March 2012.” Furthermore,

Americans’ belief in the reality of global warming has increased by 13 percentage points over the past two and a half years, from 57 percent in January 2010 to 70 percent in September 2012. At the same time, the number of Americans who say global warming is not happening has declined nearly by half, from 20 percent in January 2010 to only 12 percent today.

So the skeptics and deniers are a shrinking minority. See the “Climate of Doubt” website for related articles that provide context and evidence supporting the documentary’s claims. The hundreds of comments on the program come from the usual mix of deniers and scientific realists; it is dispiriting to see how many of the former persist in sharing their willful ignorance in absolutist terms. But one commenter helpfully shares the name of a new group you can join to take action: Citizens Climate Lobby. Another group everyone should support is

Global Climate-Action Day

May 5, 2012, was the day to “Connect the Dots.” As explained on Saturday, “Today the world is stepping up to connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather – because climate change is too real and happening too fast to let our leaders continue to ignore it.” That was the motive. The method was to take a photo that illustrated the effect of climate change in your locale and to feature prominently a dot, so that others viewing the 1,000-plus photos on the Climate Dots website would see what havoc weather extremes–record droughts and floods, increased intensity and frequency of tornadoes and hurricanes, and rising sea levels here in the Pacific and in island nations–have already wrought.

Bill McKibben, of, which organized this, the third annual international day of action on climate change, once again draws out the significance of the mass protests in a blog post that appeared first on Tom Dispatch and was re-posted on Yes!  Originally titled “Too Hot Not to Notice? A Planet Connected by Wild Weather” and in Yes! headlined “A Worldwide Effort to Make Climate Change Visible,” the essay makes not just the connection between climate change and its effects but an analogy between this causal connection and tobacco and lung cancer. There is the same denial (termed “skepticism” by the industry that stands to lose in each case–oil and coal now, the tobacco companies then) and a similar lack of in-depth coverage by the news media–until in the case of tobacco evidence was so overwhelming that the media got on board. McKibben makes it clear that despite the recent polls showing that a majority of Americans accept the reality that a warming planet is unleashing unprecedented disasters and want leaders to do something about it, a very real obstacle is the disinformation campaign emanating from the fossil-fuel corporations and the stonewalling of initiatives (such as a cap-and-trade bill) by the legislators they have bought with campaign contributions.

Therefore May 5 was not a culmination but a beginning. As McKibben writes, “It’s time for each of us to get involved in the full-on fight between misinformation and truth.”  Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch predicts that doing something about climate change may be a campaign issue, because people are starting to demand controls on carbon emissions (63%, according to a recent poll) and fully three-fourths of Americans support “regulating carbon dioxide as a ‘pollutant.'” When the president brings it up, you know he has read the polls. He quotes the president as saying, “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.”  Engelhardt suggests that taking a strong position might help Obama get re-elected “if this summer and fall prove just as weather-freaky as our North American winter and spring have been, leaving Republican climate-change deniers and prevaricators in the dust.”

It won’t happen if we don’t keep the issue front and center. Join the movement at; there are several other projects in the works, including 350 Earth ART, which uses art to spark a global climate movement, and a campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies. A good description of “our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by people in 188 countries.”

Tsunami Debris Warnings Highlights What’s Already Here, and Growing

If you live in Hawai’i or on the West Coast you’ve probably seen those  aerial photos of a giant field of debris washed into the ocean by the Japan tsunami of March 2011. You may have read about an anticipated “barrage” of debris and of trash likely to be “dumped” on our shores beginning in 2012 and continuing, according to vagaries of wind and currents, to 2016, when the by-then widely dispersed debris circles back from the West Coast to the main Hawaiian islands. Given the long timeline and the lack of experience managing  such a massive and unprecedented “spill,” the damage may turn out like the two most recent tsunami warnings — much less dramatic than expected. NOAA is preparing for either case, worse than expected or better, with the debris breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces that disperse, sparing coastal areas. The intense planning currently under way will not be wasted, however, even if the debris that started out in Japan does not hit all at once. It will eventually end up in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre with its so-called garbage patch and thus is sure to contribute to the oceans of trash that already litter our seacoasts. The source of this trash? That would be all of us. According to the Ocean Conservancy, the tsunami “is just a small part of the overall ocean trash problem”; our throwaway society creates a tsunami’s worth every year, much of it in plastic form.
NOAA Official on the Tsunami Debris
Hawai’i’s marine debris community was briefed this week about efforts to track and deal with the potentially big problem by Carey Morishige, Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program. From her report, and the Marine Debris Website FAQs,  there is not much new since my last post on the topic; no one knows when and where items known to be from the tsunami will wash up ashore as there’s no tracking data, only computer models (the debris has not been visible to satellites since April 2011). We also don’t know how much of it is still on the surface, and how much has sunk or degraded.
Because there has never been a situation like this–an unknown but presumably huge quantity of broken-up buildings, boats, cars, and appliances washed out to sea and caught up by unpredictable currents and wind–NOAA and other government agencies have had to draw on the techniques developed for dealing with the debris that washes up on coastlines in normal times; with this experience they have created the Japan Tsunami Marine Debris Assessment and Response Framework. The team–representatives from 40 agencies and organizations–met at a workshop in January to plan for identifying, measuring, and cleaning up the debris from the tsunami and perhaps even to prevent some of it from reaching some endangered places such as the slow-growing coral reefs of Kure in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
There’s an App for That
Part of the plan is to step up the measuring and identifying of debris that currently reaches our shores, and Morishige called on nonprofits that regularly conduct beach clean-ups and then separate and weigh components of the trash to contribute their data. TheNOAA unit wants to have a baseline record before anything comes in from the tsunami. Individuals can also contribute using a mobile phone app, the Marine Debris Tracker. You can track and log items you see when you’re at the beach or in a boat on the water; GPS records the debris location.
Be Part of the Solution, not Part of the Problem

The reason there is a network of agencies and organizations working to meet the challenge–and why NOAA has had a Marine Debris Program since 2006–is that Hawai’i, the East, West, and Gulf coasts of the US, and the Great Lakes all have a debris problem. Cutting down on single-use plastic–utensils, checkout bags, bottled water, straws–could make a real dent in this problem if everyone reused or, better, refused these items. As the Ocean Conservancy website says, ocean pollution is a massive problem, but it is “entirely preventable.” Keep watching the tabs at the top for what you can do to reduce the amount of trash entering the ocean.

In 2012 vote every day–with your wallet

If you feel like your power as a citizen is insignificant because you  choose your representatives every two years and the president every four, remember that going to the polls is just one way to vote. As the folks at the Better World Shopper remind us, “Every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in.”

One way to vote every day or at least every week:  become a socially and environmentally responsible consumer. To find out which companies are ranked higher because they are aim for sustainability, protect animals, support family farms and local businesses, and/or follow the best human rights and social justice practices, order The Better World Shopping Guide, by Ellis Jones. It’s just $10 and small enough to carry around until you have memorized the best and worst companies in the categories you buy most often–from pet food and chocolate to cosmetics and coffee. Or use the website, starting with the Best 20 Companies. Chances are you already buy products from some of these, like Tom’s of Maine, Method, Organic Valley, Clif Bar, Patagonia, Kettle Foods, Ben & Jerry’s. This will make you feel good, which will sustain you as you realize how hard it is to avoid supporting the worst companies: Proctor & Gamble, Nestle, Kraft, Archer Daniels Midland, GM, GE, and Tyson Foods, all among the worst.

The rankings of best and worst, from A to F (yes, it’s a kind of report card on businesses), are based on  a myriad of reliable sources of information on corporate behavior, such as a company’s environmental record, contribution to climate change, donations made, fair trade sources, and ethical business practices. If you spend $18,000 a year on consumer goods and services (the American average), think of it as 18,000 votes for a better world.

Take Individual Action

While there are actions everyone can take to reduce their carbon footprint, it’s not easy to see the results in terms of slowing global temperature rise. But some of the same things you do pay off immediately and visibly in cleaner beaches and near-shore waters. You can refuse, reuse, recycle all plastic. Pick up plastic bags and other litter to keep it from ending up in the ocean. Support laws banning plastic bags or taxing them. Make lists like the following and post them in your office, home, public bulletin boards.

Ten things you can do, as posted on the Algalita blog by Karen Ristuben:
1. Stay informed about our plastic world and environmental toxins.
2. Reduce your use of one-time, single-use plastics.
3. Conduct your own personal trash audit.
4. Creatively reuse and repurpose your plastic products.
5. Refuse to use plastic shopping bags and don’t buy bottled water.
6. Support legislation that increases producer responsibility.
7. Support and try to improve local recycling efforts.
8. Pick a place and pick up the trash there every day.
9. Educate children about responsible use of plastic so they can teach their parents.