Category Archives: What you can do

What you can do to be a climate hawk*


Read a novel that brings the reality of climate change home in beautiful prose with believable characters–Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior–and recommend it to friends.


Sign the open letter to President Obama urging him to to fight climate change by executive action, first rejecting the Keystone pipeline and doing what he can by executive action to neutralize the power of the fossil-fuel companies. As the letter says, he is the key leader right now, and his legacy depends on what he does in his second term. It was drafted by Credo and

*A climate hawk knows that climate change is real and supports action to combat it. See the Urban Dictionary definition here.

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.

3 Groups Plan Presidents Day Action to Stop the Keystone Pipeline

The Sierra Club,, and the Hip-Hop Caucus have joined together to call for a huge action on Presidents Day weekend. The plan is to form a massive human pipeline in the streets. The goal: to stop President Obama from approving the Keystone pipeline that would bring dirty, hard to extract, unneeded oil from the tar sands of Alberta Canada, through the U.S. heartland, to Gulf refineries and ultimate export. That’s right–not only would it create only temporary jobs for US workers, as the builder admits, it won’t help the U.S. move toward energy independence. (For my May 2012 post explaining why the oil should be left in the ground, click here.)  As someone suggested, if Canada is so determined to extract the oil, why don’t they build the pipeline west toward their own refineries? The reason is that Canadians have stopped it; they don’t want the pollution and spills that will inevitably occur. So why should we allow it to pass through our country with no benefit to us?

Here’s the email from these three groups (I belong to the first two, and I’m going to join the Hip-Hop Caucus if they’ll have me). It includes a link where you can sign up to participate

The last time we stood up against Keystone XL, thousands of us surrounded the White House – and it worked. Right when every political and energy “expert” said the tar sands pipeline was a done deal, we beat the odds and convinced President Obama to take a year to study it.

Now that year is over, and Mother Nature has filed her public comments: the hottest year in American history, a horrible ongoing drought, and superstorm Sandy. And still Big Oil is pushing as hard as ever for their pet project, looking for even more private profit at public expense.

There is also good news: Together, we’ve proven time and time again that grassroots voices can speak louder than Big Oil’s dollars. So this Presidents Day, the Sierra Club,, and other environmental groups are working with our partners across the progressive community to organize the biggest climate demonstration yet.

Our goal for Presidents Day is to form a massive human pipeline through Washington, and then transform it into a giant symbol of the renewable energy future we need – and are ready to build, starting right away.

You can make this a Presidents Day that the president can’t ignore and won’t forget – sign up to join the rally, bring your friends, and stop the climate-killing Keystone XL pipeline.

We’ll have more details soon about the rally and how you can make your voice heard, but for now, start making travel plans and circle Presidents Day weekend on your calendar. Together, we can show the president that the year’s delay didn’t lull us to sleep. Instead, we’re more fired up than ever, and determined to help him do the right thing.

See you in February,

Allison Chin, Sierra Club President
Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director
Bill McKibben, co-founder
May Boeve, Executive Director
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Hip-Hop Caucus President
Liz Havstad, Director of Civic Engagement and Strategic Growth for the Hip- Hop Caucus

“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.

Solutions to climate change must come from us

A June 22 New York Times op-ed by the leaders of two environmental organizations signals a recent shift in attitude: we can plainly not count on global leaders to make binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions. As their title reads, “We Have Met the Solution and It  Is Us.” Frances Beinecke, head of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Trip Van Noppen is president of Earthjustice. (I love their slogan: “Because the Earth needs a good lawyer.”) In brief, they argue that action must come from the grass roots, and the good news is, it already has started. They point to announcements and proclamations related to the summit, which 50,000 people attended and blogged, tweeted, and reported about to thousands more, about what countries are doing now without a UN document: “World development banks agreed to invest in a cleaner transportation network. . . . Developing countries agreed to phase out incandescent light bulbs. Australia, Mexico and other coastal countries committed to protecting their irreplaceable seas.”

The writers insist that despite a meaningful agreement and watered-down proclamations issuing from Rio, the Earth Summit was not a failure but rather “a catalyst. It is the starting point for change, not the finish line.” They call for actions on the collective level, of course–to “force our government leaders and our corporations to do what is right for our planet and its resources,” to implement commitments they have made at Rio and elsewhere, and then to” hold them accountable when they don’t”–but also for each one of us to engage.

As they say, “Individually, we must be efficient with the energy and the natural resources we consume and be ever cognizant of what the decisions we make today will mean for our children’s planet tomorrow.” I will follow with a series of posts outlining the many steps each of us can take to make a difference, to be part of the global grass-roots movement for change that will solve this problem. I’ll feature books and websites, and more reports of changes that are making a difference, such as my earlier post on the growth of wind and solar as alternative energy sources.

It’s a settled issue–refuse bottled water

If you want to make a commitment to the environment nothing seems easier than deciding to abstain from bottled water. If everyone did it–just said no to drinking out of the 15- or 20-ounce bottles, even when they are offered for free with your meal or at an event–it would have an impact in a myriad of ways: for starters, it would cut down on plastic pollution and make a small dent in global climate change by reducing the amount of petroleum used in making the bottles and in shipping and recycling them. I haven’t drunk from such a bottle in years, and it seems like more people would like to save money by carrying a reusable bottle and refilling it when they are thirsty. Look at these figures from Honolulu Weekly editor Mindy Pennybacker’s book Do One Green Thing (which has a foreword by Meryl Streep):

“If just one out of 20 Americans stopped buying water in disposable bottles, we’d save 30 million pounds of plastic waste. We’d save the fossil fuels used in the plastic, which equals seventeen million barrels of oil. Adding in the energy used for pumping, processing, transporting and refrigerating bottled water, Americans would save 54 million barrels of oil, the same as running three million cars.”
According to Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, bottled water, on average, costs from one to 2,000 times more than municipal water. Even if the BWS [Board of Water Supply] raises Honolulu rates 70 percent, tap water would be better for our budgets and the planet.

With figures like these, and my awareness of studies comparing the safety of tap and bottled water by the National Resources Defense Council, I thought the need to forgo bottled water was settled, just as throwaway-bag bans or fees seem so logical. But then I ran across a column in the HPU student newspaper, Kalamalama, that presents the views of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) which, not surprisingly, opposes attempts to outlaw bottled water in vending machines on campuses, claiming that students must have freedom of choice. The IBWA has even produced a YouTube video, “Student Activism 101,” that critiques the student groups working on this issue.

I should have expected that the industry would fight back against the many groups, many led by youth and college students, who are striving to make a difference by pointing out the harms caused by a completely unnecessary product that is nevertheless bought and consumed by the billions. Common sense doesn’t stand a chance apparently, just as in the case of plastic-bag bans and fees, which are fought intensely by plastic-bag manufacturers and industry groups like the American Chemistry Council (these groups spent $1.4 million in Seattle to get residents to repeal a 20-cent bag fee, upon which the City Council turned around and passed a bill that outright bans plastic bags, and not just in grocery stores but in most categories of stores, food trucks, and farmers’ markets). I know it’s tempting to believe the industry arguments, because it’s sometimes easier to just buy the water and rationalize it in the name of convenience of hydration, but the companies are less regulated than the municipal water agencies and interested in profits, not your health. Read a few of the critiques of the corporations that spend so much on advertising to make us prefer bottled water to tap water, or watch a documentary like Tapped or FLOW: For Love of Water; they should persuade you, and might even convince you to encourage others to take that simple green step. Ask your elders what they did before plastic bags and bottled water became ubiquitous. As I remember, we managed just fine.

Tsunami debris tracked with buoys

Check out the blog about all things science in Hawai’i, by veteran environmental reporter and columnist Jan TenBruggencate. It’s called Raising Islands. A January post details a combination high-tech (satellite-tracking buoys) and low-tech (wooden blocks with identifying information) method of finding out where the debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami is drifting. The idea to deploy buoys and blocks was developed by a team of researchers from the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawai’i. The post suggests that the debris had not hit the Northwest Hawaiian Islands as early as predicted because of a stationary front to the southwest of Midway that was keeping the debris well north of the atoll. The post tells you how to report   any of the wooden blocks you find on the shore or from a boat.

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.