Sunday, June 24, 2007

Plastic waste

The effort by San Francisco to remove plastic water bottles (and also plastic bags) from the waste stream is just a first baby step. As I witnessed in Central and South America (and in Spain and Portugal), this is how much of the world handles their waste problem. Most of this garbage is plastic. In my travels, I was often nauseated by the smoldering piles of plastic along roadsides.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jeff Goodell: Big Coal's Dirty Secrets

This story on NPR's "Fresh Air" this evening shed some light on my May 17th observation (see below.) Terry Gross interviewed Jeff Goodell, the author of Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future.

According to Goodell, half of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal. We burn about 1 billion tons annually (roughly 20 pounds per person, per day, for every man, woman and child in America.)

For railways such as Burlington Northern, hauling coal represents their largest revenue stream. He states that Wyoming has become the Mother Lode of coal, as the deposits are relatively near the surface and easier to extract than eastern coal.

Unfortunately, the energy content of Wyoming coal is lower, and so it is necessary to mine, transport and burn more Wyoming coal to achieve the same output produced by Appalachian coal. According to Goodell, this means increased CO2 emissions. (Link to story here.)

Across Nebraska (and, later, into Wyoming) these tracks were busier than any I've ever seen. Probably around 90% of the eastbound traffic was coal from Wyoming's enormous coal mines near Gilette. Each train was about 120 rail cars in length, and I passed dozens today.

I couldn't help but wonder at Dick Cheney's Wyoming connection and the Administration's recent promotion of "Clean Coal" as a key component of "America's Energy Independence"

Permanent Phase-Out of Bottled Water Purchases

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has signed an executive order for the permanent phase-out of bottled water purchases by the City and County Governments of San Francisco.

Bravo, Mayor Newsom!

The text of the order follows.

San Francisco is proud of its historic role as an urban leader in environmental protection. For decades, our local government has provided environmental stewardship of the surrounding region’s water delivery system. This water delivery system consistently provides among the purest, safest drinking water in the nation from spring snowmelt stored in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and flowing down the Tuolumne River.

Over the last decade, San Franciscans have responded to marketing campaigns to purchase bottled water and record amounts of bottled water have been purchased by San Francisco consumers and local government at the expense of the environment. Such marketing has suggested that bottled water is safer than better-regulated, pristine tap water delivered by San Francisco government to its residents. As the city advances its Local Climate Action Plan to combat global warming, it is paramount that we initiate policies that limit the most significant contributors to climate change.

The rise of the bottled water industry is well documented and visible throughout San Francisco and the entire world. The global consumption of bottled water was measured at 41 billion gallons in 2004, up 57 percent from the previous five years. This consumption increase occurred despite the fact that bottled water often costs 240 to 10,000 times more than tap water. In San Francisco, for the price of one gallon of bottled water, local residents can purchase 1000 gallons of tap water.

Data suggests that the environmental impact of the bottled water industry has been profound. According to the Container Recycling Institute, supplying the plastic water bottles that American consumers purchase in one year requires more than 47 million gallons of oil, the equivalent of one billion pounds of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. More than one billion plastic water bottles end up in California’s landfills each year, taking 1000 years to biodegrade and leaking toxic additives such as phthalates into the groundwater. Additionally, water diverted from local aquifers for the bottled water industry can strain surrounding ecosystems.

Furthermore, transporting bottled water by boat, truck and train involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. All of this waste and pollution is generated by a product that by objective standards is often inferior to the quality of San Francisco’s pristine tap water.

By virtue of the power and authority vested in me by Section 3.100 of the San Francisco Charter to provide administration and oversight of all departments and governmental units in the Executive Branch of the City and County of San Francisco, I hereby issue this Executive Directive to become effective immediately:

• Beginning July 1, 2007, there will be a prohibition from any city department or agency purchasing single serving bottles of water using city funds, unless an employee contract specifies usage. This prohibition will apply to city contractors and city funded and/or sponsored events. There will be no waivers from this prohibition.

• By September 30, 2007, all city departments and agencies occupying either city or rental properties will have completed an audit to determine the viability of switching from bottled water dispensers to bottle-less water dispensers that utilize Hetch Hetchy supplied water. City departments will work with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), Department of Real Estate (DRE) and the City Purchaser to conduct the audit. Staff from the SFPUC will contact you shortly to begin the audit for your department.

• By December 1, 2007 all city departments and agencies occupying either city or rental properties will have installed bottle-less water dispensers that utilize Hetch Hetchy supplied water. Waivers will only be granted by the SFPUC based on legitimate engineering, health and fiscal concerns.

For questions concerning this Executive Directive and its implementation, please contact Laura Spanjian, Deputy General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities (415-554-1540,


Gavin Newsom

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Nothing going on?

A few visitors to this site have noticed the dearth of recent posts. I've spent a bit of time filling in some gaps in the narrative from travels over the past year.

On March 4th, I was introduced to another blog, the subject of which is "The Fellowship of Friends", a group (some say "cult") I was associated with for thirteen years (from 1974 until 1987.)

This subsequently led to a Memorial Day Weekend reunion of current and ex-members, numerous on- and off-line conversations, and creation of a community forum called Greater Fellowship. Quite unexpectedly, this reconnection with so many friends has occupied a fair amount of time in recent months.

I've considered whether to comment about it on this blog. We'll see.

It's all part of the journey, isn't it?

[For more on the Fellowship of Friends and its teacher, see: "Robert Earl Burton: An Unauthorized Blogography".]

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bill Moyers' Journal: "Buying the War"

In case you missed this April 25, 2007 broadcast on PBS, click on the banner to watch five segments on the conspiracy that led us into the Iraq War.

This must remain fresh in everyone's consciousness.