"The Threat of Population Growth Pales Beside the Greed of the Rich"

George Monbiot writes:
In 2005, the UN estimated that the world's population will more or less stabilize in 2200 at 10 billion. But a paper published in Nature last week suggests that there is an 88 percent chance that global population growth will end during this century.

In other words, if we accept the UN's projection, the global population will grow by roughly 50 percent and then stop. This means it will become 50 percent harder to stop runaway climate change, 50 percent harder to feed the world, 50 percent harder to prevent the overuse of resources.

Even here, however, population growth is not the most immediate issue: another sector is expanding much faster. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization expects that global meat production will double by 2050 - growing, in other words, at two and a half times the rate of human numbers. The supply of meat has already trebled since 1980: farm animals now take up 70 percent of all agricultural land and eat one third of the world's grain. In the rich nations we consume three times as much meat and four times as much milk per capita as the people of the poor world. While human population growth is one of the factors that could contribute to a global food deficit, it is not the most urgent.

"Can Burt’s Bees Turn Clorox Green?"

From the New York Times:
In the summer of 1984, Burt Shavitz, a beekeeper in Maine, picked up Roxanne Quimby, a 33-year-old single mother down on her luck, as she hitchhiked to the post office in Dexter, Me. More than a dozen years Ms. Quimby’s senior, the guy locals called “the bee-man” sold honey in pickle jars from the back of his pickup truck. To Ms. Quimby, he seemed to be living an idyllic life in the wilderness (including making his home inside a small turkey coop).

She offered to help Mr. Shavitz tend to his beehives. The two became lovers and eventually birthed Burt’s Bees, a niche company famous for beeswax lip balm, lotions, soaps and shampoos, as well as for its homespun packaging and feel-good, eco-friendly marketing. The bearded man whose image is used to peddle the products is modeled after Mr. Shavitz.

Today, the couple’s quirky enterprise is owned by the Clorox Company, a consumer products giant best known for making bleach, which bought it for $913 million in November. Clorox plans to turn Burt’s Bees into a mainstream American brand sold in big-box stores like Wal-Mart. Along the way, Clorox executives say, they plan to learn from unusual business practices at Burt’s Bees — many centered on environmental sustainability. Clorox, the company promises, is going green.
In related news, Clorox recently launched a line of cleaners called Green Works, which are hypoallergenic and biodegradable, made with 99 percent plant-based ingredients such as coconut and lemon oil. The line has been endorsed by the Sierra Club.

You'll find a more detailed discussion of Clorox going green at The Not Quite Crunchy Parent.

China To Ban Free Plastic Bags

Good news today from China, which has announced it will ban free plastic shopping bags on June 1, just in time for the Summer Olympics in Beijing. China's move is meant to cut "white pollution," reduce waste and conserve resources.
Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said China's solid waste is at "a crisis level."

"Their landfills are reaching capacity and will be full in 13 years," she said, adding that a ban like this could be a significant way to educate the public about China's environmental issues.

In the United States, which has less than one-quarter of China's 1.3 billion people, the Sierra Club's Sierra magazine estimates that almost 100 billion plastic bags are thrown out each year.

Depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds.
Depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds.

In New York on Wednesday, the City Council was set to vote on a measure that would require large stores to recycle plastic bags.

China's move won praise from environmental organizations including Greenpeace, which issued a statement welcoming the ban.

"The State Council's announcement to ban free plastic bags is a perfect case to combine two of the major forces in environment protection: public participation and government policy guidance," Greenpeace said.

Christopher Flavin, president of Worldwatch Institute, an independent research organization in Washington, said: "China is ahead of the U.S. with this policy.

Internationally, legislation to discourage plastic bag use has been passed in parts of South Africa, Ireland and Taiwan, where authorities either tax shoppers who use them or impose fees on companies that distribute them. Bangladesh already bans them, as do at least 30 remote Alaskan villages.

Last year, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban the use of petroleum-based plastic bags in large grocery stores. In France, supermarket chains have begun shying away from giving away plastic bags and German stores must pay a recycling fee if they wish to offer them. Ireland's surcharge on bags imposed in 2003 has been credited with sharply reducing demand.
If the United States and other countries with Pacific coastlines were to adopt similar bans, perhaps we might be able to curb the growth of those Pacific Trash Vortices, one of which is now the size of Texas.

Greening or Greenwashing at Wal-Mart?

I've been a member of the Sierra Club for more than 10 years now and I have friends who work for Wal-Mart here in the Bay Area, so it was with more than just a passing interest that I read the story in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle Magazine: "Werbach at Wal-Mart? Ex-Sierra Club head Adam Werbach is busy "greening" Wal-Mart. Some former friends and colleagues say it's rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, but is it possible he's onto something?"

I think its great that Wal-Mart is trying to reduce its carbon footprint, I'm pretty sure that their main motivation is to cut costs, ie increase profits. In fact, that's how Andy Ruben, Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Sustainability at Wal-Mart, summed up Wal-Mart's environmental policy in an interview back in October 2005:
We found that environment, looking at these things, it's good for business. Looking at things in a new way can help us in terms of reducing energy where we pay for the pollution that goes on in some way, and our customers do. Reducing waste, then we pay twice for.

So, let me give you an example. One brand of toys we sell, a private brand, Kid Connection. Just by reducing the packaging size, we're able to save $2.4 million in that one product line annually in transportation. It equates to about 3,100 trees that are never harvested and about a thousand barrels oil. Some people are going to be motivated purely by the benefits, some people will be motivated by the cost savings. And I think that's okay. I think what's important is that, you know, we take advantage of the opportunities of the company we have.
While I'm sure Werbach believes that he's doing good by helping the world's largest corporation cut its energy use and materials consumption, I can't believe he doesn't see why they chose him. Werbach is a former President of the Sierra Club and had been a vocal critic of Wal-Mart. Who better to co-opt and get on the Wal-Mart payroll?

Ruben claims he wasn't familiar with Werbach's criticism before he hired Werbach -- which I find patently ridiculous.
I asked Ruben if he'd been aware of all the derogatory things Werbach had said and written about Wal-Mart. "No, I really wasn't, I knew very little about that background," he said. "But, truthfully, it didn't matter. All I care about is getting the right people who can help us now. I had read his 'Environmentalism is Dead' speech on a plane from Bentonville to Chicago, and then Paul Hawken's book, 'The Ecology of Commerce,' from Chicago to London, and I thought, I've got so much education, and I have no idea of these things, what am I not seeing? And at about the same time Wal-Mart was having a similar wake-up. We realized that the most important business strategy we could be engaged in right now is going for full-time sustainability."
First off, it sounds like Mr Ruben is doing a lot of flying. Maybe he could help advance the cause of sustainability by using web and phone conferencing a bit more? And if he has "so much education," why should I believe he didn't thoroughly vet Werbach before hiring him?

Sorry, Mr Ruben, I think you're lying. And Adam, I'm sorry to see you become a shill. I think your successor at Sierra Clubs hits the target with his remarks about you and Wal-Mart:
"Adam says that Wal-Mart is dedicated to making themselves sustainable, but he means they are in his little realm," says Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club. "The real issue is the supply chain and the business model. How does a powerful business organization like that end up with shelves full of leaded toys from China? They announced a while ago that they were greening their supply chain, but the jury is in, they haven't done it."

So, does this make Werbach a hypocrite? "No," said Pope. "He's just putting his energies into an insignificant part of the problem. What good is it to change the consciousness of the associates if they're selling poisonous toys? Look, I give them points for their energy-saving efforts; it's good business sense to have efficiency, and it's admirable to reduce waste. But the supply chain is the most important issue, the low-price business model. I consider Adam a friend, but what he's doing is frivolous; it's rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic."
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