The issue featured the story: “Paper or plastic? Going to the store with your own bag is the best alternative.” Recently, there’s been a huge surge in reusable tote sales, with major grocers and retailers offering bring-your-own-bag cash incentives.
Finally, a roundtable of environmental movers and shakers were asked what they saw as priorities for a modern environmental movement. Center for Science in the Public Interest Executive Director Michael Jacobson said, “Individual changes in food choices can make an enormous contribution to environmental quality while improving personal health.” Today, the call to purchase fresh, locally grown food in season has never been louder.
BIOTECHNOLOGY AND NANOTECHNOLOGY
What would happen if humans were to radically alter their genetic makeup? In a January/February 2001 cover story, E looked at the future possibility for genetically enhanced humans, who might someday have an additional two chromosomes to accommodate their extraordinary paid-for traits, dividing humans into two distinct species. The prediction then, “that by around 2010 parents will be able to genetically ensure their babies won’t grow up to be fat or alcoholic,” didn’t pan out, but changes to everyday products on a smaller-than-microscopic scale—via nanotechnology—have much more immediate environmental implications
E‘s July/August 2009 cover asked “What’s Hiding in Your Sunscreen?” Sunscreens, along with energy drinks, supplements and athletic clothing, are some of the 800-plus consumer products containing nanomaterials—which may be 100,000 times thinner than a human hair. While these nanoparticles are being touted for their moisture-resisting, odor-fighting properties, researchers still don”t know how these particles will affect the environment, and regulation has been slow to come. “Of $1.5 billion in federal nano spending each year,” the article states, “only between 1% and 2.5% goes toward studying environmental, health and safety risks.” Welcome to the brave new world.
When did you first start talking about climate change? E got that ball rolling, on its cover, in January/February 1996. Even then, political lines were being drawn in terms of dissenters (conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh was one; he’s still challenging global warming today) and supporters. But the large majority of researchers and experts have come to see the gradual warming of the planet thanks to manmade greenhouse gas emissions as a real and impending threat. In September/October 2000, E‘s cover (done in two printings, one red, one blue) read “Welcome to the Greenhouse Century,” and all the environmental forecasts have been coming to pass ever since—the melting of the polar ice caps, the disappearance of coral reefs, the catastrophic storms and floods. Only the media, it seemed, was ignoring the issue.
E kept talking about the crisis, but as a way to highlight solutions, too. Our July/August 2006 cover “Warm Planet, Cool Ideas’ looked at cities launching green initiatives, vineyards using solar power, colleges using renewable energy, and all the smaller “points of light” happening in response to climate change. Efforts have snowballed, and federal investment is leaning heavily toward a new, green economy, but neither the global warming phenomenon—nor the naysayers—appear to be going anywhere.
Our desire to clutter our lives with all the latest brand-name items didn”t begin in recent years. E‘s January/February 1993 cover story discussed Americans’ 50-year shopping spree and the environmental consequences. Back then, we worried about toddlers being turned into consumers, shopping as a “primary cultural activity” and the monolithic presence of malls.
Malls, at least, are on the decline. And three years later, in our April 1996 issue, E’s cover had a different take on overconsumption: the trend to downsize. Featuring our first Simpson’s cover, the article revealed polls showing most Americans would be happier spending more time with family and friends, not with more stuff. It proposed the idea of “voluntary simplicity” as an antidote to work stress, credit card payments and escalating lifestyles.
Fast-forward to 2010. In part thanks to a global recession, downsizing—from smaller homes (which E featured in the May/June 2009 issue) to smaller cars and “back to basics’ living—things like home canning, keeping a garden and raising chickens—have all been celebrated as the latest trends. And one more thing has caught on: concern for the environment. Everyone’s beginning to realize that saving energy and reducing waste saves dollars, too.
MEAT AND THE ENVIRONMENT
We don”t want to brag, but E was clued in to the whole meat-being-bad-for-the-environment thing long before “eating low on the food chain” joined the common parlance. We talked about beef contaminated with E. coli bacteria in our May/June 1998 issue—the same year Oprah discussed mad cow disease on her show and won a lawsuit filed by angry Texas cattlemen. Not much has improved. In October 2009, a New York Times story detailed the life of a 22-year-old Minnesota woman who was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of eating an E. coli-contaminated frozen beef patty. Then, in November 2009, New York-based Fairbank Farms recalled 546,000 pounds of E. coli-tainted meat that left two dead and sent 16 to hospitals.
And meat’s public health problems are only the beginning. In January 2002, E pointed out that environmentalists have avoided the hard truth that factory farms take a huge environmental toll—from animal waste, to destroyed cropland and erosion, to fossil fuel expenditure. In our July/August 2008 cover story, “Meat of the Matter,” we made the case again—adding another global warming culprit to the mix: methane. According to a 2006 United Nations report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” livestock accounts for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions—more than the entire transportation industry. It’s enough to give any hamburger-eating environmentalist pause.
If a magazine talks about paper waste, does that make it a hypocrite? We don”t think so—in part because the paper our magazine is printed on is 30% post-consumer recycled and elemental chlorine free. And Lane Press in Burlington, Vermont, where E is printed, captures the emissions from its ink chemicals to fuel its heating/cooling systems and recycles all its scraps. With that caveat out of the way, let’s talk about junk mail.
It was the cover topic of E‘s December 1993 issue, back when mailboxes were cluttered with unrequested catalogs, political flyers, coupon books, product samples, Publisher’s Clearing House notices and the like. Back then, we reported that there were 62 billion pieces of bulk mail sent out each year. Now it’s 90 billion.
Since 2007, the Congressional Research Service found that 19 states have introduced Do Not Mail registration list initiatives so consumers can opt out of receiving all junk mail. One drawback: If all states had such measures, the report finds, the U.S. Postal Service could lose between $4 billion and $10 billion a year. Until that time, private opt-out lists, such as one offered by Tonic for $36 (at www.tonic.com) are the only solution. Now if only we could get rid of those spam e-mails…
Population is a dirty word in environmental circles. Everyone knows it’s the underlying issue plaguing real environmental advancement, but nobody wants to admit the uncomfortable—or should we say inconvenient?—truth. In other words, whatever percentage of emissions we hope to offset with wind or solar power will almost certainly be negated by more bodies on the planet driving more cars, turning on more lights and using more computers. E‘s been far from quiet on the issue. Our first population cover was in 1990, followed by six other covers over the magazine’s 20-year history.
Our 1999 cover highlighted “The Year of Six Billion,” when such a number seemed a phenomenal load for the planet to carry (it’s now at 6.8 billion, expected to reach 8 billion in 2025). We looked at the disparity between rich and poor nations, the success of family planning initiatives worldwide (when funded), but by 2004, we noted that sprawl, and all the related car congestion and emissions, was continuing unabated. Consumption was part of the problem, with Americans counting for just 5% of the world population but using a third of its resources and producing half its toxic waste. But the uncomfortable fact remains—there’s a problem of numbers, and it’s growing.
In August 1994, E‘s cover proclaimed: “Here Come the Electric Cars.” It was a hopeful feature, built around a California-proposed mandate that 2% of new cars on its roads be emissions-free by 1998. That number was to rise to 10% by 2003. Though E‘s feature detailed how electric vehicles (EVs) were ready for commuting even then, with Ford’s Ecostar and General Motors’ sports car-like Impact, those same Detroit companies lobbied hard to ensure that these cars never muscled into the marketplace. The car companies would have had to spend a lot of money developing EVs and related technology for a lot less return than the gas-guzzlers. So the mandate disappeared for a manufactured “lack of interest.”
By March/April 2007, E was covering electric cars again, as well as hybrids and biodiesels. With hybrid Toyota Prius’ and Honda Civic Hybrids joining regular commuting traffic, an EV future didn”t seem so farfetched. Suddenly, embattled Detroit companies were embracing clean car technology, with plug-in hybrids taking a high priority in their new designs. Still, Americans love everything bigger, even their hybrids. And a fleet of less-than-impressive hybrid SUVs is the inevitable outcome.
Whether focusing on chlorine poisoning the Great Lakes in a July/August 1993 cover story, global water pollution and scarcity in a September/October 1998 feature, or looking at America’s most endangered rivers in a May/June 2001 cover story, E has spilled a lot of ink on the state of the world’s fresh water supplies. Looking at the most endangered river of “01, the Missouri, we then bemoaned the fact that the once-mighty river had been altered by dams and buried under reservoirs. In August of 2009, Tyson Fresh Meats paid a more than $2 million penalty for dumping unsafe levels of fecal matter and nitrites into the river between 2003 and 2004. The company “discharges an average of five million gallons of treated effluent” into the Missouri River every day. And that’s just one company, and one river.
In the meantime, we”ve become connoisseurs of bottled water, a problem E first noted in a 2003 cover story and later in a “Bottled Water Backlash” feature in May/June 2008. Has the backlash worked? The Container Recycling Institute says Americans buy an estimated 34.6 billion plastic water bottles every year and nearly 8 out of 10 of them end up in a landfill (hundreds of millions are litter, much polluting the water). Our water problems, it seems, have only just begun.
TOXINS AND HEALTH
Children are the most vulnerable to toxic environmental assault—their bodies are still forming and exposure takes a much more intense toll. Colette Chuda, a cherub-cheeked five-year-old California girl, died of a rare cancer called Wilm’s tumor, and was featured on the cover of E‘s June 1995 issue. Her parents, Jim and Nancy, who went on to found the nonprofit Healthy Child Healthy World, believed environmental toxins were to blame.
E delved deep into the toxin-cancer connection, from widespread dioxins, heavy metals, pesticides, solvents and PCBs in our air, drinking water and common household products—and, as has been tested, our bodies. By September/October 2001, E looked at toxins’ health effects on children again—how babies crawl on chemical-laden carpets, put PVC plastic toys in their mouths and breathe polluted air. Meanwhile, asthma, childhood cancer and juvenile diabetes rates were climbing. Environmental and parent-advocate groups were beginning to demand stricter chemical regulation.
They still are. Today, as detailed in this issue, with autism rates rising at unprecedented rates, researchers are looking for environmental clues again, and parents continue to search for ways that they can get chemicals out of their lives, from kitchen cabinets, to yards, to toy boxes.
In the mid-“90s, a lot of environmentalists still felt more comfortable hitting the hiking trails than tapping out e-mails. E‘s May/June 1996 cover, “The Virtual Environment,” reveled in the novel idea of environmentalists—hippies!—going high tech. But the fit was a natural one. What better equalizer than the Internet; what better tool for uniting activists than websites, chat rooms and e-mail lists?
Now some of the best-known environmental outlets are web-only: Grist.org, Treehugger.com, MotherNatureNetwork.com, thedailygreen.com. There are green fashion sites (Eco-Chick.com), green celeb sites (ecorazzi.com), climate change news sites (theheatisonline.com) and up-to-date green news blogs (dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com). College activists are coordinating worldwide actions online (just check out 350.org), petitioning Congresspeople and responding to climate naysayers in a public forum. And in the age of trendy environmentalism, all those online eyes are serving an especially important purpose—spotting and outing “greenwashers.”
The Internet is changing the way we report environmental news, too. The service Spot.us offers community-funded reporting for deserving topics—such as one in The New York Times on the huge garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean.
OCEANS AND THE FISHING CRISIS
A fish in a net was the cover model for E‘s July/August 1996 feature on overfishing. With the headline “Vacuuming the Sea,” the article reported that 70% of the world’s marine fish stocks had been heavily exploited. In 1998, the “International Year of the Ocean,” E‘s January/February cover noted that the ocean’s health was in decline, and with it the health of countless marine life. Overfishing was part of it, but so was the nutrient pollution from agriculture and runoff responsible for ocean-choking, dead zone-producing algal blooms. In July/August 2005 E wondered if we could “head off a marine cataclysm.” The world’s oceans, experts agreed, were critically endangered.
So how are the oceans today? Activism, from influential groups like Oceana, and public awareness—giving rise to sustainable seafood charts—have never been better, but the ocean crisis continues. Fish are contaminated with mercury and mutating in response to pharmaceuticals in the water; the Pacific garbage patch—a gyre of marine litter full of plastics and other debris—is at least twice the size of Texas; ocean temperatures continue to rise, endangering coral reefs and aquatic life; and overfishing has resulted in the decline of tuna, cod and other popular fish species by 90%.
We may not, in hindsight, love the cluttered, collage-style image on our May/June issue from 1992, but the topic—environmental racism—is one that has become central to E‘s coverage. What we called to light then, and again in July of 1998, was the way poor and minority communities are disproportionately affected by exposure to environmental toxins—and suffer the health consequences of higher asthma and cancer rates as a result. E covered the small, largely African-American town of Convent, Louisiana, home to 10 toxic waste producers. There, the average resident was exposed to 4,517 pounds of toxic chemicals per year, compared with 10 pounds/year for the average American.
By 1998, environmental agencies and communities of color were beginning to fight back against this particular form of racism. Robert Bullard, one of the earliest environmental justice advocates, spearheaded the cause. Since President Obama has appointed the first woman of color—Lisa Jackson—to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), she has sworn to improve conditions specifically impacting minorities: from making regional EPA offices more accessible, to providing better pollution monitoring, to strengthening environmental regulations so that the global issues of toxic air and water are brought under control.
We knew in 1991 that President Bush the elder was not the “environmental president” as he claimed, but he did have several important Clean Air Act Amendments to his credit (including tightening emissions standards and the regulation of ozone-depleting chemicals). Not so much George W. Bush. In his eight-year presidency, as noted in E‘s 2003 cover story “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad White House,” President Bush undermined the same Clean Air Act with the dishonestly named “Clear Skies’ Initiative, supported oil and gas interests exclusively and made an enemy of scientists.
The environment has always been a political game piece, and, in recent elections, a game changer. E‘s illustrated cover in September/October 2008 de-picted then-candidates John McCain and Barack Obama arm wrestling a globe, but the question beneath “Who Can Solve the Climate Crisis?” was mostly hypothetical. Now, President Obama is committed to a green America, from a smart grid to a renewable energy infrastructure, but in a time of war and economic crisis, such reforms are tough to come by. And just when we thought everyone, regardless of politics, had come to see the green light, the climate change deniers grow more vocal and vehement, casting further doubt when decisive action is needed.
Even in July of 2002—when E featured ecotourism (travel to biodiverse places, leaving a minimal impact) on its cover—the term was being bandied about by various trip services and hoteliers hoping to attract a green-minded clientele. E advised travelers to note various certifications before booking a trip, from the Certification for Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica to the Protected Area Network in Europe. Now, as ecotourism has expanded, bringing tourists in close contact with protected regions and endangered species in Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico and Thailand, that certification is even more important. And groups that certify responsible travel options—including the nonprofit Center for Responsible Travel—are just the beginning.
Today, “voluntouring” is taking hold—a way for travelers to do direct environmental fieldwork while exploring an environmental place of interest, through organizations like the Sierra Club and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. There are still companies wrongly touting their high rise on the beach or Galapagos cruise as a green getaway, but savvier travelers have meant smaller, more intimate trip options—ones that leave a light footprint and bring you right into the heart of the world’s most treasured places.
Here at E, we have a soft spot for animals. In fact, publisher Doug Moss founded an animal rights organization—Animals Agenda—before founding E. The connection between animal rights and environmental and health concerns are undeniable. In E’s October 1995 cover story “Our Agony Over Animals,” we looked at the strange divide between animal rights and environmental activists. The latter are seen as “people focused,” willing to wipe out a non-native animal species to protect the natural environment. But on the issue of meat and the resultant waste and food safety issues, the two groups are finding common ground.
In March/April 2002 a thoughtful panda on the cover of E asked readers to reconsider the role of zoos as protectors of animal species. We looked at a scientist on a mission to save endangered species by implanting frozen embryos in similar species; for instance, an African wildcat in a domestic housecat (it worked). By March/April 2003, E called the push for animals to have legal rights “a gathering global force.” Today, there are some 80 animal law classes being offered across the country, more animal rights activists taking to courtrooms, city laws banning cat declawing, as well as laws against inhumane cages like confining “gestation crates’ for breeding pigs.
RELIGION AND ECOLOGY
Saving the planet might well be a moral obligation. In November/December 2002, E looked in depth at the growing number of religious leaders who had picked up the call for honoring God’s creation. “Since pollution concentrates in poor and often non-white neighborhoods, many churches see the struggle for environmental justice as ideally combining the twin missions of concern for the world’s disadvantaged with concern for the Earth itself,” the piece related. Muslims, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians formed coalitions to combat pollution, replant forests and care for the people most at risk from environmental catastrophe. One such Christian group, Target Earth, brings volunteers to Belize, Honduras, Mexico, Russia and South Africa.
By 2008, HarperCollins released The Green Bible, in which all references to creation and stewardship of that creation are shown in green type. They found over 1,000 references to the earth in the Bible, compared to just 490 references to heaven. Now there are thought-provoking blogs like The Evangelical Ecologist (www.evaneco.com) that put the latest environmental news into religious context. And interfaith groups are finding themselves with a shared environmental mission; one more important than casting stones.
In a November/December 1997 cover story “Energy for the Next Century,” E looked at why renewables were unable to compete with established fossil fuels. Lack of federal funding under President Reagan was a major factor. “In 1980,” E then reported, “the U.S. had 233 solar collector manufacturers…by 1992, there were only 45 manufacturers.” At the time of that article, renewable energy accounted for less than 1% of U.S. energy capacity.
By January/February 2006, E’s cover asked: “Is This the End for Oil?” and noted that as oil supplies were nearing their peak, customers were paying more, and costs would continue to rise. It’s that fact alone—price—that may finally wean the nation from its fossil fuel addiction. Federal incentives, too, are catching up with wind power, solar power, geothermal and biomass energy, giving them an opportunity to compete with coal, oil and gas.
In a January/February 2009 cover story on wind power, we noted that the U.S. had surpassed Germany to lead the world in wind energy production. By 2009, renewable energy accounted for more than 11% of U.S. energy generation. And with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s $16.8 billion for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the forecast for re-newables looks favorable indeed.
The green building trend—including more energy-efficient houses, equip-ped with Energy Star appliances, solar heat and electric systems and residential wind power and high rises with living roofs and low-flow water systems—is ushering in a new era where builders, communities and whole cities try to “outgreen” one another. E first covered the trend extensively in a January/February 2007 cover story, a surprising time, in a sense, since the U.S. housing bubble had burst the year before. But green building—and more innovative materials and technologies employed in home and building systems—have not been deterred by a shaky real estate market.
In part, that’s because energy-efficient buildings are cost-saving buildings, and even low-income developments like Seattle’s Denny Park Apartments and Brad Pitt’s organization Make It Right New Orleans, which is on its way to building 150 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum-certified, storm-resistant homes in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, are turning to green design principles. LEED projects have grown more than 60% a year since 2006—and 80% in 2008—and the trend continues. The latest frontier is bringing existing buildings up to LEED standards.
We’re still waiting for the new green economy to take hold in U.S., and with it expanded job opportunities for solar panel installers, wind turbine manufacturers, environmental consultants, invasive species specialists, water quality monitors, energy auditors, eco-travel specialists and environmental educators. That shift, noted in E’s November/December 2007 cover story “Great Green Jobs,” featuring another Simpson’s cover, has undoubtedly begun in earnest. We wondered then how these work opportunities would be made available to the country’s low-income communities and quoted environmental leaders like Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy (HarperCollins), who said that community colleges must begin to offer the renewable energy technology training that would bring this sector out of poverty.
Two years later, in E’s November/December 2009 cover story, “When Blue Meets Green,” we highlighted an important allegiance between two former adversaries—environmentalists and labor unions. The national Blue Green Alliance has brought these two groups together to fight for strong emissions standards, healthier workplaces and guaranteed green manufacturing jobs that will provide a living wage.